I used to call him The Shadow Man.
At least that’s what I’m told…
He would visit at night. Hovering at the corner of my eye. His insidious followers, who I could never make out, would pin me down preventing me from turning to look at him. Sometimes he would torment me with swarms of flies or bees, spiders crawling up my chest, or serpents coiling around my throat. No matter what shape his demonic entourage took, it never mattered. Struggle was useless. I never did get a good look at his face. Always a black blurred shape, half there, half not. Smiling. Always smiling.
As I grew older he visited me less, instead preferring to send his minions to do his work, and even they came less often. Maybe he got bored? Maybe he had other children to torment? I didn’t know or care.
Now I know that there was no Shadow Man. Just a hallucination brought about by a simple flaw in the bodies in built defense mechanisms. When we sleep our bodies are paralyzed to prevent us from hurting ourselves while unconscious.
Sleep paralysis is a condition where the brain wakes up before the body. You can imagine it as the opposite of sleepwalking where the paralysis wears off while the brain still sleeps. This leaves one in a state where they are conscious but unable to move. This on it’s own would not be so bad if not combined with the fact that the brain retains some of it’s dream-like state. Hallucinations are common. Dark figures, constricting monsters, swarms of insects; these have led to many folk tales of evil spirits and demons that visit in the night. Compound this with a common feeling of suffocation and you have a condition that can cause serious mental and even physical trauma to many if left untreated. I’ve learnt to make peace with the uneasy feeling and the unwanted visitors it brings, even to the point of being able to control the hallucinations somewhat but they still reappear half a dozen times a year. I couldn’t imagine being one of the people who experience this on a weekly or more frequent basis.
This condition is almost like the physical, internal manifestation of the self isolation we are all experiencing at the moment. A temporary imprisonment alone with our thoughts – the good, the bad, and the ugly…
Thirteen coils constricting tight,
With serpentine slender and devilish delight.
Paroxysms of hornets, bees and flies,
what cold, dead madness behind those eyes?
Chameleon Camouflage, shadow-to-shade,
Watching. Waiting. Abating. Enslaved?
Ragged breaths, “We’ve done this before”
ethereal armaments, dreams of cold-war.
Quisling muscles – “Abandon your posts!”
Eternal entrapment, warden’d by ghosts.