Sleeping Wide Awake


Colds don’t usually raze me, but about five or six years ago I caught one that was especially bad. BEST FRIEND sent me home from work with the instruction I stay there until I recovered – she probably didn’t want me spreading it more than anything.

I idled around my flat, watched a movie, did some writing, then went to bed. It was my own little holiday.

Because I didn’t have to get up for work the next day, I tried to sleep in. I had a big deposit of tiredness that I needed to bank, but even my sleep-ins are restless.

I roused briefly around late morning and, in my grogginess, saw an old lady standing at my bedside, looking down at me. There was a bitterness about her, a resentment that had cracked her face in anger and radiated malevolence. She wore a shawl and a tattered brown cardigan, but these felt like crude attempts to humanise her.

Startled, I hollered incomprehensibly and, in that instant, she disappeared.

And I fully awoke.

Nothing. No old lady. Nothing but my empty bedroom.

Was it a dream or did I really see something?

I can take it two ways.

Firstly, I wasn’t fully awake, so my subconscious was still projecting dream imagery. It’s like a hypnapompic hallucination – being awake enough to think I was awake, but still asleep enough that dream imagery barges in and, given my state of consciousness, feels like it’s real.

The other possibility is simpler: I did see something.

I don’t blindly believe in supernatural stories. When people tell me about their own experiences, the analytical part of my mind will examine their accounts and determine if there’s a rational explanation, or if there’s something truly inexplicable going on.

Most times it’s the former.

Most times.

But not every time.

Because, surely, not every story can be rationally explained away.

And I often wonder about what exists just outside the periphery of our understanding. Kids have imaginary friends, believe in the impossible, and talk about being scared of monsters. We accept they’re just kids who don’t know any better and systematically teach them that the fantastic isn’t real. We tell them the way the world looks, how it operates, and what is and isn’t possible.

What if the truth is they occasionally tap into some other spectrum because that awareness, that capacity, hasn’t been ground out of them yet?

What if when I’m in my half-sleeps, the logical part of my mind that defines my perception is no longer alert, and now I can see things that are always there, but which I’m – which we’re all – usually unaware of?

If sleep shuts out the world as we know it, maybe it opens yet another.