When I was four or five I woke one night in my big girl bed in my bedroom at the end of the hall in my funky old house in Venice, California. I looked to the end of my bed and there stood a tall man in a fedora wearing a trench coat. If that wasn’t frightening enough, he was composed of the darkest, densest shadow I have ever seen. He absorbed all light, including the pale street lighting filtering in from the large bedroom window behind him. I could see no features, just that intense darkness, but got the distinct feeling he was regarding me, hands in coat pockets, as if I were some lower form of life—an insect, a nothing. An overwhelming feeling of malevolence came off him, directed at me. I started screaming but he didn’t disappear, so I jumped from my big girl bed and ran screaming down the hall through the living room to be met by my mother at her bedroom door.

It took me a long time before I could tell her what I’d seen. I received the usual assurances that it was not real, just a nightmare, but I knew it wasn’t, insisted it wasn’t. Finally, my mother urged me back towards my bedroom, but I was so panicked I wouldn’t go until she reassured me that she’d sleep with me. When we returned to my bed the evil man was gone, of course. Eventually, I got back to sleep, sheltered in my mother’s arms.

My mother slept with me in my bed every night after until I was eight or nine. You may say to yourself, “That’s even weirder than the shadow, man,” and you’d be right. What I couldn’t know back then was that my mother had been looking for a rescue as surely as I had. All I knew at the time was that it was comforting to have her there protecting me from the monsters. I’m spilling the tea here, but everyone involved except me is dead so they’re beyond caring, and I spill it with intent. It explains much of the turmoil of my formative years.

Eventually, my father built a small one room bungalow in the backyard, moved in a bed, a TV, and other furniture, and began sleeping there. Once he did, my mother moved back into the bedroom they once shared. I slept with a nightlight for several more years after Mom left. My terror of darkness lasted well into my teens.

All during the time Mom and I shared the room my parents engaged in horrible fights. My father was an alcoholic, not physically abusive to either my mother or myself, but verbally nasty—an accuser of terrible crimes with no proof except his own paranoia and deeply wounded spirit. Dad was near retirement age when I was born, and Mom was much younger. I was thrown in the middle. Mom would lay next to me at night, making fun of him behind his back, turning me from a Daddy’s Girl to an I Hate Dad Girl. (This was terribly wrong of her but child me knew no better and went along.) As my attitude towards him changed, Dad turned his verbal vitriol on me. Things really ramped up when I hit puberty. I didn’t have any more malignant presences in my bedroom because I was living with one. I was in survival mode and nothing paranormal could ever compete. Dad had never provided a stable income, so Mom finally got a job with the phone company. Dad’s aggrieved male pride added fuel to the fire. He never worked another day in his life, drawing social security and not sharing any with us. My mother was for all intents a single working mom.

I’ve often wondered if that malignance in my bedroom was some kind of harbinger. Kids aren’t stupid and I was probably picking up on the strains in my parents’ marriage on a subconscious level even though before that night they’d made some attempt to shield me. But it was an old house with thin walls and small, very small.

An interesting thing to note is that although as far as I know my father never wore a trench coat, he did wear fedoras until the day he died. I’m not a big fan of the theory of retrocausality but I allow as it could be a factor. (I understand Eric Wargo makes a good case for it.)

I also learned something about five or six years ago that creeped me out as much or more than that initial sighting of Mr. Fedora. Shadow men are a commonly reported phenomenon. I knew that much, but what I didn’t know until recently is that shadow men wearing trench coats and fedoras are also a commonly reported thing. It’s also reported that he often appears to people in turmoil. (There are also shadow women, but males seem to predominate.)

So what did I see? I have (gratefully) spent most of my life free of nightmares. There was a notable period in my thirties when that was not the case but that’s a weird story for another time. I am personally familiar with sleep paralysis syndrome but I don’t think this was that. Firstly, I sat up in bed at the sight of him and had no sense of being frozen as often happens with sleep paralysis, and the whole time I was screaming he remained where he was. I don’t know what happened to him when I got out of bed because I turned my back and ran. Whatever, whoever I saw seemed very solid and very real.

Projection from the future to the past? An embodiment of the tension in the household created by my subconscious? A malignant leak through from some other dimension? I can’t possibly say.

Oh, and yes, time can heal some things. Time—and later therapy—helped me deal with the trauma of those times. I was able with a lot of work to forgive and accept and even reclaim some of the love I had for my father, so I guess that’s something of an ambivalent happy ending. He was dead by the time that happened. It’s much easier to forgive a dead person than a living one. And I don’t think everything can be forgiven by everyone—or should be. I won’t suggest for a minute that people are required to forgive but for me I just grew weary of carrying all that forward through time. I had to let it go to save myself, a different kind of survival mode. I’ve felt much lighter since I let it go. The shadows have eased up considerably.