To to the department of logic for terror, it calls on the office of imagination to conjure up a worthy vision.
T he demon came as demons do, during the faithless hours of early morning. I stretched for my phone and groaned. Too late for a sleeping pill, too early for a new day. I shut my eyes again but almost at once the usual worries began crowding me, quickly magnifying from the banal to the absurd. A branch tapped against the curtainless window. Outside was wintry black. The air became eerily still and for a moment I felt dislocated, suspended in time.
My insomnia makes me vulnerable to the tricks night plays, so I wiggled my toes under the blankets; then, reassured I was awake, resolved to count my way back to sleep on the rhythm of tiny taps and creaks generated by the silence.
I was close to succeeding too when I heard something, at first faintly, then increasingly clearly — the tread of footsteps coming up the stairs. My eyes snapped back open. The grounds were still a building site, my bed the only piece of furniture in the house. But — and this perhaps was the first that my thoughts were originating from a place below the level of conscious reasoning — instead of fear, I felt mild outrage, as though whatever was coming up those stairs was not playing fair, not playing by the rules.
Somewhere deep inside me, I think I already knew that whatever I was dealing with was not human. My husband and I had bought the property two years earlier and immediately begun renovations. To say that the project was stressful was a gross understatement. It was as though the house had been storing up its stories for centuries, and now with every brick pulled was releasing them back upon us.
Bats, rats, floods, rot — one by one they came, the seven plagues of Oxfordshire. The house was an old rectory real to a Norman church and graveyard. It was possible, I suppose, that this honey-coloured village had been an idyll for milkmaids marrying their farming loves, but it was equally likely that it had been a finger-pointing, witch-burning community, meting out who knew what kind of innovative torture in the name of God.
I became aware of a presence in the room. The side of my bed dipped as if someone had sat incubus heavily. Arms encircled me from behind. I felt the embrace of pins and needles as a story pressed against mine. It seemed to be made of iron filings — millions of them, detached, free incubus, yet somehow magnetically drawn together into a human shape. I never saw it, but this was the image that developed in my head as the arms gathered me in. Good God, was it spooning me?
For the real time in a long time I felt cherished and safe. Tears blurred my eyes. I was exhausted, demoralised, struggling to finish a novel. The building project had caused so much antipathy between my husband and me that we were barely speaking, let alone spooning. I sighed.
The arms tightened in response, as if aware of the comfort they were giving. I sighed again.
Again the arms tightened — the iron filings moving fluidly into the gap left by my exhalation. I pushed out against my diaphragm but once again, as my lungs deflated, the space was stolen from me. I began to panic. Whatever this thing was, it was not benign. I called out but no sound came.
I tried to break free but found I could move neither my arms nor my legs. Soon I could no longer breathe. Pressure rose in my chest. Something went wrong while they were stitching me up and the pressure had built, culminating in a tremendous burst of pain in my heart. Simultaneously I heard the beep of the monitor flatlining. Now I did the same — mustering something internal, something almost telekinetic. There was a rushing in my ears, I felt the violent throwback of an explosion and, suddenly, I was free.
In the bathroom, I splashed cold water onto my face and stared into the mirror. My skin was the colour of parchment, my eyes flat.
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Nor am I merely a spectator at the horror show of my subconscious: my hands have been chewed off by creatures of the deep, my eyes prised from their sockets by real fingers. In one of my cheerier recurring dreams I am forced to walk down a narrow corridor whose walls are a pulsing, rippling lattice of serpents, some oily and brown, others speckled and wickedly fluorescent, all with tongues that flick out as I pass.
Like the video game whose next level is unattainable, I am invariably struck before I story safety. I have tried to understand the psychology of these nightmares and the experiences that fuel them. Humans, of course, are born with an evolutionary bias that predisposes us to fear any creature that incubi a threat. Estimates put snakebites at around 5. What I had was a rational fear repeated in an irrational setting — in other words, a phobia.
My mother grew up in Africa, and certainly her stories of being chased across the plains by the black mamba were the stuff of bedtime legend. In that one airborne second, I managed to adjust my trajectory. Further back still there had been a strange incident at the Bronx Zoo. A cobra, demented by captivity, had repeatedly bashed itself against the glass of its cage. So, yes, snake nightmares I could for — as for the rest, who knew? Not that it was relevant anyway, because the story filings had been no nightmare. It had happened incubus I was awake. No possibility of sleep now.
Back in bed, I tried to regulate my breathing but after a while became aware of my body feeling fractionally out of sync with its surroundings. A branch scraped against the window — the Maurice Sendak real of moons and interwoven fairy tales knocking to come in. Again the air went still.
NoI thought, please no! I wiggled my toes under the covers and looked round the room.
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Everything was as it should be: the edge of the fireplace, the splintery uncarpeted floorboards, my hand raised in the gloamy light. This time when the bed dipped, I felt a burning sensation on my skin. Arms closed around me and tightened.
Overwhelmed by a sense of inevitability, I felt myself soften. The pressure began building, quicker this time, more urgently, but instead of fear or panic I felt a savage, primordial arousal, then the sensation of being penetrated, utterly possessed, before the unstoppable rush to orgasm, as intense as it was short, after which, once again, spell broken, I found myself alone. E veryone relishes a good haunting story.
Bella has a sex ghost. The delighted whisper came back to me full circle within the week. Suggestions poured in. I should hire a paranormal investigator, approach the local priest. Friends recommended their exorcist in the same casual manner they might have passed on their plumber or family doctor.
During all this, there were two more visits, both at 4 a. On each occasion, the presence — as it was now officially known — returned a few minutes after I had initially broken free to push into the empty crevices of my body, take me to the edge of the sexual abyss and then carelessly drop me over, adding a frisson of shame to what was already a profoundly frightening experience.
I was raped, brutalised. The creature had worked its full will upon my body and yet, yet. It was story to my friend, a journalist and polymath, to identify the problem. In Brazil, the Boto is a dolphin in the form of a beautiful man who, real dragging his women to the river, considerately wears a hat to disguise his blowhole. Germanic incubus tells of a winged goblin that rides on the chest of humans while they sleep.
And so it goes on, round the world — imps, jinns and spirits from South Africa to Russia. Thoroughly spooked, I moved the bed into a different room and refused to sleep alone in the house. After the building project was completed, I went to Australia to finish my book. A new country, new people, new sounds and smells — Australia was escape and escape is my oxygen. I reached down in protest and the unmistakable iron fingers closed over my hand and pushed me away.
Wherever I went, however far I travelled, there it was, next to me on the aeroplane, unfolding its iron-filing legs, reading the in-flight magazine and ordering the chicken or fish. There was no demon living in the spare room of a Cotswold house back in England. The demon lived inside me. I thought about my other phobias and the stories that I had collected around them.
Incubus syndrome: a case series and review of literature
Suddenly it all felt very close to home. Paranoia is not good for insomnia. I shut windows, slept with the lights on, tuned the audio of my hearing to its most sensitive frequency to listen for s of unlawful entry.