Eight Hours a Night

Eight Hours a Night

People say teens need more sleep, but what if every sleep cycle brings a new nightmare? Find out more in this year’s winning horror story

I walk slowly down the street watching the house numbers get smaller and smaller until I can no longer see what they say. Each house is the same beige building with a large tree growing out front, its roots tangled among themselves peeking above the ground. The night is strangely warm for the middle of October in Thorton, Colorado.

I take a right on an unlabeled road and look up. The neighborhood is dead silent with no sign of life anywhere other than a rabbit that runs straight at me and a raven that flies swiftly overhead.

A gust of wind blows in my face and my hair goes over my eyes. I push it back, and when I focus again a shadow crosses over me.

I spin around to see where the shadow is coming from, and suddenly I can’t move as the world becomes pitch black. After a few moments, I can’t see anything but darkness…


I wake up in a cold sweat as the heater blares next to me. The sun barely shines above the mountains, but I can’t fall back asleep. I stare at my ceiling for what feels like hours before my alarm clock beeps to life next to my head.

I layer jacket over jacket, but can’t seem to get warm. Eventually I settle with a down coat over a long-sleeved shirt and walk downstairs. No one talks to me until I sit down to eat breakfast and my mom stares at me from across the table.

“Are you feeling all right?”

I nod and give her a fake smile before leaving the house.

I float through the day in a strange haze, my mind disconnected from my body.

At school, I sense someone watching me. I turn to look behind me, and sure enough, a pale boy glares at me from below his hood. I look away quickly, uncomfortable by his presence, and begin packing up my things to go home.

On the bus, I can’t seem to focus on anything other than the cold radiating from my skin. It’s a more or less sunny day, but even with my coat, I’m still cold. The girl who sits next to me keeps glancing over at me, questioning my constant shivering.


*     *     *


I once again walk down the darkened street but this time, the darkness is already around me. With every step, I push against the darkness that inhibits my movement. The same rabbit from before runs from me rather than toward me, and a raven squawks as I near it before stretching its wings and flying away.

Instead of turning at the end of the street, I keep walking straight until finally my surroundings change. To the sides of me, the houses are now gray, and the tree is twice the size it was before. Its roots twist below the sidewalk and spiral out into the street. In front of me is a small pond. 

Something about the pond draws me in until I’m standing waist-deep in the murky water. I look around for a minute before plunging into it. I attempt to come up for air, but to my horror, the darkness twists around my legs pulling me deeper and deeper…


I wake up breathing wildly as I attempt to orient myself. I see my alarm clock and finally realize where I am. It’s currently 1:26 in the morning – my nap lasted longer than intended. I feel a weight on my legs and shift to see the window screen has fallen and the window has opened.

I quickly get up to close the window and find bruises up and down both my arms, ranging from a deep purple to a navy blue.

I look closer and notice the bruises below my elbow form the shape of a hand, the bruises darker where the fingertips would have been. I shiver at the thought of being grabbed in my sleep, and I put on a long-sleeved shirt to avoid looking at it.


*     *     *


Despite my lack of sleep, most of the day goes well, though I am freezing for most of it.

Halfway through lunch, I notice a girl sobbing, her back facing me as her friends attempt to comfort her. I’m about to look away in an attempt to give them privacy, but before I can, I hear a fragment of a sentence.

“…the doctor said she was in peak condition – said that there was no reason for her to stop breathing.” She sniffles for a minute. “The window was open when we found her. My mom worries—”

I stop listening to the sentence, my eyes drifting to my arm where the bruises seemingly get colder and colder below my sleeve.


*     *     *


I lie in bed watching a movie when I start to drift to sleep. I feel my eyes drooping and my body relaxing, but for some reason, I try to fight it. I attempt to sit up, but I’m dragged into sleep, my eyes closing on their own.


I sit on the porch of one of the beige houses watching as the wind carries leaves across the grass in silence. The darkness sits over me, a heavy blanket keeping me seated. The wind pushes the leaves farther away, gathering more in its path.I try to stand, but the darkness holds me captive, pushing against my legs until I comply. I breathe deeply for a moment before gathering my strength and pushing off the chair. 

The wind pushes back toward me as the darkness pools around my legs. After a moment, it quickly coils up my legs to my arms, the leaves and sticks encircling me.

I stand like this for a moment before the darkness becomes too cold for me to handle. I attempt to escape, but I’m squeezed tighter as the leaves continue to scratch my arms and legs. 

I feel a stick scrape my arm, drawing blood. I try to move, but trip and fall to the ground, the wind following with its army of sticks, leaves, and stones.


Before I do anything else, I jump out of bed and grab a jacket, already cold. As I pull the zipper, I notice a dark red crust below my fingernails. I pick at it with my other hand as I search for the scratches that the blood came from. Strangely, I don’t find anything, the only sign of injury being more bruises (this time being much larger than my hand). These new bruises have small blotches of blood on them, but further inspection reveals that it’s not mine.


*     *     *


Another girl is crying at school, this time in my third-period class. She sits on her desk while her brother sits next to her staring into space. He looks around the room for a few seconds, his eyes lingering on me and seemingly the bruises hiding below my coat. As he looks away, I begin to feel my body temperature dropping slowly, dispersing from my injuries.

I try to turn my focus back to my work, but my mind tugs me back to the girl’s conversation.

“My grandpa passed away last night. The only person who saw him was his caregiver. She said that he was scratched up badly.” The other girl whispers something and the girl’s tears begin to fall harder. “No, the window opened, but there was no way to tell who did it.”

After class, the girl’s brother stops me in the hallway, a sullen expression on his face.

“You live on Elm, right?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I say somberly.

“I’m pretty sure you’re across the street from our grandpa.”

I turn my head in confusion, then I remember having seen the twins across the road when I was younger. I nod.

“Did your family hear anything weird last night?”

I shake my head quickly, slowly walking away.


*     *     *


I knock loudly on the door, but when no one answers, I insert the key and slip inside.

My mom stands just inside the doorway angrily watching as I take off my shoes and put my backpack on the shelf. “I heard the door open last night. Where did you go?”

My eyes open wide. “Nowhere,” I stammer.

“I know I heard the door, and it was either you or your brothers. Their stories held up, so you better start explaining.”

I walk past my mom into the kitchen and meet her eyes, shaking my head. “I didn’t go anywhere.” My mom rolls her eyes and leaves the room silently.

I slowly walk up the stairs and stop when I hear my mom behind me.

“You have a therapy appointment tomorrow – don’t be late. It’s in the morning.” I nod and retreat to my room.

Midway through working on my homework, my eyes become increasingly heavy, and I slowly drift into sleep.


I once again sit on the porch of the beige home, my eyes closed as the breeze floats through my hair. A noise echoes behind me and I jump to my feet, startled. 

“Come sit up here with me.” I turn to see an old woman, likely in her late sixties, sitting on an old porch swing. She ushers me over and I do as instructed, sitting down softly next to her. 

We sit for a moment in silence until the woman speaks again. “I’m a little chilly aren’t you?”

I watch in horror as the woman pulls the shadow out of a basket to her side and sets it on our laps like a blanket. For a silent moment, nothing happens, then the darkness slowly winds its way up to cover her face and head. It then contracts and the woman slowly fades away.


Surprisingly, I wake up to my alarm rather than the cold and look around. Everything is normal, other than one of my blankets is missing from my bed and a small scab has appeared on my wrist. I shiver and hop to my closet to grab my coat, then walk downstairs.

My mom sits in the living room, watching the news on the TV. I sit down next to her and glance at the broadcast.

The bottom of the screen reads “Mayor’s Mother Murdered.” The mayor cries hysterically behind the reporter as his mother’s body is loaded into an ambulance. A doctor pops up in the corner of the display, explaining that the woman suffered a traumatic hit to the head.  A quick warning flashes across the screen before it shows his mother lying on the floor of her home, wrapped tightly in a blanket with glass shattered all around her.

I look closely and realize with a fright: that’s my blanket.

At this thought, my arms and legs begin to chill, fingers slowly turning blue from the low temperature.

My mom turns off the TV before turning to me. “You ready to go?”

I nod silently and walk out to the car.


I have a million questions, but I realize that I can’t have them answered – not without my therapist finding out. As much as I try to keep secrets from her, she always knows. I know only one thing: something is wrong. People are dying and I might be to blame.

I can turn myself in, or… No, I can’t just keep going… Can I?

My mom drops me off, and I slowly walk to the office, my mind filling with fear. Why did I kill them? Is it random? Are they connected in some way? Who is next?

I turn a corner and nearly ran into a pale guy about my age wearing a darkly colored hoodie.

I say, “Excuse me” and walk five steps before my mind blinks back. I’ve seen him before. The day this all started, he was watching me at school.

I turn back around.

Instead of the boy, I see a familiar darkness, seemingly watching me. My fingertips grow cold.


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