Overcast skies hid the moon and blanketed our home in heavy, winter darkness. I was tucked beneath the duvet, relishing in the warmth of my homemade heating pad (four minutes in a microwave buying me an hour of thermal bliss), drifting off to sleep to the lullaby of little critters pattering along the deck outside my window in their nocturnal dance with my garbage can. I had only just fallen into dreams when the first screams broke off all semblance of sleep. Panic, immediate and violent, rose to my throat, constricting breath and jump-starting my sleeping heart like a fierce defibrillator.
My bare feet pounded the stairs, their staccato beat rivaling the pounding of my heart. Noa was curled into a fetal position, shaking, sobbing, screaming and gasping with eyes closed tight against whatever onslaught was painted on her lids. I lay my hand on her back. She tensed and flailed, screams changing to such a curdling, high pitched decibel that I'm not sure I can call them human. I pulled her from her bed, held her against me, speaking quietly around the fear in my throat. She managed a shuttering breath and focused on my face, clinging to my neck, trembling like an epileptic. "Ba-ad gu-uy," she stuttered between sobs before her gaze shifted to the corner and she started screaming again, clawing against me like she was trying to crawl over my shoulder.
I carried her downstairs where living room lamps dispelled shadows and dreams. She continued to cling, the contagion of her panic like cold fingers on the back of my neck and rolling around in my stomach like a flu.
"Ba-ad guy," she said again.
"Who was it?" I asked her, smoothing sweaty hair from her fevered forehead.
"What was the boy doing?"
Shaky breath. "Eat me."
We cuddled and rocked and let our breathing become calm. We sent daddy upstairs to kill dragons and frighten away monsters. Her eyes grew heavy and she patted my neck. "Dood durl, mommy."
And I kissed her and told her about the animals I heard walking on the deck. "What do you think they were?" I asked her.
She smiled a sleepy, goofy grin. "Taow."
"You think there's a cow on the deck?"
"Yeah, mommy - funny."
And our hearts were returned to an acceptable rhythm and I let her sleep beside me in my bed and the next morning she had absolutely no memory of the terror that assaulted her in the middle of the night.