My fear began with the alligators who infiltrated my room before I could drift to sleep. The sounds they made as their dry scales ripped through wet water, the heat from their cold-blooded breath as it leaked from spongy-pink maws, the smell of their eager predatory nature, was all I could focus on when I should have been sleeping.
They writhed, a pack on the carpet that covered my bedroom floor. Wherever their webbed feet and furtive claws touched, my blue carpet turned to black water. The water would expand with their movements until my bed floated in an ocean of dinosaurian menace, too small for safety or sleep.
I knew they weren’t real. But on those nights, they became real to me. Real as the hours-long ache in my muscles as I squeezed my body into the tightest plank possible for fear of exposing any bit to the snapping jaws that waited below the lip of the bed. Real as the piss in my pyjamas that terror would coerce from me on nights when they stayed too long.
I knew they were a construction of my imagination, but they never seemed limited to it. The longer they roiled, claws clacking on scales as they climbed each other to get to me, the more real they seemed, until they seemed realer than anything I knew.
Some nights they stayed until the sun dried them into flaky corpses that I would hurdle to get to safety.
Some nights they came while I slept and I woke with a sickening surge of adrenaline, feeling coarse scales brushing at the tips of my carelessly-hanging hand.
I couldn’t tell my parents. I couldn’t tell my friends. I knew I was crazy. I knew what they would say.
I started snatching sleep wherever I could, whenever people weren’t paying attention. More than once, I woke to my Mother pounding on the bathroom door, asking me if I’d fallen in the toilet I would doze on.
I started taking long baths. I’d set my alarm for the twenty-three minutes it would take the tub to fill to full, and recline on the tiny rug that covered the cool tiles. I’d listen to the torrent until the water was drowned by the alarm, then wake with enough time to turn the tap. While most people would be soaking, I was sleeping. I’d set my alarm for fifteen minutes, and nap beside the cooling water. After the second alarm, it was time to pull the plug. That was the only time I actually spent in the tub. I’d jump in and scrub furiously until the water was too low to do anything but create a dry sucking noise as it ran into the drain.
It was one of these bath-naps that outed me. The operation was mechanical, my movements practiced, smooth. I was asleep before water had even covered the bottom of the tub. I was still asleep when the water crawled over the fringe of the rug.
I was up quick but the water was pouring out quicker, rushing over the sides of the tub and pooling on the bathroom tiles.
It was there suddenly. Sliding from the water and growing bigger, snapping and flopping, spasming, trying to throw its oversized body out of the tub and onto me. Its claw-thin pupils holding my dilating ones, its mouth opening to rend as mine did to scream, its legs scraping the porcelain as mine splashed away. It tore itself out of the tub as I tore the bathroom door open.
I had no excuse ready for when my parents asked me what happened in the bathroom.
It was to the doctors after that, both kinds. They gave me a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and a prescription for pills. My mom made me take the first one in front of her. I threw up in the kitchen sink trying to dry swallow it. She didn’t see my face when she turned on the tap to rinse out the vomit; she didn’t see my tears when she passed me the glass of water to swallow the next pill. She didn’t see the little alligators writhing around in the cup.