Head Full of Dark, book #3 in my Office of the Witchfinder General, series opens with a chapter called Hagridden, in which the unfortunate Anders Kropotkin awakes to find a weight upon him, as if something is sitting on his chest…
Confused, lost in his nightmares, he imagined the weight as a demon squatting atop him and leering its evil grin, exuding darkness into his thoughts. A Night Hag, Jenny had called it when he’d admitted what he’d been suffering. A goblin sent to torment you. This had been just after he’d woken up in panic the first time, a couple of weeks before she’d left. She’d been amused at first, shown him some old painting on the internet, Fuseli’s The Nightmare. Yes! he’d said, Like that! That’s how it feels! When she’d seen that he wasn’t joking, her smile had faded.
It doesn’t go too well when Anders tries to shake off the weight:
With an effort, he worked his hand upon onto his chest – and found, not empty air, but the soft, squishy touch of something like … flesh. He withdrew his hand in shock at the contact. What the hell was that? There was no one else in the tenement, not since Jenny. He began to breathe more heavily but it was hard, so very hard, to inflate his lungs with that weight pressing down on him. The Night Hag was there, sitting on top of him. He wanted to cry out in horror but could not. Or, no, they weren’t real, were they? He was getting confused. He was still asleep, dreaming he was awake. Asleep, dreaming he was awake and deciding he was still asleep. Was that possible? He was spiralling into ever-deeper circles of confusion. Night Hags were real, but they were just metaphors. Representations of very real, perfectly natural physiological conditions, that was all.
Poor Anders. He’s right, of course: Night Hags are just one explanation our minds have come up with to explain sleep paralysis. Naturally, they don’t actually exist. Except, in the world of the Witchfinders, they very much do…
This is the painting mentioned, and it provides an excellent illustration of how the Night Hag feels to Anders:
Without giving too much away, it’s fair to say that things don’t go too well for Anders. As to why a Night Hag is attacking him … I’ll have to let you read the book.
Such entities are to be found in folklores all over the world, and their variety and the imagination that has gone into them is truly fascinating. I came across numerous descriptions of the creatures while looking for inspiration for this novel, and I decided that I simply had to make use of one.
Poor Anders, though. You have to feel sorry for him. Find out more about Head Full of Dark and the Night Hags here.