The terrifying creature rose above the horizon of Chernobyl and Pripyat, a hideous humanoid with giant wings, a black headless body and red glowing eyes sending a message of doom to all who gazed upon it.
In the days leading up to the Chernobyl disaster, several of the workers in the control room of the nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine claimed to have seen the creature that is known as the Black bird of Chernobyl.
Those unlucky enough to see the creature were said to be plagued with terrifying dreams and threatening phone calls.
Still others believe the Black bird of Chernobyl was a form of the creature known as Moth Man whose presence only ever meant one thing: that a catastrophic event would soon follow.
Last month marked 33 years since the Chernobyl tragedy and it seems the further time moves away from the event, the stories, folklore and legends continue to captivate and grow.
And, since the huge success of the TV series Chernobyl, there's a seemingly endless desire for more knowledge about the disaster — the known as well as the unknown.
The Black bird rises in Chernobyl
Sydney archaeologist Robert Maxwell is the only archaeologist who has ever worked at Chernobyl, completing two field excursions at the exclusion zone in 2010 and 2012.
He is passionate about the place in both a historical and archaeological sense; there is little Maxwell doesn't know about Chernobyl, on matters of both the physical and supernatural world.
Maxwell told news.com.au that the legend of the Black bird of Chernobyl was something he heard about when he was in the exclusion zone.
"The legend states that in the days leading up to April 26, 1986, that a supernatural creature was sighted in the sky over Chernobyl by many of the men in the control room. They also claimed to have seen this terrifying creature just before the explosion," Maxwell said.
"Now it's become one of those fables that's difficult to track because it relies on the accounts of people who died due to radioactive contamination.
"The Black bird has also become one of those fairly safe legends where, if you try to look for proof, it might not be available because the workers are dead, or maybe the sightings were never officially recorded.
"So, for people trying to check the voracity of these claims, of course, you've got to take them on face value because there's not a lot of history or archaeology to go on.
"But the stories persist, even to this day."
Maxwell describes the legends around Chernobyl as "the fireside stories of the 21st century".
These days, the Black bird of Chernobyl is something of an internet legend, similar to "Slenderman", and creepy pasta legend "The Smiling Man".
"These legends fill a place for us as humans that the ghost stories and stories by the fireside fulfilled back in the earlier centuries. But there are a couple of versions of the Black bird story, and the earliest known account seems to have come from 2005," Maxwell said.
"According to the legend, rumours went through the ranks of Chernobyl, that five employees had seen a large, dark headless creature with gigantic wings and fire red eyes. Chernobyl employees began sharing strangely similar experiences, some had horrifying nightmares, while others received threatening phone calls," Maxwell said.
"The second account I've heard of this story comes from 2007 which says that people in and around the power plant began to experience a series of strange events revolving around sightings of a mysterious creature — also described as a large dark and mutated creature with large wings and piercing red eyes.
"People affected by the phenomena also experienced nightmares and had first-hand encounters with the winged beast.
"Some of the workers reported their bizarre experiences to supervisors of the facility but there was very little these officials could do even if they'd been willing to take action. Then, in April, disaster struck."
Reactor number four of the nuclear power plant exploded on April 26 and, two days later, the entire city of Pripyat was evacuated.
It was several years later that the stories of the Black bird began to spread.
"Because the workers apparently described the Black bird as a headless, large-winged black creature with no head, but with fire red eyes — which most people take to mean the eyes appear in the torso, it sounded very similar to the Mothman sightings in the west.
"Many people believe the Mothman, like the Black bird of Chernobyl, are the harbingers of doom, in the same way the banshee was a herald of doom and death to many Celtic societies."
Mothman sightings are an enduring mystery that began in November 1967 in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. More than 100 locals reported seeing what they described as a six-foot (182cm) tall beast, covered in hair or feathers with a wingspan of six to ten feet (182-305cm) and bright, glowing red eyes.
Then, in December, a chain suspension bridge across the Ohio River, from Point Pleasant to Gallipolis, crashed into the river at peak hour, killing 46 people.
Some reported that they saw the Mothman on the bridge just before the collapse.
Due to the bridge collapse happening around the same time as the Mothman sightings, inevitably the two became intertwined.
Whether you want to believe the legend or not, one irrefutable fact is that the story of one can't be told without the other: the bridge collapse and Mothman are forever linked. There's even a Mothman statue in Point Pleasant which is now a popular tourist attraction.
The Mothman was also reportedly spotted in Germany, on September 10, 1978, when a mine collapsed in Freiburg, killed several miners. But more than 20 miners who were supposed to work that day were apparently scared away by the sight of a Mothman-like creature perched at the entrance of the mine.
This creature was known as "Freiburg Shrieker". And now the Mothman is seen as a "grim reaper" appearing just before death.
Of course, sceptics dismiss the Mothman as an elaborate hoax or an example of mass illusion. Some believe the stories have actually been created by Pripyat authorities in a bid to prevent people from entering the radioactive area as looters are still a security problem.
The herald of doom
According to Maxwell, while some see the Mothman as a herald of doom, others see the creature in a different light, that it seems to be a time traveller of some kind that keeps returning to sudden, unexpected disasters.
"And for others, the Mothman is a completely supernatural entity that's drawn in, like a moth is drawn to a flame; the Mothman or the Black bird is simply drawn to the energy of disasters, or so the story goes," Maxwell said.
"It's a fascinating little spooky side note to the story of Chernobyl because not many people are aware of the stories of this creature. But it certainly adds to the creep factor.
"As if the Chernobyl disaster wasn't terrifying enough, then you've got these alleged encounters with a black winged red eyed creature at night."
And as for Maxwell, the question remains: during his two field excursions to the Chernobyl exclusion zone, did he see anything supernatural?
"No, absolutely not. It was entirely very much real terror when you're there. What's truly frightening is that you've got the all-encompassing overwhelming threat of radioactive contamination if you do the wrong thing or go in the wrong place or lean against the wrong object.
"There are certain things in the zone today for which any contact for any prolonged period of time will definitely kill you.
"There is one thing in particular that I still think about quite a lot: The Claw."