Unable to sleep, Miranda had taken to counting sheep. It didn’t take long before the desire to continue the count felt like an obsession, a compulsion she would be forced to continue until she could count no higher. Boy, was this going to be a long night.
When the count reached thirty, she decided white was boring. She imagined the sheep painted in a various array of colors: pink, purple, blue, green. Even that became redundant and she just let her imagination take over.
Her mind decorated the sheep with gems and jewels, hats and shoes. She imagined their fleece sheared into poodle cuts until she could no longer stand the absurdity their costumes had taken on.
She groaned as she rolled onto her back. She had too many things to do tomorrow. She didn’t need this random burst of insomnia. She put her hands behind her head, interlocking her fingers and began inhaling and exhaling slowly. With each breath she reminded herself, “Bad energy out, good energy in.”
Within a few breaths, she could feel her muscles relaxing, her mind emptying. She continued her breathing exercise as she stared up at the ceiling.
The shadows were dancing in the dim moonlight that flowed in through her bare window. She found herself mesmerized. As sleepiness stole over her, she found shapes emerging as one might find in the clouds on a warm, spring day.
The shapes turned into pictures and the pictures began to shift. Her limbs felt heavy. She could no easier move now than if she’d had sand bags packed over her extremities.
A surge of panic shot through her as the shadows shifted once more from innocent daydreams to creatures that screamed with malicious intent. Her even breathing technique forgotten, she struggled to pull in hurried, ragged breaths.
Was this a panic attack? The onset of the madness she now believed had to have been inherited from her father? She didn’t know. The only thing she knew was these shadows with their tiny teeth- Razor-blades! Her mind shrieked- and giant claws wanted to hurt her.
She was alone in the house. If she screamed, no one would hear her.
Then again, would she really want anyone to find her like this? Paralyzed with the fear of what had to be, could only be, hallucinations? No, screaming had never been an option, even before the idea had been fully formed in her mind.
She fought to lift her head against the pressure encasing her. She strained against the invisible bonds, securing her hands into their current position. Once her hands were freed, she threw the entire weight of her body (all 140 pounds) into rolling over towards the bedside table.
She told herself her fear of turning her back on the shadows was irrational. “It’s just my imagination,” she assured herself aloud. But she didn’t feel reassured. In fact, she felt quite the opposite.
As her hand reached the button on her table-top lamp, she felt something sharp digging into her back. She pressed the on/off switch and blinked away the darkness.
Her body no longer felt heavy. She moved to a sitting position to prove to herself she could. Her muscles moved freely. Her breathing returned to normal. “Just your imagination, see?”
She let out a deep breath and then, began laughing- hysterical laughter. Tears streamed down her face. “Shadow monsters.” She shook her head as another fit of hysteria overtook her.
Over the sound of her own chuckles, she didn’t hear the crackle of static. The amused water in her eyes blurred her vision so she didn’t notice the flicker of the power.
Then, everything went dark. Miranda was immediately silenced. She pushed the switch on the lamp. Nothing. Again and again, the same result. “No, no, no,” she whimpered. “This can’t be happening.”
She wanted to strike out. Fear had once again reared its ugly head and adrenaline surged through her blood. The fight or flight instinct had taken over, but she could already feel her body once again being weighed down. In the dark, she was helpless.
She turned her gaze from the useless lamp and looked to the ceiling. The shadow things were no longer floating there. So, where were they? She wondered.
She let her gaze fall. This was it, she thought. The shadow beasts had surrounded her. If she could have run, she still couldn’t have escaped, so tightly had they encircled her.
She felt the razor edge of teeth biting into her flesh. Claws scratched at her skin. Not all the wounds drew blood, but a few had. She watched in horror as these creatures mutilated her, there was nothing she could do to fight them off.
She screamed- not just in pain, but in fear. She shrieked from that inner-most place that held all of her repressed emotions until her throat was raw and no more sound escaped. And still her mind shrieked with that soul-piercing quality.
Somewhere in the distance she heard sirens, or at least, she thought she did. The only reality she was sure of was these things were real, her father hadn’t been crazy. They had killed him as surely as they would kill her.
On some level, she was aware of the conversation happening around her; of someone flicking on the overhead light. She was vaguely aware of the blood running down her cheeks, her chest, her legs. Her nightgown had been sliced in several places. Sweat had matted her hair to her head. She was not aware, however, that nearly half of that hair had been turned silver. She was, quite frankly, a mess.
She knew whatever demons had infested her room, the light had banished them. But for how long? She couldn’t be sure and so she continued that God-awful, horrible wail.
Her body trembled from the stress of the torture it had endured.
They were asking her questions, now. She had no answers.
Later, when she could speak again she would only mutter these two words: “They’re real.” Always, her words were spoken in that same monotone. Always, she rocked herself back and forth against the padded walls that were now and forever to be her home.