Ghouls are monstrous beings that were once human and now feed on rotting human corpses.
Ghoul Appearance and Biology
Ghouls start off looking like the people that ghoul fever transformed into ghouls. The pupils of their eyes are permanently dilated, and their complexion is very pale. Over the years, however, ghouls’ bodies begin to decay and often become bent from their time spent stooped over in their underground tunnels. Due to a lack of a ready diet of corpses, most ghouls are also quite skinny.
Ghouls are also shapeshifters that can, if they wish, take the form of people whose bodies they have eaten.
The defining biological characteristic of ghouls is their diet: rotting human corpses. They cannot digest fresh bodies, but require cadavers that have begun to decay. While ghouls strongly prefer the taste of humans, if necessary, they can also subsist on the decaying bodies of animals such as cattle, pigs, and even rats.
Another distinguishing characteristic of a ghoul is its eyes. Because the pupils of ghouls’ eyes are permanently dilated, they are so sensitive to bright lights that sunlight is extremely painful. This is the main reason that ghouls are nocturnal, leaving their underground lairs after nightfall and returning before the first light of dawn. The dilation of ghouls’ eyes also decreases their visual acuity so that you can sometimes get quite close to a ghoul before it notices you.
Making up for their poor eyesight is their extremely sensitive sense of smell. This enables them to detect the scent of decaying corpses from great distances and even through six feet of graveyard ground.
Although there are both male ghouls and female ghouls, they are unable to procreate. Instead, they reproduce when someone survives being bitten with sufficient force to break the skin.
The resulting disease, ghoul fever, is a viral infection that is transmitted via saliva when a ghoul bite draws the blood of its human victim. Initial symptoms occur within a few hours of being infected and include headaches, a general feeling of malaise, and fatigue. These are rapidly followed by a fever that gradually increases until the victim inevitably dies a day or two later. A few hours later, the victim reanimates as a ghoul.
Ghoul Intelligence and Behavior
Depending on the degree to which ghoul fever damages the brain, the resulting ghoul’s intelligence can vary greatly from that of a normal person to that of a mindless beast. Even if a ghoul starts out with the victim’s intelligence, memories, and skills, the ghoul’s intelligence gradually erodes over time as the virus slowly destroys its brain. Regardless, well-fed ghouls have been known to survive over fifty years after reanimation.
By nature, ghouls are not aggressive unless cornered or ravenously hungry. If given the opportunity, ghouls avoid all contact with the living, which makes ghouls one of the least dangerous of monsters.
For millennia, ghouls have traveled from graveyard to graveyard under cover of darkness, where they dig up and feed on the bodies of the dead. Should they fail to locate an edible corpse, desperately hungry ghouls have been known to lure unsuspecting people into abandoned or remote places such as deserts, where their victims die of thirst, starvation, or exposure. A ravenous ghoul will kill, though this is very rare and requires a location where the body will not be found before it begins to decay.
Ghouls are typically solitary, although sometimes a small number will form a temporary pack when there is an abundant food supply (e.g., during wars and pandemics). Thus, there is no real ghoul hierarchy other than possibly the alpha member of the pack.
Ghouls are indigenous to the desert regions of the Middle East and to a lesser extent Northern Africa. Pre-Islamic Arabs and Persians mistakenly considered ghouls to be a type of evil djinn and therefore a type of incorporeal supernatural demon. Their true nature was not determined until medieval period.
Because of their aversion to sunlight, ghouls traditionally lived underground in caves, tunnels, catacombs, or abandoned tombs.
During the Roman period, ghouls migrated to Italy, where they hid within in the catacombs of Rome. Later during the middle ages, ghouls migrated west to infest the catacombs of Paris.
The introduction of poisonous embalming fluids (such as formaldehyde) in the 1860s as well as an increase in cremations nearly led to the extinction of ghouls.
While some ghouls still live in the traditional manner in less developed parts of the world, a few have adapted to modern society. Currently, ghouls can be found in large cities where they hide in utility tunnels, subway tunnels, sewers, and the basements of abandoned buildings. Ghouls with high intelligence occasionally can be found living among us, where they pass as humans. These higher-functioning ghouls often find work at funeral homes, crematoria, or morgues where they can find a ready food supply.
Because ghouls are by nature nonaggressive and avoid human contact, ghouls are among the safest types of monsters to hunt, especially if you can keep a safe distance away from them.
The most certain way to recognize a ghoul is naturally to catch one in the act of eating a rotting corpse. This is the most obvious difference between ghouls and zombies, which prefer eating the living.
Another defining characteristic is a ghoul’s strong aversion to bright light. However, ghouls differ from vampires in that sunlight is merely painful to them and will neither injure nor kill them. This should be verified by observing the ghoul’s dilated pupils. Of course, care should be taken to no mistake a human who has just had an eye exam for a ghoul.
Another difference between ghouls and vampires is that ghoul fever has no effect on a ghoul’s teeth, which remain perfectly normal.
Ghouls find the scent of rotting corpses extremely appealing and hunger inducing, whereas humans and other monsters will typically be disgusted by the smell.
Although not a defining characteristic, body size can be helpful in recognizing ghouls. Because the vast majority of them have a difficult time finding a steady supply of rotting corpses, ghouls are almost always slender to the point of appearing anorexic.
Because ghouls are shapeshifters taking on the form of the recently dead, another way of identifying ghouls is to find someone who you know has died.
Because ghouls are rare and avoid human contact, you will be very unlikely to encounter a ghoul unless you are explicitly looking for one. Even then, sightings are rare unless you know where to look and how to lure these shy and secretive monsters to you.
Ghouls are most dangerous during the day when they might become cornered in a cramped tunnel or sewer. Since they are nocturnal, the best time to hunt ghouls is therefore in the middle of the night when they have left their lairs.
The best way to lure then to an appropriate location where they can be safely dealt with from a distance is the use the smell of rotting corpses. If unable to obtain any fluid resulting from decaying human flesh, a large piece of rotting meat can often suffice.
Unlike werewolves, witches, and vampires, ghouls are not bothered by of the usual supernatural weapons. Garlic, salt, silver, and religious items, such as crosses and holy water, have no effect on them. Ghouls are also not particularly harmed by iron, although hitting one with a good heavy iron rod can stop one if no other weapon is handy.
On the other hand, ghouls are easy to kill because they have no special strength or healing powers. Any weapon that can kill or injure a human will do the same to a ghoul. Since ghoul fever can only be transmitted via a bite, the best weapons against ghouls are firearms that can be used from a distance.
While killing feral ghouls is uncontroversial, a moral argument can be made against harming a newly formed ghoul whose brain has not been ravaged by ghoul fever and can pass therefore pass as human. If such a ghoul has a steady supply of human corpses or has chosen to live on a diet of rotting animal flesh, it poses little danger to the living. On the other hand, arresting and locking up such a creature until they become a danger to society can quickly become dangerous to other prisoners and guards. Given a lack of consensus, the issue of what to do with such a ghoul is a dilemma that each hunter must decide for himself.
The Sad Case of Johnathan Black
I first became aware of Johnathan Black in October 1938, shortly after his transformation into a ghoul. However, he evaded me at the time and soon disappeared without a trace. As I had other, far more dangerous monsters to hunt, I soon let the matter drop. I knew that sooner or later, the inevitable progression of ghoul fever would force him to reveal himself. As I predicted, by the beginning of June, 1961, ghoul fever had made him careless. On June 6th, I finally came face to face with Mr. Black and put an end to his grisly crimes. The following brief account of the ghoul Johnathan Black is based on newspaper articles, police reports, interviews, and my own extensive knowledge of ghouls.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Mr. Johnathan Black was a night shift crematorium technician at the Shady Grove Funeral Home in Macon, Georgia. One night as he was preparing a young woman’s body for cremation, he was shocked to hear a faint sound coming from her lifeless corpse. Although gut bacteria eventually produce sufficient gas to cause the dead to belch or otherwise pass gas, this body was quite fresh. Besides, Black had never before heard what sounded like a moan of pain. After a momentary hesitation, Black stepped up, looked closely at the deceased face, and placed his hand on the woman’s neck to feel for a pulse. The corpse suddenly opened its eyes. It stared at Mr. Black with pupils twice their normal size.
Unbeknownst to Black, the young woman had recently died from ghoul fever, which had done a great deal of damage to its brain. The newly transformed ghoul immediately attacked Mr. Black, biting his hand to the point where it needed several stitches. When the body got up from the preparation table and advanced on him, Black had no choice but to defend himself from the monster. Still weak from ghoul fever, the reanimated body was no match for Black. After a brief struggle, Black was able to kill the ghoul. Realizing what he had done and how unbelievable his story would sound, Black panicked. To avoid having to explain what happened, he quickly cleaned up all signs of a struggle and finished his job by cremating the body. Once he was done, he went to the local hospital to have his cut stitched up. His hospital records state that he blamed his injury on a dog bite.
The next morning, Mr. Black woke with a terrible headache and nausea that increased throughout the day. The fever began that night. Two days later, he died in the hospital’s emergency ward while waiting to be seen.
As fate would have it, Black woke up alone in the funeral home at which he had worked. Confused, he staggered outside where the rays of the rising sun nearly blinded him with pain. Somehow, Black staggered back to his home, took the key he had hidden beneath a rock next to his mailbox, and made his way inside without anyone noticing anything amiss.
When Black woke late that afternoon, he was hungry and immediately went to his refrigerator. But none of the food appealed to him until he discovered a piece of meat that he would ordinarily have tossed into the garbage. He was surprised to find that instead of stinking, the spoiled meat smelled wonderful. In fact, it was so wonderful that he couldn’t resist eating it raw.
Hi hunger temporarily satisfied, Black opened his front door, but the light from the setting sun was too bright to stand. He grabbed several newspaper that were lying on his porch before hastily retreating back inside.
The headline of an article on the front page caught his eye. It read “Body Stolen from Shady Grove Funeral Home.” Already confused and surprised, he was shocked to learn that the missing body was his own. Surely, he thought, there must be some mistake, but he couldn’t understand what it could possibly be.
Still weak from ghoul fever, he returned to bed and slept until hunger woke him the next morning. There he remained, trapped by the brilliant sunlight, until nighttime finally came. By then he was ravenous and strange thoughts compelled him to return to his former workplace. The Shady Grove Funeral Home had not yet found a replacement and the building had been closed for the night. Under cover of darkness, he unlocked to door, and followed the enticing smell of death to a man’s corpse in the cold storage room. Having not yet been embalmed, it smelled and tasted even better than the spoiled beef he had the day before. Black feasted until he could hold no more. Then he returned home with a large amount of flesh he’d cut from the body, sated but appalled at what he had just done.
Washing away the blood from his meal, he looked in the bathroom mirror. His eyes were still dilated, and his skin had become unnaturally pale. Clearly he thought, some strange sickness had turned him into a cannibal. Hoping for some clue to his metamorphosis, he read the earlier newspapers. That is where he discovered his own obituary. Though he did not yet have a word for it, he came to realize he was a ghoul.
Being dead, returning to work was out of the question. It dawned on him that to continue to eat, he must leave town and take a new identity. He had to find another funeral home where he could freely feast on the bodies destined for cremation.
He packed a few clothes, the remainder of the meat he’d take, and drove off into the night. Using his knowledge of the mortuary business, he robbed bodies from several funeral as he made his way to north.
At this point, Black vanished, and I gave up trying to find him. I didn’t know at the time, but he had eventually found the job he was looking for in Detroit, Michigan. That is where I first met Johnathan Black some twenty years later. By then, the slow inexorable progression of ghoul fever had taken its toll. Mr. Black’s mind was failing him, and he was becoming increasingly careless. Eventually, his taste for the funeral home’s clientele was discovered, and he fled into the city’s sewers just minutes before the police could apprehend him.
One of my informants, a reporter at the Detroit Free Press, contacted me. Using tried and true methods, I obtained a sample of the flesh from the body of a murder victim and began to hunt the monster Black had become. On the third night, the rotting flesh had done its job, luring the ghoul from his lair into the open where I could ambush him from a safe distance. Two shots in the chest followed by one in the head put an end to the ghoul. The police never solved the crime of Black’s murder, but then again, they didn’t try very hard given that terrible things he had done. I was satisfied. The world held one less dangerous monster.