I knew I was in trouble when I didn't want them to sweep away my hair. I'm sure there's a name for it. I'm sure the name makes it sound a lot scarier than it is, a name that would make my Mom nervous. Maybe I don't want to know the name, because then it means I "have something," and "having something" (with quotes around it) is rarely a positive development.
I just call it half-sleep.
The best way to describe it is that I don't finish waking up. I'm not asleep, and for all the world I think I'm awake. But I'm not really awake either. I'm out of bed, caught in the remnants of a dream I never remember. When I'm in it, my state of mind is the always the same. Something requires my urgent attention. There's something that I have to do, and if I don't do this thing, then ... well, the consequences are never clear. But whatever they are, it's some bad shit, because I'll tell you something else. Most of the time, the adventure is drenched in panic.
Each half-sleep ends the same way. There's a long pause while I try to figure out why I'm doing whatever it is I'm doing. It gradually dawns on me that though I thought I was awake before, now I'm actually awake, and I'm staring at the wall, or the ceiling, or the door. It's awkward, even though no one else is around. I have a moment of, "Hrm. Yes, right-o, carry on then. Nothing to see here, people, move along." Back to bed I go. Sometimes I'll make use of the fact that I'm up and head to the bathroom.
The earliest one I can remember was around ten years ago, at my old apartment in Queens. Antique is probably more accurate — the floors creaked, the windows had iron frames, and the one outlet in each room didn't even have grounding wires. Everything was plugged in through power strips on two-prong adapters. My room was barely large enough for a desk and cheap futon, next to which lay all my CDs in haphazard stacks on the floor.
On the night in question, I leaned over the edge of the bed, and started feverishly rifling through the CDs. There was one that I absolutely had to find, and find immediately. Very bad things were going to happen if I did not locate the correct CD. There was no telling which CD, no telling why I had to have it. These details did not matter. I had to have the right CD. When I drifted out of half-sleep, I was still in the bed, one hand on the floor, the other clutching a jewel-case.
"Well, this is odd," I thought.
From then on, it happened every couple of months. Some took me out of the room entirely, like the time I woke up in the darkened living room, gazing out at the streetlights. Others I didn't remember at all, like when I awoke one sunny morning to find that during the night, I had moved my potted cactus from the left side of the windowsill to the right. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that, at the time, such a move struck me as extremely important.
A few were so terror-stricken that it's honestly a miracle I managed to keep them under wraps. The post-war era doors in my Queens apartment all locked with little keys that looked like something out of an Agatha Christie novel. The latch on mine wouldn't close, so I would leave the key in the lock and basically just use that as the doorknob, turning the key to open and close the door. It was a tricky lock, but I got pretty good at it. I flicked that thing open and shut, no matter how tired, no matter how drunk.
One particular night, I half-woke at DEFCON 1. Something was after me, something was most definitely after me. I didn't have much time. I had to get away. I needed help. I needed ... people with guns. I needed the cops. What ensued was a comically frantic dash for the phone in the hallway, foiled by a sudden inability to work the key. For one glorious instant, my life became a George Romero horror flick. I was the girl surrounded by zombies, fumbling to unlock the door. Hell, I think I even dropped the key at one point. Eventually, as always, I came around.
But the next morning, I knew with 100% certainty that if I had made it through the door, I would have dialed 911. The voice would have said, "What's your emergency?" God only knows what I would have said, but it would have sounded like I was being murdered by tigers. Then, five minutes later (okay, fifteen — this was Queens, after all) I would have been standing outside in my pajamas, explaining to the NYPD, my roommate, the landlord, and my neighbors that I was fine, really, something was just out to get me is all.
At some point, the half-sleep stopped. It took over a year to notice, like the dog next door that one day just stops barking. When I finally did notice, I wrote it off as a phase, a frivolous period that I had outgrown. Hell, maybe it was because I moved out of that apartment. Bad mojo. Restless spirits in the building. Craig T. Nelson suffered worse in "Poltergeist," and he turned out fine, right? It was time for me to push the TV out of the motel room, so to speak.
Not only did it come back, it came back on the road. It had never happened outside the confines of my home, but sure enough, while sleeping on an air mattress in the living room of my girlfriend's parents' house in Kansas, I got out of bed on a mission. In the darkness, my eyes barely caught sight of a picture by the stairwell, a photo of a town in Italy. I came out of the haze with my hands hovering near the photo, utterly convinced that I had to travel through the wall and reach the town. That no one noticed me standing there can only be called pure, uncut luck.
After that came the night when it kept happening. I couldn't recall the half-sleep ever occurring more than once in a given night, but that night there were three. The first was mild. The second was a bit more insistent. The third ... the third involved something else, something moving past the boundary of pseudo-sleep and into waking reality.
I heard a voice. It was real, I was sure of it. It did not speak words, only a breath and a noise, a sound along the lines of "Hhhah." And it was coming from behind me, just past the head of the bed.
For what felt like a full minute, I lay completely frozen, my eyes locked straight ahead. Someone was nearby. Whoever they were, they weren't good. Whatever they wanted, it was no better. Did they know I was awake? What was closer, my cell phone or the hunting knife in my drawer? This stupid nameless thing of mine had never been so genuine. All the other ones were false alarms. This was the real thing. I was a dead man.
At length, I gathered up the nerve to reach for the light. Once that was accomplished, the fog started to fade, and I realized yet again that I was simply some guy laying in his room in the middle of the night, doing nothing. Nothing was happening, nothing was going to happen. I leaned over and took a peek under the bed. No one was there.
But the memory of the voice was clear. Normally, the details of a half-sleep incident become murky. Not this time. I had heard something, I was sure of it. And in the days that followed, I started to wonder whether a sense buried deep inside was trying in earnest to warn me. What if I was right to be paranoid?
This is where the hair comes in.
My last haircut took longer than usual. As I sat there with the little black cloak wrapped around me, I tumbled the incident over in my head, hoping the stone would come out shiny and smooth. The stylist angled my head downward as she trimmed the back, giving me a nice view of the floor. My hair fell in clumps.
Hearing voices is, like, Joan-of-Arc-level insane. Should I be worried? Should I go talk to someone? Look at all this hair. I shred my mail before throwing it out, what about this? Hair carries far more information than junk mail ever could, a person's entire being encoded in a spiral of chemicals ... yet I let them just sweep it up and throw it away. Where anyone could get it. Is it weird that I'm thinking this? I mean, I'm just messing around, right? What if it's true? Why does every hair salon play techno?
A few nights later, I had my answer. As I lay dozing off, one foot grazing the nocturne, I heard it again. The voice had spoken, and this time, not burdened by half-sleep, I recognized it at once. I had the answer.
It was me. I had woken myself up with my own mouth.
I'm definitely better off not knowing what this thing is called.