“I was paralyzed. It was as if I’d been duct taped to the mattress. All I could do was tilt my head up. I watched the shadow…thing, came out of the closet. It was a black, vapory figure like a man covered in smoke. I’m not religious, but it made me think of a dark spirit or soul, if that makes any sense. It didn’t actually walk, but glided, not like some cartoon ghost, but like…smoke or fog, rolling over the floor. It came close to me, then backed up, as if it was harassing me. And it held something in one hand, silvery, a knife, and then it showed it to me, like I was supposed to understand something.”
“Tim, relax. You’ve got yourself tied up into a knot.”
“No. Don’t be sorry. Remember we talked about that? It’s okay to say what you’re feeling. You should never apologize for that.”
“I have a hard time with that.”
A soft dusky glow filled Dr. Gwen Sebastian’s office as she and Tim Hathaway discussed his dream. “It sounds very much like sleep paralysis,” she said.
“It’s a condition that some people experience while falling asleep or waking up. It’s a dream state, but one that is more intense than your normal nightmare and often mistaken for an actual event. There are some researchers who think alien abduction stories are related to sleep paralysis. But anyway, the condition seems to produce very similar experiences. Incapacitating fear, a threatening shadow figure. Sometimes it’s a person who sits on your chest and restricts your breathing so you feel like you are suffocating. It’s been recorded for centuries.”
Tim leaned forward. “Really?”
“Does that make you feel better?”
“I guess it does. I mean, it seemed so real. You know? To learn that it’s an actual condition…yeah, that does make me feel better.”
“Let me ask you something. Have you suffered any kind of emotional trauma recently? Sometimes this will trigger sleep paralysis.”
“I’m in the middle of a very ugly divorce. We were only married three years, but it went downhill fast. Three year’s time and now we hate each other. All we do is argue. I’m having a difficult time handling the anger.” Tan, darkly handsome with a runner’s body, the twenty-five year old architect absently rubbed the back of his neck.
“Okay. Let’s talk about that at our next session.”
The traffic was heavy leaving Edina at 4:30. Tim wasn’t happy to see Elizabeth’s number show up on his phone.
“Yeah,” he exhaled.
“I’ve been asking you for a week to bring over the Buddha statue and my sister’s painting.”
“The Buddha statue is a big deal. Did you convert recently?”
“Why do you have to be such an asshole, Tim? It’s a simple request and we live ten minutes apart.”
“Saturday. I will bring everything over Saturday morning.”
Elizabeth disconnected and Tim dropped his phone onto the passenger’s seat as if it was burning his hand. “Fucking bitch,” he whispered.
As usual, the brief conversation with his soon-to-be ex-wife gurgled up like stomach acid throughout the evening. He’d never met anyone who could make him as mad as Elizabeth. She managed to find something buried deep in his subconscious that no one else had ever found, and push it and push it until he was raging with anger. It drove him to therapy. Even though they had been separated for six months, she was still an unwanted part of his life and the resentment flared like a severe allergic reaction every time they spoke. He poured a scotch around nine and watched part of an old Soprano’s episode before deciding sleep was the best way to forget.
The moment his eyes opened, the dark soul was hovering over him like a demonic surgeon examining a patient. There was a flash of silver and Tim watched a knife rise into the air, somehow attached to a dark appendage. Every muscle in his body clenched in terror as the knife came falling toward his abdomen, but it stopped at the last instant, and the smoke man seemed amused. Tim struggled, but was again unable to move at all. He’d never felt so helpless. The ephemeral being finally drifted away from the bed and dissolved through the door. Seconds, minutes, hours passed, still Tim could not move. His body shuddered when the shadow appeared again, only to return and become one with the darkness. Tim finally regained control of his muscles and ran to the bathroom, flipping on lights as he went, making it just in time to vomit in the toilet.
The first call from the office the next morning was to his therapist, begging for pills that would knock him out for the night. Not sleeping wasn’t an option. Tim’s partner in the firm, Grace Andersen, a tall, pale Nordic beauty who was the creative book end to his business skills, set a cup of coffee on his desk.
“You look like you need this,” she said, sliding into a nearby chair and crossing her long legs. “More nightmares or did you take my advice and ask Xena the Warrior Princess across the hall out?”
“Unfortunately it was nightmares. My therapist tells me it’s sleep paralysis. They’re dreams, but hyper real dreams where your body is paralyzed. Happened again last night.”
“Ick. Sorry. Are you up for the presentation this morning or should we reschedule?”
“No, I’ll be fine. Thanks for the coffee.”
Grace got up. “I’ll bet Xena could scare off your worst nightmare.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” said Tim, smiling for the first time that day.
The presentation went well although Grace did most of the heavy lifting. Feeling drained by the middle of the afternoon, Tim left early, picked up his sleeping pills from Target and headed home. The only fortunate result of the ongoing disputes with Elizabeth was that she moved in with her boyfriend shortly after the two split up and didn’t want the house. On the down side, the high mortgage payment for a Tudor cottage just a block from Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis was a shock to the pocketbook. Shoes off, coat on the floor, Tim took up residence on the couch in the living room with his laptop and a beer. Redditt, Boing Boing, Salon, American Architect, he clicked through his bookmarks finally stopping on one that caught his interest. The Star Tribune headline read, “Plymouth Couple Goes Missing.” The couple’s last name drew his attention. Lundgaard. It took him a moment of mental searching, but he remembered that Elizabeth’s boyfriend’s last name was Lundgaard. He scrolled down below the fold and there was a photo of Paul Lundgaard being interviewed. He called Elizabeth.
“Is it Paul’s parents?” he asked.
“Yes. He went over to see them this morning and they were just gone. Disappeared. The car’s there, their clothes are all there. The coffee pot was still warm.”
“That’s all I know.”
“I’m really sorry.”
The strain was evident in her voice. “Thank you.”
He stood next to the bed later than night, staring at the small white pill in his palm, silently enjoining it to work. He finally tossed it in his mouth and washed it down with water. Head on his pillow, reality melted away.
He awoke to see silvery blades of moonlight stabbing into the room between the closed blinds. Panic shivered through him as he realized he couldn’t move. The pill had not worked. There was movement to his right and then the dark soul appeared above him, holding the knife over his face, mocking him, gaining strength from his fear. His throat grew tight. Tim tried to close his eyes, but couldn’t. It’s control clearly established, the smoky image slowly dissipated.
The alarm went off at 6:30. Groggy, sludge running through his veins, Tim pulled himself out of bed, lumbered to the kitchen and turned on the coffee maker. On his way to the shower, he glanced at himself in the large mirror over the sink and came to a stop. Looking closer, there were several red blotches and smears on his face. It was blood. He inspected himself, his nose, but found no injury to account for it. The pillow was also smeared with red streaks. Visions of his dream returned and the knife floating over his face, and the realization was terrifying. Was he still dreaming? He was starting to question reality.
Slipping into the Saturday morning routine was slight relief. Coffee and a bagel for breakfast. After that, he pulled his laptop up onto the bed and began surfing. Almost reluctantly, he clicked on the Star Tribune site. His phone rang. It was Elizabeth and she was hysterical.
“Oh God, Tim. Please, I need you to come over.”
“Paul… he’s gone.”
Fifteen minutes later Tim turned the corner and saw several police cruisers parked in front of the Spanish style home. He parked as close as he could and approached the house. After getting past a uniformed officer, he finally found Elizabeth in the kitchen, sobbing and frightened. She threw her arms around him and clung like a vine.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” she cried.
He offered a comforting touch without being affectionate. “I’m so sorry. What happened?”
Realizing her emotions were clouding her reflexive resentment, she pulled away and sat on a stool, draping her body on the counter, sobbing as she tried to talk. “He went for his morning run, just like every day, but….” She started crying again.
From Elizabeth and a sympathetic detective, he learned that when Paul didn’t return from his run this morning, Elizabeth walked his usual route and found blood spatters on the trail and his water bottle along a wooded path near Lake Minnetonka. The man, however, had vanished. The police were not optimistic about his fate.
An hour later, a sedated Elizabeth sleeping, Tim walked past the ambulance and police cruisers toward his car, contemplating the impossible, that there was some kind of link between his dream of the dark soul and the disappearance of Paul and his parents. It was a ridiculous notion, and one he tried to brush aside, but like a stubborn gnat, it wouldn’t let him alone. That night he took two pills before bed.
Awake, paralyzed and furious, he struggled harder than he ever had to break the binding paralysis, but it was no use. The dark soul floated at the foot of the bed, bringing the knife blade down in arching, cutting motions as if he was demonstrating something. It had no discernable face, but he knew it was taunting him, and that something very bad was about to happen. When the entity finally left, he focused every electrical impulse, every synapse, every iota of energy in him toward breaking his invisible bondage. It was in his mind, he kept telling himself. There were no real ropes tying him down, no duct tape, no glue. Then, he felt the change happen. Energy started flowing through his body like an electrical current. In a moment he was able to swing an arm, then the other, then he realized his body was free from the frozen state that had held him captive. He sat on the edge of the bed examining his hands and arms, not entirely sure he was awake, yet amazed at how good it felt to be free.
There was a thud downstairs. The dark soul? At that moment, he turned the spigot and let his anger pore out and fill his body in preparation for interacting with the being that had tormented him night after night. He reached under the bed and grabbed his metal burglar bat. The rubber handle felt good, and he rapped the business end into his palm several times. It sounded good, too, that wet slap of solid material meeting flesh he’d heard so many times in fights as a kid. Fist meeting face. He hadn’t enjoyed the acrid taste of blood in his mouth for a very long time. Another vague noise. He turned toward the door with a sense of anticipation. Now that he could move, it was time to fight back and end the nightmare.
Down the stairs he crept, carefully placing his bare feet on the edges of the steps to avoid creaking. He moved cautiously through the dark rooms on the main floor, bat poised in striking position. As he neared the threshold to the kitchen, he caught a dark blur in his peripheral vision, near the door to the basement. Of course, he thought, lure me into your darkness. Before heading down, he went to the kitchen and found the flashlight under the sink. Filled more with anticipation than fear, he opened the basement door and started down. With each step he ran the light beam around the room like a nervous security guard. At the bottom, darkness enveloped him He swung the thin white beam around, cutting through the black until it reached the far end of the basement where it illuminated glimpses of a hellish human diorama.
Four battered and beaten bodies sat slumped in lawn chairs. His flashlight panned from one pale and bloodied face to another. Paul Lundgaard, Jerry and Sharon Lundgaard, and now, Elizabeth Hathaway were positioned in a semi circle together, resembling tired campers around the evening fire. On the floor in the middle of the grisly audience was a small stone Buddha. Oily black blood pooled below their feet. The close air reeked of human waste and decomposition.
Paralyzed once again, Tim inhaled the horror before him with each gasp, unable to speak, let alone scream. The shrill cry of approaching sirens grew louder and swirled around him like a slowly contracting spider’s web. It was then that he felt a stickiness between his fingers and turned the flashlight on himself. His hands, clothes and the end of the bat were covered in a thick red coating of still drying blood. Looking behind him, the light followed a trail of glistening red footprints to the spot where he now stood. The dark soul had returned.
If you liked this story, please check out other stories I've written at They're Only Shadows.