He didn’t know what it was when he saw the shadow. It was pitch black, and against his bedroom wall. He could only catch glimpses of it against the moonlight glowing through his window.
He tried to sit up, to investigate the dripping black silhouette, but found himself frozen in place. He was unable to move from his bed.
The figure approached him, a sinister smile upon his face. It was no longer just a shadow on a wall, it was three dimensional. It was alive.
The child thrashed, trying to move, to get away from the approaching outline of a man, but he couldn’t.
The figure climbed on top of the small child, perching on top of his chest. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t move. He was trapped. He closed his eyes, waiting for his lungs to be completely empty and his brain to shut off and his heart to give up.
“My imaginary friend’s name is Daryl. She’s so tall, she can touch the sky!” Conner said, smiling. “She’s so cool!”
Everybody at school had an imaginary friend, it was the fad. Ryan began to imagine that his visitor from the other night was his imaginary friend. He named him Edgar.
Edgar was odd. He wasn’t like other imaginary friends. He wasn’t a kid. He wasn’t magical, or could touch the sky. He didn’t even look like other imaginary friends.
“My imaginary friend is like a shadow…only he’s not. And it always looks like there’s something dripping off of him. He follows me around and watches me at night”, Ryan tried to explain, but only received weird looks and a few chuckles. Face burning, he walked away.
“Ryan’s so weird” he heard someone mumble.
When he tried to tell his mom about it, she gave him an odd look. “He comes into my room at night and sits on my chest when I can’t move” the seven year old tried to explain. His mother simply shook her head and mumbled, “his father has been showing him too many horror movies lately”.
No one believed that, at night, Edgar would enter Ryan’s room. Ryan would watch the monster-like being slink towards him, and every time, Ryan seemed paralyzed.
Edgar was scary. His sadistic smile and his black, oozing appearance made Ryan afraid. But what could little Ryan do?
No one believed him. Ryan couldn’t fight Edgar. And by morning, when the sun came out and the birds began chirping, and Ryan could finally move his toes, Edgar was gone.
Years passed. Ryan Young was a teenager. He was loud, and obnoxious. He hung out with the “wrong” crowd. He enjoyed drinking beer and looking at girls where he shouldn’t. He talked during class (when he actually showed up), and never did his homework. He was the stereotypical teenager.
His friends had long forgotten about Daryl and their other imaginary friends. They were lost, along with their innocence and childhood.
Yet, Edgar still loomed around Ryan. At night, after Ryan had snuck back into his house and climbed drunkenly into bed and attempted to sleep, the shadowy figure entered his room once more. Not every night, like he used to, but his presence was still there.
Ryan’s eyes would always be closed, he’d be almost asleep. Then there was a sort of disturbance, and his eyes would shoot open. Edgar would be standing in the corner of the room, near his window that was always partially open.
Ryan would struggle for some part of his body to move. But every time, he found himself frozen to his bed.
Edgar would grin ear to ear as he approached Ryan. His facial expression was horrid, hair raising. Ryan’s heart would be beating so fast by then, he thought a heart attack would kill him before Edgar.
Edgar would slink forward until he was at the foot of Ryan’s bed, then he slip onto the bed, and slowly crawl up Ryan’s body, sending shivers up the teenager’s spine.
Eventually, Ryan came to the conclusion that if he didn’t sleep, he wouldn’t have to see Edgar, as the nightmare-ish being only appeared when he was in the odd half-asleep, half-awake state of falling asleep.
He no longer thought of Edgar as an imaginary friend…he was more of an imaginary nightmare. A creature of the night that, didn’t haunt his house, but haunted his state of mind, which was far more dangerous.
Who was Edgar, anyway? A pigment of his imagination? A ghost? A piece of his soul that decided to haunt him? An alternate self?
The possibilities were virtually endless, and all equally terrifying for the sixteen year old. So, no drifting asleep, no visiting from Edgar.
It seemed simple.
On the first night that he put his hypothesis into action, he stockpiled beer and soda in his room, hoping it will help him stay awake. He ate chips (getting more crumbs on his shirt and bed than his mouth), and played Pokemon late into the night. He somehow managed to stay up until his alarm on his phone began to play its snazzy little jingle, saying it was 6:00am, and time to get up for school.
He looked up from his TV screen, and smiled, proud of himself. His smile was promptly followed by a yawn. He had survived one night.
At nightfall, he once again trudged tiredly into his bedroom. His eyes were half closed, his brain seemed to hit the power off button.
But he picked up his controller once again, and turned on his games once more.
He chugged coffee and soda and beer as he played, eating candy and chocolate. Anything that would help him stay awake.
Around midnight, right as he was about to catch a shiny Ninetails, his mom opened the door to his chamber.
“Ryan!” She called, seemingly annoyed. He glanced at her and rolled his half-closed eyes. “Why are you still up?” She asked.
He shrugged, then returned to his video game.
“It’s a school night!” She uttered. He didn’t respond. He needed to find that Pokemon again. He heard footsteps behind him, and before he could respond to her, his mother shut off the TV.
“Enough. Go to bed.”
He sighed, glaring at her before stumbling into bed. Satisfied, she turned to leave. And then she bent down, grabbed something, and turned back.
“Have you been drinking?” She cried, “Are you kidding me? Is that your father’s beer? You’re underage! You’ll ruin your life if the police catch you!” She went off on a tangent, but Ryan ignored her. His brain was shutting off, and somehow, he fell asleep to his mom’s yelling voice.
The weeks that followed were extremely uneventful, as Ryan couldn’t go out. Or drive. Or drink. Or go on any electronics. He laid in bed at night, not even caring if Edgar showed up anymore.
Ryan’s nights were mostly sleepless, only on occasion fitting in an hour or two of sleep. He got to the point where he was so bored, he began to doodle or read. He was never one to read for fun, nor was he creative, yet he didn’t have much of anything else to do.
So he doodled on his unfinished homework, or blank notebooks that were supposed to be used for note-taking in school.
He actually quite liked it.
It kept him occupied for hours at a time, working on trying to get water bottle drawing perfect.
It never was.
Within a blink of an eye, Ryan Young wasn’t so young anymore. He was a full-fledged adult, with grown up responsibilities and no time to be fooling around with girls, or doing idiotic acts he would’ve jumped at the chance to do in high school.
He was a graphic designer, designing everything from business logos, to t-shirts, to phone cases. He took the two things he loved most- computers, and drawing, and put them to good use.
He had gone to college at University of Pennsylvania, and majored in digital arts.
He was in his late 20’s, making a living for himself. He owned an apartment in the suburbs of Chicago, he had a job. He was doing okay; not great, but okay.
But at night, as he drift off to sleep, he could faintly see the outline of a man in the corner of his room, and his hairs would stand on end, and his old ‘friend’ would appear once more.
Edgar seemed to like making Ryan unable to breathe, making him feel like he was going to die. Why Edgar like to do this, Ryan had yet to understand.
He tried to research “silhouette sitting on my chest and makes me unable to breathe” on Google, but he was unsuccessful.
He eventually began to think he was going crazy, whether it be from schizophrenia or some other mental illness.
Ryan Young had had enough of this.
Edgar haunted his thoughts, his eerie smirk always in the back of his head. Ryan would’ve been quite content with his life if it weren’t for Edgar, but because of the monster, Ryan’s life was hell.
He didn’t sleep. He was lucky if he got three hours a sleep per night. Because of his lack of sleep, he couldn’t function correctly. He was always tired. Ryan didn’t even want to step foot in his own bedroom, because he was afraid that Edgar would be waiting.
The wind slapped the back of his neck. He shivered. Tears rolled down his face. It was nighttime, and even if he wasn’t in his apartment, he could still feel Edgar’s presence. He grated his teeth, and looked below him. He saw apartment lights, headlights to cars, and if he looked hard enough, he could see tiny little beings walking on the sidewalk.
He took a deep breath. He looked down again. He’d be apart of those lights.
All the way down, Edgar’s dripping appearance and malicious smirk followed him.
This story is based on a condition known as sleep paralysis, which is “a frightening form of paralysis that occurs when a person suddenly finds himself or herself unable to move for a few minutes, most often upon falling asleep or waking up. Sleep paralysis is due to an irregularity in passing between the stages of sleep and wakefulness” (Google). This basically means that your body and mind are in two different stages of sleep. During the REM cycle of sleep, your body is completely relaxed and paralyzed. When sleep paralysis occurs, your body is still in REM, while your mind is awake and conscious, making you completely paralyzed while awake.
Often times, people experience seeing a being, monster, or demon when experiencing this, due to hallucinations. Often, people also have reported being unable to breathe, or having the imaginary being sitting on their chest so they feel as if they are suffocating.
I first heard of sleep paralysis through a Buzzfeed video. I was searching YouTube into the depths of the night when I came across it (Video link at end of article).
I few weeks later on Instagram, I found a writing prompt idea that was spooky and Halloween-ish, which what originally inspired this short story. I found the prompt on @writing.prompt.s and I knew I had wanted to do it. I’ve worked on this story for about three weeks, and I’m actually quite fond of it, even though I don’t particularly like the ending.
I hope you enjoyed Imaginary Nightmare as well, and Happy Halloween!
Buzzfeed Sleep Paralysis Video (Don’t watch this late at night, it’s creepy)