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Dead Asleep

The nightmares returned

By Barb DukemanPublished about a month ago Updated about a month ago 8 min read
Top Story - June 2024
Dead Asleep
Photo by Pars Sahin on Unsplash

At 23, I moved out of my parents’ old house, finally on my own, free. Even though I was moving into a tiny studio apartment, the euphoria of escaping that oppressive house was liberating. The strange experiences and nightmares my sister Eva and I had painfully endured as children in that house faded into the past; after her funeral, I suspected it had something to do with those nightmares. I never wanted to go through that again.

The nightmares began when we were six years old. We had just started first grade, and as identical twins we often felt each other's emotions in a silent unbending understanding. As the only twins in the school, we were seen as oddballs, and this gave the other kids a reason to tease us. We never felt accepted. On Halloween that year, our mother took us to a neighboring street where the houses were closer together. My sister was a ghost, and I was a scarecrow. Our little bags were filled with candy and treats, and once the streetlights came on, our mom drove us back home where we rushed to sort out and trade our treasures. We fell asleep around 9:00 with crinkly wrappers and pieces of candy surrounding us. In the middle of the night, something startled me awake, and I found my sister sitting up staring out the window, dim moonlight carving out our silhouettes. "Ada," she said in a hushed monotone, "it's here."

Our bunk beds were still made because we'd fallen asleep in the middle of the room. The only thing we could remember was physical pressure; we didn't understand what nightmares were because we'd never had one before. We'd continue to have these nightmares once every few months, on different nights, but we couldn't tell anyone else. The crazy dreams of little girls wouldn't be taken seriously, we found out, as we tried to tell our parents. My father told us brusquely to never mention this nonsense again. Better to keep quiet and hide this fear. "It'll bring nothing but trouble," he said.

The dreams always came at the same time of night known as the witching hour, and the details were hazy except for the feeling of pressure, of being incapacitated in the dark with something moving near us, trying to grab us. Sometimes we woke to an indescribable stench in the room. Every time there was an aura of fear that lingered. Each time it happened, though, the other one knew. In our first year at university, Eva succumbed to the Beast (as we called it) during a nightmare. I felt a paralyzing shiver the night she died. The cause of death was listed as a weak heart. I suppressed those memories until they were pushed further into the deepest recesses of my mind.

A year after I moved out, I started dating a charming young man I met at university. Ben brought joy and solace into my life, and we started on our own adventure. With him, each day I rediscovered long-forgotten pieces of myself that were unmarred by nightmares, and I felt we could take on the world. With this confidence, it didn’t take long before I married my best friend, and within three years, our family grew by two, further erasing the images in my past. With two high-energy children, there was barely any time to relax, let alone ponder things that had happened. Every night I fell dead asleep.

My aging parents were in declining health. As a surprising gift to us, they had a smaller home built on their property, near their house but with enough distance that we had our own space and privacy to raise Faith and Joy. I never wanted to return to the repulsive house I'd grown up in, but there were plenty of wild acres with apple trees and oaks on the land that bordered a sleepy creek. It was an idyllic place to raise happy children, including lots of fenced-in space for our beautiful Labrador retriever, Brandy. Late that autumn, we moved out of the crowded apartment and began living our new life in the new house. I felt safer than I had in years.

Almost a year later, Ben received a lucrative promotion within his company which required working late at night during the week, and I was often left alone with the girls. Although we tried to divide family duties equally, I didn’t complain because the money was good and allowed us to plan for the girls' futures. Thankfully, Brandy kept us company on those dark, quiet nights when my mind tended to wander back in time. The maple leaves were turning orange and red, and pumpkins were carved and set out on the porch as frost touched parts of the yard. The tink-tink-tink of the windchimes added to the sound of autumn.

One late night after I put the girls to bed, I heard quiet whimpering outside my door. I was exhausted from a day of pulling weeds and cutting dead vines away from the house; I didn’t need any nonsense from the dog. My small voice tried to coax her to come in. "Come on, girl...come inside." I reluctantly got up, pushed open the door, and called Brandy to my bedside. I looked down at her in the doorway; she sat completely motionless outside my room, at attention, and tilted her head. "What's the matter?" I asked her. I noticed she never entered my room by herself; she only entered when someone else was already there, which is quite unusual for a Lab. I lured her in with a dog treat, and she took the bait, her collar tags jingling as she entered the room.

Quickly she jumped onto the bed and lay there shivering as I stroked her soft fur. The heat was on, but I fell the chill in the room as I sat beside her. Her ears popped up, and her breathing increased. Something in the room captured her attention, and she stared at my closet door. I walked over to the bedroom door and slowly shut it. I returned to the bed and sat beside her. She continued to be mesmerized by the closet door. "What's the matter, girl?" I asked again.

Then I heard it...a soft shuffling noise just outside my room. Instantly the fear from my childhood returned, and I thought of Eva that Halloween night. My heart was racing as I feared the night terrors were returning. The bedroom door slowly creaked open. A shadow appeared first, and then my husband walked in. "Oh, it's you," I sighed, silly with relief that I was frightened by nothing. "I'm glad you're home."

Ben noticed Brandy’s odd position on the bed. "Ada, why is this window wide open?" He closed the window so that just a bit of fresh air could come in. "And why is the dog on the bed? What's she looking at?" my husband asked with curiosity, looking toward the empty corner of the room by the closet. He walked over to me and kissed my cheek. I never told him about my childhood nightmares.

"I don't know,” I explained. “She's been staring at that corner for a while now." We shooed Brandy off the bed, and she eventually lay down on the carpet at the foot of the bed. Our nightly routine engaged, we changed into our pajamas, brushed our teeth, and finally settled down to sleep. It was so nice to have him home. We were dozing off when Brandy became restless and started to whimper again.

"I need to get some sleep," my husband muttered under his breath. He got up and walked through the kitchen to put the dog outside, thinking that would take care of the problem. Brandy usually slept in her kennel, but tonight she wanted to be near me. She also liked to chase any rodents in the yard. Being outside, she expended some of her abundant energy.

I nodded off for what seemed like a few minutes later, but then I awoke from a stinging pain on my right leg. Something had viciously scratched me, stirring up an old core memory. Confused, I thought it was the dog, but then I remembered she wasn't in the room; my husband hadn’t returned yet. I got up, turned on the bathroom light and saw three red angry lines running down the side of my thigh. "What the hell?" I couldn't explain the painful scratches immediately. Perhaps it happened when I trimmed the blackberry vines earlier. With a wet washcloth I blotted the scratches and dried them off; I’ll deal with it in the morning, I thought. Sleepy and exhausted, I turned off the light and flopped back into bed. It was after midnight, and I forced myself to try to sleep. I heard my husband creep back to bed after he brought the dog back in and put her in her kennel by the laundry room. He fell asleep easily.

In the middle of the night, I was awakened by heavy pressure on my chest. I couldn't breathe and started to gasp for air. It felt as if I were being suffocated. Am I having a heart attack? When I opened my eyes in the darkened room, I couldn't move; my body was paralyzed. I recalled my sister lying near me on that bedroom floor littered with candy, sharing the experience as we did so many years ago. Someone or something was holding me down. I thought I was imagining things, but then I heard it… a sinister, low creepy laugh, one I was all too familiar with from my childhood in the house next door. Ha ha ha ha . . . followed by heavy rancid breath on my face.

I could only move the hand that was right by my husband, and I started hitting his hand until he finally woke up, irritated at first, and then startled. I sputtered and gasped, finally able to breathe. Whatever it was released me from its grip and moved away from the bed. I coughed and eventually caught my breath, my eyes wide with undisguised terror. Ben was nearly catatonic as he stared at the corner of the room. I slowly turned toward the direction he was looking and felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up. We slowly leaned up, our faces frozen in horror as we pulled the blankets up.

There, next to the closet in the corner of our bedroom, was an ominous presence. In the low light of the room, I could make out the ambiguous shape of something, blacker than the night, moving and swaying slowly. Moonlight ebbed through the window, casting shadows onto the furniture. My mind couldn't comprehend what I was seeing. This thing - its intense red eyes pierced right through us as it inched closer to us. I tried to grab Ben’s hand, but a deep fear resonated between us. Eva and I had never seen this much detail before.

It was then I recognized the Beast, and the bitter pain of my childhood came flooding back. It was the same malignant evil that terrified my sister and me, only to be patronizingly told that there was no such thing as ghosts or ghouls, that it was nonsense. The room suddenly grew colder, and a disgusting miasma began to ooze in from the slightly open window, eventually engulfing the figure so that all we could see were the evil red eyes as it climbed onto the bed straddling us. It stared at me and then my husband and breached the stillness of the night. With a low guttural evil laugh, it whispered, "Welcome home." I thought of my daughters sleeping peacefully in their room down the hall. The Beast leaned closer, its sharp claws touching my neck. "Your sister misses you."


About the Creator

Barb Dukeman

An English teacher by trade, I’ve spent 32+ years in the classroom, instilling a love of literature (and a tolerance of writing) in my students. I started reading at the age of three and started writing at 13 with a poem about green socks.

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

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Comments (16)

  • Sian N. Clutton11 days ago

    Loved this. Simple, scarey and it evoked emotion. Can't help but wish that it went for the children, but that's the horror writer in me - I always want more. Congratulations on your book too!

  • Ok! PAPERBACK HAS BEEN SENT TO THE PUBLISHER. If you like your books hands on, HERE IT IS. I can't believe how excited this is for me. The next book coming out will be on being an educator. I'll start with paperback for that one.

  • I now have this and 9 other stories on Amazon in a collection. "Stories to Read on a Dark and Stormy Night." It's only available on Kindle now, but I'm working on getting a paperback made. I'm so excited! My first book!

  • Congratulations on having your story featured as a top story on Vocal! This is a remarkable achievement, and it's clear why your work has received such recognition. Your storytelling is truly exceptional. The narrative was not only compelling but also beautifully crafted, holding my attention from start to finish. The way you developed the characters and plot was masterful, making the story both engaging and thought-provoking. Your unique voice and perspective shine through, setting your work apart. It’s evident that you poured a lot of passion and effort into this piece, and it has certainly paid off. I look forward to reading more of your incredible stories in the future. Keep up the fantastic work! Best regards, Dr. Jay

  • Natasha Collazo28 days ago

    Congrats on TS!!!

  • Raihana H.about a month ago

    Wait, so did the sister die because of the monster or of a weak heart???? Was it sleep paralysis? But why did the husband see it then? Why did I think it was real life experience at first? 😂 I guess your writing style makes it too realistic! What a talent! Congrats on top story!

  • Cyrusabout a month ago

    Congrats on TS!

  • Kingsley Gomes, PhD.about a month ago

    Barb, wow! This is seriously creepy! The way you described the sleep paralysis and the laugh sent chills down my spine. I can't imagine how terrifying it would be to have those childhood nightmares come back so vividly. The detail about the red eyes and the coldness in the room is fantastic - it all feels so real. Leaving the reader hanging with the "Welcome home" line is a great cliffhanger! I can't wait to see what happens next. This is a fantastic start to a horror story!

  • Melissa Ingoldsbyabout a month ago

    Really a very scary and realistic scenario here! Excellent execution

  • Andrea Corwin about a month ago

    Holy crapola, this is SCARY! It takes a lot to scare me, and this was sooo creepy - "heard shuffling feet" is scary even though that wasn't the Beast. What a great story you created! Congrats on TS!!

  • Selina DeCarlesabout a month ago

    One of those stories that makes me glad the protagonist is not the only one seeing the monster! Thanks for sharing, and congrats!

  • Darkosabout a month ago

    Beautifully shared and touching ❤️🌞🌷🩷 Congratulations on Top story ! 😊

  • Babs Iversonabout a month ago

    Horrific!!! Congratulations on Top Story!!!💕❤️❤️

  • Christy Munsonabout a month ago

    Congratulations on Top Story. 🥳 So very richly deserved. 🥂 You've carved a nightmare so vile... makes me not want never to sleep/dream again. Super moody, dark, and intense! I loved it all, but most especially your last line -- talk about a mic drop moment and then some.❣️ And then there were these words: "heavy rancid breath on my face"... 🤢 So good!!!

  • Kelli Sheckler-Amsdenabout a month ago

    OMGSH...this was so well crafted. Great job, congrats on your top story. I have gladly subscribed

  • MrZabiabout a month ago

    Such a amazing story keep uploading

Barb DukemanWritten by Barb Dukeman

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