Post-Monsterism

Nick Martens chats up a spokesperson for the country’s most overlooked, marginalized population: monsters.

Humanitarian groups applauded when Battlestar Galactica actor Edward James Olmos presented an Adama-esque homily on race to the United Nations last March. “As if there was a Latino race, an Asian race, an indigenous race — there never has been a Latino race and there never will be! There’s only one race and that’s the human race!” he said.

But for one group dedicated to fighting stereotypes, Olmos’s speech was just the latest sin of omission that has kept its message from gaining traction.

“Werewolves are humans too, most of the time, but no one ever brings that up,” says Jerry Grant, spokesperson for the Human Monster Anti-Defamation League (HMAL). “Mummies… do you stop being human when you die? Or what if you never die, like our vampire members? Frankenstein made his monster out of human parts.”

According to Grant, deep-seated societal prejudices affect the well-being of each of these types of “monsters” (the group uses the word in an effort to weaken its negative connotations). HMAL believes that the classical Halloween representation of its members limits their role in society and represses their individuality. As humans, the group argues, monsters should have the freedom to pursue their own path through life.

But Grant knows how difficult it can be for people to overcome their long-held preconceptions. That’s why he has offered to tell us about four real-world instances where human monsters defy expectations.

Domesticated Lycanthropy

Jerry Grant: Very common in Hungary.

Bygone Bureau: What’s their story?

Well, these guys are werewolves who don’t bite people. They transform with the full moon and everything, but they’re not going to stalk the countryside in a frenzy or what-not.

No?

Nope. They pretty much act like normal dogs. They’ll play fetch with the kids, or chase after squirrels, or curl up by the fire.

But then you’ve got a naked dude sleeping in your house when the transformation wears off.

Beats getting your arm torn off.

This is in Hungary, you said?

Yeah. Lycanthropy is most common in Eastern Europe, so those cultures tend to develop really interesting relationships with their werewolves. In the Ukraine, they gamble on underground werewolf fights, and in Bratislava, lycanthrophilia is a common sexual fetish.

What? Come on.

I kid you not. But I find Hungary’s situation fascinating because the humans and the monsters worked together to take a harmful situation and turn it into a positive one.

Do tell.

See, when a pack of werewolves first appears in a community, they cause a lot of chaos. I mean, they’re really strong, they come at night, they’re unpredictable. So the wolves get their jollies for a few months. But, you know, it’s not a hard pattern to figure out. Around the fourth or fifth time the wolves attack, they’ve got a big militia waiting for them.

But the militia doesn’t want to kill the wolves because normally these guys are part of the community. And werewolves tend to be young, strapping men, and they’re kind of indispensable. So in Hungary they worked out a deal where the men wouldn’t be prosecuted for the crimes they committed while transformed if they turned themselves in before the full moon. This was in the late 1900s.

Then government brought in a couple of Pavlov’s assistants from Russia and put the untransformed wolves into big iron cages. When the full moon hit, the scientists did the same conditioned response stuff that Pavlov was using on his dogs a few years earlier. And it worked almost immediately. Within two or three transformations, the werewolves were as docile as basset hounds.

Wow.

It’s pretty cool. And it set up this weird social dynamic where it became the citizens’ responsibility to take care of the wolves during full moons. So maybe you have to get your kids up in the middle of the night so they can run around the park with your boss, or you’ll find your brother-in-law eating leftovers out of your garbage. And if you go over there, everyone acts like it’s the most normal thing in the world.

Mummified Nudists

This one sounds gross.

Well, it’s not pretty.

So it is what I think it is?

Yep, these are a bunch of mummies who don’t like wearing the bandages.

Right. And why not?

For one thing, there are a lot of misperceptions about the whole mummification process. People think you just wrap a dead body in some cotton, and boom: instant mummy. But it was actually a much more complicated procedure, and the bandages weren’t even a big part of it.

I’ve heard that the Egyptians pulled the brain out through the nose?

Absolutely. And that’s another reason these guys ditch their bandages: they see it as a way of honoring their ancestors and creators.

How so?

Well, since the brain is gone, there’s no true continuity between the living person and the mummy they leave behind. But the bandages exaggerate the divide between the mummy and its former life, as if they were two separate entities: the human and the monster. By taking off the bandages, the mummy celebrates its human nature.

Okay, well… you’re showing me a picture of one of these nudists now, and I don’t exactly feel like celebrating.

You get used to them.

Nosferate Post Mortem

Widely known as “corpse suckers.”

Yikes. Aren’t you supposed to be on their side?

Hey, even a good vampire isn’t great. They have to drink human blood, after all.

I guess that’s kind of a deal-breaker.

These guys are trying their best, really. You’ll find clusters of them around any hospital in a metropolitan area.

Because…

Fresh bodies. Vampires can’t really sustain themselves on donated blood or even fresh animal blood. We don’t know why, but they need fresh human blood. But once they start killing for it, they don’t last long. Amateur vampire hunting has become a really popular hobby.

That’s quite a bind.

Definitely. But the vamps figured out that recently deceased human blood does the trick. It’s not as good as blood from a breathing person. It’s sort of like drinking milk a few days past expiration — unpleasant but mostly harmless.

How recently deceased are we talking?

An hour, tops. So there’s a lot of bribery, mostly with EMTs. If someone croaks in an ambulance, they’ll stop at a vamp’s place for a few minutes and let him take a quick slurp. And if the vamp can find a willing mortician, then he’s set. I met a couple guys in New York City that had access to two or three bodies a day. And that stuff must be high-carb or something because these guys…. well, let’s just say you’d need a pretty big stake to get through to the heart.

Frankenstein’s Second Monster, Who Has an Apartment in San Francisco

He calls himself Antonio.

Antonio Frankenstein?

No, Frankenstein was the doctor. We’re talking about the monster.

Gotcha. So what’s his deal?

He learned from his big brother’s mistakes.

The killing and so forth.

Right. That guy screwed up because he really wanted to fit in with the Victorian elite, which is sort of tricky when you’re a terrifying homunculus. In the end, he just couldn’t stand all the rejection, and he turned violent.

And the second one?

He sought out people who accepted him for who he was, and he didn’t mind being the center of attention. In the early days, that meant lots of circuses and side shows.

Seems a little demeaning.

He didn’t see it that way. He knew that he was extraordinary, that he was a curiosity. And after a while people became fascinated by his story, and they saw him as more than something to gawk at. His Vaudeville show was huge in New York and London, and he hosted a radio program until the Second War. He dropped off the radar for a while after that, but then he popped up in California in the ’80s. Today, I think he still does his cabaret show in the Mission District.

Nick Martens is a founding editor of The Bygone Bureau. You can email him, if you like.