In parts one and two of this Halloween series, we talked about both the kinds of monsters that are based on things you have to learn to fear and the things you instinctively fear. It’s long after Halloween by now, and monsters have been forgotten as we prepare ourselves for Thanksgiving. However, it isn’t too late to talk about this third set of Halloween monsters. In fact, it’s the perfect time.
This third set goes beyond the things you have learned to fear, like weapons and prison jumpsuits or hockey goalie masks. It also goes a bit beyond the things you instinctively know to avoid, such as corpses or the diseased. This set revolves around the completely unknown; in certain situations this kind of monster may only earn a chuckle. Very few bogeymen are frightening in the light of day. Later, in the still of night when sleep is evasive, the memory of that ludicrous bogeyman may hover and haunt the mind. Suddenly that small noise down the hall is horrifying, and you should just prepare for no sleep at all.
These monsters have always been with us, and will always be with us, as they continue to evolve along with the culture. Since they thrive on the edge of the unknown world, the expansion of our known universe pushes the boundaries outward as well. No longer do we fear the sprites and spirits that live in old forests, since the old forests themselves have lost their mystique. We don’t really invest a lot of power into modern cemeteries either, as they are so manicured and the stones have become so uniform. Our new world invites new terrors of the unknown, however. Consider this urban legend of a haunting in an apartment building, where a young man once caught sight of a pair of eyes watching him from the furnace grate near the floor. They were wide and staring, and there were a few fingers peeking through the thin bars. Thinking it was a playful child who had snuck into the ductwork, the man started to lean down and investigate. Suddenly, more and more eyes began blinking open, and a dozen more fingers poked through the grate. Needless to say, the young man fled.
We even create our own stories with which to scare ourselves. The fact that the creation process is very transparent and intentional does not reduce the eventual product’s ability to put us on edge. Many argue that this habit is from our need to know that there is something outside our field of experience. If our world were truly limited to only that which we knew and understood, our curious and investigative minds may well implode from depression. Knowing that you just made up a story about some mysterious creature or monster does not keep your mind from whispering, “But what if it is real?” An example of this comes from a message board on the internet where a group of young artists and writers decided to create a new monster. There were many ideas thrown into the mix, but nothing truly stuck until one contributor offered an aged black and white photo of some stern-faced children running under the apparent guidance of a tall, thin figure with no face photoshopped into the background. The caption read something along the lines of “We didn’t want to kill them. We had no choice. We simply followed the silent commands of his outstretched hand, both comforting and terrifying at the same time.” Other images of this slender man began to form, and the lore grew as others added details and anecdotal stories. Some took the narrative as victims whose last thoughts or comments were the only evidence found at a bizarre scene; others took up the mantle of ‘official reports’ from various authority figures from local police to special investigative units like the FBI. Enough attention was brought to this Slenderman that youtube videos, even entire series of them [google Marble Hornets], were created to support and propagate the new urban legend. Now there are video games and even talk of movies in production. It seems the general populace needed a new bogeyman and latched onto this Slenderman more for the enigma it represented than any ‘true’ evidence of its existence.
The concept of a “what is that?” monster is hard to define by intention. As opposed to the "known unknowns", these haunt in the realm of "unknown unknowns". These are the things that hover on the corner of your vision, or the edge of the shadows, or under the basement stair. They are the skitter, the creak, the whisper in the dark. They are the monsters that might be funny if you see them on main street at noon, but are a horror if you are alone with them on a subway car at night. They are difficult to explain to someone else who is not in the appropriate frame of mind, and impossible to describe to someone who has never sat in the dark, holding their breath, listening for … something.