The demons are back. They’ve come back almost every night now. And they’re punctual. Somewhere between three and four in the morning they come howling back into our lives. They’re killing us by inches, and every night I get up out of my bed to fight them off. I haven’t slept in weeks.
I can hear my mother shouting. I run to where she and my father sleep and she shouts to me that we have to get out of here, that we’re in danger. She’s close to panic. I can’t do anything to get her up and moving in the middle of the night so I tell her, “We’re safe here until morning.”
Her eyes are wild. She can see them now; they’re so close. “We’re in danger,” she says again. “We have to get out of here.”
My father tries to reassure her, but he’s so tired and he doesn’t understand any of this. He can’t see the demons the way Mom and I can. He doesn’t even really believe they exist. He is so very tired. There are dark circles around his eyes now and his face is sunken with age and unhappiness.
I grab the phone and dial. I explain where we are and what the situation is. Then I say to her, “There are no trains out until morning, but the station master says we are safe here so long as we don’t leave.”
Mom is silent for a time, but I can still feel the demons close by, see them in her eyes, and the way her hands clutch the bedclothes. I know they’re still here but she is fighting them just as I am.
“All right,” she says. “All right. Can you see them?”
“Not anymore,” I lie, but it makes her calmer. We can all breathe a little easier now. Once they go, they usually stay away for a few hours.
I’m trying to make things as normal as I can. “Do you need to use the toilet?” I ask her and she nods. My father starts to get out of bed but I tell him to go to sleep, that I’ll take care of things.
I lower the barrier on the side of the bed and help her up. If we don’t cage her, she wanders. She falls and breaks things. I help her with one of the things no parent should ever have to ask their child to do and try to be as apart from it as I can for her sake as well as my own. It’s part of the fight.
“Are they gone?” she whispers as I help her back into bed.
“Yeah. They’re gone. And it will be morning soon.
“What time is it?” She never knows anymore, even if some kind of internal clock always seems to mark the passage of day and night with the ebb and flow of delusions.
“Early. Get some sleep,” I tell her. “It will be morning soon, and they won’t come back now.” It’s a lie. They’ll be back later in the day, but for now, it’s enough. It comforts her.
“It was bad tonight.”
“Yeah, but we survived it.” I kiss her forehead and straighten the covers. “We’re safe now.”
“Of course we are,” she says, her voice cheery. The demons are forgotten as suddenly as they were conjured.
I slay demons with fake phone calls to people who don’t exist, with clever lies and distractions, with clinical detachment, with jokes and games and a quiet persistence. It won’t always work. They come more often now, and I’m realizing that they’re coming to my father too, though more quietly. They whisper evil things to him and he believes. He’s coming to hate me; I can see it in his eyes.
There is an endless supply of demons but only one of me, and sometimes I’m so tired I become one of them, aching to beat the crazy out of her just so I can lie down and disappear.
I go back to bed, but I don’t sleep. I almost never sleep anymore. I just wait for the demons.
(I wrote this for Chuck Wendig’s “Write What You Know” flash fiction challenge. I spent 15 years as a caregiver for my parents, both of whom were suffering from dementia.)