They call New York the City that never sleeps. That’s true enough. There isn’t an hour out of the day that is truly quiet or dark in Manhattan, something that takes a little getting used to. Even if you’re lucky enough to live in a building with thick walls and considerate neighbors – which I am, more or less – there’s a constant thrum to the city. Garbage trucks. Cabbies. Music seeping through the pores in the walls. Clickety Clacks.
Oops, I’m telling this out of order. Let me back up. There aren’t enough hours in the day to juggle teaching full time, grading sloppily written underclassmen papers, working towards my PhD, and chasing monsters on the side. Something’s gotta give. For me, that something is sleep.
It was a Tuesday night. I was caught up with work. I had a lead on an Orange Wulderbeast in West Virginia, but that would have to wait for a three-day weekend. I found myself wide awake at almost midnight with nothing to do, a rarity to say the least. I could call up one of the few people I considered friends, but Ris and Jordan both had steady boyfriends this month, and probably had better things to do than entertain me. I found myself envying them and feeling a little sorry for myself since the guy I was seeing was a three-hour drive away – not exactly convenient for a late night booty call.
With nothing better to do, I decided I might was well hit the gym. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not one of those people who wears cute little color-coordinated outfits to spin class or gets excited over a new kale concoction at the smoothie bar. Nor am I the type to worry about an extra pound or five. I just can’t afford to be out of shape, having learned the hard way that stamina, speed, and strength could mean the difference between escaping the sharp talons of an angry troll. Since I didn’t want to become creature kibble, I laced up my battered tennis shoes, grabbed my gym bag, and hustled down the stairs.
My apartment sits on the East end of Greenwich Village. There are five bars, several all-night restaurants, and a sketchy head shop on my block. On a weekend night, my street bears more than a passing resemblance to Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras, but tonight there was just me, an elderly homeless lady pushing a shopping cart with squeaky wheels, a pack of college kids stumbling towards the next bar on their route, a dog walker, and myself. I felt sorry for the dog walker. The tiny furry creature yipping and pulling at the end of her bright pink leash had zero interest in doing her business and going back inside. It made me glad that I had an iguana – Elvis never complained about being cooped up in my tiny apartment all day.
Lights and music spilled out of a bar. More light and delicious smells wafted out of the pizzeria on the corner. Lamps still blazed from behind the shades and curtains of almost a fourth of the apartments on the block. Yellow streetlights buzzed every couple of yards. As I started to cross the road, a large SUV with Jersey plates zipped through the intersection with its high beams on, which was silly considering the street was lit well enough it might have been noon instead of midnight.
Then something else came through the intersection, momentarily blocking the lights of the street beyond it. Even with the overhead halogen street lamps and the other ambient light sources, I couldn’t see anything other than dark masses streaming down the middle of Third Street. A shiver ran down my spine as something flowed around me, or to be more precise, multiple somethings. Each time one of them ran in front of a light source, the light disappeared, swallowed up without casting a shadow.
The invisible darkness swarmed past me so close I felt like I was caught in the turbulence of a speeding semi. I stumbled and something collided with me, knocking me to the pavement. Visions of being trampled in a stampede flooded my mind, so I tucked my head to my chest and wrapped my arms around my exposed neck.
All around me was the deafening sound of hooves striking the pavement around me, like horses but smaller and quicker. If someone had managed to get a herd of a hundred white-tailed deer to stand still enough to shod them, they might have made a sound like that. But since I’d never heard of an invisible deer, I knew I was dealing with something Unnatural.
Before I realized what was happening, the clickety clacking sounds faded as the last of the herd passed me by. I looked up tentatively and caught a flash of taillights between the swarm of shadows a block away. The SUV took a sharp corner, the sound of its tires squealing nearly drowned out by the thunderous hooves. The dark herd wheeled and followed the big truck out of sight.
When something touched my shoulder, I let out an involuntary, and frankly embarrassing, girly squeal. “Hey, it’s okay lady,” a male voice said. I looked up. Two of the drunk frat boys stood over me. One of them offered me a hand up. Despite the fact that he could barely stand upright himself, I took his hand and let him haul me to my feet.
“Dude, what was that?” one of his friends asked.
“What was what?” I asked, impressed that my voice barely trembled.
“You didn’t see that?”
I shook my head. Most people aren’t equipped to face the truth when things get weird, much less college kids that reeked of beer and pot. Telling them the truth, even if I knew what it was, would likely cause more harm than good. “What did you see?”
“Nothing,” he admitted. “A whole lot of nothing. You sure you’re okay?”
I dusted myself off. I’d skinned my knee when I fell and twisted my weak ankle, but otherwise felt fine. “Yeah. Just lost my balance.” From the looks of these guys, they understood what that felt like. Two of them swayed on their feet, looking like they could fall down any minute. “Thanks for the hand up.” Deciding that I’d had enough excitement for one night, I turned around and limped back towards my apartment.
I still have no idea what I’d just stumbled into, so I’m just calling them Clickety Clacks until I learn otherwise. It was either the world’s smallest Wild Hunt, or Santa was exercising his invisible reindeer, in March, in New York’s West Village. Either way, I don’t have any answers and I, for obvious reasons, don’t have any decent pictures to document this encounter. But I learned something tonight. Sometimes it’s not the hungry creature waiting in the shadows that you should be afraid of, it’s the shadows themselves.