My Sleep Paralysis Demon is Actually a Pretty Chill Guy
Friendship can be forged in the unlikeliest of places, with the unlikeliest of creatures.
My first memory of sleep paralysis happened when I was ten years old. I remember because it was the night my parents took me to see Shrek 2 for getting good marks on my report card. It was an evening show, so we got in late and my mom tucked me straight into bed when we got home.
It was around 4 a.m. when I woke up, the light from my alarm clock told me that much. I couldn't feel anything, not my pajamas against my skin, or the warmth of my head against the pillow. I could feel my arms and legs, but they felt heavy, as if a great weight was holding them down.
I tried to call out but I couldn’t, my voice caught in my throat, my lips unable to move. I mustered a weak groan that sounded like a cross between a frog’s croak and a zombie’s moan, but that was it.
I thought I was dead, that this is what death feels like, being awake but unable to move or tell anyone. My mind wrestled with the idea of being placed in a coffin, unable to tell anyone I was still alive in here, unable to move or say anything as the lid closed and they put me in the ground, still alive.
My fear subsided as I felt my heart thudding in my chest in response to my near panic attack. I also became aware of my breathing, which slowed as the panic attack dissipated. I calmed a little, thinking it was just a dream.
That was when I saw him for the first time. Mr. BrownStickLegs.
He huddled in the corner of the room by my closet. His two oversized red eyes glowed in the dark of my bedroom. His face was like a porcelain mask, white, expressionless, with no mouth or nose, only those two haunting red eyes.
When he stood up, his body unfolded like origami until his head reached the ceiling. His neck bent, tilting forward as his true height was greater than the height of my ceiling. His long black torso was covered in shimmering symbols that reflected red in the light of his glowing eyes. He stood on two spindly thin legs that disappeared into the shadows of the room.
He made no noise as he moved, seeming to glide as he hovered closer to my bed. His long thin arms reached down to me as I moaned through paralyzed lips. I could not scream, even though I very much wanted to.
His fingers reached through the darkness, down to my face. Two pointed fingers touched against my eyelids, pushing them closed. I remember his fingertips feeling cool, but not cold. Even though the ends of his fingertips looked sharp, his touch was gentle.
“Do not struggle, little one. Sleep, sleep,” he said. His voice was so deep I could feel it in my chest.
I did as instructed, convincing myself that it indeed was a dream. Even if it wasn’t, the back of my eyelids was more reassuring than looking into those piercing red eyes in his vacant mask of a face. I closed my eyes, wanting it to be a dream, willing it to be a dream. I woke up the next morning, thankfully able to move, walk and talk.
I explained what I saw to my parents, who both agreed that it was a dream. Mom tried floating the idea that something from Shrek 2 scared me but Dad and I weren't buying it. For confirmation, Dad asked that I draw a picture of what I saw. As I was drawing, I ran out of black crayon and had to finish his legs with the next darkest color in my crayon box.
“Hey there, Mister BrownStickLegs,” my Dad said as I handed him the drawing. “You leave my daughter alone now, you hear?”
And that is how my sleep paralysis demon ended up with the name Mr. BrownStickLegs.
Giving him a silly name helped take some of the edge off of going to bed the following night. My dad even did a sweep of the room, calling out for him. “Here Mr. BrownStickLegs,” he said, whistling as if he were calling a dog. It made me giggle and the whole episode felt more fun than scary.
But once they tucked me in and turned off the light, I felt the dread creeping back in. Darkness hits harder when you expect to find something lurking in the shadows. I don’t know how long I searched, but I eventually fell asleep.
In the weeks following, I searched for Mr. BrownStickLegs every night as I fell asleep. Even when I went to sleepovers I would do a cursory check in case he tagged along to a friend’s house. As time passed, my searches became less frequent.
It was a couple months later, the night before my first day of 5th grade when I woke up to Mr. BrownStickLegs straddled over my bed, his empty plate of a face inches from my own.
A scream stuck in my throat, coming out sounding like a gush of air releasing from a pool float.
“Hush, child,” he said. His voice was deep, echoless. I didn’t know how he spoke without a mouth, but I heard him nonetheless.
I saw that he held a piece of paper in his thin fingers, crumpled on the edges and torn. He held it up to show me.
On the page was a pink blob with blue dots for eyes and a droll red smile and stick lines for legs and arms. It was lying on a blue rectangle.
“I found the picture you drew of me. So I drew a picture of you,” he said. “Do you like it?”
I tried nodding, but I couldn’t move. I tried answering, but all that came out was the same dry croaking sound.
“Will you draw another one for me? I so liked the first one. You gave me pants. I look good in pants.”
Again, I was unable to respond or move to give him an answer. He must’ve been able to read my intent, because he tucked the picture under my pillow before closing my eyes again.
When I woke up in the morning, I bolted upright and tossed my pillow off the bed. My heart leapt into my throat when I found the picture. It wasn’t a dream. He was real.
I went to my desk and began drawing a picture for him, starting with his face and eyes, trying to capture as much detail as I could remember. I had forgotten all about the first day of school until my mom opened my door and found me still in my pajamas.
“Lexi!” she yelled, startling me as I was coloring in his eyes. “Your bus will be here in less than an hour, get dressed NOW!”
I tucked my picture into my school backpack and got dressed.
I finished my drawing at recess that day, using my brand new Crayola 64 pack that I got with my back to school supplies. I gave him blue pants this time, figuring he’d like to see himself in jeans. I wrote his name, “Mr. BrownStickLegs” at the bottom of the picture and drew a smileyface next to it, hoping he’d like his nickname.
I flipped the paper over to write him a message on the back. I wanted to ask him questions, but didn’t want to anger him since he visited me when I was at my most vulnerable. I wrote out my letter on a separate piece of paper before copying it over to the back of my picture.
Dear Mr. BrownStickLegs (that’s your name),
My name is Lexi. I am in the fifth grade. What is your name? How old are you? Do you go to school? Why do you visit my bedroom? Why can’t I move when you visit? You look scary but you also seem nice. I hope we can be friends.
P.S. I hope you like your blue pants!
I added another smileyface at the end of the letter, my final emphasis on wanting to be friends. I considered closing with Sincerely, but I figured Love was the better, friendlier choice.
I tucked the picture under my pillow that night, now anxious to see him rather than filled with dread of his reappearance. But like the last time, he did not return the next day. Or the day after. The days stretched into weeks, and every morning I found the picture tucked under my pillow from the night before.
It wasn’t until Thanksgiving break that I saw him again. My eyes opened as the morning sun poked through the blinds of my bedroom. His body didn’t look any different in the light; in fact, his black skin seemed darker, absorbing the sun’s rays without giving anything back. His eyes seemed wider than before; if he had a mouth I would have figured he was smiling. In his slender fingers was the picture I drew for him.
“Hello Lexi,” he said. “Thank you for the picture, I do look good in blue pants.”
I wanted to smile, but, well, sleep paralysis.
He flipped the picture over to the side with my letter.
“I will answer your questions the best I can. I do not have a name, not one you could ever pronounce, but I am happy for you to call me Mr. BrownStickLegs. As for my age, I exist outside of your construct of time, therefore I am ageless. I do not go to school, nor do I know what school is. As for why I visit you, I am feeding on the energy of your soul.”
My breath quickened as a mute groan exited my teeth. I wanted to run, wanted to get away from him, but I was pinned down, unable to move.
He sensed my uneasiness and tried to calm me by patting my forehead.
“Allow me to explain, child. Have you been to the ocean? It appears vast, almost limitless as you stare out into the water, with no visible land on the other side. Let me show you.”
In my mind I was standing on a beach. I felt the salty ocean breeze against my face as I looked out over the massive body of water. The waves crashed at my feet. I felt the rush of water over them followed by the trickle of sand and pebbles as the water drew back.
“Your soul is like an ocean, child. Vast, limitless, undefinable by words to your understanding. I take only a tiny sip, a single glass of water from a vast ocean. I am not one who could consume an entire ocean.”
Dark clouds formed over the water as I stared at the whitecapped waves. The clouds unleashed a heavy downpour, turning the horizon grey as rain fell from the sky over the ocean.
“Just as the rain falls over the ocean, your soul can replenish itself by more than I could ever consume, not even in a thousand of your years. Does that make you feel better?”
On the beach in my mind’s vision, I nodded. In my bedroom, he nodded back at me.
“Good. As for your last question, why you cannot move, we are meeting at a point outside of your time, where your world and mine touch. Your physical body cannot move here but if you persist you can learn to speak to me with your mind, and I will answer your questions in exchange for your drawings. You can draw pictures of whatever you like, I want to know more of your world.”
In my mind, I nodded again.
“This knowledge is a gift so we can understand one another more. I am not one who would hurt you.”
He pressed his fingertips to my eyelids again, closing them. In my mind’s eye, I was still on the beach, but the sun was setting, and no stars were visible through the clouds. I drifted back to sleep to the sound of falling rain.
The next morning I asked my parents for a sketchbook and colored pencils. They tried to hold me off until Christmas, but since I spent most of my afternoons and weekends drawing pictures up in my room, Dad let me open one of my gifts a week early, a Strathmore sketchbook with 100 pages with a 50 pack of Crayola colored pencils.
I started by drawing the rest of my family, Mom, Dad, my little brother Tommy, our cat Libby, and even though he had died, our dog Pancakes. Next I drew our house, then our car, then my school. I kept drawing anything I could think of, trees, birds, insects, until my sketchbook was full. I used my allowance to purchase more books so I could keep drawing. I honed my craft, redoing my earlier drawings in greater detail.
I grew less afraid of him, but my mind returned to his particular wording when he said, “I am not one who could consume an entire ocean.” Part of me wanted to ask him if there were those who could, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know such things.
Mr. BrownStickLegs didn’t return until my Freshman year of high school. To him, it wasn’t like any time had passed.
I read up on lucid dreaming in the time between visits so that when he returned I would be better capable of talking to him. He held my book in his hands, flipping through my drawings, doting over the increased refinement of my drawing skills. I had filled a dozen sketchpads and upgraded from Crayola to Prismacolor Premier pencils for my drawings.
“You have done well, child.”
His biggest surprise was when after he complimented my drawings I spoke to him.
“Thank you.” I said, seeing the words in my mind as I spoke them aloud.
If he had a surprised expression, his eyes showed it.
“You have been very busy, child,” he said. “Do you have any questions you would like to ask?”
I hesitated, but finally formed the words in my mind. “Are there creatures who can consume an entire ocean?”
He didn’t respond right away, which made me think I had not asked properly. As I asked him a second time, he put a finger to my lips as if to shush me.
“They are known as the Dark Ones. They are capable of consuming entire souls, emptying them out, leaving them dry and barren. You should not fear them, but you should also not provoke them.”
His eyes curved downward, as if concerned or afraid.
“What do they look like?” I asked.
He touched his finger to the center of my forehead.
In my mind, my visions were filled with images of great, terrible creatures. Spiders taller than the Empire State Building on thin spindly legs of shadow and smoke. Tentacled monsters in the seas lofting blue whales like they were toys, ripping them to shreds with their curved chitinous beaks. Great, ghastly flying creatures that knocked over orchards and forests with the beat of their leathery wings.
“Why do they do this?” I asked as the shadow of the flying creature passed over our heads.
“Because they are empty, and they can never be filled.”
I nodded in my mind. The scene disappeared and we were back in my bedroom, him sitting at the foot of my bed as I slept motionless.
“I showed you because you asked, and that was our agreement for the pictures,” Mr. BrownStickLegs said. “It is best that we don’t talk or think about them. Let them be.”
He leaned forward and pressed his plate-like face to my head as if to kiss me on the forehead, which was odd since he didn’t have a mouth. Then, as usual, he closed my eyes and I drifted back to sleep.
My life took a downturn during the latter years of high school. My Dad lost his job, and when the search for a new one dragged on, he turned to drinking to cope with his failure. He wasn’t abusive, but he wasn’t fun to be around either.
In the months following, my parents would hush their arguing when I entered the room, greeting me with smiles as if nothing were wrong. That lasted until the day I came home from school to them fighting over a foreclosure notice from the bank. We moved out over a weekend from our home in the suburbs to an apartment on the other side of town.
I internalized my feelings during that time. I withdrew from my friends and school activities besides the art club, the only one we could still afford. I saw my friends driving to school and hanging out while I rode the bus, too poor and too far out of the way to join in.
My tastes began to change as well. Out was the bubblegum pop of Katy Perry, Ke$ha, and Taylor Swift. Instead I listened to Pierce the Veil, Sleeping with Sirens, and Bring Me The Horizon. My clothes and makeup became darker, more black t-shirts and skirts with black eyeliner and black fingernail polish. Mom called it my goth phase, not that she understood.
My drawings became darker too. I moved from colored pencils to charcoal, drawing skulls and gothic looking cemeteries as my passion for drawing animals and flowers waned.
I also drew the Dark Ones, in great detail, exactly how I remembered them in my mind’s eye.
Mr. BrownStickLegs visited me again a month after we moved into the apartment. He looked more at home in my room of black light posters and metalcore bands than he did in my previous room. His eyes were dim, not the vibrant red as they were before.
He stared at me as I lay in bed, unable to move. He moved inches from my face as I heard his words in my mind.
“Your soul tastes different now.”
He didn’t speak of my drawings. I worried that he might, especially since I had been drawing the Dark Ones. Not only drawing them, but thinking about them, and what type of damage they could do if I were to somehow summon them.
He seemed sad for me, although reading his expression was difficult with no face. He patted my forehead like before, but didn’t close my eyes before leaving as he used to.
My life continued its spiraling path like a bottle rocket with a broken stick. My parents didn’t talk outside of short conversations about which bills to pay and which ones to ignore. Each night, Dad drank himself to sleep while Mom chatted online with a male Facebook friend she knew from high school.
The thing about rock bottom is that it’s often a disguise for a trap door that drops you to an even lower depth than you thought possible.
The first bottom came when my father died. Drove off the road into a gravel pit late at night with an empty bottle of bourbon in the passenger seat. I cried, but it felt hollow. I felt hollow. Even when mom tried to hold me, I felt nothing inside, not sadness, not guilt, not anything.
I disappeared into my sketchbooks, drawing even darker, more disturbing images. Death, dismemberment, and incredibly accurate vivasections of the cute animals I used to enjoy drawing. My friends no longer talked to me, which was fine because I didn’t want to talk to them anymore anyways. I found people to hang out with, not friends, but people who could get me access to moments of chemical induced euphoria to forget about life for a while.
Just like that, the trap door opened, dropping me to a new rock bottom of addiction. One thing I had in common with my dad, but instead of falling into a bottle, I fell into a needle.
I stole money from my Mom’s purse to feed my habits, not that she noticed. She was busy with her old Facebook friend who had moved from online acquaintance to nightly sleepover companion. When the time came to begin my senior year I didn’t bother going back.
I kept drawing, filling entire sketchbooks with the dark images that reflected my bleak outlook on life. The Dark Ones were prevalent subjects during this period; I drew them feasting on humanity, raking flesh from bone in their jagged teeth behind lips of smoke.
I came home one night to find my mom and her new male friend in the middle of a fight. It was different from her fights with dad, more violent, more physical. When he raised his hand at me for trying to intervene, I knew it was time to bolt.
I left home, hitching rides with anyone with a set of wheels I could manage to put up with for short periods of time. My preference leaned toward those with access to the chemical release I craved. The more I could numb, the more I could escape.
I found certain drug combinations had similar effects to sleep paralysis, where my mind’s ability to control my body’s action became severed. In those moments of numbed paralysis I’d see Mr. BrownStickLegs watching from afar as I dulled the pain. I saw what I perceived as the Dark Ones too, but they weren’t hiding in the shadows like Mr. BrownStickLegs did.
They were the shadows.
I called out to them as well, for in those moments I wanted nothing more than to be hollowed out and empty, a void so dark no pain could ever penetrate it. When they didn’t answer, I called out to Mr. BrownStickLegs, but he would vanish every time. Perhaps it was all just a drug fueled hallucination.
He visited me one evening as I lay in a bed made from discarded cardboard boxes in the middle of an abandoned warehouse. Unable to move, either from paralysis or the drugs coursing through my veins, which I couldn’t say.
I saw his eyes at first, shining red from the corner. He approached slowly, cautiously.
“Child, your soul,” he said. “Why do you do this?”
In my mind, I felt myself standing up in front of him. I put my hands on his torso and shoved him away. In the warehouse, Mr. BrownStickLegs recoiled.
“Are you here for another delicious drink from my soul? That’s all I am to you, right? A food source.”
He didn’t move or say anything. He only watched with his unblinking eyes.
I continued. “You don’t care about me or my life. Look at me. Look at where I am. My life is shit! Everything is shit! I don’t want to feel anything any more. And if that makes my soul too bitter, then find someone else to feed off of, you parasite!”
He recoiled at the word parasite. He turned away, disappearing into the shadows. I woke up with a surge as the paralysis lifted. I realized later on that I had driven away the only constant companion in my life. I cried for him, but not then, not in that moment. At that moment, I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t want to feel. I wanted only to be numb.
Overdosing was never my intention. I was pushing too much, trying to find the edge of the void after feeling so low, so very low, searching for that little something extra to filter out the background noise. I took it too far, giving myself a near-lethal dose. At one moment, I was lying next to strangers on a stained mattress in the front room of a meth house. Then came the initial rush of euphoric bliss. And then, nothing.
I don’t remember how I got to the hospital. Later on I found out that whoever I was traveling with at the time dumped me on the curb in front of the ER and sped off, making me someone else’s problem.
This was my rock bottom moment, although at the time, it felt more like freefall.
I spent three weeks in a coma. I was aware of my surroundings, and could hear the doctors and nurses as they checked my vitals and tended to my cleanliness and upkeep, but I couldn’t move or speak.
At the end of my third week in the ICU on a ventilator, I looked up to find Mr. BrownStickLegs hovering over me, his round red eyes peering through the darkness.
“What have you done to yourself, child?” his voice spoke inside my mind. I tried to answer, but I was too weak to respond.
The room disappeared as darkness swirled around us. When the light returned, I was standing beside him in the middle of a vast salt flat desert. The ground was cracked and dry in a hexagonal pattern that stretched in all directions.
“What is this place?” I asked.
“This is your soul, child. There is nothing left to drink.”
I heard the beep of my heart rate monitor back in my hospital room speed up as fear captured my mind.
“I called out to the Dark Ones,” I said. “I asked for them to come. They emptied me out, emptied my soul.”
Above me, Mr. BrownStickLegs shook his head from side to side.
“No, child. You did this. You have not replenished, you have only consumed. And now, nothing remains.”
I dropped to my knees in the middle of the salt as I felt a rumbling deep inside the hollow pit of my stomach.
I leaned forward onto my arms, but they were no longer my arms. They were pitch black and empty. I could feel them, but when I looked at them, they were empty voids of smoke and shadow. I stood up on my legs, but they were no longer my legs.
The darkness swirled up my torso, down my arms. The emptiness inside me consumed my entire body until only my head remained.
“What’s happening to me?”
I heard a snap as my arms and legs split, forming eight black, spindly thin legs. I collapsed onto them, unable to support myself.
Mr. BrownStickLegs glided down in front of my face, his eyes inches from my own.
“I told you, child. Only the Dark Ones have the ability to consume an entire ocean of a soul. That is your fate. That is what you will become.”
Back in the hospital room, my heart rate monitor crashed to a flatline. I felt the cold darkness swirl up my neck to my head as the void consumed me. I was aware of the nurses and doctors huddled around my body, prepping the crash cart, but all I felt was the cold consuming what was left of me.
My physical body jolted from the electric paddles, but I felt nothing. A needle injected into my IV line as they recharged for another burst of electricity. Still I felt nothing. Only cold, only darkness, only the vast emptiness of the void.
The void moved further up my neck, consuming me into everlasting darkness.
In my mind, I mustered up my last ounce of energy to say three words to him.
“Help me. Please.”
Mr. BrownStickLegs tilted his head as he stared through his unblinking red eyes. He leaned forward, pressing his plate like face to my forehead. I felt a vibration against my skin, followed by the tingling sensation of heat returning. The darkness receded back down my arms and legs.
As he pulled back, the red in his eyes had diminished.
“A gift for the girl who gave me pants.”
A tear formed in my eye. It rolled down my cheek and fell onto the parched landscape below. Before I could say anything, an electronic jolt coursed through my body, pulling me away from the salt flat expanse and back to my hospital room.
The sinus rhythm of my heart rate monitor returned to normal. I felt the warm gel of the defibrillator paddles against my chest. I remember squeezing the hand of one of the attending nurses, who smiled down at me.
“Look who’s awake.”
I cried, but it was different than before. I felt the pain I had long been avoiding, but I felt something else as well. I felt grateful, and I felt a sense of hope I hadn’t known in a long time.
It was a long road back from the darkness, but the thing about the road to recovery is that, like a road, it leads to a destination. After years of listless drifting towards the void, having a destination was an important first step in finding self-love.
I reconnected with my mother, who was struggling with her own form of the darkness. We leaned on one another, talking and going to therapy as we worked through the issues that drove us apart. After my release from the hospital I moved back home with her, her Facebook friend long gone. I got my GED and used my many sketchbooks as a portfolio to get an apprenticeship at a tattoo parlor.
I've been clean for four years now, and it feels good to smile again. Granted, I still prefer Pierce the Veil to anything from Katy Perry’s catalogue, and my tattoos and jewelry have more skulls than fluffy bunnies, but that's all on the surface. I no longer crave the darkness to consume me.
I often thought about the vision with Mr. BrownStickLegs on the salt flats that night in the hospital. I had not seen him since that night, and as I wondered about his fate I also wondered about the state of my soul since that day. Has it replenished or is it still the dried up barren wasteland that he took me to on the night?
Last night, around three in the morning, I finally got my answer.
I woke up with a heaviness on my chest, arms and legs. At first I felt the grips of fear grabbing hold, much like the first time I experienced it. But then in the dark corner of my room, I saw glowing red eyes staring back at me from the shadows.
In spite of my sleep paralysis, I couldn’t help but smile when I heard his voice call to me.
“Child, your soul tastes much better now.”