“He watched the moon sink toward the sharp treetops. Its radiance, and every sound of the night — the sighing wind, the songs of insects, the yowling things that had no identity — all these were the same, yet somehow different. He’d learned that nightmares had doors and windows that were not always shut in the daytime.
“That knowledge changed the way light fell on the land. It made the world dimmer, more shadowy, and infinitely wider.”
—from “Shadowbender,” by Yours Truly (Watch for this story in Issue #8 of Ozment’s House of Twilight — see the blogroll at the right for the URL.)
“As mankind understands more and more about the world, the number of ‘monsters’ becomes smaller and smaller. . . . In a way, mankind has lost something important.”
It would have been a lot scarier to have lived in the pre-industrial age, before the advent of the electric light. Think about it: no streetlights, no houselights, no flickering TVs behind the living-room windows of houses on your block. No neon. No jumping into the safe cubicle of your car and flicking on the headlights. The night beyond your hearth, beyond your candle, was a well of blackness. Who knew what lurked out there, where the bandogs howled?
Ten or more years ago, I read an article by a scholar named Roger Ekirch, who seemed to be making something of a career of researching the pre-industrial night. There’s far more to the subject than you’d expect: the lack of abundant artificial light gave rise to significantly different patterns of thought and ways of spending the dark hours. (Have you heard of “the first sleep” and “the second sleep”? If you’d lived back then, you would have.) The article promised a forthcoming book, but I’ve never been able to find it. If anyone knows of such a book, I’d love to hear about it.
Anyway, to my point: monsters and shadows. (That’s generally always my point, if you look hard enough. Heh, heh!) Even in our sanitized, well-lighted world, the shadows are there, always pooling, always ready to come creeping back; and we writers of horror and speculative fiction are usually looking out for them with hopeful gazes. So I’ve got three stories for you — three stories from the edges of the dusk — three sort-of near wishful encounters with monsters.
1. Just tonight (hence, the inspiration for this posting), I was walking back to my place from the home of nearby friends at a little past midnight. It’s a November night in northern Japan — rain sluicing down at times in the cruel wind, everything shiny and wet. I timed my short journey to shoot home between squalls. As I passed the mouth of the Lavender Path (a long pathway like an alley where cars can’t pass — a place for walkers and cyclists between the backs of buildings and a little park on the right, lined on both sides by bushes and flowers in season — and yes, lots of lavender), I saw, about 20 or so feet away from me, something.
The thing was so incongruous that it stopped me in my tracks. I actually backed up a few steps to peer down the pathway and squint into the dark. “What is that?” I wondered. It was so black that I thought at first it was just a shadow; there were no details visible. But it was out in the middle of the path, where no shadows of anything else fell. And the more I stared, the more I was sure it was some substantial, upright object.
It was about the size of a large dog, but the oddest thing was that I had the impression of kangaroo-like feet or legs. That is, the oval-shaped, featureless bulk of the thing seemed raised at an angle, supported by a base of some kind that my imagination could easily construe as dog-like feet. I watched for perhaps 15 or 20 seconds, but the shape didn’t move at all. I’m fairly sure it was some mundane object blown out into the path by the fierce winds. But then again, it was about the right size and posture for a chupacabras, so I was not inclined to set foot on the Lavender Path (which I frequent in the daytime) for a closer view. I’ll try to remember tomorrow to glance that way as I pass, and we’ll see if the cloud-masked sun can shed any light on the mystery.
2. Not long after seeing M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, a friend and I were walking to the local cineplex to see a late-night movie. The road we were taking had houses and buildings on one side and rice fields on the other. Ahead of us in the darkness, just at the edge of the rice fields, hunched a thing that looked for all the world like one of the cloaked creatures in The Village. We both had exactly the same impression: a vaguely humanoid shape stooping far forward, covered by a long cloak and a hood.
Of course, being adults and men (yeah, my friend was a guy — boring story, I know), we couldn’t allow ourselves to be too scared, but I’m pretty sure our steps slowed a little as we commented on it. We had to walk right past it (left past it) to get to the theater, so we did. It turned out to be black plastic draped over some rice-field-related implement, but even at quite close range, it looked like a hooded creature.
3. This one is in broad daylight. After some torrential rains a few years ago, I was crossing a bridge called Honsen Oohashi at the point where the Sekiya Canal branches off from the Shinano, Japan’s longest river. As I glanced down into the turbulent gray water, I saw what looked like a shiny, black, serpentine body rising up in an arch that just cleared the surface. It plunged back under, then re-emerged . . . then sank again, then reappeared . . . undulating, swimming in the central channel toward the sea. The thing was about 8 or 10 inches in diameter, at least. If I’d been looking down into Loch Ness, I would have been excited, let me tell you!
As I watched, though, I figured out what I was seeing. Either a car tire or the inner tube of a tire was floating on end (that is, upright, as if rolling), “bouncing” away down the river, now half into the air, now underwater. Shiny . . . black . . . the perfect sea monster! (As my old college friend Julie F. later said, “That’s an illustration of how a person sees what he wants to see.” Well, yeah. The Cervantes character in The Man of La Mancha says, “Poets select from reality.” I’d add that speculative fiction writers select, then reach out and give their selections a good, hearty twist.)
And you thought Hallowe’en was over!
So, my call to you, dear readers, is this: Does anyone have a similar story? Have you seen anything that might, in the pre-industrial night, have been a card-carrying monster? Let us hear of your shadowy walks and hair-raising glimpses. And if anyone has a bona fide monster story, well, you betcherboots that’s welcome, too!
I’d tell you about our monster-hunting club in gradeschool, but that’s a whole ‘n’other post!
Note to all: If you enjoy this sort of talk, be sure to read the comments on this post (below). People are writing in with some fascinating stories! Why don’t you be one of them?