Non-Fiction by Augustine Onyechi
Riding with the Witches – Augustine Onyechi
I grab my phone and type out the words “sleep paralysis” on the Google search bar. I have recurring dreams that feel like a real-life, physical struggle with demons. I’m trawling the internet for an explanation for this phenomenon after a spell of thought-wandering has brought up the memory of an article I read—something about sleep disorders. There has to be a logical, psychological explanation for this dreams, I insist, because the only other explanation I can come up with makes me deeply uncomfortable. There’s no way I’m dealing with something dark and evil here, even though it feels strongly so.
I’m recounting last night’s episode to two of my colleagues. The fear I felt from the experience sweeps through me again. I gently and unconsciously stroke my wrist while I narrate my ordeal: I woke up to find someone dressed in a black cloak, grabbing my wrist with claw-like hands. When I break free and the presence leaves, my wrist feels a tiny bit sore from the pull. I go back to sleep, feeling sure I’ll find bruise marks on my left wrist in the morning. I see no marks at daylight. No proof. I don’t want proof. I don’t want anything that makes this real. Even though, yes, it feels real. My colleagues explain my “dreams” with the very words I don’t wish to hear, to admit: evil spirits, attack. They name my fears, label it. I disagree with them, although I don’t express it. I don’t tell them that their explanations are far-fetched. I listen to advice and encouragement on how to pray, what to do, what to say. They forget the part where I mentioned I’m paralysed through it all.
I can’t say that I altogether do not believe in the existence of evil spirits or demons alike; I simply choose not to acknowledge them. I never use the fact that they exist to explain away anything that seems mysterious or strange. My experience now, though, forces me to reconsider my thoughts.
I’m reading a book—a usual bedtime routine that I discover, to my utter dismay, ushers in sleep faster than I want it to. The light from the electric bulb floods my bedroom with a bright yellow. I doze off, book in hand. When I come to, there’s a change of scene. I’m facing a naked baby with a skin that looks like it’s made out of clay. With a face that had the sinister look of a chucky doll about to rip its victim apart. My limbs won’t move. My throat is sealed shut. I’m helplessly stuck. When I can finally move my arm, I hurl my book across the room—a futile attempt at taking a swipe at the baby who now disappears.
In an instant, everything is back to normal. Except, my heart feels like it’s going to beat right out of my chest, and I’m hoping I’ve not startled or woken up the rest of the house with the scream that finally escapes from my throat. I’m exhausted in the wake of another episode, dreading the remaining hours of sleep and rest I should have.
I wake from my sleep. It’s not a proper awakening. My eyes just open, as though some force has roused me. I’m sprawled on my back (not my usual sleeping position). An animal with a likeness to nothing I know in real life is sitting on my chest. Fear. Oh, the fear. I can’t move. I can’t speak. I pray silently for this to be over. For the beast to leave. I’ve gone through this many times to know that it will eventually pass. But the few seconds I have to endure it is hell. It passes. I clutch my chest—my heart is beating so fast it makes my chest literally ache.
I swear never again to fall asleep on my back. Ever
The Google search has produced a slew of links. I’m spoilt for choice. I click on the Wikipedia result, and it contains a spot-on explanation for what I’ve been experiencing. According to Wikipedia: Sleep paralysis is a transitional state between wakefulness and sleep characterized by muscle atonia (muscle weakness). It is often accompanied by terrifying hallucinations (such as an intruder in the room) to which one is unable to react due to paralysis and physical experiences (such as strong current running through the upper body).
This is a thing, and the relief I feel is visceral. The explanation, perfectly describing my ordeal, grounds the experience in a realm that I identify with. I’ll take a disorder, yes. But definitely not some evil spirit carry-on.
Augustine is an avid reader whose recently acquired taste for books has led to a passion for storytelling and language. He’s interested in telling stories that have their theme on everyday human experiences, and hopes to bring them to light with words, in familiar, but yet, interesting and relatable ways.