Image: Henry Fuseli (1741–1825) The Nightmare 1781 Oil on canvas 101.6 × 126.7 cm Detroit Institute of Arts
As a child, hearing scary stories was nothing out of the norm but experiencing them firsthand is something other worldly. I grew up with two loving parents that would always tell me stories before I would go to bed. Bedtime stories were something I had to relive each night without miss. The mesmerizing words would fill my dreams full of new pictures and take me on rides through my vast and ever-expanding mind. It was so until that fateful night. I would always protest that my dad read me the story because his voice could make scarecrows run for the hills and send thunder roaring the other way. He approached my bedside and insisted that tonight he would instill true
fear in my mind and inspire one of the wildest dreams I would ever experience. If only he knew the effect his words would have on me that night. Fear would find its way not only into my mind but would seep through the cracks in my skeleton and down into my heart.
I cannot recall much about the story I was read (whether it be because of suppressed memories or trauma) but what I do
remember is a certain figure that came out of the book and manifested itself as my living nightmare. Its name was Theadore. Now you may be asking, “why give it such a weird name?” That would be an excellent question had I been the one to give it that name. That thing was the one that told me its name. On that same night the story was read to me, after my parents had tucked me in and retreated to their room, I heard it. A single knock on my wall. This would become a sort of signal. When I would wake at night to that ominous noise, I knew it could only mean one thing. It was here. It was watching me.
By that time of the night the story had begun to fade in my mind, and I had begun to drift off into a dream but then I heard it. A soft yet firm knock. My eyes were open before I could even register what I heard. As if they were commanded by some outside force. I tried to move my body to sit up but for some reason my body did not recognize me as its ruler. It was a strange feeling that I really did not understand. With my thoughts running and my heart racing, I began to panic. “Am I dreaming. What could be wrong with me? Why can't I feel anything? Why am I so cold”. Suddenly my ears picked up another sound. My curiosity turned to terror. It was not a knock this time, no. It was a voice. A very raspy voice like what you would hear over a walkie talkie. Those bone chilling still send chills down my spine, even as an adult. It said, “do not be afraid. I am only here to watch” while letting off a sinister chuckle.
My eyes darted around a dark room only lit by the slightest bit of moonlight coming through my window. My heart was beating harder than a tambourine during worship hour at church. I could not believe what I had just heard. I thought I had made it up. My mind had to be playing tricks on me. Those thoughts quickly fled my mind when my eyes came to rest on that thing. A tall slender individual returned a bleak, near vacant gaze. It was so tall that its body hunched against the roof with its head hanging down. Eyes peering into my soul almost as if he were trying to touch my very being with just his eyes. Even though I could not move or speak it seemed like he knew exactly what I was thinking. “My name is Theadore” he said. Hearing him speak his name did not make the situation any better. I wanted out. I wanted to just snap out of it like this was all just some weird dream. Even if I could speak, I don’t think I would have. What would I even say? Things like this belong nowhere near me. They should exist only in movies, yet one is locked eyes with me on this physical pane of existence.
I sat there for what felt like an eternity, locked in a staring contest with this creature. All it did was stare at me; its body never moving and eyes never wandering. I didn’t know what it would do to me, but the fear was so paralyzing I did not even realize it was inching closer and closer as the night went on. Only when its emaciated finger rose over the edge of my bed was I finally able to force my body to yank the covers over my head. Once I realized I could move I sat under the cover for a while just listening, waiting to see if that thing would rip me out of my bed tearing me limb from limb just like in the movies. Eventually, though I sat there defenseless, and nothing happened. I worked up the courage to peek just the top of my head out the covers. Just enough room for my eyes to scan the room. It was gone. Theadore was gone, only leaving his frightening image in my mind. I buried myself under the covers that night. I wouldn’t dare let any part of my body hang free from the covers lest that monster return to claim me as his own. Not even the stifling air could escape. It was stuck with me for the night. Eventually reclaiming a steady heartbeat, I fell asleep.
He never really left though. Theadore would and still does visit me every few weeks. Whenever I would wake up, robbed of my movement, he would be there. Speaking must be hard for him because all He could manage to do is stare. Slowly his terrifying gaze turned my fear into curiosity. I feel like deep down Theadore is just a manifestation of myself. He is someone who only watches but never gets the chance to reach me. Perhaps he is the embodiment of my real-world experiences. Always seeing others enjoying themselves but never being able to bring myself to join in. He doesn’t scare me anymore. I've grown to enjoy his presence during those times of immobility. His presence reminds me I am never truly alone.