In my formative years, my family would take an annual one-week vacation to Sea Isle City, NJ. This is, of course, not an uncommon summer custom for families near a coastline. Most people call it “going to the beach,” but when referring to any New Jersey shore point, such a trip must be called “going down the shore.”
“Are you going down the shore this weekend?”
“Oh, yes indeed, I am going down the shore.”
“All right then, I suppose I will see you down the shore.”
While we were down the shore, various relatives would come and go sporadically, and there was rarely an empty bed in the house. And so, on one fateful night when I had a bed all to myself, I was so overjoyed by my good fortune that I was caught completely off guard by a horrifying visit from a jet-black minion of Satan.
It was around 11:30 PM that I was awakened by the sound, a gruff farrago of gurgles and snorts and whispering sighs coming from the closet just a few feet away. It sounded vaguely like breathing, but not the breathing of something living or even something dead. This was the diseased warble of something otherworldly; it was the wretched staccato exhale of a creature unaccustomed to exhaling.
My waking eyes widened. I was gravely aware that the closet’s occupant was a being constructed of pure evil that wished to consume my mortal soul.
I lay perfectly still for what seemed like hours, barely breathing, a horizontal pillar of fright, examining my options. I could lie here until daybreak, praying that my soulless corpse charade would continue to go undetected, or I could make a run for it. Neither option was attractive. The first one—if Poe taught me anything—would almost certainly drive me mad. And the second one would require me to summon inhuman courage, as the room’s sole escape route passed right by the closet. I decided that the loss of my soul was preferable to the loss of my sanity, so I took a deep breath and slowly—ever so slowly—pulled back the covers in preparation for flight.
I hit the ground running.
The first step of my calculated dash toward safety nearly landed on my dad’s face, at which point I discovered that he was sound asleep on the floor next to my bed, snoring away as if imagining what an otherworldly creature’s crude attempt at emulating human breathing might sound like. I might have felt foolish if I hadn’t been moved to tears at the sight of him, this antithesis of my imagined predator, ensuring even in my wide-awake nightmares that I wouldn’t come to harm.
I returned to bed, my father’s distorted breathing now an avantgarde lullaby.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. May the wood you saw in your sleep continue to be a warning to all dastardly creatures of the night.