I've always wondered if perhaps more hauntings occur in ancient buildings. Toronto isn't a particularly old city, and the various houses and apartments I've lived in throughout my life have all been quite new. For many years, I wondered if that's why I'd never come in contact with any sort of paranormal activity. A little piece of me has always been fascinated by ghost stories and the supernatural, and I've always been a believer, but a believer sorely lacking in experience.
That changed a few months ago when I was housesitting for a friend. She lives in an historic part of the city, in a lovely house with the plaster walls and dark wooden floors characteristic of of Toronto's older homes. It's been beautifully refurbished, and there's nothing scary about it. It's hardly what you'd call a haunted house. And, realistically, it's probably not haunted... but I still can't explain what happened to me one night.
It was late when I went to bed--probably 2 or 3 in the morning. I got all cozy under the covers of the double bed in the guest room and turned off the light on the night table. I fell asleep right away, and I do recall dreaming. Maybe it was all a dream. Probably, it was. That's what I keep telling myself, explaining it away.
I awoke with a start when I felt one of my cats jump up on the bed. A familiar sensation, not an unusual occurrence. And then my brain kicked into gear and I realized...I wasn't in my bed. My cats were back at my apartment. I was housesitting, and there were no cats in this house.
The very moment that thought occurred to me, the sensation beside me on the mattress changed drastically. From the dainty dance of cat paws, it grew into the heavy thud of a human body falling into bed. I felt the mattress sink at my side. I heard the bedsprings squeal just slightly, as though they were under sudden pressure. And I just kept telling myself I was dreaming, I was dreaming, I had to be dreaming because this couldn't possibly be real.
My body froze. I had been sleeping on my side, and I was facing the edge of the mattress, away from this ghostly sensation. I tried to pry my eyelids open, but I just couldn't do it. I tried to roll over, to speak, do anything, but my body was locked in position.
I kept telling myself it was sleep paralysis, a natural phenomenon, an indicator that I'd awoken too quickly and my brain wasn't ready for my body to take action yet. I kept telling myself it was just a dream, and yet I could feel that shape beside me. I could feel its form sinking in the mattress, right there, right behind my back. It was there. Something was there. And I couldn't move.
It was a struggle against sleep, against my own body locked in place, until finally I was able to ask, "C'est qui ça? Qu'est-ce qui arrive?" Who's there? What's happening? My brain hadn't woken up enough to speak English. There was no answer. Nothing but that feeling of sleeping next to another person, sensing their weight in the bed without touching them.
And finally, finally, I drew my eyes open. I was afraid, yes, but I was more afraid of doing nothing. I rolled in the bed, flopped really, barely able to move, still mired in sleep, and... nothing. There was nothing there, nothing beside me. The white linens glowed blue in the moonlight, no indentations, nothing. Still, my ears buzzed and my heart pounded. I'd never in my life been able to feel my heart throbbing in my chest. This was a visceral response to intense fear. I hadn't realized, when I was struggling to open my eyes, how incredibly frightened I was. Now it wouldn't go away.
I flicked the light on and repeated everything I'd already told myself: it was just a dream, it was all in my mind, sleep paralysis, etc. But my heart wouldn't stop pounding. I'd set my cell phone on the night table, and I picked it up and called my girlfriend who was deeply asleep when she answered, but managed to talk me down nonetheless. I knew I couldn't convey in words the extent of my fear that there had been something, an unknown something, in bed with me and I'd felt it lying there, right there at my side... but I think she could hear it in my voice, because she didn't tease me or chastise me for waking her up at 4 in the morning.
Finally, when my heart calmed down a bit, I sank my head down on my pillow and closed my eyes, hoping sleep would take me fast and I wouldn't be awoken by any more strange sensations. And sleep did come, and I was only awoken by sunlight streaming in through the window. But, I tell you, the entire week I spent alone in my friend's old Toronto home, I slept with the lights on.
Giselle Renarde is author of:
When bad boy Matt leaves the small town of Port Canatangua, Delia follows him to the big city. Delia’s crazy about Matt, and refuses to believe the rumours surrounding his departure. As soon as he finds a good job, he’s sure to get in touch. Until then, Delia takes a dingy little apartment and a position as a security guard at the art gallery. When she falls asleep on the job and finds herself inside a painting alongside Jacob the handsome shepherd, she tells herself it’s just a crazy hallucination. What better place than a dream to find the man of her dreams?