Every Morning, I Wake Up Screaming
For the past few months, my mornings have been a cycle of terror. In that space between sleep and wakefulness, before conscious thought kicks in and control is back in my hands, I am gripped by all-encompassing fear and panic.
The cries that escape me aren't the exclamations of one startled or jolted, but of one in a broken state of illogical and primal dread, like an injured and cornered street-dog wailing and yelping in the dim hope that the sound might somehow dissuade its attacker.
It's difficult to bring to mind the memories of what runs through my mind during these spells. Like I said, it always occurs the instant I'm awakened. Actually, that might not be entirely accurate.
By the time I've found myself aware enough to understand what's happening, I'm already screaming. That same autopilot that causes you to breathe, to unconsciously toss and turn in your sleep, forces me into that last-ditch state. Screaming.
The screams scare me. The times a person gives their all in terms of making noise, of yelling, vocalising, are far and few between. Few sane people would ever just cry out at the top of their lungs, for fear of noise complaints or the police being called for suspicion of some kind of murder taking place. Hearing that full-fledged no-bars shrieking from my own mouth and my instincts continuing them to the point of a whimpering stutter, it leaves my chest tight and my heart racing. And like I said, I've gotten the noise complaints. I've had the police at my door.
The only reason I've not been evicted is because I know my landlord personally. He knows what I've been through.
I'm medicated. At first I was honest with the doctors and therapists I saw, but I was on track for getting locked up, so I started lying. I told them I couldn't sleep, that I was waking up in the middle of the night, but that's not true. I sleep as much as any regular person, it's just when I'm wakened that's the issue. How I'm wakened, I suppose. I've tried all kinds of sleeping pills to see if I can dull myself into shutting down that reaction, but after nearly dying from an overdose, I gave up on that idea.
Whatever this is, whatever the cause is, it must be on the same level as my breathing in how base, how core to my being it is. That scares me.
I'm not crazy. I function as well as any other average person when it comes to day-to-day life. I hold down a job, I pay my bills, I have friends. It's just the mornings, where I wake up screaming bloody-murder as if an air-raid siren has just gone off. The timing of it seems to fall in line with my circadian rhythm. When my panic is over and I check my phone, it's usually only twenty minutes or so till my alarm goes off.
I've always looked for patterns in it, I've researched REM sleep and sleep paralysis, and tried natural cures like meditating and scented candles, incense, but in spite of my best and most committed efforts, nothing changes... I don't want to consider anything drastic or illogical. Like I said, I'm not crazy.
I don't get used to it. Let me try to describe the process, a little slower and more meticulously. I get into bed. I fall asleep. I don't dream, or at least I don't remember the dream. My unconscious subconsciousness takes the wheel, and as is normal for a person, I have no memory from my time asleep. Then, all of a sudden, I'm thrust back into the driver's seat, but I'm already screaming. Screaming at the top of my lungs, the effort of it leaving my breath shallow like I'm suffocating, but I'm already scrambling too. I'm already panicked and fighting, my heart racing, and it takes me a good few seconds before I really have control, and finally stop. I'm left panting, still overwhelmed with a full-bodied dread, a fear of something...
People watch scary movies and play horror games because it's a controlled adrenaline. A 'fun' rush that makes you jump. What I experience, every morning, is terror. It's not 'fun'. It's horrid. More than anything, I want it to stop.
I woke up early last night. But I wasn't awake, not really. Looking back on it now, I can't even tell if it was a dream or not... What I experienced was as follows. My eyes opened. I was laid on my left side, facing the room, one hand resting in front of me on the mattress right at the edge of the bed, the other under the blanket.
I tried to shift to get more comfortable, but I was stuck. I've never experienced sleep paralysis before, but I knew well enough about it. Knowing didn't stop me from panicking, as a rush of terrifying stories came to mind I'd heard from friends and people online. I tried to suppress them as I sent commands to my hands, arms and legs, my body ignoring the will I pushed towards moving as my eyes locked forwards, open... and while I was in the midst of this personal turmoil, I saw it.
In the pitch darkness of my room, against the wall, was a shape. An outline, murky and black. I stared at it, my chest feeling cold as I tried to reason it away.
'This is exactly what they told me about. I just need to control my thoughts.'
Those were the words I told myself, trying to calm down, but then it started moving. The slow, methodical first step it took towards me was what gave it more definition. Its body was jagged in shape, like something malnourished and thin. It had been about five feet in height when it was stood against the wall, but as soon as it began moving, it stooped into a gradual slouch, like a predator moving low in the grass. It was painfully slow, creeping towards me while giving my frozen body every second I needed to absorb it.
From the lack of light, discerning anything about it was difficult, but the closer it came with those methodical yet bestial movements, the more I could see... thin arms, bent at the elbows into long wrists that ended in hands with spindly fingers that would ever-so-slowly flex, curling inwards but not quite into a fist, then stretching outwards again as if it were fantasising about getting something between them. Its back had a distinct curve from the way it was stood, leading up to a distended neck, then a head that was just a little too large.
Silent, creeping step after silent, creeping step, the thing drew closer to my bedside. All I could do was watch, praying in my imprisoned mind to whatever God would hear to let me wake up, to escape this paralysis and be rid of this torturous vision. Finally, it stopped, standing inches from where I lay.
It was so close I could hear a strained, labored breathing from within the core of its chest. Only now, with it this close did I realize its sheer size. If it were to stand up straight, I’m certain its bulbous head would reach the ceiling. The thing remained there, slowly rising from its crouched stance to loom over me, the sound of its rattling breath creaking like a ship at high sail. Those oversized hands, still slowly and obsessively grasping at air, rose and reached towards me. Whilst I was entirely unable to move, I still felt like I was shivering in fear, my vision blurring from tears of fear welling in my eyes.
I could feel them. I could feel the long, cold, wet fingers close over my shoulders as it took hold of me, its face coming nearer to mine. The thing smelt of blood and pus, foul and rotten... It took a long, slow inhale, and as it did its mouth opened, splitting across the lower center of its head with dripping lines of black, tar-like saliva that drooled down onto my bedsheets… and then it screamed. It screamed and began shaking me violently, throttling me as it shrieked and roared and wailed like the incarnation of every lunatic ever locked away, the sound so loud it should have burst my eardrums, the shaking so violent it should have broken my neck.
I woke up screaming. I screamed my throat hoarse, then I coughed and cried, sitting up in my bed. I kept wheezing, barely able to breathe, then felt my stomach rise. Too weak to move, I vomited there on my bed, a splatter of sheer red. Another few coughs and I collapsed back, blood and bile trickling down my pale cheek as I lay there in a daze, panting raggedly. My eyes lazily turned to the spot the apparition had appeared in before, the screaming, rasping shade. Nothing. Of course, nothing. No sign it had ever been there.
When my strength returned, I called off work and saw a doctor. I told her about what had happened that morning, which prompted her to run a number of tests. She put me through a lung function test, then a chest x-ray, then a blood test. The same day, they performed a biopsy.
A few hours ago, I was diagnosed with early onset lung cancer. Thanks to the near instant diagnosis, It’s treatable. I still have a life ahead of me.
That’s why now I’m grateful, in spite of the fear, the panic and the trauma, that every morning, I wake up screaming.
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