Monday, October 28, 2013

Scared Stiff

So you've probably noticed that we here at Part Time Authors we have an affinity for the month of October - the weather, the food, and the tradition of telling a haunted tale or two. Well, with Halloween coming up this week, I'm going to tell just one more spooky story. 

(I’ll give you a minute to dim the lights and turn on some creepy music.  And your fog machine.)

If you’ll journey back with me … about four years ago … almost exactly to the day…

The weather is finally pleasant in Las Vegas during the month of October; and as is custom on warm evenings, Katie and I were sleeping above the covers on the night of this spine-tingling event.

It was not an unusual night, by any means. The kids had fought us on going to bed at a reasonable hour, we’d eaten ice cream, and The Office was not as funny as it had once been. By all signs, situation normal.

However, sometime just after 2 a.m., I suddenly woke up, almost in a jolt. But though I was awake, I found it impossible to move. As one would expect at that hour, the house was silent and still. But it was more silent and still than ever. The overwhelming feeling I had was that I was under water. My hearing was deafened, muffled.  I couldn’t breathe. And I could not so much as lift a finger. It was if my body was pinned down, even being pushed into the bed. Being suffocated by nothing more than the pressure of the atmosphere around me.

I made a conscious effort to sit up, as if raising my torso would immediately provide oxygen. With tremendous effort I tried to lift my head.  But still nothing budged.

I could feel Katie lying next to me; her body only inches from me, sleeping peacefully as if absolutely nothing life-threatening was going on next to her.

I became panicked and again exerted all the energy of my being to raise myself to a sitting position. Though incredibly sluggish, I could finally feel some hint of movement. I felt like I was far below the surface in a large body of water, trying in slow-motion to reach the surface for that first breath.  But it felt like I would never make it.

After what seemed like several death-defying minutes, I pulled through the thick air and sat all the way up, taking in a large gulp of air, and then another. My pulse was racing and I was even perspiring. I had no explanation for what’d just happened, but I didn’t feel any sense of impending doom or fear. The room felt clear and where it was once dark, I could see the outline of the room through the light that came in the window.  I rolled over and cuddled up to Katie, putting my chin on her shoulder and my arm around her body. She mumbled something incoherent, but I recognized it as a, “Are you ok?” kind of a mumble. My heart slowed down, and I fell back asleep.

The next morning I told Katie what had happened. Neither of us knew what to make of it. We never discussed it again. Fact is, I’d never discussed it with anyone until recently, when I was visiting with my brother, Dehn.

We were at dinner and Dehn happened to tell me about a companion he’d had on his LDS mission in Japan. He explained a time when his companion had awakened, frozen to his bed. It was essentially the same thing I had experienced four years ago. His companion, who was Japanese, told Dehn that it was something that occurred quite regularly throughout his life. This was also the case with other Japanese missionaries that Dehn talked to.

After I told Dehn the experience I had, he pointed me in a direction where I could read more about it – in fact, a magical place where I could read more about anything! This fairyland place is called Wikipedia. It’s on the Interwebs.

It turns out this kind of event is called sleep paralysis.

According to Ripley’s Believe It or Wikipedia, sleep paralysis can last from several seconds to several minutes, and in some rare cases (generally following a post-Thanksgiving dinner food-coma), up to several hours! Doctors, scientists, and drug addicts have also acknowledged that sleep paralysis may be accompanied by terrifying, vivid hallucinations and an acute sense of danger. (Uhm, no doi!)

Evidently some of the causes of sleep paralysis include narcolepsy, increased stress, sudden environmental/lifestyle changes, or excessive consumption of alcohol coupled with lack of adequate sleep. (You can Google "sleep paralysis" and read all about it.)

It was of course comforting to find an explanation of something that had truly felt inexplicable – even if the resolution was less paranormal than I had anticipated, and more of a physiological occurrence. 

The Nightmare, by Henry Fuseli (1781) is thought to be one of the classic depictions 
of sleep paralysis perceived as a demonic visitation.

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