I woke to a soft, red glow lighting my second-floor dorm room, sleep's silken fingers slipping out of mine. I have always had a fear of the dark, so it didn't surprise me that I'd left the Christmas lights on as a nightlight. All I had to do to was sit up from the twin-sized bed, flip the switch, and everything would be okay. Escape from my childhood fear was as simple as that, but for some reason, I couldn't move.
My arms, legs, hands, feet, face were all frozen as I lay facing the wall. The soothing red light permeating the room quickly faded into cartoon images of the hell I'd been raised to believe. My sin had come to find me out, in the late afternoon, on a Bible college campus.
I was the good kid growing up, stuck in the middle between two brothers. I rarely got in trouble, brought home straight A's, did my chores. My only real sin was curiosity. If I was told not to do something, I wanted to know why. If I was told to believe something (or not believe it), I wanted to know why. Because I said so has never really been a satisfactory answer, although it was the one most given.
My immense curiosity got me labeled as rebellious, both by my very religious mother and the Bible college from which I attained my bachelor's degree. Of all the different kinds of trouble one can cause as a young Christian, curiosity is the worst. All else can be forgiven, but having a mind of one's own is paramount sin.
I'd had these thoughts in the back of my head since I was a child—that no matter how often I asked for forgiveness, I was always going to fall short. Being a good person wasn't enough if there was sin in my life. Despite my constant prayers for cleansing, I never truly felt like all the bad got washed away.
So there I was, paralyzed in a red room of riddles, waiting for whatever punishment my curiosity had afforded me. My secret love of secular music and Stephen King novels had led to this point—alone with God, or the devil, or whatever it was that was filling my mind with fear. I never once asked: What did I do to deserve this? Because I knew. I had sinned, and I was due whatever would happen next.
But nothing did happen. I'm not sure how long I lay there. Minutes? Hours? It was well into the evening before my fingers found movement, and I shot up like a lightning bolt to flip on the light. But a full view of my surroundings did nothing to dissipate my terror, and I ran out of the room as if death itself followed. I made my way down a flight of stairs, through a long hallway, frantic as I spilled into the dorm's lounge. I spotted my roommate watching a movie with her boyfriend, and flew to throw my arms around her shoulders. The only explanation my mouth could manage was that I was scared, and I didn't want to be alone.
Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon in which a person, either when falling asleep or awakening, temporarily experiences an inability to move. It is a transitional state between wakefulness and sleep characterized by complete muscle atonia (muscle weakness). It is often associated with terrifying visions, such as an intruder in the room, to which one is unable to react due to paralysis, from which the term "nightmare" is derived. (Courtesy of Wikipedia.)
I was probably 20 years old when I experienced sleep paralysis for the first and only time. For more than a decade, my mind cataloged it as a supernatural encounter that couldn't be explained. Now, I understand exactly what happened that night. It hadn't been demons taunting me, just a strange phenomenon that can happen to anyone, any time, for any reason.
The more I read about sleep paralysis, the more curious I became. What if this had happened to me on a regular basis? What if I had never really learned what it was? What if it had evolved into something I couldn't explain? Like all things for this curious writer, out of a cavalcade of questions, a book was born.