Estimated reading time — 5 minutes
I can’t fall back to sleep. I don’t even remember what woke me up, but now that I’m awake I can’t fall back asleep no matter how hard I try. Counting sheep doesn’t seem to help. It wouldn’t even be that bad being awake in the middle of the night if I could get up, but I can’t move a muscle. My body is rigid like a corpse. Can’t even wiggle so much as a toe and not for lack of trying. After the initial panic set in and passed, and I realized I wasn’t dead. I racked my brain and tried to come up with an explanation for my immobility. I began to remember a lecture about dreams and sleep disorders in a psychology course I took freshman year. That’s what made me think of sleep paralysis. Which might help explain why the only part of my body I can move are my eyes. Maybe if I’d paid attention more in class I’d be able to figure out how to raise myself from this state, as it is I’m stuck waiting here for one of my roommates to come check up on me in the morning. Doesn’t make for much of a plan, but it’s all I’ve got. Certainly helps stop the growing pangs of fear that were spreading through my body. Though in the pit of my stomach I still feel uneasy.
There is an ominous, yet measured beep that I can just faintly hear. Too soft to be a fire alarm or a carbon monoxide detector, and it has been going on long enough that it’s definitely not someone’s car alarm. It feels both close and distant at the same time, like it is by my side but just out of reach. Regardless this isn’t the source of my uneasiness. No, it’s something else keeping me awake. Something else stirring in my chest giving me this sense of dread. It’s like something is in the room with me but I can’t quite see it. Everything looks a little blurry like things are moving too fast. There are other sounds like the soft pitter-patter of feet around me, and just outside of my room I can hear what sounds like whispering. Since I don’t live alone and the walls are pretty thin this usually wouldn’t be such a strange occurrence, even this late at night. However, these voices aren’t familiar, and the murmurs though soft, somehow sound urgent. While I want to decipher what they’re saying, deep down I know, that even this is not what has me on edge. It’s something in the air, something is…off.
As I’m trying to pinpoint what is making me feel so restless, the sounds of shuffling feet, faint whispers, and even that incessant beeping all begin to fade away. My vision swims and darkness begins to swirl around me growing thicker. I can feel my chest tighten and my breath catch. I try to cry out, but no sound emits from my mouth. Not a scream, nor a squeak. I try desperately to move, even an inch but my body doesn’t respond. It feels as though I’m being held down by invisible hands. I’m smothered by an infinite darkness and a deafening silence. The pangs of fear I’d suppressed before, grow and spread through my body with a burning fervor. The uneasiness that dwelled in the pit of my stomach is now full blown terror. And just as I’m about to succumb to my fear and apparent demise. A bright light parts the sea of darkness, and I’m brought face to face with a woman.
Her hair is a ghostly white, which reaches out into the infinite black surrounding her, like wispy tendrils. Her skin is so pale it’s almost transparent. I feel like I could make out the bones beneath her skin if I strained my eyes hard enough. But it’s not her hair or her skin that has me captivated, it’s her eyes or lack thereof. Where her eyes are supposed to be instead are just sunken, black sockets. Staring at them I feel as though I’m being sucked back into that never-ending void of black. With difficulty, I pull my eyes away from them. Looking down I notice that she is draped in an alabaster dress that matches her long white hair. The dress though once was obviously beautiful, now lies in tatters, clinging to her body like vines on a gnarled tree. I raise my gaze to meet hers yet again, but before I can even try to utter a word, she raises a withered finger and points directly at me. Her thin lips part and she let out a low moan. As her mouth widens the low moan begins to raise in pitch. Like a kettle coming to boil. Her moan rapidly escalates into an otherworldly wail. Her maw has now become so impossibly wide it’s cavernous. I shut my eyes in a desperate, but futile attempt to block out the piercing sound. It continues for what feels like an eternity. I feel blood trickle out of my ears and down my neck. I hear her desperate wail reverberate in my skull making my teeth rattle. Even with my eyes closed I still see her ghostly visage looking at me. No, she’s looking through me, at my very soul.
When I finally open my eyes it’s not to the oppressing darkness with the female spectre, or even the familiarity of my room, but to what appears to be the inside of a hospital room. I try to move and am immediately jostled by a sharp pain in my chest. A sharp cry passes my lips, and my hand automatically reaches towards the pain in my chest. After a brief moment, I realize that I’m able to move again. I’m not allowed much time to reflect on my shock; however, as someone strides into my room at that moment. A pale man with a bald head looks down at me and smiles showing off an impressively white set of teeth. He’s dressed in a white overcoat and has a black dress shirt peeking out just underneath. “I wouldn’t try to move if I was you, trust me I’m a professional.” He says with a mischievous wink. As he steps closer I can make out a name on a badge pinned to his lapel. It reads Donn, with two n’s. I turn my head and am greeted by a now familiar beeping. The heart monitor is connected to my chest by tubes and wires I can’t quite see. There is also an oxygen mask lying just by my head. The doctor seemingly reads my thoughts and explains I had quite the night. I was wheeled in by paramedics last night after I’d collapsed in my room. One of my roommates had called 9-1-1. The shuffling of feet and the urgent voices all begin to make sense. “You had a close call” he finishes still smiling.
I begin to straighten up slightly and he hands me a small cup of water. After a few sips, I tell him about my nightmare. His smile never fades as I talk. “Sounds like you dreamt of a banshee,” he says when I finish. He explains when I give him a quizzical look. “Ghastly spectres that let out the most blood-curdling cries. They’re known as harbingers of death.” His grin seems to grow wider as he talks, and I feel an uneasiness sprout in my chest. “Despite their frightening appearance, they’re merely warnings that death is around the corner.” I begin to cough and reach for my chest again. “Death doesn’t like to be cheated. You mortals, you build structures and even create professions just to delay the inevitable. A pointless venture wouldn’t you agree?” I clutch at my chest and look back at the small paper cup of liquid that I realize now is not water. The man’s skin begins to fall away and he reaches a skeletal finger to pluck each of his eyes out. He removes his white coat letting it fall to the floor and pulls up the hood of the black robe he’s wearing. The creature looms over me and gently closes the lids of my eyes. “I hope your next dream is a bit more…pleasant.”
Credit: Autumn Leaves