Somnambulist

My son Hugo sleepwalks. The first time I came upon him in the dead of night, I screamed loud enough to wake him from his trance. It was late—around two o’clock. I’d sent Hugo to bed long before but had stayed up in my study to sort through my jumbled thoughts. The hours darkened, and silence settled upon the house. I glanced intermittently out the window, noting the slow crawl of the moon across the night sky. As it dipped along its arcing path to slip beneath the horizon, I realized I would gain nothing more from that night. My pen dropped from my hand. I pushed away from the desk and stood to leave, pulling the cord of the desk lamp to shroud the room in darkness.

Out in the hall, I crept toward the front door, where a final dusting of moonlight floated through the window. Even this was fading quickly as the dark of night became absolute. The stairway in our house descended onto the front entryway. I grasped the banister and turned onto the first step. Then I glanced toward the top of the stairs and saw him.

My son was just standing there. He was far enough forward that his bare toes hung over the top step, poking out into the emptiness. His body was rigid; his arms stretched out in silent appeal to some unseen benefactor. It was his face, however, that drew my attention. His features had lost the softness they carried in daylight. His mouth was open and contorted in a violent grimace—half fear, half anger. His eyes were chasms into which the night poured—black pits like those of a skeleton. It was the face of a twisted creature, brought forth out of the night for some unspeakable purpose. I jumped, startled to see him there, but it was only after I saw his face that I screamed. No words, just a primal yell as fear coursed through me. At the sound, a change came over my son. His head inclined, and his eyes met my own. The corners of his mouth writhed—the grimace becoming a smile that spoke silently of indescribable evil. His terrible black eyes began slowly to burn. A spark gleamed within them, then grew to two points of red-hot fury. I could feel anger pulsing from the being at the top of the stairs, striking out with an intensity I felt sure would burn me. Desperation clawed at my throat, and I screamed again. This time my fear coalesced into a single word:

“Hugo!”

At the sound of his name, another change washed over him. The red-eyed being flinched as though it had been struck, and a snarl rasped from its throat. Then it was gone, and my son awoke. He tottered uncertainly at the top of the stairs. Worried he would fall, I ran to him and took him in my arms.

“Dad?” His voice was thick with sleep and confusion. “What happened?”

“Nothing, nothing.” I tried to sound reassuring while my very soul ached with fear. “You were sleepwalking. It’s time to go back to bed.” Even as I spoke, he was falling asleep in my arms. I picked him up and his hands reached behind my neck and clasped together. His head pressed warm against my chest as I carried him down the hall to his bedroom. I laid him in bed and pulled the cover over his chest. I backed away, moving soundlessly toward the door, feeling my way from the darkness, and continued to stare at him—lost in the strange world of his own unconsciousness. When I tried to turn away from him toward the door, I found myself unable to. Something in my mind froze my limbs in place, and I was seized with a paralyzing fear, trapped by a single thought. A chill whispered down my spine as that thought grew to its full power: don’t turn your back on it.

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