The Time I Made a Haunted Christmas Present (or else, haunted myself with a Christmas present)

There is a slight-but-important distinction between the two ideas presented in this title, I swear. Also, hello, welcome to my spooky Christmas story!

Context: I’ve been mostly-in-charge-of-myself (with relatively more successes than failures) for a long time. I’m competent at Not Opening the Door to Strangers. I can use the stove and I know all the different kinds of wounds and how to first-aid them, and to never throw flour on a fire and when to call Emergency Services or Poison Control. In fact, I even have a long and uneventful history of supervising other people. Most of my income from ages 11 to 19 was derived from babysitting—sometimes as many as five tiny people at once. I’m very good at remembering who will eat sandwiches with mustard on them, and who won’t.

Over the years, I’ve proven how very much I’m allowed to be in charge of myself.


There is one specific area in which I am really, really bad at supervising myself. It’s when I’m asleep.

I’m pretty sure I know what you’re thinking right now, which is that most people don’t actually need very much in-sleep supervision.

And I’ve talked about this before, but I think maybe I didn’t convey how dramatically bad at sleeping I am. I am SO BAD that it’s almost like a joke or an urban legend. Among my distance-friends—anyone who ever has to travel with me, really—it’s become a poorly-understood but generally-accepted phenomenon, kind of like gravity, complete with concise, factual explanations for the benefit of others (Tess) and dramatic reenactments (Maggie).

Sharing a room with me is the kind of thing that no one is just born ready for. It’s an intermediate endeavor. You have to work up to it.

At home, the situation is normalized. It’s fine. I’m married to someone who pretty much takes these things in stride and explains to me (patiently) that no, the ceiling does not in fact have an octopus on it, and the closet is just a closet, and it’s not flooding outside, the water is not higher than the windows.

But sometimes, D has to go out of town for work, and then I’m left unsupervised.

Here is a story:

Once I woke up.

Standing in the exact middle of the upstairs hallway.

With all the lights on.

The cat was sitting a few feet from me, looking up like, “Hey. You do know how really weird this is, right?”

Over time, I became aware that my knees, which are held together by little pieces of titanium, felt stiff, and I realized I had no idea how long I’d been standing there. It was exactly like every found-footage horror movie with fixed cameras and time-lapse.

I picked up the cat and told her sternly, “Paranormal Activity is bullshit.”

Then I turned out all the lights and went back to bed and I’m like 90% sure I stayed there the rest of the night.

This is not the story of that though, because that’s actually a huge anomaly—I hardly ever sleepwalk in the classic sense. This is the story of the time I got haunted by a Christmas present, which started because of another thing that sometimes happens when D goes out of town, which is that I start getting ominous and highly-ambitious ideas.

The idea I got this time was to make a plague doctor mask for Tess to sit around having conversations with and wear at her leisure. I assume that’s what people do with masks? Sit around wearing them and having conversations? I don’t know. Anyway, it was a mask and I began to make it.

And then, as with so many things in my life, the dreams started.

Every night, I’d wake up believing that the mask was somewhere in my room—would find myself examining it, holding it, gazing into its vacant, circular eyes. Then I’d get very confused and realize I was standing in the closet, holding a T-shirt or a bra, and once, D’s Flat Bonnie soft-toy, which is suppose to live on the dresser and not ever go around at night pretending to be a plague mask.

I started working faster, more intently. I wanted to finish, if for no other reason than to get it out of my house so it would stop looking at me every night while I slept. (Also, Christmas was really soon.)

On the last night, I dreamed the mask was tucked cozily in bed with me, right there on my pillow. I picked it up and sat looking at it for a long time, and when I came to my senses, realized I was holding … nothing at all.

The next morning, I hammered a bunch of rivets into its face and mailed it to Tess. I haven’t dreamed about it since. Maybe now she dreams of it instead. Or maybe she’s like a normal person and never thinks the front yard is underwater when it isn’t.

If this were a movie, I would tell you next about how my hair has begun to turn black like a crow for no reason, or that when I catch sight of my reflection in the street, everyone around me is wearing masks.

But it’s not a movie, and so this is just the story of how my dreams do not confine themselves to the inside of my brain.

And my husband treats every spider panic and conviction that the room is full of weasels like just another day.

And no one with any common sense wants to share a bed with me at sleepovers.

5 thoughts on “The Time I Made a Haunted Christmas Present (or else, haunted myself with a Christmas present)

  1. Love this post. I have dealt with two of my children who liked to sleepwalk. One is an adult and out of the house now, the other is a teen who does similar things as you when she is stressed. I’ve had multiple humorous conversations with her, which she never remembers and have found her prowling the house at all odd hours of the night. Unfortunately, when she was younger, I had forgotten to warn her Girl Scout leader who got quite the start in the middle of the night by finding her standing next to her bed, just standing there like kids do in scary movies. Bless your husband!

    • the other is a teen who does similar things as you when she is stressed

      And oh, it is SO much worse under stress! It’s great not being not in school anymore, since it turns out that adult-me can actually go weeks without getting too weird, but put me in a strange place or give me a deadline? There’s no telling …

  2. Hi Brenna,

    Happy New year! It’s been a while since we commented. I don’t sleep well when I’m away working, but I don’t sleepwalk. I’ve been woken by spirit many times and, even though I know it’s spirit, they still startle me. When I was a teen my pregnant aunty sleepwalked into my room and got into bed with me. I don’t know how long she was in there, but I woke with her leg and arm draped over me. She slept naked so it was a little awkward. She did unusual and funny things when she was pregnant. I experienced two of her pregnancies and one of her friend’s who lived with my uncle and aunty. The friend also sleepwalked during pregnancy and put things in strange places.
    Fiendish is on my book shelf. I hope to read it soon. Take care.

  3. I take comfort in this post. You have no idea. Fifteen month old twins. I hear babies crying in my bowl of oatmeal and I keep refusing rides from dead clowns peddling ridiculous bicycles in the snow.

    That aside, I think Tess is lucky to have a friend like you. If the mask was monopolizing that much dream time, making it must have meant a lot to you. But (getting this from a sleep deprived reading of some old Merry Fates stories) I also think that you’re being generous if you don’t suspect that it won’t become the key prop in some kind if elaborate revenge plot. Or maybe–this is extreme speculation–you did suspect this, unconsciously, and the mask kept coming back to haunt you because it didn’t want to be used that way. If it means anything to you, you’re not an accomplice. Just explain to Tess that the mask only wants to go to cocktail parties and be used for good.

    • As The Worst Sleep-Hallucinator of All Time, I spent many years not ever-ever talking about it, because the few times I did, people seemed … baffled and vaguely scared of me. BUT. Over the years, I’ve met what seems to me like a huge number of people (in reality, like four or five) who are also vivid sleepers, and everyone agrees it gets way worse when stress or sleep deprivation is involved, which would explain why it would get a thousand times worse during finals week when I was in school, or now any time I’m on a deadline.

      Just explain to Tess that the mask only wants to go to cocktail parties and be used for good.

      Ha! The mask has already been specifically invited to AND attended a New Year’s party. It is very cultured.

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