OK, before you proceed, there are a few things you need to know:
1. I don't like the dark
2. I have a touch of insomnia.
3. My husband gets night terrors.
4. We often co-sleep.
5. My son, Adam, is a very light sleeper.
It was about 2:30 in the morning, and though I knew I would be tired in the morning, it would not be different from most mornings that followed these sleepless nights. I put down my book and switched off the light, hoping sleep would come. I lay in bed listening to my toddler, who had joined us about an hour ago, breathing softly beside me, and on the other side of her, my husband sleeping deeply with a heavy drone. The tired old house settled around me with soft creaks and an occasional thud. In the living room the fish tank hummed, and outside a very confused bird tried to convince the world that it was nearly morning. I began to feel sleepy. Finally.
In my fading consciousness I heard a creak and the soft thump of feet hitting the hardwood floor down the hall. I waited to hear the shuffle that would tell me which of my sons it would be, the slow heavy pace of Ethan, or the quick light footfalls of little Adam.
THUD-THA-THUMP! There was a sudden pounding on the floor. Then a blood curdling scream from Ethan. Then more thumps with the screaming. Ethan's shrieks caused Guy to bolt up in bed in panic, joining in the screaming. "What!? WHAT!?" he hollered over and over and over, his terrified calls ringing out at a fevered pitch. Guy's screams woke the baby, who cried furiously in hysterical, high-pitched shrieks. A beat later, Adam awoke to a house of chaos, and promptly added his terrified voice to the chorus of screams.
It had been 3 seconds. Just four seconds before, the house had been a soft hum of breaths and a far away birdsong. Now, it was the ear piercing climax of an 80's horror film, minus chainsaws. I felt like I had just been launched into a haunted house. My heart raced in a nightmarish frenzy of beats, and in that moment I believed in ghosts. Guy was screaming, Ethan was screaming, Adam was screaming, and Ellie was screaming. I joined in with my own bellow. "EVERYBODY STOP SCREAMING!!!! IT'S OK!!!" I insisted, though I had no idea if it was or not. All I knew is that a few seconds ago everything had been fine!
I threw myself out of bed, and ran down the Poltergeist-length hall. Ethan stood frozen, sobbing, "There's somebody in the house! Somebody was following me!"
"No one is in the house!" I insisted in my best fake-calm voice, calling out over the crying of the baby and of Adam, who lay twisted up in his blanket on the floor beside his bed.
"Some one was following me! I heard them running down the hall behind me!" He demanded.
I glanced at Adam who sat on the floor rubbing his head, then reassured Ethan, "Look, if it will make you feel better, I will look through the house." I held my breath and imagined what might happen if someone had managed to get into the house. Didn't prowlers slip into windows at night and tiptoe past sleeping homeowners, gathering up heirloom silverware and pearl necklaces? Didn't the wife always wake the husband with a, "Harold! Someone's in the house!"? Then Harold, would climb out of bed, carefully put on a robe and leather slippers, and grab a trusty baseball bat from under the bed to investigate.
My Harold stayed in bed. And I had no baseball bat. Or slippers for that matter.
I skulked around corners trying to be cautious on the off chance there was someone waiting to shake me down for a matching silver cake and pie server set. I reached for every light switch, stretching my body out like the dark was lava and my feet would be safe if I kept them in the light. I felt stupid. And scared. I turned on EVERY light in the house, all the while insisting to myself that it was to reassure the children. By the time I had made my rounds safely back to the hallway, everyone was piled into my bed with Guy. "All is well!" I announced with the shaky confidence that comes only after the amature trapeze artist is back on solid ground.
"I fell out of bed." Adam sniffed, still rubbing his little head.
"Before or after the screaming?" I puzzled.
"Ethan got up to pee and it kinda woke me up. I rolled over, but then I fell out of bed." Ah, yes. I forgot to add that to my list. #6, Adam falls out of bed... a lot.
It took us a few moments to to put the pieces together. Ethan had gotten up to pee, waking Adam. When Adam fell out of bed, the tumble to the floor mimicked the pounding feet of a vicious intruder in Ethan's half asleep ears. Then he screamed, and of course, you know the rest.
With the house lit up like a roman candle, I sat on the tiny corner of bed that was left. After we talked and laughed a bit about our scream-fest, one by one the boys wandered fearlessly off to bed, and the baby curled up beside her papa and shut her eyes. My husband, who has a knack for falling asleep instantly, was back to nearly snoring in only a few minutes.
I drifted through the house turning out all the lights, puzzling over how the neighbors could have slept through the sounds of murder and mayhem next door. With darkness filling the house, I finished my task and hurried to bed. I settled in and glanced at the clock. It was nearly 3:30. In the stillness I took inventory of myself; heart pounding, blood rushing, a veil of sweat on my top lip. I felt like I had run around the block, or was about to.
Then, like it did when I was ten, my mind began to wander in the darkness. I began listening for the boogie man. The walls creaked. The pipes thumped. Which brings us full circle to #1, I don't like the dark, and #2, I have a touch of insomnia.
I was still awake when that darn bird fell asleep from exhaustion at dawn.