Back when we were six, my brother developed a notorious sleepwalking habit among his various other disorders. So much so that dad child proofed the doors to our room and closet (after an unfortunate pissing incident involving a soiled pile of clothes) so that when we were awake, we could leave, but asleep, no dice. It was one of those plastic coverings that you had to squeeze and turn simultaneously, y’know, the ones that are impossible for anybody under the age of 18 to possibly hope to open due to the sheer amount of pressure it took to turn the knob. I’m being facetious now, but I really hated that child proof bullshit.
But, due to his sleepwalking, he was kept on the bottom bunk.
Some nights, he’d wake up and try to leave the room, tugging on the door and only succeeding in making an unnecessary amount of racket, only to fall back asleep at the foot of the door after his failure. Before the child proof door, there were only a select few places he’d go, but it became a game of hide and seek with him. I found him inside the toy box once, and I just remember thinking… “how did he even fit himself in there?”
When these incidents happened – and that was at least three times a week – I took it upon myself to get him safely back in his bed when I actually caught him, so long as he didn’t wander past the stairs, which thankfully now wasn’t very possible.
I hated the stairs. Well, not so much the stairs as the hallway that my room was at the end of leading to the stairs around the corner. That place was hellish at night.
Yes, I was terrified of the dark. More so of my own wild imagination spurring the darkness to life with monstrous intents. I was sure we were plagued with a closet residing boogie man or a homicidal shadow dweller, maybe even the neighborhood serial killer. My father, God bless the man, every night before bed, he’d open the closet door, reach up and pull the dangling string to turn the light bulb on, – the switch had shorted on our sixth birthday- and search the closet for my own reassurance. Sometimes, he’d even make a show of it and enter with a baseball bat or a plastic gun, threatening the monster hiding in there. Every time he did it, there was nothing in that closet.
There never was.
My brother wasn’t afraid of the closet like I was. On the lower bunk, sometimes he’d climb the ladder and sleep with me after I’d been sitting up and staring at the closet for what seemed like hours. It was like my fear woke him up.
They say twins have inexplicable bonds.
I always had this strange sensation like I was being watched, or perhaps the feeling of knowing someone’s talking about you… I knew I held something’s attention. And that thought kept me up in such discomfort for what seemed like hours. In reality I probably had the attention span to stay up thinking for half an hour before succumbing to sleep. And stranger still, it wasn’t every night.
In hindsight, that made me feel uneasy. If a child is afraid of the dark, weren’t they afraid of it every night? Don’t get me wrong, I feared the dark, but obviously I was safe under the covers. Most nights, it was merely a childish fear. And some nights, that fear evolved into uneasiness I can’t explain… like violation of my privacy. And no amount of blankets made me feel better.
Something was there. And it was watching. I knew it was. I always expected to see a pair of glowing eyes behind the blinds of the closet door. But I never did.
One night in particular stayed in my memory all the way into adulthood.
The first detail that’s strange in hindsight is that I was already asleep. Something woke me up, not violently, but suddenly. And I still have no idea what.
There was this cold that had settled on the room. And not like a winter cold that could freeze water, but this stale, stiff cold – like an abandoned house.
The same stillness and cold I would feel several years later when grandmother died in her hospital bed and how her skin felt just minutes afterward.
And a smell wafted through the air like really burnt steaks and rotten trash cans.
I grimaced and said groggily “Geeze, did you fart?” Waving my hand in front of my face.
There was no reply, so I dangled my head over the edge to peer at the lower bunk. Not surprisingly, he wasn’t in his bed.
Illuminated dinosaurs chasing each other endlessly around our room projected from our spinning night lamp was the only source of light – a disco ball of dinosaurs if you will. I traced them around the room to find it empty with the exception of me.
I knew that wasn’t true.
Climbing down the ladder, my feet slapped against the wood floor sending an uncomfortable shock of cold up my legs.
As I turned, the room seemed to widen. It was the moment that makes children gulp in uncertainty. The sudden loss of familiarity. I was in my room, but I felt uncomfortable, the same discomfort when you stare off of a cliff, knowing that one false step and you will die. Completely exposed.
But I trudged on, searching for my misplaced sibling.
He wasn’t on the floor in front of the door, he wasn’t on top or inside of our toy box… I dropped to my knees to find the space under the bed empty. Was it possible he somehow got out of the room?
When he used to leave the room, there were three places he typically was. The hallway bathroom – notably curled up in the corner between the vanity and toilet, in dad’s old red chair in the upstairs living room right down the hall and to the left, or somewhere downstairs, a place I dare not tread in the darkness alone.
I padded to the door and squeezed the plastic covered door knob with both hands, struggled with the damn thing for a moment and pulled it open. I was greeted with pitch blackness. The dark hallway now looming ominously in front of me. There were no windows, the only source of moonlight would be around the corner where a window was beside the staircase.
The hallway wasn’t just dark, of course not. It was never that easy. No, it had to be pitch black.
It made me even more uncomfortable, staring out into that blackness with my pulse steadily rising, I could hear my heart beating in my ears. Anything could be out in that darkness.
I felt like I’d see a pair of eyes staring back at me.
Whatever was in that darkness had no eyes, or at least, they didn’t glow like in the movies.
But I jumped at the sight of a long, black shadow cast from behind me, freezing in terror as it disappeared.
It happened again, casting my shadow across the hallway’s floor.
The nightlight on our dresser that cast dinosaurs the walls of our room, and now out in the hallway.
On the bright side, I had a source of light now.
I was transfixed, staring out into the dark hallway as it lit up with the distorted dinosaur.
I looked down, my toes were barely behind the baseboard that separated the wood flooring from the carpeted hallway. Before I crossed that line, I needed to make sure there was nothing hiding in that darkness.
Anything could hide in shadows that black.
The dim light flashed from behind me
My eyes caught something unnatural… I could’ve sworn someone was pressed against the wall at the end of the hallway to the right, like they wanted to plaster their back to the wall. It didn’t really register until the light had already passed.
I gulped, my body tensed uncomfortably, eyes locked on the darkness where that person had been standing. In this darkness, they could’ve moved wherever it saw fit to move. It could be five feet in front of me for all I knew.
With that thought I was dreading the next pass of light. Did I really want to see this thing?
Before I could even answer myself, the light passed over again, and the shadowy figure remained, unmoved.
Because it was the shadow of the open bathroom door resting door knob length away from the wall.
Just my imagination.
I released a shaky breath, satisfied that the hallway was empty, and lifted my foot, slowly, unsteadily crossing my perceived line of safety out into the unprotected blackness of my house made foreign by the nighttime.
My toes curled into the carpet, tensed like the rest of my body like I was holding onto the railing on a roller coaster.
The light passed by again, and I kept my eyes peeled, stopping my movement completely as it did, just for safety. If I could just get to the bathroom, I could turn on the light.
The hallway light was beyond the bathroom, so that was out of the question.
I had to be brave. I traversed the darkness, taking long steps on my tippy toes just to stay quiet in case something were actually in that darkness. My whole body would stiffen when the light passed behind my back only to continue and try and cover as much distance as possible while I was still hidden by the shadows.
The whole time I had that feeling of being completely exposed in this hallway, as if I were actually being hunted. I kept thinking; what if I’d missed something and now whatever it was was in the hallway moved behind me.
I dare not turn. I pictured a vile creature staring right into the back of my head, breathing down the back of my neck. If I turned, I’d only be greeted by sickly, glowing eyes and a wicked smile.
So I didn’t.
But finally, I made it to the bathroom without incident, but my joy was short lived as I peered into the pitch blackness that was the bathroom. And this time, there was no dim light to chase away the shadows. If only for the brief moment.
The light switch was on the left inside, right above the counter and under the medicine cabinet. I had to tippie toe to reach it.
I gulped down my fear. Now or never. I strode inside with purpose and ignored the chill of having my back exposed yet again but to a completely unknown abyss.
Even then, I couldn’t shake the feeling th