Aphelion Issue 279, Volume 26
December 2022/January 2023
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
Submission Guidelines
Contact Us
Flash Writing Challenge
Dan's Promo Page


by Jeff Curry

Oh, God! It's happened again.

I can't move my arms, legs, maybe just a finger. Yeah, yeah. Just that one finger, what they call the index finger, I think. But nothing else works. I can breathe, barely. I think I can see. A little darkness, that's it. And...

They call it sleep paralysis, I think. Yeah, that's gotta be it. Sleep paralysis. There are other terms and...

Okay, let me focus a little more. An arm, leg, something other than the damn finger. No. Nada.

It's all right. I'll wake up soon enough, the rest of me, anyway. When I do I'll just laugh my friggin' head off at how stupid I was to think this would never happen again. Okay, just relax, man, think of something other than trying to move. It worked the last time.

But when was the last time? Ah, yes, a few months ago when I crashed after summer exams. I passed my history exam, but my French and English Lit, barely. Professor Williams is always a bastard when it comes to lecturing. He had the nerve to tell me I needed to study harder. Who in the hell does he think he...?

Man, I feel like I can't breathe. Damn pillow. Must be blocking one of my nostrils. The other one seems clear enough.

Don't panic, man. Remain calm. Remember what Dr. Silvio said on the Net.

Damn brain's just confused, that's all. Thinks I'm still asleep. The body shuts down when it thinks you're sleeping so you don't kill yourself when you're having a nightmare. Only thing is I feel like I'm having a hell of a nightmare right now.

Why did I have to go to bed so late? This always happens when I go to bed late.

Justin thought it'd be cool to go out, check out that party on Maple Avenue. Damn thing was nothin' but a dud. Girls were cross-eyed, some looked barely legal. One chick, Amber I think her name is--why are all girls named Amber?--tried to talk to me. What did she say? Can't remember. Mind too foggy.

Maybe if I can scream I can have Dan storm into the room and wake me. Is he still here? He's gotta be, right in his room.

Dan! Dan! Help! I've fallen asleep and my body won't move. I know how stupid it sounds, but it's true. Paralysis, it's called. Dan!

Nothing. Oh, that's right, my voice doesn't work. Gotta try again.

Damn. Still nothin'. I know I can make a sound. If I can, Dan will sure to hear and come dashing in. He's gotta be around somewhere. Hope he doesn't have his door shut, beatin' off. Dan!

A faint groggy sound. That's my voice. But I can't make anything out of it. It's like the words are there, but won't form. A nightmare. Definitely a nightmare.

It feels like five minutes just went by and I still can't wake up all the way. What the frig?

It's worse than when I was seven, waking up with my face down in the pillow. I almost suffocated to death, but at the last minute--wham!--I found movement and turned on my back. I never felt so glad in my life.

It's exactly what happened to me back then, but again it's worse.

I had to break up with Jessie. Just had to. When we were together, I never suffered from this, it just went away.

Jessie was a light sleeper and just the slightest growl would set her off, send her eyes wide open and jerking me awake. I never told her about the disorder, because I just never thought to, I guess. I wish I had.

Jessie's with Sam right now. I think they're getting married or somethin', that's what Justin says. He bumped into them last weekend and told me. I hate Sam. Sam's always braggin' about what he's done, how he's interning at some law firm, waitin' for the big bucks to come rollin' in. That's just the sort of guy dear Jessie would get herself mixed up with.

I can't believe it's been four months since we broke up.

Ah, I moved my finger again, the index one. Now if I can only use it to tap my shoulder. Damn! It's tapping the pillow. It's close to my head, but I can't move it there. God, it feels like trying to move a huge boulder with my mind.

I feel sorry for people who are quadriplegic. How can they handle it? I know I couldn't. At least this just lasts until my brain realizes I'm all awake. They have to live with it all the time, like Mr. Patterson.

He used to be a champion skier before the accident. Now his wife takes care of him round the clock. I last talked to him...when was it? Yeah, last year. But I can't remember where. Mind's still hazy.

What was that?

A noise. I heard it that time. It's comin' from above me, like something's standing over me, smiling. And it's cold, like I'm placed next to an overworked refrigeration unit.

Dan always said this place was haunted, that an old man died here once. He said he died right in the very room I'm in now. Died in his sleep, but I'm not buying that story.

They said he killed his wife a long time ago. Strangled her to death. He got released from prison and lived his final days here.

Leave it to Dan the Man to come up with a sick ass story as that. Probably got it from a Gothic novel. Oh, now English Lit's startin' to pay off. Golly!

Still can't move. Dan must be at work. Don't hear 'im movin' around. He should be up by now. But when is now? Is it seven, eight? It can't be nine. I'll be late.

No. Is the appointment today or tomorrow? They told me to call if I was going to be late.

What's that?

Another sound. Like footsteps. Something's definitely in the room with me. I can feel it.

No, just an illusion. Sleep paralysis goes hand in hand with alien abductions. Never happens, people just thinks it does. Same with ghosts. No ghosts here, not by a mile.

When I was seven I thought I heard things. When I suffered from the frozen sleep, as I called it then, I thought I heard someone in the closet, movin' about. That was around the time Granddad died from a stroke.

Just a nightmare, hon. Mom always said that. She's always telling me that my imagination is too wild. Meet a nice girl, not like that Jessie. I don't like her.

I did. Too much. I can't believe she's about to marry Sam. Damn bastard can't even sit up straight half the time, slouches like a worm. And so what if he's gonna be Mr. Legal Eagle? Sure, I'm not Mr. White Collar, but geez!

She's just marryin' him because we're not together. She said she loved me. I told her I'd never love anyone else. Why do we always sound so sappy when girl's bat their eyes and smile? God!

A creak. Sounds like someone movin' around the bedroom. Can't be Dan, can it? Maybe he's tryin' to pry my wallet like he did last week. Need five dollars man, give it back to you next week.

Now here it is a week later and no five bucks. I'll give 'im five all right, right between the eyes.

No, it can't be Dan. Dan would've woke me up. Besides, I didn't hear the door open.

Yeah, I shut the door. I always keep it shut, sleep better that way. And in the summer the door always sticks. When you open it, it makes this weird sound like someone just farted.

No, that would've woken me. But if this isn't Dan...

Another creak. Okay, man. Stay calm. Just the apartment floor settling, that's all. Nothin' more. Don't get excited. You'll never awake. The more you try, the more it spits in your face.

The week after we broke up, I couldn't sleep. I finally fell asleep at around four in the morning and when I awoke...same as now. But I hadn't moved in with Dan then, only a month ago.

This place ain't haunted. No way. Don't believe in ghosts.

Dan's just joking about the strange noises in the kitchen. What did he say? Yeah, he said he heard the coffee maker come on by itself. How dumb is that? I mean if you're gonna joke about somethin', you better go all out. Maybe have a coffee cup come flyin' across the kitchen and shatterin' in a million friggin' pieces.

Dan said the old geezer died in my room. Lived in here the rest of his eight months. Then died away in Slumberville. Don't know how old he was, but he was pretty old. And killed his wife.

He strangled her with a sock or was it a tie? Don't know why he did it...No wait! Dan said he caught her givin' head to the janitor down the street and when she came home he took--or was it a rope?--something and wrapped it around her neck until her eyes bulged out.

Now how could Dan the Man know about that, really? I know he could've looked it up on the Net, but so what? I mean that's way too detailed.

But sometimes Dan just knows things. He's pretty smart when he's not borrowin' five dollars and not returnin' it. Gets A's all the time. Loves history, lives and breathes it. And he always corrects me when I say Jefferson was the second U.S. president. No, anus, it was Adams. No deal.

Dan didn't go out with Justin and me. He was too busy reading. That's another thing Dan the Man likes to do, read. History books and other things that I'd rather gag than look at.

God! What was that? I felt a cold something brush against my neck. Why can't I move? Dan that better not be you or I swear...

It's gone, but I can still feel it. That touch. Like someone put their cold ass finger right on my neck, seeing if I'm really sleeping.

No, it can't be Dan. Can't be anyone. Just imagination. But why does it feel so goddamn real?

I think my eyes are open, but I can't see nothin'. Dark. That's all. It's gotta be at least six or seven up in here. I thought I heard some traffic outside. But that could just be imagination.

No, man. What you felt wasn't a finger. Uh-uh. No, it was...a cold draft?

Did I leave the window open? Damn, can't remember. It was hot last night when Justin and me got back. Justin dropped me off and went back home. But I don't remember openin' the window. Wait, maybe I did. Cracked it open just a little, had to. But nothin' that strong should be shootin' in.

Maybe it was...

Hell no! Somethin' just crawled over me. I think it did. I felt pressure, damn it, I did! And somethin' in my ear like a whisper.

"I want you."

Is that what it said? Don't like the sound of it. Didn't sound like a girl--oh, if it did I'd be ready steady--but it sounded...dead. Like wind sweeping across a hollow canyon.

Get your head clear, you cock bastard. You heard nothin', heard nobody. Just...somethin' you can't explain now. Part of the sleep paralysis. Remember what Silvio said. Sometimes you think the devil's riding your back when it's nothin' at all.

Only this wasn't a devil, somethin' else, somethin'...

Noise. Yeah, something's movin' at the foot of the bed. Maybe pacing. And it's staring at me, I can feel it, making sure I'm still asleep. God help me if it knew I was awake. It wants somethin' and it's thinking long and hard about it.

I want you.

I think I just peed my boxers. Can that happen? Guess so. Maybe that's imagination as well.

God I wish Jessie was sleepin' beside me right now. I'd give anything to have her here. She'd at least move a little like she sometimes does when lookin' for the right position to sleep. Shift on her side or back, nudge me a little to remind me I'm still here in the world...and with her.

She said she liked the way I laughed. Never thought of it before I met her. I liked the way she laughed too. Made me feel alive. I can taste her lips sometimes when I'm asleep, not like now.

Now, Jessie's in Sam's bed. They're probably doing it right now, putting his hands and goddamn fingers all over what was once mine. Thighs, ass, hips, stomach, breasts...

And they're gettin' married. They couldn't've been seein' each other for that long, maybe three or three and a half months, tops. We were datin' a lot longer than that.

She hinted marriage once, said her older sister was gettin' married and how nice it would be to tie the knot.

I pretended not to hear. I sat watchin' some stupid movie, listenin' to Rage Against the Machine on my Nano, wishin' she'd just shut her mouth.

"Well, my sister..."

Alone. I'm alone now in the whole damn apartment. There are other neighbors, but they're gone. Can't hear 'em. They leave early, come home late. Some drunk. I heard the man above us screamin' at his wife, she screamin' back. They got a baby and the baby cries all the time. But I can't hear the baby no more. The wife either. Maybe he's alone this mornin' as well.

Wait! I heard something shift away from the foot of the bed and over to the closet. I felt it too. It's like the world's biggest ice sculpture come to life. I swear to God I just felt its cool surface--it's cool aura--when it moved.

Over to the closet and...I can hear it opening. God, I know it sounds crazy as hell, but I can hear the damn thing opening.

Chalk it up as nothing. No, I won't say that I-word, not at all. This is happening somehow.

Think of somethin', man, anything. When you do, you'll wake up, like last time.

Mom? Should I think of her? She said she met this pretty girl at Aldens last month. Her name was Cathy. She works there, I think. She's kinda shy, goes to Morgan State, and majors in English.

Knowin' good ol' Mom, she probably wears thick-as-hell glasses with buck teeth and a face littered with every pimple in the book. Not like Jessie at all. Jessie, who was no model, had that smile that made me wanna hold onto her for all my life.

I didn't mean to tell her that. She was gettin' on my nerves, wantin' me to do this and that. She got in the way. She hated Justin and what's-his-face. Ed? Ted? No matter. She said I was spendin' too much time with 'em. Screw her. Who does she think she is tellin' me what to do?

No, I didn't mean to tell her that. If I didn't, we'd still be together. We'd be goin' at it like two dog's in heat. But, most of all, she'd still be here, by my side.

This is my punishment, my curse, for saying that to her, for slammin' the door right in her face when she dared put those teary eyes up at me. God!

Sam's one lucky bastard right now. If I find out she gets pregnant with his kid, I'll throw up.

Damn. Still can't move. It feels like it's been ten minutes. That's impossible. It never lasted this long before.

No, it's not like those fears at all. I'm gonna wake up. Yeah, and I'll laugh over how stupid I was for believin' some dead guy came back to life and...and...was what? Tryin' to kill me? See if I was really awake?

I'd laugh, but I can't. I think I can use my voice. I just did, but it's still groggy, a soft moan. If I can get it louder, maybe it'll be enough to jerk me awake.


Still no good. C'mon, champ, you can do it. Remember what Dad said. "Son, when the odds are against you, you gotta go on an' fight. Do what's best."

It's like I can hear him now, but that can't be. What happened to Dad, anyway? Mind's way too foggy, yet I remember everything else.

Something's going through my closet, I can hear it. And now I can't think of anything else, 'cause of that goddamn noise.

It sounds like something's knocking my clothes to the floor or somethin'. Yes! There! Heard the floor creak. It really creaks right in front of the closet. It does so every time I open it or stand in front of it. Creak. Creak.

Something's happening. I can't tell what it is and it sure in hell's not that I-word either. I'm not making this up, I can't be. I know I'm awake and not still dreaming. My body's still asleep, but my mind ain't.

Why can't I wake up all the way? It'd be so easy if I could just snap out of this spell and find out what's going on.

Maybe I'll get lucky and the phone will ring. Maybe Dan's still here and will come bursting through the door like a hyperactive ten-year-old coming to see what that noise his parents are making. Maybe...too many maybes. Might as well suffer this out.

Wait, I hear breathing too. Raspy breathing. No, no. That can't be. I have to be dreaming, yes that's it. But what did I just say? No, I'm not, this is real. More than real. It couldn't get more realer.

Mom, please call me. You always call when I haven't called back in a while, 'specially in the mornin'.

When's the last time I called her? Yesterday? No, it might've been the day before then. Yes. I think it was for only a minute, but we had a pretty good talk, what I don't know. Mom's always been a good talker. Anyway, she'd sure call now, right? I'm sure I haven't talked with her soon. Damn, what's that smell?

Smell's like somethin' just rotted right here in the room. Like somethin' died. No, that's gotta be somethin' else, it can't be what I'm thinkin' it is.

My belt's in the closet and so are my shoes. You can strangle someone with shoe laces, right? Yeah, yeah. Belts too. No, man. This ain't real. No one's raiding the closet to find somethin' to strangle you with. That's dumb. If someone did break in, he's probably just gonna take what he thinks is valuable then be on his way.

But no one broke in, no one living, that is. For starters the door's still shut, has to be. Secondly, the window--I did crack it open--is too far up for anyone to reach.

Hey maybe it's Sam comin' to rub it in my face for shackin' up with what's-her-face.

Man, still can't move nothin'. My legs, feet, torso, arms, hands, nothin'. Just that index finger. I'm flexing it now, tapping it against the pillow. That sound's not enough to wake me. I might as well be listenin' to a friggin' lullaby.

I didn't mean to tell her she was ugly. I meant ugly on the inside. But it came out all wrong. She cried on and on and on. Said I deserved to live alone for the rest of my life, never find nobody. She said she'd spit in my friggin' face if she ever saw me again. I said, "Go right on ahead and try."

Didn't mean it, never did. Now she's with Sam. And I'm stuck here fightin' for my life.

It does feel like that. Something's here. I can feel it. Smell it. Hear it.

And...it just brushed past me again. It's still lookin' for God knows what, making sure I'm still asleep. Bastard doesn't know I'm not, at least my mind's not.

I'm gonna count to ten and see if I can move somethin' other than my finger. One...two...

Creak, bump. Goin' through my clothes, openin' my sock drawer. I can tell.

Three... four...

Another whisper. It just said somethin' else. It said it's gonna get me any second now. Or maybe it's just gonna get me period. Was that it?


Somethin' touched my cheek, somethin' touched my friggin' cheek. Goddamn it! I can barely breathe, one nostril more covered than the other still. I think I'm panickin'.


I can't...


...Do this...


...No more!

Damn it!

Nothin'. It's really bad. I'm usually good by now. Yeah, right about now I'm movin', laughin' over how stupid I was. But something's wrong. I can't be dead. I used to think I was when I was a kid, seven years old an' all.

Just about wet my pants. I went cryin' to Mom and she told me it was nothin'. Just a bad dream.

But a man died in this room, a killer ta boot. And he died in his sleep. His sleep!

Why did I have to shut my door? At least if I left it open there might be a chance that Dan, if the bastard's still around, might come in just to be nosy. He might even hear me tryin' to speak.

Okay, let me try ta picture Jessie here beside me, tellin' me it's all right, just a nightmare. I hear her sweet little voice like rain. Then I can hear her laughin' at me, pointing a crooked finger my way an' sayin' this is what I deserved, that she'd see to it that I'd be strangled so bad that my eyes would not only bulge but pop out from their sockets.

Help me, someone! Help! Mom, Dan, somebody! I'm trapped alone in my body, sufferin' from the paralysis. And something's, I swear to God, tryin' ta kill me, waitin' for the right moment.

And just now, somethin' strange's happening.

Oh, God! Something's moving on my bed, comin' for me. Oh, God! Oh, God! I hear it whisperin' in my ear, in my friggin' ear. I can smell it even. I don't know what it is, but it smells like somethin' that should belong in a landfill, and that might be too good for it.

I can't breathe! I can't breathe! I think I'm suffocating to death. And that hot-cool breath is on the back of my neck, blowin' and breathin'. And that icy touch. Man, it's on my neck now, with somethin' else.

It's him. It's gotta be him. Come back to where he died so he can get his kicks off with one more kill. What's one more? God, why did I have to move in with Dan? Should've stayed at the dorm.

He's right on top o' me. I can feel 'im, breathin' and smilin'. I can feel 'im smilin', like he can't wait to...God!

I'm gonna die and I can't do nothin' about it! Move, goddamn it! Move! Move like your ass is on fire! C'mon!

But I can't move. I can't. I--


Alive! But I'm on the floor, chest poundin' like an engine and my head spinnin'.

It feels like I ran a marathon, then just collapsed. In a way, maybe I did. Not so bad, considering...

I sit up and my head feels woozy again, like I had too much to drink and lived to tell about it. My stomach feels like it's twisted. Man. What in the hell happened?

I think I know, but what the frig.

I think maybe I shouted somethin', like for help, and my voice finally won out. I jerked awake and maybe fell to the floor.

Whoo, just felt my heart kick out again when I got up. Everything feels numb as nuts, but I can move at least.

Whew! Never been so happy in my friggin' life, like winnin' the goddamn lottery and then some.

But I feel so dizzy. Feels more like I was spinnin' around in circles for half an hour rather than frozen in bed. Not in a good way neither.

I look around and see nothin' out of place. Bed looks like a friggin' war zone, though. Sheets tangled and twisted, bunched up in places. Might as well've been wrestlin' a turkey in there.

I can't believe it's only seven-thirty. Seven-friggin'-thirty! It feels like all the mornin' went by. Geez!

Dan must still be in bed after all. But knowin' 'im, The Man might've gotten up early and went out someplace before goin' to work or whatever. No matter. Nothin' mattered, 'cause I was awake. I survived the curse.

Yeah, it had ta be a curse, nothin' else. Maybe this came 'cause o' what happened with Jessie. It could've went far back when I was born. Maybe Mom pissed some witch off in her day and I was the punishment, more ways than one, I guess.

I turn back to the bed. I wanna lay down, oh God I do, but I'm afraid to. Damn, I'd rather have a million guys pee in my face than get anywhere near that bed. I might fall asleep next time or worse not be so lucky in wakin' up in the nick of time or ever again.

Yeah, that sounds dumb. I'll be all right.

But as I look around the room, I see so many things that don't make sense. For one, the window is shut. I thought I opened it last night. It was that hot, right?

How did it get shut? Oh, well, maybe I shut it before goin' to bed or maybe I never opened it to begin with. Maybe the ol' mind's gone empty after all the hell it's gone through. Can't blame it, man!

And there's somethin' else that don't make sense. The closet door looks ajar, but it's always like that, right? Yeah, yeah. I just forgot to shut it, that's all. And that smell's gotta be some ol' jockey shorts stuffed under the bed, not rot.

There's somethin' else, though.

In the tangled sheets, lying right in the middle of 'em, looks like one of my old socks. But it was probably there before. Might've been wearin' the damn thing and took it off in the middle of the night.

It looks all right, but when I move around it looks like it's been wrung tight enough to...

C'mon, man. It was just--okay, one last time--imagination, nothin' else. Damn you.

My head still feels woozy and I wanna lay down real bad. I should go to the bathroom and wash my face. That always works, and then maybe get somethin' to drink, if there's anything in the fridge.

But my eyes keep goin' to the damn closet door, the closet door that's cracked, like wantin' me to open it all the way. I'm afraid to look, you know. I'm afraid to see what might be in there or...what might be missin'.

I take a deep breath and see those little black spots in front of my eyes. My heart's still beatin' like a mother and I wanna lay down real bad.

But I can't. I'm afraid I won't ever be able to go to sleep again, 'specially after lookin' into that goddamn closet.

The sock, the window, the smell, the cold draft. Coincidence, right? If so, why is my head so woozy? Why does it feel like something's been squeezin' the life out o' me bit by bit, the oxygen runnin' out o' my head? Why does it feel like I've been...?

I won't say it. I won't, dammit!

Somewhere I hear a whisper, but I can't tell if it's the wind, imagination, or...


© 2008 Jeff Curry

Bio: Jeff Curry works as a freelance copywriter and editor for various authors and publishers. He currently resides in Western New York.

E-mail: Jeff Curry

Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum

Return to Aphelion's Index page.