Shaking, I turn off lights and lock doors, knowing that wood, brick, and drywall can only keep out some things. A half bottle of wine sits idly in my stomach, no more an immunization than the sleep aids. Already afraid, I steel myself with a hot shower and joyful memories. It’s going to be fine. It’s not real anyway.
The covers smell of clean laundry, pulled up to my nose as I rest my head against the pillow. Nine hours of sleep await me, an alarm eager to snap me from my rest. Nine hours, I remind myself, as I close my eyes. Nine hours.
I balance on the edge of dreaming. The first oddity is a sound, the whoosh of white noise. It’s loud, and reminds me of my daughter who sleeps in the next room. But there is no white noise, I remember, startling. My eyes meet darkness, then decipher shadows on the ceiling made by chargers and street lamps. Quiet returns. The noise is gone.
My eyes shut. Drifting, my mind begins to wander. I am staring at a guitar pick nestled in carpet, lost behind the couch. I wonder if it’s really there, the small plastic piece missing since earlier in the week. A dog with pink ears babbles and bobs, reciting the ABCs. The children’s toy dances in my dreams, flashing lights. Everything downshifts, the air sucked from my chest. I slip back into consciousness as the AC powers down, leaving the room silent, still. Along the top corner of the room, a black shape crawls, scurrying into my closet. I sit up, blinking.
Nothing moves. I account for all the shadows–the mirror in the corner, the dresser against the wall, the painting between the closets. Nothing moves. I check my phone; eight hours left until my alarm. Eight hours is still plenty of rest.
The talking wakes me a third time, low behind ambient carnival sounds. Lights color my ceiling, spinning a ferris wheel. Three of them stand in the doorway, watching. They murmur. Shaking, I stare. If I just stare long enough, they’ll disappear. Six and a half hours left.
They stand at the foot of my bed, undecided. One measures me with a laser beam, still unsure. I shoot up. We do not address each other, each of us waiting. They hold several moments, lasers trained on my chest. When they go, it’s not all at once. They are, until they are the mirror, the painting, the closet door. My chest is tight, panting. Six hours, ten minutes.
I dream of my family, a holiday of my youth. My uncle is making jokes, and everyone laughs. Someone sits next to me on the couch, but I can’t see their face. I gawk, realizing that I am sitting on the edge of my bed. Beside me, the figure remains. I hear others behind me, and snap my neck to find four more standing on the other side of the mattress. Black shadows, they move and speak, their words like the tune of summer frogs and cicadas in the trees. No, that’s the nature sounds. Okay, Google, play nature sounds, please. I’d asked, and Google had answered. When did I do that?
Okay, Google, volume two. The light beams in acceptance of my request, the sound of the forest dulling. I am sitting up.
A soft hand meets my arm, Daniel’s voice quiet. “It’s okay, you’re just dreaming.” I let him pull me back to my side of the bed, grateful for his compassionate treatment of my hallucinations. I close my eyes, and remember that Daniel is not home. I bolt up to an empty room.
Five hours and forty five minutes left.
I admit defeat. My phone casts my face in blue, Twitter noise and fluff attempting to calm my terrified mind. A gif of a Japanese boy band draws my interest, and in my fatigue, I watch them dance on repeat for who knows how long. The edges of my eyes are weary, blurring. I’m so tired. It’s nearing 3AM–the witching hour. I don’t believe anymore, but still I attempt to find rest before those myths abandon their perch in my memory. I push away my fear, reminding myself that hallucinations are harmless. They cannot hurt me.
I can’t even doze off before something grabs me. The ceiling dances with anime characters, bouncing like sprites from corner to corner. The shadow people stand next to my bed, staring up at them. “Is she ready to be loaded?” One asks. Another answers with words I can’t understand. Everything fades to black. It is 3:05. Almost five hours await me, if I can just fall asleep.
Ten times I am touched, a grip on my shoulder turning me over. I pull the covers over my head, lay on my stomach, curl up in a ball. They’re laughing now. It’s 4:25.
I abandon my post, summoning my dog from her roost in the living room. I beg her to follow, to take Daniel’s spot on his side of the bed. At first, her movement startles me, but soon her steady breaths soothe me into turbulent dreams. I wake to her heavy body curled beside me, and drift in and out.
The alarm chimes, slowly edging me from sleep to find the sun-bathed room warm and welcoming. Gone are the nightmares, normalcy nestled in their place. It wasn’t real, I remind myself in the bright light of dawn.
It wasn’t real.