I’m 33 years old and I’m alone in the house. The kids are in bed but my husband isn’t home yet. He’s working late. I’m lying down on the settee watching the TV, my son’s blanket laid over me to keep me snug. It’s late and I’m tired. I’m finding it hard to stay awake. But I am awake. Or am I? My body is numb and I cannot move anything except my eyes. I try to move my foot, but it won’t budge. It’s the same with my arms. I feel a rising panic as it hits home that I am paralysed. But I’m awake. I can see the room, the pictures, the books….and the television. I find myself drawn towards the television. The Sky recording I was watching has finished and the screen is now blank. I’m worried that my airway is blocked by the blanket I’m lying under. But I can’t move to free my mouth. I can only move my eyes. I suddenly sense that I’m being watched. I can feel eyes looking at me and someone is whispering my name. The voice is coming from the side of the settee just out of sight and I can’t move my head. I don’t want to. I’m panicked and wondering what’s happening. I can hear whistling now. A high-pitched tune I should recognise but don’t. And then I see a face before me. An old man. White hair. Prominent teeth. The hat. I shut my eyes but I still hear the whistle. My body is cold. I’m scared and cannot move. With eyes tight shut I sense the television just across the room and can hear it crackling. I pray that I will move again.
‘[Those] taken with this disease, imagine that a man of monstrous stature sitteth on them, which with his hands violently stoppeth their mouth, that they can by no meanes cry out, and they strive with their armes and hands to drive him’ Ludwig Lavater, 16th-Century Swiss ministry
The ‘disease’ is sleep paralysis. It happens when I’m about to fall asleep and I find myself incapable of movement or speech. It may last anywhere between several seconds to several minutes, during which time I may experience mounting fear and panic as well as various forms of sensory hallucination that may be either fantastical or horrific.
I’ve been experiencing sleep paralysis since I was a child. When I was 9 years old I watched Poltergeist. I should not have been watching it. I was too young. Cain has featured in my sleep paralysis ‘dreams’ ever since and even now I wonder if he’s stood on the pavement outside grinning and looking up to my room, I’m sure I can hear his faint whistle.
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