Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Night Terrors II - Monster Chiller Horror Theater 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comMy research into hypnogogic sleep paralysis reminded me of a short story called Sun City  I read years ago that scared the living daylights out of me. It was in a pulp paperback collection of horror stories called New Terrors II.

A young woman on her honeymoon in Mexico takes a walk alone on a deserted beach. She hears a strange noise ahead and peers through some rocks to investigate. She sees a group of men standing over something, and it dawns on her that she is witnessing a gang rape. Safely concealed by the rocks, she locks eyes with the victim, a young Mexican woman, who silently pleads for her to help. Afraid of being raped herself, she runs off. When she finally finds her husband, she rationalizes that it is too late to do anything. Although deeply ashamed of her inaction, she doesn’t tell him or anyone else and tries to forget what she saw.

Years later, divorced and living alone in the United States, she begins to notice the terrible stench of something rotting in her apartment. She cleans out her garbage, she calls her landlord out to see if something has died between her walls, but she can never locate the source of the maddening smell, which, although powerful, is intermittent. Around the advent of the smell she begins to dream of a shadowy figure wearing some sort of raggedy coat shambling toward her. The sinister creature is vaguely and unsettlingly familiar, but she can’t quite remember how. One day she is awakened from a nap by the now familiar smell of putrescence and sees the figure approaching her from across the room. In the light of day she sees that it is a man dressed in a suit of flayed, rotting human skin. Convinced that she must still be dreaming or suffering a terrible hallucination, she flees her apartment and checks into a motel. Exhausted and terrified, she goes to sleep, believing that she has outrun her nightmare. In the middle of the night she begins to smell the odor and she jumps up from the bed and runs to the bathroom and locks the door. Breathing raggedly over the sink, she looks up in the mirror and sees the creature's reflection in the fluorescent light. He is standing right behind her. Finally, she realizes who he is.

“She sent you to me,” Nora said, and realized she was no longer afraid.

The skin was horrible-a streaky grey with ragged, black edges. But what of the man underneath?...Suddenly, as she gazed steadily at the figure, his name came into her mind, as clearly as if he had written it on the mirror for her: Xipe, the Flayed One. She had been right in thinking him some ancient Mexican god. But she knew nothing else about him, nor did she need to know. He was not a dream to be interpreted, he was here, now.
She saw that he carried a curved knife; watched without fear as he tore seams in the skin he wore, and it fell away, a discarded husk.
Revealed without the disfiguring, concealing outer skin Xipe was a dark young man with a pure, handsome face. Not a Mexican, Nora thought, but an Indian, of noble and ancient blood. He smiled at her. Nora smiled back, realizing now that there had never been any reason to fear him.
He offered her the knife. So easy, his dark eyes promised her. No fear, no question in their brown depths. Shed the old skin, the old life, as I have done, and be reborn.
When she hesitated, he reached out with his empty hand and traced a line along her skin. The touch of his hand seared like ice. Her skin was too tight. Xipe, smooth, clean and new, watched her, offering the ritual blade.
At last she took the knife and made the first incision.

Brrrr! Scary! I thought this story also served as a nice education in the Aztec pantheon. I certainly never forgot this god. I made E read the story and I've had a good time sneaking up behind her and whispering, "Xipe Totec."

"Stop it!" Waving her hands away.


"Quit it! I mean it."

"Xipe -"

"Say it one more time. I dare you."

Friday, August 26, 2005

Succubus: The Reference Interview 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comA perfectly ordinary looking man and woman approached the desk.

The man said, “I’ve been having a lot of trouble sleeping lately. I need some books or something to help me with that.”

“Maybe some books on curing insomnia and sleep disorders?”

“No! The problem is not with sleeping, Well, I can’t sleep, but not from insomnia. I’ve been having a lot of stress.”

“Would you like some books and tapes on relaxation?”

“No! It’s not like that! I’ve been having these visitations in the middle of the night and I’m so worried about them that I can’t fall asleep.”


“Like, from a demon or something. Someone or someTHING has been coming in my bedroom at night and nibbling - nibbling on my private parts. You know, my sex organs? I’m so scared of whatever this thing is that I can’t sleep. I need some books on how to get rid of it.”

I glanced at the woman with him. She nodded her head in full agreement and murmured, “Yeah, he’s got to get rid of this awful thing.”

I cleared my throat. “Well, the books on insomnia and sleep disorders might have the answers for you. Perhaps go to the chapter on night terrors? If you don't find help there, you might want to see a doctor.”

“Night terrors! That sounds right. Is that what they call the creatures that come in the night to bite on your private parts?”

“Kind of. Sir, here is that call number. Good luck to you.”

Actually, I looked into it and it appears like he is describing a textbook case of night terrors, specifically hypnogogic sleep paralysis (HSP), a condition which can cause these bizarre hallucinations. Like the paranoid delusions of schizophrenics, these hallucinations are culturally specific. From Nightterrors.org:

HSPs are usually a vision of a small creature that sits on the victim's chest. The creature then either compresses the chest or attempts to strangulate the victim. Almost all attacks have been reported by people sleeping on their backs.

Ancestral ghosts - Southeast Asians
Hag - Irish and Scottish
Cats - Chinese
Spectral foxes - Japanese
Djinn - Arabs
Guilt - Romans and the Egyptians
Witchcraft - Mexicans
Vampires - Europeans
Demons - Medieval Europe

It is even theorized that people who believe they were abducted by aliens merely suffered from a sleep paralysis induced hallucination.

Whew! I'm glad I sleep on my side! Less chance of choking on my vomit that way, too.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Eat your vegetables 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comA woman wearing a green beret was shouting and cackling in the reference area. She was also waving a metal microscope over her head like a lasso.

"Ma'am, you're being very disruptive. Please keep your voice down, or you'll have to leave."

"Which voice are you talking about? I hear more than one."

"Whichever one is making the noise."

"O.K. I'll try. Hey - I'm a police officer!" She set down her microscope and pulled out a bus transfer. "See my badge?"

Another patron with a pronounced and distracting goiter complained to me about our video policy. I really didn't think goiters existed in this country, where it is standard practice to iodize salt, but this is the second one I have seen on a patron in the past month. Both of these patrons appeared homeless. I suppose it is possible to develop 3rd world nutritional diseases of this sort when you're living on the streets with a pure liquid diet of Night Train. A friend of ours was telling E about a childhood friend whose parents got divorced when he was around 8. His mother sank into a catatonic depression and he was left to fend for himself at home. He lived off of sugared cereals and hot dogs and after a few months of this diet of sugar and meat(?) developed scurvy. I bet his pediatrician hadn't seen that one in a while.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Evil, evil, impolite and evil 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comI don't wish to alarm anybody, but I've noticed a surge in inquiries about the Church of Satan lately here at the library. Perhaps Ol' Scratch is marshalling his forces for a big upcoming satanic rally, or devil worshiping is trendy, or they're doing some sort of PR advertising blitz a la Dianetics (Can't stop jumping on furniture? See p. 146) or we're about to enter the Times of Tribulation, but I've had no less than 5 people ask for Church of Satan information in the past week. That reminds me... if the Rapture is imminent, I guess I better pull out my "Rapture Designated Driver" button.

The other day we received a letter from one of the incarcerated that asked for, what else, The Church of Satan's address and any contact information for all the high priests and priestesses in the area. He also wanted an article on hip-hop music. The librarian e-mailed the Church of Satan on behalf of the patron and received a prompt, if rather snippy and curt, reply. I guess being courteous is not satanic.

"PER OUR WEBSITE: There is only one high priest and one high priestess, and they reside in New York City. We guard and protect our membership's privacy and do not give out their contact information. This is clearly stated on the website."

Well, excuse that librarian for not wanting to pore over the Church of Satan website looking for the FAQ, which is not exactly easy to find. I guess a clear, navigable, informative, pleasing to the eye website is not too satanic either. I better stop now before I mysteriously am struck blind or my offspring is born without fingernails... By the way, I always loved that scene in Rosemary's baby when her husband gets the part after the lead in the play, his rival, suddenly and inexplicably goes blind. Her husband announces it to Rosemary all casually like it's the most natural, everyday thing in the world. "Yeah. He just went blind. Damndest thing. Oh, well, I guess I better start learning those lines."

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Smashing Saloons for Jesus 

Image hosted by Photobucket.com I was rooting around through some old family photos yesterday and came across this one of my great-great grandmother. The hatchet brooch she is wearing in this photograph has always intrigued me. It looks like a Carrie Nation jewelry piece donned by woman of that time to demonstrate their support for the temperance cause, especially the more radical saloon chopping activities of Ms. Nation. She was not a teetotaler herself, and was said to have loved touring Italy above all other countries in Europe because wine was served there at every meal. Another one of my great-great grandmothers, however, was quite active in the temperance movement, despite her husband’s wishes, who foresaw how prohibition would create criminal kingpins like Al Capone. He also enjoyed a drink now and then. My grandmother describes this forebear's typical day:

Each day she would arise well before dawn. After feeding and tending to her large family, she would leave to teach school, stopping on the way to feed, bathe and dress her Aunt Til’s large brood. Aunt Til was always ailing and abed. After school, she usually took a turn at organizing a rally against drinking, including a bit of hatchet work on one of the local saloons.

She and her friends really took advantage of their social position – they were untouchable thanks to their powerful husbands, who were probably hightailing out the back of the saloon as the woman charged through the front, brandishing hatchets and singing hymns.

At night she went about in her trusty buggy, her youngest (my great grandmother!) bedded down comfortably on its floor to take care of the sick and hungry who had no other source of help. She delivered babies, set broken bones, dispensed medicine. Sometimes they were out until dawn if the delivery was a difficult one.

It is just amazing how similar our lives are, despite the passage of all this time.

Yesterday's schedule (In all fairness, I was recovering from a tummy bug, and it was my day off.)

9:30 wake up

9:30-10:30 – Leisurely walk with the dogs

10:30 – 11:30 – breakfast, read paper

11:30 – 1:30 – putter about, desultory housework, surf internet, check e-mail, root through old family photos, talk on phone with grandmother, navel gazing

1:30 – 2:00 – heat leftovers in microwave, watch Dr. Phil

2:00 – 4:00 lie in bed and read House of Leaves

4:00 Throw tennis ball in back yard for Billy while trying to catch up on dangerously high stack of unread New Yorkers. Shake my fist at divebombing mockingbirds.

4:30 – Dixie, the blind black lab from Alabama, steals ball from Billy. Dixie performs prancing, gloating victory lap around yard, Billy lunges at her and tries to rip her throat out. Break up dog fight that ensues. Neighbors are surely delighted by noise!

4:45 – 5:45 – Nerves shattered by the fight, I have to go lie down some more

6:00 – 8:00 - Ultimate Frisbee game. Get our asses kicked.

8:30 - 11:30 Watch trashy English soap opera Eastenders. Thank God for Tivo. E and I scream at the TV and replay dialogue over and over again, trying to decipher what the characters are saying. Watch trashy American reality TV, Hooking Up. Get completely grossed out by participants, filled with despair.

11:30 - more reading, bed

Saturday, August 20, 2005

One Flew Over the Reference Desk 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThe (relative) tranquility of the library shattered when a woman using a computer jumped out of her chair and screeched, "That man is harassing me!"
The security guard ran up to her and asked, “What man?”
The woman pointed to a muscular man dressed in combat fatigues and mirrored shades. I had noticed the man earlier skulking around the computers and had thought to myself that he looked like a Soldier of Fortune mercenary, the type who could sneak up silently and slit somebody's throat, commando style.
“Ma’am, what did he do?”
The woman glared at the man. “He’s trying to READ MY MIND!”
The security guard blinked once and then said, “OK. I’ll ask him to stop doing that.”
The woman sniffed, tossed her hair back, sat down at the computer and resumed typing.

One of my colleagues was telling me about how, in lieu of juvenile detention, he was mandated by the courts to spend one summer working as an orderly at one of the big state mental institutions. This was in the 70s, before these facilities were shut down and their patients turned out into the streets (and, truthfully, public libraries, even though the libraries haven’t received one damn dime in money or support services to deal with that disastrous public policy decision.) He reported that although many of the residents spent their days in a thorazine haze, the place was far from a snakepit, and that the patients, for the most part, were not discontent and seemed to realize that this was a place where they were safe, protected, belonged and needed to be. He said that the absolute highlight of the experience was the 4th of July parade. All of the patients processioned around the sprawling grounds of the institution in costume, or various states of undress, because a lot of them had trouble keeping their clothes on. One of the revelers, an ancient, cackling, crone, would lift her dress over her head as she twirled around, exposing her nude body, making an indelible impression on his teenage mind. He said it was a bizarre, marvelous spectacle beyond the wild imaginings of Fellini or Diane Arbus at their weirdest. I commented that it must have been very good training for his job at the library.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Queen Streets 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comOn my morning commute I bike through a notorious stretch that is the domain of transvestite sex workers. Even during the morning rush hour, the girls are always out in the street, brazenly open for business, preening and gossiping, strutting and sashaying, admiring each other’s outfits as they drink their morning coffee. The girls are all over the spectrum: shemales with prominent brow ridges and linebacker shoulders, delicate ladyboys with enviously slim hips, and flawless decepticons, who could fool me and have probably left many a satisfied Midwestern conventioneer customer none the wiser as well. They are all something to see, but the queen that holds the most fascination for me is African-American and seven feet tall in her platform shoes. She is usually propped up against a wall, singing disco tunes or belting out gospels. As I pedal past, trying not to gawk, I hear fragments like,

"Get down, oogie boogie oogie! Get down, oogie boogie oogie!"


“I believe in miracles! Where did you come from, you sexy THANG!”

Her outfits are an inspiration. Sometimes she is decked out head to toe in gold sequins, shimmering in the sun. Other times she is a vision in swirly diaphanous pastels. The other day she was in brightly colored kimono, nostrils flared and arms stretched out, displaying herself like some sort of celestial dragon. I was so awestruck that I didn’t notice the panhandler beachcombing for cigarette butts in the gutter next to the bike lane.

“Watch yourself, sugar!” she warned, and I swung out just in time.

The girls must have worked out some sort of arrangement with the police, Sin City style. Or maybe the police are just scared of them, and leave them free to conduct their business, because as Buddy Cole cautions, “An angry drag queen is scarier than a minotaur!”

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Down the Rabbit Hole 

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A woman with the lushest, most beautiful black eyelashes I have ever seen wanted a copy of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons. She specified, “I don’t want the everyday copy. I want the special copy that has the circle writing.”

“What kind of writing did you say? Circular?”

All exasperated, “You know, the special kind of writing that goes around and around and around and has messages in it. Like the Masons.”

As if the mention of the Masons weren't enough to clue me in, her smell, that distinctive sweaty metallic odor of schizophrenia, hit me in the face just then like a deploying airbag. I told her that all of our copies were checked out.

“How about Good News for Modern Man?”

After checking the catalog I said, “I’m sorry, but that’s not in either.”

She began to get agitated and sway her head back and forth like an owl. “I need to see that copy! It has messages for me. Important messages vital to national security.” She leaned in and whispered, “I’m descended from Mary and Joseph.” Clearly distraught now, she wailed, “Why don’t you have it? Would you look up my library record for me, then? I don’t have my card. It was stolen.”

“All right, then. What’s your name?”

“Mary Magdalene.”

The dialogue I have with the mentally ill at the reference desk reminds me of the sort of nonsense conversations I have with people in my dreams. I often have long, involved talks with people in my dreams, but usually the pieces I manage to remember are bewildering word salad. Even though they make absolutely no sense, I get the strange feeling that what people are saying to me is mildly prophetic and meaningful, as if the person talking is trying to convey an important message or impart wisdom, but in riddles. When schizophrenics start on their riffs, babbling like Sibyls or raving like prophets, I often feel like I’m in a dream. As fascinating as it can be, it is also extremely disorienting, like I'm not sure if I'm dreaming or awake.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Ref Grunt 2 

Image hosted by Photobucket.com A drifter with hopes of becoming a carnie roustabout asked me to provide him with dates and locations for local fairs. He had a dusty bandana tied around his forehead. A leather fringed vest framed massive shoulders well suited to hoisting circus tent poles. I looked up some local fairs' websites and turned the computer screen toward him so he could look at the results. One of the websites had an image of two Asian women in scanty circus show ring attire and his face lit up when he eyed them. He then reached toward them and began stroking their tiny pixillated bodies with his grimy finger. As he ran his finger up and down them he said wistfully, "Ay! Chinas..." He continued for a few seconds, smacking his lips, lost in his lustful reverie until I interrupted with a, "Sir! Please don't touch the monitor. It's not good for it."

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Ref Grunt 

After I told a man where books on vitamins are located, he began expounding on the ways nutritional supplements have changed his life. "Yeah, you wouldn't believe the hemmorhoids, the constipation I suffered. Nothing in your life can go well when you can't take a good dump, ya know? Now I'm as regular as clockwork. These supplements have cured me of all kinds of illnesses. I tell you, my piss used to be all skunky and yellow, but now it's almost clear and foams like beer! It's really amazing. If you want to discuss what supplements I'm taking sometime - "

"Sir, I'm so happy that those supplements are working for you. I'm sorry, but I've got to help the next person."

Next in line was a man dressed in all black Karate uniform with the name tag "Bernie." "Good day. Can you give me the address of the Church of Satan?"

Then a man complained about another patron drying his penis underneath the hand blow dryer in the men's bathroom.

Next up was a middle aged woman who wanted to put her name on the list for the latest Nora Roberts. She looked middle aged and perfectly average in every way except for a ginger colored mustache, which was groomed and trimmed in perfect rectangle, Hitler style.

A young hipster woman rolled her stroller up to ask about books on meditation. Desperately needing to gaze upon something pure and innocent, I leaned over the counter to coo at her baby. Instead of an infant a large gray rat blinked sleepily up at me. "It's naptime. He's nocturnal!" She beamed with maternal pride as she adjusted its baby blanket cozily over its body.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

More Frightening Plant Life 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comAbout 2 weeks ago we noticed a walnut sized lump on Billy's neck, right where a lymph node should be. It was rock hard but Billy didn't flinch or express discomfort when we poked and prodded it. Since this is turning out to be a real annus horribilis, I immediately assumed malignancy. The veterinarian took a look at it and decided that the lump needed to be removed, so Billy had day surgery. The results were not cancer, but a foxtail, a plant like something out of science fiction horror. A foxtail is a spiky weed whose seedlings burrow like a fishhook into dogs. The seedlings create a pocket of pus and then use the pus to drill and advance through the dog's body. Foxtails that enter the foot can end up in a dog's brain, traveling all around the body using their Innerspace/Fantasic Voyage puscraft. I've heard of parasitic organisms doing all sorts of freaky, terrible things, but I didn't expect that sort of behavior from a plant! Foxtails are a scourge, but some reason only affect dogs - horses and cattle graze on them with impunity. It must be an unfortunate evolutionary accident because I cannot see how drilling into a dog would serve the purposes of this demon plant except to make itself mobile for a bit and then create a really big pile of starter fertilizer after it kills the dog. Billy has fully recuperated and the upside is that he had his nails clipped while he was under his general anesthesia, which is about what it requires now.

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