Wednesday, October 20, 2010


There are two bright green dots of light on the power strip above my desk. In the dim light of my computer, and without my glasses, which I rarely wear while on my computer, this is what those dots of light look like:

Only slightly creepy...

Anyway, a funny thing happened this past week. Somehow, and I don't know why, I've had three different occasions where the topic of conversation turned to creepy experiences in the night while trying to fall asleep.

As it happens, I have a pretty good one that was super creepy at the time, but super funny now. Since I've been telling the story over and over again, I thought I'd just get on here and do the thing properly.

I've always been a bit of an odd child. Thinking about things that don't occur to normal kids, and yet being oblivious to those which are common. For example, I used to entertain myself by wrapping my blanket around me into a cone shape, and throwing my igneous rocks from the cone according to how they would really come out of a volcano. Basalt slid gently down the side. Scoria flew through the air. Granite filled in cracks below the ground. Etc. And yet fashion and pop culture has always eluded me.

On that note, allow me to describe to you the fears of this particular young child. Cross a very logical, reasoning, scientific brain with a spectacular imagination, and you've got me. Knowing, of course, that supernatural creatures don't really exist, my highest fears were for things that could.

But in the darkness of the largest bedroom in the house, full of odd shadows, and located in the middle of the forests of Virginia, where the only streetlight for miles around was at the foot of our very long driveway, imagination nearly always overrules reason.

And yet, within this irrational state of mind, reason still had its place. Of all the supernatural creatures, there were several that I never bothered with. Frankensteins were never scary. Neither were werewolves (although my sister has a very different opinion on that). Aliens weren't a big deal. Zombies are cool.

But vampires scared me to the point of real panic. One time I read the word vampire on a choose your own adventure book, and started to hyperventilate. I had a nightmare that night, and I hadn't even read the book. Just looked at it. No joke. And here's why: (Believe it or not, I actually thought about these things as a ten year old terrified in bed).

1) Vampires could fly. Even if you lived in a place inaccessible to any other creature, flying means that you still aren't safe.

2) Vampires are extraordinarily persuasive. You could potentially let a vampire in, sit in a chair, and say 'bite me here' and never even know what you were doing.

3) Vampires are like horrible mutations of humans. While werewolves are changed, they are like wolves, not men. Giant monsters are clearly recognized for what they are. Vampires can slip in and out of humanity without being noticed by any but the most practiced eye.

4) Vampires don't just kill you. They turn you into one of them. Which, for some reason, is much scarier. True that werewolves do as well (if they don't rip you apart first) but everything else makes vampires worse, for me.

5) Vampires have opposable thumbs. If you barricade yourself properly, zombies, werewolves, and other beasts can only scratch and pound at the door, hoping it will give way, giving you time to destroy them from a vantage point. A vampire can turn a doorknob, lift a second floor window, or use a key in a lock. Anywhere that you can get, they can get too.

6) Vampires have super-human cleverness. With most other supernatural monsters, the intelligence level drops. Werewolves become beastlier. Zombies are literally unthinking. Goblins and such are always just a little stupider. Not vampires. They can out think you if you're not careful. They keep the brains, but lose the humanity and compassion. They're merciless.

7) They are REALLY hard to kill.

*UPDATE* I'm adding a number 8 here, on the suggestion of a friend. 8) Shapeshfting. Vampires can turn into all sorts of stuff. Often a flock of bats, but they can do other mammals as well.

Now that you know all of this about me, you'll be able to understand my story even better. I find vampires cool now, because of all those same reasons. They are the ultimate creepy supernatural villain. But even though I find them cool instead of panic inducing, I still have to sleep with my light on if I think about it too much.

Onward to Dracula.

As you may be aware, a lot of books that are considered "classics" are, well, weird. No one actually knows why they are classics, except for the fact that they're old. Despite this knowledge, there were several that I was interested in checking out, just for curiosity. Bram Stoker's Dracula was one of these.

It is 444 pages, and I don't know if I expected to make it all the way through. I didn't with Frankenstein. It just wasn't interesting enough. But the adventure gets intense literally by page 6. Picture this:

Johnathan Harker, a young up and coming attorney, gets called away on business to Transylvania. There a count, by the name of Count Dracula, wishes to consult him on the purchase of a property in England.

He is to meet the count's carriage in the middle of the night, in the middle of the spooky Transylvanian forest, on all hallows eve. He gets chased by a pack of wolves through the mist, his driver stops to check out some strange ghostly flames, and he almost gets eaten before he's even gotten to the castle. Then they approach this =>

Creepy, huge, crumbling castle, in the middle of the night, near a huge precipice. And this is all in the first few pages.

Needless to say, I was completely hooked. I was really busy with some things at first, so I read 20 pages, had to stop, and didn't get back to it for a few days. But it was the most intense first 20 pages ever. When I did get the chance to pick it back up, it was in the evening, and I read about 200 pages straight.

Every time I tried to close it, knowing that I needed to go to sleep, my hands would not respond to me. And suddenly I was in the midst of another chapter. Finally, at somewhere between 3 and 4 in the morning, I forced myself to put the bookmark in place and turn out the lights. That was tricky enough, turning out the lights and walking all the way to my bed. At 4 am.

The very next night, I settled in to read again. I didn't plan on finishing it that night, but that's what happened. I physically could not put it down. So here I am, desperately reading on into the wee hours of the morning, unable to stop, when I finally make it. Page 444. The story is over. And once again it's about 3:30 am.

And at 3:30 am I suddenly realize that I've just read 400 pages about the king of vampires in two nights, and now I have to go turn off my light, get in my bed, fall asleep, and not freak out in the dark. It didn't really work.

Every shadow was dracula coming to get me. There was a particularly freaky one in the corner of my closet, just past the not-quite-closed-all-the-way sliding door, that kept drawing my eye. For some reason, there were also goblins under my bed, reaching out to grab me with their long, bony hands. I was on the verge of turning the light back on and putting my headphones in.

Suddenly my room lit up.

I'm not even kidding. It was this eerie pale blueish light that threw everything into even creepier shadows. It was accompanied by this vague whirring sound.

If I was the screaming type, which luckily I'm not, I totally would have screamed my lungs out.

And then I realized what it was: My computer.

It had decided to turn itself on just as I was falling asleep. After having been off for hours and hours. I didn't notice it at first because there were walls on my desk that blocked it from the view of my bed. All I saw was the light.

From then on, I kept my computer closed at night.

Obviously I was in a different apartment when this happened, so the effect was much different. And obviously cameras can't see what human eyes see, even if they're really good. The light is bluer, the shadows are deeper, and I didn't have my glasses on. But this picture is the closest I could manage.

And that is the story of how Dracula nearly gave me a panic attack.

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