Estimated reading time — 10 minutes
Lisa bolted upright in bed, hazy vapors of fear still wavering in her periphery. The details of the dream were quickly escaping leaving only the overwhelming terror that had just gripped her psyche a moment before. Shaken, she wiped her long bangs from her sweat soaked face and deeply exhaled while focusing on the illuminated green numbers on the alarm clock across the darkened room: 3:33 AM.
“… Of course.” Always at three thirty-three. At least the nightmares were consistent. She peeled the drenched sheet back from her legs, swung her feet to the cool floor and sighed again, “This is getting old.” Navigating the darkness to the hall bathroom, she relieved herself and washed the sweat from her face in the sink. Looking into her own reflective gaze she found the expression that was so familiar now. Every third night at three thirty-three for as far back as she could remember she would wake in the grip of terror. She was a realist, however, and years of therapy combined with her own common sense told her that it could be much worse. There were never any memories of the night terrors that plagued her. Nothing that stayed with her through the day or filled her with enough dread that she would avoid sleeping every third night.
After a glass of milk and a short internal debate she found herself climbing back into the, now somewhat dryer, sheets and settling back into slumber. Her pillow, of course, was perfectly dry. The pillow, which she fondly dubbed Ye Old Pillow, was always perfectly dry and always perfectly cradled her head. She’d taken the pillow as a memento from her grandmother’s house at her passing around fifteen years ago and hadn’t slept a night without it since. Some familial research with her mother, aunts and uncle led to a more complete story which included Gammy sleeping with the pillow every night of her life since it had been bestowed to her by her grandmother.
Heated days in Gammy’s attic spent searching boxes and chests saw the pillow with its distinctive stitching and embroidered garnishments in photos and paintings going back several generations. Lisa honestly had no idea how old the pillow actually was but she like to fantasize that it was stitched together in earnest love by the great King Arthur, blessed by Merlin and gifted to his true love Guinevere. All these factors lent themselves to an even larger degree of amazement at just how perfect the pillow still was. It rarely seemed to need to be cleaned as she could only remember having done so a couple times and even that had somehow added to the pillow’s lore.
When she first took possession of it she had it cleaned at a local dry-cleaners and although they said nothing about the process it was the last item they cleaned before closing their doors forever. Seven years later she’d had her boyfriend at the time take it to the place where he had his suits cleaned. The following day the business burned to the ground (the police suspected arson) and while she was sure it was to be the last of her pillow a couple days after that it was found in the rubble and returned to her; completely clean and unsinged in the least.
She didn’t know if it was stuffed with cotton or down for even old clothes, but it always remained dry and comfortable. It pre-dated memory foam by a large margin but seemed to hug the head better than memory foam ever could. When instances arose that she was thinking about it she never ceased to amaze at her fortune to still have it as “her” pillow.
She was having one such moment fifteen days later as she leaned back into its warm embrace. She knew full well that this was to be a nightmare night and had, for the first time, taken an Ambien she’d been given by one of the girls at the bar she worked in. She wasn’t normally a big proponent of pharmaceutical solutions to her problems, but the last couple weeks had seen a bit of sleeplessness and the pill came with such an overwhelming endorsement from her friend she couldn’t see the harm in trying it once. Jill had warned her of the possibility of sleepwalking but since Lisa had never done that in her life she didn’t give the warning too much credence.
So there she laid, contemplating the Ye Old Pillow and watching the room’s periphery slowly drift into blackness. She hadn’t anticipated the speed of the pill’s effectiveness, however, and didn’t even get to turn the apartment’s lights out before unconsciousness took her. The last thought she could remember was, ”’Well, I don’t think I’ll be waking up later on tonight.” She was wrong, however.
3:33am. She bolted upright and fully awake; or so she thought. It only took a moment to realize she was far from sober. Her senses were dull and disconnected; a hazy fog enveloped her as the closet door wavered across the room. Lisa raised her hand before her face and needed a moment to realize just what it was. After a few slow-motion seconds recognition clicked into place: My hand. It’s my hand… and… it’s bleeding.
The shot of adrenaline that revelation provided was enough to get her into motion and upright next to the bed. She steadied herself against her dresser and took a couple uncertain steps; the floor rocking slightly. Am I on a ship? She had been on few cruises with her family when she was still living at home and, although it had been awhile, she recognized the sensation. No; I’m home. You… are… messed… up! Indeed she was and the short trip to bathroom across the hall was much more harrowing that it should have been.
Since the lights were all still on she held her hands over the sink and desperately tried to find the source of the blood. There appeared to be a lot of it, but nothing hurt in a way that would give it away. Lisa turned on the warm water and started washing the blood away when several more fresh drops fell into the sink. Immediately, and for the first time, she took in her reflection and it became quite clear; and disgusting. Her nose was bleeding and pretty profusely at that.
She grabbed the closest hand towel while tilting her head back and tried to put as much pressure on her nose as she could. It didn’t really hurt so she squeezed pretty hard. If this was a side-effect from the Ambien then she was certain she wouldn’t be trying it again. For some reason she’d never had much luck with medications in the past so this was no surprise. It took a few minutes to cease the flow, but once it did stop she was finally able to take in her whole visage and the gore was extensive. The blood had flowed down her neck and both cheeks and was starting to cake in small clumps in her hair. She started the shower and began to pull off her stained nightgown when the thought slammed into her mind with a thunderous and terrifying crack: THE PILLOW!
“Oh no!” She cried nearly stumbling over her own feet trying to get back to the bed. Her heart was thumping hard now. After all this time was Ye Old Pillow really going to be taken out by a nosebleed? Her breath hitched as she ripped back the sheets. The fitted sheet was stained all around the pillow and the pillowcase looked like a murder scene on C.S.I.. There was no possible way Gammy’s pillow could’ve been spared with this much gore. Certain of the worst and harboring no illusion of hope Lisa gently peeled back the still wet pillowcase.
The pillow was… fine; the same pristine white it always was. She was in shock, struggling to understand what she was seeing. How in the hell is this even… The thought had no time to finish when the unthinkable happened. As she was leaning over the now unprotected pillow her nose decided to open up its flow again and several drops of bright red blood fell directly on it.
“Shit,” she screamed as she jerked her head back. It was a quick scramble back to the bathroom for her blood-soaked hand cloth and more pressure on the nose. The entire time mumbling under her breath, “No… no… no… no… no… no.” Once she felt fairly sure the bleeding had stopped again she returned to see the damage she’d just caused, bringing the towel with her this time. Much like the moment she had pulled away the pillowcase Lisa was stunned into immobility. Just as before, the pillow was fine; no blood to be seen.
There was no doubt blood had hit it. Hadn’t she just seen it with her own eyes? Maybe you didn’t? Of course she did. Did you? She was on a drug she’d never used before and had obviously lost a fair amount of blood. How could she really be sure that anything she’d seen since she awoke was accurate? She turned the pillow over and over in her hands… spotless. Finally satisfied she set it back on the bed and turned to return to her running shower when she realized she had just messed up yet again by setting the pillow back down on top of the stained sheet.
Turning to rectify the mistake, she thought she saw something and froze. It was the pillow. It looked like it was… breathing. Lisa closed her eyes, shook her head and opened them again. It still seemed to be barely undulating. Of course this was an illusion like the doorway before or the swaying floor. It was clear to her underlying rational that her eyes were playing tricks on her, but that did nothing to relieve the unnerving nature of the sight.
Breaking the momentary spell she scooped up Gammy’s pillow and gave it the once over yet again only to find it immaculate still. And, much like before, she decided there would be no way to solve this little mystery in her present condition. She would come at it tomorrow. For now she would have to consider taking a shower and changing her sheets in the middle of the night while extremely inebriated a large enough victory. So she resolved to set the pillow aside till she was clean when the nightmare continued. Cradling Ye Old Pillow like a delicate child Lisa felt a wet warmth on her lips and chin and knew immediately the flow had resumed.
In horrified slow-motion she could only look down. Her blood poured like a small stream directly onto the pillow’s side leaving the beginnings of a bright red Rorschach; but then it was… gone. It disappeared completely seeming to soak into the inner portion. Lisa would have tossed the pillow aside to save it or jerked her head back or done anything at all were she not petrified by was transpiring in her arms. Ye Old Pillow began to move again… to breathe again. This time there was no accompanying doubts of blood-loss or narcotic hazes. This time she knew it was moving because she could feel it in her arms; shifting slightly. It even felt as though it had suddenly taken on more weight like a small animal.
Inconceivably what she was holding in her arms felt, at that moment, somehow… alive! She wanted to scream. She wanted to cry out in fear and run from the room; but she couldn’t. All she could do was watch, frozen in her ethereal haze as the blood spilled onto the embroidered “creature” which she’d laid her head every night for more than half her life. The more blood that soaked into it the more active it became; now turning and struggling against her; muscles flexing.
Then it clicked. Of course! That makes perfect sense. This was a dream. She actually felt a small sense of pride in her moment of lucidity. It was nightmare night after all and the drug had obviously created a scenario where she could recognize the situation, as well as exasperating it. Lisa decided not to fight the dream and slow tunneling blackness of pure unconsciousness over took her again and she was happy to let this one go. She would wake up in the morning snug in her bed with no memory of the experience at all. When the morning came, however, she was only partly right.
The 9:00 am alarm came as she expected, but nothing else was. She jerked upright clipping her shoulder against something. It was the bed-frame; she was lying on her bedroom floor. “How the hell did I get here?” She couldn’t remember. Wikipedia had listed both memory loss and sleepwalking in the drug’s side effects but this was ridiculous. Somehow she’d managed to put herself on the floor, half-dressed, with just Ye Old Pillow and for whatever reason the pillowcase was off. That was weird, and… What the hell? Was that the shower running in the other room? Was someone else here? Panic set in as she pulled herself to her feet and shut off the alarm. Seeing the bed did nothing to alleviate it.
The blood; there was so much blood. What could have happened here? Did I kill someone? She desperately tried to pull some thread of recognition from her consciousness that would help make sense of what she was seeing but there was nothing beyond her laying her head on her pillow last night in bed. “My pillow!” She looked at the beloved article in her hand with a disdain she couldn’t clarify. She felt ill looking at it; worse even than the blood on the bed but had no reason in her head to explain the physical reaction. She let it fall to the ground.
Lisa didn’t go to work that day. In fact, she didn’t go to work for several days and could give no thought to whether she’d still have a job when, or if, she ever went back. She was traumatized. She had no idea, how or what had happened but she felt the pain of its having happened; it was real. Of course she had been able to figure out that she had had a nosebleed and obviously set about to clean herself up when she’d somehow fallen back asleep on the floor. There was no memory of that having happened, at all, but it was wasn’t difficult to put the pieces together. The lack of the memory wasn’t even what was really bothering her either but there was no denying the emotional scar that was left behind.
She would catch herself staring at the pillow; mesmerized even, for long periods of time. Finally, without fully understanding the reason for doing so, Lisa found herself packing Ye Old Pillow into a taped-up cardboard box and then into the very back of the hall closet. For the next few nights she did not enjoy the peaceful sleep she usually received at least two thirds of the time. Instead of just waking up at 3:33 am she would wake many times throughout the night, the tail end of a scream in her throat. Her dreams were violent and gory and unrelenting; even when she tried to stay away she would slip into waking nightmares.
This went on for about a week and she was reaching the edge of her sanity when she finally had a different dream. It was around three in the afternoon but a practical sleep schedule was non-existent when falling asleep became a last resort. This dream started with slashing and splatter much like the others when the image of her Gammy appeared. Bathed in a golden aura, Gammy came to her and put her hands on Lisa’s cheeks. They were cool and calming. Gammy had the sweetest smile and cradled Lisa’s head gently in her arms while humming “Yesterday” in her ear. She relaxed for the first time since her blackout and enjoyed a couple hours of untormented rest. It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough to provide the clarity she needed for a solution. Gammy had been trying to tell her something.
That night before she went to bed she tossed aside the guest-room pillow she’d been using all week and dug Ye Old Pillow out of its solitary confinement in the closet. Lisa realized she had just been paranoid for no reason and that had led to a rash, if not irrational, decision which she had been paying psychological restitution for since. It was stupid to put Grammy’s pillow away like that for no reason and the guilt combined with the shock of all the blood she had seen had been plaguing her subconscious ever since.
The night Lisa laid her head on Ye Old Pillow again and it was like the warm embrace of an old friend. She fell into a peaceful and comfortable slumber and reveled in the catharsis that it provided. It was the best sleep she could ever remember. It was perfect… until the clock hit 3:33 am.
Credit: Shannon Higdon