So what follows is a true story. I realize that many have used this sentence as a poor attempt to add creep-factor to this story, so I don’t expect you to believe me. I hope that you will consider something, and maybe you can remember like I have.
You know the times when you have that feeling of nameless dread, unable to sleep but too scared to get out of bed to leave the room? Sometimes you’re even too fearful to reach out your hand to turn on the bedside light. Then, only sometimes, accompanied by a jolting sense of falling, sleep will take you. Those times. I came to dread those times.
Yes, remembering may not be for you. Maybe you’re just happier dealing with the unknown fear. I wasn’t, and although it’s been a difficult time, I’m glad I made the effort to remember what happens to me during those unsettling times. My dread has decreased because now it has a face. Or at least hands, I think.
In Afrikaans there is a great word, laatlammetjie. It means “late lamb,” a term for a child who is much younger than his or her siblings. I am the late lamb, born nine years after my brother and ten years after my sister. Like a lamb I was gentle innocent, but the comparison doesn’t go much further. We were a one-parent household and I think my mom had used up all of her fussiness busying over my brother and sister. I was independent and proud of it, intelligent for my age. I think it was because I spent a lot of time with older people. Kids my age had their heads too far in fantasy-land for my liking. We often went on short breaks, and we just loved being in the mountains. Google the Drakensberg and you will see why.
We stayed once in small chalets call rondawels, literally round-house. I was ten this particular time, and was enjoying my independence more and more. I was absolutely thrilled to get my own room that time; I didn’t have to deal with my sister’s sleep-talking, or even my brother’s farts! I wanted to be a geologist, and would spend my days collecting amazing quartz crystals, sometimes the size of my two fists put together. One evening, the caretaker of the chalets spotted me returning from my best hunt ever: a whole bag-full! My smile was returned; it seemed like were connected that moment. He beckoned me over with a wave of his hand, but I hesitated. Something in the way the wrist moved I think, but I dismissed it as a trick of the light. I showed him my haul for the day, and he said he’d tell me all about the crystals.
What makes crystals so mesmerizing, he said, are the things we feel inside of them. Things, feelings, history all get stored inside, continually bouncing off the flat surfaces inside. I loved the idea. I had a prism set up next to my window and I was mesmerized by the way it split light. He asked if he could tell me a secret about crystals, his voice taking on a mock awe-filled tone.
“What about crystal balls then?” I thought I was so clever. “I don’t like round things. I never have. Round things attract things. Different things.” He raised his eyebrows and seem to hold back his laugh. He let a little giggle slip through, and as he did so, gave me a knowing wink. Somehow it was only then that I really saw his eyes. Big, round eyes. Almost a perfect circle, with the biggest irises I have ever seen, and a tiny black dot of a pupil in the centre. My eyes blurred and at some stage I snapped out of it. He turned back toward his house, and left me motionless for a while. I shrugged it off and went back to my room where my mom had left me some food. I wasn’t hungry, but ate anyway. The bed seemed to be out of place in the rondawel, kind of floating in the middle of a room without corners.
With no moon in the sky and no electric lights for miles around you’d be surprised to find how much light comes from the stars. I noticed that I could see the shadows better from the corner of my eye, so I kind-of rolled my eyes from left to right, seeing if I could make everything out. I thought I noticed a green spark from the corner of my eye, but I reckoned it was either a firefly or those lights you see when you close your eyes tightly. I had fun with it, seeing if I could make it happen. Roll eyes right, nothing; roll back left, spark! Right black left green I thought as I moved my eyes again and again, sort of like a silent mantra. Eventually I got tired of my game and closed my eyes for sleep. I felt weirdly disconnected from my body, and started to notice my breathing was becoming shallower and faster instead of deeper and slower.
With the change in breathing came a pressure on my chest, like a plank had been lain across it from one armpit to another. My body began to feel afraid, while my mind seemed to be detached. I became more and more distant from feeling body until I felt yanked back, my muscles all tensing at the same time and then relaxing, lifting the pressure from my chest and easing my breathing gently.
I opened my eyes to roll them just once more before sleep. But instead of my friend the spark I saw a pair of spindly hands clap in front of my face, just in front of my nose. The small breeze the clap generated blew on to my face, and that’s all I can remember of my time awake that night. I dreamed dreams of green lights glowing through window panes, lighting up faces with eyes that were too round, necks that were too long, fingers that bent in strange ways tracing patterns in the air. Like the fingers were playing a harp whose strings stretched every which way with no end. Then their eyes closed and mouths opened. They opened too wide, lips pulled back too far, teeth too close to me. They repeatedly closed their mouths and opened them, getting faster and faster; chattering teeth sounding like crystal hitting slate, all the time getting closer to me first starting near my feet and moving up my body and oh my god not my head! Please no!
I woke up shouting and jumped from my bed, standing on the sharp crystals, cutting my foot. I had left them in their bag, but they were now all over the floor, seeming to be spaced evenly throughout.
We left that morning. I didn’t tell anyone. I told myself that I just had a vivid nightmare, but I know for certain that the hands are as real as the crystals I left behind, I see them still.