For as long as I can remember, I’ve been prone to hypnopompic and hypnagogic hallucinations, which happen as you’re emerging from sleep or entering into it, respectively. Last night I had a particularly intense bout of them.
Just after finally falling asleep at 1:30 a.m. I was startled awake by the sound of somebody knocking loudly on the front door of the apartment. I dragged myself to the door and looked through the peephole at an empty hallway. After opening the door I looked both ways and nobody was in sight. I went back to bed thinking I must’ve misheard some noises from an adjoining apartment. But as the rest of the night bore out, the knocking was just the first experience of hearing and seeing things that weren’t there.
About an hour after the knocking, I found myself half awake and staring at the lamp in the corner of the bedroom, whose metal base was making an audible scraping noise on the wooden floor as it dragged itself toward me. When I was fully awake, I went to the corner and confirmed that the lamp had not moved an inch, despite what I had just seemed to witness.
Then, at around 3:00 a.m. I woke again to see tendrils of grey mist dripping from the blades of the ceiling fan over the bed. There is no ceiling fan in the bedroom.
At 6:00 a.m., I was furious because the marching band on the street below had chosen such an early hour to practice. And in a public place no less! Drumming, and that slightly out of tune mix of horns and woodwinds that we all know from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade was clearly audible as I lay in bed. Moments later, I stood at the window peering down through the curtains at a silent and empty street.
The thing about these hallucinations is that they occur in that twilight territory between sleep and wakefulness where the mind is satisfied with dream logic. Even though I came to know it was a heavy night for hallucinations, I still believed in the ceiling fan, at least for a few moments. No past experience of hallucinations lessens the vividness and believability of the one you’re currently experiencing.
And I’ve experienced some vivid and strange ones in my life.
I was once awakened in bed in the early morning by the weight of a man leaning his solar plexus into mine. I assumed that my partner Andy had returned early from a nightshift at the hospital and was trying to wake me up in a playful way. But as the sleep cleared from my eyes I saw that the man’s skin tone was lighter than Andy’s, and that the man was naked except for a blindfold. I tried to push him away but my arms and legs would not move. The man then raised his arms and legs in the air and let out a shrill scream before vanishing. His teeth were white and pointed at the ends.
Those who know mythology and folklore will recognize the creature as an incubus, a male demon who attacks sleepers (mostly women) and sits on their chests. It’s also common for sleep paralysis and sleep-related hallucinations to occur together. Whatever the cause, I was happy that the intensity and fear had dissipated by the time I’d finished my tea later that morning.
The only time my hallucinations have ever been echoed by normal reality was once when I was staying at a hotel in Northern California. I awoke to the sight of a calico cat sitting on top of the bureau that held the television. The cat hopped down to the floor and padded over to the bed. I know it was a calico cat because I saw the pattern of its fur in the morning sunlight slanting in through the wooden Venetian blinds. I couldn’t move my arms and legs but I did feel the pressure of the cat’s paws depress the mattress as it walked towards me and then onto my chest. It sat for a moment before hopping down off the bed, walking back across the floor, and jumping up onto the bureau again where it slowly vanished into the shadows and the wood grain of the wainscoting.
Later that morning I sat in the hotel lounge with my breakfast. It was my first night in the hotel and I hadn’t been in the lounge before. At the top of a stack of children’s books left on the table by the hotel staff was one entitled, “The Calico Cat.”
Do with that what you will.
As a young child, I remember running from an ape chasing me down a hallway after a nap. I remember seeing a witch dangling from a coat hanger in my closet. I once awoke on a December night to see a luminous blue mist swirling on the front lawn of my house. Once in the bath I looked up to see a pair of tear drop shaped red eyes glowing in the fogged glass window over the toilet.
The only thing all my hypnopompic and hypnogogic visions have in common is that they have been unsettling. I have never seen an angel or a white light or felt a sense of well being. If I had to give them all a more traditional word, I’d call them hauntings. And I am certain I’ve not been haunted for the last time.