Christmas is approaching again. Before my ex wife left ten years ago, Santa was still alive and well in my daughter's imagination. I enjoyed the holiday season back then, never letting anyone forget what Christmas was really about. The last Christmas we were together we attended midnight service singing His praise. By New Year's Eve she had left, moving in with some man that I had no idea even existed.

She never voiced any interest in seeking custody of our daughter. I'm glad she didn't. My love for her became the only anchor in my life. I lost my job, my health suffered from complications with diabetes, and I battled with cancer. As things got worse, my thoughts toward the church cooled and I started missing services. When the Pastor came to my house to find out why I had become truant, I found that he was more concerned about getting that envelope from me every week, rather than helping me through the dark times. I fell victim to having dark, hateful thoughts.

No one was safe from them except my little girl. I found myself actually wishing ill will to people for no good reason at all, and my relationship with the church ceased. Hatred filled me. I was in contempt for those happily married, in good health, and those 'good wishers' that told me to keep my chin up.

Eventually I found a good job, beat the cancer, and got better at controlling the diabetes. My dark thoughts faded and I began attending church services again. My daughter has enjoyed good health and is near the top of her class.

Full of the holiday spirit, she wants a tree this year. We hadn't had one in years. I believed it was a lot of fuss for just the two us, but I relented and started clearing a corner in the living room while she went shopping for one. I pulled out a chest from the wall and found a picture that had fallen behind it. It must have been there a long time, because I forgot that it even existed.

There sat my Grandparents in my parent's living room with me, my brother, and my sister sitting at their feet. It was obviously Christmas time with all the decorations on the wall. I placed it as '58 or '59 looking at age of us kids and knowing my Grandfather died in early '61 after a long stay in the hospital. He looked well in this picture. My Grandmother was smiling as she always did, but I suddenly felt cold. Putting the picture down, I noticed my hand was shaking. I'd had problems sleeping lately, but after seeing this picture, I was beginning to understand why. A memory lying dormant for years suddenly came rushing forward in my mind.

* * *

It was Christmas Eve of '62 and my Grandmother had come to spend the holiday with us. She had a Pennsylvania Dutch background and that meant lots of food and cake and cookies for dessert. She arrived with container after container of cookies and pies she had baked over the previous months and had frozen for the visit. My older brother and little sister watched with delight as each container was brought in and stored in our parent's room for the proper time and place for serving. I loved her very much, but it just wasn't the same without my Grandfather.

'Nana', my Mother's Mother, was widowed when 'Grandpop' died early the previous year. I was devastated with his passing, loving him more than my own Father at the time. I'm sure it had something to do with my Mother's influence, but my life was governed by the last and the next time I was going to see him.

Nana was a wonderful woman. She always had a story to tell, hugs for the kids, and laughter and cheer for all. She was a God fearing woman that wouldn't take the Lord's name in vain or cuss even in the nastiest situations. Being Pennsylvania Dutch, she had a bit of an accent, and my name always came out "Chonny," instead of "Johnny."

I was seven years old and it was snowing like a banshee outside. Schools were closed and my Father had taken off work early to get Nana before she was stuck home for the holiday. As my Father and Mother finished bringing in the containers and then her suitcases, Nana came through the door and was nearly knocked flat as my siblings and I rushed to hug her. She was a large woman and had trouble bending down to hug us. When all the kisses and hugs were done, she produced three wax paper packages of cookies that she had held aside for us. It was if she'd given us the most precious gift we'd ever receive. Her cookies were that good. There were raisin-oatmeal, sugar cookies, ginger snaps, peanut butter filled, chocolate frosted, ginger bread, and my favorite, chocolate chips.

"Mom!" scolded my Mother, as she came out of the bedroom.

"Come on, Anne, let me have some fun with the kids," replied Nana, giving us kids a wink.

"You're with kids all day long," replied Mom, giving us the evil eye for not asking her first.

My Mom was right. While my Grandfather was still alive, he was a janitor for a local church. They lived in the old rectory in lieu of a full salary, earning enough for food and small essentials. Grandpop was on the board of elders and Nana taught Sunday and Summer School. When he died, Nana was asked to find another place to stay. She found a government subsidized apartment building in the city, refusing to take up an offer from my parents to live with us. She wanted her independence, but that independence carried a price. She didn't drive and the neighborhood was in decline. Walking to the corner store for supplies ended the first time she was mugged. My Mother visited her weekly to take her shopping; otherwise, Nana never left the apartment. Some weekends the whole family would visit her and it lifted her spirits. Once and a while, she would begin to cry and us kids were ushered off to another room until she was done. We didn't know what was wrong. The following year she got a job as a crossing guard for the local elementary school. It seemed to perk her up, because she always had stories about the 'little ones' to tell after that.

Nana visited about once a month, spending the weekend or the week, depending on what her plans were with my Mother. When visiting, the sleeping arrangements for my brother and I on the second floor changed. There were two bedrooms and a bathroom at the top of the stairs. If you turned right at the top of the stairs, there was a door leading into my brother's room. Straight ahead was the bathroom and to the left was an open walled bedroom, which was mine (no fourth wall with a door and no privacy). Nana used my brother's room, my brother used my bed, and I got to sleep on an old sofa parked in my room.

My brother and sister had already finished off their treats, but I had most of mine lined up on the coffee table.

"Don't you like them, Chonny?" she asked.

"Yes! I'm just trying to make them last longer," I replied, chewing a gingerbread arm.

"Hey look over there!" shouted my older brother, pointing out the back window.

I fell for it and lost three cookies in the process. My little sister then tried the trick, but to no avail.

"I'll take care of you later," Nana said to my brother, as she produced another small pack of cookies from her pocket and handed it to me.

The look of doom came across my brother's face, knowing his would be the smallest piece of pie served for dessert, if he got any at all.

The early evening went by with us setting up the tree (a family custom doing it on the Eve), eating sandwiches and her apple pie, (brother did get a piece) and chatting about what we kids wanted from Santa (brother was enlightened, but kept up the façade for us younger ones). Nana was the official ornament director, telling us kids where to place them and giving us the story behind each. (They were her heirlooms given to us.) When we finished, it was time for bed. I was having so much fun I didn't want it to end. I hugged and kissed my Mother and Nana and headed up to bed. A feeling of dread came over me as I made my way up the steps to my room. I went to bed on the sofa keeping a bright nightlight to ward off the monsters that come out in the dark. That night, as with all of her visits, I wasn't worried about monsters.

It was her nightmares. Night terrors they're called now. Horrifying dreams so intense, they consume a person as they sleep and terrify those that hear the moans and screams forced from their sleeping lips.

They didn't happen every night she stayed with us, but they occurred often, sometimes several times a night. Somehow, in the two years following my Grandfather's death, it became my job to wake her from these night terrors. I don't remember how or why the task fell on me, it just did. It was never a pleasant experience waking her. Thanksgiving weekend, I had to wake her every night. She never would tell me what her dreams were about when I woke her. I'm not sure if anyone ever knew.

That night I stayed awake, waiting for her to come up the stairs to go to bed. (Being Christmas Eve also had the added benefit of waiting for Santa's sleigh to land on the roof.) Soon the lights downstairs would go out and she would be in my brother's room. It was a longer wait than I expected and I eventually fell asleep.

There was a thump and I was wide-awake. At first I thought Santa had landed on the roof. Then there was another thump and my heart started to race with the anticipation of Santa's arrival downstairs. There were several more thumps ...then a moan.

That fast, my elation was burst like a balloon as the realization set in that Nana was having a dream. Sometimes at this stage, the dream would pass, and I would be spared from having to wake her. The next minute or so would be the key. The thumping continued as her flailing fists were hitting the wall next to the bed. She moaned again and fell silent. I held my breath, knowing the next few seconds were it.

There was a piercing scream.

My startled brother jumped a foot in the air on the bed, but did nothing to help.

Reluctantly, I went to the door and turned the knob. The thumping had intensified and the screams were nearly continuous. Thanksgiving night she had slashed me with her nails and bruised my upper arms with her fists. She would lash out wildly as I tried to shake her awake. Even with all the injuries I received, her shrieks were the worst to take as a seven year old. They caused nightmares for me. When she would finally wake, she always asked me to sit with her for a while. She knew she had hurt me, and how I hated to wake her. She also knew how scared I was. I suppose it helped to clear her head as she held me and apologized. It helped some. I didn't want to do it anymore, but no one else in the house would wake her.

I dearly loved my Grandmother. She would love to read you books or help you with homework. Her hugs were heartfelt and unconditional love radiated from her smile. My love for her and the terror of seeing her suffering with these dreams unsettled me to the point of near paralysis.

I feared her like this. I dreaded her like this. I hated her like this.

This time was the worst I had ever seen her. Both arms were hitting the wall as if to ward something off and her screams were like shrieks, as if she were fighting for her life. I froze in my tracks. I don't think I've ever been so scared in my life. One mighty swing of her fist put a hole in the wall and released the spell on me. I jumped on the bed and put my arms around her, pleading with her to wake up.

It took her a few seconds to come out of it, but she finally stopped thrashing and screaming. When she realized who was holding her down, she held me tight and just kept repeating my name, "Chonny, Chonny, Chonny."

When I returned to my room and the sofa, my brother instructed me not to wait so long next time and turn off the light I had on. Well after that, there was no way that light was going out.

Some time went by and she started again. I started to cry. I felt so bad for her having those dreams, but I was frozen in fear from the previous hour. Slowly I rose to a sitting position on the couch and saw someone standing at the top of the stairway.

I rubbed my eyes and looked again as Nana thumped and moaned away in the closed room. I opened my mouth to say something and the man put a finger to his mouth to keep me quiet. I started to get up to run to him, but he put his hand up to stop me and motioned me back down. In his other hand, he was carrying a gray sack. He held it up in my direction and shook it. Then he opened Nana's door and entered.

The moans and thumping stopped.

Out came the man holding the sack away from himself and it was obvious that something was kicking and thrashing about inside of it. He looked at me and smiled.

"Grandpop!" I said, jumping up to go to him.

Again he put up his hand to stop me and pointed to the bag, letting me know I didn't want to get near it. I didn't care. I closed my eyes and ran to him, but found myself running into the closed bedroom door instead. When I turned to look, he was nowhere to be seen.

Maybe I dreamed it, maybe not. All I know is Nana's dreams stopped.

Santa came and Christmas went off without a hitch, except there was 36 inches of snow outside.

There were no more nightmares after that night.

Twelve years later, Nana's health began to fade and I would visit her at a nursing home on my way home from work a few times a week. One evening while helping her eat her dinner, I got up the courage to ask her what the dreams were about. At first she was lost, not remembering what I was talking about until I reminded her that I was the one that used to wake her.

"Monkeys," she said. "Monkeys on my back. They would claw and bite me and I couldn't get them off of me."

"Monkeys? Why monkeys?"

"When I was little, my parents took me to circuses all the time and there was always an organ grinder there with a monkey that danced and did tricks. I loved them and always petted them. I looked forward to seeing them. One time, after the little thing finished, it went around with a cup to collect coins for its master. It bit me as I tried to drop in a coin. The bite became infected and nearly killed me. After that I became deathly afraid of monkeys," she said, waiting for her next scoop of ice cream.

"Why were you still having these dreams so long after it happened to you?" I asked.

"They weren't just monkeys in my dreams; they were demons. Demon monkeys. I had many black thoughts after your Grandfather died, and this was my penance. I had to endure the monkeys," she replied.

"What black thoughts?" I asked.

She lowered her head and explained. "When Grandpop died, I became a different person. You wouldn't have liked that person, Chonny. I hated people. I wished them ill will. Eventually I changed back to my old self, but I had to pay the price for my hate."

I had to ask the question. "The dreams stopped very abruptly. Why?"

"Christmas Eve, '62. Harry came and took the demons away."

Her mouth was open waiting for the ice cream and my mouth was open in astonishment. The ice cream hung in mid air.

"W...Who?" I stammered.

"Harry, your Grandfather. Maybe you didn't know his name..."

"I remember his name. You just caught me off guard," I stammered.

"He was sent to take the demons away," she said, and then opened her mouth for the last scoop.

So it did happen. At least between Nana and I it did. She passed away later that spring.

* * *

It's strange how the mind works; remembering... or forgetting events in life.

You see, in the last few months, I've been having disturbing dreams.

I've woken my daughter on the second floor several times with my screams and she's come down to shake me awake. I feel bad for her since there isn't anyone else in the house to do it. Last night I scared her bad when I lashed out at her. She asks what the nightmares are about, but I won't tell her. I don't want to disturb her.

I'm disturbed enough for both of us.


Nana called them demons.

Grandpop took her demons away.

My demons look like Nana.

Who will take my demons away?

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