Most every city in the United States of America and Canada, and for that matter most throughout the entire world have their own collections of myths, folklore, and urban legends. The vast majority of these are rather bland and generic in nature, they are not novel whatsoever, and the odds are that most stories have been told in a similar degree dozens of times, in dozens of cities. Some icons of folklore are more famous than others, and may be specific to certain regions. The Chupacabra of the Southwest, the Mothman of West Virginia, the Lizard Man of South Carolina, the Jersey Devil of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Some legends involve figures that are deemed to warn of trouble to come, bad omens if you will, for instance the wail of a banshee, the sighting of a doppelganger, and an alleged black cat stalking the capitol building, among others. The city of Detroit, Michigan, a former national treasure that has been reduced to a national punch line has just such a figure, a harbinger of doom all its own. The French called this culprit Le Nain Rouge, which translates to red dwarf. Sightings have periodically occurred dating back hundreds of years, and although it may not be known whether the Nain Rouge is of demonic origin, one things is for certain: each menacing appearance of the red dwarf does not come unaccompanied without some terrible devastation wreaking havoc upon the city...
Wallace is a junior majoring in film and cinema at Wayne State University in Detroit, and the student has quite an interest in stories of folklore, including many of the aforementioned legends. One day in class the students are assigned a project where they are to conduct research and create a film involving folklore or urban legends, which must be based in the Midwest.
Showing a wealth of exuberant excitement upon hearing about the project, one myth stands alone above all others inside the mind of Wallace.
"Guys, I know just the story we can use, the legend of the Nain Rouge!" boasts Wallace, informing his friends in the group that they can make their film based upon Detroit's mischievous red dwarf, a story that he believes needs to be told to the masses.
"What is the Nain Rouge?" asks a friend.
"You're a Detroiter and you're unfamiliar with the red devil, the harbinger of doom? This is precisely why we need to research and share this story," declares Wallace, initially disheartened at the group's lack of knowledge pertaining to the legend. Gathering them all into a small study room in the library, Wallace closes the door behind him and begins to tell them of the legend.
"Are you going to turn the lights off too?" jokes one friend, as everyone in the group chuckles save for Wallace, replying with a sarcastic "oooooooh!"
"Every city has it's own urban folklore, but very few regions, if any, have a creature that can match the number of consistent sightings over vast quantities of time, of the level of menace, or the sheer degree of historical significance, as that of the Nain Rouge," proclaims Wallace, as the comical atmosphere amongst the group inside this nook of the library has transformed into intrigue and fascination, as the three friends listened attentively to each word spoken from the narrator.
Painting a lush picture of oratory theatre starring the Nain, a severely under told saga steeped in history and tradition that deserves a national audience, the imaginations of Wallace and the group drift back hundreds of years, to where it all began...
First appearing in Normandy long ago, Le Nain Rouge appears as a small red dwarf covered in thick black fur with hooves, horns, a snarling mouth of rotted teeth, and fiery eyes burning so hot, they could convince an atheist that they are staring straight into the flames of hell. The Nain Rouge is a mischievous creature that is said to haunt the city of Detroit, appearing before significant historical events, incidents that are exclusively bad and harmful in nature. As such, the red dwarf has been given the non-flattering title of the "Harbinger of Doom."
Instructing the group to picture the modern Detroit skyline of 2010 before imagining what the city would have looked like in 1700, against the backdrop of the Detroit River, Wallace and the group envision a very different time...
Given a French name here in the United States because it was the French who first began to record sightings of the creature on the banks of the Detroit River, it is very possible and most probable that the red dwarf may very well predate early European expedition and settlement in North America, as it appears that the Native Americans were well aware of a small figure whose path shall not be crossed.
One evening during a party in Quebec City, the capital of New France, Antoine Cadillac was enjoying a beverage and laughing with friends and colleagues, when an elderly woman across the room caught his attention. It was not so much her look that drew his gaze, as it was her hobby, the woman being a soothsayer, reading palms and telling fortunes to anyone that dare work up the courage to request an evaluation. Amidst the alcohol and fun, Cadillac arose from his chair, excusing himself from one scene and interrupting another. Crossing paths with the woman, Cadillac waited patiently for her to finish with the client at hand, before making the fateful decision to request that his palm be read.
Obliging, the old woman began tracing the lines of his hands, describing the rivers of which he travels, and how he is destined to one day come across a river red as blood. She declares that his life shall be filled with prosperity and success, how he is going to found a great city that shall proudly stand for centuries to come, but that trial and tribulation with the English, with Indians, and with Le Nain Rouge will impact his life in a grave manner, particularly the Nain Rouge, whom Cadillac is told to be especially fearful of.
Cadillac cannot believe his ears, laughing hysterically at the thought of his biggest fear involving neither the rival English or the Natives, but rather a small red dwarf harking back to Normandy that he is said to be poised to come across. Grimacing in light of the man's amusement, the soothsayer offers one final warning, declaring that the red devil residing in the area is an evil creature that is to be respected, as it contains the power to unleash a terrible curse upon the future city, washing its hands from French rule forever.
Telling his wife of the incident that night, a feeling of dread overtakes the spiritually tuned Mrs. Cadillac, requesting that her husband heed the warnings of the fortune teller and respect whatever he happens to come across, natural or unnatural, wherever his travels take him.
Years pass and Antoine Cadillac has amassed a bountiful fortune as the fortune-teller had foretold, years spent exploring and sailing his vessels through the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes of Ontario and Erie, arriving and settling on the Detroit River, establishing the French colony of Fort Pontchartrain-Detroit. Walking along with his wife through his green yard and spacious property one sunny and blissful afternoon in 1703 with nary a cloud in sight, Antoine Cadillac happens to come across an array of unusual noises taking place inside of the stable. Finding what he believes to be a small animal causing trouble nearby to one of his horses, the resourceful adventurer picks up a sedimentary rock, hurling it towards the pesky animal, at which point Mrs. Cadillac places her hand upon her chest, realizing that it is not an animal, but the red dwarf that the fortune teller had warned her husband of years ago.
"Arrêtez! C'est le nain rouge!" she shouts, begging her husband to relent in his actions, proving to be fruitless as Cadillac throws another rock at it, drawing the ire of the Nain Rouge, as the angered imp retreats from the horse, turning its focus towards the man. The two engage in a quarrel, with the red devil biting at the arms and legs of the explorer before Cadillac is able thwart the Nain, fending him off with several strikes of the walking cane. Helping dust her husband off from the ground, Cadillac watches as the Nain Rouge scampers off into the woods, laughing hysterically.
Within a mere matter of weeks, Antoine Cadillac grows heartbroken following a devastating fire upon the fort, destroying nearly everything of value in the area. As if things had not become bad enough, within the year the powers that be back in Quebec City charged the explorer with trafficking alcohol and furs, leading Cadillac to spend time lying in the bed of a jail cell with nothing to think about but the fortune teller's warnings about the red dwarf...
Moving on to 1763, two British soldiers come across the Nain Rouge dancing zealously along the banks of a marshy tributary of the Detroit River. Over the next several days those soldiers, along with the rest of the city of Detroit would witness the Battle of Bloody Run, where Chief Pontiac's tribe of Indians managed to kill dozens of British soldiers. Following the conclusion of the battle, a surviving British soldier begins scouring the hordes of dead bodies, piling up and laying lifelessly in the thick brush, where the blood of the dead has filled the tributary with a thick red color of calamity. Hearing a commotion coming from the other side of the stream, the boyish young soldier looks up, shielding his eyes from the sunlight shining through the trees and notices the Nain Rouge dancing on the banks of the stream in a celebratory fashion, taking joy and kicking together his heels for each slaughtered soldier, even frolicking down into the stream and bathing in the bloody waters, splashing and reveling in the misery running rampant as the young soldier slowly and quietly backed away from view.
One blazingly hot day during the summer of 1805, right in the thick of a heavy drought, several residents of the city report sightings of a red dwarf like creature roaming about in various locations throughout Detroit. Few of the residents are aware of the Nain Rouge at this point in time, as his legend is not as well known in the early 19th century.
The next day however, with dry and windy conditions planting the seeds for catastrophe, a major fire erupts engulfing the city, the vast majority of which burns to the ground, killing hundreds of people and resulting in the destruction of millions of dollars worth of property. Like the fire, word quickly spreads about the sightings of the red dwarf, and seeing how the damage has affected thousands, an entire generation becomes fully aware of the mysterious Nain Rouge-and his status is firmly entrenched in Detroit lore as the harbinger of doom.
A mere seven years later, the Nain was destined to strike again. It is the War of 1812 and an American General, William Hull, is meeting with his staff to discuss battle plans and sharpen the strategies of their conquest. In charge of Fort Detroit, General Hull spends a small portion of the meeting discussing fortifying the fort from potential British attack, but the majority of the discourse is spent on an offensive strategy that will take place in Ontario. Following the meeting, General Hull strolls about towards home on the foggy night of August 15, 1812. Out of the darkness he is attacked-not by enemy soldier, but by the fabled red dwarf. Much as Antoine Cadillac had done over a century earlier, Hull fends off the Nain, though not before pawing and punching and kicking the pint-sized beast, which seemingly disappears off into the night as soon as it had appeared, leaving behind a series of bites, scratches, and a trail of laughter.
Hours later, the fort is under surprise attack from the British, a battle that will rage on for several hours. The attacking forces catch Hull and his troops off guard, after he had failed taking the necessary precautions regarding the defense of the fort. William Hull loses the battle, and goes down in history as the General who surrendered both the city, and Fort Detroit, to the hated British, ranking among the greatest blemishes and embarrassments in American military history.
The next recorded sightings of the imp occurred in the 1870s, with one woman hearing the patter of footsteps scampering across the hardwood floors of her home. Only this was no mouse or rodent but rather a pest a trifle more harrowing, as the woman experienced the terrifying thrill of coming face to face with the red dwarf, a moment leaving her too frightened to scream and paralyzed in fear from the empty deadened glow of the red eyes of the Nain Rouge and the rotting yellowing of its teeth, reducing her to a bedridden state for days until at long last she defeated the onslaught of insanity. According to local newspaper accounts of the incident, the shaken woman apparently entered a room and believed the entity to be a ghost, but her description more closely resembled previous accounts of the Nain Rouge, as she claimed viewing the somewhat familiar creature with red eyes, rotted teeth and hooves.
A similar sighting took place roughly a decade later, when another housewife gave a similar description of her brush with the red dwarf, citing horns and an evil, ghastly glint in it's burning eyes that looked nothing short of hellish. Whether nothing beyond these fear-inducing encounters arose from the sightings remains unclear...
Moving into the twentieth century, an elderly woman phoned the police after noticing what she believed to be a young child climbing atop a street sign before wandering off, reporting a child wearing a shredded red and black coat. Fortunately her failing vision safeguarded her from the truth of the matter, shielding her from the Nain Rouge, as other witnessed would come forth in the vicinity reporting the sightings of the red dwarf. The year was 1967, and a rift has descended upon the city, as racial tension has a firm grip on Detroit, along with much of the nation. Several sporadic events here and there occurring over the previous few months had left the city akin to a powder keg waiting to explode, and it would not take much to ignite the city in flames.
The next day the spark is lit, in the form of the 12th street riots, which spread throughout the city resulting in the worst riot in the history of the city and among the worst in the history of the nation. The end result is the mass exodus of much of the economic prosperity in the city, known as "white flight," as much of Detroit's best and brightest leave the city, never to return again. An unbreakable chain has been set in motion that will lead to the downfall of the city for the remainder of the twentieth century and well into the twenty first century, right up to the present day. Detroit, which served as the "Arsenal of Democracy" during the wartime 1940s and as the poster child of Great American economic prosperity of the 1950s, has forever been reduced to the poster child for urban decay and the decline of the American economic and industrial rust belt.
Coincidentally, the riot results in the most destruction the city suffers since the fire of 1805 and the War of 1812, two other tragic events that involved sightings of the Nain. Whites blame blacks, blacks blame whites, and the only thing the two sides can agree on, is that blame shall also be casted upon a third party, the red-red dwarf that is, for his role as the Harbinger of Doom of this catastrophe.
The last confirmed sighting occurred in 1976, when two utility workers believed that they were seeing a child climbing high atop a utility poll. Concerned, they call out to him, perplexed as why a child would climb so high. To their amazement, the child jumps from the poll, nearly seventy feet below, landing perfectly without so much as a scratch. Running to catch up with the child, the utility workers are astonished as they both realize they are not dealing with any child, but rather with the grisly realization that they have crossed paths with the red dwarf, who casually scampers away like a child skipping about.
The next day, a powerful blizzard slams into the region dropping nearly two feet of snow upon Detroit. At the tail end of the front, temperatures warm up and an ice storm paralyzes the city with an inch of ice accumulation, causing mass power outages that persist for over a week, and millions of dollars worth of damage. How ironic that the red dwarf was seen atop a utility poll before the storm struck, and by two utility workers, no less, as if the Nain Rouge was studying the impending harm that was to be done and flaunting mans feeble attempt to stop it.
Wallace finally concludes the historical accounts associated with the legend of the Nain Rouge, and the group leaves the study room, as enthralled and enthusiastic about starting their project the following day as Wallace had been upon learning of the assignment. Leaving the library a few hours later after conducting research, Wallace and his friend Kelly make their way into the parking garage, driving off in his car down the ramp and exiting the ground level entrance.
"Stop!" Kelly shouts, about one hundred or so yards after turning out of the structure.
Slamming on his brakes, Wallace peers out the window, shaken but thankful that he has avoided making contact with the small child standing before him whom he nearly struck. That is, until the headlights of the car flash upon the eyes of the child, which glow in a way that no child's eyes have ever dared glow before. Upon closer inspection the two college students are stunned to see, strolling across the street dancing and frolicking about, a red dwarf gnashing a rotten grin, with red eyes of fire and dressed in black attire that blended into the darkness, as if the imp was camouflaged, blanketed by the night.
"Are you kidding me? What is this, a joke?" shouts Kelly.
"What do you think I am, a damn clown? No this is not staged or choreographed, I swear to it!" replies Wallace with a shout, a genuine shout that confirms the truth of his statement, as Kelly glances back at the creature.
Cruising the vehicle forward while attempting to come to grips with the fact that he is in the prevalence of the Nain Rouge, Wallace watches as the creature waltzes into an alleyway.
"Do you have a camera?" asks Wallace, as he follows in the tracks of the red dwarf.
"I have my phone?" responds Kelly.
"That'll do, let's go!" declares Wallace, cooking up a batch of bravery.
"No way, did you see the face of that monster?" cries Kelly.
"Fine, start taking pictures, I'm going to record a video with my phone," demands Wallace, chasing after it, hoping to record what they are witnessing.
Skirting away, the imp hops atop a ten-foot tall fence with the vertical leap of a pole vault before resting for a moment, turning back towards the two, staring as if studying them for a moment so brief, but one which will forever seem like an eternity for both Wallace and Kelly. The magnificent glowing red eyes burn bright under the moonlight, with the hair of the creature flowing in the gentle breeze of the night, along with the flash of a sneering grin of rotted teeth stretched across its face. An instant later the Nain Rouge turns and leaps over the fence, disappearing into the dark, and perhaps into the vast nothingness from which it came.
Wallace finds himself completely shocked and utterly mystified about the incident. Sure, he had heard the stories, and probably knew as much as anyone in Detroit about the legend, but that does not mean that he believed it in his heart, that is, until he and Kelly saw it with their very own eyes. It is clear what he saw, this was no animal, human, or hoax, he knows that he saw the Nain Rouge, but what exactly was it? Wallace could not help but replay the incident over and over again in his mind, pondering how he had locked eyes with the creature, the glowing red eyes of the red dwarf placing him in a hypnotic trance of sorts, and the sneering grin of rotted teeth, chilling the college student to the bone. It was as if the Nain Rouge was cognizant of the fact that Wallace knew just what he was looking at, and in response the red devil flaunted his diabolical manner to the onlooker as an exhibition of his un-stoppable power, greeting him with an acknowledgment of his legendary status.
Wallace and Kelly convince themselves that no one will believe them without proof of the incident, whether it their friends, family, professor, media, or anybody else short of others that have witnessed the red dwarf, an exclusive fraternity of a select few of which they are now a part. Unfortunately as luck would have it, the darkened video recorded by Wallace is grainy and unsubstantiated at best, while the pictures taken by Kelly on her phone of the Rouge fail to develop.
"I don't understand, it was recording so clear, I even had it on night vision mode," explains Wallace. "To think I've always dismissed grainy ghost pictures and videos, from now on I may be a little more open-minded."
Remembering how according to legend, a mere sighting of the red dwarf is not the only unpleasant residue spewed forth by a visit from the Nain, after digesting what has happened Wallace is fearful and unaware of what is it come. The next day does prove to be a bad one, as the harbinger of doom makes good on his appearance as the city of Detroit announces that the Cobo Hall Deal that had been proposed by the State of Michigan has been rejected by the incompetent Detroit city council, a move which could have saved the city billions of dollars and brought forth thousands of jobs to the region devastated by recession since the early twenty first century.
Over the next several weeks, Wallace, Kelly and the group put together their film documenting the history of the Nain Rouge, and when the requisite time comes, they present the video to the class. Initially uncertain how to conclude the video following the historical accounts, Wallace inserts the following, final passage into the film: "I shared the story of the legend to my friends, and on that very night, myself and Kelly came face to face with the red dwarf ourselves. Believe this is but a hoax if you wish, but please grant us the dignity of trumpeting our account in the name of honesty. The Nain appeared as if he had wished to make himself known to us. He was a small, snarling beast with red fur, rotted teeth and fiery eyes, and uttered a sharp, piercing sound the likes of which I had never heard before in my life.
"I began to fear what devastating event was primed to happen. The next day, the Cobo deal was rejected by the city. That is when I knew that the entire legend was true, that was the doom that the harbinger brought with him, a fate that we are all going to have to live through. This is not a battle, or a fire, or a riot, or a blizzard. In a sense this is much worse, this is an economic blow to a city and area that needs nothing of the sort. Tax savings, revenue, and jobs, all gone, for not one good reason.
"One conclusion our group has reached is how we're surprised that more people have not seen the Nain Rouge in the last several years around Detroit. Then again, maybe they have, say during a hot summer day preceding the Great Blackout of 2003. Or maybe, one does not have to see him to know that he exists, one need only look around at the past several decades to discover the truth. The truth is, people love finding scapegoats to blame for their individual woes, blaming rival political factions or prejudice or the government, when often times the biggest culprit for those woes are themselves. The blame for the majority of Detroit's historical woes as a whole, whether they exist in the form of war, riot or economic collapse, fall on people, maybe not on everybody, but on somebody, and not on some red dwarf.
"Perhaps the Nain Rouge does plays a hand in the misery of our region, and maybe it all started with the hurl of a rock and strike of a cane from an arrogant explorer failing to heed a warning. Perhaps the Nain merely gets drunk on schadenfreude, seeking revenge towards Antoine Cadillac and taking great pleasure in the misfortune of his city of Detroit. Regardless, things need to change in our city, and until they do, the Nain Rouge will likely be out there, and continue dancing around the streets of Detroit."