Have you ever wondered at the mystery of sleep? That dark unknown of time when our conscious reality slips away and only slippery fragments of strange and obscure memories we call dreams occasionally cling to the outer reaches of our minds in a broken, hazy recording of this lost period of our lives?
In our waking moments, we moan and begrudge those elements that try to control our fleeting time awake; the daily jobs that fill our hours with rarely any visible impact on the world around us, the relationships we must adapt to and work on to maintain, the laws and queues and pathways and schedules and a million other things that curtail and bind us daily.
And yet, how easily we abandon this control we value so highly and moan about so often; every day, when we close our eyes.
In that respect, I guess we see it as an escape – a fleeting release from the daily realities of a life both thrust upon us and equally one we have enlisted into. Sleep. A state of nothingness that offers nothing except a cessation of the need to care.
Think about how we describe it: we ‘fall’ asleep, we ‘drift’ into unconsciousness, tiredness ‘overwhelms’ us. The act of sleep, to us, is an abandoning of control, of loosening our hands on the reins of our lives and giving ourselves over completely to a temporary oblivion. Like millions of others, I used to like that feeling, that drowsiness at the end of the day, sinking into the warm seclusion of blanket and pillow, unconsciously releasing the mental tethers to my body. Turning off at the end of the day.
Until the day I didn’t sleep, or rather remembered that I do not sleep. That none of us, ever, truly, sleep.
I laid in bed. I adjusted my pillows. I moved the covers. I checked the messages on my phone and surfed the web for a while. Nothing. No drowsiness, no drooping of the eyelids, no slowdown of my thoughts, nothing I anticipated happening as it had thousands upon thousands of times before. Then a niggling sensation touched me; an errant thought from the basest, darkest part of my mind suddenly sparked into existence. It spread and grew, spilling out memories my conscious mind could not access during my waking hours, but which now, when I laid myself down to sleep, came tumbling back up like bile from the pit of my stomach to fill my mind with sick realisation. And with memory came understanding.
I was awake. I had ALWAYS been awake, just like everyone else in the world had ALWAYS BEEN AWAKE! Sleep was an illusion, a pre-programmed period of darkness in our memories, activated between a single blink of our eyes when we sought our beds to retreat into soothing unconsciousness. Every imagined period of sleep was this, a frozen sliver of personal time. I rose and looked back, leaving my body behind as my consciousness cut loose. I observed my body, wrapped in its covers, the shallow breathing, the closed eyelids. Empty, like a vehicle left with the engine idling waiting for its driver to return.
I turned and saw without eyes today’s handler arrive within the room. Mentally I gave it form, for in truth it had none. My mind conjured one to match the sullen hatred I felt for it, a dark storm cloud of smoke turning inward and devouring itself over and over without end, for that’s how I interpreted its actions. A formless beast that constantly drew things in, but gave nothing back.
I watched in frozen loathing as dark, thorny tendrils emerged from it’s roiling mass and moved toward my detached consciousness. Whilst pain is the remit of the body, it is the mind that interprets the signals, and my handler, as with all the handlers I had experienced before, were nothing if not experts in these sensations. I felt the searing touch of its joining, its own mental threads writhing through my mind, sending me off into wild tangents of thought and memory as it settled comfortably into my consciousness. The house guest of my mind sought sensation, and whilst it gave nothing of its own thoughts, its motives were always clear enough. The need to feel.
Bodiless, they had sought out beings such as we and, during those times when we believed we slept, soundly and untroubled in our beds, they settled upon our minds like a thick, oily slick, sliding into all the nooks and crannies of our being. Maybe they had never felt before, or had done so in some far and distant past and had grown beyond the limits of flesh, but now wanted to sample the sensation of feeling once more. And they had found us.
They didn’t want to risk us rejecting them, fighting them, as we would have in response to open subjugation, so they came at night, hidden outside our sight, our space, our time even, except for that moment when our bodies were required to rest yet our minds continue, and they had hijacked us en-masse. They have hidden that part of our lives from us, and in our enforced ignorance we have given that unknowing time of slavery a seemingly harmless name: sleep.
Only during that blink of time, when our consciousness frees itself from our bodies, do we remember. And with remembrance comes pain. It all comes flooding back, and they intend this too, for in these memories are all the things they have made us live through. This recollection alone brings a sharp, twisting agony to us that thrills them more than any other.
Apart and within our minds they create, picking apart our pasts and sorting through our memories. The experiences of our lives are laid out before them, which they shatter like eager children, constructing nightmarish worlds of jumbled thought and sensation. Most are fragmentary experiences, but some are shards; jagged edged thoughts and feelings tied to darker memories, and it is these our handlers seek to build our night-time worlds from. Then they loose us on these imaginary planes, living out new stories from our memories, teasing out new feelings for them to experience. Sometimes we live whole lives, but mostly it is the short, sharp thrills they seek, whose fleeting glimpse we catch only as flickers of forgotten terror in dreams of falling from great heights, or being hunted by the monsters of our subconscious. And, sometimes, we are killers ourselves, and we awake shivering, wondering what this says about us, when in truth it says more about them. They use us to fulfil these dark fantasies, but the confusion and the guilt becomes our own.
And, when they are finally done and have had their fill, they release their control, but not before burying these memories deep inside us. Some of these memories escape and seep out into our conscious minds. We call them ‘dreams’, and pay them little credence.
Would society survive if we all knew what happens when we close our eyes to seek the illusory escape of sleep? How could we continue to perform even the smallest action, maintain the semblance of order we have built for ourselves, if our waking moments were in a state of continual dread, awaiting that inevitable time when our frail minds and bodies give in to the demands of tiredness and become lost to us once more, to those…things...that use our lives and experiences to provide entertainment for their own?
For myself, here I stand, with the wind whipping around my legs, tugging at me, threatening to pull me over this roof edge as I gaze down the floors beneath to the grey monotony of the pavement below. I’m tired, so very tired, and soon I will rest. But it’s not enough, nowhere near enough. When I can hold on no longer and that final blink before sleep takes me, then I shall fall. There is no opportunity to test this theory, just a wild, final hope that my release will also serve as a warning to them. A message that, although they own us during that forever frozen moment of our nights, some of us remember, and this one will do more than just remember.
This nightmarish recall of all they have done to me in the past, these harsh memories they have hidden within me as they do to all of us, this…has given me power. The struggle to hold on to these ‘dreams’ has given me strength, trained me to hold on to all those thoughts they try to bury within us. I will use this last remaining strength when I fall, when today’s handler comes to call, and I will entwine my thoughts in theirs and hold them fast. And I will take it with me.
But before I do, I will mail this from my phone. Not many will believe it, most will think me mad, but enough may wonder and question. Most will throw away a few seconds thinking about it, then move on to another ‘story’, but some will ask themselves those questions that I myself asked, indeed that one question in particular that will plague you as you settle down to sleep tonight, but thankfully will plague me no longer:
Do you remember the precise moment you fall asleep?