When I was in college (at the "exorcist college" remember?), there was a period of a few months I would wake up screaming.
Every once in a while I'd wake up from a sound sleep with the feeling of being watched. You know that feeling don't you? Books, movies, ghost hunting TV shows talk about it all the time -- that palpable feeling that someone or something is intently interested in your every move.
I'd open my eyes in the dark of my tiny dorm room, the only light coming from quad lights seven stories below my room, and sometimes I'd swear I could make out black shapes around my bed. Really, I know how this sounds. I am me after all, and and an overactive imagination is something I fully admit to.
Honestly, that didn't even scare me that much. It was the sensation that I couldn't move. Like my whole body was being sat upon. Staring into the darkness I would try to scream, usually my poor slumbering roommate's name, but all that would come out would be a tiny, raspy, whisper.
I would carry on like this, struggling to scream, for what seemed like minutes, until I'd slowly gain control of my voice and find relief in shouting my roommate's name. She'd wake up and flip on the light. With the light on, I'd finally be able to move again, and my understanding roommate would comfort me. She was so sweet about the whole thing, amazingly understanding. To this day I feel really guilty about being THAT weird roommate, but she's never said an unkind word to me about those nights.
Knowing what I know now, I was probably suffering from sleep paralysis and/or night terrors. Though the fear that I felt was incredibly real, I am highly doubtful I was being attacked by the ghost of room 706.
Being woken from sleep is a tricky thing. It's disorienting, especially in the middle of the night, and sometimes it's nearly impossible to tell dreams from reality. I've continued to have night terrors for most of my life, my husband is accustomed to my waking up screaming blue murder every few months. And aside from one experience I just can't rationalize away, I chalk up most of my spooky night occurrences to my anxious, neurotic brain.
I'm the biggest ghost nerd you will ever find. I WANT to believe that I've had countless spirits try to wrestle me awake at night (no I don't, but it would make a good Creepy Corner, no?), but I have the hardest time trusting the foggy human brain when it's between sleep and awake. Especially MY foggy human brain.
But can every experience be explained away so easily? Are we too quick to cry, "SLEEP PARALYSIS! NIGHT TERROR!" and be done with it?
When my dad was a teenager, his grandmother died. At the time he was living in The House on La Salle Road, the same house that his sister-in-law, and later my mother, would insist was haunted by spirits who were very possessive of the Hung men (yeah, yeah, yeah I know what I just wrote).
Anyway, he was asleep in his bedroom one night, his back to the wall, when he felt someone shaking him. My dad is a determined sleeper, so he obstinately refused to get up. The more he objected, the more forceful the shaking became. At one point, and he's not sure, he thought he heard his name. That's when he turned over to face the narrow gap between his bed and the wall.
There, right in front of his face, was half of his grandma.
"Standing" where there should not have been room for a short, round woman, was his grandmother from the waist up. Just from the waist up. Where there should have been legs there was nothing. He claims they locked eyes for a moment, he said her name in Chinese, and she was gone. Then my dad went back to sleep.
Even now he talks about it very matter-of-factly. "There was my grandmother. But only half of her. I was definitely awake, and I wasn't scared, but it was really weird." My dad doesn't embellish for effect, he hasn't added any details to the story in the over 20 years that I've been hearing it, and the part of the story that always seems to annoy him most is that he was woken up in the first place.
My dad isn't like me when it comes to spooky things. He's superstitious, he's got a healthy respect for the unknown, he enjoys a good ghost story, and to his credit he always believes me when I tell him weird stuff, but he does not seek it out.
It's the way he tells the story -- calm, clear-headed, I'm not even sure he uses the word "ghost" -- that makes me wonder if THIS "waking dream" might have something more to it?
Then there's my friend, I'll call her Sarah.
For the past few weeks she's been woken up in the middle of the night by a voice calling her name.
What baffles her is that the voice is distinctly young and female. Sarah lives with her husband and her German Shepherd.
The way she describes it is, she'll be asleep, and she'll stir awake at the sound of her name. A weird detail is that the voice is calling her by her nickname, the name only her family uses.
From there Sarah usually gets up, looks around, sees if her husband is screwing around with her, then goes back to sleep. Except the last time.
As was the routine, she was awoken by someone calling her name, so she got up to look around. Finding nobody but her sleeping dog and husband, she started to go back to bed.
But this time, as she was climbing into her bed, she heard very clearly, the same little voice say, "Hi".
Sarah had a little harder time falling back asleep that night.
Oh, and did I mention that she's always woken up around 3 AM? (Why is 3 AM a big deal? Some people say that the 3 AM hour is the time in which spirits are most active. There are various theories as to why this is -- as well as various theories that say it's total BS -- but nonetheless the consistency of time at which she is woken up taps into the fear that a thousand horror movies have instilled in me, and it JUST GIVES ME THE HEEBIE JEEBIES OK?).
I know I say this about everybody, but Sarah is a straight shooter. I'm not sure she even really believes in ghosts. When she revealed this to me, she asked me, "Do you think I'm weird? Do you think I'm crazy?" She broached the idea of something paranormal very tentatively.
Is Sarah just having some weird reoccurring dream? Is she confusing her dreams with reality? Is her sleep-addled brain just playing tricks on her? I have no idea, but this one really makes me wonder.
Again, like my dad, Sarah is was not frantic or frightened. She had the presence of mind to check around her house. And while the "hi" did spook her a little bit, from her retelling she maintained her trademark confident, rational demeanor.
So what do you think? Can it all be explained away as confusion? Night terrors? Waking dreams?
Is it possible that sometimes it's something else? Something unexplainable?
I want to believe, but I'm just not sure.
Have you been awoken in the middle of the night by something unexplainable? Have you experienced night terrors or sleep paralysis?
Tell me! I honestly don't really want to go to bed tonight.