"The Nightmare," by Henry Fuseli

Paralyzed

“Paralyzed” depicts a little girl’s first experience with sleep paralysis and how forced religion manifests in her hallucinations. The goal of this piece is to bring awareness to sleep paralysis and the odd ways it may reveal itself. Many who suffer from sleep paralysis are not even aware of the condition until they are well into adulthood, causing them to believe there could be something inherently wrong with their psyche.

Eyelids closing, you hear a faint buzzing sound,

      but then it grows until it’s deafening.

           The persistent whir, a battering ram against the insides of your skull.

                Your fingers twitch, as your REM cycle becomes disrupted.

                     Without warning, flames appear.

                          They caress your body, devouring the air in your lungs.

                               You can’t escape—you’re paralyzed.

                                    You’re certain the world is ending.

                                         Beyond the fire,

                                              within the shadows,

                                                   the devil looms.

                                                   He looms.

                                              He looms.

                                         He looms.

                          But he’s just there to watch.

                     To consume your fear.

           Your terror makes him stronger.

      You can’t help but feed him.

You know it’s the devil because you continuously make excuses not to go to church.

God’s holy ground makes you squirm.

You loathe it.

On Saturdays you plot your escape, because every Sunday your grandmother requests your attendance at church. The morning of, you tell your tired mother that you’re sick. Sometimes, you even go as far as to steal the thermometer from the medicine cabinet. You vigilantly place the instrument against the lightbulb of the lamp until it reaches the perfect number of 102°F.

Most of the time you win, and triumphantly saunter back to bed until your mother forgets that you’re ill. When you lose, when your mother has lost all patience, and just wants to be rid of the burden of her troublesome daughter—you find yourself stuck in a pew singing the Lord’s gospel. Your grandmother smiles happily with a red hymnal clutched in her withered hands.

You think of this as you’re wrapped in flames. You know you’re being punished for all the times you cursed god while sitting in Sunday school. The devil has come to collect your soul, and even though life has been cruel—you beg for him to go away. You scream with everything you have. You try to move, to thrash wildly, but your limbs are frozen. You don’t understand this vision of the world ending or why you’re the one who has to witness it.

Photo by Donovan Reeves on Unsplash

Miraculously, the buzzing stops, and you find yourself on top the antique bed, buried within The Little Mermaid sheets that you share with your younger sister. Your heart is racing when you realize the devil is real and that you should’ve been praying all along. Trembling, you glance at the digital clock on the nightstand—it reads 3:00 a.m., the witching hour.

As the wind howls outside, you worry that a storm is coming, the deadly type. Spring isn’t kind to Oklahoma, the collision of hot and cold bringing tempestuous gusts that make even the sturdiest of buildings fall. You peek over the rumpled bedspread and stare out the window that your father hasn’t bought curtains yet to cover. Through the glass, a tree’s branches whip back and forth, scratching the pane like an arachnid monster. You cower, fearing the devil will come again if you close your eyes.

You roll over and face your sister instead. Her angelic face is caught in sleep and her crown of dark curls cascades over Sebastian’s crustacean legs. You’re envious of her peaceful oblivion but scared as well, so you reach for her shoulder and shake it.

You whisper, “Play Mario Kart with me.”

She blinks groggily but doesn’t complain at being woken up.

Soon you are both racing along the rainbow bridge. The faint glow of the box tv highlights the faces of the porcelain dolls that your mother forces you to keep. You stare back at them as they watch you—they make your skin crawl. In the game, you hit a banana and your kart spins out of control because you weren’t paying attention. Your sister laughs, but she doesn’t see how the controller shakes in your hand.  

The sound of squealing makes you jump, but it’s just the door opening, its hinges rusted.

“What are ya’ll doin’ up!” Your father barks. He’s angry because you have school the next day and he caught you up past your bedtime.

You tell him that you’re scared of the dark, but he doesn’t believe you.

When you’re forced back to bed, he threatens to take away the Nintendo 64 forever. He thinks you’re crying over the console; he doesn’t know you barely escaped getting your soul stolen only moments ago.

Your sister falls back to sleep quickly, and you watch the popcorn ceiling above, the cracks stretch wide like canyon gulfs—as does your fear. You look for a distraction, anything to keep you from sleep, to evade the beasts that wait in the confines of your closet.

You notice loose threads on the sheets. You pick at the frayed strings of Ariel’s hair, and count how many stiches you unravel. Time stretches, and you know you’ll be safe if you last until sunrise.

But you’re little and begin to lose track of the red fibers. Your fingers slow their movement as your eyelids become heavy. You twitch when the buzzing begins anew. Flames dance around your bed and you watch as civilization crumbles. You look to the side and find the devil standing beside you. He was waiting all this time.

And then.

            All over again.

                        You become paralyzed.


W.B. Clark is a new writer and digital artist living in the D.C. area. She is currently working on her debut novel, Giving Up Elysium, to be completed by the end of 2020. W.B. Clark’s niche is dark fantasy, but she also likes to explore inner transformation as well as women empowerment in her poetry.

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