The Night I Woke Up (part 5)

[I’m going into this post on the assumption that it will be the final installment of TNIWU. That could be the reason this entry is a day late: to increase the tension and keep you on the edge of your collective seats. Would that it were true. The fact is that I was swept up in the details of yesterday like a leaf in a dust devil. Further, although ready to continue the story in the morning, I decided to wait until the mists of evening fell. Far more conducive to conjuring the mood of this tale, wouldn’t you agree?]

It was true. The person, beast, or thing on the other side of the wall was moving once more. To my overwhelming relief, the steps I heard now were receding. They followed the same direct path they’d taken to reach the window, but in reverse. It was moving back to its lair or den or craft or bog hidden in the swampy woodlands bordering my aunt’s back lawn.

As each impression sounded on the debris-strewn grass, it felt as if one after another leaden blanket were lifted off my prone body. I lay there just the same, still as stone. There was no chance I was going to make any kind of movement as long as there was even a slight chance I could be seen in that glaring chamber.

The steps continued toward the woods until I could hear them no more. Gradually, the silence faded, once more yielding to the sounds of nature: croaking frogs, screeching insects, and the wind disturbing the fronds of the palm trees scattered around the yard.

Surely, it was gone. Surely, I was safe.

Other than the possibility of a cramp in my stiffened legs, there was no reason to rush my escape. What were a few more minutes when I’d spent… How long? I’ll never know. It mattered little. The adage, “better safe than sorry” was never more applicable nor more real. So I waited, until…

With all the courage available to an admittedly wimpy pre-teen, I didn’t so much get out of the tub as I did slither. As I made my way over the edge, no part of my body left the surface. I was nearly one with the fixture. I continued my low profile slide to the floor and across the grimy tile.

When I hit the door across the room, decision time was upon me. Getting through that door would unquestionably require my hand to rise up to the knob, putting that part of me in an exposed position. The alternative would be to lie on the floor until dawn. The choice was not as easily made as it would seem. In what to my mind was possibly the most courageous exploit of my brief existence, I reached up to the door knob.


As excruciatingly slow as the entire experience had passed, that much quicker were my next set of actions. In order to limit my vulnerability, the time it took me to grab the knob, turn it, open the door, close it, turn off the light (no more advertising my presence to the world of the unknown), scurry down the hall, jump in bed, and cover myself with a blanket, was probably less than two or three seconds. Fear is a powerful accelerator. It isn’t, however, conducive to a good night’s sleep.

Thus the active portion of my adventure ended. And thus began a night of wakefulness followed by years of disturbing thoughts, hidden fears, and self-inflicted silence. It was at least a decade before I could dredge up the courage to recount this nightmare to others. By that point, in my 20’s, there was nothing to fear about reliving the experience. I was an adult, after all, and the events of that infernal night were far off in both time and distance. No residual effects of a night of terror could interfere with my more mature life.

At least, that’s the theory.

~ the end ~

The Night I Woke Up (part 4)

[People have been asking me where this is going and how long they have to wait to find out. Well, I know where it’s going – I lived it, after all – but the length of that road is as unknown to me as it is to my readers. There’s no GPS to help us along the way this time. We’re feeling our way in the dark through uncharted territories of memory.]

It’s not uncommon to hear someone speak glibly about a few moments feeling as if they were hours. We’re wise not to buy into such claims. Any imaginary extension of the time-space continuum is invariably a gross exaggeration. Whether they’re spent in a dentist chair or at a job interview, a minute is a minute and an hour is an hour.

Not so in a bathtub, evidently.

The time I spent cowering in that fixture might have been no more than two minutes, but it could have been hours. Time had truly lost meaning for me. The only concept I understood in those moments was terror.

The sound of raspy breathing wheezed through the open jalousie window above me. If I had reached my arm up, I could have touched it, but that was the last thing I would have done. A more immediate, if unrealistic, desire was to somehow slip between the porcelain and cast iron of the tub. Instead, I made myself as low profile as the film left by the previous bather.

What was there, standing, squatting, or otherwise looming on the other side of that wall? No imagination is more active than that of a young boy and mine was in overdrive. With plenty of time to dwell on my peril and more than enough fear to fuel the flame, all manner of evil tidings occupied my thoughts. An escaped convict? An alligator that had somehow acquired the ability to scale a wall? Why stop with known creatures? It could have been some mythical juvenile-eating beast that had caught the scent of fresh meat. Giant irradiated arachnids, dinosaurs, and aliens weren’t too far flung for my phobias.

To be honest, I was totally ignorant of the fauna of the east coast of Florida, as I was of most things that didn’t affect me directly. Such is the self-obsession of the average pre-teen boy and I was no exception. In this case, it might have done further harm as my imagination roamed far beyond the limits of local wildlife. Bears, lions, dingoes, and wolves might not have been native to the area, but they freely ranged in my mind.

I fully expected an arm or a claw or a fang to come crashing through that window, showering my puny body with glass before it was pierced and carried away by the nameless and faceless monster.

The breathing continued. Otherwise, the silence of the house and the outside world continued. The light in the bathroom only seemed to grow brighter, my vulnerability more intense. I was aware of my own trembling. How long can a boy hold his breath?

Then another step.


The Night I Woke Up (Part 2)

[The point here is to write a story about something that happened to me a very long time ago. I started it last week not knowing where it would go or how long it would take to get there. Let’s all find out together, shall we?]

While living in the limbo of preadolescence, all things appear alien to a boy. To this boy they did, anyway. At the same time, the world of fantasy becomes increasingly attractive since the one he’s living in grows increasingly hostile. The sense of estrangement from all things familiar is thoroughly disorienting. Nighttime only intensifies the resulting wonder and fear.

Today, waking up from a deep sleep is a nightly occurrence. At least. In those early days, sleep was a jailer to whom I was willingly incarcerated. A raucous day in the Florida sunshine made sleep that much heavier. How to explain, then, awakening to nothing in the blackness of the night? Perhaps I’d consumed too much Coke or lemonade to relieve the oppressive Florida heat and humidity. The pressure on my bladder attested to that possibility.

In the surrounding darkness and unfamiliar environs, inertia and fear battled nature’s urges. For a few moments, I was able to hold back the dam and, there being nothing to see, I listened to the sounds of night in the swampy neighborhood.

In complete darkness and with no one stirring in my aunt’s house, I was surprised to hear, not silence, but a near deafening din. All manner of creature filled the sonic vacuum left by sleeping humans: frogs, insects, wild and domestic beasts. Low murmurs, high-pitched screeches, and everything in between created a symphony of the unknown to my immature ears and overdeveloped imagination.

I was in no hurry to leave the safe confines of the bed, but my bladder had other ideas.

With stealth befitting a more perilous predicament, I slipped out of the room and along the length (maybe seven feet) of hallway to the only bathroom in the cramped ranch house. What’s the first thing to do when one finds oneself in a dark bathroom, preparing to do one’s business? Turn on the light, of course.

Bad idea.

Imagine yourself under a spotlight on a stage in a coal-black hall with innumerable… somethings you can’t see watching you. That was me. The world was black and I was immersed in glaring brightness to which my eyes had yet to acclimate. I’ve never, before or since, felt so vulnerable. I was in a cube of light in a world of dark. The single window in the bathroom shone like a beacon out to the unknown outside.

It was unnerving to a boy who had no idea what it meant to be unnerved. My consuming thought was to finish what I went in there for and get out as soon as possible. My fear, unfortunately, inhibited the process, forcing me to stand exposed. The task took far longer than it normally would but I finally finished.

It was at that precise moment that I heard the first of the footsteps. From outside.

To be continued…

The Night I Woke Up (part 1)

Memory plays more tricks on us than Penn & Teller combined. After the passage of enough time, it becomes as unreliable as a Ford Pinto. And sometimes, just as dangerous. The following is a true story to the best of my addled recollection. The fact that it occurred many decades ago only increases its allure of mystery even as it decreases its credibility.

For reasons that elude me to this day, every few years my parents wedged us all into the family station wagon and made the long drive to Florida to visit my aunt. I can’t even begin to imagine how my mother and father survived those trips. Why would anyone, of their own free will, drive more than 1,000 miles over two interminable days with three sons who probably hastened the need for the ADHD diagnosis? We bounced around that vehicle’s back and way-back like electrons on amphetamines.

Our road trips came before the days of portable entertainment devices and we were too restless for passive activities such as books or radio. Our primary means of passing the time was incessantly attacking one another then appealing to Mom or Dad for justice that was as futile as the discipline they tried to impose. Another diversion was reading the countless “South of the Border” signs (“Pedro’s Weather Report: Chili Today, Hot Tamale”), which seemed to us to stretch from Connecticut to the resort’s South Carolina location.

We usually split the trip into two supposedly more manageable segments by spending a night in the cheapest, i.e. sleaziest, motel in North Carolina. (If you think sleazy, motel, and North Carolina is a redundancy, you’re not far off the mark. One of those joints could justify a story in itself. More than likely, it will.) By the time we staggered into my aunt’s house, we were in need of sleep and therapy.

This was called a “vacation”.

My aunt was widowed before I was conscious of such fundamental matters as death. To my prepubescent mind, she was just an old woman to whom I was somehow related. My innate ignorance of anything outside my proper skin excluded any need or desire to understand that she was my father’s sister. It didn’t occur to my self-absorbed state that my father had parents, never mind brothers or sisters.

The old girl had been alone for as long as I could remember. She dealt with her solitude by engaging in a series of polygamous – but purely platonic – canine and feline relationships. We had never encountered an adult who was anything like her. She was as uninhibited as she was eccentric. None of the descriptors for “grown up” applied to her. More appropriate labels were boisterous, spontaneous, and extravagantly loving. And, of course, we adored her for it all.

A stay at my aunt’s was a treat for us boys. Besides goofing around with her, it also meant long days at the beach, exploring the most unappetizing dining establishments on the east coast of Florida, staying up late, playing with the pets du jour, and lots of yelling. The reason for the increased volume is that, in addition to her many other virtues, she was almost completely stone deaf. We had to use our “outdoor voices” to have any hope of being heard.

Thus we spent many fun and carefree days. Nights, on the other hand, were less pleasant. The good news is that we slept through them. Most of them.

This is the story of The Night I Woke Up.

To be continued…