Fascinating courtly intrigue and bloody power games set on a generation ship full of secrets―Medusa Uploaded is an imaginative, intense mystery about family dramas and ancient technologies whose influence reverberates across the stars. Disturbing, exciting, and frankly kind of mind-blowing.” ―Annalee Newitz, author of Autonomous

Friday, June 12, 2009

Mr. Disco Hooves

Every ghostly encounter is always at least 50% imagination. I’m happy with that equation – it makes me sound almost scientific, while leaving some room for the unexplainable. Sure, it could be 100% imagination; or it could be 60% imagination and 40% weird-but-natural; or it could even be 70% imagination and 30% supernatural. But you always have to meet a ghost at least halfway. No encounter with a ghost is ever going to be more than 50% supernatural.

However, I’m not sure the same can be said for other supernatural creatures. Imagination may play a strong role in these other encounters, I’m just not sure to what degree. You can look at folk tales and see societal trends and psychological factors, but the beings encountered in these tales have a weirdness that transcends the folk tradition from which they come.

Take the story my friend Mark relayed to me about a scary encounter he had around Midnight, in Framingham Mass., as he was walking to an all-night hamburger joint. One side of the street was lined with apartment buildings, but the other side belonged to an old graveyard. That night the gravestones were obscured by a mist that marched all the way up to the fence but stopped short of the sidewalk, as if it didn’t feel inclined to cross the street. Mark didn’t want to walk on the side with the apartments because of the bats that swooped in and out of the lights (chasing bugs), so he braved the graveyard side.

Mark wasn’t one to be afraid of graveyards, but he felt uneasy as he walked toward the end of the block and the distant light of the hamburger joint. He kept his pace casual, and his eyes open, but it was his ears that warned him something was wrong. Behind him he heard a distant clop, clop, clop, clop, clop.

He glanced over his shoulder and saw a figure walking about 100 yards behind him. He couldn’t make out the guy’s face, or even what he was wearing, except that he assumed the guy was wearing disco boots. That was the only thing he could figure that would make a clop, clop noise like that.

The guy was well back, so Mark kept walking at the same pace, but in another minute the sound was louder. Once again, he glanced over his shoulder, and though the guy hadn’t picked up his pace at all, he had gained on Mark. Yet his features could not be seen at all, nor any detail about his clothing, he was simply a shadow shaped like a man. "Hey buddy," Mark wanted to call, "those are some really big disco boots you have on!"

But something about the guy made Mark uneasy. So he kept his remark to himself and sped up his pace. He didn’t really want the guy to overtake him. He walked faster for a few minutes, and he heard the steady clop, clop, clop behind him. But the sound got louder. Mark glanced over his shoulder again and was shocked to see the guy had gained on him some more, he might have only been 100 feet away now, yet his features still could not be seen, his body was still in shadow. He wasn’t moving any faster at all, so how had he closed so much distance?

At this point, Mark gave up any pretense of casualness and broke into a full trot. For all he knew, the guy was taking wider steps, if not faster, so now it was time to put some real distance between them. No way could he overtake Mark at this point, unless he wanted to jog.

But though the sound continued at the same pace, it got louder. Mark glanced over his shoulder again, and now the guy wasn’t more than twenty feet away. The end of the street was in sight, but panic spurred him into a mad dash. He ran like a sprinter trying to win an Olympic gold, and behind him the clop, clop, clop got steadily louder, until it sounded like the guy was right behind him. Mark jumped off the end of the sidewalk and into the street, aiming straight for the front door of the burger joint.

And the sound stopped. At the door of the diner, Mark looked over his shoulder again. The guy was gone. He had stopped right at the edge of the road and simply disappeared. "He couldn’t have gone anywhere without making noise with those boots," he told me. "He just vanished. It was like he couldn’t cross the street, like that would be against the rules."

"Are you sure they were boots?" I asked. "Could they have been hooves?"

He went pale at that point. "Yeah," he said. "They could."

Mark’s heritage is Native American and African American. Was there something about his blood that provoked a response from Mr. Disco Hooves? Was there some prayer he should have said to appease an elemental resident of that ancient territory? Or was Old Hobbes just having fun with him?

It’s hard to say. But if you happen to be walking down that particular street at midnight, I recommend you walk on the side with the bats.

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