Night Terrors by Daphne Strasert
I don’t go to work anymore. I didn’t even call in. They might have fired me. That’s probably why my phone was ringing so much yesterday. It doesn’t matter; I threw it in the garbage disposal.
I can’t sleep. Not even if she isn’t in the house. I still hear it. Scuttling. Scurrying. Like rats on the ceiling. I turn to look at it and it’s gone. I don’t close my eyes. Not if I can help it.
Miela wants me to go to the hospital, see someone in the psych ward. She’s worried about me. As if I’m the one that wakes screaming, hoarse in the middle of the nig ht. As if I’m the one with bruises in the shape of handprints all over my arms. She thinks I’m the crazy one.
“Next Tuesday,” I assure her. “I’ll go next Tuesday if you’re still worried.”
“You said that, but it is Tuesday.”
It’s because I don’t sleep, she tells me. Because I’m not even trying. She begs me, she pleads. Go to a friend’s house, go to a hotel. She can go if I want. What would be the use? The shadows are following me.
It is following me.
When I thought it was a delusion, I was sure that the sleeping pills would work. But they didn’t. I couldn’t relax. Now I realize. My body knows what my analytical mind refuses to accept. There is something in the room. And if I go to sleep, I am at its mercy.
I pretend to fall asleep at night. Miela watches me, not sure what to do. When she finally drifts off, I sit up again and wait. It’s coming. It comes every night. For her. For me. I can’t be sure in the pitch darkness of the room, but the shadows move. They change places.
And then… it touches me. I can’t see it, but I can feel it. It’s not warm, but not cold either. It’s lukewarm, the same temperature as the room. All I feel is the pressure of its body as it passes over me and crawls to her. My heart pounds, first in panic for my own safety, but then in alarm for hers. It moves over me as if I am unaware, as if I were the nightstand or the lamp.
She shudders and jerks away as it crosses from my body to hers. The air seems to thicken around her and she wakes in earnest, fighting against it. My shock chases out repulsion and for a staggering moment, I am clear of the haze of my insomnia. I grab at her wrists, feel the creature’s body slide through my hands as I try to pull it off. It’s like sinking my hands in mashed potatoes. Everywhere I think I gain purchase, it remolds around me. I am doing no good in this fight. She screams and struggles until it coils around her neck. She fights for air, dragging a hissing breath through her closing throat. I still try to pry the creature, the barely visible, insubstantial assailant, from her body. I do no good. It is unhindered as if I didn’t even try.
And then it leaves, pulling from her body and retreating again into the shadows, into wherever it first appeared. She gulps down air by my side and slips back into sleep.
The creature grows more clear each night that I see it. The shadows no longer hide its form from me.
It advances to the bed, its body white like sun-bleached bones. Each movement is a shaky jerk forward. It seems to be made of interconnected spores, like a cross between moss and cottage cheese. It has no face, at least none that I can discern. It sticks to the wall as if helped by millions of tiny suckers, like an octopus that’s escaped onto land. It does not try to hide or slink from my gaze. I am nothing for it to fear. It crawls across me, passing over my body in its path to her. I don’t breathe as it passes, and it doesn’t acknowledge my presence.
The affect its touch has on Miela is immediate. At the first brush of its tentacles, she grimaces. The skin around where the creature touches grows pale. Her mouth twists and her eyes squeeze more tightly shut. She moves her arms, as if brushing away an insect, but the action is ineffectual. The creature clings to the hand she would have wiped it away with.
She writhes in its grasp, flailing against its innumerable limbs. They bind tighter around her, creeping like vines, like mold growing over her like the steady march of decay.
As the creature reaches her chest, she jerks awake, screaming, and claws at her skin. Each scrape of her nails is ineffectual against its hold. It grips more tightly around her and she descends into panic, her eyes bulging out of her face. The creature slithers in through her open mouth and she gags as it forces its way down her throat. Tears stream down her face as she fails to scream. Her eyes fall to me and, for the first time, I know that she can see me. Really see me. We are sharing this nightmare together. Her gaze pleads for rescue. The creature brightens as she grows pale. The life is sucked from her. She gags against the body filling her throat, but is losing the strength to protest.
As I watch, a glimmer of hope brightens in my chest. Perhaps it will kill her. I don’t try to stop it this time. I’m so weak, anyway. All my fight would be ineffectual. Maybe, this will be the end of it. No more screaming, no more midnight waking. Just peaceful, uninterrupted sleep, uninterrupted by the faceless creature that comes at night. Perhaps this will be the last time.
She falls limp, now supported only by the creature tangled around her. It pulses – once, twice – then grows dim. It relaxes its grip on her, sliding from around her. She takes a great shuddering breath as it retreats. Her head lolls to the side and she falls limp against the mattress. It slithers away, each erratic movement of its body mocking me with the knowledge that it will be back. It will always be back.
It won’t kill her. It will just keep coming back. It will come back night after night as it has always done. And she will keep screaming. A vision of my life stretches before me, an unending series of nights, all blurring into each other without the punctuation of sleep. Just unending terror that will be mine alone to bear.
As the white tendrils of the creature slide away from her, I replace them with my own fingers. Each lovingly strokes over her skin, tracing the scratches where she had tried to free herself. Gently, I place my hands over the bruises on her throat. I feel her throat under my palms, so fragile, the unprotected circuitry of the body. The life force flowing through a single, undefended point. I squeeze. Her throat convulses under my palms. How little effort it takes… just a small application of pressure. She chokes, unable to get air, but all the fight has left her. Her eyes open and she stares at me, the whites wide and terrified.
There will be no more fear, no more struggle. She won’t scream anymore. As the last spasm leaves her body, I collapse, my eyelids drooping as my body falls forward onto the pillow, a smile crossing my face as I slide into sleep.