Creatures of the Night

            When we’re little we’re intrigued and terrified of the evil that lurks in the dark. Monsters are in our closets, under our beds, outside the window and creeping in our yards. We might not know what harm they can cause, but the very thought of them keeps us awake and haunts our dreams.

            The blood thirsty, as portrayed in movies and books, are pretty scary. They creep up on unsuspecting people who are going about their normal business. These monsters pop up behind innocent people, sink their fangs in and drain them of their blood. In some stories the victims turn into vampires and in others they die.

            Stories of vampire attacks are reinforced by strange markings on necks and missing sufficient quantities of blood to cause death. Looking back, though, could the victims have died from a form of plague? Is it possible that the blood oozed from eyes, ears and mouth as a result of being ill?

            Medical science wasn’t too well advanced back in the early plague days and so the causes were blames on nightly beings. Rumors spread that garlic, crosses and driving stakes through the heart could either kill or scare the blood thirsty away. Exorcisms became popular as a way to extricate evil sources who had taken possession of an individual.

            Interestingly enough, an entire “look” identified vampires: fangs, dark tuxedos and billowing capes. Movies helped solidify how vampires behave, including sleeping in caskets and doming out only at night. Vampires had pale skin, huge incisors and red–rimmed eyes.  They hailed from Transylvania and so spoke with an Hungarian accent.

            Some of the most well-known vampires are Dracula, Buffy, Edward in the Twilight series and an entire community of vampires living peacefully among us in the Ture Blood series. Some of the vampires are terrifying because they meet the iconic image: lurking around in a cape in the dark of night. Others were portrayed with a sense of humor, such as the Count on Sesame Street and the bunny in Bunnicula.

            Then there are the zombies, the walking dead who arise out of graves wearing the remnants of their clothes and stalk the living. They march as a horde through the streets killing those that get in their way. Perhaps modern versions of zombies are based on ancient beliefs, particularly that sorcerers could reanimate the dead to do their will.

Zombies are frightening because they seem to operate without purpose. They move without eyes in a slow motion progression across fields and into towns. They are supposed to stink of death, a putrid smell of rot.

Ghosts scare us because they are thought to haunt the living. Some mystics believe that ghosts remain on earth because of unfinished business. Something or someone is holding them static. Until the issue is resolved, the ghost cannot move on.

Some buildings have a reputation of being haunted. Perhaps an individual died in the master bedroom and the crime was never solved. The “dead” hovers around, drifting in and out of rooms, searching for someone to set them free. Tours exist in these buildings, often taking place at night, hoping to capture a billowing curtain or wisp of a breeze that can be blamed on the ghost.

There are friendly cartoon ghosts who hang around with humans, playing games and causing great fun. Most ghosts are seen as poltergeists, mischievous beings that cause great racket, who knock things over and move things about. They have been blamed for deaths occurring under suspicious circumstances that make little sense and therefor remain unsolved. Believers try to track ghosts with thermometers looking for drops in temperature, by locking themselves inside haunted buildings at night, and using cameras to try to capture their images.

Some of the scariest nighttime creatures are werewolves. During the day they appear to be normal people who look no different than you or I. They have jobs, friends, family and homes. They eat the same food, drink the same drinks and play the same games. Until there is a full moon.

As the moon rises in the night sky, inflicted people morph into werewolves or, in some cases, werebeasts. They prowl about searching for flesh and blood. They are thought to be impervious to ordinary bullets and can be killed by silver bullets, stakes and fire. Like with vampires, it is thought that werewolves can create more by a simple bite.

Parents often scare children into good behavior by the threat of bogeymen coming to get them. They are evil spirits who lucre in kids’ bedrooms, hiding under beds and in closets. If the child misbehaves or doesn’t go to sleep at the proper time, the bogeyman is supposed to leap up and carry they child out of the house, never to set them free.

Goblins often appear in fantasy films and novels. They are portrayed as ugly, slight and often an ugly green. Goblins can be helpful, as in the old tale about the shoemaker or they can be mischievous sprites who like to enter a house just to torment the residents.

Halloween is the night for children to dress up and haunt their neighborhoods. They knock on the doors of strangers and demand treats. Costumes range from the cute to the frightening. Imagine princesses walking down the street next to the grim reaper. All is fair on Halloween: if no treats are given, costumed kids feel it is perfectly okay to trick the homeowners. Trees are covered in toilet paper, windows are soaped, eggs are thrown and graffiti is sprayed on houses and cars. Mischief and mayhem are part of Halloween.

All Hollow’s Eve,  as it’s also called, is the time for goblins and ghosts, witches and wizards, werewolves and vampires to prowl the earth without fear of death. All manner of evil is set loose in the spirit of fun.

While science has been unable to prove the existence of the nighttime haunts, many continue to believe in their existence. Children still fear the bogeyman, but enjoy a good cartoon with ghosts and other spirits. There’s nothing like a scary movie to block out thoughts of work, home and relationships gone bad.

It’s interesting that the same old creatures continue to spook and scare. We fear those creatures of the night because they remind us that there are noises and occurrences that confound even the most learned scientists. Plus we still enjoy a good scare now and then.

Nighttime Imagination

Unfortunately I have an excellent imagination. This can be a boon when I read books about people and places I’ve never known as I can place myself in their story. It is a curse, however, when I wake in the night and think I hear sounds of someone breaking in.

One time when I was visiting my parents during my college years, I thought I heard someone outside my window, clawing at the screen, trying to peel it off. I lay there with my heart palpitating for a long time as I pictured him slithering in through the window and killing my family.

I didn’t get out of bed to check as I was too afraid. What if he saw me? Would he shoot me?

I didn’t cry out for similar reasons. What if he heard and then  became desperate enough to through caution aside and rip off the screen?

At the time we were living in a grubby house in a low-income neighborhood. We had nothing of value. But a burglar wouldn’t know that, would he?

In the morning I walked the outside of the house looking for evidence. I found massive footprints under each window and places where the paint had been scraped off. With evidence to support my claim, I told my parents. They went outside with me and looked as I pointed out each piece of evidence. They laughed at me.

Shortly after that they moved from southern California back to the SF Bay Area. I was told i8t was due to my dad being unable to find full time work. I didn’t believe the excuse. I was always convinced that they moved out of fear.

On another visit home I discovered that my parents had moved out of the master bedroom in order to let my sister have it. That first night home, I awakened when  it was totally dark except for a slight glow from the room creeping in through the curtains.

I heard breathing. I opened my eyes. Not wide open, but only a slit. There, standing at the foot of my bed was a man dressed in flannel shirt and khakis. He stood there for the longest time, doing nothing but watch me. He did not move his arms or shuffle his feet. He was still. And spooky.

Eventually I grew sleepy and must have fallen asleep. When I woke up in the morning, there was no evidence that he had been there. I did check the clothes hanging on the back of the door,  but there was no plaid shirt or khakis.

I told my mom what I had seen but she blew it off as my imagination. I can’t blame her as I had proven myself to be an unreliable witness.

Later on I heard her ask both my brother and my dad it either one of them had been in the room. Both of them wore plaid and khakis. Both denied every stepping foot in my room.

There was another time at college when I was sitting at my desk looking out over the campus. It was dark, but the campus lights were on and the building directly across from my room was also lit from within.

Looking down, I became aware of a commotion. Police were moving about, shining flashlights into bushes and along the walls of the buildings. It was intriguing.

For some reason I looked up. On a floor parallel to mine was a man peering out a window. I could clearly see him, so I was certain that he could see me.

He also watched the goings-on down below.

Eventually the police entered that building. I wanted to tell them about the man in the window, but this was before cell phones.

Suddenly I became fearful. What if the man, knowing where I lived, escaped the police and entered my building?

I closed the curtains.

My first roommate was a bit of a character. She was a spoiled rich kid, used to doing whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted. She came and went at all hours of the night. Because she didn’t like carrying the room key, she demanded that the door be kept unlocked.

I hated her for that.

It came to a head one night when I woke up and felt something cold by my head. It lay against my arm. It felt like flesh. I held my breath and lay as still as I could. I kept my eyes closed, not wanting the invader to know that I was awake.

I stayed like this for a long, long time. Eventually I convinced myself that it was nothing but imagination. I never got up and turned on the lights.

The next time I saw my roommate, I told her that from then on, the room would be locked.

There are many more instances when my imagination worked overtime. A week ago I got up around two-thirty to use the restroom. When I returned to bed, I heard a noise in the front room. It sounded like someone was opening drawers.

I listened for a long time. I heard similar noises. Tried to convince myself that it was the cat.

Considering my age, I doubt that I will change anytime soon. I know that there will be other instances, other events in which I frighten myself that someone has invaded my territory.

I have learned to stay calm. I use rational talk and soothing words. I stay in bed and keep my breathing steady.

I can do all those things, but I cannot stop my imagination from wandering.

A Younger Me

I was a fat baby. Earliest photos show fat lines around my wrists, knees, elbows, well, just about everywhere.

As I grew older, I did not lose that fat. Instead it grew with me. It’s not that I didn’t exercise. I was an active kid. I played kickball, softball, baseball, whiffle ball, croquet and more. I built snow forts in the winter. I hiked through the woods behind our house. I climbed trees and searched for maple leaves.

Even so, I remained fat.

When I was about ten years old my parents enrolled me in skating lessons at the local rink. This was not due to a request of mine, but rather something they decided I should do.

If they had asked, I would have declined.

I had roller skates at home. I did learn to skate and did so in the garage fairly regularly. I was capable of skating around and around in circles, encompassing the confines of the garage, but I could not do any fancy moves and had no inclination to learn any.

In fact, I was terrified of falling, so never went too fast.

Imagine my terror the first time I put on skates at the roller rink and walked out onto the floor. I was trembling and clearly shaken. I begged, cried, pleaded, to no avail.

So I grabbed the wall and moved. Slowly. Almost like walking. Eventually I worked up to rolling at a very slow speed, still holding tightly to the wall.

After completing the first circle, I got brave and let go. I still was not gliding, but rather stepping, but at least I was moving.

Then the instructor called us to the center of the rink. She demonstrated how to skate by putting one foot in front of the other and sent us off. I tried. I really did, but I was too scared to commit to lifting one foot in the air.

The other kids got it. I thought they were all professionals pretending to be ordinary kids. Most of them zipped around the rink. Most did this crossover maneuver when they hit the turns.

I walked.

Our next task was to learn the hokey pokey. Simple, right? Not if you’re afraid to lift a foot or turn your backside around. Which describes me perfectly.

While the others shook this and that, I stood still. The instructor tried to convince me to do it, but I refused. She cajoled. She demonstrated. She stood next to me and held my hand.

I stood still.

When the song was done, she sent us off to circle the rink again. While I was creeping along, the instructor spoke to my mom. I found out late that the instructor thought I could benefit from private lessons, but there was no money for that. My mom promised to bring me during free skate times so I could practice.

And she kept that promise despite my pleas to give up the idea.

I did not improve. I stayed terrified.

Week after week my mom forced me out onto the rink and watched while I did as little as possible.

Sometime during a lesson someone told my mom that I needed an outfit for an upcoming performance. It was to be a two-piece blue skirt and halter top. My belly would be sticking pout for all too see and the skirt was so short, that if it didn’t have built-in panties, my own would show.

I didn’t want the outfit. I didn’t want to be in the performance, but that didn’t stop my mom.

She took me to the fabric store and bought the pattern and the fabric. She sewed an outfit that would have pleased someone else, but when I put it on, all I felt was horror.

The day came. My mom drove my siblings and I to the rink so my family could see me out on the floor.

As soon as we arrived, she sent me into the restroom to change. I did. But I didn’t come out when I was finished. Instead I stood in front of the mirror, appalled at the fat that was so clearly obvious.

My mom came looking for me. She grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the room, into the spectator area of the rink.

The other kids were dressed and ready to go. Not a one of them looked like me. All had thin arms, thin legs, thin bellies. All looked awesome in their blue outfits. All stared at me as if a hippopotamus was in their midst.

I felt ill. I truly believed that I was going to throw up. I left my mom and walked into the bathroom where I locked myself in a stall.

When I heard the hokey pokey music, I cried. I knew I would get in trouble for wasting precious dollars. I knew that my father would be told. I knew that both parents would lecture and scold. I knew that I would be punished.

But I could not unlock that door. Could not return to the rink.

When it was all over, my mom brought me my clothes. When she said nothing, I knew I was in trouble.

She said nothing all the way home.

She did tell my father. He did punish me. I went to my room and cried.

Later on, I hid my skates in a dark corner of the garage and never used them again.

The sad part is that I never asked for lessons. Had never hinted that I wanted to learn to skate better. I was satisfied going in slow circles around the garage floor.

I felt like a failure. This feeling clung to me for so many years that I never wanted to try something new again.