There are those who believe that the Things That Go Bump in the Night are more than just the neighbors getting it on in the next apartment. They believe that there are mysteries that even our deepest scientific thinkers and most intense measuring devices cannot detect or comprehend. These mysteries, these ancient forces of dream and earth, spirit and elements, have existed far longer than clumsy mortal humans and, believers tell us, will continue long after we are gone.

With the coming of autumn and the earth’s return to a slumber sometimes resembling death, people’s minds turn to these sometimes fearsome forces and even the most reasonable man may look over his shoulder for an unseen pursuer and the most rational woman may insist she heard a female scream when no one else heard a sound. And in these modern cities we live in, perhaps she heard correctly...and perhaps she heard what others could not.

Take a trip to any fetish night or dance club and you’ll see dozens of pale, hollow eyed “vampires” leering at you indifferently from the shadows, begging to go home with you, drink your blood and make you one of the Kindred. The cities reek of vampires these days. They’re so fashionable that it’s hard to be afraid of them anymore. Pity. Hollywood has glamorized and publicized the Undead for generations: neck-biters, mummies, zombies and werewolves have stepped from their shadowy haunts into the blazing light of the cinema marquee to become superstars with huge costume and make-up budgets. With merchants getting fat from the fear of our ancestors, who are the true blood-suckers and soul-stealers now?

But for all our bravado and jaded attitudes, once we walk out of our Cure and Marilyn Manson concerts or strain to readjust our eyes as we leave our modern theaters and try to see inside the shadows, the hairs on the backs of our necks will still prickle if we hear the ground crunch behind us when we know there’s no reason for it to do so. We may turn around slowly or whip around quickly but it’s still the same: nothing. No murderer, no thief, not even a multi-pierced Goth begging quarters for clove cigarettes. Perhaps our great, great grandfathers were right. Perhaps it’s the Wendigo dogging our footsteps, always at our backs, never in our line of sight. Perhaps it’s the Wendigo that caused man to huddle in cities for protection from this spirit of the lonely places. But man brought his loneliness with him, and so the Wendigo followed, whispering in words that, like its visage, are just out of reach. Perhaps its voice still drives men mad and, like our ancestors, some of us unload our weapons into nothing and then run mad into our own mind’s wilderness.

But those of us who still maintain some control of our thoughts keep walking and ignore the voices in our heads, the footsteps acting like shadows, we get in our cars or buses, or keep walking to our homes and we scan the horizon (when we can find a horizon) and look idly into darkened windows and sometimes...sometimes...we see shadows. People? Why on earth are people hanging out this late at night; sitting or standing on the hillsides, the church steeples, the tops of the trees? Maybe we greet them, waving or shouting “hello” and maybe we move toward them to get a better look. But as soon as we speak or attempt to touch these Watchers, they disappear. How strange. Legend asks more questions than it answers, for the Watchers neither help nor hinder mankind...that we know of. Perhaps they simply watch and report what they see to some superior. But who is their master? Is he (or she) dark or light? Ultimately, does it matter?

When we finally arrive home we open ourselves immediately to interference from supernatural beings. Perhaps we shout out that we are home or call for our roommates by name. Our names are our most intimate possessions yet, unlike our ancestors, we do not guard them well. We hand out our first names like the Victorians handed out calling cards, and every time our name is repeated by others not connected by family ties, our persona, some believe, is drained and we become weaker. Our ancestors, known outside their families by their surnames, would suggest that many of our modern ills come from our promiscuous exchange of first names.

Because many non-western people regard their names (and value the possession of their own spirits) more highly than we “civilized” folk do, they have developed ways of avoiding the revelation of their true names to casual enquirers. Many Australian Aborigines are known by European names or shoulder stupid nicknames given them by whites, saving their actual names for those of their own tribe. Other societies never address children by their correct names in order to prevent demons from possessing the child. Perhaps this explains America’s tragic epidemic of gang violence. Our ancient parents, the Babylonians did not give their children official names until they were pubescent. During the right of passage into adulthood, a youth was placed under the protection of a god (much like the Catholic guardian angel) who protected the young person’s name. If the new adult ever fell ill, the community knew that she or he had committed some sin, causing the guardian to depart, leaving room for a demon to learn the name and fill the space left by the god. The hard work of learning the demon’s name then began...and once that was done, the demon could be expelled and the person returned to health.

For some, death did not end the prohibition on uttering a true name. For the Klamath and Chinook Indians, for instance, the names of the dead were never to be uttered. To do so was to call that person back to the land of the living and invite their discomforting presence.

Ironically for us, it is now our surnames which pack the power of destruction. Once we present a stranger with our father’s last name, our addresses can be learned, our credit ratings can be hacked and our mailboxes can be filled with all manner of superstitious literature. Where can we escape this torture for even a moment of sweet comfort?

Ah, to sleep and perchance to dream. Surely a good night’s sleep will bring release and a fresh perspective on life, eh? Good Morpheus, the god of dreams will certainly weave a soothing vision as his father, Hypnos fans us to sleep with his dark wings. Too often these goodly beings’ work is undone by Nightmares; spirits, incubi or succubi who come in the night to crouch on our chests and stop our breaths, bringing terrible dreams and dread. Sometimes they appear as our lovers and exhaust us with their evil attentions.

If our night is truly damned, perhaps we’ll hear the wailing cry of a foretelling Banshee, the Gaelic and Celtic spirit rarely seen but often heard. This weeping bitch of misfortune’s bonechilling wail blends the screams of abandoned children and the groans of a delivering mother with the howls of wolves and the cries of geese. Those who are condemned to hear this evil lullaby receive only one message: someone in their family will soon die, it matters not whether they are near or far away. Their fate is sealed and the Banshee is its tortured messenger.

But sleep sweetly, gentle reader. We are modern men and women who have no time for fairy tales or silly children’s imaginings.

Me, I’ll light a candle tonight and hang a stone with a natural hole through it over my bed in the hopes of discouraging disquieting dreams. And if all this fails, I’ll burrow under my sheets and mutter a desperate incantation to St. George, slayer of evil Nightmares. I am a woman of science, you see, and never fear that which goes bump in the night.

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