In August of 2000, shortly after my sister-in-law, Diane, died, dark shadows started to attack my daughter Mary during the night. At first, fearful of sounding crazy, she didn't tell anyone. Who would believe her? When Mary finally got up the nerve to tell her roommate about the attacks, she was shocked to discover that Lauren had seen things too. Then another friend, Ned, told her evil spirits surrounded her. How would he know that?
When Mary called to tell me that weird things had been happening to her and her friends, paranormal activity was furthest from my mind. They all liked to party so I reasoned that it must be drugs and alcohol causing this hysteria. But when Mary moved out, the weird things stopped for them, not for her. As the attacks escalated, she could see the shadows gather in the corner of her living room. She started hearing voices, and the TV and radio were nothing but static.
Mary hid her problems from me as for long as she could, but I knew there was something seriously wrong. I was having dreams that she was in danger. Even then, I refused to believe her problems were paranormal. Logically, I wanted them to be fixable issues, like bad friends, or a sleep disorder, or even mental illness. That all changed when I finally realized that Mary really was being attacked by evil spirits.
My daughter's story is about that year.
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By Sharon Richter
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"No! No! Get away! Mary! Help! Make them go away!"
They all looked over in surprise at Ned as he began to thrash around on the couch, wildly waving his arms as if he were swatting at an invisible swarm of bees. All the while he kept screaming for me to help him, to make them go away. Finally, with a loud gasp, he shouted, "Go away!" then fell into an uneasy, twitchy sleep. Except for me, everyone thought Ned's unusual behavior was a riot, laughing as he struggled with his unseen attackers.
At the time Ned fell asleep, my roommate, Lauren, and I were hanging out with some friends in the living room of our apartment. When Ned had finally settled down, Lauren asked me to tell everyone about my own similar experiences, like they too were a big joke. She was constantly doing that, bringing up my own horrifying attacks. And for some reason, I always did what she asked. Somehow, telling my stories to others and hearing them laugh made the attacks less threatening.
The attacks were real! The way my bedroom lights sometimes flickered or completely turned off wasn't my imagination. Lauren had seen it happen too. What I couldn't understand was that if Ned and Lauren were bothered by some of the same experiences, why did they think I was to blame?
Deep down, I knew these appearances weren't really nightmares, or dreams. When they happened, I'd wake up in the middle of the night from a deep sleep, unable to move, feel, or act. It was like the sensation you get right before a car crash: You could see the accident coming, but there was nothing you could do to stop it. At first, I wanted to scream, but couldn't. A dizzying sense of nausea and vertigo would flow through my body in seconds: head-chest-stomach-fear. Unable to scream or close my eyes, I would stare helplessly at the dark, menacing shadows gathering above my bed before they whirled down to attack, my heart beating furiously, straining against the confines of my chest. I could open my mouth slightly, but the effort made my teeth chatter like one of those wind-up toys. I thought my teeth and jaw were going to break as I tried to open my mouth to scream. The shadows couldn't reach my body beneath the covers. Instead, they spun madly around my head and viciously pinched my exposed arms.
The horror seemed to last for hours. Then, just as suddenly, with one big gasp, I would shout, "Go away!" and the attack would end, leaving me stiff, dizzy, nauseous, and covered in sweat. Exhausted, my arms bruised and aching, I'd just lay there. Forget sleep. Afraid to get out of bed and go into the darkness beyond, I waited for daylight. I felt safe during the day.
At first, the shadows only attacked me in the bedroom at night. So each time I sensed a presence, I slept on the living room couch. It wasn't very comfortable, though, and kept me awake most of the night. Leaving lights on helped too, but only for a short while. Eventually, it didn't matter if the lights were on or off, the shadows always returned to torment me. Their attacks seemed worse because of the false sense of security I had gained between those early episodes.
Afraid that Lauren would freak out, I waited a couple of weeks before saying anything to her. Maybe the attacks would just go away. I was shocked when Lauren described similar experiences. Lauren saw wispy things like broken smoke rings above her head, but she could move. When she sat up, Lauren could see a woman digging a hole in the far corner of the bedroom. Another time, she opened her bedroom door and saw a woman in a rocking chair at the foot of her bed. Lauren screamed when she saw her. And during this particular incident she wasn't asleep; Lauren had just come home from work.
At the time Lauren saw the woman in the rocking chair, I ran to Lauren's side when I heard her scream. There was no one else in the room when I got there. When I asked Lauren to describe the woman, she told me that the woman's features were too blurry. We both felt scared and thought the apartment was haunted. When Lauren checked with our landlady, the landlady confirmed our fears. She told Lauren that the apartment complex had been built over an old Indian gravesite. The construction crew had found bones almost as soon as they started digging. But previous tenants never mentioned anything strange. We'd been living there for almost a year, and nothing had happened to us. So why were we being bothered now? We wondered what we should do next.CHAPTER 2
"Mom!" Mary blurted out when I answered the telephone. "Something really weird has been happening. All of a sudden I wake up at night and am attacked by these dark shadows. I can't move. When my friend Ned slept over, he kept shouting and screaming in his sleep for something to go away and for me to help him. He could move. Lauren's seen the shadows and some lady in her room, but she wasn't attacked like me and Ned. They thought it was because of me, but the landlady says the apartments were built on an old gravesite, so maybe the apartment is haunted and it's not really me! What do you think, Mom? What should we do?"
The panic in Mary's voice came through the phone like a physical blow. What, I wondered, is going on now? A bleak feeling of fear bored into my stomach. Dave and I were used to bailing out Mary. It just never seemed to end. For such a smart, beautiful young woman, my youngest daughter had the worst taste in friends, and trouble always seemed to follow. If Mary had more people sense like her sister Theresa, we wouldn't have worried so much. She possessed a childlike quality and zest for life that drew people, especially children, to her. This wonderful quality, however, was easily taken advantage of and had caused Mary much heartache over the years.
It suddenly became important to me to keep the lines of communication open and not alienate Mary by sounding accusatory or disbelieving in any way. So, humoring her and keeping my voice as neutral as possible, I asked her about the attacks. As Mary described her inability to move, the hallucinatory qualities of her attacks, and the experiences of her friends, I could feel my right hand start to cramp as it clutched the phone. Maybe, I thought, it was stress. Recently laid off from her job, Mary was having no luck finding another one, and her unemployment compensation had only weeks to go. At the rate things were going she would be forced to move back in with Dave and me for a while until she got back on her feet.
Unless I spoke to Ned and Lauren, I had no way of knowing the truth. Then again, if Mary's friends really were involved, what were they all doing that could cause such psychosis? As a teenager on the fringe of the drug-culture movement of the sixties and seventies, I remembered stories of mass drug-induced hallucinations. I wondered if drugs and alcohol could account for my daughter's and her friends' eerie collective madness. Although Mary admitted to drinking more and smoking pot, she insisted she was doing them because of the nightmarish attacks. She figured if she were drunk or stoned enough, the shadows wouldn't be able to wake her. "Honest, Mom," Mary claimed, "everything's the same. Nothing's changed."
Fear for Mary made me numb. I flashed back to my childhood, to my alcoholic father. I remember watching him scrabble into a corner of our living room, crying, screaming and begging for help, curling to protect himself from the rats he was sure were attacking him. If alcohol could do that to my father, how much worse is it for Mary and her friends if drugs are added to the mix? Today's recreational drugs were much more lethal than the garden varieties my generation indulged in as young adults. Nevertheless, I believed Mary when she claimed nothing had changed. So I wondered what I should say. How would I get her to listen?
Alcoholism and drug use had been prevalent on both sides of our family. My youngest sister, Rose, died of alcoholism. I still think that if every young person in the world could see how painful an alcoholic's death was, they'd be scared sober. Once the liver goes, the body is unable to metabolize pain medications, and ironically, when the end comes, there is a blissful release from the unrelenting, excruciating pain. Unfortunately, like most people, neither Mary nor her friends thought the prospect of becoming an alcoholic or drug addict applied to them. They thought that they were always in control.
I finally suggested to Mary that she and her friends should slow down with their partying, explaining that it was possible for alcohol and drugs to trigger hallucinations. Although she vehemently denied partying all that much, I wasn't so sure I believed her. Because of her unemployment situation, I knew that she would be home soon. Then I would be able to tell.CHAPTER 3
Ned stopped by again. He planned to visit for a few days before moving in with his mom. I decided to follow my mom's advice: no partying this time. Besides, everyone else in the house had to work the next day. Around the time of this visit, I was beginning to feel hopeful. There had been no frightening attacks since I spoke to Mom five days ago. I was sleeping better too. Mom suggested that I could be overdoing it with the drugs and alcohol. Maybe. I won't have the freedom to do what I want when I move back in with them. I mean, she and my stepdad, Dave, weren't exactly jailers, but my friends and I couldn't just hang around all day when we felt like it. Mom and Dave wouldn't tolerate that, and if I kept that up, I'd be out on my ass.
As usual, we ordered pizza for dinner and left Ned watching TV in the living room, where he was going to sleep on the couch. I went to bed and fell quickly into a dreamless sleep. Then, suddenly, I was jolted awake, my heart thundering in my chest. I was terrified. I thought the shadows were attacking again. But no, it was Ned screaming at the top of his lungs, begging for me to help him. With a speed I never knew I had, I threw back the covers, jumped out of the bed, and ran to the living room to see what was wrong. In the light from the TV, Ned seemed to be fighting for his life. He waved his arms at something over his head, twisting his body in an attempt to escape. All the while, he screamed and screamed until with one huge effort of will and strength, as if he was throwing someone off of him, he shouted, "No!" and woke up.
"Mary," he panted, struggling to sit up, "you're surrounded by evil spirits. I'm going to ask my mother for a rosary, blessed by her church, to give to you. You need protection!"
"How do you know?" I asked him.
"I just do," Ned replied. Then he gathered up all his things and left.CHAPTER 4
What was she doing to herself? This latest story of Ned and evil spirits had me thinking fearfully of religious delusions and mental illness. Schizophrenia popped into my head as a possibility, but I immediately suppressed it. No, I thought, it couldn't be. There's no history of mental illness in the family on either side. It had to be something else.
Mary reminded me again of the landlady's claim of the apartment's being on an old Indian gravesite. "I told you, Mom! The apartment is haunted. What do you think, Mom? What should we do?"
The only thing I could latch onto in her insane story was Ned. "Did he ever bring you the rosary beads?" I asked her.
"Oh, yes," she replied. "The very next day he stopped by to give them to me. I hung them in my room above the bed. But they didn't help a bit!"
Now I really felt bad. Mary did have some religious instruction when she was younger, but not much. As a Catholic, she made her first Holy Communion but was not confirmed. She knew some basic prayers, such as the Our Father and Hail Mary, but didn't know how to say the rosary. She just hung it on the wall like a good luck charm or religious icon and hoped for a miracle.
I have only myself to blame for the lack of religion in my daughter's life. Foolishly, I thought that when my children were old enough they could make their own decisions. And when Mary was about ten years old, I told her to call her grandmother, "if she wanted to go to church that bad." I can't say that not going to church affected Mary's faith; she always had a deep, abiding trust in God. The structure and resources that the church provided might have helped her to recognize the delusions for what they were: figments of her imagination.
Suddenly, I remembered that Lauren attended church regularly, so I suggested they have the apartment blessed. If there were evil spirits (which I didn't believe there were), the blessing would afford them some spiritual protection; if there weren't, then it wouldn't make a difference. I knew I was playing into Mary's religious delusions, but I needed time. Time to think, time to plan, and time to not panic. Soon, she would be moving back home. I hoped to determine more about her mental state then.CHAPTER 5
What the hell is going on? Am I really going crazy? It scared me to think about it. I couldn't shake this jittery sense of being watched—all the time. But by what? Something or someone lurked in the background, watching, waiting to pounce on me if I ever let my guard down.
Since moving back home I had been trying, really trying, to get into a regular sleep schedule and cut back on hanging out with my friends. But it wasn't easy. I'm a high-energy person who likes to be moving. Maybe that was part of my problem. It took so long for me to wind down at the end of a busy day that I no sooner fell asleep than I had to wake up again. It was no wonder that I was always tired. Fortunately, the first month I was home, there hadn't been any shadow attacks to keep me awake.
Then, one afternoon while trying to nap in Mom's bedroom, I could have sworn I was dreaming. I gazed up at the black ceiling fan's rotating blades. I watched as wispy shadows floated above me. Almost transparent in the afternoon sunlight, they darted hypnotically in and around the fan blades, casting a refracting darkness on the ceiling. Relaxed, weighted down by a slight feeling of vertigo, my body sank into the mattress as if my body's energy was being drained. I was on the verge of deeper sleep when Mom suddenly walked into the room. With a gasp I sat up, my heart thundering in my ears and sweat drenching my body. My eyes were unfocused as I quickly scanned the room fearfully for the shadows.
"I'm sorry, Mary," Mom said. "I didn't mean to wake you."
My stomach knotted up as I tried to figure out what had just happened. Were my attacks back? Lauren had told me that everything at the apartment was fine. Oh my God! Maybe I'm the problem! Or maybe Mom just scared me when she walked into the room. That must be it, I told myself. I was just surprised by Mom.
I mean, it couldn't be another one of those awful shadow attacks, because it was daytime. Nothing ever happened during the day! And I wasn't paralyzed, and the room didn't get cold. But I did feel someone or something watching me, though. I was sure of it. Sometimes, my scalp and arms tingled. It was almost like static electricity but without the hair rising. And I got afraid in the pit of my stomach.
I could feel myself getting paranoid, like I was always looking over my shoulder and finding no one or nothing there.CHAPTER 6
On the surface, everything about Mary looked fine, but I was sure she was hiding something. Dave kept telling me to just leave her alone, that I was always at her. But I couldn't. My sixth sense was telling me something was wrong! Everyone in our family has some degree of intuitiveness. Some have precognitive dreams. Others get that funny feeling in their bones. Sometimes we see or hear things. Our family calls this the WooWoo Factor. And again, there was no history of schizophrenia in the family. Anywhere. It just was.
Whenever Mary was in the house my scalp prickled and tingled. She made me tense, guarded, and irritable whenever she was near. Dave felt it too, but thought it was because he wasn't used to Mary living home again. There was always a disturbing palpable tension surrounding her, grating on our nerves.
My thoughts swirled obsessively around Mary. Was she stressed? Depressed? Drinking? Doing drugs? There were no obvious signs. She wasn't crazy about being home, but there was nothing to indicate that that was the reason for the tension. She was working temp jobs while she looked for something more permanent and had made some progress. Something else had to be the cause.
Excerpted from Faith by Sharon Richter. Copyright © 2014 Sharon Richter. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse LLC.
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