Nightrider

This Week’s Prompt:106. A thing that sat on a sleeper’s chest. Gone in morning, but something left behind.

The Prior Research:Terrors in the Night

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Regina was having the worst day in a long time. She was running on fumes, caffeine replacing at least six to eight hours of sleep. The tram was packed, people chatting and buzzing about. She slowly blinked as the doors opened and the wave of people exiting collided with the people trying to enter. There was shuffling as someone tried to push a wheel chair through.

There. A seat. Regina moved quickly, sitting down against the window before anyone else had a chance. It was only two more stops, but having a seat was worth a few angry grumbles and curses from passers by when they realized they missed their chance. With a chime, the tram began underway, trudging along.

One of the seats across from her opened up—she noticed when the kid and his dad got up for the next stop. Somehow, no one caught it until the next crowd pushed in. Regina wouldn’t have cared—more annoying chatter. And, oh, this one had an unhappy baby. Wonderful.

What did catch her attention was when someone took the seat. And started looking…at her? Some guy in a business suit, tie askew, hair starting to gray. Scuffed up shoes too. It took a moment to register if he was looking at her, or if he was looking out the window. But now. He was…leering at her.

The tram’s chipper automated voice called out her stop and she pushed her way out, glaring at the asshole. Later, Regina wasn’t entirely sure if she flipped him off or really wanted to flip him off. But whatever. She got home, almost an hour past sundown, and had some ramen, and collapsed on the bed after making sure the windows were closed. It was  humid and cold, and Regina barely noticed the fading handprint on the window.

*

“It was how big?” Carol asked. Regina held up her finger—and pointed at the approximate length of the glass shard that had cut her cheek when she woke up.

“No idea how it got there.” Regina muttered as she prepped the first batch of coffee for the day. “But yeah, not a great gash. Tossed it—don’t even remember breaking that bowl.”

PillowNightrider

“How do you forget shattering a bowl? Like, I know your house always looks like a hurricane hit but still.”

“It didn’t shatter—just like, chipped? That’s what its called right?” Regina muttered tapping the edge of the coffee pot. “Just a bit.”

“Yeah, but how did it—You know what, who knows.” Carol said, waving it off as the doors opened, and the first few customers drifted in. “Probably just weird.”

*

The day was exhausting. Her back hurt the entire time, she’d managed to pull something in her sleep apparently, and she felt her mind drifting out the back of her skull half the time. Coffee shop to call center, Regina felt herself wilting away. She barely had energy to eat when she got home. And then she tried to sleep.

There was something about her bed. Something that made her hands shake when she peeled back the covers. Suddenly alert, Regina searched her pillows for any other random bits that might have gotten there—she checked her jacket that she had tossed on it when she got home, she checked her shirt for any thistles or needles or pins. Nothing. She breathed in and out, and lied down to sleep.

*

There was something on her chest—something heavy as she struggled to open her eyes. As sunlight started to shine down from the window above her bed, she felt it shifting. Something heavy, her arms and legs numb. It was moving, it’s legs pushing beneath her ribs. She could barely breath, even as she felt something sharp.

It was stabbing in, stinging pain spreading up her side. Her hands were shaking as the warmth of the sun spread up her feet, up her legs, and slowly up her chest and hands. The weight and the pain faded, and Regina opened her eyes. For a moment she caught sight of a great shape, a leering grin of smoke vanishing into the night. She felt at the pain—nothing but a bruise. It as numb to touch at first, felt like hundreds of pin pricks when she tried to move.

And then she found it—a thumb tack, sitting there, point up. If she’d rolled the other way out of bed, it’ would have stabbed her.

Thumbtacks

*

It was a really ordinary thing, the mystery tack. Top was a bit rusted, and she knew she’d checked for this sort of thing before she went to bed. And that thing—that grinning lumbering thing in her bed. It was like a dog with people’s teeth.

“I—you know, I think I’ve heard of that.” Carol said, looking at the tack. “Yeah. Mom said Aunt Morgan had some trouble with that sort of thing, I think.”

“Oh yeah? What fixed it? Should I eat garlic before bed or something?” Regina asked, clicking the coffee machine on, as the loud grinding of beans began.

“Hey, that got rid of the cold, didn’t it?”

“Okay, fair enough, it did.” Regina sighed, rubbing her temple. “Sorry, no sleep sets me on edge. Did she say what it was?”

“Well…yeah. I mean. Aunt Morgan thought she was being cursed or haunted or something like that.” Carol said, scratching the back of her head. “I can probably give her a call for some remedies or something.”

“Cursed?”

“Yeah, or haunted, or something.” Carol said slowly, drawing out each word. “You know. Someone didn’t like her, sicced some sort angry cat ghost on her, nearly killed her, so she got some stuff together to—”

“Wait what? Nearly killed her? Go back, go back.” Regina said blinking. “I mean, a bruise and a small cut aren’t great but killed her?”

“I mean, Mom made it sound like she got stuffed full of stuff and couldn’t breathe.” Carol said, eyes locked on the sweets that were being put out. “I’m sure it’s you know. Something more like a panic attack or something.”

*

Regina still didn’t trust the…stuff Carol had brought over. Her mom swore by it though. One was…one of those dream catchers she’d had as a kid, over the door. Which she was pretty sure didn’t work like that? Then a fishing net to cover the curtains.  Some water to help her sleep, and at last some salt.

“Salt? Really? How is that supposed to help?” Regina asked, looking at the small jar.

“Ghosts don’t like salt. Neither do curses and other stuff, you know. C’mon, even TV gets that right.”

“…alright, so I just scatter the salt, and then it won’t get close.” Regina asked, frowning. “Assuming it gets through the nets and stuff.”

“Well, not quite. You’ve got to push the jar over it.” Carol said, shaking the salt. “Um. Well. Mom said you’ll wake up, and see it. And you’ve got to push the jar over it, then close it. Should trap the thing.”

“What’s going to wake me up?”

“She didn’t say, just you would.”

Regina sighed as she lay down in her bed to sleep. She’d scattered the salt all over the room, and the nets were all up. And so, nervously, she fell asleep.

*

She vaguely heard something snap in the darkness—but returned to sleep, too dream-addled to care. Regina woke again, a bit later, when she heard something like tearing cloth napkins. She’d always hated that sound.

It sounded like someone choking on their own phlegm. She woke up to the gurgling howling noise, and saw it there in the moonlight. Net torn around it’s shoulders, bubbling like a slug in the salt. It was slimey, mold thing, like rice vomited up. It saw her. It howled and stumbled towards the bed. She saw the flash of a knife in it’s hand.

She grabbed the jar and pulled herself up. The knife missed her wrist, barely, as she forced the jar on its head. It howled, but slid in, pulled itself in. Bits of it got on the edge of the jar, even as Regina forced it to the floor. Squirming green-black bits that a bit of salt burned off.

She put it on the shelf, after sealing the jar with the lid—there was something written on the underside of the lid, Regina didn’t know what. She put it on the shelf and stared at it in the dark. It squirmed, small and hateful. Yellowed eyes now blood shot stared back at her from the mass of rot.

Eyes in the Jar

She left it in the closet, and tried to forget that she’d ever seen it. Still there, every night, leering from behind the glass.



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Terrors in the Night

This Week’s Prompt: 106. A thing that sat on a sleeper’s chest. Gone in morning, but something left behind.

The Resulting Story: FORTHCOMING

This research in part brought to you by our patrons on Pateron

Mr. Lovecraft has here given us a terror that is very common in the world, rife with folklore explanations, and that plagued the man himself in his life. Sleep paralysis is the experience of waking up, but being unable to move, speak, or in anyway act. Victims often hallucinate, and commonly report the sensation that someone or something is in the room with them—something the brain processes as dangerous.

Such an anomalous sensation is the source of many terrors of the night—the most famous perhaps being the nightmare or night hag. In documents across Europe, the night hag finds sleeping people, binds them, and then rides them—like a mare—to her various delights, before returning them exhausted.

At various points in history, the nightmare has been its own spirit, either a being named Mara or a dwarf or the like. However, in English, the spirit quickly became associated with the more common source of supernatural evil: the witch.

Nightmare witch

Witchcraft reports from England suggest that such enchantment requires the insertion of objects—often sharp and deadly ones, such as scissors—into the victim for the magic to work. Some of these witches sent spirits, supposedly, to disturb the sleep of their victims. Often a these spirits took the form of cats (the recurring internet meme of cats making it impossible to move when they lay on you has some ancient parallels it seems). Other times, the shadow figures are witches themselves, who attempt to strangle their victim as well as prevent them from sleeping.

In South Carolina stories, the night hags are even more nightmarish. They often drink blood of their victims, and sometimes ride their victims without skin. With salt on the floor or certain rituals in a bottle, the Night Hag can be captured in a bottle while trying to reassume her skin. An informant claimed that the hag left a detestable slime when struck by salt—perhaps indicating there is something not entirely human beneath their skin. These hags might go door to door begging for food or hitchhiking, cursing those who show hospitality in a perverse inversion of regular witchcraft.

Witches in Nigeria were also believed to also engage in terrible acts during the night. They might make off with the breath of children, or feast on the souls or psyche. Meetings between witches, in both Africa and Europe, were often described as out of body experiences—as where some of the transformations a witch would engage in. These psychic feasts and meetings are the cause of illness, sickness, and death among communities—often by weakening the victim’s body such that more mundane illness can enter.

NightmarePainting

Of course, human intervention isn’t the only potential source. In China, Thailand, Poland,  and Uganda (among others) it is the dead that harass the living this way. The kokma of St. Lucia is a ghost, but rather specifically a ghost of a dead child that leaps on and throttles its victims. In Zanzibar, there is a terrible bat like demon that assaults people in their sleep. In Cornwall, the creature is instead a large hairy thing that binds a man down and called the hilla. In Ireland, it is instead a great bird with many talons and wings called tromlui. Beyond cats (who are easily the most common), sheep and roosters also appear as oppressive spirits in the world.

That isn’t to say there is no protection from these powers! Salt in some communities will work, but one particular charm from Anglo Saxon Texts protects against a spidery dwarf creature that enters illness upon the victim:

“Against a dwarf one shall take seven little offerings, such as one has worshipped with, and write these names on each of the offerings: Maximianus, Malchus, Iohannes, Martimianus, Dionisius, Constantinus, Serafion. Then afterwards one shall sing the charm that I say hereafter, first in the left ear, then in the right ear, and then above the top of the man’s head. And then a maiden must go and hang it around his neck, and do so for three days; he will soon be well. Here he came in walking, in spider form. He had his harness in his hand, he said that you were his steed, he put his traces on your neck. Then they began to travel from the ground; so soon they came from the ground, then their limbs began to cool. Then came in walking the beast’s sister; she put an end to this then and swore oaths that this would never harm the sick one, nor that one who might find this charm or knows how to recite it. Amen.So be it”

NightmarePainting 2

Here, we see the Seven Sleepers invoked as they often were to protect against sleeping illnesses and the like (We discussed the seven sleepers here). Other cures exist through out the world, from the aforementioned traps to cleansing to finding the witch responsible.

We come then to our story of horror. One of the most fascinating things, implied here, is that an object is left behind by the creature, spirit, or witch. This parting token to me marks not a gift, but rather a cursed object returned or some calling card—I am reminded of the discarded ring from our Netherlands stories that were in fact the doom of the woman who found them. Terror in the night for Lovecraft is not uncommon—the Witch’s House deals with dangerous dreams from living in a cursed place, and the threat of nightmares is common in horror (we could also consider the Hugenot house and other haunted places that torment victims in their dreams). But here, the presence has a dreadful physicality. It is not just terrible dreams—which might precede or follow from the spirits presence—but it is the arrival of something terrible and barely visible in the night.

We had a  similar story with the night monsters earlier—the aswang was our creature then, that slowly revealed itself and well. The story is here. But still, we need I think a distinction between this story’s terror, the vampires we’ve discussed, and the earlier version of this story that we examined with the Horla (here). Making things a bit more difficult, the night hag and it’s many other names does not do much. It sits on a person, it strangles them—an experience that I can say personally is terrifying, but difficult to communicate a whole story about.

Strange isn't it?

For some surely unknowable reason, all the artistic representations of sleep paralysis and nightmares sitting on people feature attractive women in distress.

Perhaps we can build on the notion or terror of SUNDS—sudden unexpected nocturnal death syndrome, a phenomenon referenced in some of my works as being related to nightmares and their kind. Mysterious and horrific deaths work better than a single stalking thing in the darkness. I have the notion now of a rash of mysterious deaths and killings, as creatures of darkness and night begin to swallow up a town or city—things that perhaps resemble our earlier aswang, that wait until nightfall to make their presence known, while walking in the day in more innocuous forms.

We can play with forms of horror here, I think. There is an existential fear, of falling asleep and not knowing if you will wake up—of falling asleep, and being started awake by some unseen terror—of waking up to terrible news while you were powerless. There is something we can wrap into and work with this story, as well as a monster story that has a resonance with the sleep deprived and brightly lit modern era.

 

Bibliography

Adler, Shelly R. “Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome among Hmong Immigrants: Examining the Role of the “Nightmare””, The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 104, No. 411 (Winter, 1991), pp. 54-71. American Folklore Society

Davies, Owens. “The Nightmare Experience, Sleep Paralysis, and Witchcraft Accusations” Folklore, Vol. 114, No. 2 (Aug., 2003), pp. 181-203. Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Folklore Enterprises, Ltd.

Gay, David E. “Anglo-Saxon Metrical Charm 3 against a Dwarf: A Charm against Witch-Riding?” Folklore, Vol. 99, No. 2 (1988), pp. 174-177. . Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Folklore Enterprises, Ltd.

Ross, Joe. “Hags out of Their Skins”. The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 93, No. 368 (Apr. – Jun., 1980), pp. 183-186. American Folklore Society.

Parrinder, E. G. “African Ideas of Witchcraft”. Folklore, Vol. 67, No. 3 (Sep., 1956), pp. 142-150. Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Folklore Enterprises, Ltd.

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