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The Red Iam

Although it has been many centuries since sightings of The Red Iam were at their height, some are still fortunate enough to encounter this strange and beautiful creature.


Sometimes known as The Patron of the Fisherfolk - particularly where instances of its appearance are recorded or interpreted as presaging an especially abundant catch - the creature more often called the Red Iam (literally pronounced ‘I am’) was, for many years, considered improbable even by the standards of fringe cryptozoology. Despite its appearance in folklore from ancient Chinese and Meso-America cultures right through to the present day, this scepticism can be blamed (at least in part) on the frankly alien nature of its appearance and behaviour: The creature soundlessly contorts and folds itself from a barely tangible form into an uncanny disguise to deliver its benedictions. Nonetheless we still do not know what manner of beast the Red Iam is, to which kingdom, class or clade we should attribute its existence and pin such a Latin name as adequately inadequately describes it.

While the etymology of the latter part of its name is elusive, both the ‘Red’ and the creature’s association with fishing are directly linked to biology and behaviour. Although it appears to spend most of its life in flight, where its appearance is somewhere between an inhuman angel, the ghost of a dragon and a trick of the light, the Red Iam is most commonly sighted at the edge of lakes or on riverbanks where - from even a relatively short distance away - it can, and has often been, mistaken for a child in an oversized, blood-red raincoat. With the hood of this apparent coat pulled up to cover all but the vaguest impression of a human head beneath it, regardless of rain or wind or blistering sun, the Red Iam rocks gently but makes no other movement unless and until it is otherwise disturbed.

Content to sit by the water for hours at a time, the Red Iam appears to either lack or have hidden even the most common of any relatably animal drives. It has not been observed to feed or fight, play or procreate in any way we might recognise or record; at least not in its resting form, that is, since in the air it is almost invisible to even the keenest of human eyes. When whatever esoteric need has been met or process has been completed, the nearby waters will begin to roil with activity; whichever as-yet untraced hormone or pheromone having excited and attracted whatever fish are native to the area. This unexplained boon gave rise to the idea of the Red Iam as a happy portent for fishermen which, in turn, led to their space and solitude being largely respected until - when it is ready, or startled - it takes flight.

Unfolding its red body into a vast web of diaphanous gossamer membranes, the lie of its solidity unpacked until its previously bold colouring is only hinted at in the slightest pink of a thousand translucencies. Where the Red Iam leaves of its own accord this process is slow, gentle enough that it looks as though the concentrated form is slowly dissolving into nothingness, when hurried it seems like the thing is being blown apart on the breeze. These membranes, more sails than wings, shimmer in the light, glints sparking and arcing as photosensitivity causes some kind of sensory reaction while they spread expansively and carry the Red Iam into the air. At its centre there is a small kernel of a self - a body - around which these miraculous sails unfold - strung together with lace-thin connective tissues - but no-one has been able to get close enough to be able to describe it with any meaningful specificity.

Truly massive at the extremes of its blossoming, with even modest accounts claiming it to have a sail-span of some two-hundred metres when fully extended, the Red Iam is nevertheless exceedingly difficult to perceive in its mellifluous flight - being merely a slightly odd hue draping itself across an often-distant patch of sky - and is harder still to comprehend in any real detail. As a result of this paucity of data, and in order to address the absence of certainty, some have hypothesised that, while rare, the Red Iam may actually be any one of several such creatures, only very occasionally landing and taking on their more compact and visible aspect. A few scholars have argued that these strange creatures might only land to release or expel whatever chemical attracts the fish, and that this is perhaps only a by-product of some physiological need that we are unable to identify or understand.

Going further, and extrapolating from admittedly limited information, others have argued that the Red Iam does not hail from the natural world (no matter how loosely or broadly we define such a construction of our reality). Instead, they posit the creature as being a nature spirit, one of any of the innumerable and boundless pantheons of lesser gods, and call it The Patron of the Fisherfolk. They believe that it manifests to make freshwater fecund with life - where that life had grown weak and wan. In their interpretation and understanding of the creature, which almost-exclusively uses its less common name, the sails represent only a transitional form. They are a liminal state between the red-hooded presence and a non-corporeal existence in which it can detect the need and desire for its interventions, the latter having lessened in the ages of reason and industrialisation.

Although many in these fields of study - myself included - have drawn similarly outlandish conclusions from even flimsier proofs under other circumstances, I am inclined to believe that the existence of the Red Iam is more grounded in the conventional. Despite the ornate and unprecedented mechanism by which its vast net of translucent sails can be folded into an approximation of a swaddling coat and hood, which is undoubtedly remarkable, confirmed manifestations of even the most minor divinities tend to be known to conjure more complete and realistic illusions or glamours when they seek to conceal themselves amongst ordinary mortals. Regardless, it is almost impossible to witness the beauty of the Red Iam spreading its wings, diffusing its nominal shade until it disappears into almost abstract ephemerality, and not believe - if only for a second - that some divine hand guided its creation.


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