Meet Gonzo, our pumpkin creation for this year. Since we don’t have our own kitchen yet, we froze Gonzo’s guts and instead of my usual Halloween pumpkin food ideas, he is here to tell you a scary story about sleep paralysis. So grab a cup of tea and turn on all the lights, because my Nightmare log stories are not for the faint of heart. Now, as they say in horror movies, the following story is based on real events…
It’s dark. The clock on our nightstand is soundlessly ticking away the night hours and I’m almost asleep. My eyelids quiver in the dark and I can feel my boyfriend’s hand wrapped around my waist like the familiar weight of home. An unfamiliar tingle runs through me and I open my eyes. I’m standing in a too bright, barren wasteland. There’s nothing around me and the ground is a nondescript, brown colour. A minute ago I was at home, in bed, and my mind is confused, but also strangely at peace.
I start walking. Time and direction are meaningless, it’s the steps that matter. A strange hum permeates the air, suddenly and like it’s always been there. I acknowledge it in the back of my mind, thinking it must be the fridge in the living room…but there is no fridge here. The hum draws insistently closer, becoming a slow, haunting melody quietly assaulting my ears with words I just can’t hear.
I’m still walking across the empty plane, putting one foot in front of the other and raising up dust as if there’s something important in front of me, but I don’t know what. My steps slow and I wake up just as I was about to sit down on the dusty ground. I’m staring at the wardrobe opposite our bed and I can’t move. My eyes are darting left and right and I can’t move. The strange melodic hum is back, as if it never left. I can’t move. Panic starts blossoming in my head, coming to the forefront of my mind and I can’t move. The wardrobe I’m looking at is shrouded in darkness and the details of its shape and size start to register in my mind, but I can’t move. I’m trapped in my own body and suddenly I realise why the wardrobe is all wrong: I’m looking at it from above. I can only see the top half of it, the part where it meets the ceiling and I can’t move. I look down. My body is sprawled on the bed next to my boyfriend in a tense, rigid pose, as if I’ve tried to curl into a ball, but stopped moving mid-movement. I can’t move. I’m floating above myself and there’s a third figure on the bed. Its dark shape registers in my body’s peripheral vision and my floating self instinctively knows it’s a him.
I scream, but there’s no sound except the ever-present melodic hum, battering my panicked brain like a morning hangover. He’s in our bed and I can’t move. He looks like a solid dark shadow and I can tell he’s tall. He’s lying on my right side, with my boyfriend asleep on the left. I’m still silently screaming and I can’t move. He’s just lying there, pressed into my side, his head against my right ear, but I can’t really feel it.
The second I realise the hum is coming from him I slam back into my body. My eyes tingle, I can feel every eyelash and the dark suddenly has more colour. I can’t move and I can feel soft, insubstantial lips by my right ear humming away the horrid melody that’s going to haunt me forever. I can’t move. My body is locked tight and my tired, panicked brain finally recognises him for what he is: sleep paralysis. Comprehension dawns and I breathe through it until I wake up.
The next morning is grey and rainy and I have to get up for work. My mind snags on last night’s dream, wondering why the sleep demon is back after years of staying away, then labels it as a fluke due to stress and pays it no mind. The smell of freshly brewed coffee fills the air and events from the dark slip away.
I open my eyes. I’m in a green, sunny glade surrounded by an ancient forest and the air is humming with energy. No, not energy, it’s that insistent hum again: that slow, haunting melody is back. I’m better prepared this time and as I look around I immediately spot him in my peripheral vision. Always on my right side, always humming away his infernal melody. I haven’t slept well for a couple of days now, even before he appeared and this time I know it’s a dream. I had dabbled with lucid dreaming a bit when I was a child and I’m desperately trying to remember the rules.
I know I’m in a dream and I should be able to influence it. The hum is digging into my brain and the forest around me sparkles. The sun is so calm and inviting that I just have to sit on the grass for a moment. Just for a moment. No! I shove away the foreign thoughts of lying down in the warm sun and it’s a physical effort. I need to get out of this and get some real sleep. The shadow on my right side grows. I can’t really see him, but I can tell it’s him, my demon. He’s the same one I saw in my childhood bouts of sleep paralysis before it stopped.
The more I think about it, the more I try to reason with my own mind, the larger he grows. He’s mad now. I don’t know how I know, but he got angry. I have to get out. I need to get out soon.
I try to order myself to wake up. I have to get out. I’m panicking again and he keeps growing, until he’s blocking out the sun. The glade is no longer warm and a chill wind blows across my back. I am truly scared now.
But I am also annoyed. At the back of my mind I know I’m still dreaming and I should be able to force myself awake, damn him! He’s pissed now. I still don’t know how I can tell, he has no face, he barely has a vaguely humanoid shape, but I can tell. He’s mad and growing madder. Tendrils of shadow start to unravel from his dark shape and I panic.
I gulp down air as if I’m drowning and hyperventilate. I’m awake, in my bed staring at the wardrobe again and I can’t move. I can’t move and he’s back to his usual size. Lying on my right, inexistent lips pressed to my right ear, humming away. I’m hyperventilating and I can’t move. I focus on the only thing I can: the melody.
The incessant, insane melody. I’m no good at music, but even I can tell it’s simple. It is slow, haunting and strangely comforting. It feels important, as if it’s not a melody, but a song. As if there are words wrapped amongst the tunes, just barely there. I can’t hear them and I can’t move. I swear there are words at the edge of my hearing. I feel him press closer, but I can’t feel it. I can’t move.
I wake up with a start, finally able to move my limbs and press myself against my boyfriend’s back. I can still hear the hum in my head, but it’s slowly fading. I’m trying to calm myself down, because the panic is gone and I am strangely at peace. I try to think about my dream: he got angry when I tried to influence it, to get out. That’s new.
The day goes by and it’s time to sleep again. This time I am ready. I’m tired of these incessant nightmares and sleep paralysis, twice is more than enough. I know I’m not cold, so it must be too hot in the bed. I make sure I’m not tangled up with my boyfriend this time, wrap myself in my blanket with one leg out and prepare to drift under.
I’m in bed with my boyfriend and we’re half asleep, content. The bed feels small and with a glance at my surroundings I realise we’re at my family’s weekend house in Croatia, by the seaside. We’re crammed in a single bed, but it feels nice, very cosy. Suddenly a thought pierces through my head: did we close the outer door on the terrace? I dart fully awake and an irrational fear seizes me. I shake my boyfriend awake: “Did we close the outer terrace door?” He’s nods and mumbles that “yes, I did.” I can feel a draft through the small house and I don’t believe him. The door is important. It’s everything.
I get up and pad over the cold tiles on bare feet. There’s a familiar unsettling presence by my right side. The dark shadow man is back and he’s humming away again. This time the door is more important, the door is everything. I pad through the bathroom to the other side of the house and his presence is almost comforting. My demon and I are friends now.
I enter the kitchen entrance area and I can see a sliver of light shining through the terrace door. It’s open. The door is open and it needs to be closed. It’s important!
He’s patiently standing just behind me on my right, manifesting in my peripheral vision like a stain I can’t wash out. I shout for my boyfriend to come and help me close the damn door. I can hear him getting up from the bed and I take a step towards the door.
A cat walks in with its tail held high. My heart melts – “come here, kitty”, as I reach out my hand to pet it. It’s a she and she arches her back, opens her mouth full of razor sharp, abnormally large teeth and latches on to my hand. I scream and I can’t shake her off. Her teeth are in like a hook and I can’t get her off. The more I shake my hand, the worse it gets, until she finally flies off into the night through the open door.
More cats pour in. All of them are insane, meowing and clawing and biting and jumping at my poor bloody, battered hands. My boyfriend is calmly standing by the door and I realise he’s asking me why it needs to be closed. I’m still screaming and I pause to shout at him that the damn cat monsters are pouring in: “Why are you just standing there?! HELP ME!”. The demon at my back on the right drifts closer and hums louder, but he doesn’t matter. The door is everything and I kick away the insane cats with strength I didn’t know I had. But they keep coming.
They keep coming and the door is still open and my boyfriend isn’t closing it. The humming is getting louder, omnipresent and I can hear the words. They’re screaming at me, but they don’t register amid the insane cat noise and the pain in my hands. The door is everything and the words can wait. The cats keep coming and the hum is now deafening. It’s trying to tell me something, but it doesn’t matter. The door is everything. A cat’s claw scrapes bone and I scream.
I’m awake, but I can’t move. I can’t move and he’s pressed against my right side, humming his infernal tune. It’s quieter now, softer. I can’t hear the words anymore and I can’t move. I can’t move, my heart is beating away like crazy and I can’t move.
I wake up, flailing around and whimpering. My boyfriend is holding me and trying to calm me down, telling me it was all a dream. I’m babbling away about demons and dark figures. He’s trying to convince me it’s ok and I go to the toilet. Nightmares are often brought on by the urgent need to pee. That’s fine, but the demon felt so real.
I come back to bed, telling my boyfriend about the nightmare, I’m in shock. I felt fear, real fear and I keep telling him how I wouldn’t be surprised if demons or some other night creatures were real and if it turned out they’re coming here to feed while we sleep. He’s unconvinced and is trying to get me to go back to sleep. I blab on about things we don’t understand and entities lurking in the dark. Eventually I fall back asleep and sleep like a log.
I open my eyes in a cafe. It’s cute in a vintage, doily-clothed tables with dainty cups kind of way. I’m staring at a selection of cupcakes and pastries and the people in line behind me are getting annoyed. I have no idea where I am, but the cupcakes with tiny strawberries on top look awesome. I order two and a cup of cappuccino, then move out of the line. The goods are brought to my tiny corner table for one and I think I’m in Sweden, on one of my solo travels through Scandinavia. The thank you words “Tack så mycket” come out of my mouth on autopilot and confirm it. It’s nice, relaxing and it feels like I’m finally getting some proper sleep.
Then it hits me: sleep – it’s a dream. And a nice one at that. There’s no hum, he’s not here and the dream is nice. It’s nice! I’m ecstatic as I bite into the first fluffy cupcake and it is heaven in my mouth. I take a sip of my coffee and it tastes like rot. I lift my gaze and the cafe around me has crumbled to ash. I know it even before I hear it: the hum is back. The stupid, insane melody wraps around me like an old, scratchy scarf. He’s back on my right, sitting on the side of my vintage chair. The chair is still here and so am I, but everything around my little cafe corner is grey and worms are crawling allover my cupcakes.
I spit out the coffee in my mouth, but it doesn’t come out. I choke on it, trying to force it out, but it keeps slithering into my throat. I’m choking, coughing it out for all I’m worth, but it’s fighting me and it tastes like rot. It tastes like the smell of a garbage yard and bile rises up my throat. I can’t stand it, I’d rather die.
The melodic hum is all around me, drowning out my choking gasps and slicing into my tired, battered brain. I hurl myself off the chair with my last breath, falling into the grey.
I’m awake and I can’t move. I can’t move again. I’m stuck in my bed, staring at the wardrobe again and I can’t move. He’s by my right side like an unwanted extra limb and I’m angry. This time I’m the one who’s pissed off and I can’t move. I shout at him, screaming internally, because no sound comes out of my mouth, because I can’t move. “Why are you here? Why are you doing this to me?”. I know how crazy this is, I’m screaming at my own mind, I’m arguing with my insane brain and a part of me knows that it’s just stress, the collective trauma of the pandemic years and daily life.
My desperate question penetrates the darkness and the demon on my right smiles. He SMILES. The dark, shadowy, insubstantial figure with no face and a barely humanoid form in my peripheral vision smiles. I almost piss myself. A newfound terror, a horror the likes I’ve never felt before surges through me and I can feel my bladder letting go. No! I am an adult, I know I’m awake and I’m not pissing myself in bed.
I burst awake with a scream, but it’s muted by the blanket and my boyfriend doesn’t wake up this time. I run to the bathroom and contemplate my insane dreams. He smiled. I know all about the theory of lucid dreaming, about the weird presence our brain manifests during sleep paralysis, the dark shadows we somehow hallucinate to torment ourselves in the half-awake state. But they are supposed to be inert, there’s no case of them interacting, let alone smiling. I flush the toilet and consider the possibility that the stress might be driving me insane. Either that, or I’ll need an exorcism.
Later in the day I take a shower. As I’m washing my face with my eyes closed I can feel him at my back and I can even hear a faint echo of that insistent, creepy hum. I jerk away from the water and frantically look around the bathroom. There’s no one there, of course, and the hum is only in my mind. This needs to stop.
I talk to my friends about it in the evening and they all find my visceral terror demon incredibly fascinating. On an objective level I’m fascinated too, but I can’t get rid of the feeling that he’s trying to tell me something important and that time is running out. The talking helps and I agree to write down my nightmares. Perhaps the demon will bleed out of me on the paper and stay there. But what if he is trying to tell me something important? I push away those thoughts, although a part of my mind is screaming at me that he is a part of me and that it’s all in my head. So am I trying to tell myself something?
I fall asleep with the mental state of a soldier before battle. Just as I’m ready to kick ass and finally finish these nightmares once and for all, I find myself in a white, sterile room. It’s huge and the walls are lined with translucent rectangles. At first glance they look like computer screens and a droning hum confirms it. But wait, it’s not a tech hum, it’s the hum. It’s my internal haunting melody humming away and emanating from all the not-computer-screens.
A part of me knows they are windows into people’s souls. I can feel them, they’re all connected to me on some level and then it hits me. Such sorrow, so much pain. A dying man’s last breath, a woman in pain in a hospital room, a crying child, a beaten woman, a scared child and a man with hunger pangs all wrapped into one horrible sound, punctuated by that incessant melodic hum. So much death and so much suffering. It all washes over me in a giant tidal wave and it feels like the time I visited a concentration camp. Heavy, horrible and grey.
I stumble back and crash into a dark shape. It’s the demon, he’s been there all along. How do you crash into an insubstantial shadow? I don’t know and I realise I’m crying. I’m crying and I’m screaming and wailing and crashing against the walls. I can’t get out. The white room starts getting smaller, the translucent soul windows start drawing closer and it’s pure terror.
I wake up with a scream and I can’t move. This time it’s loud enough to wake my boyfriend up and he’s shaking me out of my nightmare. I can still feel the dark presence by my right ear, I can still hear the melodic hum echoing inside my brain, but he’s shaking me awake and telling me it’s alright.
I wake up in the morning and I feel like shit. My brain feels like it’s been through a blender and all the traumatic dreams of the past week are pressing down hard. I can’t get out of bed. But then I can, because I’m not asleep, I’m not trapped, I’m not paralysed and I refuse to be.
I take my time in the bathroom and acknowledge my stress while I’m brushing my teeth. It’s probably causing the nightmares and I won’t let it. I stare into my eyes in the mirror and my resolve firms into steel.
He didn’t come back tonight. Nor the previous two nights. My head is silent and it looks like he’s gone. Somehow I almost miss him.