I used to hate the dark. For as long as I can remember I’ve suffered from sleep paralysis. An affliction that means the mind wakes up before the body. Leaving the sufferer fully aware of their surroundings but unable to move. I would wake up at night feeling like there was pressure on my body, unable to move my limbs or sit up. It started after my parents took away my night light because I was getting too old for such childish things. It was the thought of all those things that hid away in the darkness: the monster under the bed, the stranger on the landing and the creature in the cupboard. Each one waiting to drag my limp body away from the loving embrace of my family to some dark hole where it would feast on my young bones. What used to scare me the most was the noises. We lived in an old house back then. A squat terraced building in an old coal mining village in Wales. Like all old houses, there were sounds. I remember lying in bed at night, eyes wide open, unable to move and every creak and groan would send my imagination racing. I’d constantly tell myself that it was just the house settling on its foundations. I even looked up the science behind it on the internet, hoping that if I knew why it happen it would assuage my fears. Or that it was just my clumsy neighbours brushing the walls as they got into bed. It never worked though. My mind would still spiral off into a world of teeth and tentacles, of faceless ghosts that served as harbingers of the end of my young, fragile life.
I remember begging my parents to buy a cat for the family. Not for the company, but so I would have something legitimate to blame all the nocturnal noises I would hear. They never did though, my dad was extremely allergic to animal fur and would have a sneezing fit if he spent even thirty minutes in the company of one. So that was never going to be an option.
Then, for my 10th birthday, my parents deigned to buy me a computer. They thought it would help me do my schoolwork. It was an old battered thing, every time it powered up you could hear the motor of the fan arthritically jump into life. I loved it as much as it is possible for a little boy to love an inanimate object. I saw it not as a tool to further my education, but as an escape. I’d spend my nights bathed in its comforting glow. Watching YouTube videos and cartoons until I eventually fell asleep. Every time I heard a noise I would turn up the volume. Drowning out my fears and pushing the horrors back where they came from. I’d keep it at the end of my bed. If I woke up during the night, once I regained control of my body, I could immediately wake it up from sleep mode and start my ritual anew.
There’s one night that stands out to me from that time. I remember waking up, body paralysed. I remember the familiar feeling of pressure on my arms and chest. The feeling that my body was wrapped in cotton wool. And the noises, they too were different. The thumps I usually heard were always muffled. Somehow distant, but the one I heard sounded so much closer. I heard the sound of air. Not the usual susurrus of the wind moving the trees outside or the whistle of it forcing its way through the cracks in the window frames. This was a long, wet exhalation. I could feel the draught of it on my feet. I wanted to scream but my muscles still wouldn’t respond. My eyes widened and I heard the creak of floorboards as something moved. Suddenly the pressure on my chest increased. I felt pinpricks of pain across my ribs. As if someone was performing some torturous form of acupuncture on my young body. My foot jerked spasmodically and kicked against my computer mouse at the end of my bed. The familiar whirr began, the room was awash with pale blue light and, as the start-up sound played. I found myself looking into a pair of huge milky eyes.
I still suffer from sleep paralysis. I still wake up with that feeling in my chest, feeling that breath on my feet. Even as an adult, and I think I always will.
I don’t hate the dark anymore. I hate the light that illuminates it. The light that confirms your fears.