The following is another short story, this one based on my own experiences with sleep paralysis dramatized and embellished of course. For about six months or so, I suffered from sleep deprivation brought on by Pro-Plus tablets and coffee just to avoid sleeping and experiencing this myself. Something that was ultimately just as destructive as not only did it intensify the dreams in the long run but also fueled and deepened a depression and bad temperament. I look back now at this time with the lessons and luxury of hindsight but one positive that came from it, was a wealth of inspiration for writing.
Once again, this piece is inspired by the likes of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P Lovecraft – their works not philosophies and ideologies of their times to be clear.
She was there again; that ragged old bitch at the end of my bed. She leaned, her noxious void of an existence casting a deep shadow over the spartan duvet coverings long overdue a wash. I had taken to calling her Gran which was fine, by the way, as I never knew my own so-called gran. No, this particular term of phrase held no reverence for me nor any warm feelings of comfort and joy. Instead, this Gran, this pervasive stand-in, who lingers there in the low gloom of every waking morning, is just a vicious parody.
Gran had been visiting me for as long as I can remember giving way to a numb kind of fear. I couldn’t be sure for how long that was as the memory of having sweet dreams at all was fading away as quickly as they came. It was a companion now, satiated by Pro-Plus and Kenco at three AM. While her appearance was expected, a vision of poison from the bowels of gothic fiction, my body still froze, mind raced, and heart raced towards an impossibly distant finish line against some phantom Olympic sprinter. My only real sense of rebellion in my whole corporeal being was the smile that I forced across my trembling face. An enormous grin of wanton disregard for the impending doom of the wicked entity at the end of the divan.
Then I’d wake; bracing into the true universe, forcing away the false reality of Gran. Everything would be the same, of course. Her kingdom was the same as mine only in hers, she held the power of some neo-classical deity of the realm around her foul being. Arguably it was the same as the actual waking world but in this case, Gran was replaced by the student loan industry. In the waking world, breakfast will come and go. Black coffee and a cigarette on the porch were as reliable as the bitch at the end of the bed. Polite chit-chat with the housemates and the refreshingly stoic Clara keeps me busy enough to not feel totally maddeningly tired. Lectures and seminars go by in a blur, with Gran lingering in the peripherals as they darken, ready to return to her kingdom at any point. Dinner, drinks, Pro-Plus and the ritual of going out into town begins, Clara propping me up, keeping me from either drifting into Gran’s dark oblivion or snapping at the banal dramas of the others. I’d envy them and their genuine smiles and their faces in the morning, refreshed from a good night’s sleep – hungover (still with remnants of kebab and ketchup around their mouths) or not. That’s what really would anger me, not the bollocks of he-said-she-said and all that normal human activity. My own sunny disposition painted on, false lashes batting away close inspection.
Eventually she’d win, old Gran. The Pro-Plus would where off and even Clara would retreat from the awesome power of sleep and the perchance to dream. I would be lulled into a false sense of security, with pure, deep dark sleep. Then, as I’d wake with relief, I’d find myself unable to read the messages on my phone. The light itself would be thick and heavy, my legs responding in kind to the gravity suddenly exerting the force of Jupiter. The relief would be drowned by panic as torso would drag neck and head back to pillow; air thick and heavy as from the slightest dark of the sun-drenched box room, the eldritch form would emerge. Always the figure of some long-dead Victorian woman, with black bonnet and frills, she would come a creeping to what should be the safest of places. Yet, it was never my safe place, a place for recuperation from the normality. In truth, perhaps, it has always been her hunting ground or more accurately just a softly manifested feeding trough.
It has a name, this curse. The diagnosable term is Sleep Paralysis, which sounds so ungodly scientific. Hallucinations of such a vivid nature with no known cure or treatment is a fashionable talking point on blogs and in artsy coffee shops where turtleneck sweaters are the truest of currency – not that I’m complaining, I have six myself. They discuss through excited smiles the thrill of the unknowable terror. They say meaningless supportive buzzwords to so-called sufferers over the rims of their espresso cups, soaking up the bullshit with the nauseating aromas. The truth is in the eyes. Looking passed the smiles and the tales of horror akin to a Lovecraft short, you see the tired fright in the eyes. It lingers there like a quietly burst blood vessel just off centre. The truth is in the stories they speak. Not the words but the feeling; the feeling like you’ve just dropped your toe over the edge and into the uncanny valley itself. Then, it spreads like a virus – a biochemical abyss that doesn’t wait for you to look too long into its depths. Who’s to say that creatures like Gran are even of our own creation? Simple mind tricks invented by ourselves for ourselves because we were never satiated with the available horror that can be downloaded from the world wide web. Outside fables of the unknown heavenly powers, biology has never been so methodical, so malicious. The dark entropy incarnate.
It was on this one morning, three days before my twentieth birthday, that I stood against the dark. The air was thick and brutal and Gran’s extended claws were reaching across the unwashed sheets, casting a shadow of pure oblivion over my frozen legs. Morning light was disfigured around her looming presence that grew ever closer to my face. The battle for control raged in my bones as her hag-like face drew near, her long nose inches away from touching mine. I felt her cold and clammy breath beat down upon my skin as time itself slowed to a crawl. I let out a raspy, incomprehensible mutter, pleading for an answer to her endlessness. A skeletal claw reached up and took hold of my cheeks, her fingers like icy daggers cutting deep into the flesh.
That’s when I found the voice; the absent voice never before brave enough to express more than a whimper. It began as a stirring in my gut before racing like a cheetah through my body and bursting like lava from a volcano out of my mouth. In the seconds of its great genesis, I followed its mighty journey, so readily anticipating its triumphant roar.
‘W-w-what do you want?’ I croaked; the grand imaginary charge of the voice swept away. My pounding heart sunk as the wiry eyebrows above Gran’s night sky eyes raised. Her already twisted expression contorted at the defiance, her clammy breath quickening as her icy fingers dug deeper into my cheeks. I could have died right then and there. I could have melted into the bed, already soaked with perspiration. No. She wouldn’t have let me slip from her grasp and her pure cold rage. Nothing in this moment would escape her, not at least in Room 5 of Flat E. Gran’s response was a scream. A single elongated, shrill note that shook my entire being. Her wide mouth exposed a cascading, thunderous black hole with sparks of purple lightning lashing out to dance on the churning rows of overlapping shards of deep grey teeth. My head and neck gave in to her, snapping wildly from side to side within her fixed grasp as the gravitational pull of her nightmarish infinite aperture readied itself to digest.
… End of Part 1