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Stuck in Sleep

Jessica's problem with sleep paralysis is knowing what's real, what's not, and what's in-between.

By J. L. GreenPublished 2 years ago Updated 8 months ago 17 min read
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Stuck in Sleep
Photo by I.am_nah on Unsplash

"She's coming."

Those were Nana's last real words.

I sat at the end of the bed rubbing her favorite lotion on her legs, the way she used to do for me when I was sick, and my heart warmed.

To think that Nana was seeing her mother or mine to welcome her to the afterlife was a beautiful thought. She'd lost them both on the same day, twenty-six years apart.

Nana's lips trembled, almost as if she was trying to say something else, and my sister Cassidy leaned in close. Her ear was a mere inch from Nana's mouth for a minute before she patted the soft wrinkled hand that helped raise us.

"You're okay, Nana, you can let go. We're here."

A tear swelled in each corner of Nana's ocean blue eyes, focused up on the ceiling but surely not seeing it, and she gave a few more half-hearted gasps.

"What's she saying?" I asked.

Cassidy shook her golden-haired head, entertwining their fingers. "Nothing, just 'she's coming'."

Two separate strokes had taken Nana's ability to form full sentences, and after this last hospital visit, she was barely coherent in what she could say. In my opinion, it made her last words that much more special.

It was another two hours before she was truly gone.

++++++++++++

Leaving the hospital without Nana was...strange. Hollow. The past three years had been an unending cycle of hospital stays and sleepless nights, so this was a first.

Home before visiting hours were up. No wheelchair winding through the hallways to the exit. Cassidy didn't run outside first to pull the car around because there was no weak body to usher into the safety of the front seat before she could fall.

Just us. Walking to the parking garage, sniffles and tears a-plenty.

"Let's plan for a funeral next week," Cassidy said as she wiped at her eyes. "Give some time for the family to get here."

What family? Nana's eldest son, the bachelor who claimed illness or work every time he was notified of a hospital stay? Or perhaps her youngest daughter that only showed up to riffle through the jewelry boxes and medicine cabinet?

My blood boils in my veins as I snort and furiously wipe away my own tears. They didn't deserve to see her now. To say good-bye. If they bothered to show at all.

Cassidy hammered on, either unaware of my ire or ignoring it completely.

"I was thinking we could have a viewing as well as the funeral. The family will-"

"Screw the family!" That echoed through the parking garage so I lowered my voice. "They haven't been here to help once in three years."

Cassidy leveled me with an icy red-rimmed stare to match the pink at the tip of her nose.

"I'm aware. But Nana would want everyone there. Plus, Aunt Kathy is already on her way."

"If she'd have answered her phone the first time I called she might have been here to say good-bye when it still mattered." I fight the angry spike of sadness that wants to pry more tears from me.

"Jess-"

"Just let me be upset, okay?" I lose the fight and my cheeks grow wet. "Nana's gone! I know we knew it was coming, but it...it still hurts. So let me be mad. Please."

She drove me home in silence.

++++++++++++

It wasn't until I was tucked into bed, all cried out for the moment, and letting my mind rest that I noticed the odd mixture of sadness, anger...and relief.

A hot flash of guilt shot through me and my eyes burned, tears building up in them once more.

No, no. No more tears tonight. Cassidy had said that relief isn't something to be ashamed of.

Nana had been sick, her quality of life wasn't very good, and she's in a better place now. Besides, she went without pain, thanks to hospice. I should be grateful to have had as long as I did with her.

That's the feeling she would want me to have. Not this all-consuming sorrow.

I take a few deep calming breaths and lock away my emotions. No more crying. My mind is too tired for it. That wave of exhaustion I've been riding is too strong to let anything else happen.

As sleep started to claim me it's victim, I have the final thought that I will most likely have bad dreams tonight. Not even that could keep me awake.

++++++++++++

My mind woke up. My body didn't.

I could see the room; my little pink-salt lamp on the nightstand in front of me, my picture collage on the wall, the outline of my mostly closed door, and the darkness of the house beyond it.

I know someone is out there.

I can sense it with some instinct deep in my subconscious that knows someone is on the other side of my door and God help me if I see them. It's a fear that grips the heart and twists the stomach.

Whatever form this horror takes on is masked by the abyss; I don't want to see them, but I can't look away. Not even as the outline of a person creeps forward.

My limbs are deadweight and ignoring my desire to flip over, to scream, to anything! I want so desperately to just move.

My line of sight changes. I no longer see my lamp or pictures anymore. The crack on the bedroom door mirrors the one staring at me from the closet. The being has followed and is poised within.

If I look close enough I may just spot an eye or a taunting smile. I still don't want to see it.

Hours (seconds, a millennia) pass before my limbs gave way with a jolt, my eyes snapping open. I'm lying halfway on my back and side, with the perfect view of the door and closet.

Both are cracked, as they had been left, and whatever ominous being was setting off my intuition and pressing me to the mattress with terror has vanished.

It's just my room.

+++++++++++

"I got stuck in my sleep again."

Cassidy gave a small pity-sigh through the receiver.

"I'm sorry Jess. Hopefully that can calm down now and the sleep paralysis won't be so bad."

"Yeah, hopefully," I mumble.

Ever since we took over Nana's care three years ago, I've been struggling with sleep. Often times the paralysis I deal with is my body staying shut-down and my mind waking up to hallucinate all kinds of fun things; like evil beings in the closet.

There was a small bit of commotion through the receiver and Cassidy cursed under her breath.

"Hey, I gotta go. Try that thing your doctor recommended. I'll see you later. Love you."

"Love you too. Bye."

++++++++++++

That "thing" my doctor recommended was: no screens for an hour before bed and trying to relax. Honestly, it's more of a production getting ready for sleep than it is getting up in the morning.

I start around 4pm by not drinking anything with caffeine. After I finish work I go home and do the fun things, like video games, scrolling social media, et cetra, et cetra. Then an hour before bed, I shut off all the electronics except some music and work through a relaxing yoga session. Then warm shower, stress-relief lotion, and climb into bed.

The last thing that's recommended is to not think so much while lying down. Like, don't focus on not thinking, but don't write screenplays either. And when you think about it, it's not easy not thinking. At least for me. There's always something going on in my head.

++++++++++++

I'm surrounded by trees whose tops disappear into the clouds. The world had an odd coloring to it, almost as if a vintage filter has been placed over my eyes. The large one-story cabin off to my right is familiar and I realize that I know this place.

There was one time when I was younger that my mom sent me to a summer camp for four weeks with my cousin. It was the first and last time I'd gone to one, and that was one of the best summers of my life.

I turn to walk back through the dense, silent woods to the cabin where my friends are when I notice a grey, angled thing off in the distance by the dining hall.

My mind knows what it is before I can really comprehend what I'm seeing and every internal panic alarm is ringing.

It's a woman with sickly pale grey skin, almost stone-like in color, and dark greasy hair stringing toward the ground. The angles are her limbs, twisted and crumbled like an empty can in a crusher. Her spine is poking out from under the rags she wears, the skin stretched impossibly tight over the bones, and I realize that her top and bottom half are facing completely opposite directions.

My heart kicks up pace.

She moves; somehow that collection of ruined limbs works enough for her to shamble closer.

I don't get a look at her face. (I don't want to. It's a bad idea.) I can feel my throat vibrating, trying to let out a scream or cry or anything, but I can't move.

She's within ten yards of me, more than half-way from where she started, and I throw my arm out to the side.

A startled shriek greets me in the real world as I jolt upright, my feet on the floor ready to run from the room. Poor Rory, my sweet cat, is also ready to pounce when I manage to focus on him.

My heart is hammering my ribs and my voice shakes as I cry, "Oh I'm so sorry, Sweetness!"

It's my hope that my frantic but gentle pets would be enough to soothe him into realizing that I didn't mean to smack him. He doesn't agree, takes a swipe at my hand, and flees the room.

It's another ten minutes of deep breathing before I'm calm enough to lie back down again.

++++++++++++

"I'm so tired of this, Cass. I'm ready to get my dreamcatcher blessed by the Priest, see if that'll do it."

Two months I've been struggling to sleep, and it's been longer since I've gone more than three days without an episode of sleep paralysis. I will count my lucky stars that most of the paralysis I'm having lately is just being stuck and unable to move versus those gut-wrenching hallucinations.

"Tch, you would," Cassidy said, an air of indifference in her tone. She's the real lucky one, not having to deal with this problem. She sleeps like a baby (and snores like a freight train) always has.

"I know you're probably tired of hearing about this, but it's not just the sleep paralysis. It's my constant nightmares and bad dreams; I'm tired of all of it. I just want to sleep."

"I know Jess, I know."

"I'm going to have a heart attack at this rate."

Suddenly Cassidy's tone is aware, like she's snapped back into the conversation, and sternly says, "Don't joke about that."

A heart attack is what killed our mom.

"Sorry," I say, throwing an apology into my tone that I don't actually feel, because I'm not saying that as a joke.

I'd fallen asleep on the couch last week, all tucked in and cozy, hoping I could get some rest (sometimes sleeping on the couch is a good reset for the body).

My mind woke up. My body didn't.

At this point, I've had so many episodes of sleep paralysis in a row that I immediately tried to start screaming. If I can focus on screaming in real life, I can usually wake myself up. It's not an instant fix, but it works faster than just letting everything go on autopilot.

The room was bathed in a soft purple light from a lamp and, in my mind's eye, I could see the entryway and front door. Everything was supposed to be where it was, from my work shoes to the keys on the holder; it all existed in a warped sense of reality.

Except for the far corners where the walls meet, there was darkness; like the crack in a closet door.

There she was. The woman with all the wrong angles. Pulling herself out of that darkness impossibly (agonizingly) slowly and standing as straight as she could manage. Her head was turned, her neck twisted so far that she'd have to show me her back so I could see that face.

But I still don't want to see it.

My heart clenched, as though being squeezed by those horrible knotted fingers of hers, outstretched and reaching toward me. My throat was vibrating, aching, straining, desperate to scream; I wasn't making a sound.

She's getting closer. She's coming!

I jolted awake then, as sudden as a lightning strike. I was lying on my back in the purple tinted living room with no way to see the front door over the back of the couch without sitting up.

It was all a hallucination; a messed up, terrifying hallucination.

My heart was hammering in my chest, leaving a shock of pain with every beat. And it didn't slow down for a while; long enough that I almost called Cassidy out of fear that something was wrong.

Once I'd calmed down, I hustled back to bed with Rory and stayed on my phone until the sun came up.

I don't tell Cassidy this while on the phone, because she's already dealt with so much between the loss, the funeral, and hosting our useless family members.

I want to tell her; God, I want her to know how scared I am. But I know that after Mom and Nana, she'd be too paranoid about it. She doesn't need to lose any sleep.

I'm losing enough for the both of us.

I let out a long sigh into the receiver. "I'm just tired."

"I know you are...I'm sorry but I don't know how to help. You're doing everything right; it's not like you can't fall asleep? You're just having a lot of bad dreams and paralysis."

"Vivid bad dreams and nightmares...I guess I just thought they wouldn't be so bad, you know, now that Nana's gone."

My doctor suggested that stress from being Nana's caretaker could have been a factor in all the dreaming. It made sense at least. High stress equals high stress and all that.

That just doesn't explain why things have gotten so much worse.

Cassidy sighs and at least sounds sympathetic.

"I know, I'm sorry. Just...try not to worry about it so much, especially before bed. You know you can call me any time."

"I know." I won't.

"I love you but I have to go. I'll call you tomorrow."

"Okay, love you too. Bye."

I hang up the phone and stare at my ceiling.

It's 9:15pm on a Saturday. I am currently lying in bed, so exhausted that I don't even know how I got here, and so scared to actually go to sleep that it's making my mouth dry and my heart race.

She's coming!

Why did I think that during the height of my nightmare? And why didn't it sound like my own voice?

++++++++++++

At this point, I'd make a deal with the devil if I could just stop dreaming. So. Vividly. Every night! Does my mind ever take a break?

True, I haven't had a sleep paralysis episode in a record breaking two weeks, but the nightmares just don't quit.

It would be different if I could forget the horrifying images, playing like a movie every night. But I can't. I remember every microscopic, haunting detail, including the feelings that come with them.

More than once I've woken up crying; just woke right up and broke straight down.

It's been messing with my waking life too; my moods and demeanor have changed...dampened. It's bad enough that my boss, whom I've interacted with a grand total of five times in person, asked how I was doing in that veiled-nosey kind of way.

Saying I haven't been sleeping well is a good enough answer.

I've taken to wearing my smartwatch to bed. A fancy little app records my sleep patterns, oxygen levels, and pulse. On my worst night, I clocked my heartrate at 160. It didn't come back down to my usual 70's for five minutes. (Cassidy was legitimately concerned when I shared this info.)

On top of it all, the cherry on the shit-fudge sundae if you will, I've been sleeping less, hoping that my mind won't have enough time to ruin me.

No such luck. I've woken up at 5:30am, fallen back asleep, dreamed a full-length motion picture's worth, and woke up at 5:50am that same day.

And every night before I finally slip off to my own personal Hell sleep, I hear that frantic voice cry, "She's coming!"

++++++++++++

How many times have I been in this kind of situation; sitting at the hospital and anxiously waiting for answers to Nana's newest issue? Though I never imagined I'd be the one in the bed.

To be fair, I didn't start the day in the ER.

The problem didn't hit me until halfway through the night.

My mind sort of woke up and my body was freely moving but not in a way that felt right. From the corner of my eye, I could see the ceiling, the closet (the doors shut tight), and an odd orangey crack of light through my window.

God, I hate that window at night. The dusky pink curtain covers 98% of it, but that damn piece it doesn't cover is the bane of my existence. I try my hardest not to look out of it once that sun sets.

My body didn't give me a choice. I stare at the uniform stream of the street-lamp's glow until my eyes catch the one patch of darkness towards the bottom.

(It's a person, it has to be.)

Someone is staring at me through the window!

My heartbeat kicks up, I can feel it physically in my chest in a way that I can't feel anything else. I try to scream; can't even muster a breath.

I can't breathe.

I can't breathe and my heart is pounding so fast it's going to pop.

Oh God, is this how I die?

I jerk awake, knowing sweat is raining down my neck, soaking the collar of my shirt. I'm facing the wall; the extra curtain I'd placed to cover the entire window was hiding that 2% of the outside world from my view. And, of course, no one was on the other side.

Still, I can't take a breath of relief. Not with my heart running its marathon.

There's a crevice between my bedframe and the wall; another annoyance. My phone has fallen victim to it several times in the past, as well as poor Rory one time when he was sleeping really good.

I'm right at the edge of it, staring down into the void.

"She's coming!"

That voice that isn't my own echoes in my head.

A mangled grey finger emerges, teasing the bottom of the wooden bedframe. The rest of the knotted bunch follow, working their way up toward the mattress. It's moving so painfully slowly, ramping up the fear and torture.

"She's coming!"

This is the Grey Woman creeping her way up, it has to be.

"She's coming!"

I hear it then, the clicking; not quite mechanical, not organic. It sounds in time with her arm appearing. As if her joints are cracking against each other as she moves.

A chin comes next. (A chin! Oh no.)

I don’t want to see her face!

Please, no!

I startle awake, nearly throwing myself over the opposite edge of the bed. My hand goes cradling my chest, my heart going berserk inside. I literally can't catch a good breath; it's like the Grey Woman is still here, gripping my lungs.

I vaguely hear an alarm going off, catch sight of a 180 on my smartwatch.

There is no hesitation anymore and I call Cassidy.

Now here we are. In the ER attached to all the monitors in the world and a tube (a nasal cannula, if we're getting technical) up my nose to give me some oxygen. Just awaiting the next step.

Cassidy stands just outside the curtain talking to the nurse. I wonder for a moment why the nurse isn't talking to me, but then realize that he probably had. I just don't recall because my heartrate went from a whopping 180 beats a minute to zero to "normal".

Cass comes back in and smiles; its a tired, withered thing. She sits at the side of the bed and I instantly see her switch into her nurse mode.

"So, good news and bad news. Good news is that the Adenosine worked."

"Which one was the Adenosine?" I ask.

Her smile now is apologetic and she says, "That's the one that reset your heart."

Ah yes.

I've never wanted to punch a doctor before but I was definitely tempted after they gave me that.

The human body isn't supposed to skid to a halt the way mine did, even if it only lasts a second; the pain had been unreal.

"What's the bad news?" I ask after the renewed flash of anger dies down.

"They want to admit you overnight to monitor you."

Just. Grand.

My fingers start rubbing my eyes of their own accord, setting off an explosion of color behind my eyelids. Despite everything going on, in this moment I can breathe. Because who am I to say no to the doctor after so many nights of panic and fear?

Maybe, if luck decides to show me some pity, they might even catch one of my episodes (if I can fall back asleep).

"Okay." It's more of a sigh than a statement. "You can head home, Cass. I know the drill."

"No, I can stay. It's no trouble."

I love my sister, so much more in this moment. Because I know she wants to go home as much as I do; it's in her eyes. The nostalgia as she looks around, not as a nurse but as my sister. Like with Nana. But she'd suck it up for me.

I squeeze her hand and say, "No, you really don't have to. I'm young and able-bodied. Besides it's the middle of the night. There's no need for you to sleep on a chair here."

She looked poised to protest, but I release her hand with a smile and motion her toward the exit. "Go home, Cass."

++++++++++++

It takes a solid thirty minutes before I'm wheeled up to the fourth floor, but then I remember what Cassidy would always say.

"In the ER, the fact that you have to wait is probably a good thing."

The deadly sick and dying are the ones who get the most attention so I was fine with waiting.

Speaking of, Cassidy should just be getting home now, so I send her a text, letting her know once I was cozy in room 410.

The flurry of being admitted is different when I'm the patient. My nurse hooked me up to fluids, did a long questionnaire about my health and history (unremarkable except for the recent heart issues I've noticed, and chronic poor sleep). My aide took vitals, stuck a "telemonitor" on me (to watch my heartrate and rhythm), and they hand me my call light with a polite, "please call us if you need anything".

All on my lonesome with no desire to fall back asleep, I start scrolling through old pictures and videos on my phone, skipping to the good ones when Nana was still Nana.

A video from before Nana's second stroke at my cousins birthday party. Cassidy wasn't in the first few videos; she'd been scheduled to work that day and was mad about it.

The small voice of my cousin's daughter, only five or six at the time, asked if Aunt Cassidy would be there.

"She's coming later," Nana said.

The voice rang in my head, echoed. I rewind the video by a few seconds, my hands starting to sweat.

"She's coming."

Nana's voice.

"She's coming."

Nana's last words.

The memory of Nana lying on her death bed, half-conscious and mostly sedated came to my mind. Her mouth gaping, struggling to form those two simple words; her blue eyes wide and focused on the ceiling despite the pain medications.

Only this time, in this memory, I can see her fear.

"She's coming."

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About the Creator

J. L. Green

I've been writing for fun since I was a preteen and haven’t stopped since. I tend to favor the darker/angsty/thriller type of themes. Here’s to hoping readers enjoy my work, and those that don't find something they do.

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