I lay on my back, in the dark. I waited for sleep to come. It didn’t.
I checked the clock again. 1:52 flashed up in the darkness, replaced, as I watched it, by 1:53.
I closed my eyes again, and turned over onto my side. I thought about the day ahead, and the day I’d already had. I tried counting sheep, although that had never worked for me. One sheep, two sheep, three sheep… they started to disobey me, refusing to jump over their little fence. The world tipped to one side and the sheep, baaing, were gently poured away from me.
I tried to right my disobedient mind, to force the sheep over their fence. Instead, there came unbidden to my mind a creature.
It loomed over my bed, white and fluffy like a sheep, but disconcertingly human in shape. Beneath what I thought must be its face, a never-ending hole gaped wide.
I tensed up. I knew it was ridiculous, but the creature seemed so incredibly real. My mind was yelling at me that this monster was real, was standing right next to me. I screwed my eyes up tightly. This was stupid. I just wanted to sleep. I was so very tired – exhausted, really. I should just drift off… and go… to sleep.
It’s going to kill you. It’s standing over your bed right now.
Fine, I thought, I’ll take a look. And then I’ll know that it’s not there.
I rolled over to the side of the bed where I thought – I knew – the monster would be. I opened my eyes. It was pitch black, but if I strained my eyes hard enough in the darkness there did seem to be a shape – just there.
That’s just my shirt from today, I thought. Part of me thought, anyway. The rest of me was just paralyzed in irrational fear.
Maybe if I go to sleep, it’ll be gone in the morning.
No. It will kill you long before then. And it will be the most horrific way to die. You can’t escape this by sleep.
I remained in my bed, frozen there in fear and indecision. Eventually, pushed by the need to know, as well as a certain feeling that monsters definitely didn’t exist, I turned on the light. It was clearly only going to be my imagination.
But, again, it wasn’t. It was there, this strange, disturbing woolly creature, looming tall over my bed. The gap beneath its chin seemed the most terrible thing I had ever seen. I knew that it would eat me, and that it would only eat the part of me that was alive, that knew happiness and sorrow. The rest of me – the parts that others see and talk to – those parts would remain. Nobody would ever know I had died.
What can I do? I asked myself. How can I escape this?
That’s quite simple. If it can’t see you, then you’ll be safe.
I glanced up at the creature. It was staring directly ahead, its gaze focussed several feet above my bed. As soon as I looked up at it, it began to slowly lower its head to look down at me. Childishly, I hid myself under my blankets, curling up in a ball so that nothing could possibly be seen My heart was hammering in my chest, and I was sweating heavily. I hoped I was right about the creature.
I don’t know how long I lay there. It was too hot under the duvet, and I was incredibly tired. Despite my fear, I kept finding myself slowly nodding down into sleep. I forced myself awake. If I fell asleep, I knew, I might roll out of my cocoon, and then the monster would see me.
How long had I been under here? An hour? Two hours? I wondered how long the monster would wait until it got bored and wandered off.
I had to find out what the time was, at least.
I shifted aside my duvet, just a little, so I could catch a glimpse of my alarm clock. It was light – the sun had begun to rise. The clock read 6:02. I cautiously looked a little further out from my shelter. I couldn’t see my monster, any curiously woolly legs there. I held my breath, and pulled the blankets completely aside. The monster had gone.
I breathed a deep, deep sigh of relief. I wasn’t going to die! I had made it.
Work that day was difficult. I hadn’t had any sleep at all, and the cups of coffee I was constantly sipping didn’t seem to make any difference. I was also jumping at shadows.
Eventually one of my co-workers came to have a word with me.
“What on earth’s the matter?” he asked, when he finally got my attention. I had been drifting off over my computer.
When I told him, expecting him to be shocked or possibly unbelieving, he laughed.
“Oh, is that all?” he asked. “Yeah, I had one a bit like that last year. Not the whole woolly thing, that’s definitely weird, but definitely the whole standing over me, waiting to see me before it kills me. It’s pretty standard.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked. “It wasn’t a dream, Nick. It was real. I was definitely awake, I kept pinching myself. I nearly died, Nick.”
He gave me a serious look. “Are you telling me this has never happened to you before?”
“Of course not.”
He laid a reassuring hand on my shoulder. “It happens to everyone, champ. Did your parents never give you the talk?” I shook my head. “Jesus.” It came as a sigh. He sank down into a crouch, and looked into my eyes. “Look. You have to make sure that you keep that kind of… limitation in your imaginations. Like, they can’t kill you unless they see you. Do you get what I mean? It’s very important. They have to obey your rules, you see, but you have to believe in those rules. And they’ll always be gone by sunset.” He laughed. “I don’t believe this hasn’t happened to you before! I had my first one when I was four years old.”
“But why did nobody tell me about this?” I asked. “I mean, if it happens to people all the time, why haven’t I heard about other people’s… nightmares?”
“Well…” he shifted. “It’s just a bit embarrassing, you know. It’s just not something people like to discuss. It’s not done. Ok, back to the talk. And this is the last I’d like to say about it, you understand? You just have to clear your head before you sleep. It probably won’t be hard for you, you obviously don’t have much of an imagination.” I got the impression he was laughing at me.
That night, I tried to do what Nick had advised. I cleared my mind, and waited for sleep to come.
Last night wasn’t too bad, though. At least I didn’t imagine myself covered in a swarm of poisonous spiders.
And then I felt them.