Some urban legends just stick to you.
There are lots of stories made for children who don’t go to bed early, probably bogeymen or monsters under your bed. You’ve probably outgrown such stories, and might have already found a laugh or two in its retelling. But there are some stories that I’d rather not laugh about, more so challenge. Most are merely precautionary tales passed on from your ancestors or urban legends made famous by some guy’s grand grandfather.
It would have been cool if you’re one of the people who made a viral story like those. You would have been proud of yourself. I, for one, was part of the making of this “urban legend” that has recently scattered – or plagued, if you will – my hometown. But I’m not proud of it or myself.
A few see me as someone who sleeps rather early in the night, around 9 pm. I stay that way even if there are exams in the following day. They really don’t get it. You should never procrastinate and do things late at night, because it’s a lot stressful and bad for your health. But in my case, it’s really bad for my mind.
I was always a skeptic when it came to ghosts. I’d usually invite my friends for a sleepover once every week just to exchange loads of ghost stories, though. We were such a fan of horror, until that night our sleepover routine was shut for good.
We used to start horror films after dinner, around 6:30 pm. Ghost hunting came right after the film, around 8:00 pm. We would all bring a camera with a flash, and that was just about the only light source we would have when we’re in the location. We had a rule to not use flashlights before the activity was over. Lots of flashes on different parts of the location was usually what happened, with occasional screaming, running around and laughing our pants off. The nicely shot pictures were for our scrapbook, where we highlighted good stories and good pictures, and most of all, scared faces during and after activities. We used to start ghost story sharing around 10 pm. The one who has a story was free to volunteer and try to scare the others. It didn’t have to be believable, but it should be really scary. After that was a good dusk’s sleep.
Among us was a friend I never understood completely. Her name was Kyla. She has always been a part of our group of friends, but she’s always been the first to chicken out of our horror activities. I never got how she could still hang out with us even though she was virtually left behind most of the time. She had this weird habit of blanking out and humming something when things get scary for her, but she swore that she didn’t have any control of it whatsoever. Horror films became an hour of looking at the floor or at a certain inanimate object close by. Horror stories became an album of Taylor Swift or sleeping. Ghost hunting, the least fruitful of our activities, became sitting on my couch waiting for me and the others to return. We couldn’t blame her, though. She cries easily, no matter how much we comfort her. And even if we wanted her out of the horror hangout, we didn't know how to tell her it's okay to skip it without her being hurt.
We liked her that way, but we would have loved her if she joined and actually tried to face her fears, and also especially if she didn’t sleep at the 10 pm mark. She explained that it was urgent, and we’ve been harsh before by saying she’s a killjoy. I knew back then that she was really hurt. I could remember her sniffing that night.
She slept so early, yet her large eyebags made it seem ironic.
One night, Kyla suddenly fully joined us in our activities. She was finally trying to be brave. She was really cute with an serious yet scared face, and we loved every single moment when she was facing the scary parts of our activities.
And then the ghost hunting activity happened.
She had her own camera too, and we were set to be guided by mere flashes in our school grounds. Our favorite teacher, Sir Sev, always took the responsibility of watching over us in our supposedly off-limits school grounds in the evening, so we had legal permission as if we were a legitimate club. He always waited outside of the 1st Academic Building by the flagpole, and said that we should come back at exactly 10 pm. I noticed that Kyla was kind of apprehensive, but I patted her head and said everything’s gonna be fine. I guess that was the last unsure statement I was ever gonna say to her.
Sir Sev was probably observing the various flashing lights as we scattered all around the building with only our cameras, and flashlights for emergency. I never thought there would ever be an emergency, but I still brought one, just in case. I’m not a very brave person, but I decided to push my limit after seeing Kyla enjoying all the snapping and memorizing the place. Spamming the shutter would leave you out of film, and we only had around 50 shots. I guess that was the thrilling part, memorizing what you saw after taking a pic, but this was our school. We probably knew most of the way around, and that was what I thought the reason was why everything should have been fine.
I tried to be really brave, and went to the allegedly haunted 3rd floor. There was room 309, the cursed room where students and teachers see stuff, but I believed back then that schools are the breeding ground of ghosts merely because of the students and faculty’s creativity.
As I took pictures, I was actually amazed of what I saw. Room 309 had lots of old school movie posters, since it was the film club’s room. I’ve seen a couple of stuff like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Dracula, Casanova and Frankenstein. I was looking forward to taking pictures of each and every poster, until I heard a certain melody that made me feel like there were ants crawling over me. I could hear breathing along with it, and muffled sobbing. The melody seemed to be hummed by an old, deep-voiced lady and the sheer pitch made the hair on my nape stand.
I found myself blindly walking towards the source, my camera held under my belly with my two hands. It seemed to be some sort of lullaby, but it wasn’t at all like the ones you usually hear. This usually means run like hell in horror movies but instead of just running for my life, I knew that the sobbing was Kyla’s. Inch by inch, the lullaby and the sobbing sounded closer and closer, and when I thought I was a step away from it in total darkness, the sobbing stopped.
I stood frozen for a while, suddenly realizing that I didn’t know which part of the room I was anymore, and that I might see a terrifying face in front of me in a flash. Rubbing my nape as gulped, I took a picture in front of me, and saw a glimpse of Kyla lying down on the floor, seemingly unconscious. I decided I had to use my flashlight. There were tears that ran down her cheeks. I called for help, but she woke up a little, still weak for some reason, silencing my scream for assistance. She said it was okay, and that making noises and moving would only provoke “her” short temper. I myself, had goosebumps upon hearing what she said, especially after hearing that haunting lullaby. As my friends arrived and helped her, I asked her who she was referring to. She didn’t respond.
Sir Sev assured us that she probably fell unconscious from fear. He told us that we should probably stop doing this, especially if there was someone being left behind. I must have been the only one among us who believed that she really didn’t fall unconscious. She was acting like she was asleep, with teary eyes. Like she was trying to trick someone… Perhaps something, that she was asleep.
That night, she went to sleep right after we settled our things down in my house. We understood that she probably needed it due to the incident, but Pauleen, the loudmouth that she is, said something insulting to her. I could hear her crying softly with a little trouble in breathing as she tried to sleep.
The next sleepover, Kyla was back with her brave soul, but she didn’t seem so sure about it like the last time. She was the one who developed all the pictures we got the last night, and laid it on top of my table. We were shocked that night, as she volunteered to tell her own story. Don mocked her that it would be some Hello Kitty story, but she spoke with conviction. “It’s my horror story. The one I call She Lulls Me to Sleep.”
This is a non-verbatim version of the story I could recall.
“There’s a good reason why I sleep earlier than you guys every time. I’m actually afraid of harming my close friends, but someone proved that being selfless just isn’t enough. It seems that you ALWAYS have to blend in to everybody. I’m gonna try to stay awake as long as I can starting today, so you guys can confirm how authentic my story is. Sometimes, you guys point out that I’m such a killjoy, and that I suddenly space out while humming some sort of tune that you guys say was disturbingly creepy. She keeps on humming that to me. Who is SHE, you ask? She’s the one who always reminds me to sleep early, or she’ll find other people to care for. I was trying to be protective, but some are just too insensitive to not get it with the slightest clues. You dense people will know what nightmarish lullaby and embrace I’ve been taking all my life to keep her away from the only friends I made.
“Every night I’m awake until around midnight, my grandmother used to struggle in putting me to sleep. She always said that she’d find someone else if I stay awake. I didn’t want her to find another one, so I’d lie down as her soft voice gently filled the room as her arms were wrapped around me. I loved her, even after she hung herself. The problem is, her lullaby didn’t die with her.
“Even after her death, she did the same nightly routine if she catches me awake. But her voice isn’t the same anymore. She didn’t look or feel the same anymore. I’d lie down and let her deep-pitched voice raise every single hair on my body as I tremble in fear. She would hug me with her long bony arms so tight that I could barely breathe. I feel her cold breath as she hums on the back of my neck, her cold rubbery lips brushing against it. She WON’T stop until I’m asleep, and I tell you, oh I tell you, you’d wish you could. But fainting in fear doesn’t happen when you want it, to the point that it may end when it’s around 5 am, when you’re too exhausted. Just when the warm light of the day starts to bathe your face. Let’s just see if you guys can take it. And Pauleen, good luck being her first baby in a long while.
“If you guys don’t want to get unwanted attention from her, remember this. Don’t move. Don’t speak. Just try to sleep.”
Pauleen was shaken. Remembering what I heard that night in Room 309 glued my shirt to my back as I started to sweat. We set a faint lamp in the middle and slept on the floor, around it in awkward silence. When we called it a night and everything seemed to be perfectly fine, we tried to fall asleep like normal, until we heard it. A very deep, raspy tone that made our throat feel blocked, our bodies sweat, and our breathing faster. We could all hear Pauleen’s muffled sobbing, and I opened my eyes ever so lightly to check her in front of the faint lamp. I could see Vico trembling near her. I wondered how she couldn’t move and why no one helped her, but I saw something that answered it for me. There were dents around her arms and legs and her eyes were wide open. I could see dents around her mouth too, and it looked like a large, bony hand. She was trickling with sweat, and I could smell the reason why her legs were wet too. She wet herself, and I fully understood why. I almost motioned to move, but I saw Kyla humming as she smiled, and Robert shaking his head to me as if saying I should stay motionless. And that was what I did.
It felt like an eternity. We were all wet with sweat and were breathing heavily, but couldn’t move at all. We should not. Not because of that itchy arm. Not because of that full bladder. Not because we could run and tell the authorities. We wouldn’t have dared to get her unwanted attention. Pauleen’s eyes were bloodshot from her endless crying, and there were mucus all over her mouth that still had a dent of a large bony hand. The haunting lullaby seemed endlessly looping, and I could have sworn 7 hours of hearing the same melody over and over would make anyone crazy, especially when you had no freedom in those 7 hours to move, let alone scream for help. The deep voice rattled our spines the whole night, and it reeked so much of sweat and urine that it was too sickening. I couldn’t remember how it ended, and I’m glad I couldn’t remember most of it. But that haunting melody and that smell of unwanted body fluid that mixed the air for 7 God-forsaken hours couldn’t possibly be forgotten. I sometimes find myself humming it too, like what Kyla once did.
The next time I woke up, I was in a hospital, the doctor said my mom shouldn’t get me too stressed with questions, but I eventually found out what happened. Five of us were institutionalized; I and 3 others, Roy, Jam, and Aljhun were allowed to be free after a long confinement. We never talked about it ever, not even look each other in the eyes. Whenever I hear of it, I just smile and ride along. Our names were never dropped in the circulating story anyway.
I think I saw the picture I took when I found Kyla on the floor. That image of her pale, wrinkled and loosely hanging flesh, those thick black veins around her eyes, that slowly balding long and wet hair and her long and frail structure just became yet another obstacle that keeps me from falling into slumber.
I’m not even sure if this was actually what happened. It’s been so long. I honestly don’t remember what I actually seen or felt that time. All of this seemed to make sense when I heard this urban legend scattering around again. It’s been, I don’t know, 40 years probably. Everything was a blur until I heard students in my English class talking about it. As things started to piece together somehow in terrifying details, this piece is that result. People may have exaggerated some bits over the course of those 40 or so years and my mind probably just believed it, but the one thing I’m very sure is I was part of it, and this melody I'm still unconsciously humming at awkward times is a testament.
So far, I haven’t felt her bony arms and feet cling ever so tightly all over me as she breathed that sanity-breaking melody on my nape, but I never want to know. Might as well hope these sleeping pills still work before 10 pm.