While freedom teased me with an open view of the stars overhead, sleep paralysis had me committed to a white padded cell, wrapping me in a straitjacket that matched the color of the walls confining me. Its cold hands silenced me with a restraint mask shaped by them.
I kept reciting the last riddle from the Caretaker in my head as I waited for sleep paralysis to blink, so it could finally set me free from its petrifying gaze.
“Now all is right, the flatline once again crawls.
When she left me for a period of time,
She flew away, only to be imprisoned by wooden walls.
Now she’s finally pushed through the dirt of time.”
Words have always been easy for me to remember and decipher, spoken or written. My mind is an old cassette player that plays both sides of everything I’ve ever heard or read, always coming close to breaking in overthinking hands. It’s numbers that are hard.
I had to move right
I kept repeating those directions to myself until the eyes of sleep paralysis could no longer stay open.
When I was finally able to crawl out of my snow-filled grave, I once again stood on the Caretaker’s board game in Cedar Lawn Cemetery. A garbage can was nearby. Its bagless, black mouth told me that I was on the second gravesite, where I had found Annie’s severed right hand, and where I had left off before I met the Headstone Lady. The garbage bag I had saved that mouth from suffocating on was now covering the grave’s headstone, robbing its precious air.
The bag was pulsating with fighting breaths, inflating and delating like my heart—a red balloon ready to be popped by the needled fingers of terror. I slowly removed the bag with hair-raising anticipation of seeing the Headstone Lady again, or a Grave Mother’s decapitated head.
Instead, it was… my mother, missing everything below her neck, mounted on the headstone.
To be continued…
Entry #16 will be published on March 1.
“One Bullet” is part of a new spin-off series of short stories.