With my body curved into a tightly-knit ball, I tugged hard at my bed sheet, trying desperately to cover more of my head without covering it entirely. I needed a slight breathing space for my nose and a tiny slit for part of one of my eyes to see through… just in case. It was a typically hot summer’s night – 30C – and whereas everyone else in the household slept uncovered with the fans on, I could not. I smouldered under the confines of my self-imposed cotton torture chamber.
This is ridiculous! At least uncover your head, for goodness’s sake!
I was thirteen years old and we had just moved into the modern split-level house on the East Coast. The removal from the ‘burbs was to afford us a better standard of life, conceded my parents, but so far there was nothing great about living in this particular house. Mine was the top-most bedroom. It had wonderful views of the bay and forests in the distance, a sunny disposition in the day, and mind-crippling noises in the night – every night.
All I wanted was to fall asleep but all I got was the creepy skin-crawling feeling that someone was watching me from the corner near the door. A thin sheet was not going to save me – definitely – but it was all the available protection I had. I had struggled with the dark for as long as I could remember and bothering my parents at this age every night just wasn’t going to cut it anymore.
Tonight was no exception. I lay there, scrunched, sweating, slightly hyperventilating… my heart beating at about a million miles an hour. Every noise I heard was an extreme exaggeration of reality – I knew this but still the covers remained firmly fixed to my forehead. Suddenly I felt it.
Right in the middle of my back, in that place that’s just out of reach, is where the bothersome fixation had decided to manifest. I had two options: I could disappear completely under my covers, contort myself into a shape offering the best chance of reach and relief; or I could de-cloak, do the same but risk exposing my position to any available invisible enemy. At the time, this was a very real conundrum for me and meanwhile, I got hotter and the itch became more insistent.
But why? I found myself quietly crying into the night. Why would the Universe plague the same person with the fear of the dark AND an itch that needed immediate scratching on pain of fainting? Maybe it was my tiredness or maybe it was the heat, but I swear that the itch took on a persona of its own and I began to see it as a cricket on my back. Why would a cricket be on my back? How did it get in? If it got in, what else could have crawled in as well? By this stage, I began to imagine a whole swarm of insects sharing my bed and taking refuge all over my body. I had visions of being found dead in the morning by my mother, covered in unexplainable bites. And that was it!
I flung, but mostly peeled, the covers from my sweat-soaked form, performed an amazing half twist in mid-air (my memory may be a little sketchy here), scratched the living heck out of the offensive little thing, and then landed flat on my back, vindicated. I felt the familiar rush of relief wash over me and it was the best feeling in the world. I lay there smiling stupidly for a couple of minutes before recollection was restored and I realised I was…
I immediately scrambled to my knees and made to dive back under my covers quick-as-a-flash, but the damage was already done. I had ventured a furtive peek towards the door and suddenly the ‘feeling that someone was watching me from the corner’ came crashing back into my psyche in a new-and-improved silhouette version of its previous self. I paused, half tangled in my covers and had another look. The silhouette had not moved.
So what are we looking at here?
I really tried hard to be reasonable and salvage the last vestiges of my sanity right there and then, offering all manner of explanations. But there wasn’t one. Because there was no logical explanation why I would look up at my door in the complete darkness and see a shadow that was darker than darkness itself. A humanoid shadow. I had to take another look; a third look… possibly my final look. I knew this but curiosity killed the cat and all that – it had to be done.
I mustered together the final fragments of what was left of my crumbling, non-existent courage and defiantly looked up at the door. The shadow was there for the third time, dutifully. At least it was consistent. I sat there, teetering on the edge of a total meltdown and an unprecedented need to know more. I studied the figure not five feet before me (and a little to the left). Our ceilings were 8 feet and the shadow stood at least 7-foot tall. It donned what looked like a long cloak of sorts, like you’d imagine a monk might wear, the hands obscured, presumably up its sleeves. Still, no movement.
I’m not saying something!
I came to realise that I was arguing with myself over something that may have been a simple figment of my imagination. I must be tired. Should I approach it? Let’s not go there. I blinked a few times, pinched my arm. I was definitely awake. I inched towards the right of my bed and poked the curtain. Light rippled across the room from the outside street lights. On hitting the shadow, the most curious thing happened. It wasn’t affected. I was expecting the light to interrupt the composition of the shadow but if anything, the light was engulfed by it. Did that make it a good or a bad shadow? If it was a bad shadow and I threw something at it – because… come on, I was never going to approach it myself – would I be made to feel the full force of its dark wrath?
I looked at the floor around my bed, stealthily, mind; I didn’t want the shadow to think for a moment that I didn’t have my eye on it! I found an old purple and black striped sock. That would have to do. I swiped it up in my hand and fumbled it into a ball. Under-arm or over-arm? I decided to keep it civil; an over arm lob would surely signal an act of hostility on my part. I aimed for where I presumed the arms would be and let fly.
What happened next defied all sense of logic. Everything I’d learnt at school went out the window and all I was left with was the realisation that this was no ordinary shadow. The sock sailed right through the shadow and disappeared at the point where I expected it to impact the door.
I was trapped! I couldn’t escape through the door because, thanks to my little science experiment, I’d established that solid things got lost in the void that was the shadow. My windows opened via a roller system but didn’t open far enough for me to escape that way. But even if I did manage it, I would then be trapped on a more-or-less four-storey roof with no way of getting down. I was paralysed with fear enough that when I opened my mouth to shout for my mother, nothing but a dry croak came out.
The formerly-still shadow chose that moment to move. It lifted a seemingly accusatory finger towards me and I froze. I kept running through my mind that this was just a dream and that I would wake up at any moment. But I didn’t wake up because this wasn’t a dream.
I was past panic and was so scared that I suddenly caught myself wondering why I was actually scared! I relaxed, somewhat, took a deep breath and sat cross-legged on the bed. I looked up at the shadow that had moved back into its ordinary place in front of the door. I lifted my arm slowly… and waved. Suddenly I felt a wave of dizziness hit me and felt the unusual sensation of falling back in slow motion. As I fell, my eyes closed slightly but I could still make out a series of shapes that began manifesting around me. I forced my eyes wide open to see… clouds!
I was so confused and so tired. I wasn’t scared anymore and figured that if the shadow wanted to hurt me it would have done so already. Overwhelmed and over-tired, I blacked out.
Nine years later, I was married and living on the North Coast, ten hours away from my parents’. It was a warm and windy day and I took the opportunity to put a load of washing on. I had almost finished taking everything off the line when a sudden gust rose to swing a bed sheet into my face. Startled, I swung my arms out, grabbed the sheet and inadvertently tripped over my feet. I landed in a heap, surrounded by all the washing I’d just brought down with me. I harrumphed and looked up at what should have been an empty clothes line… except it wasn’t.
There, hanging on its own, barely disturbed by the flapping wind was an old purple and black striped sock.