Monday, October 26, 2009

My own "Paranormal Activity" with a unionized poltergeist

Ever since I was a child, I've been freaked-out by the dark. When I was about seven or eight, I saw an episode of The Courtship of Eddie's Father (starring Bill Bixby), in which the magazine the main character published was running a story about ghosts. A blurry, black-and-white photograph of a "ghost" was shown, which to my young eyes looked like the Genuine Article. It scared the hell out of me. More than that, it left me with the subterranean dread: Oh no! Now the ghosts know that I know about them! They'll never let me live with this information! Which led to a string of sleepless nights.

The ghosts, however, did let me live. I guess I wasn't the threat to them that I figured I was.

To this day, though, I can't slide aside a closed shower curtain without involuntarily holding my breath, certain that either the Angel Gabriel or a moldering zombie -- something like that decomposing naked lady in Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining -- might be standing in there. I'm a light sleeper. My mind assigns the most sinister origins to every creak and wheeze of my house in the middle of the night. I'm a rational atheist who knows there are no monsters prowling the dark, or waiting beneath my bed to grab my ankles, or standing behind doors waiting to throw an otherworldly half-nelson on me. Still, I keep a shillelagh under the bed.

In my weaker, more ridiculous moments, I'm sure I'm being stalked by an entity. Except, my pursuer is of a lazy, non-proactive variety. For instance, I only feel his presence after watching horror movies -- only particularly unnerving horror movies, like Ju On or The Ring, or most recently Paranormal Activity. It's as though my entity is a unionized dullard who loafs on the job until his supervisor gets wind that I've seen another horror movie.

"What are you waiting for?" the underworld supervisor shouts at my stalker. "Do you want him to keep watching horror movies until he's completely unmasked us?"

"No," my entity replies, hating to be yelled at.

"Well then, get him!"

So, my entity wakens in my attic and kicks a beam or two. Then, maybe, he passes between the walls down to the unfinished basement and messes up the messy pile of laundry lying on the floor by the washer and dryer. All the while, my insomniac antennae sends an alert to my brainstem, which disseminates a bulletin to all my nerve-endings: Something from the underworld is afoot.

But it never gets any more dramatic than that. My entity creeps around in the hallway outside my bedroom, looks over my collection of DVDs in my office -- probably stifles a sneeze because I never dust in there; and then curses himself for stifling the sneeze, realizing he's on scene to frighten and intimidate me; make me fear for my soul, for my sanity.

After all, I recently saw Paranormal Activity where I witnessed a very credible demonstration of a person being swallowed up by demonic possession. The film achieved the strangest wire-walk between stark terror, excruciating suspense, and utter dullness in between scares. But the scares stuck. I believe. I know an entity is also hunting me. He's just not very organized or consistent with his efforts. Maybe he's got an attitude problem, or trouble dealing with authority.

Demons (I throw all otherworldly beings into the same grab bag; maybe they'll come after for doing that) are supposed to be of a sinister nature, are they not? So, what's to keep a demon from disobeying his supervisor's orders? I can see the malevolent entities in their dark, dank lockerroom as they suit-up for another night's haunting. They greet each other with the old saw, "Haunting hard?"

"Hardly haunting."

Guffaws echo through the morgue-tiled changing area. A poster on the wall reads: "You don't have to be evil to work in this place, but it helps!"

Somehow, though, I think my entity got into the wrong line of work. "I'm a sloth-demon at heart," I can hear him confiding to a friend over drinks after the haunt. "I just want to plant myself somewhere, slow everybody down, muddle a few of the weaker minds, spoil a harvest or two, get someone chased out of the village. You know."

"Sure, sure," my entity's compadre says. "But you have to wait for a retirement to get one of those plum positions. Nobody's quitting those."

"I know," my entity grouses into his drink. "It's all who you know, not what you know."

"Count yourself lucky you're haunting in North America," the compadre says. "You ever get assigned to the Caribbean?"


"Shit, those shaman and witchdoctors'll eat you for lunch. We could learn from them."

"No kidding?"

"I don't kid about these things."

And so my entity gets lazy, rationalizing, Well look at this guy I'm haunting. He's an atheist, swears like a dockworker, laughs at only the sickest jokes, and reads the damnedest, most depressing books about the JFK assassination and C.I.A. drug-running. And that blog of his! Don't get me started on that blog! What's left for me to do?

So, word of my having seen Paranormal Activity has reached the underworld and my entity is back. I was up late last night working on the computer, and kept looking into the darkened hallway beyond the door, somehow thinking a bone-white, ancient, mummified form might suddenly sprint into my office, screeching unintelligibly, tackling me to the floor. Or, the Web browser on my computer screen fading out and being replaced with a horrifying face. Or, going into the bedroom where my wife slept without bother, and the ceiling fan might turn into four arms that'll lunge down, silently pin me to the floor so that I could be carted off to the underworld to be --

To be what?

I never get that far. What in the world would an otherworldly entity want with me? I have no information that would be useful to a presence that can presumably walk through walls and invisibly spy on people. And though I believe in the existence of a human soul, what would an entity -- or the outfit employing an entity -- want with my soul? It's not like it's capable of manual labor. To my knowledge, it's not combustible, or otherwise useful as fuel. There's a possibility souls could be held for ransom, or used as bargaining chips in disputes with benevolent deities. But that seems thin. I can't see my entity playing a mystical game of chess with Ra or Zeus or Xenu, for my or anyone else's soul. Poker is too crude and trendy a game to interest the underworld. Just because a presence may exude stinky ectoplasm on a suede couch, doesn't mean it would submit to the pedestrian rules of card play.

So, where does this leave me? The heebie jeebies inspired by Paranormal Activity are beginning to ebb. My entity seems already to be losing interest in me. I still jump when dishes in the sink shift, as gravity slowly attempts to reshuffle everything in the world that's stacked. Never in my life have I witnessed something I would even remotely consider "supernatural." Sure, the movie has me thinking about it. Maybe it's like everything else in the movies: the cinematic entities are looming and terrifying, powerful and cunning, when, in fact, ghostly presences in real life -- if they exist at all -- are nothing more than invisible roustabouts throwing rocks at someone's house in the night, running away, giggling, thinking, We so got them!

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