The Night Always Returns Pt (2)

The conclusion to my short story posted last week!

 

***

Dr. Pettigrew had various degrees on the wall behind her and a shelf full of psychology books to prove she was qualified to analyze and make decisions about what drug cocktail to try on people.  She had even been published a few times in Psychology Today. She wore a pinstriped suit jacket and skirt combo. Her salt and pepper hair touched her shoulders and curled under forming the perfect shape of a “Peggy Sue” Halloween wig. Sometimes I wanted to yank on it to see if it would come off. She held a pen in her hand but there was also one behind her ear as if she’d forgotten she put it there. Her official title was “Director of Mental Health” although most considered her to be nothing more than a glorified drug dealer.  She always asked the same questions every session and didn’t seem to care about having a real conversation.

“Lets start out with something simple,” she began. “How have you been lately?”

“Okay. I know this one. Fine.” I don’t like this woman. It’s obvious that she doesn’t give a shit about her patients; she’s going through the motions.

Dr. Pettigrew began writing things in my file and it was obvious she’d written more than just “fine.”

“Have you been sleeping through the night?”

“Yes!” Hardly. I answered that way too quick.

            “Do you feel drowsy at all during the day?”

“Not that I’ve noticed.”

“Do you have trouble concentrating?”

“Well it doesn’t take that much brain power to concentrate on TV, and that’s mostly all I’m doing these days. Oh and karaoke. I realize I have a decent singing voice.”

“Do you always do that?” Her painted red lips thinned into an angry line causing the color to bleed into the creases of her smoker’s mouth.

I was so mesmerized by those wrinkle lines I hadn’t realized she’d asked me a question. “Do what? Sorry?”

“Do you always deflect with humor? You hardly ever just answer a question. Everything is a joke with you.” She waited for an answer and then sighed and continued to scribble. “Any feelings of anxiety or nervousness?”

“No.” Of course! Wouldn’t you be nervous if a whispering cloud of death descended on your head every night?

“How are you doing with the Clozaril?”

“It’s good.”

“Really? Last time we spoke you told me you hated it. In fact you said, ‘I have no energy and it’s making me fat.’ Have you adjusted?”

“I guess. It’s not bothering me anymore.”

The doctor’s eyes narrowed and the entire shape of her face changed from patronizing to amused. She looked like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland flashing me all of her teeth. I could have counted them.

My skin reacted to the change in mood and my arms became covered in gooseflesh. The temperature seemed to drop five degrees in an instant. I’m not sure what I said to tip her off but that look in her eyes made all my body hair stand up.

“When did you stop taking the Clozaril?” Dr. Pettigrew’s tone was expectant. She’d caught me and now she took pleasure in my fear. .

“I’m not psychotic. I know what that drug is for and I don’t need it. There are real lunatics out there who think they know the president, who cry hysterically one minute and think they can conquer the world the next. I’m not like them. That drug isn’t going to help me!”

“It’s designed to help patients who suffer with auditory and visual hallucinations. You’re telling me that isn’t you?”

This is what she’d been waiting for. All these weeks she’d been biding her time and now she was forcing me to say it out loud. “I had them before I came to Whitetail. These last few weeks things have become clearer to me. I know the stuff I saw before wasn’t real.”

“So whatever you saw last night wasn’t real?”

I shot to my feet. Every instinct told me to turn and run. “Who told you that?”

“No one had to tell me, Avery. It’s obvious by those bags under your eyes. Your face is too pale; you’re irritable and clearly paranoid. I’m guessing you haven’t been sleeping through the night for weeks.”

“Bullshit! It was Jen, had to be. Or maybe Paige. I know that twat doesn’t like me.”

“Avery, sit down and stop swearing. Now.”

“Maybe I don’t feel like sitting down. I’m an adult you can’t make me sit down or tell me what the fuck to say!”

“Actually, I can do both.” She never raised her voice or swore but when Dr. Pettigrew became very calm, I knew something bad was about to happen.

The doctor must have had a panic button under her desk because two male orderlies burst into the room and grabbed me. I yelped as one man twisted my arm behind my back and marched me down the hall. It was a bad idea to fight. It gave them a reason to pump me full of sedatives. But I couldn’t control myself. All the pent up anger and fear I’d carried for so long exploded out of me. I finally had something physical to fight. I screamed at the two men that held me and would have used my fingernails if my arms had been free. No one had to tell me where I was headed, but I wasn’t going to make it easy.

Patients lined the hallway to watch as I struggled, cursed and kicked every step of the way. Some of the female patients cried.

A skinny black man in his pajamas shouted at the orderlies and waved a scrawny fist. “You can’t treat people this way!”

Paige was also present for my march of shame. She stood there with her head bowed and her hands covering her face. She might have been crying or laughing. It was impossible to tell. I was about to yell something at her but one of them men holding me wrenched my arm even harder and my threat turned into a cry of pain.

Dr. Pettigrew stepped out into the hallway to try and corral the other residents before they became volatile. “Everything is fine. Avery is going to take some much-needed rest in isolation. I need you all to go back to the yard or the community room.”

That was the last thing I heard before they pushed me into an empty room and strapped my arms down to the bed. It was soundproof so I could scream until my voice died and no one would come. I’d tested that theory my first week at Whitetail. Nurse Gabby came in with a large needle full of something foul to knock me out. I whimpered and struggled with my restraints but it was no use. I could do nothing to stop her.

I looked at the woman with tears in my eyes. I hoped she would take pity. “Please. Don’t give that to me. It’ll just make everything worse.”

Her brow furrowed in concern. She genuinely wanted to help and stroked the top of my head as if comforting a child. “After what I just saw outside, I’d say this is exactly what you need. You’ll feel more like your old self after you sleep. Just a little pinch now.”

I began to feel all the tense muscles in my shoulders release. I became warm all over as the drug dulled my fevered mind. “Will you stay with me?”

“You know I can’t, dear. I’ve got rounds to make.”

“Can you stay until I fall asleep?” I couldn’t move my arm but I opened my palm and mercifully put her hand in mine. Her touch was comforting.

Nurse Gabby looked over her right shoulder at the security camera. Someone was watching us. “Only for a minute. Until you’re asleep.”

When I next opened my eyes it was obscenely dark. My nurse was gone and her kind words had been replaced by a hundred whispering voices. It took a minute to orient myself but I soon remembered I’d been locked in an isolation room. I was alone, and very much not alone. I could feel the presence of it more than actually see it. The only window to the outside world was the one in the door and there was no light coming in through it. It gave me the horrible feeling that light no longer existed. Despite this, I could still see the nightmare. It was blacker than the darkest shadow and it floated above me, waiting. I wanted to make the sign of the cross but my arms were firmly flattened to the mattress. Did they leave on the restraints? No. It wasn’t anything as simple as that. It held me down. A wheezing sound escaped from somewhere in the center of the shadow. It was laughing at me. It had always been in my room waiting for me to go to sleep, for when I was the most vulnerable. The night always returned and with it my nightmare.

I held my breath and tensed every muscle in my body waiting for vicious claws or teeth to tear my flesh. It didn’t happen. The whispering grew louder around me and I felt my body press into the mattress so hard it hurt. A warm wet pool expanded beneath me. When it was inches from my face I had the sensation of something sitting directly on my chest. It was so heavy I couldn’t breathe and I wondered how much it would hurt when my chest caved in. Inside my head I screamed in terror. I wanted to turn my head away but couldn’t move. I had no control over any part of my body, not even my eyes. It forced me to stare. There was no face to focus on but something shifted and I heard sounds both deep and high pitched at the same time like multiple beings speaking at once. I was thankful I didn’t understand the horrible language.

I couldn’t open my mouth to pray but made a request inside my head, “Please God, let it be over soon.” The inky black miasma expanded like a cloud until it covered the length of my body. At least the years of torment would finally end. I felt tiny pricks all over my skin like tiny needles stabbing everywhere at once. It finally released my mouth and I screamed with my entire body. I was sure it was the last sound I’d ever make. Something ice-cold filled my gaping mouth and expanded within me. I stopped screaming.

***

Paige painted her fingernails silver and hummed along while listening to Green Day on her itunes.  She had the volume turned up in an attempt to drown out the birdsong outside. Wildlife had returned with a vengeance. Black birds this time. I have to admit I like them better. Today it seemed every black bird in existence congregated in the Oak tree right outside our window. An additional flock of them circled the air right above the tree protesting the lack of space to perch. I closed the curtains so Paige wouldn’t notice how many had gathered. It would only upset her to see the evidence.

“You’ve been coming around a lot more lately,” I told her.

“Yeah. You know, you’ve been a lot less annoying to me these past two days. I think I’ll stick around a little longer.”

“Thank you.”

Paige laughed. “Something is just different about you. It’s like the feeling I used to get like a thousand fire ants were biting me at once when I talked to you, I don’t get that anymore.

“Hmm. Jen never seemed annoyed by me.”

“Jen’s lame. Say, you got any glitter polish on you?”

“Sure. I’ve got some right here.” I retrieved a small green bottle from the top drawer of the dresser but handed Paige a silver glittery polish with tiny stars floating inside. I allowed my hand to linger over Paige’s enjoying the brief contact. “You’ve got nice skin, Paige.”

“Thanks, dude.”

“I’ve got someone I want you to meet.” You know, since we’re friends now.”

“No shit? You’re finally getting a visitor? Jen is going to be so jealous that I got to meet them. Who is it?”

“It’s a surprise. They can’t come until tonight.”

“But don’t visiting hours end at five o’clock? Did you get special permission or something?”

“You could say that. You’re going to be so excited. In fact, you might even piss yourself.”

 

 

 

 

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The Night Always Returns Pt (1)

This is part 1 of an contest entry for Writers Digest Popular Fiction Awards 2015.  I didn’t win anything so I’m publishing my story here.  It’s too long to post the entire story in one entry so I’m breaking it up into two posts!  I’m sorry Writers Digest didn’t like my story, but hey, it was my first attempt!

 

sleep

I woke up in a pool of my own sweat. The filmy t-shirt I wore clung to me as if I’d just walked out of a rainstorm. “God, please keep me safe,” I whispered into the air above the bed. I made the sign of a cross with my fingers. I wasn’t a practicing Christian but I always fell back on Bible verses when scared, or in this case, in the presence of pure evil.

A bedside lamp clicked on across the room. The illumination helped to clear the cobwebs from my head. My roommate Jen looked at me with eyes only halfway open. “Is it still here, Avery?”

“No. It’s gone.” My heartbeat so loud I was sure everyone in the ward could hear it. The black miasma that had floated above my head moments before, and held my arms against the mattress, was gone now. Like always, it had left no evidence of its existence, except my fear.

“That’s the third time this week, you know.   I don’t think this is going away on it’s own. You should probably tell Dr. Pettigrew. Maybe she can help.”

“No!” I jumped to my feet. “It doesn’t help to tell anyone, believe me.”

“You have to do something. Look at you! Your hair’s so sweaty it bled blue dye onto my shirt!”

I looked down to see dark blue stains dotting the collar of the shirt I’d borrowed from Jen. All my clothes were dirty because I hadn’t done laundry in over a week. Blue stains dotted the material in every spot where my sweaty hair had touched it. My sheets had stains, too. They should know better than to give white sheets to mental patients. “Sorry about the shirt, Jen. But hey, who likes Muse anyway? It was only a matter of time before Paige saw this shirt and cut it to pieces.”

“Yeah. I guess so.”

A knock on the door stopped any further discussion of music preferences and I had just enough time to dive back under the covers before Nurse Tina’s round face appeared in the doorway. I arranged myself in a way that the woman couldn’t see the dirty pillowcase and sheets.

“Girls, it’s 2:45 AM. Why is that light on?”

I’m twenty-four years old and Nurse Tina always makes me feel like a guilty toddler. I feel no shame in being afraid of the big brutish woman. “Sorry!” I said. Although she couldn’t physically harm patients Tina could give out punishments and the isolation room was one of her favorites. I was terrified of that place.

The large woman looked around the room, fixed both of us with her most evil pig-faced stare and turned to leave.

“Miss Tina?” Jen asked in the smallest voice possible.

She looked down at her watch and tapped her toe on the floor. “What is it, Jenny?”

“Would it be okay if we left the lamp on? Just for tonight, I mean.”

Nurse Tina rolled her eyes and let out a huge expanse of air. “No.” She emphasized her point with a hateful yank of the lamp string. “And if I hear one more sound out of this room tonight there will be consequences. Got it?”

“Got it!” we said in unison.

I listened to her heavy footfalls until she was a safe distance away. “Why’d you do that?” I whispered and tried to sound mad at the same time. It was hard to make a whisper sound menacing.

“Well, you know, you usually sleep easier with the light on.” Jen made the Catholic cross sign over her chest despite that she’d been raised Methodist and had zero knowledge of Catholicism. “I wish we had a Bible. Maybe I’ll check one out from the library tomorrow.”

I shook my head. “It doesn’t make a difference. I’ve tried sleeping with one before and it never helps. I think it’s because I don’t believe it will. At this point I’m not sure if anything can help me.”

I couldn’t see Jen’s face in the dark but I knew she pitied me.   I could feel her concern from across the room and it almost made me cry. Someone finally cared. In this cool still night with the moon hiding behind the Great Smokey Mountains, I could cry and no one would see. No one would think me crazy. It’s better if we don’t talk about it anymore. Talking about it makes it stronger.” I had no actual proof of that but talking about my nightmare was how I earned a nice mountain vacation at Whitetail Mental Health.

“Ok. But did you ever think that maybe the thing is back because you’re not taking the meds?”

Jen, who was also sometimes Paige, was a good friend but she was completely batshit. She had personality disorders they hadn’t named yet and even she thought I was hallucinating. If I could choose between schizophrenia and nightly torment from some spawn of hell, I’d gladly choose the former and take my pills. I didn’t fit neatly into a category, and antipsychotic drugs couldn’t cure my problem. “I’m still taking the meds,” I lied.

“Whatever you say, Avery. We’d better go to sleep before Stay-Puffed Tina comes back.”

If I weren’t so depressed about my situation I would have laughed at that comment. I was tired but too afraid to close my eyes again.   I knew that I could only stay awake so long. Eventually, I would sleep and the nightmare would come for me. I lay awake and watched the small shadows of feet walking by our bedroom door until dawn.

***

The next morning I was roused from sleep when a white-hot beam of sunshine stabbed me in the face. I recoiled in horror as Nurse Gabby pulled back the curtains. I opened one eye to see that the wall clock read 7:00. I must have dozed off for an hour. A grunt of disapproval from the other side of the room confirmed Jen was also awake, and not happy about it.

Nurse Gabby was humming a Taylor Swift song and pulling back the curtains. “Good morning, sleepyheads. Breakfast in fifteen. Oh and Avery, you’ve got Dr. Pettigrew afterward.”

Great. As if the sun bouncing off theses obscene yellow walls isn’t enough to cause a headache. Whoever painted the bedroom walls canary yellow probably thought they were doing the residents a favor by using a cheerful color. People in mental institutions are often depressed, which in my opinion is even more reason not to surround us with the most garish wall paint imaginable.

I sat up and wiped sleep from my eyes. “I didn’t think I had a counseling session until Tuesday.”

“I’m not sure kid, just delivering the message. You’re supposed to report to her office right after breakfast. Oh and you may want to grab a shower first so there’s still some hot water!”

Nurse Gabby was the polar opposite of Titanic Tina. She was young, slender and hadn’t been in the mental health field long enough to become bitter. No one had told her most of her charges had no hope of improving and she treated them like they were regular people worthy of her respect.

“Thanks for reminding me.”

When she left I noticed the room was uncharacteristically quiet. By this time of day a chorus of mockingbirds are giving me their daily serenade.  I looked out the window and didn’t see a single bird. It’s still too early in the year for migration. Strange.

            “Hey you got anymore black eyeliner? I just hate the way my face looks without it.”

Obviously, Jen was still sleeping. Paige was the only one that ever wore eyeliner.

Origin of my Nightmare

Over the course of my life I’ve had numerous recurring dreams.  There’s the one about my teeth falling out, and the one about flying over a bridge in a car and sinking into the water below. There’s the one I’m scared to talk about…  I’m always in bed and a formless shape is above me holding me flat against my mattress rendering me totally unable to move.  Sometimes it makes sounds but most of the time there is no sound only the feeling that I’m in the presence of pure evil.

When I was younger and this happened, I would do what my mother told me to do and grab a bible to place under my pillow.  The only problem was that our house had no reasonable sized bibles that could fit comfortable under a pillow. It made for an awkward sleeping situation.  My mother admitted to me that she’d experienced something similar and that it was a demon trying to enter my mind.  She said that becoming closer to God angers them and they try to scare us into turning away.  Now that I’m in my thirties I have the ability to reflect on such sage advice with a healthy dose of “WTF?”  Why would anyone say that to their child?  I’m surprised I was ever able to sleep again after being informed that Satan was trying to take over my body!

I  recently returned to this topic because I’m thinking of using the basic premise in an entry for a short story contest I’m entering for Writers Digest. A quick internet search provided me with very rational answer.  Not so spectacular for my short story, but good for my sanity.  There is an actual scientific explanation for what happened and it proved that there was no evil spirit following me around my entire life waiting for me to go to sleep at night.  Not that I’d actually thought that was a possibility…

I came across an author called Ryan Hurd who has made a career out of understanding and controlling something called “isolated sleep paralysis.”   It is something he claims has plagued him for years and he was only able to control through dream study. He explains that during REM sleep your brain shuts off all motor function so your body can’t act out the dream your brain is experiencing.  This paralysis phenomena is called “atonia.”

Okay so that part made perfect sense to me, but what comes next is the somewhat scary part. Occasionally the brain can be a little sluggish with waking up the muscles causing a person to be awake yet unable to move for a short period of time.  In this strange place between sleep and awake Hurd goes on to say that hallucinations are often experienced. The dreamer will feel fully awake paralyzed and also sense an evil presence is in the room with them, ie witch demon, etc.The dreamer might experience a feeling of being held down or suffocated as well. This is so common it has even been given the name “witch-riding” or “hag.”  I once tried to describe these dreams to some close female friends at work who referred to it as “hags.”  I had never heard anyone else use that term until reading this article by Hurd.

Henri Fuseli's

Henri Fuseli’s “Nightmare” circa 1781

Apparently this phenomena has been going on for centuries and is in fact the origin of the word “nightmare,” which literally means “a crushing sensation at night.” I feel better now that I realize how many others have had this experience and that it is a well document feeling that people have experienced for hundreds of years. I wonder what my mom would say to that? I bet she’d still advise me to sleep with the light on and keep a bible nearby.

Hurd, R. (2010). Sleep Paralysis Treatment-Stop Feelings of Being Held Down at Night.  Web article.  Retrieved from http://dreamstudies.org.