Spooktober Prompt # 10 – Nighttime Nopes
“My Perfect Mattress Came with Rules”
by Penny Tailsup
Buying a mattress for the first time is a milestone. It’s a marker of adulthood; an expensive, essential, but unexciting purchase. I’d never bought one before, but I needed to. The mattress I’d dragged from my childhood home had shrieking springs and smelled like wet dog.
I considered buying a used one off craigslist, but talks of soiled mattresses, bed bugs and possible serial killers was enough to change my mind.
Well… You know how Facebook magically starts showing relevant ads after you talk about something? That. That’s how I found an ad for an online mattress store I’d never heard of:
Yes, it was in all caps. I normally ignored ads, but I was shopping for a mattress. I clicked. A pop up jumped out, with more all-caps text in bold red font:
WE’LL FIND YOUR PERFECT MATTRESS. TAKE OUR QUIZ!
Uhm… okay. Intrigued and slightly put off, I decided to take the quiz. It seemed pretty standard. What do you look for in a mattress? What brands do you like? Do you prefer firm or soft? Gel or foam? Do you sleep alone? After awhile, text windows appeared with the questions so I could type custom answers. Getting impatient, I kept it short and sweet:
What hurts in the morning, if anything?
How do you usually feel when you wake up?
Angry about waking up
How do you want to feel when you wake up?
Happy and refreshed I guess
Anything else you think is important?
When I was done, I clicked submit. A message popped up: THANK YOU, ENJOY YOUR NEW MATTRESS. WAKE UP ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE BED! Uhm… what? I poked around the site, but didn’t find product listings. I gave up and forgot it… until two days later, when a mattress was delivered to my door.
The sender was RIGHTSIDEOFTHEBED.COM, with no return address. This had to be some mistake, because I hadn’t bought anything from that website. I didn’t remember giving my name or address, but I must have. How else would they have sent a package to me?
There was an envelope stapled to the plastic wrapped tube, MATTRESS RULES stamped across the front. Rules? For a mattress? I opened it, half expecting to find a bill or an enrollment form for some high-interest payment plan. Instead, I found a single piece of paper:
To wake up happy and refreshed every morning, you must:
- Pick a side and stick to it. That is your side. Sleep alone.
- Keep two fresh glasses of water by the bed.
- If you wake up in the middle of the night, don’t leave the bed.
- If you’re not alone when you wake up, don’t engage.
If you don’t follow these rules, you may not be happy and refreshed.
THANK YOU. WAKE UP ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE BED! PLEASE REVIEW OUR PRODUCT IN 30 DAYS AND TELL US HOW SATISFIED YOU ARE.
I’d heard of companies sending free products in exchange for reviews… but a mattress? I was so confused. The weird rules made it seem creepy, but also made me really curious about the mattress. Was this a marketing gimmick?
Eager to find out, I peeled off the plastic and pulled my new mattress out of the tube. The first thing I noticed was the chemical smell– reminiscent of a hospital, like antiseptic and latex. I covered my mouth and nose, coughing. Not a good sign.
It was heavy, too. I dragged it into my bedroom and swapped it with my old mattress, flattening it out on the box spring and opening the window to air. I noticed a tag on the bottom of my new mattress that said Temper-Peutic, Not Tempur-Pedic. It was made of a grayish pink memory foam, soft to the touch. The top was covered in little foam nubs, like upholstered bubble wrap.
I dragged my old mattress to the living room, stripping off the bedding and leaning it against the wall. My new mattress was weird, but undeniably nicer than my old one. I washed my blankets and sheets, but my mind kept going back to those weird rules. Apparently the only thing that would happen if I didn’t follow them was that I “may not wake up happy and refreshed”.
The outcome didn’t seem nearly as ominous as a couple of the rules did! I wondered if this was a bad translation. Maybe the company was based out of the country. That had to be it!
I puttered around the house for awhile, getting things done. Later, I went back into my bedroom to put the bedding on my new mattress. The smell was gone, and it had plumped up considerably. In fact, it looked invitingly comfortable! Excellent.
As usual, getting the fitted sheet on was an exercise in patience, but it didn’t take me too long to get everything set up. Naturally, the first thing I did was flop into bed. The mattress was so warm! Not just sheets-fresh-from-the-dryer warm, but warm like a hug and an electric blanket. I slid under the covers. Toasty. My back popped a bit and I let out a groan of relief.
It felt amazing! The perfect amount of support. I had my doubts, but the mattress was ridiculously comfortable. Those little nubs on top felt like a gentle, full-body massage. Or was it more accurate to describe it like acupressure? Either way, I was sold!
“Wow…” I said to no one. I still had things to do, but I didn’t want to get up. I had to talk myself into it. Once I got up, all I wanted to do was crawl back into bed, but I had the willpower to walk away.
I finished my housework, made dinner, and watched TV for a bit. Once it was late enough that going to bed was actually an option, I picked up the rules again. I reviewed them, still perplexed. Well, what harm could following the rules do? At this point, I was convinced it was a bad translation and this was supposed to be one of those sleep hygiene guides to promote better sleeping habits.
“Pick a side and stick to it. That is your side.”
Okay, I picked the left side since it was closest to the door.
Not a problem, I’m single as fuck.
“Keep two fresh glasses of water by the bed.”
I went into the kitchen, grabbing two glasses and filling them up with water. I set them both on my bedside table. I guess this was in case I got thirsty in the middle of the night?
“If you wake up in the middle of the night, don’t leave the bed.”
Not a problem, I didn’t want to. Unless I had to pee? Well, in that case I guess I could use one of the cups? Just kidding! Gross.
“If you’re not alone when you wake up, do not engage.”
If I go to bed alone, why would there be anyone there when I wake up?
I put the rules away in a drawer, still amused with the weird circumstances. I showered and got ready for bed, eager for my first night on my brand new mattress. Getting into bed was an amazing feeling, so warm and good.
“Aaaah…” I sighed contentedly, settling in. I fell asleep almost instantly… but I didn’t stay asleep.
According to the blurry red outline on my alarm clock, it was 3:00 AM. I wasn’t sure what woke me, but I was too comfortable to move. The mattress creaked beside me. I turned to see, blinking blearily. I couldn’t help but notice an indentation beside me. How odd. Had I rolled over?
I closed my eyes and tried to settle in again. I managed to fall asleep, but woke up not ten minutes later. Cold feet pressed against my calves. I jumped, looking under the covers in confusion! There was nothing there. I must have been having one of those sleep-paralysis nightmare things. Except I could move?
Trying to calm my nerves, I reached for one of the glasses on the nightstand. I tried to take a drink, but it was empty. Okay, I must have drank it and forgot. I was too tired to freak out, too comfortable to move. I curled back up with the covers, and didn’t wake up again until morning.
When my alarm went off, my eyes popped open and I smiled. A brand new day, and I was perfectly rested and relaxed to face it. I jumped out of bed, going about my morning routine with a pep in my step.
Those rules were weird, but maybe the placebo effect of them actually worked? I wasn’t complaining! Sure, I’d had that weird waking nightmare with the cold feet… but I couldn’t blame a mattress for that. That would be ridiculous.
My new mattress was perfect. I’d been skeptical of the whole quiz and unexpected delivery, but I was happy. When it was time for bed again, I grabbed the two empty glasses. I washed and refilled them, setting them neatly by the clock. Smiling, I slipped under the covers… and slept like a baby.
Every day for the rest of that week, I woke up happy and refreshed. I kept following the rules, because they honestly seemed to work. It wasn’t like they were that hard. Maybe part of it was having a routine? Having boundaries for yourself? I’m not sure why, but I’d never felt better.
The only weird thing was that the water glasses would always be empty in the morning, even though I never remembered drinking them. As far as I knew, I’d been sleeping through the night… the empty glasses told me otherwise. I threw out of my old mattress, positive I wouldn’t need it.
One night, I forgot to fill the cups though. I remembered once I got in bed, but I was too comfortable to get up. I let it be. I didn’t even remember drinking the water at night, so I probably wouldn’t remember missing it either. As usual, I settled in and fell right asleep.
“Where’s my water?”
An angry voice startled me awake.
My heart was racing with confusion and fear. The voice was coming from directly beside me. I turned slowly, peering over my shoulder to see what could only be described as a pile of goo in the approximate shape of a man.
The goo-man didn’t have a face, but cocked it’s glistening head as if it were looking at me. I shuddered and looked away.
“Where’s … my… water? Go get it! I’m thirsty!”
I was shaking. The shout of the thing made me want to leap out of bed and do as it demanded, but… I remembered the rules. I wasn’t supposed to get out of bed if I woke up in the middle of the night. Not for any reason. But I also wasn’t supposed to forget to fill the water glasses.
I tore my eyes away; terror and indecision froze me. I kept my back to the thing, squeezing my eyes shut. It was probably better to break one rule than break two or three.
“Don’t ignore me! I know you heard me. Where’s my water?”
Trembling, I kept my eyes closed. I pulled the pillow over my ears. I didn’t fall asleep, but eventually the demands stopped. I didn’t dare look at it. Only when my alarm clock went off did I finally check– there was nothing there.
I did not feel happy or refreshed.
Trudging through my morning, exhausted and panicked, I tried to convince myself I’d just had some weird nightmare. There was no evidence of any sort of slime. There’d be some sort of residue if there had been, right?
But if I’d been having a nightmare, wouldn’t I feel rested? At least a little? Instead, I felt like a zombie; swallowing toxic levels of caffeine to make it through the day. When it was time for bed, I hesitated in my doorway. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to sleep on my bed, I was so traumatized from the night before!
So I slept on my couch. Nothing weird happened, but I woke up in horrible pain. My head, my neck, my back… my whole body hurt. Oh my god, it had been the worst night’s sleep in my entire life! I was angry all day, snapping at coworkers and friends alike. My boss sent me home, concerned that I was sick. I wasn’t myself.
At that point, I was so exhausted and felt so terrible that I knew I had to sleep on my bed again. That weird nightmare with the goo-man shouldn’t stop me. It had to have been a nightmare. I was so tired and I felt so bad. I wanted to feel happy and refreshed again.
I took extra care to clean and fill the water glasses. The bed felt amazing, but I felt sick. I had a hard time relaxing enough to fall asleep, but eventually I did.
“Fucking finally.” said the goo-man. It was 3:03 AM. “Hand me my water, will you?” my eyes snapped open. I stared up at the ceiling, not daring to look at the figure beside me. “I didn’t get any water last night, how inconsiderate of you.” the thing was irritated, and kept talking. I closed my eyes again.. No. This was a nightmare.
“I know you hear me. You’re so fucking rude.”
I kept my eyes closed. It kept trying to talk to me, but eventually gave up. The whole mattress creaked as it reached over me, grabbing one of the cups. Cold water dripped on my back, making my muscles jump. I suppressed the urge to look.
Gulp gulp gulp. Aaaaaaaahhh…
The creature left me alone after that. I fell asleep, and come morning… I did feel better. Happy and refreshed, but… also confused. Conflicted. The happiness and relaxation seemed so unnatural with the undercurrent of wrongness and fear.
The glasses on the bedside table were empty, but what did that prove? I could have drank them. I could have been having weird nightmares inspired by the bizarre rules. That was still the most rational option!
I tried to forget about the nightmares and went about my day. I still felt amazing, but it was tempered by anxiety in such a way that I felt I was on drugs or something. I had feelings that had no business being mixed together and yet they were.
At bedtime, I hovered in the door again. I stared reluctantly at my mattress, deciding if I was going to spend another night on the couch. Why, though? Because of nightmares? I shook my head at myself, and forced myself through the routine. I cleaned and refilled the water glasses, showered and changed, and went to bed. Sleep hit me like a rock upside the head, but I couldn’t stay asleep.
When I woke up, I kept my eyes closed. There was a drop of something on my forehead. Sweat? Water? I don’t know, but it felt cold. I was painfully aware of the drop slowly sliding down the bridge of my nose, then down the side and catching on the corner of my mouth.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to splash you.” a voice said, but it didn’t sound sincere. “Are you awake?”
Nope. Not awake. I kept my eyes closed; my palms began to sweat. Cold feet nudged my knees. Wet feet. I shuddered, a bubble of panic rising in my throat. I felt a weight on my hips, pressing down, like I was being straddled.
My eyes snapped open before I could stop them. On top of me, inches away from my face… I saw the goo-man. It wrapped its fingers around my neck. It looked different than the first time I saw it; no face, but it has black spots where it’s eyes should be.
Somehow, it seemed more solid, with dark spidery lines suspended in it’s gelatinous casing. Veins, maybe? That didn’t seem right. I closed my eyes again. Nope. Not looking. I willed my nightmare to change into something pleasant, like an endless buffet of dessert.
“Sorry, did I wake you?” it mocked. I almost replied, but the pressure it’s fingers placed on my throat reminded me to stay quiet. It let go, as if realizing this.
“You already broke one rule. You might as well break one more. I’m never going to leave you alone now.”
“Come on, asshole! ! I’m bored! I don’t sleep like you do.”
It leaned in. I could feel it, the mattress moaning with the shifting weight. It blew cold air against my ear. I shivered; it’s whole body felt cold, an uncomfortable contrast to the unnatural warmth of the mattress.
After awhile, the goo-man gave up. It flipped off of me, falling back onto its side of the bed and grumbling. I didn’t dare move; hell, I almost forgot to breathe! After a while, somehow, the comfort of the mattress sucked me back into the warm void of sleep.
In the morning, I woke up happy and refreshed. Terrified, but happy and refreshed. I leapt out of bed, unsure if I wanted to cry or laugh. I opted for both, tears streaming down my laughing cheeks as I opened the drawer and pulled out the slip of rules.
I turned the paper over, looking for a customer service number or email. Anything! But there was nothing. I’d already thrown away the packaging it came in, but I remembered very clearly that there’d been no return address.
Desperate, I yanked out my laptop and typed in the web address: RIGHTSIDEOFTHEBED.COM. A page popped up asking if it was my web domain, or if I’d like to buy it. I tried again, making sure I hadn’t typed it in wrong. Same thing happened a few times before I gave up, throwing my hands up in frustration.
The page with the rules asked me to review the product in 30 days, but it hadn’t told me how. It hadn’t been 30 days yet, but it wasn’t like the web page was going to magically start working by then… right?
At this point, I was too afraid to sleep. As much as I wanted to believe I was having “nightmares”, I couldn’t convince myself it was true. That night, I booked a room in a hotel. It was a waste of money.
The mattress in the room was irredeemably uncomfortable. It had a pillow top but felt like a bed of nails. The sheets seemed so cold. I spent the night crying in pain and frustration, realizing the horrible truth:
I had to sleep on my rule-ridden demon mattress. Nothing else would let me wake up happy and refreshed. I was ruined. Going without left me a haunted, aching shell of a person. I couldn’t live like that for long, if that was living at all. The only cure was a night at home in bed. That bed.
I didn’t go to work. I went home, crawling between my sheets and screaming into my pillow. I instantly felt better, but the fear didn’t go away. I couldn’t move. I didn’t have the strength or the will. I slept through the day, and through the night.
“You forgot my water again.”
I sat bolt upright. It was 3:00 AM.
“No… no… no…” I covered my mouth, sobbing. I slept a lot longer than I thought I would. I thought a morning nap would be safe. I’d been asleep for 13 hours. While my body felt warm and at rest, my blood ran cold.
“You can fix it. Just walk into the kitchen. Go on.”
I broke the water rule before, if I could just stay calm and stay strong I’d be ok. This thing, though angry and demanding, had never actually hurt me.
“You’re so warm.” it wrapped its arms around me. Cold, but… more solid than I expected. Less wet than before. A firm grip. Bile bubbled up my throat, I wanted to throw up. Against my better judgement, I looked down. The thing had grown bones and transparent skin.
What the fuck. This thing is… evolving? I bit my palm to stop myself from screaming. What was going to happen when this thing stopped growing?
“Fiiiine. Don’t get my water. I’ll just hold you all night long.” it crooned. “This is nice, isn’t it?” No. No it was not nice. I threw up, the acid in my mouth burning and unpleasant. Vomit dribbled out of the corners of my mouth, dripping onto the blankets.
The monster didn’t say anything, but it was vibrating against me. Laughing, maybe. I dropped my hands, emptying the contents of my stomach on the blanket. I stripped it off and threw the balled up comforter across the room.
“You’re not going to put that in the wash?”
“In the morning.” I muttered.
Wait. No! I didn’t answer that thing! I wasn’t engaging. I didn’t!
But I had. It was too late. The thing vibrated more, this time I was sure it was laughing. I expected some smug gotcha, but it didn’t say a word. A sharp pain lanced my shoulder, but I closed my eyes, resisting the urge to look. I didn’t know what I was feeling, but it was better not to know.
I woke up in the morning, surprised to be alive. I must have passed out. I was not “happy and refreshed”… but scared and weak. I stared at my alarm clock, struggling to comprehend the numbers and the sound of the alarm. My ears were ringing even after I hit the snooze button. My body felt cold, even with the feverish warmth of my sweat-soaked sheets.
The bedroom smelled of vomit, my balled up blanket still in the corner. Evidence of the night. I wasn’t crazy after all, but that didn’t make me feel better. I cried, curled up and trying to find the strength to move.
Eventually, I managed to drag myself into the bathroom. I stood under a scalding shower, trying to feel warm again. As I scrubbed myself raw, I found a bruise on my left shoulder; a perfect circle with a dark red center. I didn’t want to look at it. I didn’t want to wonder what it was, or what it meant.
It’s only been two weeks. I’ve already broken two rules! I don’t know what will happen if, or when, I break more… but I already know I can’t sleep anywhere else. I don’t have a choice… it’s either sleep in that bed, or don’t sleep at all.
As of today, I haven’t slept in three days. I feel awful. I know I’m going to give in soon. Even now, I’m resisting the urge to crawl into bed and sleep. Even though I’m scared, even though I know something bad is going to happen if I do… I crave the feeling of a good night’s rest. I want to feel happy and refreshed again.
The list of rules asked me to review the product in 30 days. That’s two weeks from now. I’m not sure what kind of “review” they’re expecting, or if I’ll even be around to write it.