In this post, I want to share the story of a strange creature born from a bizarre alignment of white-knuckled fear, fatigue-fueled delirium, bullheaded creativity, a slightly-too-optimistic trust of technology, and yes - a camel-shaped snow drift. This is the story of Long Mary, a terrifying cryptid that captured my imagination (and my heart) last December.
The Birth of a New Cryptid
This all started when my wife and I were driving to upstate New York to visit her family for Christmas. We were on the last leg of our journey - it was getting dark, and we were starting to get impatient for the drive to be over with. In an unfortunate turn of events, we realized a little too late that Google Maps had taken us onto some slightly terrifying back roads in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania, in the interest of “a faster route”. (Note: It wasn’t. Not by a long shot.) I’m sure this route would have been enjoyable had it not been for night’s veil of darkness and the pavement’s occasional dusting of snow, but as it was, these conditions made the steep hills and narrow, winding paths much more treacherous than was ideal. I remember obediently making a GPS-mandated turn onto one particularly perilous-looking stretch of road and stating aloud, “Welp, we’re gonna die”. (This behavior may have been influenced by the fact that I’d recently listened to this harrowing story told by MrBallen. The story definitely crossed my mind in that moment.)
Anyway, at one point while we were navigating these hazardous roads, I noticed an unusual shape just off the road ahead, out of the corner of my eye. My first impression was that it was a strange, camel-shaped creature. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a snow drift next to a mailbox. I laughed to myself and told my wife what I’d seen. Soon after, we drove past a sign that read “Long Mary Road”. Synapses fired, ideas formed, and the rest is cryptid history.
Depicting Long Mary - The Artistic Process
During the following week spent with family, I found I couldn’t get this creature out of my head. I became fixated on imagining what Long Mary might look like up close. I’d recently been playing around with Stable Diffusion, a machine learning model that can generate images from text prompts. I thought it would be fun to try using it as part of a creative process aimed at creating a depiction of Long Mary. The sections below describe this process in detail.
Step 1: Brainstorming
My first goal was just to see what kinds of ideas Stable Diffusion could come up with. It took some time and experimentation, but I eventually arrived at a prompt that seemed to give me decent results. The images it generated didn’t have the level of quality I was looking for in a final image, but that didn’t really matter at this stage. The main point was to get some ideas for creating Long Mary’s physical features.
After generating many, many images, I selected a handful of my favorites, with the intention of incorporating elements of each of them into the final image. Here are the ones I selected:
As I mentioned, I went through many iterations of the prompt, but here is one of the final versions I used in this step of the process:
Photo of a cryptid, extremely long neck, so many vertebrae, short stubby legs, ugly misshapen head, a single hump on its back, long crooked fangs, matted fur, its fur is covered in snow, sasquatch, chupacabra, mange, crouching, crawling, dark snowy forest, trees, horror, creepy, grotesque, little nightmares, slightly blurry photo, nature photography, dusk, ultra realistic
Stable Diffusion also has a “negative prompt” feature, which lets you specify things to exclude from the image. Here’s the negative prompt I used with the prompt above:
hand drawn, illustrated, out of frame, cartoon, unreal engine
As you might notice, it doesn’t always do a great job of following instructions. I’ve definitely found Stable Diffusion (and generative AI in general) to be quite finnicky, and it can be frustrating at times trying to get the results you want. The process tends to involve a lot of trial and error. (Of course, it could also be that I have more to learn about prompt engineering!)
Step 2: Concept Sketch
Next, I sketched out a rough concept of what I thought the final image should look like, based on my results from the previous step. Here’s what I came up with:
Step 3: Generation of the Final Image
The final step of the process involved using Stable Diffusion’s img2img feature, which tells it to use an input image along with the text prompt to generate the output image. I figured that by using my concept sketch to influence the output, I would have more control over what the final image looked like.
This is where things got a bit convoluted. I wasn’t able to get the result I wanted from just my sketch and a text prompt. However, I was able to get a little bit closer to what I was looking for. So what I ended up doing was taking the output image and plugging it back in as the input image, along with the same text prompt. I performed several iterations of this until I was happy with the result. The final image was shown near the beginning of this post, but here it is again:
Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the prompts I used for this step, but I believe they focused more on the environment and the art style, since Long Mary’s physical features were included in the sketch.
As a bonus, though, here are some neat alternative versions that look like they belong in an illustrated bestiary. (These were also generated at some point during this final step of the process.)
Upon sharing my creation with some friends, one of them wondered if ChatGPT could generate an SCP entry for Long Mary. I gave it a go, and the result exceeded my expectations:
Special Containment Procedures: Long Mary is to be contained within a standard Class-3 anomalous mammal containment unit at Site-17. The unit is to be designed to replicate the mountainous forest habitat of northern Pennsylvania, including a artificial snow feature for the creature’s use. Access to the containment unit is restricted to Level 3 personnel and above, with Level 4 clearance required for any direct interaction with the specimen.
Long Mary is to be fed a diet of raw meat, supplemented with vitamins and minerals as necessary. Any attempts at domestication or training are strictly forbidden.
Description: Long Mary is a cryptid mammal indigenous to the mountainous forests of northern Pennsylvania. It stands approximately 2 meters tall at the shoulder and 3 meters in length, with a weight of approximately 500 kg. It has a distinctive snow-covered hump on its back and a long neck, as well as a large head and sharp teeth. It is primarily white in color, with some grey and black markings on its face and legs.
When crouched down, Long Mary bears a strong resemblance to a snow drift, with only its head and neck visible. This camouflage allows it to blend in with its surroundings and ambush prey. It is an apex predator in its habitat, with its diet consisting primarily of large mammals such as deer and elk.
Long Mary has proven to be highly aggressive towards humans, with several reported attacks on hikers and hunters in the area. It is believed to be territorial and will attack any perceived threat to its territory.
Research into Long Mary’s anomalous properties is ongoing. It is currently unknown how the creature is able to maintain its snowy appearance year-round, as well as the potential use of its camouflage in other environments. Further study is required to fully understand the nature of this cryptid.
Here’s the prompt I fed into ChatGPT to generate this SCP entry:
Imagine there is a cryptid that lives in the mountainous forests of northern Pennsylvania called Long Mary. It is a mammal that walks on four legs, and it has a snow-covered hump on its back. It has a long neck, along with a large head and a large mouth full of sharp teeth. When it crouches down, it looks like a snow drift with a post next to it. Please write an SCP entry about Long Mary. Feel free to embellish and make up new details about it.
I was surprised at how many fascinating and relevant details it came up with, considering the small amount of information I gave it!
This ended up being a really fun project, and I love how it turned out. I would definitely use Stable Diffusion for brainstorming again in future projects, as it can generate a greater variety of ideas than I’m able to come up with on my own. As for whether it’s a good idea to use it to generate final images for a project, I’d say it depends on the project. If you’re looking for something really specific or need to maintain consistency with other images, it could be really difficult and time-consuming to get Stable Diffusion to produce what you want. On the other hand, if you’re more open to variation, it could work well.
I hope you enjoyed the story of Long Mary and learning about its creation. Though if you ever find yourself in the area around its territory, I’d recommend exercising extreme caution.