‘Paralysed in fear’, a phrase I’ve heard my mother say a lot when describing the fight or flight response. Basically, when you’re presented with a situation that induces fear, you will naturally want to fight or run. I was the latter in a sense and often found myself unable to move. At first I thought this would only happen in ‘real’ situations such as a fight in the school yard, witnessing something violent or anything that would require me to run. I never thought that they fear would spread to my sleep aswell.
Feeling the sensation of total awareness and complete lack of control is something indescribable. Your brain screams at you, almost deafeningly, to protect yourself but when you try to move – you can’t. Your body, once so fluid, suddenly seems like lead. You know in the far corners of your mind that this is simply a nightmare but, in the moment, this is your reality. The furniture that once seemed so familiar is now strange, frightening and intimidating. All of the research I have done suggests that this should only happen for a few seconds, minutes max, and generally when I am just waking up but it isn’t the case for me. My nightmares become a reality and the only way to beat them is to face them. Simple – in theory. Think of your deepest, darkest fears. The sinister, dark stuff that you force to the deepest space of your mind in the hope that it doesn’t emerge. Got it? Now think about if you would really want to face that every night! Could you?
They say that nightmares is your self concious dealing with your fears or current problems – my world is clearly full of issues that I never knew I had. Institutions, asylums, rooms and torture are all common occurrences. I’m almost becoming used to them – almost.
The strange thing is the woman that never changes. Her clothes do; she has been a nurse, teacher, witch and even an executioner once but she never changes. On the outside she looks perfectly normal – pretty even – but there’s something I just can’t quite put my finger on. Her emerald green eyes are less like jewels and more like the murky sea glass you’d find on the beach. Mesmerising for all the wrong reasons. They stare into me, forcing a chill so cold that I can feel my heart struggle to beat as the arteries feeding it freeze internally. in the silence, I can hear the crisp crunching sound as my body, once so warm, becomes stiff and my breathing laboured. I try to look away but my unblinking eyes are stuck on hers.
She steps towards me; slowly and deliberately. Each ‘click’ of her heels not making the traditional sound but rather emulating the crunching of bones as searing pain rips through my body. She was making my bones crack one by one. Never the major bones; the femur, skull and hip – all that could be fatal were left alone. I’m unsure why, maybe she thought that the pain would be enough to make me scream and wake up. If I am awake then her fun is over. Its not like I could scream anyway – that requires your lungs to be full of oxygen. Something that the penetrating eyes of my visitor prevents.
The pain in my chest intensifies as my heart rate quickens. Her long, perfectly manicured nails run over my skin – gently it seems. Temporarily I am please for the warmth that my pouring blood provides. I’m surprised that my blood can flow so easily – I was so sure it had been replaced with ice.
I force my focus onto my feet, all the while keeping eye contact with her so not to raise any suspicions. I will my big toe to move, just slightly. Anything to show that this nightmare would end. How could Ezra, who was sleeping soundly beside me, not see of hear anything. The woman stood by my side, her smile revealing the scariest part of all – she was enjoying this. Reading this confession, you might wonder why I don’t just face her and stop this recurring dream. That’s the frustrating part. She has never asked me anything, done anything that has given me even the smallest implication of what fear this might be. At first I thought it may have been a residual memory of the bullying I’d experienced at school but that was years ago and therapy had resolved any issues that I may have had. This seemed to just be a nightmare that wouldn’t fade.
She had cut me with her nails until there was hardly an inch of my body without blood exposed. The thought that there would be no marks left to prove my story, that it’d just be passed off as simply another nightmare, was almost enough to make me stop fighting. To let the woman win and make the nightmares stop. However, I’m a coward and the prospect of more unknown torture kept me fighting. I knew what was coming next, it happened every night, she’d now try to strangle me.
I willed my foot to move, the effort itself exhausting me. I felt her hands close around my neck, gently at first, before tightening. I couldn’t do anything to stop her. I just had to let it happen. Its a strange sensation, knowing that you are dying but also that you can’t save yourself. My fight response, something I never thought I had, kicked in and I focused solely on my foot – ignoring what was happening. The icy feeling in my chest was replaced with a slow burning sensation that spread as my vital organs gave one last push for survival. The corner of my vision blurred like I’d had to much to drink. If I had, this whole thing would probably be easier. The blurry image started to fade as the darkness threatened to envelope me. Then, I felt it. My toe moved.
Just an inch but it was enough – perfect! It was over – well almost – I just had to push a little harder to make all of my toes wiggle and then it’d truly be finished. With all the energy I could muster, I made my foot move and instantly felt the blast of cold air signifying my struggle was over. I lay for a minute, my eyes closed, allowing air into my lungs. I’d never appreciated oxygen more – swearing to myself that I wouldn’t take it for granted again as my lungs burned in response. I eventually sat upright and switched on my bedside lamp, ignoring the overwhelming urge to shake Ezra awake and shout at him for letting me go through that alone. It would be silly, he didn’t even know it had happened. I let my eyes adjust to the room and my furniture come into focus. My mouth and throat was dry and I struggled to peel my lips apart. Swinging my legs over the edge of the bed, I carefully put my feet on the ground and touch the carpet below. I curled my toes to anchor myself to reality.
Sighing, I moved to the bedroom door, telling myself that I was stupid for allowing goosebumps to spread over my arms, neck and legs. It was a nightmare and it was over. Nothing was behind the door. I repeatedly told myself, hoping that if I said it enough that it would be true. Clutching the door handle, I pulled open the door slowly and held my breath. As the door opened, I looked out at the hallway that I was so familiar with and let out a long, deep breath as my body relaxed Walking to the top of the stairs, I turned the light on. Nothing happens when there is light. I had walked down just three steps when I saw it. A perfectly manicured hand curling around the banister closest to the kitchen. I stood still, my breath caught in my throat.
‘Mum’ I called. The name barely coming out as fear overwhelmed me.
‘Not quite’ replied the woman as the familiar clicking of heels brought those piercing green eyes level with mine…