It was a cold, grey day in February, 1979, as we approached the small wooden bridge leading to my Grandparent's house. The Appalachian Mountains seemed to close up behind us as we curved through them.
Word came of my Uncle's death a few days earlier. It wasn't exactly unexpected; he'd lived a life full of freak accidents and the last one finally got the best of him. Driving a coal truck full of coal on a small, winding mountain road, a car crossed the double yellow line and his truck veered off a steep incline. He'd lost his leg up to the knee and had major surgery. It was a miracle he lived through it. He was my Granny's baby, the youngest of three boys, and the first to transition from this world. She would eventually outlive them all, including my Dad who was the eldest of the three. And now, with my cousin behind the wheel, we'd arrived at the bridge.
The bridge was just as small and rickety as I remembered it. I always gasped when the car made the 90' turn onto it because there were no railings and there was no room for error. The boards clacked as if they would break into pieces and fall into the small tributary of the Kentucky River running 15 feet beneath it. I grabbed the armrests in the car and closed my eyes.
The gravel road leading into the holler (hollow) where their house was situated brought back fond childhood memories of Summers past. Fresh picked strawberries, corn, beans, tomatoes, fully-bloomed peonies, sunflowers and roses; images that flashed in my mind's eye. The abandoned coal mine and the steel coal loading structure at the mouth of the holler was a reminder of the dwindling coal mining industry throughout this area of which the residents depended upon for work. A creek gurgled along one side of the one-lane gravel road leading up to their house and mountains jutted straight up on both sides. Finally, their house emerged before us built upon a small hill safe from the creek when it flooded in Spring from Mountain snow melt.
The air was cold, crisp and smelled like burning coal. Many in the rural communities still used coal furnaces and coal was cheap and abundant to local folk. I looked at the smoke coming out of the chimney and followed its trail upward. The pine trees that my Dad and Papaw planted decades earlier rose tall and proud all around us and I felt like I was home.
I braced myself for the mood knowing my Grandparents, especially my Granny, were devastated by the loss of their youngest son. We all were; my Uncle and my Dad's competition for best practical joker was always entertaining at family gatherings. It was a family expectation. "There'll be no practical jokes this visit", I pondered. On the upside, I knew my Granny would funnel her grief into the kitchen and that wondrous baked delights awaited. It was a bittersweet feeling.
Granny and Papaw met us with big hugs and as we entered the living room I saw the hospital bed on which my Uncle had been sleeping since his accident. It was like an elephant in the living room starkly reminding us of his last few months spent. Three large chairs, a couch and console television were all rearranged, crammed accordingly to accommodate it. She led us into the dining room where I greeted my parents who'd already arrived. A hearty lunch was prepared and we all sat down and enjoyed one another's company.
Throughout the day, family arrived from all around the country. Neighbors stopped by with food to give their condolences and the small two bedroom house became packed with people. I spent a good portion of the afternoon in my favorite spot out on the front porch swing. It was a great position as "official greeter" and kept me out of the sweltering coal-heated house.
Once night fell it was time to decide where everyone was going to sleep. Most of the out-of-town relatives had motel rooms reserved or planned to stay with other relatives in the area. And, with my grandparents in one bedroom and my parents in the other it was decided I would sleep on the hospital bed. I insisted I'd sleep on the couch. Granny insisted I sleep on a bed after a long trip. Back and forth we went until I realized her expression wasn't one of stubbornness, it was one of grief. I reluctantly conceded not because I was afraid to sleep in it but because it was a matter of respect. She brought out fresh linens, a blanket and pillow and I promptly made the bed for the night.
I watched TV for as long as possible. Finally, physically and emotionally exhausted I climbed into the hospital bed, pulled the blanket up to my chin and settled in. Carefully sensing my surroundings to feel any reason I shouldn't be sleeping in that bed, I determined that it felt good. I loved my Uncle who always took me under his wing during Summer visits. He'd taught me how to fish and how to drive at night. Recalling fond times at drive-in movies with my cousins and the time he threw a snakeskin onto the front porch underneath my Mom's feet made me smile.
All I could hear was the gurgling creek outside through the closed window and that's the only sound I could hear. It always amazed me how loud the silence could be in the mountains. Rolling over onto my stomach I took a deep, cleansing breath as sleep was soon to wash over me. The room was pitch black "It's as dark as it is silent", I surmised.
Suddenly I felt a huge weight on top of me. It startled me and felt as if someone was sitting on me. "Roll over", I thought. "Get up!", I thought. However, I couldn't move. Trying to lift my head off the pillow was futile. Panic was beginning to set in until I realized I didn't feel threatened or scared. I was simply panicked by the inability to move. Turning all of my focus on simply trying to lift my right index finger which was still under my pillow I realized what it feels like to be completely paralyzed. I was utterly and completely paralyzed and was actually fascinated by this experience. Facing the wall, I could see nothing in the room. The weight was so heavy all I could do was focus on breathing slowly and steadily.
It's hard to state for certain how long it lasted. We all know that sometimes a minute can seem like an hour when we are in a state of "wait" but it was the duration of at least 30 seconds to a couple of minutes. I began intermittently trying to move my finger to no avail. Eventually the weight lifted and testing my finger, which moved, I leapt out of the bed all at once grabbing the pillow and blanket and slept on the couch. Laying awake for quite a while reviewing the experience I finally fell asleep.
The next day I awakened before anyone else in the house and made the bed so my Granny wouldn't be hurt that I didn't sleep in the bed. I made the decision not to say anything about the experience simply because it sounded too bizarre to try to explain. Besides, with one bathroom in the house, breakfast and getting ready for the memorial service was top priority.
About a week later my Mom received a phone call from my grandmother. I was sitting in the living room sipping morning coffee and could tell the conversation was serious. After she hung up the phone, she sat down in a chair across from me and said, "I'm worried about your Granny. She's in such a state of grief that she insists she saw your uncle sitting on the hospital bed in her living room last night". I almost dropped my coffee cup. "Mom", I replied softly and slowly, "I believe her". Relating my entire experience I finished by saying, "You know, there are things in this world we don't understand. And, I believe that it's entirely possible that when a soul is attached to a place or a person that it may return there until it finds its way". She just stared at me slowly nodding her head.
Twenty years later after the Internet infused the ability to research I decided to look into this experience not knowing that it already had a terminology associated with it. I discovered it's referred to as ASP an acronym for Awareness during Sleep Paralysis. Below you will find several links to this phenomenon. There are many "physical" descriptions and explanations for it but what interests me most are the folklore and historical description of it. Many people describe an entity sitting on their chest. I don't concur entirely that it's the state of awakening into the dream world. I only experienced it once but I wasn't asleep yet. I had just rolled over.
I joined a forum on which I participated for well over a year. Many people shared many experiences and clearly they cannot all be explained as just a physical phenomenon.
It's a known fact that we are most aware at the in-between state of consciousness and unconsciousness also the meditative state or twilight state. This is the state of consciousness when most "visions" occur or ideas are born. Some people have ASP repeatedly and others only once. It's explained physically as a symptom of narcolepsy but I posit that narcolepsy is a symptom of ASP. My recommendation is move the bed or get a new bed - rearrange the furnishings. If an entity is attached to the bed or the spot where the bed is located, there is more chance of recurrence. That is not to say that with some people it is in fact a physical/neurological event. In my experience, it was a physical event as a result of a paranormal occurrence.
Copyright © Anna Webb 2012