By VANESSA MAE V. ANTONY
I used to hear them in the dead of the night before. Grandmother would say it was the effect of insomnia, that the lack of sleep reduced the amount of oxygen flowing into my brain, making me imagine things that weren’t really there. I was not convinced.
I’ve had insomnia since I was 10 years old. The doctors said it was the effect of the trauma. But I knew they were wrong. Why do adults think they know better than we do? They didn’t listen when I tried explaining to them that the reason I had insomnia in the first place was because the voices wouldn’t shut up when I tried to sleep.
I was raised in my grandmother’s house after the incident. I wasn’t allowed to play outside, nor was I attending school at the time. That was a month after my 10th birthday. It began with the regular symptoms that came with insomnia: trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, and trouble going back to sleep after waking up from disturbing dreams.
Then, the voices would come. That was when it became worse, when they started whispering mean and hurtful things.
All alone in the large bedroom in my grandmother’s house, I would do my best to cry myself to sleep. It got so bad there were times I would go for 30 hours without sleep. I had stopped explaining to grandmother what was going on since the day she forced me to pray in the chapel, as if praying to dolls in dresses would do me any good.
I thought it couldn’t get any worse, but I was wrong.
The worst took place the night my grandmother and I fought. After that, I never heard the voices again. We fought over my unfinished dinner, I didn’t like peas anyway. She called me a brat, so I called her a whore. That was the end of it. She dismissed me to my room, not allowing me to eat my dessert. Climbing up the stairs to my bedroom, I heard her mumble, “monster.”
I lay down on my large bed, spread-eagled, as the darkness in the room enveloped me. I heard the door’s lock click and I knew grandmother was about to sleep, too. She always did that, locking me in the room every night.
Outside, the moon was hidden behind a clump of clouds. It was windy and the trees swayed, making the windows rattle. The room was cold but I did not cover myself. I liked the numbness slowly creeping into my body.
It took about an hour for the voices to start whispering. I listened closely. I couldn’t figure out if they were the voices of children or of adults. I couldn’t even figure out if they were male or female. All I could register was their tone of anger and disgust. There was no clarity in what they were saying until their voices grew louder and louder.
The trees outside banged against my window but I could not hear a thing. My ears were consumed by their hateful words. I clamped my ears shut as the words became clearer.
They called me a pig, a vile, blood-thirsty pig that fed on the flesh of the dead. They wished to see my body rot, as maggots ate their way through my eyes and brain. They wished to embowel me, and make me eat my own innards as they laughed at me.
And then, they called me a murderer. That was when tears sprang to my eyes and my fingernails dug deeper into the sides of my skull. I wanted to make it bleed. I wanted my nails to dig holes into my skin. Maybe if I applied enough pressure, I could pierce my skin and take out the brain within.
My breathing grew heavier as the voices suffocated me. I gritted my teeth in pain. The room was cold but I refused to remove my fingernails from my skull burrowing its way into my flesh. It was too loud, the voices were screaming into my ears.
And then, just like that, it was silent.
I woke with a jolt as lightning illuminated my dark bedroom. The voices had disappeared. I sat upright as a figure stood at the foot of my bed. It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the darkness but I could faintly make out the womanly frame. I knew in an instant that it was not my grandmother. This woman was lithe and taller. She did not move. She just stood there watching me as her entire physique was enveloped in a shroud of darkness.
I sat there, waiting. Then, lightning flashed again and I recognized the woman’s pale face.
“Mama?” I choked.
It was dark again. I crawled toward the foot of the bed and I stretched my arm toward her. I felt my face moisten with tears. My arm was only inches from her figure but she made no effort to come any closer. In an instant, the room was illuminated by light. A gasp of horror escaped my lips as my mother’s face was inches from mine. Thunder roared outside. The trees banged violently against the window. Her skin was pale, luminescent almost. But her eyes weren’t there. They were gouged out, leaving a dark, hallow space behind. Dark blood flowed from her neck, a slash made by a knife.
“Killer,” her piercing voice said, as her cold hands wrapped around my neck and squeezed hard. I struggled but her grip was strong. I could feel the bones in my neck slowly crack as her grip strengthened. Painful tears cascaded down my face until I could no longer bear the pain. I let out a scream. A high-pitched, blood-curdling scream that silenced everything in that dark room.
When I woke again, I was seething with heavy rage. The voices were back. They were whispering, a low humming in my ears.
It was dark and cold but the anger in my body warmed me. I was no longer in my large bedroom. I stood by the foot of my grandmother’s bed, confused by how I got there but certain that my rage was toward that whore. It was pouring outside, the sound of the rain pelting against the window as I climbed into her bed. I spread my legs over her small body and my hands clasped around her neck. Her eyes shot open. I squeezed.
She did not look confused, only a calm look took place on her old face as I tightened my grip. Her eyes were empty, devoid of emotions. She managed to choke, “Your mother wished you dead. But you got to her first.”
The voices were now screaming in my ears until I could no longer hear the rain and the thunder outside… until I could no longer hear the breaking of her neck as my hands squeezed harder.