A Dream of Winter
Every time I fall asleep I have a recurring dream. It’s been the same for weeks now.
I stand by the side of my bed in the gloom, staring at the twisted covers strangling the pillows in the middle of the mattress. The air is stale and smells sweet with last night’s sweat still. It’s summer, but I forgot to open the windows again, one of many things my sleep deprived brain fails to remember.
My face is throbbing with the strain of keeping my eyelids up and strange shapes flit around the edges of my vision. I know I need sleep, but standing here looking at the bed makes me shake and I leave the room again. This is the fourth time tonight I’ve tried.
The mess in the living room is ignored as I pace back and forth. For over three weeks now my sleeping has been disrupted by this strange dream, tidying up or even taking care where I put or throw things has been a minor concern.
What is this dream all about and why do I keep having it?
It’s the same question that’s been eating away at me for the last two weeks since I realised it was repeating and I’m still no closer to finding an answer. Every night it’s always the same, limiting my sleep to a few hours every time I close my eyes.
The stupid thing is that the dream itself isn’t even scary, but I somehow feel connected to it in a way I’ve never felt connected to any dream I’ve ever had before. There is a reason I’m being shown this dream over and over, I’m sure of it. Isn’t that what people say about recurring dreams? I just wish that it would teach me the lesson it has planned rather than wake me up as I’m about to learn something important.
A beeping sound interrupts my thoughts and I find myself staring into the fridge. I don’t even remember walking into the kitchen, let alone opening the fridge door. The light inside illuminates sparse shelves, the only inhabitants more mould than actual food and I wonder why I opened it. An old habit embedded deeper than my troubles I surmise, and close the door again. As I let go I sway on my feet and have to reach out to steady my balance.
Enough is enough.
With a new resolve I stomp through the house back to the bedroom. A few hours sleep is better than nothing. I have no expectations of the dream changing or not being there when I close my eyes, but I refuse to waste the night away worrying about what may or may not happen.
I slam the door shut behind me and climb into bed. The musky smell of the bedding fills my nostrils again as I curl up in the middle, not covering myself but choosing to hug the pillows instead as if they’ll protect me. Exhaustion takes over and my breathing slows. I feel myself falling down into the black pit towards the dream. Fear screams from somewhere at the back of my mind but it has no control any more.
I’m standing in a wintry landscape. Fir trees spread out to either side in front of me, branches weighed down with snow. The smooth crest of a large hill rises up behind the trees, also covered with an untouched layer of white. I can’t see the sun, but the sky is a bright blue with a few light clouds hanging like snow was stuck in the air on the way down and was forced to drift around.
I stand still, aware that I have a body but unable to move it, knowing that it’s cold here but not feeling it. The awareness that I have here is strange, but my paralysis makes me feel disconnected and terrifies me. It’s all so real that I find it hard to believe it’s a dream, but the strangest thing of all is that I’m here and I know it’s a dream. Feeling like a prisoner in my own body, I’m forced to stand there and stare at the trees, the clouds moving the only sign that this isn’t a static image.
As my patience fades, lasting less every time I come here, a tingle of panic creeps up my spine. I start to think that I could end up stuck here in this dream, looking at this same scene before me for eternity. Then I start to think about what might be behind me.
It could be more trees, a clearing, a stream, mountains or a hole. There’s no guarantee that what’s behind me is even linked to what I see already. It’s a dream and has every chance to be disconnected. The vastness of space could be yawning open behind me, waiting to suck me into its vacuum.
My neck tingles at the possibility of something horrible happening to me while I’m not able to move. The more I try not to think of the bad things that could happen, the more they come. A train crashing off the tracks and crushing me beneath its weight. Wild animals stalking with bunched muscles, waiting to pounce before ripping me apart.
I can’t control my body but I feel it shaking. Would I feel pain if I were to be stabbed from behind? Could I cry out if the ground opened up to swallow me?
Still trying to stop the thoughts, they keep coming, filling my mind until my paralysed body is trembling even more. My eyes are wide and I’m trying to scream with a voice that I don’t have. I must know what’s behind me, I have to see. I have to move.
Then I start to turn.
It’s gradual at first and the panic falls away as soon as I realise it’s happening. When the distress has all but left me, I start to turn faster.
The line of firs carry on around me but thins out and I get the feeling that I’m finally about to see what’s behind. I concentrate on the edge of my vision, trying to get a glimpse, but as the trees stop, my vision goes blurry then flashes brilliant white.
I’m led in bed panting, my body covered in sweat. My muscles ache like I’ve just finished a hard session at the gym.
This isn’t right.
Instead of feeling rested I feel worse, and I didn’t think that was possible. I roll over and steady my feet on the floor, rubbing my eyes to bring the clock on the wall into focus.
This isn’t right.
I’ve only been asleep an hour.
When I first had the dream over three weeks ago, I had the impression it would come to me after I’d already been sleeping for hours. I would wake up remembering a picture of the same snow covered trees. It would appear in black and white, fuzzy, as if viewed through static. As the nights went by the dream would get clearer until one night I entered the picture, I could feel my body, my consciousness, there. I awoke not long after each time and was more curious than scared.
After several nights visiting that other world, I had an overwhelming feeling that something was behind me. I couldn’t be returning to a dream that was just showing me a wall of trees every night, I knew that wasn’t why I was here. There had to be something behind me, something important. It didn’t take long for the thoughts to stir up worrying images, then I’d turn and wake.
At first I would be asleep for five hours before I woke up. I felt drained, but I could function. Then the dream appeared and brought me back after four hours, changing to three hours in a few nights. I would have to visit the snow covered world twice every night to try and feel like I’d had any rest. That’s where it levelled out and became stable. It has been three hours for the last eleven nights, though now I’m struggling to visit it more than once. The fear I feel there is real, the way I’m frozen in place expecting the worst stays with me when I wake. Knowing the dream is there waiting for me and expecting the paranoia has been making me scared to sleep. I’m not sure if the anticipation is worse than how I feel there, but the lack of sleep is taking it’s toll on me.
I’ve only been asleep one hour this time. Something’s changed. The dream is either coming to me sooner or holding me for less time before waking me up.
I walk to the bathroom on legs that could have been someone else’s. Splashing water onto my face does nothing but make me feel uncomfortable. Keeping my eyes down to avoid the mirror I leave the bathroom again. For a moment I consider going downstairs to try and puzzle out this new progression, but decide that it won’t get me anywhere. I need sleep, and somewhere inside there’s a sliver of hope that says this was a mistake and I’ll get my three hours next time.
Before I can talk myself out of it, I lie on the bed again.
My mind is too active to wrap me in the soft arms of sleep, questions keep racing through my mind. Why do I dream of nothing else? Is it a message and what does it mean? Why can’t I have restful sleep? They repeat backwards and forwards, dancing in words across the inside of my eyelids before dissolving and sending me down towards the inevitable.
I’m standing in a winter land, snow and trees in front of me. What’s behind that I can’t see? I panic. I turn. I wake.
I look at the clock again; no more than hour could have passed. Swearing seems like the right thing to do and I thump my fists hard against the mattress.
The energy has flowed from me already and I feel as paralysed as I do in the dream. I don’t even try to get up from the bed. Untangling the pillows and straightening the covers, I get myself as comfortable as I can.
I’ve had enough, I can’t win either way. If I try to sleep I get the dream, if I don’t sleep I think about it anyway. It’s time to go there on my terms, and this time I’ll stand there and stare at the trees for as long as I can without worrying. The longer I stare, with any luck, the longer I sleep.
Closing my eyes I repeat to myself the same lines over and over. I must sleep now. I will not panic. I must sleep now. I will not panic. I must slee
No black, no feeling of falling. I’m in the dream and something feels different. I have the same conscious thought as before, the same awareness of my own body and the same paralysis. Somehow, it feels more real.
I can’t move, but I keep my breathing even.
I can’t see behind me and start counting the trees I can see instead.
Something might be coming. The image of an avalanche crashing down a mountain comes to mind, ripping out trees without a care and I’m stood in line to be next. Fixed to the spot, unable to see it coming.
For the first time I can think of, the branches in front of me sway, dropping clumps of snow to the ground below. A gentle breeze is blowing and though I can’t feel it, it sighs past my ears with a comforting hush.
Transfixed by the new reality the dream world has taken on, I forget my panic and a calm curiosity takes over. I want to know what’s behind me, and I try to turn and look.
I start to turn.
A take a sharp breath, filling my lungs with cold air.
My mind registers that something has changed, but I’m determined to not let it stop me. I carry on turning. The tree line is moving and any moment I expect to see the blurry line at the edge of vision, heralding my return to that other life.
With another light touch from the wind, the branches dance and shed more of their burden. This time I feel the breeze, a light kiss across my skin.
I let out the breath I had taken earlier, unaware that I had been holding it or that I could even do so. The trees have stopped and something appears before me, shining with frosted brilliance. The more I turn, the larger it becomes until it fills my vision from side to side. I can feel myself smile, my heart jumping in my chest, my breath quickening.
Now I know what was behind me.
I stood on the same spot I’d been standing on for three weeks but facing the other way at last, staring out over a frozen lake.