I didn’t remember having night terrors. My parents’ recollections half-formed my own memories. My eyes stretched open, screams unending. Their tears as they attempted to wake me up, calm me down. Echoes of nightmares bleeding into my days. Their only task to keep me safe, make sure I didn’t hurt myself. They left unsaid the worry I might harm someone else, but I witnessed it in their hesitation. Their furtive glances. The way they tightened their arms around me as they offered comfort.
My night terrors ceased as I grew. False memories muted over time. Nothing to mark their existence. Except, shared tension on my parents’ faces when I announced my pregnancy.
I didn’t have energy after my daughter’s birth to ruminate on my parents’ warnings. Exhausted in a way I never imagined, my daughter’s tumultuous sleep left my responses dulled and my edges sharp. I struggled to voice my new concerns. The echo of whispered urging as my head dropped to my chest; my daughter held close falling asleep with milk drooling from her lips. The images of terror, unshaped, darkness enveloping me. Iron, digging into my nostrils, as I smelled my daughter’s downy head.
One evening, after an unusually stressful day, I woke in my daughter’s room. I stood next to the crib, a splinter from the wooden rail digging into my palm. My daughter lay on her back, body still, eyes open, pupils large, her mouth open in a silent cry.
I didn’t remember crossing the space between our rooms. A scratchy voice prodding me to this place. Cool air brushed over my arms, skin puckering with tiny goosebumps. The window opened wide to the night; safety locks disengaged. The screen lying in the grass below. Ozone and electricity assaulted me.
I never left the nursery window open at night.
My fingers clutched the edge and slammed it shut. My daughter startled in her crib, her cries crescendo as I pulled her close. Neither of us slept well the rest of that night.
I woke in our kitchen a week later. My hands held a large knife. The one I used to split watermelon in half, cracking through the thick skin and exposing the bright red fruit within.
It wasn’t watermelon season.
It was 3:33 in the morning.
My right hand gripped the handle tightly, joints turning white from exertion. My left hand squeezed in a fist. Opening it, a thick line of blood formed, dripping onto the laminate countertop. The cut matched the knife, blood on its blade. How did I hurt myself, accidentally or intentionally? The scent of decay caressed my cheek. My eyes watered as I inhaled the dank odor. I cleaned the kitchen, the knife, myself. The motive of my excursion unknown, the darkness cleared away.
In late fall Nora stood in a pile of rotting leaves. The moon full, lighting a path to stand underneath her daughter’s window.
Her husband, next to her, shook in the chilled air.
Her screams woke him. He followed her outside. Underneath their daughter’s window Nora brandished a knife. Her eyes, feral, reflected light giving them an unholy glow. She hissed and paced. Her lips drawn back like a predator. Her teeth bared.
Her husband pulled the knife from her hand. Gripped her. Forced her to respond. She dragged her nails over the soft flesh of his face, his neck. Tears fell as he clutched her hands against his chest. Red welts rose on his neck and cheeks. Nora’s fingernails torn and bleeding.
He spoke in a whisper, soothing her unseen demons.
I awoke. The terror in my husband’s eyes as he whimpered Nora, an extension of my own.
I went to see my doctor. He gave me a prescription for sleeping pills. Encouraged me to lock the doors with added protection. Hide the knives.
I joked about hanging a bell around my neck. Then my husband could hear where I wandered. The doctor accused me of deflecting.
The incidents did not repeat. I slept peacefully and deeply. No longer afraid of opening my eyes and realizing I wasn’t where I belonged.
In spring, the carpet absorbed Nora’s footsteps on her way to the kitchen. Expertly avoided the creaky stairs. Fingers pressed the flimsy baby locks on the drawers. Nora brushed the countertops, her hand scraping the hard surface. A hint of smoke rose from the friction. A wisp of sulfur in her wake. She slinked upstairs, empty-handed. Her palm pressed down on the cool door handle, metal warming to red from her touch.
Nora’s movements carried her to the window. Her lips twitched, curses no one could hear. She unlatched the locks, the left snapped from her force. It wasn’t difficult to remove the screen, bent from the last trip to the ground. The cold night air turned warm against her cheek. A breath. A voice murmuring in her ear.
Nora glided to the crib where her daughter slept. Picked her up. Pulled her near her chest. Milk leaked through her nightgown at her daughter’s scent.
I felt the cold air against my forehead first. My eyes closed tightly against the night. Wind pushed my hair away from my face. My body felt lighter, unmoored. I leaned forward, shoulders sloped downward. My hands gripped the windowsill. The smell of salt and iron invaded my sinuses. A high-pitched screech, ringing in my ears. I pressed my eyelids tighter. I would not open them. Closing my mouth, the screaming stopped. Replaced by gasping cries.
I kept my ears closed against the whispers I didn’t remember.
I kept my nose closed against the smell of sulfur and sacrifice.
I kept my eyes closed so the horror of what I executed remained only a night terror.
Danielle Woodgate lives in Corcoran, Minnesota. She is a preschool teacher by day. You can find her on Twitter at @woodgatewrites, her blogs daniellewoodgate.com
and loudmouthmom.com, or in carline waiting to pick up her kids. She has previously published work with Factor Four Magazine and Bewildering Stories and has work forthcoming in Maudlin House.