Focus on your breathing, silence your mind, drink warm milk, stay away from electronics, keep the room dark, take pills. All the ways the internet had told me to fall asleep. All bullshit. For most everyone else sleep is simple, really, just lie down and suddenly eight hours have passed. Those people don’t need to worry about what happens if they can’t fall asleep- not like me.
Our entire existence boils down to the constant string of thought weaving its way through our heads, our thoughts are what we are. But when you’re left all alone with those thoughts, for hours and hours cut off from all external stimuli, that ever present tiny little voice becomes something like torture. Very much like torture, in fact, I likened it to Chinese water torture; the practice of tying someone up and having a drop of water fall on their head at fixed intervals. Drip… Drip… Drip… It becomes a certainty, all that they can really focus on is the next drop of water. That’s what it was like when I would try to sleep, one thought, and then another, and another… And another… Never letting my mind rest.
It had been like that for as long as I could remember, even as a little child I would lie awake in bed silently conversing with my stuffed animals. As I grew older, however, my insomnia became more of an issue; it held much more weight in my life than my old conversations with Mr. Teddy Bear. Of course, there were the obvious side effects; I lived like a zombie, only half in touch with the world, my mind- in its ceaseless need to think- jumped around, never able to focus on one thought. I was honestly fine with that part.
The part that I was not fine with were the things that stood in the corner of my bedroom when I couldn’t sleep. People who sleep normally sometimes experience nightmares, their own sleeping minds work against them to create terrifying situations. Monsters, spiders, murderers, there are no limits. The thing is, though, that those people wake up and their nightmares are gone. But my nightmares were real, physical, things.
They were different every time. I’ve had the typical fears: giant spiders, clowns, chainsaw murderers, and such. But every now and then I got creatures, horrid abominations that were particularly unpleasant. They had ways, beyond my understanding, of keeping my room dark, of preventing lights from working. So I never got to make out more of their images than the moonlight would allow.
The… occurrences, my own twisted version of nightmares, had been happening ever since I moved into my own apartment. Nightmares are generally a result of stress, so my theory is that the stress of moving out on my own caused these nightmares. But somewhere along the line something went wrong, my nightmares were not confined to my head. I didn’t know why, I just knew that they were very real.
The memory of the first time it ever happened is permanently engraved into my mind, how could I forget? It was the first week in my new apartment, I hadn’t even unpacked, and I was swamped with work from my new desk job- accounting. All of the stress led to another of the all so familiar sleepless nights, but it was distinctly different. Rather than tossing and turning I found myself to be lying quite still under my thin covers, unable to focus on anything other than my newfound headache.
Headache is probably not the best way to put it, hammering migraine is a better term. Pulsating waves of pain radiated from my skull, even the soft touch of my pillow was enough to set my teeth on edge. I had let out a groan of agony, and that seemed to be the start of it all; a crackling chuckle, similar to that of a smoker- raspy and dry- came out of the darkness in my room, responding to my pain.
And just like that my headache was gone, but it was replaced with a skin chilling fear that led me to sit bolt upright. The chuckle continued. It came from the far corner and I very much knew that I was not alone in my own bedroom.
It had been a cloudy night, so all I could do was squint into the darkness. Eventually my eyes managed to make out the dark outline, it was a person. Sort of. I could make out two struts of curly hair shooting off of the side of a bald head, all topped with a very tiny top hat. I didn’t need to turn on my bedside lamp- which I was far too afraid to do regardless- to know that it was a clown. There had been a clown standing in the corner of my room, chuckling continuously.
Hours went by as I watched him, but he never moved, and he never stopped that damn laugh. I hadn’t slept much around that time; perhaps as little as four hours of sleep in the previous forty-eight hours. And that lack of sleep is what nearly got me killed. My thoughts were numb and out of focus, which is why at some point in the night I managed to write off the clown silhouette in the corner as a fatigue induced hallucination. With that conclusion easing my mind it had been easy to eventually slip off into sleep.
That sleep was short lived. I was forced awake by a pair of gloved hands around my throat. And all I could manage to do was flail my arms around, doing absolutely nothing to remove the weight from my windpipe. My entire body burned, desperate for air, and I felt that I was not going to see the morning; until a dim light briefly illuminated my window. It was a lone car, a solitary set of headlights driving past in the night- it saved my life.
For the briefest of seconds I could see the face of my assailant; all the paint of a clown with none of the charm, the entirety of his flesh was white as sheet, completely contrasting the horrid splash of red around his mouth -blood or paint, it was still disgusting. The eyes were the worst part, the cold pupils were almost impossible to make out under the murky layer of darkness covering the surface, but I could still tell they were looking directly at me as he crushed my throat. But the moment I saw him, in the flash of headlights, his grip released; all I could do was stare and try to suck in narrow breaths as the clown climbed off of my bed and backed into his corner.
Shakily I sat up, never looking away from the clown, and I reached over to flick on my bedside lamp. The room remained dark. I hit the switch again, and again, but the room remained dark; the clown once more began to chuckle. There was no way in hell that I could bring myself to move, to run, to call the police, all I did was sit and stare. And I could feel the clown stare back. It wasn’t until the sun shone through my window that the clown disappeared. I just blinked and he was gone.
I didn’t want to acknowledge it as real, I just wanted to dismiss it for what it was- a nightmare- but the bruises on my neck would allow me to do no such thing. Yet if I went to a doctor I’d certainly be labeled insane- not to mention that if I called in sick so early in my career I’d lose my job. So, I went in to work, made up some tale of getting jumped by a vagrant to explain the bruises, and tried to get on with my life. Which was very difficult considering I was met by a different creature the following night- a large spider, and the night after that- machete murderer, and so on; which is what led me to begin drinking.
My first visit to the local bar was two weeks after the first… visitor. The only sleep I’d had in that time period were the few minutes at a time I was able to get away with at work and forty minutes during lunch. Of course at first I didn’t take it lying down. No technology would work when they were present, and they only appeared during night hours- but I never had time to sleep during the day. I thought of everything a sensible person would think of. I thought about moving, about trying to sleep other places (A visit to a hotel yielded negative results), getting an exorcism, and even briefly about ending my life. Those weeks were hell and I was quickly losing motivation to push on.
But on my first night of trying to drink the trouble away, almost as soon as I entered the bar I became a cliche. I fell in love. The bartender, a soft spoken, lanky, brunette- Kathleen- was the most attractive woman I’d ever seen, so of course I made a fool of myself trying to talk with her.
I was sleep deprived and drunk, yet for some reason she took an immediate liking to me. She was quick to laugh at my poor jokes and didn’t seem off put at all by the excessive complaining I did about my job. Even drunk I managed to avoid bringing up my nighttime companions. Although by the end of the first night with her I felt as if I could trust her with that knowledge. But I held off. It’s probably a good thing I did too, seeing as how she asked for my phone number before I left the bar.
That night was the first time I’d been happy in weeks. I’d almost let myself believe all of my problems had gone away. A pretty girl and a stomach full of beer was all it took for me to let my guard down. And I paid for it.
That night I climbed into my bedside chair- with no intention of sleep. I’d let my guard down but I had in no way allowed myself to forget the creatures in the night. Even if I didn’t mean to sleep it became quite difficult to focus on staying awake when my mind wandered to thoughts of Kathleen. Minutes, maybe hours, passed as I replayed our conversation. I’m not a witty person when I’m sober, and I’m even less witty while drunk. The last thought I had before losing the battle with my eyelids was that she must have been twice as drunk as I to be laughing at my jokes.
Searing pain in my legs woke me up screaming. The normal light of my window was blocked by a hazy figure, tall with jagged arms that bent in too many places, and the entirety of its skin writhed with needlelike protrusions. I figured that part out because they were being used to shred the skin on my legs.
Not ashamed to admit that I screamed bloody murder. It didn’t deter the nightmare at all, it just leaned further over me and reached towards my face with a razored tendril. The movement was slow and mocking, it was drawing out the anticipated pain. I was so focused on that one tendril it almost drowned out the pain in my legs. The creature slowly drew closer, and it towered over me as it finally connected with my cheek. There was only a pinprick of pain. The moment the monster touched my face my phone buzzed and lit up. Once I could see it, and its entire horrifying figure, the nightmare receded to its spot in the corner.
My floor was soaked with the blood seeping from my legs, and probably urine as well, but all I could think to do was grab at the phone. I didn’t understand at the time, normally nothing electronic worked when the nightmares were watching me, yet the phone lit up when I hit the button. And in the screen flashed a text from Kathleen:
Sorry to text you so late. I couldn’t sleep. I know you’re probably in bed but I just couldn’t wait to ask if you’d like to have dinner some time.
I called her. I was completely incoherent, sobbing, and raving. I told her about the the monsters in my room, the cuts on my legs, and how she just saved my life. All at two in the morning the night after I met her, but she did not hang up. She listened. And- bless her perfect heart- she asked, “Where do you live? I’ll come over.”
I told her to let herself in, and when she arrived I don’t think she expected me to actually have torn up legs. There was a lot of freaking out and rushing around. I imagine I lost a lot of blood which is why it all seems to hazy, but I know that Kathleen forced me to go to the hospital. Or rather, she called an ambulance without consulting me, but I’m glad she did.
I woke up in the hospital to her smiling face. I was so confused, “Where am I?”
“The hospital- you’ve been asleep for two days.”
“Asleep?” The word sounded so strange coming out of my mouth. Sleep was something for normal people, a fairy tale far beyond my grasp. Sleep was something that came in fifteen minute flashes here and there- never in hours.
“Yes, asleep. They’re still trying to figure out what happened to you- they think some psycho broke into your apartment. But I’m glad you’re okay. I’ve been here with you the whole time.”
“Why…” Far from the best choice of words to show gratitude, “Why are you being so nice to me?”
Kathleen gave a tight grin in response, “You just seem… so lost. When I first saw you it was like you were calling out to me for help. I don’t really understand either, but I already feel so connected to you.”
“Oh,” Was all I replied, but in my defense I was still groggy, “Thank you so much.”
We were quiet for awhile until she softly asked, “Hey, when you called me… You said I saved your life. What did you mean?”
The memory of the creature flashed through my mind and I must have grimaced, she glanced down at my cuts, “You weren’t planning on killing… on suicide, were you? Did you do that to yourself?”
“Oh no, no, it’s, well, it’s worse than that,” I responded, “It’s just… I have… nightmares.”
For some reason she didn’t question that.
“Well, you’re in no condition to be in your own. How about I spend the night with you and try to get rid of those bad dreams,” she offered and then seemed to understand what she had just said, “Woah woah, I mean just be there. Nothing sexual-”
“No no no,” I cut her off. The thought of how she might react to the monsters, or how they might react to her, I wouldn’t have it, “You’ve done so much, and I still don’t understand why to be completely honest, but I don’t want you to get hurt by this.”
She placed her hand on my cheek, opposite to where the nightmare had prodded me, “I’m doing so much for you because your eyes are the saddest I’ve ever seen. Whatever it is you’re facing, it’s time to stop trying on your own. I’m coming to your place once you get out of here.”
There was no arguing beyond that. The cuts my legs were many, but not deep, so I was actually able to walk out of there on my own feet- with Kathleen refusing to let go of my arm. We made it back to my apartment and I insisted upon cooking for her- then we simply sat at my little kitchen table and talked. We made small talk about everything and anything yet there wasn’t a single subject in which we had opposing views. She was the perfect girl, which is why it was so difficult for me to ask her to leave. Our conversation had been effortless and warm- but I shattered the mood, “I… I need you to leave now. It’s getting late and you shouldn’t be here overnight.”
She ignored the request, “Ahh, time for the meat of the matter. So what are these nightmares that would compel you to turn away a pretty lady offering to spend the night?”
I suppose I just didn’t want her to leave, so I figured screw it and tried telling the truth, “They’re not really nightmares. They’re monsters. I know I sound crazy, and I probably am, but for the last few weeks I haven’t been sleeping. There have been these things in my room at night. Watching me- waiting for me to stop watching them. If I look away they… they come for me. I was almost strangled… and now my legs…”
“You’re not lying, are you?” Her question wasn’t patronizing in the slightest, she genuinely believed me. Which led me to believe that perhaps I wasn’t the crazy one, but I no longer had the strength or desire to refuse her as she said, “Let’s go to your bed. We’ll face them together.”
A few minutes later and we were doing something that few adults had ever done before- sitting in bed with a stranger that they just met at a bar yet doing absolutely nothing other than going to sleep. I made sure to leave every light in the room on, and Kathleen didn’t seem to mind. Not like it mattered though- as soon as we both settled down under the covers the lights flicked off on their own.
Her breath caught at the same time as mine. The two of us slowly sat back upright in the dark room, and I had the unshakable feeling that I should not have allowed Kathleen to stay. My voice was a hoarse whisper, “They control the lights… They don’t let me see them.”
She remained silent and I followed suite as it became clear that we were not the only ones in the room. An all too familiar rasping arose from the far corner. My first waking nightmare- the clown. She could see it too. Kathleen’s voice was faint even though she sat so close, “When did this start?”
“When I moved in here and got a new job,” I replied dimly. My blood ran cold as the clown let out its humorless chuckle and my mind ran rampant with newly formed fears, it was one thing for me to face the monsters- at least they ignored me when I focused on them- but what if the clown attacked Kathleen?
“There are more,” She pointed out. I kept my eyes plastered on the darkness of the room, and dim moonlight leaking through the shades illuminated the awful fact that Kathleen was correct. More creatures lined the walls of the room, surrounding the bed, all staring at the two human occupants.
“What actually happened to your legs?” She asked faintly.
I was too absorbed in our surroundings to realize the oddity of the question, “I fell asleep- one of them got to me.”
And with a sinking realization I saw the very same buzzing outline of the needle creature that had torn apart my flesh. But Kathleen continued to press on, “What stopped it?”
“You. You messaged me.”
“And you said one of them tried to strangle you, what stopped that one?”
“Someone’s headlights,” I responded numbly as my eyes further adjusted to the darkness and revealed the four foot tarantula clinging to one of the walls. More of the creatures appeared with every second and all I could think about was the horrible things they would do to Kathleen if I didn’t keep my eyes on them.
Then one of them took a step forward. I whipped my head towards it- the machete murderer- but when I faced it one of the other creatures drew closer. I couldn’t watch all of them. Somehow Kathleen managed to keep talking, “They started when you had a big change in your life, and human interaction made them go away.”
“We need to make a run for it,” I had replied, only half listening to her as the mob of nightmares closed in on the bed, “There’s never been more than one…”
I looked to my right and the spider was no longer on the wall, but on the ceiling overhead. And when I looked back down the needle monster was almost within arm’s reach. No matter which way I turned they manage to draw in closer. The clown stood at the head of the mattress, staring at both of us head on. All I could manage to do was whimper, “You go- maybe they just want me-”
She cut me off with a kiss. Her entire body weight flung against mine and pinned me against the pillows. My mind was a panic, I couldn’t see a single nightmare they so I figured they must be about to pounce. But still, she pressed against me, and I guess I also kissed back- might as well enjoy our last moments. But nothing happened. She broke away and we both drew in breath, and then I gasped as I saw the empty bedroom around us. The lights flickered on as she rolled back to her side of the bed. “How…?”
“You told me yourself,” she replied with a relieved giggle, “Interaction makes them go away, be it a stranger driving by, or someone texting you in the middle of the night. Or maybe the most intense kiss of my life.”
“They’re gone,” It’s all I could think, and then, “How are you so amazing?”
“I’m not. I’m really not. I get lonely, I do stupid things- like call crazy drunks I just met- and I work in a bar to make a living… I’m anything but perfect.”
The monsters were gone, and I got the impression they weren’t coming back- not as long as Kathleen was with me. Now it was my turn to kiss her, and when it was over I said, “Well you’re perfect to me.”
She just grinned and curled up under the covers, somehow ready to go to sleep, “Come on, you need some sleep.”
And for the first time in weeks I was able to let my head sink to my pillow without worry. The end to a horrid chapter in my life, all thanks to the amazing bartender at my side. She was my hero, and I had to find a way to put it into words. I needed to express my true gratitude, and it took awhile, but I got it. I wrapped my arm around her and said, “You’re a dream come true.”