Sleepwatcher

https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/culladobehindthecurtain/episodes/2016-11-07T00_41_06-08_00

Yvonne Drummond had never slept a wink in her entire life.

It was the kind of thing so absurd and so unbelievable that she shared it with people all the time. No one believed her–not her parents, nor her friends, not even her doctor.

“Your heart rate’s fine,” her doctor would say, then would add in a patronizing tone: “I think I’d be the first to know if you never slept.”

Yvonne could tell when someone was just humoring her, and not actually believing her on the subject, because they would always interject some sort of justification, more for themselves than for her. Yvonne had found the post-millenial term “microaggression” apt in describing this phenomenon:  society reacting in a corrective manner when it identified you as the “other.” She found this very funny; both as a phenomenon and that it actually had been given a name.

Example: One Sunday in her teens, Yvonne had been volunteering in the children’s’ Sunday School class. The teacher of the class, Inga Przybysz (“Miss Inga” to the kids), and Yvonne had been talking about sleep.

“I’m just so tired,” Miss Inga said. “I never seem to get enough sleep.  I mean, I always rest between Sunday School and evening service. But sometimes I wonder if I’m really keeping my Sabbath Day holy!” she laughed. “Guess I just need to plan it better.”

“I don’t sleep,” Yvonne said, as she helped staple a border onto a poster of Hebrews 4:10-11, the kids’ memory verse for that week and the catalyst for their conversation.

Miss Inga gave her a scrutinizing look, and chuckled.

“I’m serious,” Yvonne continued, carefully removing a stray staple from a lower case letter t, “I have never slept, ever. I don’t think I can.”

“Well,” Miss Inga said, “kids your age often go to bed late and wake up late. You know the saying–late to bed, late to rise: you may be homeless, but at least you’re wise.” She hummed to herself, amused with her paraprosdokian one-liner.

“That’s the thing, Miss Inga,” Yvonne said, her tone taking on a patronizing edge, “I have never slept. Like, when I was a little girl, I’d close my eyes for eight hours.  I was conscious for every minute of them.  I must have slept when I was a baby, otherwise my parents would know. But from as early as I can actually remember–and I have quite a good memory, because it’s all just felt like one very long day–I have never recalled sleeping.”

Miss Inga blinked rapidly, her grayish-blue eyes processing the implications of this statement.

“Micro-sleeps are, studies show, uncontrollable,” Inga said, almost more to herself. “The body can’t not sleep. Maybe you just drink too much caffeine, could that be it?” She motioned at Yvonne’s coffee. “You really ought not to drink caffeine after 4 PM. It’ll keep you up all night.”

Yvonne laughed, “Miss Inga, as a young woman in twenty-first century America, I think I’m doing pretty well if caffeine is my only addiction.”

Miss Inga nodded with wide eyes. “I don’t know how you young people function in these days.”

By this point, the poster was complete, and the verse was on display for the kids to see as they entered:
“For anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.”

Yvonne found this funny too.

Yvonne was not entirely sure how the physiology of a person who slept worked. It had been a subject of intense fascination in her youth. She had this notebook with all these questions she had written down:

What time do you sleep?

What does it feel like when you haven’t slept enough?

How do you feel when you’ve slept too much?

What does a dream feel like? A nightmare?

Very quickly Yvonne discovered that no one ever gave the same answer twice. Sure, there were similar answers, unique answers, and overall patterns to analyze. Even these patterns, though, had such room for variance that Yvonne became more and more fascinated by the individual stories they told.

In the hours where most people were awake, Yvonne quickly discovered a fascination with human physiology, sleep studies, and sleep pathology. She had her parents’ full blessing in this pursuit, as this meant Yvonne would eventually become “a doctor,” and therefore decently well off. One less thing for them to worry about.

And they certainly didn’t have to worry about their daughter’s competency in these fields. Yvonne was a tenacious, almost obsessive student. It was less about the number grade–though that was good–and moreso about her dedication to the topic within and without her class.

It was also during highschool, albeit in the sleeping hours, that Yvonne Drummond discovered she enjoyed watching people sleep.

It had started with her parents, who were very heavy sleepers. One night she had asked them if she could camp out on their bedroom floor, like she used to when she was a kid. She waited for them to start snoring, then quietly pulled out the chair from her mom’s vanity, sitting and watching them, studying them, wondering what was or wasn’t happening in their slumbering heads.

Then she began watching her friends sleep. She would go to sleepovers, waiting until all of her friends had retired, then she would slowly sit up in her own sleeping bag, opening a case file on each of them. She knew which ones had sleep apnea and why, which ones had good dreams and bad dreams, who were the heavy sleepers and who were the light sleepers.

In spite of, or perhaps because of this, Yvonne was decently popular at school. She was like that inoffensively nerdy friend that seems to be accepted in every group, the one people pull aside and say, “don’t tell anyone this, but…” and they don’t. That friend that hears all and says nothing, quietly holding dominion over all in her social circle because she has the information that could create or destroy them.

Yvonne knew that girl. Her name was Shelby. She had acute acid reflux and had to sleep on her side. She was a heavy sleeper; Yvonne had even rolled her onto her back to see how bad her reflux was.  Through choking and wincing, Shelby never woke up, even as she rolled back onto her side.

The only real weakness Yvonne had was that she could never make any of her information public, not that she wanted to. But to cash in all of this informational currency would be to reveal not only that she couldn’t sleep, but that she was–as people would doubtlessly see it–”addicted” to watching others do so.

So she kept these things to herself, as she continued excelling in her studies, eventually becoming a professor at the Englund/Krueger Institute of Sleep Pathology in Phoenix, Arizona.

It was in Phoenix where she began taking patients. It was also in Phoenix where she surreptitiously began making late night calls on her students.

>>>

“Man speaks,” Yvonne said in class one day, leaning against her desk. “We are always speaking, even in our dreams.” She looked around and grinned. “You want me to write it on the board, like they always do in movies?”

“You totally should,” said Matt Clarence, that kid who always sat in front and attempted to find validation by joking with the teacher like he was Paul Schaffer on David Letterman or something.

“Not today, Matt,” Yvonne said, “for some reason we’re the last lecture hall in America that still has a chalkboard. Which I refuse to touch, for religious reasons.”

“What’s your religion, Doctor D?” Matt whined from the front.

“Enough, Matt,” she said, then added: “My religion is not shivering every time I write something. Anyway. Can someone tell me who said this?”

Yvonne had a love/hate relationship with enforcing participation grades, and really just with the concept of engaging people in general. In her early twenties she’d worked the night shift at a 24 hour Sandwich Stop, during a brief hiatus from watching friends sleep where her finances had trumped her fascinations. During that time she’d begun to understand why corporations valued engagement with consumers so much. Especially graveyard shift, people were much less likely to be utter psychopaths if you looked them in the eye and preempted the conversation. Despite putting the ball in their court, you were effectively controlling the outcome of events.

Yvonne considered this phenomenon as several hands of her male students shot up. Now, she didn’t want to make generalizations, but she felt it was safe to say maybe six out of these ten hands were probably trying to mark their territory in some way. There was also a young lady in the front whose hand shot up very high.  Her name was Kendra Hawthorne, a girl whose friends always claimed they would have never known she was homeschooled if she hadn’t told them. Yvonne thought it was very cruel that Kendra’s friends lied to her. Kendra, Yvonne theorized, was also marking her territory, because in Kendra’s mind, her teacher was still her mommy, and her classmates were all competing for a shot at favor and attention.

Yvonne, of course, didn’t want to make any generalizations. But Kendra’s Happy Kitty! backpack took some of the guilt away.

Yvonne had also observed that Kendra yelled at her mom to notice her in her sleep.

Yvonne was up to her old tricks again, see, but even moreso than ever before.   She would take great interest in her students’ behaviors while awake, and she would wonder if there was any reason for it that could be drawn back to their sleep habits. Englund/Kreuger was a commuter school, and this made it easier for Yvonne to isolate students and follow them to their respective households. Dorms would be too cluttered and too monitored for her to achieve her goals there. Houses, though…

It was one of Yvonne’s favorite things to do. It was completely illegal, but legalities didn’t concern her in a way because she felt that laws made by those who slept could only really apply to those who slept, right? She knew a judge would not feel that way. She also knew she would have to learn not to be caught.

Sometimes she would just watch through a student’s window. This was usually on the first night. When closer observation was needed, she would have to infiltrate the house itself. A lot of students lived in neighborhoods where people either didn’t lock their doors or hid keys absurdly close to their locks, so Yvonne never had to break anything, only enter. Her years of sneaking around in the shadows had made her meticulous and adept at leaving no object out of place. Often times, she would try to get to the student’s home before either the student or their parents returned home.  Yvonne  would hide in a closet or a basement–somewhere out of the usual path of their daily routine. Then, at night, she would quietly leave her hiding place and sneak into the student’s­–or, if they had taken her interest, the parents’–room, where she could monitor breathing patterns, gain insight into dreams, etcetera. A lot of times it wasn’t that interesting, at least to an outside observer, and Yvonne noted she was in danger of becoming a bad scientist, because she was always disappointed when she found her subjects had “normal” sleep habits. A normal sleep consisted of good breathing, lack of reflux, comfortable position, hard to wake, lack of sleep talking or walking.

Kendra’s case, though, was memorable. Her house had a lot of pets, so it had been something of a chore to dodge her easily excitable dogs, who Yvonne discovered were named Amaterasu and Kitsune.  Similarly it had been a challenge for Yvonne to hide without being found out by her cat, Dale. Cats always knew you were there. Yvonne was already on edge by the time she had made it into Kendra’s room, finally alighting upon Kendra’s desk chair, having pulled her note pad out, finally breathing a sigh of relief…

And of course, Kendra cut the silence with the loudest, shrillest scream Yvonne had ever heard. Yvonne could feel her own heart rate spiking, and had to stifle her own fight or flight response. As a last ditch effort, Yvonne always carried a spooky latex Halloween mask with her, so that if she was ever found, it would be written off by the subject as a nightmare, and Yvonne could make her escape anonymously. She scrambled for her mask now, shoving it on, feeling her breaths against the already-sweaty latex, which seemed obnoxiously loud.

Everything, though, had gone silent again. This was nothing out of the ordinary. Kendra, it would appear, was a sleep-screamer.

She screamed a couple other times throughout the night, sometimes vocalizing pleas to her brothers to stop pulling her hair, to her mother to do something about it, or for her dad to actually take her on one of his business trips like he had promised.

In one night of sleep watching, Yvonne learned about Kendra’s home life, her parents’ financial situation, and Kendra’s deepest insecurities.

It still didn’t mean she had to call on her in class, though.

Peter Goodman’s hand was also raised, he had actually done the reading last night, at least.

She didn’t feel like calling on him today.

There was, of course, the stereotypical teacher response of calling on the one student who hadn’t raised their hand. This, however, in Yvonne’s experience, came at the cost of the teacher’s credibility. Still, her eyes had gravitated to one of the few students she hadn’t yet studied, Isabel Moreno.

Moreno looked as though she had done the reading.

“Miss Moreno, who said ‘we are always speaking, even when we are asleep?’”

“Martin Heidegger,” Moreno said.

“That is correct, Miss Moreno,” Yvonne said. “What else do we know about Martin Heidegger?”

“He was a Nazi,” Matt said, not waiting for permission.

“True,” Yvonne said. “But how would Dr. Heidegger define himself?”

“He was a linguist,” Kendra said, “which had me wondering–no offense, Dr. Drummond–why are we reading about him? I’m here to study how to correct sleep apnea, this doesn’t seem relevant to my coursework.”

Yvonne really didn’t like Kendra, but she had fun pretending she did.
“I suppose it isn’t relevant, Miss Hawthorne, if biology isn’t relevant to medicine.”

That shut her up a little.

“Look, my class is a theory class. Sleep theory–can you imagine me pitching it to the board?  And yes, I feel as though they’ve punished me a little by making it less of an elective than it should be. Some of you are doubtlessly taking this class because you’ve heard it’s easier than retinal physiology. But you are in a theory class, and while you are in this class, you will behave as though you are actually intrigued by the science of sleep, yes?”

“Well, I didn’t mean–” Kendra began, nervous she was no longer the teacher’s pet, as though she ever was.

“I’m not speaking to you specifically, Miss Hawthorne, but to the class as a collective. Trust me, I know where a lot of you are coming from. But I want you on board for this, because this quote from Heidegger was a catalyst for me in my early days of studying human resting behavior. Sure, he’s probably referring to sleep-talking. But what if sleep itself has a linguistic quality? What if our breaths, our uncontrollable twitches and unconscious movements are actually us speaking while the mind is at rest? What if communication is an imperative, something we are truly always doing, we just aren’t advanced enough in our understanding of what communication is?”

Most people stared at her. Isabel Moreno, however, looked disturbed.

She was typically a quiet student, silence being a language all unto itself, but this time she did raise her hand.

“Yes, Miss Moreno?”

“What if somebody has trouble sleeping? Or doesn’t want to sleep, because they, uh, have really bad dreams? Does that make them illiterate?”

Yvonne felt a surge of compassion in her heart, which wasn’t necessarily surprising, but it was strong enough that she had to work to hide it. With a straight face, but warm tone, she looked Isabel in the eye, and said:

“No, Miss Moreno. It does not.”

<<<

After class, Yvonne found Isabel.
“Have a moment?” Yvonne said to the young woman as she organized her daily supplies in her backpack.

“Sure,” Isabel said, “I don’t have another class until four; I was just headed to lunch.”

“There’s a dive nearby that’s pretty good,” Yvonne said. “My treat.”

“What’s the catch?” Isabel said.

“You tell me about what keeps you up at night,” Yvonne said. “Think of it like a free consultation.”

Isabel shrugged. “Free food sounds good.”

The Dive was called Augury’s on Main, and they were famous for their incredible Frisco melts with gooey Monterey jack cheese and their house blend of Thousand Island dressing. The conversation started off casual; Isabel shared with Yvonne her story, how she had gotten a premed scholarship from her high school in Carlsbad, New Mexico for her strong performance in her school’s STEM courses. And of course Yvonne shared her two cents on how STEM was the bane of American education but added she was glad it got Isabel to where she was at.

“So you want to know what keeps me up at night,” Isabel said, after ordering a hazelnut butter milkshake at Yvonne’s insistence. “Tell me, Dr. Drummond, did you ever have something happen to you that you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt was real, but everyone else had to, I don’t know, explain away to themselves?”

“I have.” Yvonne said.

“Well, I doubt it’s like this,” Isabel said.

“Would you like me to say in a patronizing voice, ‘try me’?” Yvonne said.

Isabel laughed. “Fine. For as long as I can remember, I’ve experienced horrible nightmares. When I was a child I dreamt that I was in an enormous field, which is strange because I grew up in the dessert, but this was something more like what you might find in Omaha, Nebraska. That’s worth mentioning, and we’ll get back to that. Anyway, I’m in this field, and I can see home, like my house from Carlsbad. And I know that there’s this fox that lives in the field, but it’s not really a fox but it has red hair like one and a body like a fox? I don’t know, that sounds kind of weird, I guess.”

“What were its eyes like?” Yvonne said, fully invested.

“They, uh…those…” Isabel laughed nervously. “Well, the fox could hide in the tall grass, but if it were to stand on its hind legs it’d be like five feet tall. And that’s how I knew it wasn’t a fox. And yeah, it’s eyes…you know how goats always look like they’re judging you, like everything’s funny to them? And they have that weird line for a pupil? It was like that. And yellow. But on a fox. And this fox is between me and home.”

“You say it was your childhood home,” Yvonne said. “But did it actually look like it?”

Isabel’s eyes lit up.

“No,” she said, “Not at all. It just felt like home. I just knew in the dream it was home, you know?”

Yvonne nodded. “What’s in Omaha?”

Isabel took a sip of her shake.

“I have this opportunity to work out there,” she said. “It’s more business-y than I initially envisioned, but I’ll be interning at the office of a pharmaceutical company that’s looking to innovate on better medication for sleep treatment.   It’s a paid internship, and there’s a high degree of likelihood that I’ll have a job there if it goes well.”

“So this monster stands between you and your future security?”

“Yes,” Isabel said. “It starts out leaping and bounding through the fields, at first aimlessly, then it notices me, and dives into the tall grass. For a long time, there’s silence, though if I look carefully I can catch it peaking its head through the top of the grass at me. Then suddenly, it’ll be right in front of me, standing, and I can’t see anything but it’s awful face.”

“There’s more, though,” Yvonne said, prodding gently. “I mean, it’s a doozy, but that doesn’t make it worse than any other nightmare.”

Isabel nodded. “The nightmares I can handle, but when I wake up, I can feel something watching me.”

Yvonne’s eyes narrowed. Sleep paralysis seemed a likely possibility, but she doubted she was the first to mention that to Isabel.   No, better to hear her out.

“Where do you feel like it’s watching you from?” Yvonne said.

“The doorway of my room,” Isabel said. “Like it’s letting itself out. And it makes the nightmares all that much more worse, because I feel like they’re being, I don’t know, injected into my brain or something. Like there’s a real boogeyman out there, doing this to me. And I don’t know why…why he wants me to fail. Like, how is a shy Latina from New Mexico working in a pharmaceutical company going to hurt him, you know? But it really feels like that’s what’s happening.”

“So you’re going through with the internship, though?”  Yvonne said.

Isabel nodded. “I’m in town tonight, then the school is flying me to Omaha tomorrow for a conference. It’s happening over the weekend, so I’ll be able to get back in time for class on Monday. The internship will be this summer. I’m excited, but I’m always afraid to go to sleep. I don’t end up falling asleep until like four, and then it’s only because I pass out. Thank goodness for microsleeps, I guess.”

Yvonne found this funny.

>>>

Isabel lived in a garden-level apartment with her friends Toni and Colleen. It was a pretty nice setup for a college apartment; Toni and Colleen had been roommates prior, so they shared a room, while Isabel got to have a room of her own, which accommodated her late study and early lab hours well.

In making her transit to any of her subjects’ living spaces, Yvonne typically preferred using a bicycle. It was easy to hide and not immediately identifiable as her own. At one point she had considered using a ride-sharing app, but then realized that this just meant there would be more witness. Better to get some cardio, ride her bike and do something productive with those hours where people had trouble getting to sleep. It wasn’t like she was going to pass out from exhaustion.

This was maybe the worst part of not sleeping. Of course everyone needed to rest, even someone who couldn’t sleep. Yvonne had her own method. “For religious reasons,” she would take a Sabbath every Sunday where she, quite simply, did nothing. Maybe she’d read a bit, watch TV, but most of all she’d sit down and do nothing. It was really relaxing. She never felt guilt over it because she had twenty-four hours at her disposal all the other six days. Sunday, though, she wouldn’t work on her lessons, she wouldn’t even research sleep. She would simply rest, as best as she knew how.

She looked forward to this Sabbath as she arrived at Isabel’s apartment, her legs sore from the two hour long ride. It wasn’t that far, but she had to circumvent the freeway to get there. It took another half hour to case the apartment building, and she had discovered Isabel lived in the garden level quite by chance.

The window, which was half above ground and half under, peered into Isabel’s room over her bed and towards the door, and her desk was next to it. Though it was late, Isabel was up, pouring through her texts under warm light of her desk lamp. This location made it easy for Yvonne to stay hidden in the shadows near her apartment, as she waited for Isabel to go to sleep.

During this time, Yvonne put on sunglasses, allowing her eyes to adjust to the darkness quicker. She was also grateful that the moon was over the far side of the apartment; one less source of light to give her a shadow that might alert her test subject. Her eyes adjusted to the darkness, her form hidden in the dugout by the window. Yvonne was, essentially, invisible.

She peered into Isabel’s room, and for a moment felt that self-consciousness that she’d learn to ignore over time, but had first felt surging through her when she had watched her parents sleep as a young girl. The inappropriateness of what she was doing was not lost on her. If anyone were to ever find out, no one would understand. How could they? They would have to first believe that a person could live without sleeping, and that would not be, in their minds, the simplest explanation.

For Yvonne Drummond, PhD, Occam’s Razor was kryptonite.

Isabel tidied up her desk space, made sure her suitcase was packed, and closed the door to her room.  Yvonne noted Isabel locked it and gave it a tug to make sure it was firmly closed–then she went to sleep.

At 0230 hours, just like Kendra, but much louder, much more desperately, Isabel began to scream.

Even through the glass, Yvonne could make out the words, “Oh God, it’s in the room.”

It was too dark to tell, but it seemed like the door was open.  That wasn’t possible, was it?

This was enough, though, enough to tell Yvonne she had a very strange case on her hands.

She hurriedly pulled out her phone and began making travel plans. She would break her Sabbath rule this weekend. She wanted to know what Isabel was saying in its entirety and Omaha might be a crucial place to hear it.

Yvonne stole away into a busier street, about a block away, near a twenty-four hour mini mart. She made a phone call to the hotel that Isabel had mentioned staying at, Omaha Tower, recently built.

“Omaha Tower.”

“Yes, this is, uh–” her plan was sloppy, but it would be the quickest way to gain access– “Yvonne Drummond, PhD. I’m a professor with Englund/Krueger Institute of Sleep Pathology in Phoenix. I’m one of the chaperones on the trip, and wanted to confirm which room was Isabel Moreno’s.”

Any road blocks the clerk had were met by perfectly legal authorization on Yvonne’s part. It took awhile, still, but by the end Yvonne had convinced them, due to her credentials, that she was a fully authorized chaperone on the trip, and she made plans to book an adjoining room to Isabel’s. Yvonne then called Flyover Airlines and made plans to catch a redeye flight to Omaha.

It was worth it, she felt.  She considered sneaking into Isabel’s room now, but she felt that the location would be a critical point.

She returned to the window to see if anything else was afoot.

She did not expect to see the door closing.

Yvonne did a double take. Isabel was still asleep, though she appeared distressed, the bed itself jumbled and ruffled. Maybe she had opened the door for a friend, who had then left when Isabel had gone back to sleep?

It still didn’t explain, though, why the shadow of the figure leaving the room wasn’t female, and why its form was so much taller than that of a normal human.

Yvonne checked her watch.

0330 hours. The visitor had come in around 3 am.

Yvonne also wondered at the shadow of the hallway. She had seen what the hallway had looked like with the lights off, when Isabel had closed the door.

It had not been that pitch black.

The shadows she had seen the figure disappear into were too black to just be the mere shadows of the hallway. Yvonne knew all about shadows. She spent eight hours of her days in them. These were no ordinary shadows.

Yvonne tried not to startle herself with her imagination. She would learn the truth in Omaha.

<<<

The hardest part of her “field study” in Omaha was posing as a chaperone without crossing paths with anyone. Yvonne didn’t want anyone to see her and question her presence at the conference.

As a chaperone, however, she did have access to her students’ rooms and their full itinerary, which facilitated Yvonne being where everyone else was not.  She noted her name had been added to some forms by the hotel; she hoped others on the trip would write this off as a typo.

With a keycard that was programmed for all the students’ rooms, she snuck into Isabel’s room during the conference orientation, and unlocked Isabel’s side of the adjoining door. With this accomplished, she’d be able to move back and forth much more easily.

Yvonne went back to her own room through this door, ordered room service, watched The Animal Channel’s Vampires of the Insect World special and waited.

“The Mosquito is one of the most enduring creatures in the insect world,” an ambiguously British narrator declared. “This six-legged monster has evolved to feed off of the blood of mammals, which may provide a clue about the essence of natural selection itself. Scientists wonder: could a creature like the mosquito have existed in a pre-vertebrate world? Or, did the first mammal, a small rodent crawling through the skull of a dead Tyrannosaurus, perhaps bring with it the first mosquito?”

Yvonne smiled to herself, realizing that this was the part of the show where most people yawned.

Around 0100 hours, Yvonne decided to relocate to Isabel’s room.   It took about fifteen minutes for her to open both sets of doors and then close them in complete silence. She wanted to keep her door open but knew that if Isabel awoke to see them open, the experiment was a bust. She also wanted to block the mystery figure’s access to her own room, should it arrive.

For the next hour or so, Yvonne switched between Isabel’s desk chair and her closet, depending on how lightly she seemed to be sleeping.

Then at 0230 hours, Isabel began to scream again.

Yvonne couldn’t take any risks. She put on her latex mask, which made her face appear as if it was rotting.

Isabel sat up, and stared at Yvonne. Yvonne was studied enough to know Isabel was not awake, and didn’t actually see her.

“It’s coming,” Isabel said, staring at the door, then turned and stared at Yvonne. “Be ready.”

Then she lay back down.

The room became incredibly hot, almost unbearably so. Yvonne wanted to take off her mask, but at this point felt safer with it on for a multitude of reasons, though she hated hearing each humid breath echo inside her head.

A distant sound, like a scraping or a rumbling, began to echo through the hallway beyond the door.

Yvonne looked at her watch, checking the time.

0300 hours. Just like the night before.

Yvonne went to the door to make sure it was locked.

The deadbolt was turned, the safety latch was even over the door to prevent it from opening too far.

She could hear the scraping getting closer, a swishing sound, almost like a laundry machine.

Yvonne was torn by curiosity and a little bit of fear that manifested in the form of rational self-preservation. She decided she was here primarily to observe, and while she was really curious to see how this visitor would get in through the door, she knew the most important thing was to see the visitor and then live to write about it.

She stole away into the mirrored closet that faced Isabel’s bed, keeping it open a crack, then waited.

She checked her watch: 0301 hours.

She could hear the latch moving.

She could hear the deadbolt slowly but deliberately turning.

And then she heard the handle of the door click down, without the announcement of a swiped keycard.

And then the room was filled with an intense chill, the likes of which Yvonne had never felt indoors.

She imagined that if she were to check the temperature, it would not actually be colder. Rather this chill had the feeling of those unintentional shivers the body sends through a person, like when they scratch a chalkboard.

It was that feeling, nonstop.

The scraping noise stopped, and with it, all the sound in the room–even more subtle things, like the hum of the electricity and the bustle of late night traffic, disappeared.

All that remained was the gentle swish of heavy footsteps on the carpet.

Yvonne dared herself to peak through the crack.

Her view was obscured by her mask, but unmistakably there was something in the room with her and Isabel.

“You’re right.  I’ll never be happy,” Isabel said quietly in her sleep, “it’s not practical. The hours will be too stressful. I’ll never have a family.”

Yvonne looked at the creature, and had to stifle a gasp.

It was maybe seven feet tall, but it was hard to tell, because of its hunched posture. It had pale eyes without pupils, like a cave-dwelling bat. Its body was covered in hairs, not like that of a mammal, but of an insect. It had two arms, like a human’s, but they were long and spindly like a fly’s, and the creature rubbed these arms together rapidly as a feeding insect does.

It was hard to make out the creature’s face, because it continued to obsessively rub its long, tiny arms over it, as though it was cleaning it. But Yvonne thought she saw a proboscis, like a mosquito’s…

The creature climbed onto Isabel’s bed, its legs bending unnaturally. And though it was facing away, Yvonne thought she could see it sticking its proboscis into Isabel’s ear.

Yvonne didn’t know what the creature was doing, but she knew she was the only one who could stop it.

She breathed in, nervously, then violently slid the closet door open.

“Get away from her!” she shouted. “Shoo!”

The creature looked up from its meal, and craned its head to look over its shoulder. Indeed the eyes had no pupils, the face looked more like the skull of a bird then that of an insect, but where a beak should be, there was indeed a proboscis. Its visage resembled an organic representation of a medieval plague doctor’s mask.

Yvonne wanted to scream out of fear, but instead she shouted in rage.

“What do you want?” she said. “Why are you doing this?”

The creature hissed at her, and its back opened to reveal wings like a beetle’s. It hovered above the bed, its form still obscured by shadow.

The buzzing of the wings was almost unbearable to hear; it tickled the inside of Yvonne’s ears.

“Go back to where you came from!” she shouted, “and leave this girl alone!”

She could tell the thing was getting ready to attack her. It was clearly very strong; she wouldn’t be able to fight it off.

Her only chance was to open the door, lure the beast into charging through, then barricade it in the hall.

Yvonne ran to the door, hearing the buzzing following her.

Her adrenaline caused her to swing the door open at a rapid speed, but she was so shocked by what she saw that she forgot to jump aside.

Behind the door was an expanse of inky black oblivion, formless and void.

In the distance, stood a figure with the head of the fox, its eyes yellow.

Though it didn’t open its mouth, she could hear its sly whisper in her head:

How can you see us?

It was beckoning, she knew not for her or for the creature behind her.

Then she remembered why she opened the door, and dropped to the ground.  She could feel the monster’s hind legs grazing her back as it flew over her, towards what was ostensibly its master.

She had so many questions, but she knew she had to ignore them for now.

She slammed the door shut, and with the Oblivion behind it now out of sight, the chill left as well.

For a long time, though she knew it was gone, she stood there, holding onto the door, her heart beating in her throat.

Finally, she could see the sun peaking through Isabel’s window, and heard the buzz of traffic beyond it.

She took off her mask to catch her breath, and leaned against the door, sighing.

Too late she realized that Isabel had gotten out of her bed, staring at her, her face in shock.

“What…what are you doing here?” Isabel said.

“I was…there was a monster in here…you were right, Isabel. What do you see when you sleep? What does it tell you?”

Isabel just stared at her, unable to resolve the dissonance of what her teacher was doing in the room.

“You need to leave,” Isabel said. “I will not be coming to class on Monday. You will do everything you can for me to drop it without severe academic consequence. If you speak to me again, I will press charges.”

Yvonne nodded. There was no justifying it.

She turned and left through the same door the monster had left through, though this time it led to the third floor hallway.

She went immediately to the lobby and checked out of the hotel.

She then went to the nearest bank, and withdrew a reserve fund she had prepared, should something like this ever happen. Then she closed all of her accounts.

She called the school and informed them that a family emergency had come up, and she would have to resign, effective immediately.

Yvonne felt some echoes of sadness at losing a potential friend in Isabel, at being misunderstood especially. But then, she was used to being misunderstood.

She decided it was time to take her research abroad.

She flew home, and retrieved her notes on her subjects, stuffing them into a backpack, the remainder of which she filled with the basics of what she would need.

Then she disappeared.

>>>

There are dark entities that lurk in the shadows of our minds, feeding on our insecurities and our fears, wraiths and monsters that use our mind’s capacity to dream to their own degenerative ends. Should you ever find yourself waking up from a half-remembered dream, though, with the uncanny notion that someone, in some corner of the room, is watching, take heart:

It might just be Yvonne Drummond, the Sleepwatcher, keeping vigil so that you can do what she cannot.

+++

Samuel Cullado
1 November 2016

If you liked this story and would like to see more, consider supporting me on Patreon.
https://www.patreon.com/culladobehindthecurtain

 

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