The history of man is rife and speckled with the mysteries and inexplicable phenomena of the uncharted mind. Even after thousands of years of existence, the workings of the innermost faculties remain obscured, layered far beneath the boundaries of conscious thought, and beyond the reach of scientific reason.Countless are the intrigues, limitless are the implications, but one occurrence retains above all that quality of incomprehension that has foiled man’s quest for omniscience for so long.
I speak of course of somnambulism: the act of sleepwalking.
The power of the mind to pilot a physical body, absent of consciousness and unbeknownst to the sleeper, to keep the mind absorbed in fantasy while the dreamer moves through space at a slow, hypnotic pace, surely is second only to the mind’s ability to conjure up such dreams in the first place. But is it truly a lack of awareness that the dreamer experiences during his midnight saunter, or is it simply a total absence of memory upon wakening?
If the sleepwalker is able to maneuver with perfect accuracy the things unseen– for it is typically in the blackness of night that the phenomenon occurs– and does so in full ignorance of his actions, then there is much to be said for the mental faculties that control basic motor function. But if the somnambulist is conscious, even at a reduced level, and the phantasmagoric quality of such phenomena is merely the result of a memory impaired, then the focus shifts from the capabilities of the mind to its motivations.
Why would the human brain suppress from itself the knowledge of its doings? What is the importance of these events, and what is the significance of their tendency to be forgotten? Above all, are these accidental excursions merely byproducts of overactive neurons, or do they possess elements of deliberation that– unbeknownst to us– must then be masked and concealed?
These thoughts of course did not occur to me by chance alone: it was only after that fateful night that I became obsessed by the idea of sleepwalking. For months now I have brooded over the significance, and as such have been unable to fall into a sleep deep enough to repeat the experience that precipitated my descent into monomania.
In fact, I have hardly slept at all.
The deprivation of sleep can have ill effects on the mind and body, and my health has surely deteriorated in the months since the night in question. But my physical well-being is of much less concern to me than the constant state of anxiety that possesses my thoughts and drives my impulses and my actions.
I was not always like this. I once had faith, understanding, control. But it has now been many moons since intimations of optimism whispered desirously into my ears and inspired me to do anything more than brood over the mysteries of the human brain. Instead my time is spent peering imprudently down dark hallways into the shadowed corners of my mind.
Listen! I will tell you the whole story.
I have never been troubled by my sleep, either in its occurrence or in the content of my dreams. Like all humans I have had my share of nightmares, but nothing out of the ordinary. As a child my imagination found its exercise in the twilight hours, and I often had nightvisions of ghosts, monsters, and vampyrric predators. As I aged the phantoms took much more plausible forms, and the devils of lore were replaced with visions of injuries and insufferable illnesses to those close to me. But these I accepted as normal, and my sleep never was never impaired.
Instead I found myself growing impressed with the vivacity of these dreams, and upon waking frequently reflected upon the extent to which I had believed myself to be in that other world, the one conjured from the depth of my imagination and populated with magic and oddity and peril. I can remember tracing the lucidity to certain events in my waking life: the onset of a fever, a prolonged lack of decent slumber, a sudden change in routine or geography. Each time I was able to satisfy myself with an explanation as to why the dream had been so vivid, but never was I able to rationalize the content. I had merely accepted this as part of the phenomenon, a mystery to always be pondered but never to be solved.
In other words, I never lost any sleep over it.
And then on a cold night in February my attitude toward these nocturnal hallucinations changed for good, and not for the better. It was just past two o’clock in the morning. I had risen to fetch a glass of water, for I was feeling the effects of the wine I had enjoyed with my dinner.
Quietly and carefully I maneuvered through the kitchen on tiptoe. As I peered into the cabinet, delicately retrieving a glass and closing the cupboard with grace, I found myself wondering why it was that I felt the urge to exercise such caution. The sound of a footstep was not enough to wake someone– at least, not a normal someone– especially in the midst of the deep sleep that was common at this hour. The water splashed into my glass and I cringed, then adjusted my thoughts once more: surely the faint trickling of the liquid was no disturbance at all. It was only the heavy silence that amplified the otherwise insignificant noise of the ordinary action and forced me to regard it, temporarily, as disruptive.
I turned from the pitcher and began to retreat to my room– noiselessly still, for the logic I had summoned had yet to fully convince me– when I heard a noise and turned abruptly.
Standing before me was my cousin, framed by the lamplight behind him, regaled in red pajamas and wearing the most absent expression I have ever seen on the face of a living human.
“Marcus?” I called to him. “What are you doing awake?”
It did not occur to me that his rationale might be as simple as my own, only that it was unusual for anyone to be awake at that hour, despite my presence at the scene, which I considered of no significance.
No response came and I found myself arriving at a theory.
“Marcus?” This time I half-sung, and when I called his name the third time I allowed the syllables the soft intonation of a lullaby.
Still he did not respond.
He stood rooted to the ground, barefoot and wobbling slightly as if he were standing laboriously in a strong wind. These details, together with the unchanging expression on his face, led to my deduction that he was an unassuming participant in that phenomenon that now dominates the workings of my mind– somnambulism. Without a word he turned and retreated toward the sitting room, leaving the pendulums of the solemn clock swinging above the lamp that formed the only two objects visible through the empty doorframe.
Hastily I pursued and when I turned the corner I found him sitting in a high-backed chair clear across the room. I had no idea how he had made such a pace, and without a sound, but did not dwell on these details for very long. I approached the chair without hesitation.
“Marcus,” I again tried. “Are you alright?”
I began to wave my hand in front of his face.
“Are you awake?”
No sound emanated from his still form.
“Marcus what are you doing up?” I demanded.
Then a sudden motion caused me to jump back in surprise: he had raised his hand out behind me. I pressed my heart back into my chest and gathered myself from the shock of the unforeseen gesture. I placed one hand on his outstretched arm and gently began to pressure it back towards his body, but it did not budge.
“Marcus,” I began. “You–“
“What are you doing up?”
The sound of his voice was as unexpected as his abrupt movement had been, as if I had believed it impossible for my own cousin to ever speak again. It took a moment to understand he was mocking me, and now embarrassed and slightly more irritated, I moved to lower his arm with a bit more force.
“Let’s get you back to bed.”
He again stopped me with some unknown strength from returning his arm to his side. Then I noticed that his hand had formed a point and the meaning of his gesture dawned on me. I turned on my heel to see what it was that had arrested his attention.
I have mentioned before that my dreams were often filled with creatures and villains and various types of maladies. In my mind I had seen fangs dripping with blood, seen horns that bent at impossible angles, and forked tails with points to cut glass; hoofed creatures with wicked teeth; savage yellow eyes that floated with no tangible bodies below; headless demons that still spoke in tongues; poison-tipped daggers that pierced flesh and severed the limbs of the innocent. These things and more I had witnessed in my nightmares, but never in my life had I seen anything that shook me like that which I then observed.
It was me.
There I stood in the doorframe, the same one I had just passed through. This vision of myself began to make its way across the room and directly toward me. When I reached myself I stopped and looked directly into my eyes. My reflection had the same look as Marcus had, and I felt as if I was looking right through me. I turned to look at Marcus but he was staring off into the space that I had just occupied before the door. Since his solitary exclamation he had not uttered another word, nor removed his gaze from the place where he first spotted me– or this second me– and when I turned to view myself again I was sure it was the same expression I now saw on my own reflected face.
I cannot describe for you the terror that I felt when I beheld myself standing in front of my own eyes. The experience was surreal and still is to recall, but in order to truly understand the horror you must understand one important idea. The expression which I saw myself wearing, that same one that I saw on the face of the somnambulist, Marcus, is one that is impossible to duplicate under any circumstance of consciousness. Many nights I have stood in front of the mirror and looked at myself, trying and failing to reproduce that look of absolute absence and vacuity, the unutterable void that I saw in me and in my dear cousin.
The only condition which recalls that expression is that of a waking state of unconsciousness– that of the somnambulist. By definition it cannot be witnessed by one’s own self, for to do so would require that state of consciousness that prevents the condition from forming whatsoever.
Believe me, I have tried!
And the efforts, all in vain, have been the cause of the anxiety and delirium that has possessed me daily since that very night.
To the outside observer the affect may be lost. Even when I retell the story it feels as if I am simply describing a dream. Many have inquired about the proof I have that any of it occurred at all, and I have disappointed them time and time again. My cousin Marcus recalls nothing, and thinks me as bizarre as the rest.
Indeed it is difficult to convey the agony that coursed through me when I turned to see myself staring back at me with those hollow and soulless eyes, for no sooner had the terror seized me than the entire scene vanished and I awoke, as if from a nightmare. While this detail might buoy the skeptic– for that experience is quite common– I have held the final particular in reserve, for it validates my belief and fuels the apprehension that is now as much a part of me as my own name.
When I awoke I did not find myself back in bed, or in my room at all.
I opened my eyes and found myself sitting alone in the high-backed chair, staring directly at the void before the empty doorframe.