I’m not sure why they started, just that they did. Around the time I turned 16. One night I slept like a baby, the next I was awake and yet not, my wide staring eyes fixed in the corner of my bedroom ceiling on the dark snakelike thing that slithered from one shadow to the next.
I’d never had a night terror before so I was convinced that somehow there was an actual creature above my head and I sprang into action. I leapt out of bed, grabbed the closest thing on hand (it happened to be a plastic devil’s pitchfork, leftover from my Halloween costume), and attacked the last corner I’d seen the thing wriggle into. By the time I was on my feet I was awake but it didn’t matter, I was screaming and jabbing the pitchfork and I didn’t stop until my father turned on the light and asked what in the hell I was doing.
There was no monster, no snake. Just my ceiling and a few red plastic scuff marks left behind by the toy pitchfork.
Terrifying as that first time was, I eventually grew to recognize the signs of an impending night terror. Deep in REM sleep my eyes would open, fix on a certain point of the room, and that’s where the hallucination would begin. It wasn’t always scary; sometimes I saw glittering necklaces drifting down towards my face, disappearing only when I tried to grab them out of the air. Occasionally there were the more violent ones, like the time I pushed my husband out of bed because I saw a tree crashing through our bedroom window. (That one was pretty funny, in retrospect.)
There’s no known cure for night terrors, and they’re supposed to go away after puberty, but mine have stuck around and so I’ve learned to live with them. My therapist encouraged me to keep a journal to “work through it” so here I am.
Yeah, my therapist. They weren’t so bad when I was a teenager, just scary dreams with an interactive twist, but lately they’ve gotten worse. A lot worse. My husband noticed I was staying up later, sleeping less, and the first night I stayed awake until the sunrise he took my hand and gently said he thought I needed to see someone.
He’s the guy who’s put up with it all these years. The thrashing, the screaming, the occasional push out of bed. He knows when something’s wrong.
And he’s right. Something is wrong. But how do I tell him, I thought, how do I say what I’ve been seeing without him thinking I’m crazy? I made the appointment with the therapist myself so I wouldn’t have to tell my sweet husband the horrific things I see when I sleep.
It started about a month ago, after we moved into our new place. The first night I felt my eyes drifting open, felt them focus on the doorway, and saw the shape there.
Dark, hulking. Broad shoulders that heaved with each breath. Blackness. I knew at once this couldn’t be a night terror, I needed to wake up and warn my husband that someone was watching us from the doorway, but I couldn’t move.
My therapist says it’s called sleep paralysis. Nice little disorder to couple with the night terrors, right? Now when I saw something scary and horrible, I couldn’t even wake myself up or roll over to ignore it. All I could do was lay there and stare, hoping it wouldn’t take a step forward.
For the first few nights, it didn’t. But it was always there. Just watching me.
Somehow I knew it was hungry.
My husband doesn’t believe in ghosts, spirits, demons, all that mess. That’s why I didn’t want to tell him. I was sure there was something evil in this new house but I couldn’t stand the thought of him laughing at me, or worse, giving me that look that said he knew so much more than I did. So I powered through it, sure that I could handle a few nights of terror and that it would go away soon.
It didn’t. After a while it got brave, and it got closer.
Now it sat at the foot of my bed. Breathing so heavily. Growling, almost. Just a dark shape silhouetted against the dim light of our alarm clock. I wanted to scream but my throat was closed up like someone had packed wet sand inside.
I told my therapist and he said it was something held over from childhood, probably the reason for my pubescent night terrors that still manifested to this day. Something terrible had happened to me that my waking mind couldn’t (or wouldn’t) recall, and now it had taken the shape of a monster in the night. It was so poetic it was almost sickening.
We worked on these repressed memories but I always came up empty-handed, and at night, the monster moved closer.
Had I been abused by a parent? Not that I could recall. Ostracized in school? No, I was fairly popular as a kid. Saw a scary movie when I was too young to process it? Pretty sure that wasn’t the case. My days became a blur of wondering what had happened, what inside me was broken. I imagined the source of my night terrors as an alarmed bird caught in an attic, fluttering helplessly against my skull, trying in vain to get out but always hitting the rafters and tumbling down again.
I stopped sleeping altogether when I woke up one night to find it on top of me, parting my legs with its knee and shoving itself inside, violating me. It didn’t hurt, I could barely feel anything but the very idea that this monster, this beast, this was what it wanted? My stomach rolled and churned as it bucked away on top of me, its shadowy form writhing like a dense cloud of snakes or spiders.
You can guess what my therapist thought of this. Someone had hurt me as a child, done something unspeakable, and my mind was trying so hard to dig up this buried memory. I needed to stop fighting the healing process and let it go.
He recommended setting up a recording device — a camera, cassette tape, anything — to capture my voice. While I may not be aware of it, I could be saying things in my sleep that would lead us to the answer. A name, a place, some sort of clue. I wanted desperately to sleep again so when I got home that night, the first night since the violation that I’d even attempted sleep, I set up my laptop on the armoire and faced it towards the bed. I started up the webcam, took an Ambien, and laid down.
I’m on that laptop now. I just reviewed the footage a few minutes ago and I don’t know what to do. I guess that’s why I’m here.
It’s not a monster. It’s my husband.
Just after I fell asleep, I watched the grainy low-lit form of the man I married 3 years ago stand in the doorway of our bedroom, staring at me. This went on for almost half an hour.
Then he sat at the edge of the bed. He pulled the blankets back and stroked the tops of my feet. Still, I was asleep.
He bent and pulled something out from underneath the mattress frame. It was a rag and a bottle. Eyes on me, he soaked the rag with the liquid from the bottle, then pressed it gently over my mouth and nose.
He put his tools away and then… well, you know what he did then.
My husband. My own husband.
He took the day off to stay home. He said he was concerned, wanted to spend some time with me and talk things out. He’s sitting across the table from me right now, sipping his coffee and reading the paper, but I could swear he keeps looking at me in the strangest way.
Did he see the laptop? Does he know I know?
And more importantly, who is this monster I married?