And she was like...really? You believed in monsters until you were in college?
And I was like...yeah.
So I have always had this wonderful thing called sleep paralysis. If you don't want to read the link (or you don't have time to do the Wikipedia Link Dance today), here's the summary: when you sleep, your body locks down so you don't act out your dreams. Some people's bodies lock down before they fall asleep (my sister has this), and some people's bodies remain locked down after they wake up (my dad and me). Which would be bad enough, you know - waking up in the middle of the night, especially after a bad dream, and being unable to move at all. But there are some other fun things associated with sleep paralysis.
One - a sense of dread. When I talk about incidents, I rate these things on a scale of one to ten. One is the simple kind of oogy you might have after any nightmare. Five is a very serious feeling of incipient danger; something's wrong, and you don't know what it is. Ten is when I wake up and I know I'm about to die.
Two - a sense of a presence. You know that feeling you get when you know someone's in the room with you, or you can tell someone's looking at you? That. I will wake up and just know there's someone in the room with me. Someone who shouldn't be there. I generally don't have low numbers on the scale with this one, although occasionally I will think a family member or roommate is in the room. Usually, this is an eight through ten - I know someone's in the room with me and I know they're evil and they mean to do me harm. This is almost always combined with the sense of dread, so I imagine that I'm in danger and I'm going to die because of the presence in my room.
Three - hallucinations. I think that a lot of the time when people think about hallucinations, they think about someone being on drugs and it can be all very ha-ha. Or they think about Wayne's World, and those wavy lines, and everything's trippy and funny. Instead, I tell people to think about Morpheus in The Matrix, explaining how it works to Neo. All sensations are just electrical impulses interpreted by the brain. When someone puts their hand on your arm, you may feel the sensation on the skin of your arm, but you only do so because your brain is telling you the sensation exists. Hallucinations are missing the actual physical part of the equation, but the brain part is just the same. So I have awakened and felt someone's hand on my arm, or my leg - it's real. I feel it. There's no "this is just pretend in your brain yay!" component to the feeling at all. It feels exactly as if there were actually a hand on my arm or leg.
The hallucinations are the worst. I primarily feel things and hear things; my sister sees things. So I have awakened in the middle of the night, unable to move, unable to open my eyes, and experienced the following: someone sitting on the edge of my mattress, sitting on my chest, sitting on my back. Someone touching my arm or leg, or pulling on my hair, or pulling on my ankles to pull me out of bed. Someone tugging on the collar of my shirt. My bed shaking, my bed being dragged out of the room, someone underneath my bed pushing their fists into the underside of my mattress. I have heard the following: knocking on my door, knocking on the wall, knocking on the ceiling as though it were coming from the attic. Someone screaming somewhere else in the house. Someone screaming right next to me. People talking to me, in gibberish. The sound of my door creaking open.
As you can imagine, especially as a kid, I interpreted all this in a variety of ways. It depended on whatever I was afraid of most at the time. And I couldn't really go to my parents and expect to be comforted, because my dad went through the same thing, and I think he was just tickled that he wasn't the only one. "Dad, I woke up last night and I couldn't move and there was a ghost shaking my bed." "Yeah? A couple nights ago I woke up and couldn't move and I could hear one of you girls screaming in your bedroom and I finally just went back to sleep. Did anything happen a couple nights ago?"
When I was younger, my sister and I shared a bedroom. It was always really, really great when we had an experience the same night.
Me: Last night I woke up and someone was laughing in the corner.
My sister: Last night I woke up and saw a man standing in the corner.
And I had no explanation for any of this. I didn't read about sleep paralysis until I was in college, and the sense of relief I felt that night, when I spent about six hours searching and reading, I don't know that I can adequately explain. By that point, I was pretty much secure in being a very rational atheist, and it bothered me that I continued to have these unexplainable things happen. I especially had a bad time after I watched The Exorcist for the first time. The next incident I had after that involved a ten on all three of the aspects - I woke up, couldn't move, knew I was going to die, and knew exactly who was in my room. It was Regan, the possessed little girl. And I could feel her sitting on the edge of my bed, right next to me. I could feel the mattress dipping under her weight. And I knew that even though her back was to me, her head was turned around, and she was smiling down at me, just waiting for me to open my eyes - she wanted me to see her first, and wanted to see my terror, before she killed me.
I was sixteen years old. I was so absolutely terrified, beyond rational thought, that I ended up climbing into bed with my parents, just sobbing. And as much as I came to stop believing in vampires and ghosts and werewolves, there is something about demon possession that even today I find myself susceptible to. There's nothing scarier than waking up and absolutely believing that there is something evil in your bedroom with you, and you know it because you can feel it crouching on your back, and you can hear it muttering to you in some kind of dark language you don't understand. Rationally understanding what's going on during the day doesn't help much in those moments.