I stood in front of the tiny sink and mirror, consistently and accidentally flicking food stuffs from my teeth with the floss. I should have wiped the mirror right then and there, but instead, I only went on to the tooth brushing. I wrapped my fingers around the edges of the miniature sink and stared hard into the sleepless girl in front of me. After studying the blemishes that covered my face and taking the time to make sure I had convinced myself that the imperfections could possibly be seen as beautiful if I were to meet the right person, I splashed my face with cold water and cheap soap. I watched the dirty water flow down into the drain. How dirty could just one day make our faces? I turned off the faucet.
Regretfully, I had completed all of my end of the day rituals. I couldn't stall for much longer. I walked across the living room in my lacy blue floral-patterned underwear and a tank top the color of a fresh flour tortilla. It was only a light tan shirt, but it burned bright in contrast to my dark cinnamon skin. I shut the door behind me once inside my room. With my back to the door, I examined my room. It was somewhat messy. Socks here, shoes there. Wrappers that once stored food had been ripped open by hungry hands and left on the edge of my nightstand. I might be on an experimental vegan diet, but there was nothing against early morning snacking. I took a breath in, flopped onto my cheap Ikea scrap of a bed, and breathed out.
I calmly told myself, now this is the part where I go to sleep. Aren't you just so tired? Aren't you just so excited to get some rest? I looked at my door. The memory of The Visitor shot back into my head. Using sleep as candy wasn't working. No matter how tired I felt from trying to stay up all night and keep The Visitor away, my body wasn't buying it. The temptation of shut eye just wasn't enough to overcome the fear of being a victim to that shadow again.
My eyes studied the door. Why did The Visitor always have to appear in my room in front of an open door? He was imaginary, why didn't he just float through it and leave the door closed? There was something about that door swinging inward into my room, some type of intrusion in my space that made it so eerie. There was something about the opening of the door and The Visitor that made it seem almost human, almost familiar. Almost real. Almost.
Then again, there had been that night when I woke up to its body jumping over me and its hand wrapping around my mouth all in less than a second. I had been so stunned that I shot up in bed and continued to shake for several minutes while I realized it was "just a dream." It doesn't matter if you know it's just yourself playing games on your mind, when you feel a hand over your mouth and a darkness overcome all other things you see...It just doesn't matter if it isn't real. Because it is.
Don't think about that, I told myself, as I settled into the covers for the night.
But then I wondered if I was going to imagine the door opening in the middle of the night.
I wondered if "it" would be there waiting for me to wake up just before it rushed forward in a malicious and supernatural manner.
I wondered if it would get its shadow of a hand around my neck and strangle me before I was able to shake myself out of it.
...Well, I didn't have to go to sleep right away now, did I? I watched an episode of Parks and Rec and laughed. Then I tried to fall asleep again. Nope. I got up and picked up my room and put away all of my knickknacks. Then I laid down in bed again. Nope. I got up and ate a bowl of cereal, leaning my pant-less hip on the countertop. It was nice to eat alone, standing half naked like I was. Bowl in hand. Munching volume on loud. I nodded a couple times because Peanut Butter Panda Puffs are just that good. Then I laid down again...Nope. I got up and worked on my website and made zero progress. Apparently, until my computer is able to take in verbal commands while simultaneously handle verbal abuse, I'll never be good at web design even when Wordpress and Squarespace make it "Sooooo easy." Then I laid down again. Nope. I read a few puns on Reddit. Then I laid down again. Nope. I read a Parks and Rec script. My eyes started to burn. My skin started to feel dry.
I told myself I wasn't scared. And then, I asked myself who was I kidding? I thought about what could make me less scared. And then I realized it was really who could make me less scared. And my mind drifted off to those nights a year ago...when I was with my ex. We were having a recap of the day, talking about ridiculous inconveniences like Dracula Untold coming out on a day we would be in different cities and little wins like having just enough coins to pay for the muffin we bought. And in contrary to all of the humorous comics about how men lie about wanting to fall asleep while in mid-cuddle, my last ex was a huge fan of cuddle-sleeping. He wouldn't go to sleep unless he could feel me next to him. I remembered his warm skin pressing against mine as if we were trying to see how much surface area from each of our bodies could touch all at the same time, hearing the exhausted humming of his breath, feeling his body rise and fall with mine... I even remember when one of us would wake up and steal a sleepy kiss or a naughty touch before cuddling up again. I reme--Oh, God. NOPE. I stopped myself, realizing I had not drifted off to sleep, but back to my ex.
Aside from a sudden aching heart, my head started to hurt with a screaming and angry, stop-being-a-pussy-and-just-go-to-sleep, pain. (No offense to cats. Although, let's be honest. They don't care.) Lying on my back, I stretched myself over my entire bed, digging the ends of my limbs into the bed and arching my back in a JESUSGODALMIGHTYGOTOSLEEPDAMMIT! kind of way.
And without realizing it, which is what makes a visit from "it" so damn scary in the first place, I fell asleep.
It felt like I had been studying nothing with my eyes for a while, just being idly awake, when something caused me to look left to my door. It was suddenly open, just as I had feared. I told myself to stay calm, and myself told me HOLY SHIT THE DOOR IS OPEN! I felt my heart start to beg for attention. My head began to throb as I tried harder and harder to see only real things. Instead I saw it: The Visitor. It was standing at the door.
The repetition, a writing tool I love, was killing me. I knew it would slowly float over. I knew no matter how hard I tried, I would not be able to move. I knew it would get closer and closer, and I would grow more and more scared. If only I could speak, scream, move... Anything! If only I felt I had some power, some control over the situation...
Stay calm, I told myself. This is in YOUR imagination. Stay calm. Breathe. YOU'RE in control. (LIKE HELL I AM) The shadow was now so near that most of my vision was blacked out by its figure. It's head poked near me like some dumb, drunk man at a bar who didn't understand personal space. I felt its weight on me. All over me. Usually, I was so shaken up at this point, I would somehow regain my ability to move, the figure would disappear, and all would be normal again.
So the fact that I was still paralyzed and that it was getting closer to me than ever before, scared me to the point of simply losing everything I thought I knew and trusted. It was one thing to be scared shitless in the same way every few nights, but it was one thing to be scared shitless in an unpredictable and unfamiliar matter out of nowhere. In a sweaty panic, I realized The Visitor was throwing me a fucking curve ball.
I felt every organ in my body shrink while hissing: THISSSSS ISSSSSS ITTTTTTT! And for a second I thought my organs were right because everything went dark.
"And so, here I am. Wondering who I am, trying to find a purpose, you know?" The Visitor, named Ben, threw his left hand into the air in surrender.
"I know exactly what you mean. I mean, it's crazy how different we are, but we're still struggling with the same things. More coffee?" I asked.
"Uh, sure. I mean, with these graveyard shifts, it's the only way I'll stay awake."
I filled the kettle with more water and then dumped the grinds from the french press. I looked over to Ben, a dark indistinguishable figure, sitting at one of the two chairs at my kitchen/living room table. Who would have guessed that the "The Visitor" would have an accent from Jersey? I started to grind the beans as I always ground my Heart Coffee beans fresh for each cup of coffee nowadays. How did I become such a coffee snob?
"You know. It's just so tough," Ben said, "I'm working this job, entering people's rooms, giving them a little scare. I thought it would be what I wanted to do. Most people get scared shitless, find out sleep paralysis's main cause is stress, and re-evaluate their lives for the better...That sounds like a pretty respectable job, huh? But there's so much bull shit and politics behind it. There's no room to grow in this type of career. And the hours. They're not the most convenient..."
"Oh, I've noticed. You've been keeping me up all night for the last few weeks."
Ben ignored my remark and continued, "And I originally thought that this career helped people like you look at stress and face it head on. You know, ask themselves the happy questions."
"The happy questions?"
"Yeah, you know. 'Why am I stressed...? Am I even happy? Am I really happy? Will I ever be happy doing what I do now?"
"Oh. Those questions," I winced.
"Except, I creep up, hovering over you. I let you feel my presence. This evil, stressful beast of a thing (they train you to give off that kind of aura.... I know, it's terrible.) And I realize now that I don't want to be in a career that uses fear to get these people to reevaluate their happiness. I want to use joy to inspire them, to motivate them to want to be happy. But I'm stuck, you know. They trained me. The pay is decent, I mean it pays the bills and keeps my student debt at bay. I can't afford to be unemployed and job hunting. But if I keep up this redeye schedule, I'm never going to meet someone. And even if I did, I'm never going to have enough time and energy for them during the day anyway. And this backwards schedule just drains me. I used to be so fit. I was firm. I haven't worked out in months. Look at me. I mean, I used to be such a cut, lean shadow, and now look. I'm just a black blob. I didn't used to envelope my clients like I do now."
"You mean victims?" I said with a little bite to it. "You could at least knock, dammit."
"Hey, it's the job. And I do it well. So, anyway, now my shadow is all over the place. I try to give them a little scare, maybe get their breath to speed up...And my shadow is just filling up the room, and I end up knocking the air out of them with all of this fucking uncontrollable mass I've got going on."
I stared at the shadow, a vague silhouette of a human, but more of just a shapeless cloud.
"You look. You look fine. I mean, it's the winter time. We all pack on a little more to stay warm, you know?"
"I don't feel temperature. I'm a shadow, Jade."
"Okay, well. You can work on the exercise thing...One thing at a time, Ben."
Ben took a sip of his black coffee. It was interesting to watch him hold the mug up to, what I assumed, was his lips and take a sip. I half expected the liquid to just drip onto the chair, but he took the liquid in like a Russian took in Vodka.
"What about you? I mean, has my dead end job, my nightly visits, got you thinking at all?"
"I mean, i'm always asking myself the happy questions, but yeah. I guess your visits did get me to really re-think things. I hadn't really realized I was stressed, you know. But since then, I've started making coffee and working with my sister. I finally dumped my 46,000 word novel out and started working on something else that I'm a lot more excited about. I took a break from social media to kind of get back to myself and forget about the..."
"Jade. Are you happy?"
I looked down at my cup, deep into the black abyss of the Stereo Blend. "I mean. I'm getting there. I think I'm finding that the key is just in the everyday things. You know. The hello and goodbyes. The inside jokes. The puns. The nice gestures and random acts of kindness. The bite of a cookie or the snow that gets stuck on branches...I think it's a lot more simpler than I was making it out to be..."
I looked up and Ben was gone. All that was left in front of me was an empty mug. I sat there for a second, cupping the warmth of my coffee with my cold twilight fingers. I suddenly realized how cold the chair was underneath my naked thighs. Then I stood up and walked to my room, hearing the voice in my head give me that gentle command: