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.

Earthquake!

 

When I was a senior in college I lived in an apartment suite with three other girls, one of them from Japan. Three of us were used to earthquakes as we all lived in northern California. The fourth girl, who was my roommate, had never experienced an earthquake and so had no idea what to expect.

I was quite seasoned in that department, for when I arrived in California in June of 1964 there was a rollicking earthquake that sent me sprawling on the floor. I watched in horrified amazement as telephone poles swayed back and forth, leaning so far as to give the impression that they were soon to fall. Nothing so dramatic happened, but that quake left a lasting impression.

Over the next several years as I lived in various houses around the Bay Area, I had felt many small quakes that made me a bit nervous, but not as terrified as the first one. In fact, it seemed that the more quakes I felt, the less they disturbed me.

In September of 1979 I transferred to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. The first year I lived in a towering residence hall. From my seventh floor room, I often felt the building sway. Each time it upset me, thinking that at any moment the whole thing would crumble to the ground with me trapped inside. To defray some of my fears, I stood at my window and watched nearby buildings sway along with mine, thinking that if they didn’t fall, my building wouldn’t either. Afterward I never saw any evidence of destruction.

One beautiful spring day I was up on the roof sunbathing. I had lathered myself up and gotten comfortable with one of my textbooks. I grew sleepy and just as I began to drift away, a rolling quake hit that brought me to my feet. From my lofty perch, close to the railing, yet far enough that I wouldn’t fall off, I watched neighboring buildings sway. Sirens went off, fire engines zoomed past and a series of ambulances raced down the streets.

To the best of my knowledge, no one got seriously hurt, but a few older folks supposedly suffered heart attacks.

The following year I moved into a large multi-bedroom house that was sponsored by the Soroptimist Organization. All the girls in my building were low income like myself. The organization allowed us to live rent-free as long as we maintained excellent grades and were never in academic difficulty. We also had to keep the facility spotless and host the organization whenever they chose to hold fundraisers.

Over a period of several months earthquakes regularly shook the house. One time I was sitting on the toilet. I imagined myself being found in the ruble with my pants down. That frightened me so much that from then on I tried not to stay in the bathroom for any longer than absolutely necessary.

The number and intensity of the quakes intensified as the year went on. Because the building was old and shook in a frightening way, I was afraid to live there, so for the next school year I applied to the senior dorm across campus and was accepted.

I had not visited the building before move-in day, so I was surprised to find that it was about the same age as the Soroptimist House. It was also located near to train tracks which caused the building to shake and sway whenever a train went by.

I convinced myself that it didn’t matter the age of the building or the periodic shaking for I was happy to live with other seniors and to be free from the overarching demands of the Soroptimists.

Unfortunately that year was a particularly fertile one for earthquakes. We were shaken regularly, but seldom while we were in the dorm.

When one hit whenever I was in class we were evacuated into the quad, a grassy area in the center of campus. It became an expected ritual. Earthquake, evacuation, sitting under the shade of a tree. It was almost bucolic and definitely lured me into a false sense of security.

Early one February morning in 1971, around six, the building shook with such ferocity that my three suitemates were all awakened. At first we gathered in the kitchen which separated our rooms, when as the shaking intensified, we split apart so we could stand under a door frame, supposedly the safest place.

My roommate was so terrified that she fell at my feet, grabbed my ankles, and begged me to save her. I uttered as comforting words as I could, but I was scared that I was going to die. The shaking seemed to go on forever.

When it finally stopped, my roommates and I discovered huge cracks running down our walls and chunks of plaster that had fallen in our showers and on our beds. We were evacuated to the street, where we stood in our nightgowns, clustered in groups of equally frightened students.

When we were allowed inside, we dressed for class and headed off. Later on we heard on the news that the quake registered 6.5 and caused heavy damage to buildings, highways and bridges. It threatened a reservoir in the San Fernando Valley, which leaked a steady stream of water that, thankfully, did not flood low-lying valleys.

Our building survived. While we were at class, maintenance came in and cleaned up the mess. When we returned to our suite, fresh plaster covered the cracks.

For days afterward our building shook. There were a series of mini-quakes that hit at all times of the day and night, but even after they stopped, we were sure that each passing train was another quake.

Years went by when only periodic mild quakes rattled us in the San Francisco area. None of them rattled me like the one in 1971. Each time one hit, I’d stop what I was doing, look around for cracks, decide whether to get up and look for a safe place in which to be, but then when things stopped shaking, I continued doing whatever it was that I had been working on.

Things changed in October of 1989. I had just picked my kids up from a friend’s house when the sidewalk moved like waves. The surge was so strong that my friend and I were thrown to the ground. My eight-passenger van rocked and rolled. My kids, who were inside, looked at me through the back windows and screamed.

It was terrifying. Not only did the sidewalk buckle, but telephone poles swayed back and forth with such ferocity that it was surprising that they didn’t bend over and crack apart. We were all so shaken that we didn’t move for several minutes after things settled down.

My first thoughts were to call my husband, but I had to wait until I got home to do so.

Later we learned that it was a 6.9 quake that caused substantial damage and killed 67 people and over $5 billion in damages.

I am grateful that we have been blessed with calm years since then, but I am ever alert for the next one.

I’d also like to report that I have an emergency bag packed and ready to go, but that would be a lie. It’s almost as if I don’t prepare, it won’t happen, but that’s a stupid way of thinking.

Meanwhile I’ll think about that bag and hopefully, act on it soon.