I read my first No Sleep story when I was a freshman in college. I was in bed one evening, surfing the web and I decided that I wanted to scare the shit out of myself. The internet is home to a lot of strange things, as I’m sure many of you know, and I found a few of them that night—but nothing piqued my interest more than this community.
Reading all of your experiences over the years has been strangely cathartic, for I too have known horror. I’ve never been in a haunted house, or caught a glimpse of anything paranormal; I’m not even sure I believe in such things. But no demon or monster or vengeful spirit from the depths could tell me more than what I already know: evil walks among us. I have more than glimpsed it. I have stared it in the face.
So please, though I’m not as gifted a writer as many of you, indulge a loyal member of the No Sleep family. I’ve never posted here before, and I probably never will again. My life to this point has been unremarkable and unextraordinary in every way, save for one solitary tale. Indeed, a perusing of my journal would reveal only this single blemish on a tapestry otherwise entirely full of good days. But you, friends, should know better than the rest: one bad day can deliver a lifetime of sleepless nights.
When I was a kid—well, a young teenager—I frequently spent my Saturday nights babysitting my siblings. As the eldest of three, I assumed this responsibility with no pay nor thanks to speak of. It was simply expected of me; one of my contributions to the family.
I babysat so frequently because, well, my parents needed it. They’d had marriage problems in the past, and their counselor told them they should go on a weekly date—you know, revive the magic; rekindle the flame; all that good stuff. Yeah, it sucked to be robbed of a weekend evening, but it wasn’t much of a burden. My parents were happier than they’d been in ages, and they both seemed genuinely excited for date night each week. I would have rather been doing other things, of course, but I’d seen my aunt and uncle go through a nasty divorce a few years back and I desperately wanted my parents to stick together.
And so it was that on the night of December 3rd, in the year 2006, I stood at the open front door of my secluded Colorado home, waving goodbye as my parents backed out of the icy driveway.
“Drive safe!” I called out, steam pouring from my mouth. I don’t know if they heard me or not. Wrapping my arms around my torso in response to the wintry mountain air, I entertained myself for a few brief moments by exhaling forcefully and watching my breath float away into nothing. And there was truly nothing around me, not a car or a creature in sight. It wasn’t long before I grew bored and turned back into the warm house, nose tingling from the chill.
Georgie and Kate were eating their dinner at the kitchen table. As I watched them, I couldn’t help feeling like an only child. Georgie, three years my junior, was severely autistic and about as talkative as a bag of bricks. He only spoke when he really wanted something, and only then in the simplest of words: “milk and samwich” was code for peanut butter and jelly with the crust cut off, which he was presently devouring. Kate, meanwhile, was still a beautiful bouncin’ baby, just shy of two. The nine-year gap between them is glaring, but to this day, my parents swear to me Kate wasn’t an accident. Kind of like back in high school, when I swore to them I had no idea how those magazines got under my mattress.
But I digress. The kids finished dinner and I set them up with their entertainment for the night: Georgie in his room with the PlayStation 2 (a hot commodity in those days), and Kate in her crib, in front of Sesame Street. Myself, I ignited the basement fireplace, dimmed the overheads, and curled up with a book by the light of our Christmas tree. God, that was a nice house. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss it.
I read, in perfect contentment, for nearly an hour. Night had fallen by then, and the room had become toasty. I was beginning to doze off when I heard Georgie’s heavy footfalls descending the staircase. I sat upright and looked at him expectantly as he waddled into the room.
“No more knocking,” he said, brow furrowed in annoyance.
I shook my head. “I’m not knocking,” I said. “Is someone at the door?”
Georgie just stared at me blankly.
“Georgie,” I said, more clearly this time, “did someone knock on the door?”
“No more knocking,” he repeated. “Knocking on window.”
Knocking on window? I stood up, now wide awake. “Georgie, is someone knocking on your window?”
“No more,” he replied simply.
I stood in silence for a moment, unsure of what to do. It was probably just one of my friends playing a prank, I thought, but being alone in a house that big makes you a little jumpy. My mind started to race through the situation: I was a thirteen-year-old boy, in a nice house on the hilly outskirts of a Colorado mountain town. The streets were engulfed in trees, and there were no homes within a quarter mile of my own. Our road saw next to no traffic, and the police station was a good fifteen minutes away. It was probably my friends, I thought, but what if it wasn’t?
“Follow me,” I told Georgie. Hand trembling slightly, I turned the knob and glanced up the staircase. It was dark up there; the only light came from Kate’s room. Kate. I sprinted up the stairs to her room, where she remained happily perched in her crib, squawking with delight as Elmo fiddled with his crayons. I breathed a sigh of relief, but still, my heart thumped in my chest. This is silly, I told myself. Be a man.
I made my way down the hall, to Georgie’s room, and stood tentatively at its door. Taking a deep breath, I gently pushed the door ajar, reaching for the light switch and thinking better of it—if this was the worst case scenario, then I didn’t want our mystery intruder to know where in the house I was. The only light in the room came from Star Wars: Battlefront’s “game paused” screen. I listened for a moment, but heard nothing. I began to suspect that Georgie had simply imagined the knocking.
Somewhat exasperatedly, I moved to the window and flicked up a blind to reveal . . . nothing. Just a landscape of freshly fallen snow backed by a quiet, lonely road. I watched the peaceful night, relieved, as the large flakes fell softly to the ground, my eyes trailing an individual fractal all the way to the footprints just beneath the window’s frame.
At first I did not comprehend them. I just stared, transfixed, at the deep imprints in the snow. Shoes. A man’s shoes. None of my friends wore the size, of that I felt sure. I traced them backwards from the window to the sidewalk, from whence this intruder had evidently come. But where did they lead? It was a bright night; the moon shone proudly between the clouds. My eyes followed the steps across the front yard, but once they passed behind the giant pine, they disappeared. My heart leapt to my throat. Whoever had walked behind that tree was still there.
In panic, I quickly backed away from the window. Georgie, sensing my fear, began to whimper.
“No, no, no, shhhhh…” I muttered, desperate to keep him quiet. I flicked the television off and led Georgie out of the room. I quickly pulled Kate from her crib, powered her TV down as well, and carried her down the stairs in the blackness.
“Can’t see,” Georgie said, and Kate began to cry. I shushed her hurriedly as we descended. Once in the basement den, I unplugged the Christmas tree so that the only light in the room came from the embers of the dying fire. I sat Georgie down on the couch and settled Kate in his arms.
“Sit right here,” I directed, staring into his eyes. “Don’t move, do you understand? Do not move.”
I need to call the police. I would have called my parents, but this was ten years ago, and they didn’t have cell phones. So I took the stairs quickly and quietly, tiptoeing to the phone hanging from the wall of our living room. I picked up the phone and dialed 911, but I heard nothing. Silence. I slammed it on the receiver and picked it up again. Again. Nothing.
I think it was around this point that I started to cry. I couldn’t help it. I was scared. I tried to calm myself down, telling myself that the storm had killed the phone line—but there wasn’t much of a storm. The snow was steady, sure, but there wasn’t even a breeze. Certainly nothing that could have disabled our phone.
Tentatively, I walked into Kate’s room and peeked out the window. My first glance was toward the tree, of course, where the footprints stopped—but now they continued. Sometime while I was herding my siblings downstairs, whoever was behind the tree had moved. I followed the footsteps across my frozen front yard to a man, standing, near the driveway. He was looking right at me.
My breath stopped. I was frozen in place. This was not one of my friends. I had never seen this man before. But he was looking at me with an eerie blankness. He was wearing a black turtleneck and black slacks—a lone dark spot on a blanket of purest white. My eyes never left him, and his never left me.
We stood still, silently staring, for what seemed like an eternity. My heart thrummed in my chest, and I felt nauseous. For the first time, gazing into this man’s eyes from afar, I began to consider the possibility of my death. I thought of my dad’s brother, who was killed in an accident at age eleven. Forever eleven. Never growing up. Frozen in time, in the memories of all who knew him, as a soul of eternal youth. At this, the tears flowed freely once more.
“Please don’t hurt us,” I begged in a sobbing whisper. I knew he could not hear me. But I could not help myself.
Finally, he broke eye contact with me and looked toward the heavens, toward the gently falling snow. He was saying something; but what, I could not hear. I stared, transfixed, as he pulled a handful of dark powder from his pocket, then, still gazing upward, still muttering to himself, he flung the stuff at his feet.
I desperately wanted to run, to get my siblings, but I thought that to let this man out of my sight would be unconscionably foolish. No, better to keep an eye on him. The house was still locked. I had the upper hand, I felt. Besides, I could not bring myself to look away from the strange ritual unfolding before me.
The man had removed his sweater and flung it carelessly to the ground behind him. He was no longer staring skyward, but his lips continued to move. I trained my eyes intently upon his mouth, trying with no success to read his words, when I saw something glint in the moonlight. It was a knife—a long, callous blade—which he had removed from his other pocket. It bore dark stains already. From what? I covered my mouth to hush a scream as the man, still muttering to himself, ran the edge of the blade along his pale, distended stomach.
A thin red line appeared along his abdomen, and blood of the deepest shade began to dribble from the wound. The streams trickled down his belly and fell ungracefully upon the black powder at his feet. At this, the man stared skyward once more, face contorted in a gruesome smile. He was sobbing uncontrollably, and mucous ran freely from his nostrils, but he looked happy. Beyond happy—elated. My stomach churned in revulsion. This man was in ecstasy.
I watched, almost entranced by this bizarre unfolding, when the man’s face changed suddenly. He looked directly at me once more, and his eyes appeared unhinged. Still clutching the knife, he began to sprint directly at my window.
I took one look at the weapon this man brandished and instinctively fled the room. I slammed the door shut behind me, and was halfway down the stairs when I heard the window shatter. The man screamed, loudly, in pain, as I reached the basement. I locked the door behind me, and ran to Georgie and Kate.
“No more screaming,” Georgie pleaded.
“No, no more screaming,” I agreed in hushed tones, stroking his hair in an effort to calm him down. Kate, meanwhile, seemed happy as a clam.
I strained, listening intently. Is he inside the house? I still clung to some naïve hope that he had injured himself on the glass and had retreated, or perhaps he had been weakened by his self-inflicted wound. Finally, I heard it—the subtle but unmistakable sound of footsteps upstairs. He was indeed inside the house, and by the sound of it, was trying to be quiet.
I silently guided Georgie and Kate into a storage closet and closed the door behind us, manipulating the handle to make as little noise as possible. We stayed there for about five minutes, listening to the ceiling creak threateningly above us. Then, I realized (I don’t know why it took me so long)—that we were not trapped. We still had a way out. I saw in my mind’s eye a window well, in the bathroom down the hall, the only access our basement had to the outside world.
Almost as if on cue, a frustrated scream echoed from above, followed by a tremendous crash. He had pulled something to the ground—perhaps the entertainment stand, or maybe the hutch.
“He’s here!” the man shrieked hysterically. “How dare you hide from him?!”
To this day, I don’t know who he was talking about. But it was at that moment, the moment I heard him begin to descend the stairs, that I made my move. Holding Kate in one arm and guiding Georgie with the other, we began our flight down the hallway. As we reached the bathroom, I stared fixedly at the window near the ceiling. It would be a tight fit, but we could make it.
I flung the window open, stood on the toilet, and placed Kate gently in the shallow window well. Then I stepped off, and told Georgie to get on.
“Yucky gross, no standing on toilet,” he said, looking embarrassed.
I heard the man fumble with the locked handle at the base of the stairs. Time was running out. I’m not proud of what I did next, but it was the only way I could think of to get Georgie to cooperate. I smacked my brother roughly across the face and grabbed him by the shirt with both hands.
“Georgie, get on the fucking toilet!” I snarled at him, the first time I had ever said that word. He began to wail in pain and surprise, but he did step onto the toilet all the same.
“Climb out the window!” I directed in a harsh tone, and as he grabbed the ledge, I used all the strength I could muster to help push him up. Once, he almost slipped back down—almost—but he was stronger than I thought he was, and managed to pull himself back up. With both of my siblings safely in the window well, I climbed on the toilet one last time and gripped the edge of the windowsill.
As I clambered out myself, I heard a raucous crash. The man had broken down the basement door. With one last hoist, I pulled my legs up through the window and shut it quietly behind me. As I helped my siblings out of the well, I heard one last anguished shout from the man, muffled through the pane of glass.
“Why are you hiding from him?!”
“Cold!” screamed Georgie as I led him, barefoot, through the snowy grass.
In panic, I shushed him, but it was no use. He and Kate were both crying quite loudly by this point. My only hope was to get them as far away from the house as possible. I heard a distant crash from inside the house, and I quickened our pace. Feet numb, I sprinted through the yard to the sidewalk, and practically had to drag Georgie onto it.
“Bathroom light on,” he said pleadingly. He was obsessive about turning off lights and electronics before leaving, and he was correct, we had left the bathroom light on in our haste. I ignored him and rushed us down the frozen pavement, stepping on sharp rocks and sticks and not even comprehending it. Adrenaline surged through my veins. I didn’t know what we were headed toward; all I knew is what we were headed away from.
The snow was falling much harder by this point. I could already see it collecting in a pile on Kate’s head. Her nose was beet red and dripping with snot—I needed to get her inside. But where? I looked ahead and saw a light, off in the distance. The Garlands’ house. I’d said maybe a grand total of six words to Mr. and Mrs. Garland my entire life, but that was our one option. It was in their house that we would seek refuge.
My house was now around the corner and out of sight, but I did not let up the pace until Georgie tripped on something and landed in a dark puddle. “Hey!” he screamed indignantly, looking back at his stumbling block. In the glow of the distant street light, I could see—Georgie had fallen into blood. A dead man lay, face up and eyes open, on the sidewalk. Snow had fallen onto most of him, and he had been mostly invisible until Georgie’s feet had connected with his midsection. I remembered the dark stain I had seen on our intruder’s knife.
“Come on,” I pled, wrenching my eyes away from the grisly scene as I pulled Georgie to his feet. We ran for another sixty seconds, maybe, and finally reached the Garlands’ front door. The window into their parlor was open and a fire was roaring. Mr. and Mrs. Garland sat, drinking tea, in cozy armchairs. I pounded ferociously on their door; they answered together, utter bewilderment stamped on their faces.
I handed Kate to Mrs. Garland and collapsed into tears.
The police arrived at my home fifteen minutes later and apprehended the man, unconscious, lying in a crumpled heap on the floor of our basement bathroom. They discovered him with a fractured skull, many deep lacerations from the window of Kate’s room, and intestines partially protruding from the wound on his gut. He had slipped in his attempt to climb where we had climbed, hit his head, and knocked himself out.
Apparently, he confessed under questioning that he was a member of a strange cult; a cult which, as far as anyone can tell, does not even exist. He claimed to have been taking part in a ritual which required the sacrifice of a “pure soul”, and my autistic brother had been his target that night. My parents have not shared with me all the details of what happened after that night, but as far as I know, our intruder is currently rotting in a cell.
The man he killed, the man lying on the sidewalk, was a friend of my father who lived two streets over. He had called his wife on his cell phone not long before he died, informing her of a suspicious man dressed in black, stalking around the neighborhood.
My parents arrived home from their date to find police swarmed around the block and their home a crime scene. My father relocated at work, and we had moved across the Rockies to Salt Lake City just two weeks later.
Kate is now a bratty middle-schooler. As far as I’m concerned, she’s perfect. Georgie, now 21, hasn’t changed a bit—but he loses his mind if someone knocks on a window. As for me, I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie now. I climb mountains with narrow trails and steep ridges, I go cave diving in places where you shouldn’t; all, I think, in an attempt to recreate the fearful intensity of that one snowy night long ago. But it never works. The closest I come is when I’m alone, in my room, in the dead of night, when I’m reading your worst stories about your worst times, and the things that chase you in your dreams.
Then, and then alone, is when the real fear sets in.