The old hag

I'm not telling you this story to scare you.

My childhood was speckled with these strange moments in my life. I remember falling asleep and then suddenly waking up, unable to move my body or open my eyes or even make a sound. I never told anyone about these horrors because I was often told to stop telling stories, especially my grandmother. Gran made it clear that she didn’t believe in supernatural things or ghosts from a very young age.

“It’s all in the mind.”  She would say while wagging her fingers at me. Because of Granny, I kept these incidents to myself; I felt silly telling anyone. But now, they haunted me daily. Following me around like my shadow, never able to shake it off.

When these strange paralysing dreams happened to me, I was always able to jolt my body into waking up by concentrating on my little pinkie finger. I would put all my focus and energy into it to make it move. As soon as I managed to twitch it, it was as though a lightning bolt jolted through my body, waking it up. The air would be clear, and I would be drenched in sweat.  But, the moments leading up to moving my pinkie terrified me. But that’s not the worst part, you know, the part about not being able to move. The worst factor that would make me feel like I was going into a cold sweat ad that my heart would pound out of my chest was when I could hear or feel the presence of someone or something in the room with me. There was always something in the room with me. I would be praying and focusing so hard on my pinkie to wake me up before that “thing” in the room would notice me. Sometimes I could feel it breathing across my face. Sometimes, the worst of times, it would climb onto the bed with me and slowly lay on top of me, cutting my breathing short. I could feel its hot breath like a dog panting on me. I could sometimes smell its sickening sweet odour, covering up something dead or dying. At this moment, I know it found me, pinned me down and slowly living off my fear. It wants me frightened. It wants to feed off me.  It keeps me alive, just on the edge of death.

All I could do was focus on my little pinkie. I would pray, say the Lord’s prayer, try to fight off the demon dog. “Move pinkie movie pinkie”, and soon, I would jolt awake, dripping in sweat. As soon as I snapped out of it, I would just be happy to be awake and back in the real world. Or in a world where everyday people couldn’t feel or sense other things amongst us.

As I got older, it continued to happen to me, but not as often. It usually happened when I stayed over at a new friend’s house or in a hotel. Not all of them, only some. It happened a few times in our family home, but it never scared me; I always knew I was safe. The figure at home was an old man. He didn’t scare me, though. I saw him once when I was wide awake too. When I would have my sleep paralysis, and he was there, he would whisper things in my ear, and his pet dog would jump onto my bed and sleep on my chest, making my breathing hard. But, I still focused on my pinkie. Because, as non-scary as that man and his dog was, I was still scared and desperate to wake my body up.

There is one time I remember that scared the shit out of me and to this day still does.

I was living in London in a big four-story home in Honour oak park … a little collage like town off the overland train station. I stayed with my three best friends, and each of us had a bedroom on one of the floors. It was an old house that had three flights of stairs to the top room, which was in the faraway corner of the house.  That was my bedroom down a passage into a room and the end of the corridor.

We also had a cellar, you know, like the olden day houses have. But none of us ever went down there; we didn’t even store anything there. It just seemed to be the place that was “off-limits” for no reason. No one ever spoke about it either. We went into the cellar when we first moved in, it was damp and musky, and there was absolutely nothing inside. We left it that way.

One weekend, my housemates had all left for the weekend to Amsterdam. I couldn’t join them as I was working right through that weekend. So, the house would be empty, but my boyfriend was going to stay with me. He worked as a night manager at a hotel in Knightsbridge. This meant he had to leave at 10pm and would be back around 7am. It wasn’t ideal, but I was happy he would be around to say goodnight.

That evening, my boyfriend left, and I went straight to bed, exhausted from the overtime I had to put into work. I fell fast asleep very quickly.

It was sometime in the early morning hours when I woke up from the sound of the front door banging shut. I woke up wide awake, listened for a sound. But there was nothing. No one. I tried to move, roll over, but I couldn’t move my body, and my eyes were shut. I wasn’t awake at all,  I was paralysed, and the nightmare only beginning. I tried to focus on my pinkie immediately because I know within a split second what was about to happen to me.  I’m focusing, and my mind is distracted by the sound of a man’s voice and footsteps on the ground floor, which had wooden floorboards. My heart is pounding in my chest; I know that it is too early for my boyfriend to be home. The voices start getting louder and louder, and the footsteps are coming up the stairs.  I know I am being haunted; I don’t know who will walk through my door.

My heart is beating, and I can feel the sweat running down my face. I am trying with all my might to move my pinkie. I know if I just roll my pinkie, I will be alright. Then suddenly, my door opens, and I expect the men to walk into the room. But, instead, the speaking stops. There is silence, no more footsteps or voices. I can’t really explain what happened next. Still, through my closed eyelids, I could see the figure of a person moving closer to me. Slowly it started leaning its body over mine, the shadow getting bigger and bigger.  Whatever it was had entered my room and came straight for me.

I don’t know where the men are now; they are gone.  I wish they were back. This shadow belongs to a woman, with long bushy, wild hair. For a moment, I relax because, for some strange reason, I thought it was my mother; my mother has long dark hair. But then it dawned on me. I’m in London, my mom’s in South Africa, this isn’t her. My heart is now galloping away, and my focus between my pinkie and this figure is racing. The sweet sickly smell of death starts to penetrate my nose. I can smell it. She has drained me before.

This isn’t my mother. The moment that penny drops, the loudest, most terrifying bone-chilling screams and wailing echo in my ear. Gnashing of teeth in my ear as she climbs onto my chest. It is so loud that I feel my bones shiver inside my body, and my breathing becomes shallow and stiff. Suddenly, the man’s voices came back into the room, the man running up the stairs shouting;

“Hello? Hello?  Hello?” right until he reached my bed.

It is like he could hear the banshee on my chest whaling too and came running to my rescue. The screaming disappears, the thing is gone, and right in my left ear, I hear him calling to me… asking if anyone is there. The black figure disappears like a vacuum, and I am left in silence. Unable to move.

The front door bangs shut! I quickly put all my focus on my pinkie and jolted my body to move. I sat upright in bed, and there was no one there. My body dripping in fear. A night terror, I think to myself. But who were those men? Had they followed the creature into my house? I am just happy to be alive and out of that place. I look at the time, my boyfriend should arrive anytime now.

I walk down the stairs past each room, looking inside. The house was empty. I carried on walking down the staircase until I could see the wooden floorboard on the bottom floor. The floorboards were lit up from underneath, exactly where the cellar was. No one ever went into the basement, and no one was even in that house to have gone down into it to switch the light on, for no reason.  I was home alone.

My heart started pounding again in my throat. The front door was right in front of me, and I could see that the latch was locked. Suddenly, I saw something, a shadow moving underneath the floorboards. The light shining through flickered.

I turned around and ran up the three flights of stairs, down the passage in the farthest corner of the house and lock myself behind my bedroom door.  There I sat wide awake till dawn broke, and my boyfriend came home. I told him everything that had happened. And he went straight to the cellar to check it out. The lights were on, but no one was down there. No one else was in the house. To this day, I don’t know if someone was inside our house … or if those were the ghosts or spirits that wandered the cellar and halls and staircase of that big London home. I felt haunted; I felt that when the house was empty, the things that lived there came to life, and perhaps they didn’t know I was there.

It wasn’t soon after that that we moved out of the house and closer to the city. There are a few other creepy things that happened there, but those are stories for another day.

People often tell me I’m being visited by spirits. They say my experiences are of the old hag; she comes to sit on my chest and haunt and taunt me. Some say it’s a form of sleep paralysis, a scientific reason for it. There seem to be scientific and haunting facts about it.  All I know is, whatever happened in that house in London was not right, and the lights in the cellar were really on. And still, to this day, I sometimes smell her. Her scent will find me down a dark driveway or just as I turn on a bedroom light.

When I came back to South Africa and walked into my family home. I was expecting to feel the man I left behind. The old man and his dog. But I couldn’t sense him.  I said straight away to my mom, the man has gone, hasn’t he? I could feel that something had left. She smiled and said, yes, he left when you went to London.