“I saw him again last night.”
“Oh yeah,” James chuckled. “Same.”
“Oh really?” I nervously giggled in response. “What did you see?”
“Just the usual, he was just having a good look round, not doing anyone any harm.”
This had become a running joke between James and I ever since we moved in 6 months ago. We always kept our bedroom door open a crack during the night so that our cat Tony could wander in and out as he pleased. He hated doors being closed so much. For the same reason we kept the door to the spare bedroom, which was situated directly opposite our room down the hallway, open a crack. The windows in the spare room had no curtains, due to sheer laziness on our part. At night the light from outside spilled through the windows and illuminated our hallway remarkably bright. I’d read about the human tendency to create faces out of everyday objects and shapes; facial pareidolia. A dressing gown hanging on the back of a door can easily resemble an ominous figure to the sleep-weary brain in the dead of night. So I wasn’t overly concerned when I first woke to see the impression of a shadowy presence looming through the crack in the door. As a frequent sufferer of night terrors, as well as the occasional episode of sleep paralysis, I’ve long grown used to ignoring things like this and simply waiting for it to go away. I knew soon I would fall back asleep and by the morning everything would be good and well again.
I was undoubtedly shaken however when I eventually shared my most recent observations with my husband, after a few months of seeing the shadow figure off and on. Instead of brushing it off like usual, his unnerving response was;
“Oh yeah I know what you mean, I think I’ve seen him too.”
My eyes widened and my veins turned icy.
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah, I keep waking up in the night and thinking I see someone out in the hallway. It’s obviously just the light playing a trick though.”
“Don’t you think that’s a bit weird though?!” I said, not bothering to hide my anxiety. “That we’ve both seen the same thing?”
“No, don’t worry. I shouldn’t have said anything, I knew you’d freak out. It’s just the light, Adam. The only weird, creepy man you’ve got to worry about is me,” James joked as he reached his arms around me and nuzzled his face into my neck, tickling me and making me giggle.
From that point on, sightings of the presence which we nicknamed ‘The Man’ became a very casual joke between us two. Before we put our heads down to sleep we would make sure the bedroom door wasn’t open wider than necessary to let Tony in, so as not to give The Man too much of a view of us whilst we slept. When we made love James would joke about giving The Man a good show. These jokes gave me some comfort, although my concerns never truly went away. Before drifting off to sleep I always gave the crack in the doorway one last look just to make sure there was nothing there. But without fail whenever I woke up in the middle of the night, as I always did, there he was. The dark shape silently bearing over us, seemingly lying in wait. Even if I didn’t dare glance over to see him, I knew he was there. I felt his presence, the sense of being watched. The overwhelming atmosphere of dread, of menace. His ill-intent towards us was unmistakable.
After a while I started experiencing more frequent bouts of sleep paralysis. No matter how hard I tried to de-stress before bedtime, or sleep in different positions rather than flat on my back, which often brought on episodes in the past. Several times a week I started to find myself awake in the middle of the night, my body glued to the bed beneath me, my limbs frozen in place as if they were struck with rigor mortis. As the panic set in I would become overwhelmed with a sense of foreboding, the adrenaline coursing through my system hopelessly willing my body to flee. I tried to scream for James but my mouth wouldn’t make a sound, I was mercilessly locked in my own body. As my eyes helplessly flitted around my bedroom they eventually fixed on the spot near the door that was thick with an unnatural darkness. As my eyes focused the darkness began to take on the uncanny shape of a humanoid. A towering, sinister entity that emanated hate and malice. As dread flooded my senses the shape, which was undoubtedly male in its proportions, would slowly make its way over to my side of the bed, hell-bent on my torment as I lay totally helpless. I stared into the inky blackness where its eyes should be and silently pleaded for release, as I felt the impression on the mattress as it mercilessly crept its way across my naked and exposed body, truly vulnerable in every sense to my tormentor.
Night after night, as sure as I was that I had found myself truly at the brink of certain death at this apparition’s hands, in an instant he would be gone and I would find myself animated once again, gasping for breath and drenched in an icy sweat. It wasn’t long before the painfully familiar anxiety surrounding bedtime once again set in and I started to become a walking zombie in my waking life, surviving on the bare minimum amount of sleep. My mental health plummeted, leaving me unable to cope with life’s simplest of tasks. Shortly after these episodes started to occur James began to suffer with ill-health. He was exhausted all the time, despite always being the type of guy who could shut off as soon as his head hit the pillow and stay that way until he was roused by his alarm. He also suffered with frequent headaches that were so intense he started to need time off work, which he’d never taken before in the 3 years I had known him. I tried to be there for him, but I only had so much life left in me after night after night of my own misery. We inevitably became distant from each other, more like roommates than lovers. I tried to persuade James to get a doctor’s appointment, but he was the type of guy to suffer in silence and the more I nagged the more stubborn he became. Then one afternoon after I came home from work and emotionlessly greeted him with a peck on the cheek as he sat hunched on the sofa after missing another day in the office, he announced:
“This isn’t working, Adam.”
I stood silently for a moment then meekly responded, “I know.”
“I love you, but it’s just not working. Us in this house, something just feels…bad.”
I couldn’t listen to it anymore. This house was all we’d scrimped and saved for, all we dreamt about and worked so hard for, for so long. I told him coldly that I’d see him at bedtime and retired upstairs to run myself a bath and wait out the hours before my next torment in solitude. Lying there submerged in the water, I contemplated suicide. Not for the first time either. Since the night terrors started and every night became like a living nightmare I began to wish my life away, just for some peace and rest. Without James in my life, my only light in this world, I knew my life wouldn’t be worth living. I dared to glimpse at James’s shaving razor and wondered whether I’d have the balls.
That night I lay awake in perfect silence, keeping an eye on The Man the whole time. Although I couldn’t see his face from the hallway I knew he was staring straight back. The hatred I felt for him was indescribable, but no matter how accustomed I had become to his nightly presence, the fear had diminished no less. I knew he meant us harm, there was no more hiding behind jokes between James and I. There was no James and I. Insidiously, The Man had taken that away just as I knew he would eventually take away any remaining shred of my sanity. As I sighed inwardly in despair at my fractured marriage I heard the unmistakable creak of our bedroom door as it slowly opened inwards. The towering, inky black mass stood in the doorway for a pause as my eyes struggled to comprehend what they were witnessing. This wasn’t right, he only comes when I’m asleep and paralysed. I haven’t even nodded off yet, I’m wide awake. My mind raced. It was then that I realised with horror that I couldn’t move, but when did that happen? I had been lying still for many hours without attempting to move, but I hadn’t realised that I had been paralysed. I was still awake, how was this possible?
As I tried to will my limbs in motion, The Man made his inevitable way over to our bed. Tony stirred from his sleep and locked eyes with the shadowy, humanoid mass. Immediately he emitted a low growl and adopted a defensive stance; ears flat, back arched, tail low, fur standing on end. The Man seemed to regard Toby’s presence and the room was flooded with an overwhelming impression of rage, of intent to harm and Tony at once fled. I laid in wait for my familiar fate, the feeling of wrists and knees alongside my vulnerable body, the cold breath permeating the air inches above my face. However this time it wasn’t me that The Man had his sights set for, to my disbelief my eyes followed his trajectory as he made his way over to James’ bedside. A small sliver of moonlight escaped through the gap in our bedroom curtains, offering some amount of illumination to the shadow figure as he approached my husband’s motionless form. I wanted to scream James’s name in warning, although I knew it was futile, as it always was. My whole body betrayed me with stillness as I watched this malevolent force loom over my beloved James, I felt pitiful tears sting the corners of my eyes as I willed my limbs to act, to lash out.
“Adam,” My breath caught in my throat as, to my disbelief, I heard my husband speak. “Do you see it?”
In my periphery I could just make out the impression of James’ face, eyes wide with terror and filled with tears. His mouth agape, with drool pooling at the corners.
The coroners would say James died suddenly in the night of a brain aneurysm. A tragedy that no one could have predicted, but a natural death, that probably caused him minimal pain and discomfort. He had simply slipped away in his sleep peacefully. But I knew the truth. As The Man bore down on James the light piercing through the curtains revealed his true visage and my husband looked up in terror at his own face grinning back down at him. Every old acne scar, every dimple, every speckling of stubble peppered with grey. As James lay helpless, his doppelganger reached down with the same hands as his own, with matching fingernails bitten down to stubbs, the same gold-plated wedding band, the same mole that he never bothered getting checked since it appeared about 2 years ago. As I watched him squeeze the life out of James, both my husbands’ faces turned to face me, one with pleading eyes that slowly became glassy and vacant, one with a wide grin that stretched impossibly wide from ear to ear. As James’ last breath escaped his lips, his perverse likeness finally spoke, in a grim caricature of the voice of the man I’d loved:
“We’ll be back for you soon, babe.”
Credit: JR Warrior
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