Another “I’m avoiding working on my manuscript” short story to share with you… enjoy! (and as always, feedback—good or bad—is welcome)
— Your Writer.
The screaming started at about 3AM. Whatever the cause, it was oddly punctual.
To call it bloodcurdling wouldn’t be doing it justice; that would be like saying that the desert is hot, or that the ocean is wet. No, this sound was nothing short of unearthly. Those religiously inclined would say it was ungodly, but ‘He’ and I have never been close enough for me to ask. It was the sort of noise one would expect from someone being drawn and quartered, or having their fingers slowly and methodically pulled off, like wings off a fly.
My guest that evening was taken off-guard by the commotion, and rightfully disturbed. She bolted upright in my bed by the first shrieks and nearly fell off the side. These episodes had slowed in their frequency, becoming almost non-events in the past couple of weeks. It hadn’t occurred to me to mention it.
She grabbed my arm and shook furiously. “Alan, Alan! Wake up, oh God, what is that—”
I sat up and flicked on the side table lamp, shifting the shade to spare her from the blast of light. “It’s just Emma. It’s okay.”
She looked stunned. “Just Emma? She’s screaming, Alan.”
“I know, I know. I’m sorry, I should have warned you.” I was groggy but on my feet, slipping my robe on while bracing myself for the trip down the hall. I told her to lay back down, to try and go back to sleep — but she was having none of it. She was already reaching for her robe and pulling it over her beautifully freckled shoulders, her long legs swinging over the edge of the bed.
“I’m coming with you.”
I circled the bed and walked to the door. “I’ll be just a minute, Sarah, really. Just try to go back to sleep.”
She walked up behind me, stretching her head up high to kiss the back of my neck. I loved it when she did that. “I’m already up. And we’re a team now, right?”
I smiled as I reached back for her hand. “Yes, we are. Okay, let’s go.”
We approached the epicenter of tonight’s horror movie: the bedroom of my sweet, normally quiet and peaceful three year old daughter. Well, nearly three and a half, if I’m being entirely accurate. In her waking hours, she was the most gentle thing you could ever imagine; it would be hard to imagine a child more serene. But over the past few months, some unknown ghoul made a habit of creeping into her dreams, forcing out the bunnies and butterflies and replacing them with things of unspeakable horror. The screaming intensified as we approached, her small pauses for breath the only punctuation in whatever jolted her from her previously peaceful slumber.
I turned to face Sarah as we stopped at Emma’s door.
She looked at me quizzically. “Um, ready? For what, exactly?”
I smiled. “The first time you walk in there it can be a bit, um, shocking. It still freaks me the fuck out. But she’s okay, I swear it.”
She squeezed my arm and steeled herself for whatever was to come. “Okay. I’m ready.”
I pushed open the door. My little angel sat at the end of her bed and faced the wall, screaming blue murder, her hands down at her sides gripping her sheets. She looked positively demonic; her thick curly hair stood straight up from her round little skull, pointing in every direction at once. I was never sure if she’d be lying down or standing up when I opened the door, if she’d be facing the wall or looking straight at me. (That last one does a fantastic job of keeping you wide awake for the rest of the night, believe you me).
I took a breath and quickly walked to the side of her bed, taking a seat behind her. Despite Sarah’s best of intentions, she stood her ground at the door. The bewildered look on her face told me that she had no idea what to make of the scene, and I didn’t blame her one bit; this entire thing weirded me out, and this was my little darling. I was quite proud of her for staying at all, instead of bolting down the hall and packing her bag.
I placed my hand on my howling angel’s back, rubbing it slowly, reassuringly. She didn’t flinch and was unaware of my presence at all, as usual. I whispered in her ear. “I’m here Em, it’s okay.”
“You say she’s okay — what’s wrong, exactly?”
“The doctor called them night terrors. It’s like she’s stuck in a dream and can’t wake herself up. Freaky, huh?”
Sara nodded silently, her hand still gripping the door frame and what I assumed to be her mind plotting her escape. But, she stayed.
It was always a guess as to how long it would last. Some nights, she would calm fairly quickly; on others, we could be sitting together on the bed for a half-hour, my hand on her little back, trying to comfort and console my baby girl until she broke free from the horrors her beautiful little mind had concocted. And even then, she never really woke up; the panic would simply subside, the screaming would thankfully stop before a social worker ended up at the front door, and she would resume her night’s sleep right where she left off. I, on the other hand, would often require a drink of something fiery to even contemplate closing my eyes again.
The pediatrician told me it was rare, but not uncommon. She’ll outgrow it, he told me as he nonchalantly patted me on the shoulder. It’s just a phase, some kids go through this. Just hang in there.
Easy for him to say. He’s not the one sitting in on a nightly filming of the Exorcist at 3AM.