Originally posted March 1, 2008.
The Golden Bough says the Hungarians used to light a need-fire (and first of all -- dude, they called them "need-fires" … !) at night to keep away vampires and spirits of the dead. It's from this that the belief in sunlight as a source of vampiric destruction comes, but originally it wasn't held true that fire destroyed the vampires. It simply kept them at bay, as with wolves or bears or other wild beasts. It kept the dark away. It pushed back the unknown and held it out past where we could see.
I was sometimes afraid of lights in the dark. On summertime weekends I would stay up late watching cable in the living room, on our big TV that sat on the floor. I would watch with the lights off, usually movies with monsters or sort-of-documentaries about ghosts and UFOs. And when walking down the long hallway to my bedroom, the house completely dark, running not allowed because Dad was asleep and had to get up early for work, even on weekends, I would convince myself of arbitrary rules to keep me safe. If I made the sign of the cross over and over again, for example, no ghosts would appear on my walk to bed.
But one of the frights that stands out for me was after I turned the
TV off in the dark. I pushed the off button and it crackled with static electricity. Then on the dark, powered down screen, a red and blue streak appeared -- like a tiny version of the Northern Lights -- and snaked across the screen. I became convinced, and I don't know why, that it meant a werewolf was nearby. I had a panic in my stomach that would repeat itself for years, a kind of spidey-sense warning me of real danger. I ran down the hallway -- the next day at supper my dad yelled at me for clomping down the hall as he slept -- and bolted the door of my bedroom behind me.
(It had a deadbolt because it was my brother's old room, and he put one on there against my dad's wishes. It is unclear why he never removed it. But the point is: this makes the story particularly lame, because my brother didn't move out of the house until I was 9. Which makes me a little too old to cutely describe how the werewolf detector in our living room once gave me an awful fright.)