11 Oct Bedtime
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"Bedtime"Written by Michael Whitehouse
Estimated reading time — 57 minutes
Part One: The Beginning
Bedtime is supposed to be a happy event for a tired child; for me it was terrifying. While some children might complain about being put to bed before they have finished watching a film or playing their favourite video game, when I was a child, night time was something to truly fear. Somewhere in the back of my mind it still is.
As someone who is trained in the sciences, I cannot prove that what happened to me was objectively real, but I can swear that what I experienced was genuine horror. A fear which in my life, I’m glad to say, has never been equaled. I will relate it to you all now as best I can, make of it what you will, but I’ll be glad to just get it off of my chest.
I can’t remember exactly when it started, but my apprehension towards falling asleep seemed to correspond with my being moved into a room of my own. I was 8 years old at the time and until then I had shared a room, quite happily, with my older brother. As is perfectly understandable for a boy 5 years my senior, my brother eventually wished for a room of his own and as a result, I was given the room at the back of the house.
It was a small, narrow, yet oddly elongated room, large enough for a bed and a couple of chest of drawers, but not much else. I couldn’t really complain because, even at that age, I understood that we did not have a large house and I had no real cause to be disappointed, as my family was both loving and caring. It was a happy childhood, during the day.
A solitary window looked out onto our back garden, nothing out of the ordinary, but even during the day, the light which crept into that room seemed almost hesitant.
As my brother was given a new bed, I was given the bunk beds which we used to share. While I was upset about sleeping on my own, I was excited at the thought of being able to sleep in the top bunk, which seemed far more adventurous to me.
From the very first night, I remember a strange feeling of unease creeping slowly from the back of my mind. I lay on the top bunk, staring down at my action figures and cars strewn across the green-blue carpet. As imaginary battles and adventures took place between the toys on the floor, I couldn’t help but feel that my eyes were being slowly drawn towards the bottom bunk, as if something was moving in the corner of my eye. Something which did not wish to be seen.
The bunk was empty, impeccably made with a dark blue blanket tucked in neatly, partially covering two rather bland white pillows. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, I was a child, and the noise slipping under my door from my parent’s television bathed me in a warm sense of safety and well-being.
I fell asleep.
When you awaken from a deep sleep to something moving or stirring, it can take a few moments for you to truly understand what is happening. The fog of sleep hangs over your eyes and ears even when lucid.
Something was moving, there was no doubt about that.
At first, I wasn’t sure what it was. Everything was dark, almost pitch black, but there was enough light creeping in from outside to outline that narrowly suffocating room. Two thoughts appeared in my mind almost simultaneously. The first was that my parents were in bed because the rest of the house lay both in darkness and silence. The second thought turned to the noise. A noise which had obviously woken me.
As the last cobwebs of sleep withered from my mind, the noise took on a more familiar form. Sometimes the simplest of sounds can be the most unnerving, a cold wind whistling through a tree outside, a neighbor’s footsteps uncomfortably close, or, in this case, the simple sound of bed sheets rustling in the dark.
That was it; bed sheets rustling in the dark as if some disturbed sleeper was attempting to get all too comfortable in the bottom bunk. I lay there in disbelief thinking that the noise was either my imagination, or perhaps just my pet cat finding somewhere comfortable to spend the night. It was then that I noticed my door, shut as it had been as I’d fallen asleep.
Perhaps my mum had checked in on me and the cat had sneaked into my room then.
Yes, that must have been it. I turned to face the wall, closing my eyes in the vain hope that I could fall back to sleep. As I moved, the rustling noise from underneath me ceased. I thought that I must have disturbed my cat, but quickly I realized that the visitor in the bottom bunk was much less mundane than my pet trying to sleep, and much more sinister.
As if alerted to, and disgruntled by, my presence, the disturbed sleeper began to toss and turn violently, like a child having a tantrum in their bed. I could hear the sheets twist and turn with increasing ferocity. Fear then gripped me, not like the subtle sense of unease I had experienced earlier, but now potent and terrifying. My heart raced as my eyes panicked, scanning the almost impenetrable darkness.
I let out a cry.
As most young boys do, I instinctively shouted on my mother. I could hear something stir on the other side of the house, but as I began to breathe a sigh of relief that my parents were coming to save me, the bunk beds suddenly started to shake violently as if gripped by an earthquake, scraping against the wall. I could hear the sheets below me thrashing around as if tormented by malice. I did not want to jump down to safety as I feared the thing in the bottom bunk would reach out and grab me, pulling me into the darkness, so I stayed there, white knuckles clenching my own blanket like a shroud of protection. The wait seemed like an eternity.
The door finally, and thankfully, burst open, and I lay bathed in light while the bottom bunk, the resting place of my unwanted visitor, lay empty and peaceful.
I cried and my mother consoled me. Tears of fear, followed by relief, streamed down my face. Yet, through all of the horror and relief, I did not tell her why I was so upset. I cannot explain it, but it was as though whatever had been in that bunk would return if I even so much as spoke of it, or uttered a single syllable of its existence. Whether that was the truth, I do not know, but as a child I felt as if that unseen menace remained close, listening.
My mother lay in the empty bunk, promising to stay there until morning. Eventually my anxiety diminished, tiredness pushed me back towards sleep, but I remained restless, waking several times momentarily to the sound of rustling bed sheets.
I remember the next day wanting to go anywhere, be anywhere, but in that narrow suffocating room. It was a Saturday and I played outside, quite happily with my friends. Although our house was not large we were lucky to have a long sloping garden in the back. We played there often, as much of it was overgrown and we could hide in the bushes, climb in the huge sycamore tree which towered above all else, and easily imagine ourselves in the throes of a grand adventure, in some untamed exotic land.
As fun as it all was, occasionally my eye would turn to that small window; ordinary, slight, and innocuous. But for me, that thin boundary was a looking glass into a strange, cold pocket of dread. Outside, the lush green surroundings of our garden filled with the smiling faces of my friends could not extinguish the creeping feeling clawing its way up my spine; each hair standing on end. The feeling of something in that room, watching me play, waiting for the night when I would be alone; eagerly filled with hate.
It may sound strange to you, but by the time my parents ushered me back into that room for the night, I said nothing. I didn’t protest, I didn’t even make an excuse as to why I couldn’t sleep there. I simply and sullenly walked into that room, climbed the few steps into the top bunk and then waited. As an adult, I would be telling everyone about my experience, but even at that age, I felt almost silly to be talking about something which I really had no evidence for. I would be lying, however, if I said this was my primary reason; I still felt that this thing would be enraged if I so much as spoke of it.
It’s funny how certain words can remain hidden from your mind, no matter how blatant or obvious they are. One word came to me that second night, lying there in the darkness alone, frightened, aware of a rotten change in the atmosphere; a thickening of the air as if something had displaced it. As I heard the first casual twists of the bed sheets below, the first anxious increase of my heartbeat at the realisation that something was once again in the bottom bunk, that word, a word which had been sent into exile, filtered up through my consciousness, breaking free of all repression, gasping for air screaming, etching, and carving itself into my mind.
As this thought came to me, I noticed that my unwelcome visitor had ceased moving. The bed sheets lay calm and dormant, but they had been replaced by something far more hideous. A slow, rhythmic, rasping breath heaved and escaped from the thing below. I could imagine its chest rising and falling with each sordid, wheezing, and garbled breath. I shuddered, and hoped beyond all hope that it would leave without occurrence.
The house lay, as it had the previous night, in a thick blanket of darkness. Silence prevailed, all but for the perverted breath of my, as yet, unseen bunkmate. I lay there terrified. I just wanted this thing to go, to leave me alone.
What did it want?
Then something unmistakably chilling transpired; it moved. It moved in a way different from before. When it threw itself around in the bottom bunk it seemed, unrestrained, without purpose, almost animalistic. This movement, however, was driven by awareness, with purpose, with a goal in mind. For that thing lying there in the darkness, that thing which seemed intent on terrorizing a young boy, calmly and nonchalantly sat up. Its labored breathing had become louder as now only a mattress and a few flimsy wooden slats separated my body from the unearthly breath below.
I lay there, my eyes filled with tears. A fear which mere words cannot relate to you or anyone else coursed through my veins. I would not have believed that this fear could have been heightened, but I was so wrong. I imagined what this thing would look like, sitting there listing from below my mattress, hoping to catch the slightest hint that I was awake. Imagination then turned to an unnerving reality. It began to touch the wooden slats which my mattress sat on. It seemed to caress them carefully, running what I imagined to be fingers and hands across the surface of the wood.
Then, with great force, it prodded angrily between two slats, into the mattress. Even through the padding, it felt as though someone had viciously stuck their fingers into my side. I let out an almighty cry and the wheezing, shaking, and moving thing in the bunk below replied in kind by violently vibrating the bunk as it had done the night before. Small flakes of paint powdered onto my blanket from the wall as the frame of the bed scraped along it, backwards and forwards.
Once again I was bathed in light, and there stood my mother, loving, caring as she always was, with a comforting hug and calming words which eventually subdued my hysteria. Of course she asked what was wrong, but I could not say, I dared not say. I simply said one word over and over and over again.
This pattern of events continued for weeks, if not months. Night after night I would awaken to the sound of rustling sheets. Each time I would scream so as to not provide this abomination with time to prod and ‘feel’ for me. With each cry the bed would shake violently, stopping with the arrival of my mother who would spend the rest of the night in the bottom bunk, seemingly unaware of the sinister force torturing her son nightly.
Along the way, I managed to feign illness a few times and come up with other less-than-truthful reasons for sleeping in my parents’ bed, but more often than not I would be alone for the first few hours of each night in that place. The room where the light from outside did not sit right. Alone with that thing.
With time you can become desensitized to almost anything, no matter how horrific. I had come to realize that, for whatever reason, this thing could not harm me when my mother was present. I am sure the same would have been said for my father, but as loving as he was, waking him from sleep was almost impossible.
After a few months, I had grown accustomed to my nightly visitor. Do not mistake this for some unearthly friendship, I detested the thing. I still feared it greatly as I could almost sense its desires and its personality, if you could call it that; one filled with a perverted and twisted hatred yet longing for me, of perhaps all things.
My greatest fears were realized in the winter. The days grew short, and the longer nights merely provided this wretch with more opportunities. It was a difficult time for my family. My Grandmother, a wonderfully kind and gentle woman, had deteriorated greatly since the death of my Grandfather. My mother was trying her best to keep her in the community as long as possible, however, dementia is a cruel and degenerative illness, robbing a person of their memories one day at a time. Soon she recognized none of us, and it became clear that she would need to be moved from her house to a nursing home.
Before she could be moved, my Grandmother had a particularly difficult few nights and my mother decided that she would stay with her. As much as I loved my Grandmother and felt nothing but anguish at her illness, to this day I feel guilty that my first thoughts were not of her, but of what my nightly visitor may do should it become aware of my mother’s absence; her presence being the one thing which I was sure was protecting me from the full horror of this thing’s reach.
I rushed home from school that day and immediately wrenched the bed sheets and mattress from the lower bunk, removing all of the slats and placing an old desk, a chest of drawers, and some chairs which we kept in a cupboard where the bottom bunk used to be. I told my father I was ‘making an office’ which he found adorable, but I would be damned if I’d give that thing a place to sleep for one more night.
As darkness approached, I lay there knowing my mother was not in the house. I did not know what to do. My only impulse was to sneak into her jewelry box and take a small family crucifix which I had seen there before. While my family was not very religious, at that age I still believed in God and hoped that somehow this would protect me. Although fearful and anxious, while gripping the crucifix under my pillow tightly in one hand, sleep eventually came and as I drifted off to dream, I hoped that I would awaken in the morning without incidence. Unfortunately, that night was the most terrifying of all.
I woke gradually. The room was once again dark. As my eyes adjusted I could gradually make out the window and the door, and the walls, some toys on a shelf and… Even to this day, I shudder to think of it, for there was no noise. No rustling of sheets. No movement at all. The room felt lifeless. Lifeless, yet not empty.
The nightly visitor, that unwelcome, wheezing, hate-filled thing which had terrorized me night after night, was not in the bottom bunk, it was in my bed! I opened my mouth to scream, but nothing came out. Utter terror had shaken the very sound from my voice. I lay motionless. If I could not scream, I did not want to let it know I was awake.
I had not yet seen it, I could only feel it. It was obscured under my blanket. I could see its outline, and I could feel its presence, but I dared not look. The weight of it pressed down on top of me, a sensation I will never forget. When I say that hours passed, I do not exaggerate. Laying there motionless, in the darkness, I was every bit a scared and frightened young boy.
If it had been during the summer months it would have been light by then, but the grasp of winter is long and unrelenting, and I knew it would be hours before sunrise; a sunrise which I yearned for. I was a timid child by nature, but I reached a breaking point, a moment where I could wait no more, where I could survive under this intimately deviant abomination no longer.
Fear can sometimes wear you out, make you threadbare, a shell of nerves leaving only the slightest trace of you behind. I had to get out of that bed! Then I remembered, the crucifix! My hand still lay underneath the pillow, but it was empty! I slowly moved my wrist around to find it, minimizing as best I could the sound and vibrations caused, but it could not be found. I had either knocked it off of the top bunk, or it had…I could not even bear to think of it, been taken from my hand.
Without the crucifix, I lost any sense of hope. Even at such a young age, you can be acutely aware of what death is, and intensely frightened of it. I knew I was going to die in that bed if I lay there, dormant, passive, doing nothing. I had to leave that room behind, but how? Should I leap from the bed and hope that I make it to the door? What if it is faster than me? Or should I slowly slip out of that top bunk, hoping to not disturb my uncanny bedfellow?
Realizing that it had not stirred when I moved, trying to find the crucifix, I began to have the strangest of thoughts.
What if it was asleep?
It hadn’t so much as breathed since I had woken up. Perhaps it was resting, believing that it had finally got me. That I was finally in its grasp. Or perhaps it was toying with me. After all, it had been doing just that for countless nights, and now with me under it, pinned against my mattress with no mother to protect me, maybe it was holding off, savoring its victory until the last possible moment. Like a wild animal savoring its prey.
I tried to breathe as shallowly as possible, and mustering every ounce of courage I could, I reached over slowly with my right hand and began to peel the blanket off of me. What I found under those covers almost stopped my heart. I did not see it, but as my hand moved the blanket, it brushed against something. Something smooth and cold. Something which felt unmistakably like a gaunt hand.
I held my breath in terror as I was sure it must now have known that I was awake.
It did not stir, it felt, dead. After a few moments, I placed my hand carefully further down the blanket and felt a thin, poorly formed forearm, my confidence and almost twisted sense of curiosity grew as I moved down further to a disproportionately larger bicep muscle. The arm was outstretched lying across my chest, with the hand resting on my left shoulder as if it had grabbed me in my sleep. I realized that I would have to move this cadaverous appendage if I even so much as hoped to escape its grasp.
For some reason, the feeling of torn, ragged clothing on the shoulder of this nighttime invader stopped me in my tracks. Fear once again swelled in my stomach and in my chest as I recoiled my hand in disgust at the touch of straggled, oily hair.
I could not bring myself to touch its face, although I wonder to this very day what it would have felt like.
Dear God it moved.
It moved. It was subtle, but its grip on my shoulder and across my body strengthened. No tears came, but God how I wanted to cry. As its hand and arm slowly coiled around me, my right leg brushed along the cool wall which the bed lay against. Of all that happened to me in that room, this was the strangest. I realized that this clutching, rancid thing which drew great delight from violating a young boy’s bed, was not entirely on top of me. It was sticking out from the wall, like a spider striking from its lair.
Suddenly its grip moved from a slow tightening to a sudden squeeze, it pulled and clawed at my clothes as if frightened that the opportunity would soon pass. I fought against it, but its emaciated arm was too strong for me. Its head rose up writhing and contorting under the blanket. I now realized where it was taking me, into the wall! I fought for my dear life, I cried and suddenly my voice returned to me, yelling, screaming, but no one came.
Then I realized why it was so eager to suddenly strike, why this thing had to have me now. Through my window, that window which seemed to represent so much malice from outside, streaked hope; the first rays of sunshine. I struggled further knowing that if I could just hold on, it would soon be gone. As I fought for my life, the unearthly parasite shifted, slowly pulling itself up my chest, its head now poking out from under the blanket, wheezing, coughing, rasping. I do not remember its features, I simply remember its breath against my face, foul and as cold as ice.
As the sun broke over the horizon, that dark place, that suffocating room of contempt was washed, bathed in sunlight.
I passed out as its scrawny fingers encircled my neck, squeezing the very life from me.
I awoke to my father offering to make me some breakfast, a wonderful sight indeed! I had survived the most horrible experience of my life until then, and now. I moved the bed away from the wall, leaving behind the furniture I had believed would stop that thing from taking a bed. Little did I think that it would try to take mine…and me.
Weeks passed without incidence, yet on one cold, frostbitten night I awoke to the sound of the furniture where the bunk beds used to be, vibrating violently. In a moment it passed, I lay there sure I could hear a distant wheezing coming from deep within the wall, finally fading into the distance.
I have never told anyone this story before. To this day I still break out in a cold sweat at the sound of bed sheets rustling in the night, or a wheeze brought on by a common cold, and I certainly never sleep with my bed against a wall. Call it superstition if you will but as I said, I cannot discount conventional explanations such as sleep paralysis, hallucination, or that of an over-active imagination, but what I can say is this: The following year I was given a larger room on the other side of the house and my parents took that strangely suffocating, elongated place as their bedroom. They said they didn’t need a large room, just one big enough for a bed and a few things.
They lasted 10 days. We moved on the 11th.
After writing my account of an horrific experience I had as an 8 year old child, many have encouraged me to speak about the aftermath. I’ve been hesitant to do so as I have felt unsettled since I broke my silence. Sleep has not come easy to me these last few nights. My scepticism, however, remains resilient and as such I will tell of what I experienced in the other room.
This won’t be as long, as what occurred only took place over a few days but that was more than enough for me.
If you recall, after that unwelcome nightly visitor left me, I was moved into another bedroom a year later. This room was much larger than the previous one and had a warm and welcoming atmosphere to it. Some places feel bad. The room before felt foul, but this one did not.
Thankfully I was given a normal bed, the previous one was taken apart and thrown out (a welcome sight I might add). I loved my new room, I enjoyed the space for all of my toys, I was happy that the place was large enough to have my friends drop by, but most of all I was relieved to just be out of that uneasy, foreboding part of the house.
On the first night I slept more soundly than I had done for a long, long time. Of course I still moved my bed several feet from the wall. I told my mother that I and my friends liked to use the gap between the bed and wall as a hiding place when we were playing.
I awoke the next day feeling refreshed and relaxed. As I lay there watching some of my favourite cartoons on a small portable television, I noticed something odd. An old dark brown armchair which had always been there, sat at the foot of my bed, large and looming. It was frayed and worn, having been given to us as part of a suite by my cousin, but it had been used many times even by then. The chair itself was not unusual, but what unsettled me was that I could have sworn that before I had went to sleep, the chair had been facing away from the bed. Now, in the cold light of day, the chair was facing me. I assumed one of my parents had moved it while I slept, probably looking for something which had been left their before we switched rooms.
The second night was not as restful. It was around 11pm and I could hear my parent’s television from the other side of the house. The room was largely in darkness, the only illumination an orange hue drifting through my window from the street lights outside. I lay there content. Content, until I heard something quiet, yet unmistakable.
At first I thought it was the sound of my own breath exhaling and inhaling as I rested, but when I stopped for a moment, the quiet almost inaudible sound of someone else in the room breathing in and out did not cease. It continued, rhythmically and without pause.
I lay there in the darkness, but while I was still recovering from the terror instilled in me from my experiences in my previous bedroom, I was not entirely afraid. The breathing was so distant and unlike the wheezing I had heard during my encounter with that thing in the wall, that I remained calm, and even at that early age I believed that it was so subtle, that it was probably my imagination playing tricks on me.
Still, I took no chances, I stepped out of bed, walked across the room and turned the light on. The sound had gone. I stared at that old worn armchair facing the foot of my bed, which was within reaching distance of where I slept, and turned it around to face the other way. I had no real reason to do so, but something about it sitting there filled me with dread.
The third night I was not so fearless. Again, I awoke in darkness. Lying on my back I stared up at the ceiling which seemed to happily absorb the dim orange light from the street. The tree outside my window swayed in a calm breeze casting a strange collection of improbable moving shadows across the room.
I could hear nothing but the long and distant hum of the city’s night traffic. Just as I began to drift back into sleep, I heard it; a creak from the bottom of my bed as if something had moved, or shifted its weight on the floor.
I raised my head, peering through the darkness, but saw nothing strange. Everything sat as it had done throughout the day, nothing was out of place. I cast my gaze across the room; some comics on the floor, a few boxes which had still to be unpacked, the armchair unmoved still facing away from the bottom of my bed; there was nothing sinister here.
I was now fully awake, glancing over at my television considering whether or not to enjoy some late night TV. I’d have to keep the volume low of course as my older brother would hear it in the next room and no doubt tell me to switch it off.
Just as I sat up fully in bed, I heard it again. A low creak, accompanied by a sound. The sound of the slightest of movements. I looked again at the room. The dim orange shadows cast by the leaves hanging by my window now took on a more menacing form.
I still saw no reason to be afraid. I stared at the chair at the end of my bed and saw nothing unusual about it. It’s quite common for the mind to take a moment to fully come to terms with what it is seeing. It takes time to put the full horror of what is in front of you together, into a moment of cold, bitter realisation.
Yes, I was staring at that old worn armchair in the dark, but what I was also staring at was the person sitting in it!
In the dim light I could only see the outline of the back of its head, the rest obscured by the spine of the chair. I sat motionless, staring, praying, hoping that my eyes were being misled by their surroundings. The slow creak of movement as it shifted in its battered throne chilled me to my very core; this was no mere trick of the dark.
Then, it shifted onto its right side. I knew what it was doing, it was turning to look at me. It was difficult to make out, for even in that room it seemed darker than everything around it. I saw what looked like a collection of long fingers slip over the crest of the chair, and then another. The room was silent but for the sound of this thing shuffling in its seat, and the crash of my racing heart.
At first I could only make out the outline of its forehead, but then it began to rise up revealing two pin points of light in the dark recesses of its deeply set eye sockets .
It was staring at me.
I screamed, and within a moment my brother and mother came into the room, switching the light on, asking if I’d had another bad dream. I sat speechless, barely acknowledging them, staring intently at the now empty armchair.
I was only in that room for another few days before we suddenly moved. I saw nothing for the remaining nights, except for my last sleep in that room where I awoke to the warm air of something breathing into my ear. I jumped out of bed, turning the light on. The slow rhythmic breath of something unseen remained, louder than before. I spent the rest of that night on the couch in the living room.
Two years later I slept soundly in my bed, in our new house. There had been no other incidences, and I was sure I had left behind whatever strangeness had plagued me, in that little average suburban home.
I was, however, left one parting gift. My tormentors (and in my opinion the watcher in that armchair was a different entity to the thing in the elongated room) had one last surprise in store for me. Like an animal claiming its territory, I was not entirely out with their grasp.
For one last, terrifying moment I felt the presence of those, things. I lay their sound asleep, two years since those horrifying experiences. I was in the throws of a nightmare and suddenly, happily found myself awake, safe and sound in my bed. The room was darker than usual. I breathed a sigh of relief as one does when waking from a nightmare.
But the room was so dark.
I could see nothing at all, as if something had snuffed out the light. I chuckled to myself, realising that I must have pulled my blanket up and over my face while sleeping. The cotton blanket felt cool against me, but the air was a little too warm, almost stifling. Just as I was about to remove the blanket for some air, I heard it: For the last time I heard it.
The rhythmic breathing of the watcher at the end of my bed.
Fear gripped me, followed by anger and despair. Why could I not be left alone? I then did something most peculiar. I decided to speak to it. Perhaps this thing did not mean to harm me, perhaps it was unaware of the terror it had caused. Surely a young boy deserved some mercy?
As the breathing grew louder and closer, I began to cry. I could feel its presence on the other side of the blanket, its breath hanging over me like a stagnant wind.
Through the tears I uttered two words, words which surely would put an end to all of this:
The breathing began to change, it became more animated, quicker somehow. I could hear something shuffling next to me, standing close by. The breathing then moved, first back to the foot of my bed, and then slowly across the room, through the door, into the hallway, and then gone.
Half crying, half elated, I lay in the still darkness, my face still covered by the blanket. You may consider this a victory of some sort, but I do not. If those things were real, I know now beyond a shadow of a doubt that their intentions were not misconstrued, they were twisted, filled with malice. I would normally never use such a word to describe anything, but it’s as close to evil as I hope I ever come.
How do I know that? I’ll tell you how. Moments after that thing seemed to have left the house, something pressed forcefully down on top of me, pushing the blanket with great strength against my face. I could feel a large hand with long thin fingers wrapping the covers around my skull, its nails imprinted upon me like razor sharp ridges. I managed to slide down into the gap between the bed and the wall, quickly making my escape, clambering and screaming out of my room waking my family.
Make no mistake, that thing in the darkness tried to smother me, smother me to death.
Part Three: My Fears Realized
A few days ago I submitted two nightmarish accounts from my childhood, perhaps you best read them to truly comprehend what has befallen me. I had been compelled to silence, gripped by the irrational fear that somehow even after all of these years, should I speak of it, that those things would seek me out and once again wreak havoc on my life.
In the name of science and reason I confronted those fears and set out to vanquish those tormented memories once and for all by sharing them with others, exposing them for what I believed they were; the delusions of a troubled child. I have held on to my scepticism and rationality for dear life, I have allowed them to define me, but this morning I was presented with verifiable, physical evidence. Evidence of what I do not know, but it cannot be ignored, and it seems strange to me that the last few days have been so tainted by apprehension and misfortune after finally breaking my silence, that I can no longer rely upon entirely conventional explanations.
In the wake of sharing those traumatic experiences I had as a child, I have been plagued by an overwhelming sense of unease. Initially, I attributed this to the fear I had experienced in simply recounting and reliving those terrible events in my mind, but as the days past it felt like so much more; a feeling of impending doom consumed my every thought.
While sleep came to me, rest did not. Each morning I awoke, my nerves on edge, as if deprived of sleep for an age. Nothing overtly frightening happened during the first few nights, no visitation, no unwelcome bedfellows, no wheezing breaths reaching out from deep within my bedroom walls, but I had that distantly familiar feeling of not being alone.
Do not misunderstand, I did not sense someone in the room with me. I did not hear, smell, or feel anything remotely supernatural, but throughout my days and nights I have sensed something subtle, almost on the periphery of my awareness; the feeling that something is on its way, something is coming, like the first few stagnant blasts of air from a subway tunnel, heralding the arrival of a lurching, unstoppable monstrosity; surprising, yet expected.
My sense of unease grew with each passing day, pushing its way under my skin, deep into my mind like some form of cancerous infection. I tried to focus my attention on various writing projects in a vain attempt to fill my mind up to the brim with other thoughts, hopefully leaving no room for those contaminated memories, but those thoughts came to me nonetheless.
My anxiety gained momentum until I could think of nothing else. I had to do something! I had studied Psychology for years at university, with this I knew that anxiety is often the result of a loss of control, and that one of the most effective ways to combat it is to empower oneself; this is what I intended to do. Call it foolhardy, but I was going to go back to that place, that house where those terrible events took place. I was going to confront those memories and expose them for what they were; nonsense.
It was an hours drive to my old home, but it was one filled with elation. I was confident, at ease, happy; I was in control now and nothing was going to get in my way from showing that the place I had feared my entire life was nothing but an average, humdrum, harmless little suburban house.
Gleefully negotiating the country roads and then motorway, finally I made it to the city. Gradually the streets began to take on a familiar appearance. Memories of playing in that neighbourhood came flooding back to me; a play park with my favourite slide, an ash pitch where we used to play football, my school yard filled with hide and seek and friendships long since abandoned, but never forgotten.
My mind wandered through those memories like a prodigal son walking home; wandered so much so that before I realised it, I was pulling into the street where I had once lived. The road was long and disappeared far into the distance finally entering into a sharp, blind turn. It was an old neighbourhood, and had been planned and built long before the advent of the car; this was evident by the narrowness of its roads creating a strangely claustrophobic feeling, as if the houses on each side rose up, leering at passers by.
I slowed my speed and cast my eye over each house that I passed. It was a uniform place, with every house looking not dissimilar. My heart suddenly began to beat faster as a cold chill crawled up my spine; there it was, there was the house! It was late afternoon and the street was quiet, almost lonely. I stared at that little place wondering how such an ordinary home could have instilled so much fear in me.
I had initially intended to only look at the house from afar, confirming it to me as a material construction, entirely explicable, and removed from anything uncanny. But as I parked I took a deep breath, and before I knew it I was out of my car, walking towards that old, metallic gate, its once bright floral shapes now darkened by aged, flaking deep green paint, revealing nothing but rust beneath. I ran my fingers over its uneven top, and with a subtle gasp, I pushed it open.
Walking along the path I was shocked at how disused the garden was. I thought to myself how much of a waste of a good lawn it was, which was all but obscured by a thick mosaic of weeds and other invasive species, but as I neared the house, I realised why: It was unoccupied. Once again a shudder crept through me, but as my anxiety rose up, I crushed it with my rational mantra:
“The simplest of explanations is usually the correct one”.
I assumed that due to the current economic climate that the house had probably just been on the market for some time, and that the owner wasn’t too aware of the old sentiment that the first bite is with the eye, but as I looked around I could see no “For Sale” sign, nor one “To Let”. It genuinely seemed as though this house had been forgotten, abandoned, and left to rot.
The windows at the front of the house were filthy and, as such, almost impossible to see through, but as I wandered around to the back of the building, I could see more clearly inside. I would have imagined that a house such as this one would be empty, but on the contrary, it was entirely occupied , occupied by the trappings of a modern life. I could see a television sitting in the living room corner, a coffee table with magazines strewn across it, various pieces of furniture sitting as if ready to be used, and a couple of coffee cups sitting on the windowsill still full, covered in mould. I would have thought the house was lived in if it was not for a thick layer of dust lying over everything, accompanied by the occasional spider’s web.
It seemed as though the most recent occupants had left in a hurry, and never returned.
Clambering through a sea of waist-high grass and bushes, I eventually arrived at that innocuous little window at the back of the house. The very sight of it frightened me, but this was mere memory and not the strange feeling of being watched from within as I had experienced as a child. Peering in, the room looked eerily familiar. I suppose there is little that can be done with a room so small, so oddly narrow, but through the dirt covered glass the room looked almost unchanged from when I had slept in it. A bed, a set of drawers, and what looked like an assortment of toys on the floor.
A profound sense of anger washed over me momentarily, but I shook it quickly from my mind. The room was clearly that of a child’s and the thought of that thing harming another innocent filled me with contempt for such a thought, and within me swelled the desire to protect any child from such an abomination.
As I gazed at that wall, of which a bed lay alongside it, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. For a moment (and it was for only the slightest) I thought I saw the blanket on top of the bed move. More than that, through that window pane I could have sworn I heard a wheezing gasp. Closing my eyes tightly I repeated another scientific mantra:
“Science does not owe its debts to imagination.”
Opening my eyes I saw nothing but an empty bedroom. No foul spirits, no unearthly things; just a room, no more, no less. I breathed a sigh of relief as it that all was well with world for the first time in many days. You may think that it was wishful thinking, but I genuinely felt that I had shown myself that there was nothing to be scared of, other than my over-active imagination.
It was starting to get dark and I wanted to be home before the night. Filled with confidence now that my anxieties were behind me, there was one last thing I needed to do. When we had left that house we did so in a hurry. As a child it was disorientating, even frightening to leave everything I knew behind, but there was one thing left which I always wondered about.
At the bottom of the garden stood a sycamore tree which looked to be even older than the house. I was amazed at how unchanged it was. I had grown up, gone on to pastures new, but the old sycamore still stood, wise, warm, almost friendly in its appearance.
I think it’s a rites of passage for any child to have a place to hide things. It’s often their first experience with independence, something removed from any authority figure. For me, my ‘stash’ was half way up the old sycamore. I’m sure I must have looked like a fool, but I happily and gleefully climbed the tree with abandon. The configuration of the branches had changed in places, but overall the happy memories of playing amongst the limbs of the old sycamore, of having a little piece of the world to myself away from everyone else, seemed vivid as it was remarkable how much remained unchanged.
Half way up I caught my breath and smiled to myself. In the central trunk of the tree lay a hollow. Whether it had been created by an animal, or perhaps the tug of a gale on a weakened branch long ago, I do not know, but it was where I kept things. If I found something which I was sure would be taken from me for being ‘inappropriate’, into the hollow it would go. The truth is though, that the majority of the items inside were not very interesting, mostly just toys and rarely exotic pieces of contraband like a slingshot or some smoke bombs. I had no reason to hide the toys, but when I was young it felt adventurous to have a secret.
The hollow was dark and filled halfway with rotting leaves, no doubt deposited there from countless autumns, nevertheless I reached deep inside to see what remained. I couldn’t believe it! I had found a toy that I had hidden there before we moved, all those years ago! I could feel the plastic in my hand, it’s sharp edges unmistakable, but the leaves and darkness of the hollow obscured its view from me as I struggled to remove it from the thick,wet mixture of rotting leaves and rain water. It seemed to be caught amongst a collection of small twigs.
The reason I was so excited was that I knew when we moved that I had left one of my favourite toys behind; a small plastic First World War British Soldier. It may not sound like much, but I had grown up on my family’s stories of my Grandfather’s adventures during both wars, and while he had passed away before I was born, I would often act out exaggerated versions of the stories with this small soldier in the role of the hero: My intrepid Grandfather. At the time I thought a hollow the perfect hiding place for a soldier.
My delight, however, quickly turned to horror. I felt sick to my stomach, for as I pulled the soldier out, I realised it was not my toy, but something else entirely. Stuffed into the back of the hollow amongst the sludge, and now in my hand, was the skeletal remains of a small animal. The bones crunched together in my grip as the few small flakes of hair and flesh left on it putrefied between my fingers. I almost lost my balance as the rotten and potent smell of death escaped through my moist grasp, invading my senses.
I climbed back down carefully, dejected. There was nothing else in the hollow, my toy was gone, probably taken by another child during the subsequent years. What remained of the poor animal, I buried under some loose earth in the garden.
I left that place immediately.
Despite my unfortunate encounter in the hollow I still felt empowered’. That I had actually plucked up the courage to revisit that place, to see how ordinary it really was, made me feel in control once more of my faculties. I did not at that time require anything other than a conventional explanation.
I said goodbye to the old neighbourhood, to that bad memory once and for all, and began to make my way home. By the time I had driven onto the motorway, something had begun to filter through from the back of my subconscious. At first I disregarded it, dismissing it as my imagination, but as the sun shone its last and dipped below the horizon, I sensed the growing of a compulsion in me. An idea which seemed to have been born and nurtured for no good reason. No rationale, no sound causal footing, but one which had to be followed, at all cost…
I must get home!
I increased my speed, zipping sporadically between the slower cars on the motorway, looking in the rear view mirror, keeping an eye on what might be following.
I had to get home!
Again, I drove faster constantly looking behind as if racing some unseen pursuer: 70, 80, 100 miles per hour! I tore along the road, I beeped, I yelled, the sweat lashed off of me. What was happening to me!?
Please, just let me go home!
White knuckled, I finally made it off of the motorway and onto the country roads which would lead directly to my town. The roads were narrow and wound around the now bleak and ominous countryside. Darkness seemed to blanket the road in front of me. I turned my full beam on and breathed a sigh of relief to see a bright light again, even if artificial. The manic anxiety which had seemed to grip me on the motorway appeared to have diminished, however, I still glared into the rear view mirror more often than I should have, just to make sure that there was nothing following me.
What a ridiculous thought! To think of something chasing my car! To put myself and others in danger by speeding down a busy motorway… Madness!
Still, madness or not, I had felt compelled to get away as quickly as possible and even though I had managed to collect my nerves, the loneliness of the road I was on fuelled my yearning for my own town, my own street, my own bed!
Nervously, I traversed the web-like winding roads which seared through the countryside, feeling relieved at the first sign of a lamp post, of civilisation, and of the boundaries of my town. I pulled up outside of my house, switching the engine off, and sat for a moment in silence. I had to stop all of this nonsense! Things coming out of walls, watchers smothering me at night, looking into someone’s window like a prowler, all of this was lunacy!
Tomorrow, I would start afresh, no more writing about my childhood experiences, no more reliving of dread filled nights. Just getting back to normal, carrying out my work, spending time with my girlfriend, and most of all reaffirming my belief, faith, and confidence in science and rationality.
Then the thing in the back seat leant over, grabbed me by the shoulder and breathed a foul, rancid breath from deep inside its lungs down the back of my neck.
I scrambled for the door, my arms flailing around looking for the lock. Fear possessed me, shook me; a fear I remembered all too well, a fear from all those years ago, lying awake at night in that sickening room. The inside of the car had grown much colder, but that was nothing compared to the icy fingers burrowing into my shoulder.
I honestly thought I was going to die, that this thing would finally get its way after all this time.
The door handle popped in my panicked grip and I fell out of the driver’s seat onto the pavement. For the briefest of moments I thought I caught a glimpse of something in the back seat; vague, the form of an old man, yet twisted and distorted grinning from ear to ear. Luckily there was no one around, as had there been I would have appeared a mad fool, for the car was empty. I grabbed the keys from the ignition and booted the door shut with my foot, locking it for the night.
I staggered down the path and into my house. I’m not going to lie to you but I drank myself to sleep last night. You may recall that I said I had evidence, actual physical evidence of something unnatural. You might be wondering what that evidence is. Well, I could say that it was the marks on my shoulder that made me shudder with fear, or I could tell you that my bedroom window lying prised open this morning, by what looked like claw marks, has left me dreading tonight, or any other. But no, none of that scared me as much as what I saw today upon waking.
Sometimes the most frightening of messages are the most simple, for lying on my chest as I awoke this morning, was a toy soldier, the soldier I had hidden in that hollow all those years ago; returned to me as an adult, bitten in half.
Part Four: Something Wicked this Way Comes
Last night was the most heart-wrenching and frightening of my life, so much so that I can barely bring myself to contemplate it. By now I will have submitted what occurred during my visit to that cursed place I once called home; a visit which heralded the return of my childhood fears. No matter what foul thing befell me then, nothing could have prepared me for last night.
After waking up to the chilling sight of that toy soldier, bitten in half, I found that the window to my bedroom was slightly ajar. On closer inspection it looked entirely as if the window had been prised open from outside. The latches were bent back, out of position as if subjected to an unrestricted, unbound brute force.
From the outside looking in, I could see three indentations where the unwelcome housebreaker had used some kind of tool to leverage the window unnaturally away from its latch. What was peculiar about those markings was that they seemed to cut across the outside of the window frame like an old uneven razor, unlike a crowbar or other implement which would have merely left a dent where it had been used as a wedge, to force the window open.
Nothing had been stolen and I attempted to rationalise the markings on the window as human-made, and not ‘claw-like’ as they appeared to be. The toy soldier, returned to me so violently, I could not explain. My heart sank at the very thought of it.
I knew it was a message, but it seemed to me to be more of a twisted joke, announcing the arrival of my childhood predator, rather than something to be puzzled over or interpreted.
I spent the morning checking each room of my house and its contents; nothing was missing. I could only hope that whatever that fiend had been in the back seat of my car the previous night, that it had only wished to frighten me one last time, and then be on its way.
Perhaps its reach would be weakened so far from my childhood bedroom.
It is all too easy for any sane person to persuade themselves that a traumatic event is something more benign, but in this instance I could not; that broken toy was not a mere joke, but a promise. A promise that it would return, for what I did not wish to know.
My thoughts naturally tumbled inwards and back to those terrifying nights I had as a child. I was now re-introduced to the apprehension of bedtime, the longing for the day, and the anxiety of night. Like an old and relentless enemy, my fear grew throughout the day, festering inside of me leading to strange and ominous thoughts about the consequences of unwittingly bringing that thing home.
Do not misunderstand me, my fear was not simply for my own safety. As a child I believed that my nightly visitor was transfixed and consumed by wanting me, but I did not feel that my loved ones were in any danger. This, however, had changed. I did worry. This time I did feel nothing but fear for my loved ones, because you see, I do not live alone.
My girlfriend and I moved in together over two years ago. I have caused enough damage now, that I do not wish to speak her name and will simply refer to her as ‘Mary’. Mary and I had had a happy existence and in fact, we were very much in love. This coming Christmas morning I was going to propose to her, but that beautiful moment has now been bitterly taken away from me by that rancid abomination.
I knew that Mary would be home that evening. She works in events and promotion and as a result is often away from home for days at a time, travelling around the country coordinating various conferences and exhibitions. I do not complain about this, as she and I both know that I am a solitary character, and that the odd few days of solitude normally do me good, allowing me to dive headlong into my writing, absorbing each and every word, undisturbed.
Despite this, I always miss her, and with the events of the past week, reliving those torturous nights and then allowing them to return, I had missed her far more acutely than I had ever previously done so.
She arrived at around 6pm and I greeted her with a smile, a warm embrace, and a passionate kiss. I tried to hide my perturbed state of mind from her, but Mary knows me better than anyone I have ever met and immediately enquired:
I tripped and fumbled through my words as I explained to her that I had written a story about my childhood and that exploring those dark and twisted memories had left me distraught. Mary has an incredibly caring nature and she immediately lay her suitcase and bags on the floor, sat me down on our couch, and with her soft and gentle way, asked me to talk about the whole ordeal.
But I couldn’t!
I couldn’t mention this thing, this wretch which had now found its way to our home; an invisible and twisted invader which had been led there by my idiotic curiosity! At the time I felt that she would think me mad, but now how I wish I had told her the truth!
If there is one thing more damaging to a relationship than a lie, it is a half-truth. Not because it is deceitful, but because it is a corruption of the truth; perverted and abused to suit the teller’s needs.
I told her my half-truth.
I told her about my story, that of the thing in the narrow room and the watcher at the end of my bed, but that is where the truth ended and a lie began. I deliberately and deceitfully mentioned that it was of course just my imagination as a child, and neglected to talk of my experiences of returning to the scene of those depraved crimes. Knowing that she would see the damaged window latch and claw marks, I spun my web as I told a grand tale about waking up to a burglar attempting to break into our house, and having to chase them away.
I was quite the hero. I lied to her, and she showed me great sympathy and kindness for my deception.
I was embarrassed by the truth then, and I am ashamed of my lie now. If I had been truthful, then perhaps we could have faced this menace together, but instead that thing took advantage of my dishonesty and put a wedge between us.
The events of last night desecrated the most important thing in the world to me.
Night time arrived in all of its bleakness, and was unwelcome. I lay in the darkness, waiting. Mary was sound asleep next to me, each breath a soothing reminder of companionship, but despite my growing aversion to loneliness, I would have no sleep that night. I knew from experience that when my uninvited guest would show itself, it would do so with subtlety, increasing its grip on me with each visitation as if requiring time to build up its strength; a leech feeding on my fear for succour.
My nerves kept me on edge, which fought back the oncoming onslaught of sleep admirably. In the end though, biology won and as my bedside clock lumbered towards 4am, sleep took me; the relaxing blanket of nightly oblivion, anxiety washed away, my worries a distant memory, sinking deeper into the soft mattress below and finally into a long sought for rest.
Sleep, no matter how deep, is rarely all encompassing. For as I hovered over the cusp of a dream, something began to bother me. Something invasive, yet distant. I slowly opened my eyes and allowed them to adjust to the darkness. Mary lay soundly asleep and I calmed myself by listening to her breathing in the night. Inhale was followed by exhale, again, and again, rhythmically, hypnotically, I began to drift towards sleep once more.
But, no. There it was, something else, distinct yet undefinable.
It was distant, out of the way, almost obscured or smothered as if coming from…behind something. I strained my ears in an attempt to define it, but it was all too quiet. I remained in the bed for several more minutes, but with each passing second that almost inaudible sound grated on me, like broken glass on a raw nerve.
Sleep was now abandoned, and with much frustration I decided to reluctantly investigate the source of the noise. I sat up in the bed and listened intently. It was unlike any other sound I had ever heard. Quiet, low, but as my mind adjusted to the noise I slowly began to piece its nature together. It was most certainly obscured by something, but the closest thing I could relate it to…was a repetitive murmur.
I heard something similar previously when I was a child visiting my Grandmother in a nursing home. A place which had left an impression on me, seeing the wandering residents confused and of a fractured mind, meandering around the grounds like lost inmates murmuring repetitively to themselves of days gone past, repeating nonsensical phrases and words.
This is what it reminded me of; a continuous stream of indecipherable words, uttered by someone in the throws of confusion.
I turned to check on Mary, watching her chest rise and fall with each breath. Assured that she was undisturbed, I left the bed. As I stood up I recognised immediately that the murmuring was louder. While dark, I had left a light on in the hall as I always do which crept under the door and allowed me to view the room in a dim, but visible way.
I looked around to see if anything was out of place, but the room appeared as expected. My mind ambled back to that night as a child in the second room, when noises could be heard from some unseen, yet ever-present menace.
I took a step forward and as I did so the noise once again grew in volume. While I was still at a loss in deciphering the words, I could now hear the character of the voice. It was old, scratched by age with a harsh, guttural undertone to it. The words were being repeated at a frantic pace and seemed anxious, yet muffled by some unknown barrier.
I was frightened, but I drew strength from Mary being in the room, and with a deep breath filled with trepidation, I took another slow, and silent step forward, my bare feet cushioned by the cold floor below.
Again, the voice became louder. I wasn’t sure if I was imagining it, but I could have sworn that it had become more agitated as I drew closer. The next step I took, shook me to my very core, for as that murmuring, garbled voice grew louder still; amongst the rambling, gravelled sound of it, I heard a word. A word which shot an icy shudder through my bones. A word to be feared.
It spoke my name.
Dear God it knew my name! To me it was as if knowing who I was somehow endowed that thing with an unlimited reach. That I may never be rid of it. That it could kill me at any moment.
Something suddenly caught my eye, a movement accompanied by a ruffle of cloth. I knew now where that rhythmic, agitated voice originated. I knew now why it was muffled and difficult to decipher. I could now see it, only a few feet in front of me.
Standing behind the closed curtains.
The moon was in its ascendancy outside, and while its glimmer could not entirely penetrate the thick cloth, it could barely, and faintly, outline the thing watching between my window and the curtains. I cannot now convey the strangeness which then overcame me. My anxiety and terror had heightened, but an unusual compulsion, an untimely sense of purpose took me over.
I had to see what it was.
I took another tentative step towards the curtains. They swayed slightly as if caught by a breeze, but I could not tell whether the movement had been caused by myself, or the hand of that thing hiding behind a shroud of cloth. I was now close enough to hear its laboured breathing, the displacement of fluid at the back of its throat palpable with each inhalation.
This was it.
I was going to confront this monstrosity from my past, this tormentor of children, this coward. Raising my right hand slowly, I accidentally touched the fabric of the curtain, causing a subtle ripple which parted the them momentarily. I gasped, for through that temporary slit, only for a moment, I saw it.
My God, how can I describe what was standing there? Even now, I close my eyes and wish that I could erase it from my memory. It shivered and shook as it continued to murmur, repeating some indecipherable phrase, sounding like a bizarre mixture of numerous languages. Its emaciated skin stretched over an unnatural frame of brittle and prominent bones; vertebrae, ribs, and other inner workings almost protruding through its paper thin, pale, languidly pink, and almost bruised looking husk. As malnourished as it appeared, the stomach was distended in places and its bony appearance did nothing to diminish the feeling that it was capable of exerting itself with brute, perverted force on any of its victims.
Sickness swelled in my stomach, a tainted, offensive smell filled the air, and as it murmured and whispered in the darkness through what sounded like broken, fractured teeth, I could not help but feel pity for this wretch, quivering in the night as if victim of a long starvation.
I quickly came to my senses and realised that this thing was not to be pitied, but feared. Not to be understood, but exposed. It was not shivering because it was cold, it was shaking with excitement, like a drug addict anticipating their next dose.
Standing there contemplating what I had just seen between the curtains, I once again prepared myself to remove its shrouded, clothed protection and to reveal it for what it was; a cold hearted vandal, a prowler of the worst kind, a deviant festering in its own delectation.
As I once again raised my hand to draw the curtain, something caught my attention. Its incessantly confused, gravelly, and inarticulate whispers squeezed through that broken mouth and uttered the three most terrifying words I have ever heard.
“Look behind you”.
A cold breath slid down the back of my neck.
Momentarily I froze, but love is a powerful motivator. Had I been on my own, fear would have taken me, shaking any possibility of resistance from my mind, but with Mary sleeping soundly in the same room as that thing; shielding someone I loved from that wretch was my only thought.
I turned around slowly and as I did so, I could hear it wheezing, gasping, groaning for air. At a quarter turn, I could smell its breath, the stench of death hung in the air, plague-like and foul. Then, I heard another voice. It was not that horror in the darkness, but Mary. She let out a scream which startled and distressed me to my very core. A scream which will haunt me for the rest of my days.
I turned quickly and laid eyes on it, but it wasn’t behind me, it was on the bed! It writhed and rasped, wheezing in delight, its bony spine curved with the anguish of countless years protruding through a ragged, torn piece of cloth which hung loosely over its torso, in a vain attempt to appear almost human.
But was it human? Had it once been human? Or was it something so vile, so despicable, so utterly and sorrowfully contemptible that no man or woman could ever attempt to quantify or understand it?
I sprung forward towards it, grabbing, hitting, pulling at that thing with every ounce of my strength, its loose skin slipping through my hands. It squeezed and forced Mary’s face into her pillow with glee, as its other limbs arched and contorted, tearing at her nightdress, running its long, starved fingers over her naked body with its sordid caress.
Mary’s screams were muffled by the pillow as I began to fear that she was being suffocated.
I shouted, I yelled, I pleaded with that thing to leave her alone, to take me, to do anything it wanted, but that only served to animate the fiend to even greater depths of depravity. It was hurting her, cutting her… my beautiful Mary.
Suddenly it stopped attacking her, but it still kept one of its brittle, gangly, and gaunt yet weighted hands on the back of Mary’s head, pushing her face further into her pillow. I had my hands around its putrid neck, trying as best I could to strangle the beast, but my efforts were in vain. Its scrawny frame belied its overpowering strength. I watched in sickly disbelief as it began to run its cadaverous fingers through Mary’s hair, slowly, and almost with affection.
I could now here the twisting and cracking of bone, the popping of cartilage, the snapping of tendons.
Thank God it was not coming from Mary! I was now on its back with my arm wrapped around its throat, and my chin rubbing against the abrasive skin of its shoulder. As its spine dug sharply into my stomach, it twisted its head in an entirely inhuman way. Its neck clicked and groaned under the strain with every arthritic movement, as if hindered by a thousand years of rigamortis.
It was now looking at me.
I have heard it often said of some people that they cannot see the forest for the trees, but now I truly appreciate that sentiment, so close was I to its black, icy stare that I could not take in its surrounding features.
I increased my grip, I swore, I screamed, I would have torn its throat out if I could have, but it was all in vain as it continued to run its scrawny fingers through Mary’s hair nonchalantly while looking at me.
I don’t think I will ever truly recover from the sound which seeped out through what I assumed to be its approximation of a grin; a wheezing sigh; a grunt; something which sounded very close to a sinister, otherworldly laugh.
As its face touched mine, its eyes stared deep into me. Not even my reflection was returned; two looking glasses into a sanctuary for the dark, devoid of light, happiness, and love. It was staring as if it wished to say something, as if it was trying to communicate a simple idea to me.
With a wrenching, stuttered and violent movement, it tore an entire fistful of hair from Mary’s head leaving behind it an open wound. Then it was gone. Mary did not scream, she merely whimpered. I turned the bedside lamp on, but no words of care or sympathy could console her.
She wept uncontrollably.
The bed was soaked in blood which had seeped out from the numerous scratches on her back and the large cut where an entire section of her hair had once been. I hugged her, told her that everything would be all right; then she looked at me.
Looking at her tear filled eyes I knew what she thought immediately. She thought I had attacked her, that I had done those terrible things to her. Of all the experiences I have had, the look of betrayal, disgust, and contempt on Mary’s face will remain the most painful.
She is gone.
After composing herself, she gathered up some things and left. I tried to explain, I tried to tell her everything that had been happening, but she would not listen. Who would believe such a preposterous story? She simply said that she would not call the police, but that if I ever attempted to contact her, she would do just that. To her, I was the aggressor, not that thing. As she left, she turned to look at me one last time and then burst in to tears.
I know now that I have lost her forever. The woman I love more than anything on this earth thinks I am a violently hideous human being. If only she could understand that whatever did this, that it was not human, and if it ever was, it had long since abandoned that nature.
It was 5am when Mary left me; it’s 9am now. I am sitting here in the cold light of day at my kitchen table, writing this so that there is some record of what has transpired, so that people know, so that Mary knows, that whatever happens, that whatever occurs from here on in, that it was that despicable creature from my childhood, from that cursed narrow room all those years ago which rained this misery down upon me; upon us.
I must now dispense with the sentiment. I could easily sit here mourning the loss of my relationship with Mary, or I could allow myself to be overcome with fear; to do nothing. But that simply will not do.
I can hear the laughter of my neighbour’s children outside. At different stages in my life, I remember that same feeling of joy and happiness from something as simple as playing with friends, or climbing a tree, or kissing the woman you love, or even drifting off to sleep at bedtime to dream of what could be, in the safety of a happy family home. Memories, only memories…I fear I will never experience that happiness again. This thing has broken me. But I am resolute. Whatever that hideous wretch has in store, whatever it desires to do with me, I will not allow that thing to harm another person, or to invade another child’s life as it did mine all those years ago.
I must leave you all now as there is much to be done before it gets dark, before it returns. My plans are made and with any luck they will succeed. I wish I could say we will speak again, but I think that is unlikely. I hope you understand what must be done.
Because tonight, I’m going to kill it.
Part Five: Sleep Tight
I am shaking as I write this. I was released by the police less than two hours ago and I am compelled to record the events of the past day and night as quickly and as accurately as possible. In some ways I want to forget, but I know that I cannot, I know that I should not. For my own sanity I must divulge what has happened, it is far too important. Should I ever allow myself to be swayed by the mechanical, rational nature of the world once again, these words should serve to remind me that what is unseen is both mysterious, and frightening.
After Mary left, I knew that I had lost her forever, but rather than be consumed by depression and inaction, I was invigorated by one purpose, by one thought, by one idea that I knew I had to carry out. I had to destroy that thing, for I could not allow the chance that it may one day hurt my loved ones, or desecrate the innocence of another child.
I also knew that I faced death, but feeling that I had already lost everything, that was a small price to pay. It is said that revenge is a dish best served cold but having waited my entire adult life to be rid of this thing, its memory and the shadow that it had cast upon me, I met the proposition of killing this fiend, this corrupt and perverted force, with a smile on my face.
That night it would be dead, even if I had to drag it to hell with me.
Busying myself for the next few hours, I packed a bag and wrote a letter to Mary and my family explaining what had happened and that they weren’t to blame. I phoned my mother and father, then my brother, just to hear their voices one last time, but I did not let on that I thought I may never speak to them again. My mother’s intuition led her to ask if everything was all right; I smiled and told her I loved her before reluctantly saying goodbye.
At about 7 o’clock I made my way out to the car. The sun had already set and the street seemed eerily quiet, as if the scene of an unattended funeral. I sat in the driver’s seat leaving the door on the other side open, awaiting my most unwelcome passenger.
By 9 o’clock nothing out of the ordinary had occurred, the place remained deserted and the cold night air flowing through the open door was beginning to bite. As I sat there, contemplation echoed through my mind. I ruminated on the nature of this cadaverous parasite. One question rose out of a sea of thoughts, towering above all else, unmoving, and continuous:
“Can you kill something which is already dead?”
I did not know if this was a thing of the grave, or some unworldly spectre which could be considered ‘alive’ in some way, but just as I was re-evaluating my plan, there it was. It was subtle at first, but there was a small, almost indistinguishable shift in the suspension of the car. Had it been any other circumstance, I would have put this down to a gust of wind pushing and pulling at the chassis, but I was all too familiar with that feeling from all those years ago, as the bunk bed would shift slightly with that thing climbing into the bottom bed. I knew its foul calling card. The air grew denser as if contaminated by some nearby corpse.
It was in the car with me, unseen yes, but there nonetheless. As I heard the slightest of whispered breaths from the back seat, I leant over and calmly closed the passenger door. I turned the key in the ignition and as I pulled out of the street, I could have sworn I heard a quiet yet distinctly malicious snigger, as of something mocking me.
Did it know what I had planned for it?
Our destination was not far, but the roaming hills through which our taken country road penetrated, rose up and diminished with regularity; a stark reminder of the ominous isolation of night. Occasionally on the way I could hear something from behind, but I refused to look for that thing in the dark. Patience; it would not be long before I would confront it.
The irony hit me, I was worried about scaring off the same thing which had terrified and tortured me as a child. I had to be resilient and so drove carefully and calmly through the countryside, swamped by darkness, hoping that my unearthly passenger would not suspect me.
The wheels of the car struggled and slid on the undergrowth as I headed off of the narrow country road. The landscape had opened up and as I looked at the broken and rotting trees around me, I felt that it was fitting to come to this bleak place in the cold night, to destroy that bleakest of things.
The land suddenly came to an abrupt end; a cliff etched out from an old quarry, looking deep into the black waters of the lake below. The cliff edge was relatively flat and had in fact at one time housed a road which had subsided into the lake decades earlier. The local kids would tell stories about the vengeful ghosts of those killed during the subsidence, but they were just stories. Or perhaps they weren’t. In the past I would have disregarded such tales, but who would believe mine if I told it to them now?
I switched the engine off and parked several metres away from the cliff edge, switching off any lights and composing myself for what would come. I sat in that car for what seemed a lifetime, the only company given to me by the occasional splash of water against the cliff below.
This thing was smart, of that there was no doubt. It had toyed with me, relishing the pain and torment it had caused as only something of a coldly frozen intellect could. For this reason I knew it would suspect me, and perhaps even flee if I brought the car too close to the cliff’s edge; I had to wait for it to attack, let it feed, let it revel and gorge itself on me, perhaps then it would not notice as I slowly plunged the car into that dark, icy water below.
I was going to drown the bastard.
I had appraised the potential consequences in my head and reasoned that there would be a moment, a singular moment where I would have a slim opportunity to escape from the car just before it reached the edge. Mary and I used to go there occasionally, a place to be together away from everything else and it did not look nearly as stark during a summer’s day. I therefore had the place in mind and knew it well. The drop was at least 30 feet to the depths below and I did not want to be in that car as it hit the water, nor trapped inside with that abomination.
Then I heard it. Slowly at first, and then increasing in rate and volume, a rasping, wheezing breath from behind. Strangely, it sounded more laboured than before. Each breath a struggle, filled with fluid, rotten and decayed. A shiver ran up my spine. A rank, foul smell began to fill the air.
The breath drew closer from behind.
My heart began to race, beating hard and fast as I looked up and saw the windscreen begin to ice up from inside. I could see my breath, a natural thing indeed, but what was unnatural was the breath visibly moving across my face from the side. I turned slowly, I wanted to cry, I wanted to leave, run into the night, but I had to stay, I could not allow it to escape.
It was sitting in the passenger seat.
I was staring at it, and it at me. Hunched over covered by darkness, contorted, gaunt, hands seized as if fighting rigamortis, it slowly moved towards me. One bony leg cracked and groaned as it slid over my lap and onto the other side.
Oh god, it was sitting on me!
It pulled itself in close to me and through a shard of light provided by the moon, I saw its face. Skin hung from its jagged features. Glassy eyes stared deep into me as its grin spread up through its face, unnaturally wide as the result of its half rotten flesh, exposing the rotten muscles, broken teeth and sinews of its rancid smile beneath.
Pulling closer it opened its mouth revealing a wet and putrid tongue which could be seen through part of its missing jaw. Wheezing, breathing heavily, a foul stench which stung my eyes and filled my mouth elicited a response from me as I wretched, my body attempting to expel its poisonous fumes, and as I did so it stopped for a moment, and then cackled to itself; happy, content. Staring into its icy cold eyes, it yet gave the impression of an afflicted and increasingly weak old man. It was still incredibly strong, but it seemed as though it had lost some of its potency.
Perhaps leaving that elongated room had somehow affected it?
Its long protruding fingers caressed my face and then, as a show of intent, it stuck one of them deep into my shoulder. I screamed as it bent and twisted inside of me, the rotting fiend moving its finger to cause the maximum amount of damage and pain that it could. As it did so its other hand slid down against my body.
It touched me.
It was time. With my free arm I turned on the ignition and though my shoulder was still pinned to the seat I managed to fight through the pain, put the car into gear and took off as fast as I could.
The creature flailed and screamed, it attempted to climb over me into the back seat, but I held on with all of my strength, the thoughts of what it did to Mary enough to fuel my rage. We raced towards the edge of the cliff and I eyed the driver’s door frantically. As we neared our icy plunge, I screamed in anger at its festering, rancid face and pushed it off of me.
It scrambled into the back seat for dear life as I scrambled for mine by unlocking the car door.
It was too late, the car careered over the cliff face and before I knew it, we hit the dark water, splitting the black glass-like surface with tremendous force. I should have died then, but an air-bag took the brunt of my impact, although I still managed to scrape my head across the door frame.
Dazed, I looked around. The sound that I heard coming from that thing was malformed yet familiar. The squeal of some demonic child soon gave way to the anguish and rage of an ancient intelligence which knew that it faced almost certain death.
The water was frozen and poured in through the now twisted open car door with such force that it winded me. I gasped for air as my unwilling prey now did. It writhed and twisted as it looked for an exit. Spying the open door, it pulled itself through the water towards me.
I curled up my fist and smashed it into that thing’s face. Pieces of rotten flesh flaked off under the impact as a dark black liquid oozed from the resulting wound.
Again it attempted to get passed me and I knew that to keep it in that car, long enough to drown, that I would have to die with it. I felt numb as the frozen water slipped over my chin, my heart struggled against the cold and with a sudden surge I was submerged and had breathed my last.
I held my breath, but only to compose and ready myself for an icy, suffocating death. I hoped that it would not be painful. My thoughts returned to Mary and my family, a all consuming sense of sadness and despair overwhelmed me, but as I struggled with that thing trying to get passed me and through the door, grabbing and flailing with its arms, I looked down and saw it.
Its leg was trapped between the dashboard and floor of the car by the impact of the fall, and although it could move, it could not leave.
I turned immediately for the door, I could barely see but a foot in front of me in that black water, but there was enough moonlight to light my way. Just as I got to the door, the wretch grabbed hold of me and pulled me back to it. It had given up all hope of escaping, but it wanted to drown me with it.
We fought for what felt like an age in that cold bitter grave as the car slowly sank deeper and deeper into the darkness. I could now feel my body pleading with me to take a breath, to exhale my last gasp of air and then inhale the frozen water.
I am happy to say that I used my wits to get out of such a horrible fate. Orientating my body , I pushed my feet against the dashboard with enough force to at last escape its slippery grasp. I do not remember much else, bar the anguished and hate-filled scream that my tormentor let out as I left it to die at the bottom of that icy lake.
I found myself walking through the wilderness, cold, wet, but alive. The wound in my shoulder slowed me down, but I kept the bleeding at bay by applying pressure to it with my other hand. It took me two hours to walk home, and I am amazed that I did not collapse from exhaustion or hypothermia. When I saw the familiar sight of the street that I live on, I was filled with a sense of accomplishment. A sense of pride and triumph.
I had beaten that thing once and for all!
That is until I went inside my house and found a trail of large, wet footprints leading from the front door to my bed.
Disbelief took me. Despair so sharp and so overwhelming that I am unable to convey it with mere words. It was lying in my bed, waiting, a white sheet covering its emaciated body from sight.
The human mind is a wonderful thing. Just as you believe your body has reached a level of exhaustion that it cannot recover from, that your emotions are so frayed that you feel you cannot continue, a thought springs as if miraculous from a weary mind.
Let it rest, for now.
I quietly crept through the dark and picked up my wallet which I had left on a small coffee table in the centre of my living room. Leaving the door unlocked, I left to attend to a new plan and returned an hour later. With a moment’s preparation I slipped into the spare room. There I lay in that unsullied bed, waiting. I was sure that this was the end game, that instead of toying with me, it would come for the kill. How it had escaped that watery grave I did not know, but I would be damned if it would escape again. I could only hope that it would sense me from the other room.
I closed my eyes, pretending to be sound asleep. Time lumbered onwards and although I fought it, exhaustion finally took me, sending me into a deep slumber.
I woke with its hands around my neck. It coughed and spluttered on top of me, a rancid black liquid dripping on my face as it oozed from its facial wounds. I struggled, gasping for air and hoping that I had the strength in me to escape its grasp, but it was too strong and my hands could not grip it with any sense of conviction, as it seemed to be dripping wet from its plunge into the lake.
It may not have seemed rational at the time, but as my vision dimmed and the last light of consciousness extinguished within me, I did as so many animals do in their last moments; I played dead.
Lying motionless, holding my breath, it shook me violently by the neck and then released me. I waited for my moment, my last chance to destroy this thing. Its laboured breathing relaxed slightly and seemed to stare at me almost quizzically.
I waited still for a shift of weight which might have let me throw it to the ground.
Leaning down close to me, its wide, crumbling sneer puckered. Gathering its putrid saliva in its mouth and in what was left of its cheeks, it then showed utter contempt for the living, and the dead; it spat its festering fluid onto my face, the remnants dripping down onto me through a hole in its jaw.
I wanted to scream, to do anything to remove such a vile smear on my skin, but I dared move; the time was not right. Leaning in closer, it prodded and scratched at the wound in my shoulder, the pain sheering through my body. With all of my resistance, I remained motionless.
Then, it slowly and patiently slid two of its long, distended fingers into my mouth. The taste was overwhelming, rancid, rotten, dead. The arthritic clicking of its knuckles shook my resolve. As it arched its back in glee, it suddenly pushed its fingers deep down into my throat.
I gagged, an instinctive reaction.
Instead of being shocked, a garbled laugh emanated through its broken teeth as it thrust its fingers deeper into my mouth. I felt its cold, hard flesh scraping against the inside of my throat pleading without words for it to stop.
In our darkest of moments, we sometimes find our true strength. I rolled to my side using its weight against it and finally, managed to break free. I fell onto the floor. Its long reach grasping at my feet, I kicked and screamed and at last was free. It stared at me, only for a moment. Rising up on top of the bed, its brittle bones cracking under its own force, it now towered tall and gaunt ready to pounce.
Since I was a child I had been a victim. It had terrorised me, taken my innocence, attacked Mary and broken my life.
I would not stand for it any more.
Sometimes the most dangerous prey is the one who can out think you, the one that lulls you into a false sense of dominance or superiority, the one who has conquered any fear of you with a sense of anger and betrayal. It had fallen into my trap, one conceived by logic, reason, and an understanding of the world through the eyes of a scientific mind.
Fire cleanses all.
As it groaned, shrieked, cracked and contorted, readying itself to pounce, in one swift motion I removed a blanket from the floor revealing a bucket filled with gasoline which I had bought in that short time of preparation. I threw it as hard as I could, the liquid splashing all over that horror and the bed.
It grinned at me, mocking my very existence, making light of my pain and the agony it had caused.
From my pocket I pulled out a lighter, lit it and through it onto that wretched thing. It writhed and screamed in agony, parts of its flesh crumbling away, searing into nothing in front of my very eyes; I almost felt sorry for it.
Let it burn.
The fire got out of hand, thankfully a neighbour heard the screams and saw the smoke, calling the fire brigade. I remember nothing of how I escaped.
I spent several hours in hospital being treated for light smoke inhalation and painful burns to my hands. It still hurts as I type, but as with many superficial wounds, they will heal. Perhaps there will be a few scars, but I can live with that.
The police arrested me shortly afterwards, believing me a murderer. They suspect that I killed someone in that fire and find it entirely suspicious that I have a deep wound in my shoulder, and scratches over my body. I’ve been told not to stray far in case they wish to ask me further questions, but they can ask away, I doubt they’ll believe my answers. They found no remains, nor any evidence that someone else was there, bar a strange outline of a figure etched deep into the bed and wall. It looked as though whatever had been there attempted an escape, but I do not think it accomplished this.
A weight has now been lifted from my shoulders, one which I now realise was always there, since I was a child in fact. I believe that thing had an affect on me even from distance, and now that it is gone, I feel whole again.
I am devastated that I’ve lost Mary, and my house can be written off as I’ll probably be charged with arson after they realise I started the fire, which means I can kiss goodbye to any insurance claim.
My hands ache, as does my shoulder, but my spirit does not. I am writing this from a hotel room, it’s small and unassuming, but it will suit my purpose. Tonight I intend to sleep and dream, as I did as a child, before that wretch invaded my life.
I believe that it was my rationality which saved me, my logical thought which allowed me to destroy such an evil, but I will never escape the conclusion that there is much more to life beyond the veil, out there in the darkness. It is a world I have seen, and do not care to revisit, but tonight I will rest and tomorrow I will build my life again with the confidence that my unwelcome guest is gone forever. I can feel it, I know it!
It will take time for me to adjust and perhaps my mind will play a trick or two a long the way, it is difficult to abandon the paranoia of a lifetime. I must learn to accept my safety once again. I refuse to be looking over my shoulder for the rest of my days, but I will always be cautious, as I was when I was in the hospital this morning lying on a bed in a quiet ward, I thought I felt the bed shake for the briefest of moments, but I know that it was just my imagination.
I am glad I have written down my experiences, it has illuminated much about myself to me, and most importantly should anyone ever, God forbid, find themselves in a similar situation, then maybe you will know what to do.
Now, it is bedtime and I must rest for I have never known a weariness such as this.
Good night, and sleep tight…
Credit: Michael Whitehouse
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