Akia and I were asleep, in the same room but on different beds. Actually, they were cots. Little camping cots. Akia was my sister. She was talking in her sleep – absolutely blabbing. Despite this, we both slept on until I felt a definite, albeit invisible hand tap me across the face as if trying to wake me. I ignored it and slept on; the hand continued tapping. Then I realized the incongruity – I was fast asleep myself, yet could feel a hand on my face and hear Akia sleep-talking. I tried to push the hand away but could not move an inch; tried to call out to Akia but could not speak. I understood then that it was happening again: sleep paralysis.
You will find details of the sleep disorder here, but generally it is described as a feeling of consciousness, but without the ability to move or speak, occurring between the transitional stages between sleep and wakefulness. I have experienced this quite a few times in the past, and only after a particularly chilling episode did I consult Google. I found I was not delusional, and most importantly I was not alone with this affliction. I discovered terms like sleep paralysis, lucid dreaming, and out-of-body experiences (OBEs), all having symptoms which I was wildly displaying: sensing a malevolent “presence” in the company of my physical body but not being able to move, gaining consciousness of the mind while my body still sleeps, feeling like I’ve gone outside my body (as if my mind, spirit, essence or ghost has escaped, depending on your school of thought) and can observe the immediate vicinity independently…But I digress. Back to my story.
As the realization of my situation dawned on me, the tapping hand across my face turned into a gripping force over my neck. I felt the presence of whoever or whatever was doing it all around me, but could not lift a finger to disengage it. And I do mean whoever or whatever, as I had the distinct feeling it was a beast-like, yet man-like creature. Something akin to the Jeepers Creepers monster. That movie creeped me out fantastically, so you can understand the fear that I was in.
And so I tried to wake myself up. I attempted to utter my sister’s name, but of course was completely paralysed. I worked my vocal chords with everything in me, telling myself there was no person or thing strangling me, and attempting to remind myself of the technical reasons I’d researched, as to why this was happening. I couldn’t recall a thing of course. All I knew for sure was the bottom-line solution to this mess – I had to wake up. So I continued trying to speak, but all I could manage was a tiny groan. I decided to go for it and continue with that little noise. At least it was some sort of sound and could wake Akia. Failing that, the sound might just jolt me back to complete consciousness. So I groaned out her name: “ee-eeee-eeeee!” Long and painfully drawn-out, seemingly from the depths of my soul. Akia continued sleep-talking away. After an eternity of these attempts, still with the hand squeezing my neck, and with a growing sense of impending danger which would probably culminate in some dreadful demise, I awakened.
I awakened not unto my flimsy cot, but on a completely different bed – the lower half of a bunk bed – in the sleeping cabin of an offshore oil rig. My groans had indeed woken someone, but it was most certainly not my sister.
Roommate: “Blood of Jesus, blood of Jesus! Are you alright?”
Me: Gasping, clutching my neck. “No. It’s as if I were being strangled,” I managed to croak.
Roommate: “Blood of Jesus!”
She turned on the lights and paced around, panic-stricken, not knowing what to do.
Now, this might not seem a big deal to the average person reading this, but if you’re familiar with Nigerian ways, you’d see how this was very bad for my reputation. Generally speaking, Nigerians are a very spiritual people. We held our mystical juju in high esteem before Christianity was brought to us, and most people still do (though they won’t admit to it), choosing to accept both beliefs as truth.
They believe, maybe not the stories of man’s origin that our juju priests tell, but certainly the power that lies in their incantations and consultations with the “other side”. Hence a lot of my people regard dreams as a sort of window to the supernatural. If you were chased in a dream, it’s a sign that there are demonic agents after you in reality. A sexual experience while sleeping is not a “nocturnal emission”, but an attack from a “spiritual partner” – and this is bad, very bad. If you accept and eat food offered to you in a dream then…I can’t remember the consequences but I assure you it’s a really terrible omen.
So imagine my embarrassment waking up like that. The fear and discomfort my roommate obviously felt being around me. The fact is, bar the initial two seconds after waking, I really didn’t feel like clutching my neck, coughing and making all those guttural sounds indicating discomfiture. That act was more for my poor roomie than out of necessity. What I longed to do, and indeed put in great effort not to, was laugh. Out loud. Great bellows of laughter from my belly. I must have looked a rather good candidate for another Exorcist movie. I was completely certain that in her eyes, I was possessed and under spiritual attack. Therefore I chose to stick with the original reaction, because adding wild laughter would definitely include madness to the list of my ailments in her opinion, or at least confirm her suspicion of demonic possession, and the poor girl would surely flee from my presence.
As if I needed more props for the horror movie scene I was currently in, there was about me, what Stephen King would probably call a “smell of bad”. An odour, seemingly from an other-worldly source. A stench which simply ought not to be. One which, in Mr. King’s fantasies, usually accompanied something so evil, it had run out of ways to express its malevolence so simply stunk to amazing degrees. Hence my jumping right into the shower as soon as I’d collected myself.
The truth concerning that awful smell, however, was much less sinister. During my mental struggle to awaken, I’d exerted my physical self so much that I’d been absolutely drenched in perspiration. Only, this wasn’t your usual post-workout smell of effort and achievement. It was the stench of sweat that has accompanied fear. Evidence of the battle to regain my motor skills and get away from “the thing”.
For me, most episodes of these sleep disorders seemed to occur by some religious prompting, most frequently while reading any spiritually stimulating novel such as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Completely fictitious, often fantastical tales but surrounded by real uncertainties challenging the core beliefs of Christians. After immersing heart and soul into the story as I always do, weighing the facts against fiction, imagining, wondering, guessing just how far off the mark the author could actually be on subjects like God, historical events in the Bible, right and wrong, good, bad, and the million shades of grey in-between, it made much sense to me that these incidents should occur during a nap taken right after filling my head with such ponderings.
I had been reading C. S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces (about gods, mystical sightings, divine punishment and such) just before bed, a book I was thoroughly enjoying but that wasn’t sparking any philosophical fires in me. More of a distraction after the long, hard shifts I’d been working. If I’d had the chance to spare my sleeping problems any thought beforehand, I would have felt confident that fatigue from the day’s exertions would’ve sufficed to trump whatever tricks my mind had in store, and simply let me crash. So imagine my confusion when I realized the probable source of this embarrassment – an unassuming PDF on my laptop.
Needless to say, I had no intention of returning to the book until I left the rig and was once again within the confines of my own room at home. But it was just as well, because it turns out that I’d already completed the book when the outburst occurred. Lesson learned though. Whenever boredom hits me on the rig, I’ll go for Fifty Shades…No. No, I don’t think that would be wise either. I wouldn’t want a referral to this link by another concerned roommate. I’ll just stick to Tom Clancy then. What harm could possibly come from working a double agent in my sleep?
I left the rig several days later. I have not happened upon my roommate ever since. I hope never to see her again.