Estimated reading time — 6 minutes
Shadow of the Storm
You always hear stories of boys and girls, or men and women for that matter, who will randomly wake up in a foreign land; still groggy from sleep, their fears will get the best of them until the realization that they are mere feet or yards from their original nexus: their beds. The occasional tale of the small child going missing, only to be found crying on the roof of their house or in the neighbor’s backyard are always a comical pleasantry. I, personally, had found sleepwalking a rather funny habit. When all is said and done, the idea that a person can move about completely free of the mind only to nearly forsake themselves to madness upon waking up always seemed whimsical to me. It is, in essence, the perfect prank; your own body, behind the back of its own accompanying mind, seems to have a sense of humor. And, the backbone of all good jests, is the lack of consequence when the joke comes to fruition. I have yet to hear of a sleepwalker getting into a car and causing a fatal accident; or, I have yet to hear of a sleepwalker turning on the faucet and drowning in their own bathtub. Ironically, however, there have been cases of both sleepwalkers driving cars and taking baths without any such tragedy. Of course, there are outlier cases in sleepwalking as well; but, the number of creepy/funny tales of parasomniacs’ shenanigans vastly outweigh that which you can find in the tragic/fatal tagline. So, um, I’ve decided to not let a few bad apples ruin the genre for me.
My son, Jaime, started sleepwalking when he was 6 years old. And, honestly, as a parent, it was terrifying for me at first. I woke up before dawn for work one morning, and just found him sleeping on the hardwood floor of the upstairs hallway. I shook the little guy up, asked him if he preferred a harder mattress or something, and he just looked at me like “How the hell did I get here”? When it started happening 3 to 4 times a week, that’s when I started getting nervous. Because, while each instance was harmless and uneventful, a parent’s mind always expects the worst when it comes to their child’s safety. After the first few instances, I began asking the “what if”s? What if he self defenestrates himself? What if, he turns himself into the police for some crime I had no idea he committed? Yes, Jaime is only 6, and yes, parents’ minds can stretch to even the most outlandish of places. Needless to say, I began losing sleep after the first week. I tried sleeping in his bed with him; I looked online for solutions that didn’t involve force feeding my kid pills; I even tried blocking his door one time (I tell ya, that kid was strong). When all went up in failure, I, honestly, just got over my paranoia. You see, the thing that was strange (and relieving) about Jaime’s sleepwalking habit was that he always would end up in the same spot. The way our upstairs is set up, the landing stairs come right up to my bedroom and his room is across the upstairs balcony from mine. On this balcony, the aforementioned ‘hallway’, there is a small light, one that’s more akin to a large nightlight than an actual lamp, located between our two rooms. A few times a week, every single time, I would wake up around 4 for work and find him sleeping under the glow of this nightlight. Now, I asked him if he wanted more light in his room, and he reminded me that he would sleep just fine and has no recollection of ever moving to the hallway.
This went on for about a month and a half. After the first few weeks, it sort of just became a routine of mine. I would wake up for work, flip a coin, and if it was heads Jaime would be under the nightlight again. Tails, and he was still in bed. I would always just tuck him back into bed and go off to work. However, this routine was interrupted one night in April. There was a small thunderstorm that night, and Jaime, being afraid of the storm, wanted to sleep in my bed. I’d tried sleeping in his room before, but never the inverse. Well, this technique was anti-therapeutic. I awoke that morning to find my son, unsurprisingly, not next to me in my bed. Casually, I got up and checked the hallway. To my terror, the nightlight shown down on nothing but the wood floor. I started panicking and screaming my son’s name: no answer. Once again, the horrible “what if”s swarmed back into my mind. There was my son, splattered across the street outside my house. There was my son, face down in the local retention pond. There was my son, on the back of a newspaper or milk carton…and there was my son, sleeping on the back porch behind our sliding glass door. Recovering from my heart attack, I stepped out into the witching hour’s daughter. Scooping him up into my arms, I asked him what the hell he was doing out there. I got that familiar blank stare.
Things returned to normal after that night. Back in his own bed, I was relieved to find him sleeping under the hallway nightlight a day later. So, my son goes to one of those K through 5th grade schools, and, call me paranoid, but I had him see the school psychologist. I notified her ahead of time that this was a minor sleepwalking issue, and that I just wanted any of her suggestions that she can draw from sitting down with Jaime. Jaime was pretty pissed at me for that one… but nothing a new Star Wars action figure couldn’t fix. Anyway, she couldn’t get anything out of him. My son had always been a good, cooperative kid in the few years of school he’s had and the psychologist told me that his testimony to her reflected that behavior. “No underlying illnesses or behavioral issues were apparent”, is what I think she said. After the good news, I did bring up to her that my son always ends up under the same nightlight, except for the one time he was under the porch light. She attributed this to a latent fear of the dark; that, some kids can override their fears of the dark, but succumb to these fears subconsciously, I.e., when they’re asleep. After a good laugh about how my son’s a fear suppressing badass, I asked her if she had anything else; she countered my question by asking if Jaime has ever manifested a fear of heights. Allegedly, the night of the storm, Jaime had a weird dream where it felt like he was falling. He had said that it was so vivid that he thought he had woken up, but, that the fall was so brief it was over in the blink of an eye. The doctor asked him if he remembered anything else from that night, and with a shake of his head, then concluded that he must have still been dreaming.
Time continued on once again, and the tedium of Jaime’s midnight promenades slipped back out of my mind. By the end of April, Jaime’s nap on the porch had become just another laughable memory. To this day, I love reminiscing about that night; where, after so much stress and panic concentrated over a few minutes, my boy was right there: waiting on the porch to be brought back into my arms…
“April showers bring May flowers” and the “air is calmest just before the storm”… The news rang on about a large scale thunderstorm in my area. That night, April 30th, the weathermen were surprisingly accurate for once. The storm was quite fierce. Flashes of lightning blinded me in the same duration yet opposite manner of the blink of my eye. Their less graceful tag-team partners followed not long behind, with punches that seemed to nearly knock me off of my bed. In fact, they knocked Jaime out of his bed. I remember that boy standing in my doorway, his wide eyes barely gleaming under the hallway light. That boy, who I tucked back into his own bed; “Not this time, I wouldn’t want you getting wet in the rain!”
The dark limbo before dawn came: a slightly darker limbo than I was used to…There it was, my son’s door, ajar, like the unhinged maw of a snake. There it was, the nightlight, having breathed its last, dead in the night. And there it was, the sheer panic that only a parent caught in the helpless headlights of chance can experience. Reminiscent of my past hell, I sprinted downstairs. Sharply turning the corner of my foyer, I nearly reentered blackness when I almost tripped over my son’s favorite teddy bear. I picked it up, scanned over its soft effects, and rubbed the matted spot on its left arm. Just above the bear shown our wall mounted analog clock. Its face stared at me, frozen in fear, while its long black tail still reached for life inside the barren wall.
The police found me that night, shouting and sprinting through my neighbors’ blackened yards. They… haven’t found Jaime yet. Because of the storm, there were no eye witnesses who saw my son leave the house. They’ve searched the entire area, and have not a single lead. At this point, I try not to think of what happened to him. The flowers showing up on my doorstep and porch the weeks after were little consolation. I just, want to see my son again. I want to wake up and find him under the nightlight once more. I want to tuck him back into bed and kiss him goodnight. And then, I don’t want to see his face again until I pick him up from school that day. I hate seeing his face around dawn. His brown eyes are now acquiesced blackness. His light hair, now strands of tinsel gray… Funny, it’s probably how he looked, when there wasn’t any light.