by Jake Kale
“Are you getting up?”
“Is he still in bed?”
“You can never get him up in the morning. He stays awake till God knows when.”
“Oi! Come on, wake up!”
“Yeah, alright, alright…”
I must admit, I’m definitely not a morning person. In fact I hate waking up in the morning, or waking up in general. The term “waking up” is not particularly accurate either—I hover in the netherworld between sleep and reality, tendrils of my subconscious clinging on stubbornly and threatening to pull me back into the dreamscape. It’s only through a combination of begrudged responsibility and the “gentle” persuasion of my mother that I’m able to pull myself free of most of them. But even then the stronger threads hold on, feeding on me throughout the day and gradually sucking the energy out of me. I fight them as hard as I can, staying awake for hours. But eventually they claim me, luring me back into oblivion so they can sustain themselves on my dreams once more. In all honesty I don’t think I’ve felt truly awake in years.
Their grip was particularly strong that morning, but rather than wait for Mum to yell again I dragged myself out of my bed covers and sat on the edge of the bed, summoning up what little strength I had ready for the daunting task of standing. From the sound of it my brother Lee was there. Again. I was sure he’d move back in if he could. He would have been sleeping on the sofa if he did—there was no way I was going to let him stay in my room. That dark, cramped little hole was my study, my sanctuary. It was dark, as well. The curtains were closed. That struck me as strange as I couldn’t remember closing them, but I was still too groggy to respond with anything other than muted surprise. Thanks to the few determined rays of light that managed to sneak around the curtain’s edges I was able to make out enough of the room to navigate to the single small window (in the top corner of the room, of all places) and open the curtains. I squinted in anticipation of the explosion of light into my dark-adjusted retina.
Instead I was greeted with total blackness.
I’m still not entirely sure what happened in that moment, how quickly it happened or in what order. One second I saw, or rather experienced an impression of standing at the window looking out into the dark, and the next everything was dark. I remember stumbling back in a daze, standing on my own left foot as a result but managing somehow to keep my balance and avoid tripping over. Instinct directed my trembling hands to my eyes as if they could somehow pull the veil of black away, and I realized that my eyes were closed, but I couldn’t open them. For some reason that was beyond my capability to understand the muscles wouldn’t respond. Panic caused reaction to override reason, and I tried to force my eyes open with my fingers. Finally my eyelids cracked and parted less than halfway, but even then I could make out little more than a featureless blur bordered by mottled black spots.
I rubbed my eyes vigorously, and gradually the blur cleared. I found myself staring down at my own bare feet, the edge of my bed beside me. Or a bed at least. My bed was a sturdy wooden platform base, while this had a metallic frame, giving it the unmistakable appearance of a hospital bed. Beneath it was a smooth, unbroken white surface. I decided to walk forward to where my small bedside cabinet ought to be. Only it wasn’t there, so I kept going. But even after walking some distance the image below remained constant—the edge of the bed and a white floor beneath it, long after I should have left the bed behind me. As I continued walking I saw a thick black line running across the ground in front of me. I noticed this and at the same time I didn’t really notice it, just as I both noticed and did not notice when I passed a second line, then a third, then a fourth. All the time the edge of the bed remained in view beside me. Finally the thinking process kicked in, and it occurred to me to look up.
Ahead of me I saw an incredibly long corridor, extending into infinity. It was much wider than it was tall, the ceiling perhaps four feet or so above me (I’m 6’2”) and the walls maybe ten feet away on either side. The walls, ceiling and floor were pure white, with black lines appearing at regular intervals of twenty feet (these estimates are extremely rough and only meant to give an idea of size and shape of the corridor—assigning true numerical values to it seems pointless). Despite the pale colour of my surroundings shadows seemed to permeate everything, swallowing up the corridor in the distance. To my right I saw the bed again. A regular, normal-sized hospital bed. That shook me, and I wondered if I’d even moved at all. Looking behind (did I look behind?) the view was identical—a white corridor disappearing into the gloom. I stared numbly, confusion and fear immobilizing a mind that had not been fully functional to begin with. I wasn’t in my bedroom anymore.
So where was I?
This had all happened too fast for me to keep track of, let alone comprehend or attempt to rationalize. I think the thing that unnerved me the most the strange world I suddenly found myself in, aside from the fact that I was completely alone, was the total lack of sound. The corridor was utterly still, and silent. I don’t know if I even heard the sound of my own footsteps. In fact I felt almost a complete absence of sensory input. No sounds, no smells, and my sight still wasn’t up to much, either. There was one other sensation I was aware of, though. I felt cold. While not freezing, the air (or I should say the space between myself and the walls) was certainly chilly, which in a strange way imbued the corridor with a kind of reality. I felt the cold on my skin, the numbness in my fingers and the icy pin-pricks of pain in my ear lobes. And once I accepted that I was really here I found that I could think more clearly. So my ultimate response was a wholly pragmatic one—to look for a way out.
I started walking.
I don’t know how long I walked for. Time didn’t really seem to exist in the corridor. Minutes and even hours seemed to distort and then condense, becoming a featureless haze. There was no way for me to accurately judge how much time had passed, so time, like sound and smell and my prior perception of reality, became meaningless. Black line after black line slipped past me and receded into the shadows.
I kept walking.
My apprehension became more acute with each step, and I steadily became aware of a sense of… I would say malevolence, but that’s not really accurate. “Malevolence” would imply emotion, which would in turn imply something human-like, relatable, and the feeling I got from the corridor was so unrelatable and alien that it’s difficult to describe. I think “observation” is perhaps the closest I can get. Like I was being watched, not by some invisible presence but by the corridor itself. And as I thought about it I realized that feeling had been there from the beginning, right from when I first woke up, but it had been too vague, and I had been to drowsy to fully appreciate it. Now I did, and I didn’t like it. Not one bit.
More impossible to judge time passed, yet the corridor went on and on, unchanged. My anxiety grew, and I began to wonder if I should’ve gone the other way. So I looked back, and I saw the view behind me had changed, but not for the better. The white walls of the corridor had been tinged with a deep crimson shade where it emerged into the light. I felt a chill that was nothing to do with the temperature of my surroundings, and I actually remember thinking, I’m glad I didn’t go that way, but when I looked round again I saw the corridor in front of me was exactly the same. Maybe a little deeper. And the redness was spreading, bleeding into the walls like ink in water and oozing towards me.
I panicked again, absolute terror seizing me in a frigid vice grip, and I did the only thing I could think to do—I started running back to the bed. A more childish reaction I couldn’t imagine, and I honestly don’t know what I thought I was going to do when I got there, but I wasn’t thinking clearly anymore. I wasn’t thinking at all. It was pure instinct—the bed represented sanctuary, safety. That was all I knew.
But before I even made it back to my sanctuary I saw that the corridor had changed again, the red brightening and becoming an intense orange. I finally smelled something, a pervasive, acrid scent, and I felt the corridor becoming warmer. And I realized with growing horror that I was seeing fire, waves of white-hot flame surging up the corridor towards me, and I turned to run, knowing there was no way I could possibly outrun the flames, knowing there was no escape, but still I ran, every muscle in my body burning with exertion even as I seemed to go nowhere, and I suddenly knew the heat was coming from outside my body, the flames swallowing me up, searing, excruciating pain overloading every nerve as my hair, clothes and skin were incinerated, scorching air invading my lungs and immolating me from within and without, and for a second time my world turned black and I was aware of nothing but the tremendous pressure building in my skull until finally I felt the bone crack—
“Are you getting up?”
What the hell…?
Awareness, totally unexpected, came flooding back. Was I still alive?
“Is he still in bed?”
Voices, faint but just penetrating my fatigued mind. I wondered if what I was experiencing was my life flashing before me, though I’d like to think I’ve had more interesting experiences in my short time on Earth than a single overheard conversation.
“You can never get him up in the morning. He stays awake till God knows when,” I heard my mother say.
“Lazy sod…” my brother replied.
Realization came to me at last. Jesus, it had been a dream!
“Oi! Come on, wake up!” Mum was pounding on the door now.
“Yeah, alright, alright…” I said groggily. I must admit, I’m definitely not a morning person. In fact I hate waking up in the morning. That day was different, though, and the relief I felt on realizing that everything I’d just experienced had been nothing more than an exceptionally vivid fantasy was euphoric. It was a dream! Christ on his throne, it was only a dream! I slowly struggled out of my bed covers and sat on the edge of the bed, summoning up what little strength I had ready for the daunting task of standing. My tiny bedroom was still dark due to the curtains being closed, but thanks to the few determined rays of light that managed to sneak around the edges I was able to make out enough of the room to navigate. Acting on autopilot I rose from my one and only sanctuary, mindful not to open the curtains, and as I began my uncoordinated shuffle to the wardrobe I happened to glance at the desk just beyond the end of the bed. I noticed that my small portable TV and video that no longer played were both missing. That struck me as strange, but I was still too groggy to respond with anything other than muted surprise. In their place I saw a small notepad—much like the one I’m writing in now. Curiosity lent my consciousness a helping hand, and I leaned over to examine it, noticing a few scribbled lines that were just visible in the dull ambience. Squinting, I was able to make out a short note, written in my own handwriting:
Are you getting up?
Is he still in bed?
You can never get him up in the morning. He stays awake till God knows when.
Oi! Come on, wake up!
I stared at the notepad numbly as common sense once again vacated the premises. This was the exact conversation I’d heard twice today, word for word, faithfully reproduced in my own handwriting. How could that be? Had I actually heard my Mum and my older brother talking about me in the hallway, or had that all been a dream, too? It didn’t make sense. Surely I couldn’t have dreamt the entire conversation? And even if I did, how did I manage transcribe it in my sleep? There was simply no possible way that would make sense. Besides that, I was coming to the unnerving conclusion that neither Mum nor Lee were there to begin with. Normally by this time Mum would have been back to bang on the door again (patience not being one of her strong points) but there was no sign of her, and I should’ve been able to hear the TV in the living room in any case, but I heard nothing. The whole flat was unnaturally quiet, and empty. Unsafe. Dangerous. Invaded. In the space of a few minutes my sanctuary had become as alien and oppressive as…
As the corridor.
Except that this wasn’t my sanctuary. Realization struck me once again, but left me no less confused. This wasn’t my bedroom. At least not anymore. It hadn’t been for over a year now.
This was a dream.
I was still in bed.
I hadn’t even opened my eyes yet.
When I did I saw bright sunlight pouring through the blinds into my open, spacious bedroom in my new modern flat, where I now lived alone. Consciousness, or semi-consciousness, once again took an age to take hold, and I lay unmoving for about ten minutes, trying to sort through everything that had happened. I glanced at the clock on my bedside table—it was just after 8:30, and it was a perfect summer morning. I was definitely awake now, I knew that much. This was reality. But I didn’t really trust reality anymore. At that moment I doubted that I ever would.
Eventually I pulled myself free of the bed covers and accomplished the daunting task of standing, very much acting on autopilot. I showered, brushed my teeth, dressed and made breakfast, all in a daze. I went in to work, doing everything I could think of to keep my mind occupied. I failed miserably. And when I got back home I sat in front of the TV until 4 o’clock in the morning, trying hard to keep myself awake, rather than face the possibility of again finding myself in that horrible, black, endless corridor.
That was two weeks ago now, and my phobia of sleep is worse than ever. I tired to death all the time, I’m on sick leave because I’m too exhausted to work, but I just can’t bring myself to face sleep. It’s a running battle, and one I know I can’t win. You might be wondering why I’m still living in fear, so long after what was little more than a nightmare—a hyper-real nightmare perhaps, but a nightmare nonetheless. The truth is there’s more to it than a simple bad dream, and there’s more to my fatigue than simple lack of sleep. I wouldn’t have even noticed if I hadn’t started getting short of breath, but it turns out I have a condition called cardiomyopathy, which means my heart is enlarged. My doctor seems to think it was caused by an infection, and tells me it can become quite serious if not treated, the treatment in this case being open-heart surgery to remove part of the enlarged heart muscle. I know that the most likely explanation for my dream is that it was a subconscious response to my apprehension about the surgery. Logically, I know that. I’m a born sceptic, and not given to believing in predictions. But still I find myself wondering. It just seemed so real.
I’m due to go in for the operation in a couple of day’s time. I’m scared to death but I can’t cancel it, not over a dream. I’ll never breathe a word about it to anyone as long as I live, and I’ve resisting writing about it until now because I was determined to try and forget about it, and because writing about it made it even more real in some strange way. But somehow, don’t ask me how, I know that I have to write about it, to complete that scrawled message in the notepad if I really want it to end. And I do. More than anything, I want this fear to end.
Because I know the corridor never will.
The Corridor by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.