Nightmares and sleep paralysis

(photo from the film The Nightmare, 2015)

I received my first indication that dreams are not always a respite from the stresses and fears of waking life when I was a small child. My childhood home was located right across from my school, the only thing separating the school and my house being a large, sandy playing field for football and baseball.

My nightmare began with me “waking up” in the dream to the sound of a distant knocking from outside of my bedroom window; I could also hear faint sounds of talking, and I had a distinct feeling that someone was about to kidnap me, and was going through the plan of action aloud, reciting it to himself so as to not forget any important detail.


Despite my fear, I went to check who (or what) was making the noise, disturbing my dreaming. I peeked slightly from the side of the curtain, making sure I would not be seen, and that’s when a flash of red light transported me to the next section of the dream.

Next thing I knew, I was being carried across the sandy playing field towards a nearby river located behind the school by somebody dressed as a janitor or a maintenance man. The figure was wearing red overalls and was carrying a shovel. From what I could see of his face, he had a strong stubble, and was constantly making a guttural sound resembling speech but not quite sounding off legible words. The color red was somehow distinct in this dream – it was even “in the air” somehow; it seemed as though everything outside was lit up with that type of red light you see in submarines.

I was totally petrified, unable to use my hands or my feet. Then it hit me – I was about to be buried somewhere near the river. I started fighting with all my might, trying desperately to move my hands and my feet. Suddenly, I could feel my feet moving, and I started waving them like crazy, trying to kick the figure, to make him drop me from his grip.

I finally woke up for real, absolutely covered in sweat and terrified. No shame in admitting that I went to sleep next to my parents for the rest of the night.

Nightmares come and go, but for some reason, this one has stuck with me throughout the decades. It was the first time I had felt (or at least remember feeling) absolute, mortal fear. My life up until that point had been summers with my friends, Ninja Turtles, and Ghostbusters. Sure, I had seen the occasional scary movie or TV show, but as a small town kid I had been effectively sheltered from true evil and the horrors of the world by two loving parents who devoted their entire lives to their children.

The second most vivid of nightmare of my life I had when I was in the Finnish Army, around the age of 19. I was on leave for a weekend, and I suppose the stresses and hardships of serving as a soldier finally led to something of a climax one night when I experienced the terrifying phenomenon known as “sleep paralysis.”

I woke up from a perfectly pleasant dream to the feeling that someone was in the room. I had my face towards the wall, which meant that the “presence” was behind me, right behind my back.

I tried to roll over to face the presence, to see what it was and what it wanted, when I realized I couldn’t move. I was locked in that position. That’s when a feeling began to rise up in me that what was in my room was somehow pure, categorical evil. I don’t mean a “mean person”, or someone simply wanting to do me harm. What I mean is that I felt like I was in the presence of some ancient, eternal source of all things evil under the Sun.

I started shaking in panic, and that’s when I could feel my left hand slightly moving somehow in rhythm to my shaking. I realized I had gained control of it, and the control slowly, terrifyingly slowly, spread to all my joints, and after a moment I was totally free.

I rolled over to see what was behind me. Nothing. I was fully awake, no longer stuck in limbo between the two worlds of “awake” and “sleeping”.

For a while, I thought this was something only I had ever experienced, which made it all the more terrifying. This is common among us people, this thought that we’re alone with our scary, depressing experiences. Later, to my HUGE relief, I read about sleep paralysis and connected the dots. There was even an excellent documentary made about the phenomenon, entitled The Nightmare (2015).

What’s the scariest nightmare you have ever had? Have you ever experienced sleep paralysis?

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