With a jolt, I sat straight up in my bed, startled by the explosion of lightning and the sharp crack of thunder, which chased it, shaking my windows. Rain pelted the glass like stones. As I peered through the window from my top bunk, I could barely see the neighbor’s house.
I love storms, especially late at night when I’m trying to sleep. Yet, for some reason, it gave me an unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach. For the last couple of hours I had tossed and turned with my eyes closed trying to sleep, but never achieving it. I even tried counting sheep, but all that did was make me hungry.
Of course, no one else in my room seemed to be having trouble sleeping. This happened during the period of my life I refer to as the Invasion. It’s when all of my father’s brothers decided to move to Florida, but none of them thought to get a place of their own when they did. They were thus unceremoniously dumped into my room, which happened to be the smallest room in the house. I had wall to wall uncles snoring away as if they had no care in the world. And they probably didn’t.
Why could my Dad not have sisters? Then they would all be in my little sister’s room snoring all night instead of invading my private domain. After all, a thirteen year-old needs his privacy. Thirteen is not a child anymore. Why, it is practically a man. A thirteen year-old needs to be alone once in awhile.
I was never alone.
How could I be when I had to share a small room with three uncles, two sets of bunk beds, and four dressers? The room was so crowded that we had to go into the bathroom just to change clothes. And my bedroom was never empty. There was always someone in there doing something - or nothing at all besides taking up space.
Lightning streaked across my window again driving me under the covers. I quickly forgot about my mental griping. My snoring uncles sounded good right now. Good and close. Not that I was afraid, mind you. Thirteen year-olds are fearless.
Again lightning flashed and I sank deeper under the blankets.
“What’s the matter, Robbie? Can’t sleep?” It was my Uncle Bill’s voice. He had the bunk right under me. I guess all of my moving about must have woken him up.
“The lightning keeps flashing in my eyes and waking me up.” It was partly the truth.
“Well, it’s just a storm. Close your eyes and think of something else.”
“I tried that. It’s hard to think of something else when the storm’s trying to break through your window.” I just could not bring myself to tell him I was scared. I was not a baby anymore. Thirteen year-olds do not get scared.
“Robbie, who in the world are you talking to?” Uncle Bill asked.
The question confused me. He had to know I was talking to him. I told him so.
“No you weren’t. I was sound asleep until your voice woke me up.”
“Uncle Bill, you asked me a question - didn’t you?” My voice cracked with nervousness. It had to have been him. I could still hear my other two uncles snoring away in the other set of beds.
“No, I didn’t. Now, be quiet and go to sleep!”
This thirteen year-old was scared now, and it was not just because of the storm. I pressed myself as hard as I could down into my mattress. I would have hidden inside the thing if I could.
Then I heard a cackle, horrid and evil, like the ones villains make as they bind the damsel in distress to the railroad tracks. I prayed that someone else was hearing it as well.
Just as I was about to ask Uncle Bill if he had heard the weird laughter, an icy hand gently rested on my arm. I tried to jerk it away, but my body was frozen. I tried to scream, but my mouth was locked shut.
The laugh continued.
Oh, Lord, let my mouth work! Let my mouth work!
Finally, my lips moved - but no words came out! It was as if I had lost all the air in my body. I tried with everything I had, but nothing came out.
Then a voice, dark and foreboding, said, “Now, me-boy, let’s see...”
And I screamed! At the top of my lungs, with every ounce of energy I could muster, I ripped out a yell which echoed throughout the house.
The hand disappeared.
I felt more than heard Uncle Bill come awake in his bed. He had jumped upright and bashed his head on the bottom of my bed. The overhead light sprang to life thanks to my Uncle Tom who was now looking at me with wide eyes. My other uncle was sitting on his bed gripping his left foot which had found one of the four dressers in the tiny room. By this time my dad was trying to work the handle to his room. My parents had started keeping their door locked to force my sister to sleep in her own bed as opposed to theirs.
“What’s wrong?” Tom yelled, his head jerking in all directions as he searched for the danger. “What’s the yelling for?”
Then I saw him - behind my uncle....on the side of the door; it was the man who touched me. He was wearing a jester’s hat and silk clothing of bright and varying colors. He just stood there cackling that evil laugh as he pointed to me.
I screamed again, this time pointing at the intruder.
Tom, seeing me point at the door, assumed there was something dangerous there even though he could not see it and so he slammed the door - right in my father’s face. Dad had finally managed to work the door knob and as he left his room and rounded the corner was hit square in the face with the door.
The strange jester remained for a moment, staring at me and laughing. Laughing! Then, he slowly faded away. He just disappeared.
My father finally made it into my room, followed closely by my mother and sister. I explained everything that had happened. They said I had had a nightmare.
“But I was awake! I talked to Uncle Bill”
“Uncle Bill talks in his sleep. Trust us. It was a nightmare. When you woke up, your eyes merely played tricks on you.”
I received a reassuring squeeze on the arm from my dad and a kiss on the forehead from my mother. “It’s all right. Nothing can hurt you here surrounded by the people who love you.”
I didn’t believe it, but I still settled down to sleep. Uncle Tom turned out the light and as I lay there I noticed that the storm had stopped.
* * * * *