This post originally appeared as a guest post at one of my favorite blogs Narragansett No. 7, but I thought it was appropriate to share it here as part of "The Living Nightmare" Halloween prompt at The Lightning and the Lightning Bug.
The Eighth Year
The sleeping patterns and habits of an eight-year old rarely make any kind of sense, and my sleeping habits were even more of an enigma than that of most eight-year olds. I know I gave my mom fits as a child. Constantly fighting sleep. Constantly crying out her name in the middle of the night. I can remember our mutual frustration in trying to figure out what was keeping me awake. Even so, sleeping didn’t become a major issue for me until my eighth year.
That eighth year was eventful. I remember a lot from my childhood then. I’ve been blessed (sometimes it’s a curse) with an active mind and can hold onto most memories well, and it seems that most of the memories from my childhood come from that turbulent and tumultuous year.
Daddy had just gotten laid off from his job. He is and will always be the hardest working man I’ve ever known, and during the time between his old job and what would become his new and better job, he did everything in his power to provide for our family. As an eight-year old, I probably couldn’t fully appreciate the sacrifices that he and Mama were making during that time of struggle for our family, but looking back on it as an adult, I do. I realize just how much that period of my life shaped the person I am today, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the lessons learned then. To this day, I try to never take anything for granted.
When Daddy did land his new job, it was two hours away. Until we could all move to our new town, the family was separated, and the rock and protector of the house was missing. Thus began my sleeping woes. Or at least that’s where I think they began. I can still clearly see myself as if looking down from above. There I am, lying in my tiny twin bed, the ruffled and flowered bedspread covering my slight eight-year old form, an army of stuffed animals arranged around me in a protective ring. When it comes to the dark, I’m a chicken through and through. For as long as I can remember, I’ve feared not the dark itself but what may be waiting in the dark, what the dark hides from me. The dozens of stuffed animals that I slept with as a child were a form of comfort to me, a symbolic means of protection from what was hidden in the dark.
In addition to the stuffed animals standing sentry over me, I took the measure of pulling the sheets over my face when I slept. I still practiced this habit until I got married a few years ago. If I couldn't see the dark, then it couldn’t see me. To avoid looking into the darkness is the key.
To this day, I avoid dark windows. When I look out into that cold expanse of darkness, I can’t help but feel that Something, somewhere is looking back at me. I have stood at windows for long stretches, staring hard into the night, looking for a glimpse of whatever is out there watching me through depthless eyes. Daring whatever it is to jump out and reveal itself.
Lying in bed at night, the fear is of waking up and seeing Something or someone standing beside my bed, looking down at me. This particular fear is more acute, probably because it actually happened to me during my eventful eighth year.
After what had already been a long night of going back and forth between her bedroom and mine, trying desperately to get me to go to sleep, Mama finally let me crawl into bed with her. The comfort and relief I felt when I snuggled up to her warm body was indescribable. You see, I had convinced myself as long as someone was in the room with me whatever was lurking in the dark would stay away.
I was wrong.
I woke in the middle of the night, as I had before and have millions of times since, with the feeling that Something was watching me. I kept my eyes squeezed shut, unwilling to let a drop of the darkness in. I listened. Mama's soft snores interrupted the silence of the night, but there was another noise, something I've never heard before or since. I don't think I can even describe it, other than it sounded heavy, as heavy and thick as the air in the room felt.
When I finally gathered the courage to open my eyes, a dark figure stood at the side of the bed, bent down over where Mama slept. It was watching her, and it knew that I was watching it. I felt its eyes transfer to me, and pure dread settled into my child's heart. I gasped. I snapped my eyes shut and scrambled to pull the thin sheet back over my face. I lay there for hours, too terrified to move, too paralyzed with fear to even wake my mother who lay sleeping peacefully beside me. I didn't open my eyes until I felt the warmth of morning sunlight on my face. It chased the black void from the room and closed that gateway to Hell.