You never really notice how quiet the night is. When I was a young boy, when I put my head down on my pillow and tried to sleep, I thought I could hear an army marching far off in the distance, though of course, it was only my heart beating. Now that I'm older, I listen to music before sleep. Because frankly what I've heard at night terrifies me.
Now, of course, you get all manner of nocturnal animals at night. A midnight cat fight has made me jump a few times, especially the first time I heard it. You get drunks stumbling blindly home and making a racket. The night is not nearly as empty and uninhabited as I had always thought. But so long as that's all out there, on the other side of the door, behind the curtains, then I'm fine. That's how I have always reconciled my fear of the night.
Not a fear of the dark mind you. Darkness doesn't scare me. The night scares me, because what happens to me only happens at night.
Now I don't know what caused this incident to happen. My home at the time was only about thirty years old and the people who lived there before had been there since the building was constructed and it's not as if they died in suspicious circumstances or anything.
But one night, for no apparent reason, as I had been lying in bed trying to get to sleep for about thirty minutes, I heard a voice. Well, that's not a great way to phrase it. I should say a voice asked me a question.
"Are you awake?"
I live alone, of course. There was no one else in the building. I hadn't heard anything to suggest someone would have broken in.
You might expect a disembodied voice to be a screech or the voice of a child. Something strange and unnerving. But it simply sounded like someone asking a question. No screaming voice of the dead. Just a question.
Now as it was winter I was pretty deeply cocooned in my duvet and blankets so as to stay nice and warm. As such, I couldn't open my eyes and peer around the room. I was like a child. If I couldn't see whatever it was that just said that, then it couldn't possibly exist. I reflected on what I thought had just happened. Perhaps it was my imagination, perhaps my brain had blurred the line between being awake and dreaming. I slowly convinced myself it hadn't happened.
"Have you gone to sleep?"
It was real. It was happening. There was a voice in my room asking me questions whilst I tried to sleep and I was fucking terrified. I was paralysed. It kept asking questions.
"What's your name?"
"Do you live here?
Eventually, ignoring it became too hard. In my duvet shell, my shroud of warmth and protection, I slowly edged my hand closer towards my bedside table. It could have been over the course of a minute or it could have been twenty, but I prepared myself to dart my hand out and turn the light on.
I'm not sure if you could count it as bravery, but I reached out, fumbling for the switch on my bedside lamp. I turned the switch and as soon as my eyes sensed light in a flash I was out from the covers and staring around the room. It was fight or flight and there was nowhere to run. I found no burglar lurking in the corner, no ghost, no nothing. My room was its usual self, just as I had left it before trying to go to sleep.
I couldn't just dismiss what had happened and couldn't bear the thought of going back to sleep. I turned on all the lights in my home and went online for a bit, watched some videos, anything to distract me from what had happened. As soon as it was light outside, I phoned in sick, which was kind of true, and tore my bedroom apart. Had someone broken in and put a speaker in, trying to screw around? Not that I could find, and I had been very thorough. I took all electronic devices out of my room, in case it came from any of them. Looked for tiny speakers hidden on top of the wardrobe. Nothing.
I put my room back together, set up a work station in my kitchen as I wouldn't keep my laptop in my bedroom and passed the evening with a feeling of trepidation. I went out and bought a torch, so I could keep it under the pillow as I slept. I worked in the kitchen for as long as I could, but it eventually got to three in the morning and I couldn't put off sleeping any longer.
"Are you awake?"
I turn on my torch, search around the room wild eyed and frightened. Nothing. Not even a shadow of a hint of a shape in the corner of my eye. I go back to bed. I'd had a bit to drink over the night so was perhaps a little more daring than I had been the night before.
"Do you not want to talk?"
It's amazing how fear wakes you up. Didn't sleep till dawn broke. This was a few years ago now and I've been dealing with it ever since.
So of course, the straight forward answer is simple: move home. And I have. A number of times. But it still follows. I even bought a dog for a bit of companionship. It's not easy having to do this kind of thing all by your own. But I learnt that dogs can get pretty easily spooked and I was only able to keep it for a few weeks. It would be fine during the day but at night I could hear it whimpering. I let it stay in my room once at night but as soon as the lights were off it bolted for the door, desperate to get out.
The questions vary per night. "Are you awake?" is the most frequent, it usually opened with that.
That's why I now listen to music when I sleep. To drown it out. If I can't hear it, perhaps it's not there. Whenever I'm asleep, I'm not afraid of what might be lurking beneath the bed, I'm afraid that there might be a hand pulling back the sheets. That whatever it is that whispers to me at night might reach out. If I ignore it too much it might get impatient. I don't know what it is and I don't know what it wants. I don't even know if it's real or in my head. I'm not insane. At least I really hope I'm not insane.
I want to put this out there in case there is anyone who has been through the same thing. I wouldn't wish it on anyone but I hope there is someone out there who can help. Who has been through the same thing, someone that can tell me I'm not losing my mind.
UPDATE: I tried not using music last night.
"What's your favorite song?"
"You can't ignore me forever."
Somebody please help me.