Estimated reading time — 13 minutes
I need to get back to digging soon.
My son is digging now, god bless him. He thinks I’m asleep, but that’s not going to happen. I haven’t slept easy for the last year. And now… now I don’t sleep at all.
It was about a year and a half ago that we moved. Karen got the RN position at the local clinic and I had been laid off from work at the greenhouses for a few months. We were getting low on money. Debt up to our necks. Tuition fees. Bills. We had no choice.
We packed up everything we could, sold what we couldn’t afford to move, and left our home of 14 years behind us. Our boy, Liam, was away at university at the time. I don’t think he understood how tight things were getting for us. I hope not. We didn’t need him worrying about all of that.
Right away we settled into the place. Karen was working 11 hour shifts at the clinic, on call 24/7. I started making money however I could. Yard work, some minor carpentry. After a couple months I got in with a roofing crew and by then we were doing okay. Started paying off the bills. Started getting our lives back in order.
That’s when it started happening.
Karen always had the nightmares. She told me how even as a little girl she would be afraid to go to bed… afraid to close her eyes for very long. I can remember when we first started dating back in high school, the first night we slept together she woke up screaming in the middle of the night. I’d never seen somebody so afraid. Most people tend to grow out of those things when they get older. The occasional bad dream isn’t that abnormal, but for me, adulthood means now I hardly dream at all. For Karen, the dreams never went away. She’d wake up almost every night in a sweat, shaking and out of breath. About three years after our marriage she finally took the doctor’s advice and went on a sleeping aid. They didn’t stop completely, but with the pills she could get through every other night with at least a few hours of good sleep. That’s what she told me, at least.
It was always the same. She’d wake up with a jump, breathing fast and wiping tears out of her eyes. “I was falling again,” she’d say, “just falling down and down.” I’d hold her for a bit, we’d shake it off and go back to sleep. It was normal for us, just one of those things you deal with as a couple. I never thought it would get so bad.
We’d both had a long day. Karen had just got home from the clinic and I’d finished up work on the Thompsons’ roof with the boys about an hour before she got back. I had the grill going when she walked up the front steps. It was the hottest day of that summer. Thirty-six degrees in the shade. Isn’t it funny, the stupid little things you remember? We ate porkchops for supper. Talked to Liam on the phone. Had a cold shower and watched some TV before going upstairs to bed.
I woke up, expecting to hear Karen’s rapid breathing and gasp of shock, but everything was quiet. Peaceful. Something was off, though. Something didn’t feel right. I don’t know if you have a significant other in your life, but when you share a bed with somebody for a long time you get real used to it. There’s a certain sense you have of that person lying next to you. I realized then what it was that felt so off. I couldn’t feel Karen next to me.
Then the strangest thing happened: I felt her hit the bed.
She screamed, louder and more afraid than I’d heard her in years. By the time I got my senses together enough to hold on to her to try and calm her down, she was completely soaked in sweat. When I pulled the bed sheets off her, Karen’s skin was cold to the touch and she wouldn’t stop crying. I had never felt so helpless, holding onto her and trying to talk her out of it. “It’s okay,” I told her, “you’re okay.” All the while, the bed was still shaking from when she had landed on the mattress.
After a long time, she did fall back to sleep. I laid awake, thinking. What happened hadn’t made any sense. I was sure that this time – and as far as I knew, for the first time – Karen really had been falling in her sleep.
After thinking it over for what felt like hours, I convinced myself of how it all went down. She must have been sleepwalking and fell on the bed just after I woke up. That would explain why she hit the bed so hard, and maybe when she had been walking around, she had bumped into something and that’s why I had woken up at that moment. I never woke up before Karen, not before this one time.
I laid there until morning trying to believe the explanation I had come up with, but two things wouldn’t allow me to be convinced. Karen never sleepwalked, and even if she had been that night, how did she get under the sheets so fast after falling into bed?
I remember being completely out of it the next day, after getting hardly any sleep and having the incident heavy on my mind. I didn’t say anything to Karen about it, but I could tell she knew something was up. That night when we went to bed, I didn’t fall asleep as quickly as I usually did. I lay there next to her, feeling the sheets move with her breathing, hearing the rain pattering over the deck outside.
That night, she didn’t even wake up, and after a few hours, I went to sleep.
It didn’t happen again the rest of the week. The week after that, she had a couple of nightmares, but nothing out of the ordinary, just what we had grown used to over the years. Another week passed by, and I stopped worrying about it. We carried on with our lives. Liam came home to visit for a few days between the end of his summer job and the start of the new semester. Things were good.
A week after Labor Day, it happened again. This time it was worse.
At four in the morning I woke up to Karen screaming and shaking around, but again, something was off. Her screams were shrill, frantic, but her voice sounded muffled. Again, I couldn’t feel her lying next to me, and I started crawling around, pulling up the sheets and feeling around for her with no luck. In my freshly-woken state, it took me a moment to realize what was happening. Karen’s screams were coming from underneath the bed.
With the lights on and my senses back I got her out from under there in a few seconds, but she was in rough shape. By the time I got her calmed down, she was still shivering like hell, cold and sweaty. I wanted to take her to the clinic, but she wouldn’t go, she just wouldn’t.
We sat there all night, leaning up against the bed, holding on to each other with the lights turned on. When I started to come down from the shock, I told Karen I was scared. She told me that she was too.
With my wife’s new sleepwalking problem, sleep started becoming hard to come by. Most nights I’d end up lying awake until sunrise, unable to keep my eyes shut. Karen would tell me there was nothing to worry about, but of course, I couldn’t believe her.
Not more than two weeks had passed when it happened the next time. Just like before, Karen would end up under the bed in a complete state of shock. I could do nothing but get her out of there as fast as possible and try to calm her down. In November it happened twice. Still, she refused to go see the doctor. The end of November is when I decided to set up the camera.
I didn’t tell Karen about it at first because I knew she wouldn’t allow it. She was determined to try and forget about the incidents, but I couldn’t. It felt too strange to write off as a sudden case of sleepwalking, and if that’s all it was, at least then I’d know for sure.
I borrowed a trail cam from one of the boys in the roofing crew. They’d use it for hunting during the fall. Basically, you set the thing up and if it detects motion, an infrared camera takes a snapshot of whatever’s going on. It works in total dark, and will take a picture every five seconds as long as there is movement. If Karen was sleepwalking, I’d have to catch it with this thing.
I hid it in my work bag, which I kept on my dresser in the bedroom. Each night before bed, while Karen was in the bathroom taking her makeup off, I’d turn on the trail cam and set it up so that the lens pointed out of the open end of the bag. For weeks I’d set up that damned thing every night and nothing happened. Karen would have her usual nightmares, but nothing like what had happened before. Every morning I’d check the photos and find nothing but a few shots of us rolling over in bed, or the occasional time one of us went to the bathroom. Nothing. I started wondering why I was doing this but during Christmas break Karen had another incident, and this time the camera was ready.
Liam was home for Christmas and we’d all been over to a friends’ place for a visit and drinks. Around midnight we got back home and said goodnight to one another before heading upstairs to our bedrooms. I turned on the trail cam, not really expecting anything. At that point it had just become habit.
I jumped out of bed as soon as I heard Karen’s screams. I turned on the light and rushed back to the bed, ready to reach in and pull her out, my heart pounding in my chest. I got down on my hands and knees but realized after a moment that she wasn’t there. The space under the bed was empty.
That’s when Liam came into the room. His face was a mixture of confusion and shock. He said “Dad, what’s going on?” I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t think.
I realized then that Karen’s screaming was coming from outside the bedroom, she sounded like she was downstairs somewhere. I darted out of the room and ran down the hall, down the stairs with Liam following close behind. We found her lying in the middle of the kitchen floor, clutching her bloody left arm to her chest. She was sobbing, screaming in terror and unable to get up off the floor. When I went to her I saw the bone jutting out of her forearm. Instinct kicked in. I picked her up in my arms, Liam grabbed the keys and together we got her into the truck and were rushing up the clinic steps in under ten minutes.
The rest of the night was hectic. After checking out her arm, the doctor got us on the ambulance to the city. Liam rode in the back with his mom, I followed them in the truck. Longest goddamned four-hour drive of my life. At the hospital they fixed her arm, and found three broken ribs as well, all on her left side. The verdict was pretty clear – she must have fallen while sleepwalking. But even the doctor at the hospital had to agree with me that it was an awful lot of damage for such a simple fall. His reasoning? He said she must have climbed up on the kitchen counter and jumped off.
Liam had so many questions. I didn’t know what to tell him, so I told him the lie we’d been telling ourselves for the last half a year. “Your mom’s been sleepwalking a lot lately,” I told him. “Don’t worry, we’ve got it under control,” I told him.
I didn’t look at the photos until after he’d gone back for the winter semester. I didn’t want to look at them, even then. I was scared to.
There were twenty pictures taken that night. Three of Karen walking in the room and getting into bed. Two of me and Karen rolling over. Twelve of Liam and I in the bedroom until we ran out. There were three pictures from before I woke up that scared the living hell out of me, and those are why I told Karen about the trail cam.
The first picture showed me and Karen lying side by side in bed, blankets up to our chins, peacefully sleeping. The next showed us in the exact same positions, me on my right side, Karen on her left, but she appeared to be floating about a foot above the bed. In the next picture, she was gone. I realized then what I had been too unnerved to notice at the time of the incident – the place we found Karen in the kitchen is directly below our bed upstairs.
She wasn’t happy when I told her I’d been spying on us for months. Karen doesn’t get mad often, but when she does it’s not something you want to be around for. Finally, though, I convinced her to look at the pictures. She cried for hours, and I with her.
We took no chances after that. From that day on Karen and I slept in shifts, each staying awake to watch the other. That was our promise to one another. I’m not sure I ever really slept, though. I was too afraid Karen would fall asleep as well, and then without me watching, it would happen again. I had a fear that I refused to voice to Karen, that I was too afraid to even think to myself about for more than a moment. Karen had somehow fallen through a whole story of our house and broken a few bones. We also had a basement below that level. If the fall to the kitchen floor ten feet below had broken her arm, what would a twenty-foot fall do? The basement floor was solid, unfinished concrete. Even now, after all that’s happened, I can’t think about that.
We kept it up, sleeping in turns. I would watch Karen for the first four hours, and then she would watch me. We lived like that for eight months. Constantly tired, constantly afraid. We stopped going out, stopped talking to people. I don’t know how many times I damn near fell off the edge of somebody’s roof from exhaustion. I don’t know how Karen kept it up. She was always the stronger one. We promised to one another that we’d get through it, that this thing wouldn’t destroy us. God, what I wouldn’t give to go back and change things. But it’s too late for that. I failed her. It’s all my fault.
It was almost two thirty in the morning. There were only about five minutes left before the alarm would go off and we’d switch places. Karen would get up and I’d lie down. It was warm. It was quiet. She was lying on her left side, like she always did, breathing softly. I remember thinking that, from my angle, it looked like she was smiling. My back was aching, and I leaned back against the headboard for just a moment to rest it. I closed my eyes and let myself relax for the first time in a long time.
Karen’s alarm woke me, and she wasn’t there. This time, I couldn’t hear her screaming. I called out to her, but she didn’t answer.
She wasn’t under the bed, and she wasn’t downstairs in the kitchen. I ran all through the house, screaming, yelling out to her, praying that I’d turn a corner and there she’d be, just coming back from getting a glass of water or using the bathroom. She wasn’t anywhere in the first or second story of the house, and that left only one place to look.
I opened the basement door, and went down. Karen wasn’t there, either.
For a few seconds, I felt relief. Just a few seconds. After that, I fell to the floor and lost myself. I lay on that cold, concrete floor in tears. All the exhaustion and emotion that had built up in me over those eight long months just took over, and I couldn’t get up. In my hysteria I imagined her down there somewhere under the ground, still screaming and shaking in fear from her falling nightmare. A few times I even thought I could hear her. The next morning the clinic called the house asking about Karen. “She’s gone,” I told them, “I lost her.” I don’t know how long I spent walking around in the house, calling out her name before I finally decided what needed to be done. I went out to the shed, the sunlight blinding me, and grabbed the sledgehammer and pickaxe.
The cops came to the house. The sheriff and deputy both came to check things out after Karen hadn’t shown up for work and I suppose what I told the receptionist must have given them a bit of a scare. They asked me what I was doing all covered in dirt and dust and I told them just what I was doing. “Looking for Karen,” I told them. Now, I get it. They thought I killed her. That’s why they asked to come in. That’s why they wanted me to show them around the house.
I showed them every room, every corner, every closet. I showed them the pictures from the trail cam. I took them to the basement and showed them my work. It had taken me nearly the entire day to break through the concrete and get it cleared away. By the time they showed up, I’d dug down about two feet into the soil. It’s really rocky here, so it takes a long time to make any progress. I asked them If they would help me out for a while. Sheriff agreed to help me while deputy went to make a phone call. After a while he came back too. For a bit they just watched me dig, but then they joined in too.
I don’t know what they expected, but whatever it was, they didn’t get it. They asked me a few times where Karen was, and I told them I didn’t know. How could I possibly explain it to them? How could they ever understand?
It broke my heart when Liam showed up at the house. Deputy had called him. He’d left the city as soon as he could, and made the drive home in three hours. He asked me what was going on, and how could I lie to him again? How could I look my boy in the eye and tell him everything was okay? Everything came out. I told him about how the nightmares his mother had been having had gotten worse, and about how she kept falling and falling. At first, I know he thought I was crazy, but now I’m not so sure. He was there that night she broke her arm. He knows that whatever’s happening to us is not normal. Even the cops haven’t accused me of madness yet.
He asked me for a shovel, and started digging as well. That was yesterday. After a while, the cops left. I asked them If they’d come back to help again in the morning, and they did. Now that there’re four of us, the work is going much quicker. The cops keep asking me where Karen is, and I keep telling them she has to be down there somewhere. It’s not the answer they’re looking for, but it’s the best I have.
At noon today, the deputy himself stopped digging and held up a hand for us to listen. I don’t know what it is, but we can hear sounds coming from below. Somewhere deeper down, something is making noise. If you hold still with your hand to the ground, you can feel the rocks shaking from time to time. We kept digging. At the time, the hole was about seven feet deep, so we set up a ladder to help with climbing in and out for breaks.
At six o’clock we turned over a rock the size of the kitchen table, and lying underneath it, as shiny and clean as the day I bought it, was Karen’s engagement ring. We kept digging. The ground is different down there. The earth is darker. Metallic, almost. The noises are getting louder. Sometimes, they sound like voices.
It must have been just before ten when they told me to come upstairs and lie down. I didn’t want to, I wanted to keep helping, but Liam made me promise. I won’t go breaking promises to my family again. I won’t.
I need to get back to digging soon. It’s been a few hours, and I think I can hear the sheriff shouting from downstairs. Maybe they’ve found something else. Maybe she’s still alive. Maybe.
Credit: Keith Daniels
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