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.

The Visitor

As Stan approached the gravel drive to his Grandpa’s ranch, he noticed an unfamiliar man dressed almost entirely in black standing near the mailbox. Stan stopped, opened his window and asked, “Can I help you?”

The man touched his left hand to the brim of his Stetson hat, saluted, then turned and walked down the road toward town. His knee-length leather coat seemed overdressed for spring, but especially so for a person traveling on foot.

As soon as the man rounded the turn, Stan got out and retrieved the mail. Back in his cab he sorted through the pile, noted nothing amiss, then put the truck in gear and drove home.

As he passed the first paddock, a trio of chestnut colored horses followed him, heads up and tails streaming behind. Stan chuckled. These were rescues, the newest horses on the ranch. Grandpa had bought them at an auction, seeing in them potential to train into trail horses that could be resold to a friend of his.

Initially they were skittish, skinny things. Both Stan and his grandpa spent hours with them every day, approaching with treats, brushing out the mats in their manes, digging clumps of dirt from their hooves. No names yet. Those would come as personalities were revealed.

Stan placed the mail on the table just inside the door, then poured himself a glass of milk. He ate two chocolate chip cookies and then dug three cubes of sugar from a bowl sitting on the counter.

Back outside Stan whistled for the horses, then smiled as almost in unison they nickered. They knew what was coming. But before Stan could offer the first treat, the horses ran to the opposite corner of the paddock, standing with heads held high and backs to the fence.

Looking for what panicked them, Stan saw the man dressed in black on their property, leaning against a fence post. His presence made Stan uncomfortable. Nervous. So nervous that Stan backed toward the house, thinking about unlocking a gun from the cabinet in case it was needed. He hoped that the man didn’t know that Stan an expert marksman.

When Stan stepped out on the porch, the gun held against his chest, the man touched his hat, like before, then disappeared down the drive.

Stan would have liked to lock himself inside, but because this was a working ranch, there were chores to be done. He lead the new horses into the barn, put them in the largest stall, fed them and gave them clean water. After patting each one on the rump, Stan headed out to call in the rest of the herd.

Within seconds of his whistle, there was a thundering of hooves and then amid a cloud of dust the other horses arrived. His grandpa’s favorite stallion, Joe, lead the way with flaring nostrils. Betty, his mare came next, followed by three more mares and a two-year-old colt. They were a handsome mix of horseflesh, each unique in terms of breed, markings and personality.

After stabling and taking care of them, Stan drug four bales of hay down from the loft and oiled the harnesses his grandpa had left out for him.

After all that it was time to concentrate on his schoolwork. This being his senior year, Stan wanted to get perfect grades in order to up his chances for a scholarship. Grandpa Ellis had said not to worry about money, but Stan knew enough about their finances that he felt a need to do all he could to pay his way.

In between assignments he worked on dinner. Tonight would be pulled pork sandwiches. Before going to school Stan had put the meat in a crock pot. It was now so tender that it shredded with the slightest touch.

Expecting Grandpa soon, Stan got a soda and went out to sit on the porch. The man was back, this time much closer to the house. “What do you want?” Stan shouted.

The man pushed back the brim of his hat, revealing a huge scar that ran from ear to chin. It was an ugly red worm, a straight line most likely made by a knife.

“This is private property,” Stan said as he stood. Stan was almost six feet tall, his height often intimidating to those bullies who were smaller. From his best estimate, Stan saw that this man was taller and buffer. Stan’s height would not be a factor in scaring the guy away. Hoping words would work, Stan said, “Leave now or I’ll call the sheriff.”

The man smirked and then silently left. Seconds later Grandpa arrived in a swirl of dust.

“Did you see a strange man?” Stan asked as Grandpa climbed the three steps to the deck.

“Yeah. He seemed a bit familiar, but right now I can’t place him. What’s for dinner? I’m starved.”

As they ate they talked about the training of the new horses. Stan mentioned how easy it was to get them in the stall, especially compared to how it was when they first arrived. And how peculiarly they acted when the man was on the property.

Grandpa said he’d met with Richard, the owner of the nearby dude ranch, and that he was looking for good horses. And if they were trained by Stan, he’d buy them without checking them out personally.

After dinner both men sat out on the deck. It was now dusk. The sounds of crickets filled the air, until there was a hiss, which silenced even the leaves of the surrounding tress.

Grandpa Ellis stood, his hands planted firmly on his hips. “Is that you, Musial? What do you want?”

The man stepped into the glow of the lights emanating from inside the house. “Yeah, it’s me. Why don’t you invite me in for a cup of joe?” He blew out a cloud of smoke, filling the air with the stench of a strong-tarred cigarette.

“Naw, not goin’to happen,” Grandpa said as he nodded Stan toward the door. “We got no business Musial.”

Musial took three quick steps, placing him at the base of the stairs. “Yeah, we do. Them three horses are mine. They was stolen from me, right off my land. I want ‘em back.”

“They was abused. Ribs stickin’ out. Hooves a mile long. Filthy. Standin’ almost knee deep in mud. Plus they was scared.” Grandpa sat back in his rocking chair, crossed his right leg over his left and leaned back, looking as casual as if he was at a Sunday picnic.

Stan watched from the safety of the house, but only after calling 911 and reporting the confrontation to the sheriff.

Musial leaned against the porch railing, staring intently at Grandpa. “I just rescued them myself. Hadn’t had time to fatten ‘em up. Paid good money for ‘em. Want ‘em back.”

Grandpa pulled his pipe out of the pouch he kept on a shelf to the right of his chair, filled it with tobacco and lit it. He blew out a cloud of aromatic smoke. He said nothing. Didn’t look at Musial. Just drew in another lungful of smoke, this time exhaling a perfect ring.

“Are you goin’ to give ‘em to me or not?”

In the distance a siren could be heard, coming closer by the second. Musial cocked his head to one side, then as he turned around, said, “This isn’t over, Ellis. I’ll be back.”

He disappeared into the darkness as silently as he had come, gone well before the sheriff’s car screeched to a halt next to Stan’s truck.

Stan went inside to read while the men talked. A few minutes later, Grandpa came in and fixed himself a cup of coffee. “I ain’t goin’ to tell you what that’s about,” he said. “Just that Musial is not a nice man. He’s a known thief and liar. As far as we know, he’s not dangerous, so you’ve got nothin’ to worry about.”

When Stan left for school the next morning, the man, still dressed in black, waved to him as he pulled out onto the road. As soon as Stan could pull over safely, he called his grandpa and warned him that Musial was back. Stan told his grandfather that he worried that Musial might steal the horses, but Granpa said not to worry, that he’d already moved them into the back pasture where he’d be working all day and that he had his shotgun with him.

During lunch Stan ate out on the front lawn with his friends. Just as he started telling them about the man, he was there, across the street. Standing with arms crossed on his chest. He nodded at Stan, then touched his brim, and walked away. Goosebumps broke out on Stan’s arms and he shivered.

Stan was so uncomfortable the rest of the day that he had a hard time concentrating on his classes. When the final bell rang, Stan hurried to his truck. The man was leaning against the door.

“Hey, Big Man,” he said. “Tell your Grandpa I won’t give up ‘til I get those horses back,” and then he walked away.

Stan got in his truck, locked the door and sat for a bit, trying to calm his nerves. Once he felt settled, he drove home. He found his grandfather in the kitchen working on dinner.

“This has to stop,” Stan said. “That man freaks me out. Can’t the sheriff make him stay away?”

“I spoke to the sheriff a little bit ago,” he said after swallowing a bite of spaghetti. “So far Musial hasn’t broken any laws. He can warn him, but he can’t threaten him. Sheriff Jim promised, however, that he’d look into Musial’s claim that he had just rescued the horses.”

After dinner Stan did his chores, working with the new horses individually, keeping watch in case Musial showed up. His nervousness affected the horses who were a bit jittery. Even so, all behaved on the long rope, doing whatever Stan asked of them. It helped that he rewarded them with sugar cubes.

After putting all the horses away for the night and closing the barn door, Stan saw the man again. This time he was sitting on the porch in Grandpa’s chair, smoking his grandpa’s pipe. Stan called Grandpa first, then the sheriff and finally locked himself in the barn.

Evening fell while he was there. He sat with Betty, repeatedly stroking her muzzle, more to keep himself calm than to comfort her, but she leaned into his hand, begging for more as if she hadn’t been stroked for years.

His phone rang. Grandpa said all was safe and to come inside. Stan patted Betty one last time, then joined his grandpa in the front room. “What happened?”

“Sheriff Jim arrested Musial for trespassing,” he said as he blew out a stream of smoke.

“Had the sheriff researched Musial’s claims?”

“Yeah. A bit. He verified that Musial was not the original owner, but he couldn’t find evidence of when the transfer took place. The issue of condition, however, has not changed. The horses were knee-deep in mud, there was no clean water and no food at the time they were rescued. So, even if Musial got them half-starved, he wasn’t providing proper care for them.”

The men sat in the dark for a bit, digesting the words. Grandpa rocked as he smoked while Stan stared into the darkness as if looking for boogeymen.

“Do you think he’ll come back?” Stan asked.

“Probably not. The sheriff took him in. It turns out there was an outstanding arrest warrant for him. Domestic abuse. And another for a DUI. Could be why he was always on foot. Lost his license.”

Stan sighed. “Sounds good. It freaked me out. I’ve never liked stories where someone gets stalked. They make me as nervous as the person being stalked feels. Now I know what it’s like and I never want to go through that again.”

Grandpa Ellis patted his grandson’s arm. “It’s finished. Musial will never come back. Now, it’s time for bed.”

The men stood in unision, looked out into the darkness, sighed, then went inside, Grandpa locking the door behind them, something which he’d never done before.