I awoke to the morning light, to see the ceiling fan circling lazily above my bed. I felt incredibly lethargic, almost unable to move, but I was able to turn my head toward my wife where she lay to my left side. I saw that she’d pulled the sheet up completely over her head. She was only a human shape under snow white.
I wondered why she was there. She should have left for work already on this day. Then she turned her head toward me underneath the sheet. I could see the soft cotton flow over her cheek, see it poke up above her nose and then lie down against the sockets of her eyes. And I realized. This shape under the covers wasn’t my wife.
The shape moved toward me, hitched itself toward me under the sheet. I saw that its mouth was open; I could see the hollow darkness beneath the cloth that veiled it. I suddenly wanted to scream but when my own mouth opened nothing would come out.
The shape hitched toward me again. With intense effort, I lifted my left arm to block its approach, and a hand, covered by sheer white, flashed out to grasp my wrist. I did scream then. I think I screamed. The hand held me, fingers like a vice on my wrist. It felt neither warm nor cold. It felt like nothing, but it held me still.
I realized then what it was. A hundred years ago I would surely have called it demon. But I knew it wasn’t. I knew its name and, just as it is supposed to be with demons, knowing its name gave me power over it. “Sleep Paralysis,” I muttered in my own head. “It’s only sleep paralysis. Nothing is there. Nothing. Relax.”
I relaxed, forced myself to. The sheet deflated; the shape was gone. I found my arm wasn’t extended into the air. But the ceiling fan was turning. The room was exactly the same as it had been a moment before, except that I was alone. And now I could move. I took a deep breath. And another.
What I’d experienced was a relatively rare form of sleep paralysis. Common sleep paralysis is when the paralysis that normally accompanies dream sleep doesn’t end when the dream ends. You wake fully up, but you can’t move from the neck down. It’s not uncommon.
However, sleep paralysis sometimes takes a different form. You believe you have completely awakened, but though your eyes may be open and your consciousness seems clear, you are still in the grip of the dream state. Your body is paralyzed from the neck down, and dream-like phenomena continue to occur. They seem real to you in a way normal dreams don’t because the dream incidents get added on top of the real stimuli flowing in from the world around you. For reasons unknown, many of these experiences are frightening, although not all.
Many scientists suspect, and I’m one of them, that such events are the explanation for many cases that are typically described as alien abductions or ghost/demon encounters. The experiences are often terrifyingly real, and unless you know something about dream phenomena you are likely to come up with an explanation for them that flows from your own particular mindset. Even the images are drawn from one’s own life and imagination. Today one might see an alien. Our ancestors would have seen gods and angels and demons. Perhaps primitive humans saw sabertooths and cave bears.
I wonder if tonight I’ll have another “visitor.” I’d call one up if I could. For I feel confident I could put him down again. Mostly confident.