Up until the twentieth century, no one knew what caused sleep paralysis. In paintings and sculptures, it is often depicted as a demon sitting on the chest of its victims, pinning them to the bed. Those who suffered from the condition reported an inability to move coupled by terrifying visions of figures and forms either choking or holding them in place, or even just observing them from afar.
It was thought to be a condition related to sleep deprivation, something that might occur when your brain hadn’t been given the time it needed to decompress and sort through the images from the day. If you were having trouble sleeping, your body might have difficulty slipping into a full sleep cycle, we supposed.
Or maybe it was genetic, the curse chasing down your family for generations. From Mothers to Daughters, none could escape the grasp of the demon.
Some thought it to be actual spirits wishing us ill. Or the grasp of the Devil itself. If only it were that simple. At least demons can be killed.
Early scientists and doctors thought it was a side effect of some known disease, like narcolepsy. Something that could be treated with common medicine. That it was explainable by a flawed and damaged brain. How right we were.
You see, the brain consists of two hemispheres, each controlling separate parts of your body, working in tandem but with separate aims. The left controls speech, the right controls facial recognitions, and so on, and so forth. It wasn’t until we severed this connection did we come to realize how little we knew.
For each half brain can function independently, unaffected and uncaring of the actions of the other. This disconnect, like so many solutions in science, was problematic for many reasons.
Have you ever come across a situation where the problem is the solution? Where the poison is no different from the cure? That the only “issue” is a problem inherent in the system, and to eradicate such a “defect” would compromise the very integrity of the foundation itself?
This was one such problem.
The solution was found suddenly by one of its victims, a man in his late 30s who was visited each night by a dark form, like black ink, shifting and spilling across his apartment. Some nights the form would spring up in the center of the room, always on the edge of his vision, shifting as the moments stretched on. Others it would drip from the ceilings, or grow from a wall like a putrid stain of reality congealing and coalescing in his room.
The worst came when it entered from the main hall. It would drip and churn towards him, moving in no rush, until it threatened to swallow him whole. It morphed and compressed onto his leg, unable to get away or cry for help, crushing him slowly as it built, searing itself into his knee.
The mass formed and what he interpreted to be a head rose from the protoplasmic sludge and turned to face him. Its head turned to the side as a wolf might, examining its prey. With a flash, the form broke and spilled across the bed, evaporating in an instant.
It was from this vaporization he saw it: a key, resting straight up, nose down into his kneecap. He knew this to be the answer. His right brain, an unwitting passenger on his journey, had bided it’s time to show him the truth.
When he was weak, on the verge of sleep, it came alive to show him the helplessness and terror of its own reality.
And then he woke up.