There was a short period of my early life that was punctuated by truly unfortunate nightmares. I'd go to sleep feeling safe and warm.
Then I'd awaken several hours later and somehow be completely convinced that my closet was inhabited by fire monsters.
I'd flee to my parents' room because, like most six-year-olds, I believed that my parents possessed some magical ability to ward off homicidal, fire-breathing monsters that were easily eight times their size.
I don't know exactly how I thought they would be able to protect me from the monster, but as far as I was concerned, my parents were forcefields of safety and that fire monster could go fuck itself.
As I lay there between my parents, I felt a gigantic flood of relief.
Inexplicably, the feeling of complete immunity to danger made me extremely energetic.
I didn't need sleep; all I needed was safety.
But the most insulting part of the whole ordeal was lying awake in my bed, shaking with terror and suddenly becoming aware of my younger sister slumbering peacefully on the other side of the room, wrapped up in her blanket like a fearless little burrito.
It was intoxicating.
And in the morning, despite having slept very little, I'd wake up feeling recharged and ready to rampage.
Unfortunately, my parents were not high out of their minds on feelings of invulnerability, and they did need sleep.
After enduring several consecutive nights of spastic flailing followed by days of gleeful chaos, my parents decided that they needed to take action.
My mother, being the shrewd diplomat that she was, decided to bribe me into staying in my own bed at night. She knew that I had been lusting after a certain stuffed toy, and told me that if I stayed in my own room every night for an entire week, she'd buy the toy for me.
But the promise of such an enticing reward did not make the nightmares go away. Nighttime turned into a battle of will power. I would awaken, become completely terrified and be overwhelmed with the desire to bolt to the safety of my parents' room. But I willed myself to stay in my bed. Instead of sleeping, I spent the entire night vigilantly watching the closet.
If a monster came out and tried to attack me, I was prepared to flee reflexively. But until I saw the whites of the monster's eyes, I would hold my post.
I really, really wanted that toy.
I really, really wanted that toy.
My sleepless nights turned me into a listless little zombie during the day. Activities that I once enjoyed with childish abandon became a struggle.
I was completely dead inside.
She was three years old. There was no possible way that she should be so brave in the face of such extreme danger. I looked at her over there, happily dreaming her little dreams, and I felt envy. I should be the brave one. I should be the one defying death so nonchalantly. Who the hell did she think she was?
Not only did she sleep soundly but she awakened cheerfully, ready to take on whatever daily challenges a three-year-old is likely to face. The numbness and deadness I felt inside contrasted sharply with her blatant contentedness. It started to feel like she was being happy at me - like her enthusiasm was intentional and malicious.
Then I had an idea.
I could bring her down to my level. I could fill her little mind with images so gruesome that she'd be irreversibly scarred for life and would no longer be able to taunt me with her complete disregard of fear.
And most importantly, if I could make her scared enough to seek refuge in my parents' bed, I could use her as a sort of Trojan horse and tag along under the guise of concern.
She was my ticket to safety and I had to scare the ever-living fuck out of her.
I spent the entire day concocting the most horrifying story I could think of - an amalgamation of every single scary thing I'd ever heard. It was a masterpiece. It was the scariest story in the world. There was no possible way that my sister would walk away unscathed.
When it was finally bedtime, I waited for my parents to turn off the lights and leave the room, then I turned to my sister and said "Do you want to hear a story?"
She loved stories. She didn't see it coming.
I began: "On a dark and stormy night....
By the time I was done weaving my tale of blood and horror and more blood, my sister had become silent and wide-eyed. Her innocent little brain had never encountered such an impressive amount of gore, and I could tell that she was still struggling to process it all.
Satisfied with my handiwork, I whispered "goodnight" and nestled into my blankets to wait for the inevitable moment when her tender young mind crumpled beneath the sheer volume of terror I'd just injected into it.
Amazingly, my sister was able to fall asleep. She couldn't possibly have been unaffected. How could she sleep? She must be experiencing a delayed reaction, I thought. The inside of her head just had to be a festering stew of terrors - fermenting, bubbling beneath the surface until they gathered enough force to wake her and propel her to the safety of my parents' bedroom. It had to happen. There was no way that it wouldn't.
As I lay there in the dark, willing my sister to awaken and experience the full force of the nightmares I'd planted in her mind, I began to think about the story I'd told her. The bear-snake with bat-arms. The skeletons. The blood. The murderers.
Then I looked at my closet.
Oh no. They were in there.
The jolt of fear I felt in my spine nearly paralyzed me, but I still managed to flee to my parents' room with tremendous agility. I desperately clawed at their door until they let me in.
I told them I didn't care about the toy. I told them I never wanted toys ever again. I cried violently and screamed about how scared I was.
Even the impenetrable safety-fortress of my parents' sleeping bodies was not enough to ward off the incredible amount of fear I'd brought upon myself. I didn't sleep. And it wasn't because I was high on safety.
In the morning, I felt like I'd aged ninety years in a single night. This is it, I thought. This is what the end of life feels like. My tiny adrenal glands had nearly exploded themselves in my panic and I was exhausted. I ate my cereal robotically, expending only as much energy as necessary.
I almost didn't notice when my sister climbed up next to me.
She looked much less traumatized than I would have expected, considering that she spent all night stewing in the after-effects of my story. In fact, she seemed extremely excited about absolutely nothing.
Maybe I had broken her. Maybe this was how she was choosing to cope with the indelible horrors I'd etched in her psyche.
She was not only unfazed by the story - it had awakened a hunger in her. She experienced the scariest story in the world and she loved it. And she would not be content until she had mined my brain for every terrifying snippet it was capable of producing. I had to make up more stories to tell her. Scarier stories. Stories with more blood. Everything became a potential subject for a story. Tell me one about lawn mowers, she'd say. And I'd have to come up with a story about a sentient, homicidal lawn mower.
I had created a monster.