Thursday, March 5, 2009

Scary Things, Part 1

Granted, the topic of this blog is ghosts, and the idea that they are everywhere and anywhere. For instance, as I sit alone in my office writing this, if I were to look over my shoulder just now…

Okay, you get the point. However, there are lots of other scary things on this planet and in addition to ghosts, "scary things" will be the sub-topic of this blog. That said, let's explore other scary things starting today with, say, shape-shifters. Is it me, or do they also seem to be, well, nearly as universal as ghosts? The Navajo have their skinwalkers, and the Lakota hold that there are those among them who can drop their human appearance and transform into perhaps a wolf or a hawk. Traditional vampire lore from Eastern Europe alleges that the vampire can change into a bat, a wolf, or even smoke, at will. A few centuries ago, Western Europeans worried that witches could turn into cats, and let us not forget the heavyweight of all shape-shifters: the werewolf.

Ordinarily, stories about shape-shifters don't bother me. They seem like pure entertainment, the fun kind with a good scare and a jolt or two tossed into the mix. And then a friend sent me a link to a site, unfortunately no longer available, that was predominantly about first-hand experiences with shape-shifters. After perusing first-hand accounts of the thing that made its way into a camper's tent without opening any of the zippers, or the thing that sat up in the branches of a tree over a campfire, perched like a huge bird but speaking in a guttural human voice, or the dead thing on the side of the road that couldn't be identified as anything in particular– Yeah, after reading a number of those late into the night I will admit I turned off the computer, made sure all the doors were locked (a futile activity, it seemed at the time), and hid under my blankets until I fell asleep, and then my dreams were weird and disturbing. And suddenly shape-shifter stories were a heck of a lot scarier.

On the face of it, I think the concept of shape-shifting might be a little tougher to swallow than that of ghosts. After all, it's hard to imagine life going on without us being aware of it somehow. It's hard to imagine that someone who is vibrant and intelligent and alive can't continue to exist after the body has stopped functioning, so perhaps a belief in ghosts makes a bit more sense than the idea of a person turning himself or herself into an animal. On the other hand, the next time you have eye contact with a wild animal –that crow that stares down at you with that beady intelligent eye, or, if you live in a neighborhood like mine, that urban coyote that is somehow not as shy or retiring as most coyotes are– maybe the possibility will cross your mind for a split second. Humans turn into animals? Of course not. Preposterous. Still, the way that hawk looked at me before it alighted on that branch–