When I was much smaller and still living in the small, old, dilapidated house in the outer suburbs of Philadelphia,
my family of four was cleaning the couple rooms we had in the house in-between smoking breaks.
While everyone else was in either my mother or sister's room, I was kneeling next to the door of mine, organizing some toys with my back to the wall that held two closed windows,
allowing the light of day to filter inside through a dusty screen.
And while listening to their talk of where to put this and how to stack that, a sharp, rapid, masculine breathing appeared behind me.
Terrified, I quickly ran out of my room and told everyone, but my mom and aunt dismissed it as a child's imaginings.
I accepted this. But only a few years later sleep bereaved me. Whenever I closed my eyes in the typical silent darkness, loops of musical instruments would incessantly play in my head.
Hours passed as a cacophony of trumpets and trombones and violins and pianos mercilessly reverberated through my skull, independent of any volition,
and too heavy to be held by a fan of my own design.
My mother took me to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and prescribed for me Zoloft which, in less than two weeks,
practically cured me of my anxiety and obsessions.
I was able to sleep better now that the musical instruments had more or less left me, and the typical silent darkness actually became that.
But no comfort could be found enveloped in the blackness of the room, and soon the same terror which struck me as a child pressured my spine ,
crushing from the inside and the outside simultaneously, threatening to explode with violent force. My reactions, however, had changed.
I did not escape to a different part of the house because, not only did I not want to disturb anyone,
but the threat of returning to a therapist was less than appealing; I had had enough of them for the last year or so wherein these events transpired.
So my nights would begin with me sleeping on my right side facing the other end of the bed.
As I settled down to sleep, footsteps revealed themselves in sound upon the carpet, and the breathing began shortly after they reached where I rested.
Then, a female would start to whisper incoherently and hurriedly in my ear.
It always started very quietly, barely noticeable, in fact, but slowly started to crescendo in both intensity and volume, and my terror met this tempo beat-to-beat, step-to-step.
Every time I attempted to ignore it, the terror would reach to such a point that I couldn't take it anymore, and,
fearing that this time truly held some horrible entities or drug-addled intruders,
my back twisted to meet the threat only to be greeted with an empty wall and the cessation of my fear's origins, and anti-climactic relief.
Different sleeping positions did nothing. Lying on my stomach was useless, indeed, it somewhat worsened the situation.
I tried to sleep on my back, and this helped, but still a presence loomed over me, and this weight became crushing.
Terror did not come to me here, but sleep was equally as elusive, so this did nothing either.
A barricade of pillows behind my back slightly shortened how long it took the terror to reach me,
as I possessed the expectation that we all hold through our lives: that our blankets and pillows and warm clothes reject both cold and demons.
But the ultimate anathema was another person's presence. It seemed as if they radiated a force-field that I could weakly feel.
And it both comforted and amused me to believe that just outside of this force-field lurked the frustrated cowardly tricksters that so plagued me.
Eventually my parents sold the house and my mother and I moved-in to a smaller, but much more livable apartment (our house had a mold and moisture problem,
among others) where we live to this day, for three years thus far.
The whispering has more or less abated, but, sometimes, footsteps will make their way around my bed on the carpet, careful not to flutter the papers on my desk or knock over a book,
and breathe through my ear teasingly, or occasionally whisper, but adulthood and a new location has granted me a less terrible reaction to these, what I will call, hallucinations.
Though I fear them coming back,
the only time the Stalker has made himself known in this apartment was what I believe to have been several unfortunate conditions that arose from the cold airflow of my air conditioner
and hotter air from the summer outdoors, that culminated in me opening my bedroom door at three in the morning to be greeted by the familiar dark hallway,
and the all-too-familiar sound of a great exhalation.
This time, though, I felt it's hotness on my face, and scarcely a moment went by before I slammed the door shut and crawling back into bed watching my cat to see if he noticed anything awry.
He didn't, but that did only so much to help my paranoia. And it was the same few hours that I was once so closely acquainted with before sleep and I met once again.
Sleep is much more graceful and stealthy in its approach these days, thankfully.
But it is strange to think that this terror-driven presence has been one of the most constant throughout the years for me. It's hard to imagine a sleeping life without them.