The Ghost at the End of the Bed
by Robert Peterson, August 2, 2012
One sultry summer morning, Harley Paulson awoke from a sound sleep, and knew something was wrong. An eerie silence hung in the air and he tried to identify what woke him. He tried to lift his head, but couldn't. Something was very wrong.
A cold wave of fear washed over him. Acting from instinct, he tried to sit up, to get out of bed to fight or flee (he didn't know which), but some mysterious force held him fast to the bed. He heard lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub as his heart machine gunned adrenalin to his body.
He tried to raise his arms, to protect his head from a possible blow, but they wouldn't move, nor would his legs. He was paralyzed and had never felt so vulnerable.
A sense of unreasonable dread gripped his mind as he heard a low rumble, soft at first, but getting louder. It built around him in a crescendo, as if a train was about to crash through his bedroom wall and smash his now useless body to pieces. Or maybe it was a tornado bearing down on him, ready to tear him apart and scatter his limbs throughout the county.
Fear escalated to panic as a strange electrical vibration swept through his body. He wondered if a freak storm had pulled a power line onto his house, electrocuting his helpless body while he slept. Or was his attacker using a taser?
Only his eyes would move, so he forced them open, and frantically looked around. He was lying face up in bed, which restricted his view. Then he saw it: the green walls of his bedroom were contrasted by a reddish shape at the end of his bed. Someone was in his bedroom!
Harley gasped for air as he sat bolt upright in bed. He was relieved to find the peaceful silence of his bedroom. There was no train, no tornado and certainly no intruder. It had only been a dream. Or had it? It'd seemed so real. He'd been fully conscious but unable to control his body. His heart was still pounding in his chest. And he still had the feeling of being watched.
When he got to work, it never occurred to him to ask Dr. Jacob or another resident about the strange incident. He was only the hospital janitor, so it wasn't his place. Besides, he couldn't imagine explaining to the old man just how terrified he had been. His heart still pounded just thinking about it. It was only a dream, he told himself, and went about his day changing light bulbs and emptying trash. He felt a little foolish when he used a thicker pillow that night. He wanted his head just a little more upright for a better line of sight, just in case.
The next morning, it happened again. He found himself paralyzed in bed with an overwhelming sense of dread. Like before, the rumbling electrical vibration pervaded his entire body. He questioned whether he was dreaming, but it just couldn't be: he was as conscious as he'd ever been in his life.
Only his eyes could move. Maybe this is one of those lucid dreams, he pondered, where you're conscious and know you're dreaming. Still, it didn't seem like a dream.
He forced his eyes open and rolled them down and the new pillow tilted his head to see more of the bedroom. A strange figure was standing at the end of his bed. It was the wispy image of a beautiful young woman in a flowing red dress. She was familiar and yet strange, enchanting and alluring. He was both terrified and thrilled. Was she a ghost? Was she a vision? What did she want? If he hadn't been paralyzed and helpless he might have asked. But she disappeared with a single word, barely a whisper: “Harley.” Or was it “Charley?”
When he got to work, Harley saw Dr. Jacob in the hallway and worked up the nerve to ask. “Got a minute, doc? Something's happened to me for the past two mornings, and I'd like to run it by you.”
The old doctor was concerned and ushered him into an examination room where Harley described his experience in great detail. “The strange thing is—and I know it sounds crazy—I felt attracted to her. Like love at first sight.”
After a few routine questions, Dr. Jacob said, “Well, I could send you to a neurologist, but based on what you’ve told me, I think what you're experiencing is ASP: awareness during sleep paralysis. Do you know what that is?”
Harley looked concerned. “Never heard of it. Is that bad?”
Dr. Jacob gave him a reassuring smile. “Let me give you the short version. Sleep paralysis is a normal, natural thing we do every night. Our bodies enter sleep paralysis to prevent us from hurting ourselves by acting out our dreams. But it doesn't always work right. Sometimes the paralysis doesn't work and you have someone who sleepwalks. Other times it works too well and someone wakes up before their body does, and that's the awareness part of ASP. That's what I think happened to you. It can be scary, but it’s basically harmless. ASP is also commonly associated with out-of-body experiences.”
That only added to Harley's fear. “Out of body experiences? Is that like when you see the light and the tunnel?”
Dr. Jacob smiled, suppressing a little laugh. “No, that's something else entirely. OBEs happen to a lot of people. I've got a book on it you can borrow.”
Harley looked worried. “What about the ghost I saw; the woman in red?”
The old man asked, “Do you have a girlfriend?”
“Well, no,” Harley admitted. He had never had a steady girlfriend. He had dated a little but it had never seemed right.
Dr. Jacob said, “With ASP, you're still halfway in the dream state, so subconscious fears and desires can become reality. It has several variations. For example, the term 'hagging' is used for cases in which people hallucinate an old hag that sits on them and pins them down. There's also the myth of the “succubus,” a female demon that tries to seduce you in the ASP state. The ghost was either a projection of your fears, or latent sexual tension. Or both.”
“What do I do if it happens again?”
The doctor tried to reassure him. “In dream states, fears are magnified and only make it worse. Just remain calm and unafraid. Wait it out. It'll pass with time and you'll wake up normally. Although it may seem like forever, these things usually only last a few minutes.”
As Harley left the exam room, he was still uneasy. Staying calm and unafraid is easier said than done when you're facing a ghost, paralyzed. At least his ghost wasn't an old hag.
That night, Harley wasn't calm, and he wasn't unafraid. He tossed and turned all night, worried that it might happen again. When he finally did get to sleep, he had a terrible nightmare.
The air was blistering and humid, and an oppressive rain beat down on his back. His body was covered in dirt, his face caked with mud. He was crawling on his belly through a weedy bug-infested jungle, with hurried shallow breaths, scared out of his mind.
A rank stench of death and rotting bodies pervaded the air. In the distance, he could hear gunfire, and occasional screaming. He questioned the choices he had made: to serve his country, to do his duty, to do the right thing. But was it the right thing? He wished to God he could turn around and run for his life, but he had come too far. He would be shot for sure. If he wasn't shot, he would be a traitor, a coward. There was no turning back.
Without warning, a hole appeared in the ground and a green-clad Vietcong soldier sprang half-way out of the ground, brandishing a pistol, screaming an obscenity in a language he didn't understand.
He grabbed for his rifle and tried to swing it into position, but it was too late. He saw a flash at the muzzle of the man's pistol, and heard a thunderous bang, as a bullet ripped through his flesh. He dropped the rifle as two more shots rang out.
His ribs screamed with pain and he rolled onto his back. He hyperventilated as the blood poured from his body onto the ground. He watched as the Vietcong soldier towered over him, face twisted with hate. Foreign words of indignation peppered him as his body went numb.
His dying thought was: I failed. I swore on God's name I'd return from the war to hold her. I'd do anything to go back and see her again. God help me. God help her. God help us all.
Harley woke with a scream and gasp. He flailed his arms, knocking over the lamp on the bedside table. His belly still ached from the residual pain of the dream bullets. He was afraid if he looked down he would see the bed soaked with his blood. The green walls of his bedroom looked like the jungle of his dream and the fallen lamp, his rifle. It took him a few minutes to catch his breath and realize he was home, in his bedroom, safe. Whatever was going on, it was getting worse.
When he got to work, he cornered Dr. Jacob again, explained the episode and appealed for help. The doctor said, “Well, the sleep paralysis, the night-terror, and the residual pain all point to PTSD: post-traumatic stress disorder. If I hadn't known you better, I'd say you'd been through a war. Are you a Vet?”
“No,” Harley said, “I've never been in the military. I've never even been out of the country. I'm only 22.”
The doctor ran his flashlight across his eyes to watch them react. “Did you watch a war movie like Saving Private Ryan or something?”
“No, Doc, I'm telling you. There was nothing traumatic in my life until three days ago when the whole thing started.”
The next morning Harley found himself paralyzed again. Unable to move, he peered down at the end of the bed as a red light slowly appeared, then gelled into a ghostly figure. As he watched in fear, the figure solidified into the same woman. She was young and beautiful, with jet black hair draped on her shoulders. Her body was well curved and her dark eyes drew him in and stole his breath. They portrayed a lifetime of loneliness, desire, sadness and love.
The ghost slowly walked toward him, wading through his bed as if it was water up to her knees. He was overcome with both longing and fear, but still unable to move. She reached down and took his hands. The thrill of her warm hands sent his heart racing. He was drawn into her eyes and could not look away. As she pulled him toward her, he heard a terrible tearing sound as his soul peeled away from his body like an over-sized piece of Velcro. He was so wrapped up in her presence that he forgot to be afraid.
Then, as she let go, he floated weightless, unsure what was happening. Glad to be free of the paralysis, he raised his ghost-white hands to his face and found them translucent. It seemed he was now a ghost like her. He wondered: Did she kill me? Am I dead? Then he looked down and saw a shining silvery cable protruding from his ghostly chest. It seemed to pulsate like the beat of his heart. He followed it with his eyes and it led back to his other body lying on the bed. It reminded him of an umbilical cord. No, he thought, I can see my real body breathing, so I'm not dead. This must be one of those out-of-body experiences Dr. Jacob talked about.
The ghost woman's eyes darted across his face in adoration as she spoke. Her voice was silky as chocolate. “Oh Charley! Thank God you can finally see me. After so many years of searching, I finally found you.”
He was bewildered. “Harley”, he stammered, surprised he could even talk in this state. “My name is Harley, not Charley.”
She beamed, “Don’t be ridiculous, Charley. Come. I've missed you so much.” She pulled him toward her and buried her head in the crook of his neck.
Her face looked familiar, but he couldn't place it. Confused, he said, “Do I know you?”
She shook her head. “Don’t be ridiculous, Charley. I’m your wife, you silly goose. I’ve missed you so much.”
Feeling her arms around him, he no longer cared that she called him Charlie. He absorbed the moment, enveloped in her sweet perfume. He had never held a woman so beautiful. He felt uncontrollably attracted to her.
Her fingers locked with his, sending shivers of excitement up his spine. Then she gave him an unexpected kiss, steeped in womanly passion.
He sat bolt upright in bed, his heart pounding. He was back to normal, alone in his bedroom. The experience had seemed so real, so convincing. Her kiss had been so breathtaking, so passionate, he had to force himself to breathe.
A wave of sadness and depression filled his mind when he realized he must have been dreaming. But it seemed so real, so much more than a dream. He would give anything to make her real.
As he laid in bed trying to calm his heart, he worried about his sanity and how real it seemed: Should I tell Dr. Jacob about the experience? No, he decided, the old man will think I've lost my mind. He already thinks I have PTSD from a movie. However, he did decide to borrow the book on out-of-body experiences.
That night, he stayed up until two o'clock reading the book until his eyes would no longer stay open.
The next morning, he found himself in sleep paralysis again. The strange woman was sitting on the edge of his bed, holding his hand. She gave him a Julia Roberts smile as if she had just woken him with a kiss. Then she hoisted him out of his body like before.
He drank in the sight of her, the beautiful and mysterious woman in his bedroom. He asked, “Who are you? What's your name?”
She put her index finger to her lips. “Ssssshhhh. No questions. It took me so long to find you. Today, let us just celebrate our love.” She kissed him, lightly at first, and then more passionately. Entranced by her beauty, he did not resist. He kissed back. Then they embraced and their souls merged in a fiery passionate love.
His soul was overcome with ecstasy and he lost consciousness. He woke up bewildered and wondered: Am I falling in love with a ghost? Is she a figment of my imagination? Or maybe a twisted variation of a wet dream? Either way, he worried about his sanity again.
As he went through his workday, he tried to convince himself it was just a dream and he should just forget it. Still, the memory of her big dark eyes and the smell of her perfume haunted his mind. At times, he would close his eyes and remember her lips pressed firmly, passionately, against his, and it sent shivers of excitement through his body.
He smiled as he crawled into bed that night hoping it would happen again.
The next morning, it did happen again. She held him at arms length and asked, “How long has it been, Charley? I can’t even remember. But you haven’t aged a day!”
He looked deep into her fawn eyes and asked, “I know this may seem strange, but what is your name?”
She turned her head inquisitively. “Don’t you remember, Charley? I’m your wife. Abby!”
He was determined to solve the mystery. He insisted, “I'm not Charley. I'm Harley. I’ve never been married. You have me confused with someone else.”
She looked at him sternly, hands on her curvy hips. “Of course I’m not confused. I knew it was you the moment I saw you walking down the hallway at the hospital. There’s only one Charley Tyrone. How could you have forgotten? You said when you married me that our love would last forever. You still love me, don’t you?” A tear formed in her eye. The firmness of her figure wavered as doubt washed over her.
She was more than beautiful; she was perfect. If only I could believe she was real and not a figment of my imagination. “I do love you,” he blurted out. Seeing her distraught was unbearable, but it was true. Whether the ghost was real or not, he was in love. “I’ve loved you from the moment I first saw you,” he added softly.
She smiled, radiant once again. “Thank God I finally found you. I swore to the Almighty I would find you again, if it was the last thing I did. I’ve been searching for you for...” She paused, unsure. “...I don't know how long. Seems like it's been fifty years.” Then she looked sad and turned away to hide her face. “We have to make the most of every moment, Charley. There isn’t much time left.”
He reached up and touched her cheek, brushing away a tear. “What do you mean? What’s wrong?”
Her eyes turned down. “Sometimes, when they think I’m asleep, I can hear the doctors talking. They say I’m dying.”
Harley woke up confused. If she was a ghost, wasn’t she already dead? It came to him in a flash: If he was having an out-of-body experience, the ghost-woman might be having one too. She might not be dead! In fact, she might be in the hospital where he worked!
When he got to work, he sprinted from his car to the front door at a run, nearly colliding with a patient along the way. He hurried to the admissions desk and asked, “Hey, Jen, do we have a patient here with the last name Tyrone?”
The receptionist clicked the mouse on her computer several times, then said, “Yes. Now you know I'm not supposed to tell you this: Abigale Tyrone, B345-I.”
He thanked her and took off down the hall. He ran up the stairs to level B, down the hallway of the I-wing, and found room 345. Then he paused at the door, out of breath. The sign at the door said, “Tyrone, Abigale.” Slowly, he stepped into the door-frame and peered at the bed from a safe distance. Inside the room, the reality of his discovery hit home. Machines softly whirred and whined. One machine displayed a blood oxygen level of 97 while a heart monitor spiked in regular rhythm. A figure was lying on the bed, covered in white blankets, facing the window. The curve of a hip sent him a thrilling memory.
He paused to listen and heard the whisper of soft breathing, bordering on snoring.
Is this my ghost woman? Is she real? Now he was torn. He wanted nothing more than to rouse her, to drink in her exquisite beauty, to hold her in his embrace. But he couldn't wake her, because waking her would pull him back to reality. As much as he wanted, he wasn't her Charlie, and face to face she would finally see the truth.
Then another reality hit him: the ghost had said she was dying. They say it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, but if the woman was dying, how long could they realistically have? A few days or even hours? He wondered if he was setting himself up like a bowling pin to be smashed by the cold, hard ball of death.
As all the doubts filtered through his mind, he noticed a clipboard attached to her bed. He tilted it toward him and the word “Pneumonia” jumped out at him.
He had to know if it was the same woman. He had to see her porcelain face and her eyes, even if they were closed. He had to know.
He slowly walked around the hospital bed without a sound. Before him slept a frail old woman with white hair and a wrinkled face.
The old woman stirred and opened her eyes. Harley wanted to bolt. There had obviously been a mistake. This was not his young beautiful ghost woman. But something he couldn't explain kept him there. He was filled with dread. He shouldn't have gone into the strange old woman's room. He shouldn't have woken her up. He should leave. Now. He stammered, “I'm sorry, I...” Then he saw her eyes and it made him stop mid-sentence. They were her eyes!
When the woman saw Harley, her wrinkled face lit up. A small tear rolled off her cheek and dissolved into her pillow. In a weak voice she said, “Charley. You’ve come back to me. Thank God you’re finally here.”
He could hear a rattle as she let out a feeble cough.
She said, “I waited, Charley, like I said I would. I didn’t remarry. When you didn't come back from the war, my mother said you had died. She said I should move on, find another man, but I just couldn't. I just knew you were still alive. And look at you! You haven't aged. You look as young as the day we were married. Oh how I have missed you!”
Choked up, he didn’t know what to say. He grabbed a nearby chair, placed it at her bedside and sat. Then he picked up her wrinkled hand and held it, as a small tear ran down his cheek.
As he looked deep into her eyes, the memory of his beautiful ghost-woman flooded his mind. Her body had aged but she had the same haunting beautiful eyes. It no longer mattered that she had mistaken him for someone named Charlie. It no longer mattered that they wouldn't have long together. The old woman was all alone and dying. He bit his lower lip and said, “I'm right here, Abby. I'm not leaving.”
The old woman looked at Harley and said, “They say I’ve got pneumonia. They don't say it in front of me, but they think I'm dying. I’ve had a good life, though. And I've finally found you, so that's all that matters. Charley, I love you so much.”
Without hesitation, he choked out, “I love you too, Abby.”
She swallowed and blinked. “They say you can still visit me.”
Feeling helpless and confused, he replied, “Who said that?”
The old woman swallowed weakly. “That Angel standing right next to you. Say you will, Charley. Say you will.”
Harley choked down tears. “I'll visit you. I promise.”
Then the old woman closed her eyes and said, “I’m so tired, dear. I need to rest.” She closed her eyes into a peaceful sleep.
Harley held onto her frail hand, closed his eyes, and prayed.
Hours later, the old woman's heart monitor suddenly made a whining noise, and the line on it went flat. Harley panicked and ran into the hall to get help, but help was already on the way. A doctor and a nurse came running down the hall toward the room. The doctor said, “Out!” and pulled the curtain.
A half-hour later, the doctor reappeared, shaking his head as he came out of the room. “I’m sorry. There’s nothing I could do. The pneumonia filled her lungs with fluid and she was too weak to clear her lungs by coughing.”
As Harley sat by her bed with his head slumped, a fifty-something woman entered the hospital room. She said, “Traffic from the airport was a nightmare. I got here as soon as I could. Who are you?” she asked.
Her question broke through his grief and Harley was taken aback. He stood up and offered to shake her hand. “Harley Paulson. I'm a friend. Actually, I'm the hospital janitor.”
She seemed to be satisfied with that answer. She shook his hand and said, “I'm Angela; Abby's daughter. How is she?” She glanced at the bed, seeing her mother for the first time.
He looked to the ground. “I'm sorry, but your mother passed away about twenty minutes ago.”
A tear formed in her eye and she pursed her lips. She took out a handkerchief and wiped her face as she approached the bed. “Oh, mama” she said, looking down.
After a moment of silence, she looked up at him for comfort.
Life is a journey full of peaks and valleys; the highlights of our existence. Men often forget things, and even the highlights become fuzzy with years. But at the summit of life's tallest peaks, those rare moments of pure magic, where you know you're where you're supposed to be, and everything makes sense, you feel a sacred connection to God and to life itself. Those moments are never forgotten; they stay with you forever. And as his eyes met Angela's, he remembered a time long forgotten.
He had been standing in a hospital room, just like this one, holding his infant daughter for the first time. The tiny baby in his arms opened her eyes and her eyes locked with his. And suddenly everything made sense. The love between him and his daughter was a bond that would be eternal, that could never be broken. Not even by time, or space or even death itself. He remembered he had unconsciously said, “My little angel.” And a voice from the bed—his wife's voice—had said, “I like that. Let's name her Angela.”
He came to Angela's side and comforted her. “It's okay; she's with God now.”
But this was crazy. Harley was only twenty-two years old. He had never been married. He had never had a daughter. And the Angela who stood before him was in her fifties. How could this be happening? There was only one way to find out.
When Angela's friends arrived and she was no longer alone, Harley took the rest of the day off and went home. He had made a promise to Abby and this time he intended to keep it. He got into his pajamas, crawled back into bed and skimmed Dr. Jacob's out-of-body book until he found an induction technique.
He set the book down, closed his eyes and started the process. Soon the electrical vibrations swept through his body and he found himself in sleep paralysis again.
Looking down at the end of his bed, he saw a young, vibrant Abby, beautiful and glowing. She was even more beautiful than he remembered. She took his hands and pulled him out-of-body.
She touched his face. “I understand what happened now, Harley.” she said.
He was surprised she had used his proper name.
She continued, “The Angels showed me everything. Many years ago, you were my husband, my beloved Charlie. When they shipped you off to Vietnam, I made you promise to return from the war, to come back to me. I made you swear it in God's name. But mother was right: you were killed at Cu Chi in Vietnam. They never found your body. I couldn't accept your death. I couldn't move on. I couldn't love anyone else.”
Everything became clear in Harley's mind. The nightmare made sense now; he remembered being killed in the jungles of Vietnam. The flashback made sense too. His baby daughter had been born while he was on leave and he remembered holding her in his arms. On the night he shipped back to 'Nam, they had made a pact, a sacred covenant. He'd promised in God's name to return from the war to be with her again, and in return, she'd promised to be faithful and never give up hope. He remembered praying to God for a second chance as his mud-caked body bled to death.
She bit her lip and watched him while the truth solidified in his heart. “After you died, by God's grace, you were given a chance to return, to fulfill our pact. You were given a new body and reincarnated as Harley Paulson. And you did it, Harley: you fulfilled your promise. You came back to me.”
Her eyes betrayed a sadness. She said, “And now you have a choice.” She turned and pointed at the bed, and on it, his inanimate body. “You can go back and live out the rest of your life on Earth, or stay here with me.”
Harley wondered, Did my whole life really lead to this one moment? He had never faced a life-and-death decision before and it weighed heavy on his heart. Life is sacred; can I just throw mine away? His instinct for survival told him to return to his body, to go on with his life, or his whole life would be a waste and everything he'd done would be in vain.
He questioned: Was I born for a higher purpose or has it all led up to finding Abby? And now that I've found her, can I leave her behind? Can I go on without her as she had without me? Can I ever find another love? What about Angela; I've just found her again too. His heart was heavy. She was his soulmate, his twin-flame, his only chance for everlasting love. He had spent his whole life searching for love, and now he reconnected with a love deeper than he had hoped to find. He couldn't let that go, could he?
Then he thought, A few days ago, I thought I was falling in love with a ghost. Is it wrong to carry that relationship forward? Can a person be married to a ghost? Doesn't the vow say 'Til death do us part? But how could I learn to love another after Abby?
He looked back at his body, then back at Abby. Then he realized he was living proof that, by God's grace, love can transcend death. When you find the right person, it can last forever. And that kind of love, a fiery passion that even death cannot break, is worth keeping. It's more important than anything else in life or death.
There is no higher purpose than love, he thought. If I can come back once, maybe we can both come back again, together this time.
He turned to her and said, “Forget 'Til death do us part. I don't want to live in a world that doesn't include you.” He turned back and saw the shining silver cord that connected him to his body. He grabbed it with both hands, bent over to gather strength, and with the strenuous grunt of a weightlifter, ripped it in half. Both halves dropped to the floor, turned gray and dissolved.
Harley Paulson never woke up. They found his dead body in bed with a serene look on his face, his right hand still resting atop Dr. Jacob's book.
People said it was tragic for a young man's life to be cut short like that. But sometimes what seems to be the worst tragedy can really be the human soul's greatest triumph in disguise.