I awoke again. No easy transition to consciousness, but a startled heart-pounding
leap from the covers. Halfway to the door, before I realized my
whereabouts and paused, hand to heart and breathing heavily, looking quickly
around the darkened room. Was that a shadowy outline, towering in the corner,
its head an oddly formed translucence over the cornice?
I outstretched my other arm in defense, or maybe supplication, and moved
towards the corner. As I walked slowly nearer, the shape began to fade into the
ordinary things of a bedroom. A jacket thrown idly onto the chair, a framed poster,
all the detritus of a young man’s bedroom. And yet—I felt something there. Could
not bring myself to touch the wall. Instead I quickly lurched to the light switch to
my left, and flipped it. The swift change in lighting created after images, one of
which was a grotesque form which caused me to stagger backward in fright. I
stumbled and hit my elbow against the wall as I fell to a sitting position on the
The sudden shock-like pain brought me completely awake. As I rubbed my
elbow, I glanced around the room. There was nothing but my belongings.
Following my doctor’s guidance, I took deep breaths and tried to calm myself.
Tears pooled at the sides of my eyes, ignored. The medications I had been given,
made sleep feel like a trap. One which held me down, as the things in my head
did their worst.
Only now, they seemed to persist longer into my awakening. Screw the doc,
tomorrow night, no pills.
The drive to work was a blur. My head was cottony from lack of sleep. I had
cracked the windows to force a breeze, an attempt to try and keep myself alert in
the dense morning traffic. I pulled into the parking garage, and taking a last slurp
from the awkward thermos cup of coffee, I headed for the stairs.
The fatigue from the last few weeks of interrupted sleep, lent the world a
distance. As if the waking world was itself a dream. My legs leaden as I dragged
myself up the stairs. I reached the third floor landing, and tried to catch my
reflection in the small wired glass window. I feared I looked cadaverous. I had
noticed looks from coworkers as darkened circles grew under my eyes.
I entered the office, a dull gray assemblage of cubicles. They had been
fashioned together in different shapes, presumably to disguise that they were, in
fact, eastern bloc architecture writ small. I realized that my restless nights had
begun affecting my outlook, but was far too exhausted to care. Except for one
I made my best effort to smile as I passed the desk where Brittany, the
administrative assistant sat. “Good morning Brit.” I said as I walked slowly by, a
sad attempt to provide her with ample opportunity to engage in conversation.
“Good morning Jacob.”
She didn’t look up from the file cabinet that she was rummaging through, and
I continued on toward my desk. My pace maybe a bit slower.
The characters on the screen were starting to blur, and I had re-typed the last
paragraph at least four times, when Marcus came by and stuck his head over my
“Come on man? Do you know what time it is?”
I sat back from the screen, realizing that I didn’t. A glance at the lower corner
of my computer monitor read 7:49PM. I looked through the slim gap between the
cubicles to where the one window could usually be seen. It was dark.
I looked up at him, a dark-skinned black man who always wore suits so well-fitting
that I had assumed they were tailored. They were not, as it turned out. I
asked. He was also quite tall and could easily look over the cubicle wall at me.
“Sorry Marcus, I got caught up on this document for legal.”
“Don’t apologize, but you’re salaried for fuck’s sake. You really need to work
on that work-life balance and get more life in.”
I liked Marcus as a manager, but I really hated that phrase. There was no
truth to it. I saw that he was looking more closely at me. I looked down and
started my routine of shutting down the computer and filing away the paperwork.
It didn’t fool him.
He started to speak, and then paused. His tone when he resumed was not
one I liked to hear. “Jacob. If there’s some personal stuff going on, I’d be glad to
talk to HR and see about some time off. Or whatever you need. It looks like you
haven't slept in weeks.”
I finished up, and with no other distractions to shield me, I stood up and made
eye contact. “I know boss. I’ve—had some insomnia and I’ve been working with
the doctor on it. I think we just haven’t found the right meds. I’ll be alright.” I made
what I hoped was my best appearance of being happy and normal.
He took a deep breath, “OK. Just know that you can come to me if you need
help man. If you don’t have the time off, I’ll work out some sort of leave for you.
Just say the word.” He looked into my eyes. I wasn’t sure what he saw there, but
he was seemingly satisfied. He clapped me on the shoulder, “OK, get home and
get some sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.”
His head disappeared from the top of the cubicle, but I was too short to watch
him walk out. Instead, I looked down at my feet for a minute. I was afraid. Not of
going home, but of the inevitability of falling asleep.
With a sigh, I headed to the stairs.
Just as I started to nod off, the obnoxious music faded, and I looked up to see
Netflix prodding me to tell it that I was in fact still here and did want to watch
more of whatever show I had picked. I clicked the button. I was still here.
I had arrived home, eaten a salty microwave meal alone, and then headed to
the couch where I randomly picked a sitcom to stream. I knew I should head to
bed. It was after midnight and I still had most of the lights on. The electricity bill
would kill me if something else didn’t first.
Not for the first time, I wondered if my subconscious was taking this fear and
using it against me. I had visited website after website for advice. I learned about
lucid dreaming. I thought perhaps I was experiencing it in it’s most horrific form.
Most articles seemed to have advice on how to create the perfect state for lucid
dreams, not how to prevent them. Madness.
There were, of course, a number of articles on getting a good nights sleep.
Along with their accompanying sales pitch for supplements, pillows, beds,
meditation, yoga—a never ending list of products.
I had already seen two doctors. The first wanted to prescribe me antidepressants
before I had even finished describing my symptoms. I moved on to
another, older doctor. He had listened more carefully, and after a few tests,
decided that a sleep aid would likely help me sleep undisturbed.
The thing was, it wasn’t working. Oh I did fall asleep quickly. But then, after a
period from minutes to hours, it would start.
At first it was like almost any other nightmare. I would awaken in a fright,
images of some dark thing or another quickly fading. I would brush it off and
return to sleep.
It gradually changed.
In the dream I would believe I had awakened. My eyes would slowly open in
the darkened room. I was always flat on my back, and there was a feeling of
restraint. It was only then that my subconscious mind realized that I was still
I’d lay there feeling a terrible helplessness. My arms and legs lie limp no
matter how much I tried to force them into movement. It felt, I thought, very much
like it must feel to be a paraplegic. I would eventually awaken, and aside from a
newfound respect for those so afflicted, I would also feel incredibly lethargic.
It was as if, for the duration of that mysterious dream-time, I had fought a
battle to control my body. I began to believe that I had maybe recalled some
childhood fear of becoming paralyzed.
It had been a few weeks, and becoming concerned that my work would
indeed suffer, I went to the first doctor. And then the second. And then I began
taking the medication.
From the very first night things changed.
After taking the small innocuous looking pill, it took maybe 30 minutes to an
hour before I became unnaturally drowsy. I didn’t care for the feeling, but was
willing to put up with it for a full nights sleep. I was asleep within a minute of
laying my head on the pillow.
Once again, the time of night seemed not to matter. I had started becoming
almost accustomed to the reoccurring dream, and that conscious awareness
carried over into the subconscious dreamworld. I would believe myself awake,
and unable to move. Only my eyes moved, and they darted around the darkened
room. This time something was off. Different.
It was the sense of presence. I looked into the shadowy corners, trying to
pinpoint my unease. There was no movement, nothing to be seen. But I was
certain something was there. I fought all the harder to move, to make a sound, to
scream for help. It was futile. The internal battle would continue until I actually
awoke and would get up for the night, no matter the hour.
As days and nights passed, the presence became more—certain. I knew it
was there, and it knew I was there. And what was worse, it knew I couldn’t move.
The feeling was unexplainable. Much like the displacement of air or space in
a darkened elevator or closet makes us aware of our friends, regardless of how
quiet they might be, I knew there was something there. I also inexplicably knew
that it was full of malice and meant me harm.
I called the doctor. Or rather called the service. I could make an appointment,
or speak with an assistant. Yes, I would speak with the assistant.
I was told that the medication did have side effects. Some of which included
lucid dreaming, sleepwalking, and in rare cases death. I had already read the
lengthy sheet given with the bottle. She recommended that I continue on the
medication. My body would adapt and as long as I wasn’t experiencing any
reaction, it should prove helpful over time.
I thought about telling her about the thing that lurked invisibly in the dark of
my room, savoring my fear and inability to move, but quickly realized that would
likely result in my committal to a hospital. The fatigue was certainly beginning to
affect my judgement. Instead, I thanked her and hung up.
That had been weeks ago, and I was now going to face the night without the
use of medication. The side of the bottle warned me to not stop taking it without
consulting the doctor. I silently informed the bottle that it would be weeks before I
could see the actual doctor, and I didn’t feel like going through another
patronizing phone call with the assistant. It didn’t object.
I was exhausted and jittery all at the same time. I had been consuming
caffeine for weeks at an alarming rate. I was punch drunk with weariness. The
inane show often had me laughing hysterically. Often not in time with the laugh
track. It should have concerned me.
After awhile, the noise died down a second time and Netflix awaited my
decision. This time Caesar’s thumb went down.
I walked to the bedroom with the heavy step of the condemned. I didn’t bother
changing, I had put on shorts after arriving home from work. It was good enough.
The room was warm, and as I lay down, I pulled up just a single sheet and
waited to fall asleep. And waited. I was tired. Unbelievably tired. And yet my mind
raced, thinking about everything and nothing.
I guessed the lack of medication was having it’s effect.
In the end, it didn’t matter. At some point, in spite of my mind’s ramblings, I fell
asleep. I knew I had, because I had awoken in a state of terror, paralyzed and
looking around for the unseen entity that I knew was there.
I gradually calmed and once again began the ineffectual struggle to move my
deadened limbs. I stopped my efforts almost immediately.
Above me, in the dim light filtering in through the blinds, was a shape.
Diaphanous and inhumanly large. I was afraid to move my gaze. I didn’t know
what it would do, what it could do. I expected to feel an explosion of pain at any
I overcame the dread, and eventually glanced down. The thing began at the
base of my bed, the rest of it’s massive form loomed over my still body in a way
that defied any human physiology. My cursory look revealed the bulk of it, and
my mind balked at what I was seeing.
My mind raced through all the things I had seen, heard and read, and nothing
made sense of the reality of what I was seeing. Then…
There was a sound like a dark chuckle. Was it amused by my horror? I
suddenly grew enraged. All the lack of sleep and fear had built up and I fought to
move. I would show this thing, whatever it was and wherever it came from, that I
wouldn't die still and afraid.
A strain began in my head, becoming an intense pain, the room going white—
and then I was free! Free to move! I swung and hit a surface that had no give.
Then it had hold of my arm, and I struggled and fought and tore at it.
Awareness came quickly. I was sitting up in bed, covered in sweat, part of my
arm and shoulder feeling trapped in the sheet that I had become entangled in. I
scoffed, and shook it free. I looked around the empty room, now brightening in
the morning light, and began to chuckle. For a moment I continued quietly
laughing until tears began to run from my eyes.
I had slept well for over a week. No nightmares, no dreams. I did have trouble
falling asleep initially, but put that off to the medication withdrawals.
Today I woke up earlier than normal. It was Monday and I had plans at work.
Now that I was looking human, and feeling human, I had decided that I was going
to look my best and ask Brittany out to lunch.
I slowly slid upright and onto the edge of the bed. Dim light was trickling in
from the rising sun. The change to daylight savings had only just passed, and the
sunrise had begun early.
I thought about exercising to kill time. I decided to read instead. I checked to
see that the alarm was still set, a lifetime of paranoia ensuring that I wouldn’t be
late should I fall back asleep while reading.
I needn't have worried, the book was engaging and soon I was double
checking the clock, and preparing to turn off the alarm. I decided I might as well
get up and start what was going to be a much longer grooming session.
I yawned my way into the kitchen and turned on the coffee pot. I waited a
moment to make sure it began to churn and steam and then made my way
towards the bathroom. On the way there, I grabbed a couple of shirts from the
laundry room to try on. In spite of having owned them all for some time. I was
certain that looking my best would improve my confidence when the time came.
I walked into the bathroom, the skylight in the high ceiling providing just
enough light to keep my toes safe. I hung the shirts on the shower curtain rod,
and turned to flip the light switch.
It was there. Right behind me. In the light. I had but a moment to try and take
in the monstrous form in the vanity mirror, nearly curved over in the high-ceilinged
room when I saw a flash of movement from the side.
Then the pain I had feared for weeks ripped through me, a blow of
tremendous force followed by a tearing hot pain.
I felt myself falling, and as I fell my eyes turned upward, a hazy darkness
beginning to obscure my vision, and it was then that I saw the thing’s face. And I
carried that vision with me.