When I was seven, I loved visiting my grandparents. I just couldn’t go home without at least spending a night. My parents often let me, too, as they saw it as an opportunity to be relieved of me for an evening. I assume those nights were their designated date nights.
It wasn’t that my grandparents had a lot of electronics or toys to keep me entertained. I did get to see my cousin Stephen, after all. He lived with my grandparents because his parents had died in a car crash before I was born. Stephen had downs syndrome, but he was quite harmless and fun to play with. Though he was four years older than me, we got along well, playing hide and seek in the shallow part of the woods or forcing my girly rhymes and games on him. His apparent smile told me he enjoyed our time together, too.
As a city girl, I also fell in love with the scenery.
Imagine auburn trees in an ocean of autumn incarnate, wind omnipotent yet fluid amidst the fleeting leaves, and the overwhelming lack of all things human. This was my grandparent’s place. Their house was old in the most beautiful way, and their land reflected that exquisite taste. It was a place where I could come to be safe, at peace.
I could never have guessed how wrong I was.
Despite the serenity of my haven, night brought with it a strange feeling of insecurity. This was greatly due to my nightmares. They always came as I slept alone in the downstairs room near the front door. They weren’t so much nightmares as they were horrifying occurrences, yet a seven year old girl could only blame dreams for what she could not explain.
As I was trying to sleep, I would feel a sensation on my skin. It usually began at my legs, so I often brushed it off as static or a minuscule insect. But the sensation would travel further up my skin, enveloping it in chills and goose pimples. By the time it reached my waist, I would jerk away and force myself up in bed.
I would see nothing – It would be dark, and the only sound would remain to be the swaying ceiling fan.
Of course, I was incredibly frightened at these occurrences, but for all my young mind knew, it was simply a nightmare that shook me awake.
I remember telling my grandfather one morning about these strange sensations I felt at night. He laughed, picked me up and placed me in his lap. Through reading glasses, he gazed into my eyes and told me a story.
“This old house has been around for ages, “ he began, “different owners passing through over the decades. But no matter how long the house went without an owner, it was never empty, even when my parents bought it. You see my dear, when I was about your age, I discovered the creature that continues to call this place its home.
A scrawny, pathetic thing it was when I first saw it cracking open the door to my room. It was night, and I just couldn’t sleep out of excitement for the upcoming baseball game my father had promised to take me to the following morning. When I heard the creak of that old door, I shifted my eyes to the light that beamed in through the ever-widening crevice. I dared not move as it would surely startle the both of us.
It crept in slowly, and, by the dim light from the hallway, I could see its pale, boney limbs crawling across the floor to the foot of my bed. Now, you probably think I was too scared to do anything, but I was foolhardy. On the nightstand next to me was my slingshot, and next to it were a dozen of the hardest pebbles and acorns I could muster.
So, I let it come closer and closer until I could see its dark, black, glistening eyes peeking over the sheet. It reached its hands out toward me, inch by inch, until he was close enough to –“
“Edward!” My grandmother reprimanded. “Don’t tell that poor girl ghost stories or she’s not going to sleep a wink!”
My grandfather laughed and placed me back in the floor. Before he walked away to tend to some unseen, elderly task, he looked down and said to me, “Just close your eyes, ignore the feeling and he will go away. Sleep is the safest place of all.”
Needless to say, I was scared out of my mind. And I would soon come to know his story as fact.
A month passed and I was staying over at my grandparent’s place once more. This time my parents had been the ones to ask me to sleep over. They had plans for a nice dinner in the city and had no time to hire a sitter. For my love of the place, I had no problem with this. It was as if I always forgot about the strangeness of the nights here.
The day went on as usual. Stephen and I played outside, enjoying the scenery until the night forbade us that sight. It was not until we were off to bed that I was reminded of the nightmares. I forced myself to believe they were just that, that being away from home always rendered my mind homesick in a strange way.
The self-delusion worked, and I remember falling asleep without a bother.
Until I woke up.
It was still dark out as the windows were thick with the blackness that could only be deep night. The witching hour was apparent in the air. I knew I should still have been asleep, but I soon discovered the culprit of my awakening.
The sensations were on my stomach, a sickening feeling of being touched by someone unseen. The touch was far more deliberate than what I had ever experienced before. I felt boney fingers wriggling about, curious and explorative of my blanketed body. I couldn’t help but open my eyes, never shifting as I rolled my pupils as far right as they could possibly go.
The door to my bedroom was open, and not a single light was on in the house. I could make out the dark, gray outline of blankets forming a hill that could not have been me. It moved about under the blanket in wicked synchronization with the hands that felt further up my body.
I did what my grandfather told me to do. I shut my eyes hard, tried to ignore the sensation, the presence that shared the bed with me, but I couldn’t. I was seconds away from screaming as tears already poured from my eyes and onto my pillow.
Then it all happened at once.
The hallway light clicked on.
A figure burst from the blanket and flew passed the illuminated hallway and into the darkness of the living room toward Stephen’s room.
I heard my grandmother scream. She must’ve been the one who turned the light on in the hallway.
The rest of my night was filled with anxiety, fear, and an overwhelming feeling of uncleanliness. The house was filled with shouting voices and angry words. When I finally had the courage to walk, and even more courage to leave the room, I saw flashing lights in the yard.
There were police questioning Stephen and men in white standing firm next to him.
Stephen was crying. He was a wreck, his face a flustered red with tears forming wet capillaries over his cheeks. He was shaking and moving his hands in random patterns in front of his chest. The words he spoke were unintelligible.
Then he looked at me. His eyes were completely bloodshot. The feeling it gave me to look into those eyes made me want to vomit. It was a feeling far too complex for me to understand.
After countless conversations with suited men and police officers, I began putting the pieces together, but it wasn’t until my grandfather sat me down and spoke with me that everything hit me like a rogue wave.
He told me Stephen had been touching me in my sleep.
I’m 28 now. It’s been so long since that incident. My grandfather passed away years ago and my poor grandmother has been in a retirement home since his passing. As for Stephen, he died in an asylum.
Apparently, he drowned himself in a toilet bowl merely a year after his incarceration.
But my poor grandmother was never the same after that night.
Her once virtuous smile became permanently absent. She hardly ever talked to me, and her relationship with my grandfather seemed tarnished and damaged before his death. I felt so guilty, as if all of this adversity was my fault.
A few days ago, she asked me over for lunch. I was quick to take her up on the offer as I rarely got to see her, and, when I did, she just wasn’t herself. Part of me was always hoping to see a glimmer of my real grandmother, the one I had lost so long ago.
When I stepped into her room, she was staring emotionlessly out of her window. She was watching birds shove past one another atop telephone lines. I sat across from her on an oddly place loveseat.
“Honey, I-I’m so sorry, “ she began, her voice unstable with imminent distress. “I wanted to tell you, I-I wanted to make everything right, but I was so scared. Darling, you have to believe how scared I was!”
I asked her what she meant.
“Oh God forgive me!” I could now see tears glimmering mid-fall from her trembling chin. She turned and finally faced me, revealing the same look of confusion and sadness I had seen on Stephen that horrible day.
“M-my dear, your cousin, your Stephen, he never laid a finger on you. All those nights you spent with us, the night I came down the hall to check on you, it was not Stephen who fled your room.
It was your grandfather.”