Beware of Apnoea
The mist was thick within the trees, swirling, almost vibrating with a kind of expectancy. The breeze shifting its white grey mass with subtle movements breaking the density here and there. The sounds, the seductive tunes, beguiling, beckoning. The wind increasing with a rushing that lifted leaves into spirals of dancing colour. The fog rising to combine with the twisting whirlwinds. Approaching her, then hovering, but suddenly, with a moaning sigh, rushing back the way it had come. The boundary forming, the line that was indelibly woven into the fabric of time, the exact point of transition, the change from night to day. A fleeting moment when the dead have to retreat and the living begin the slow process of transformation into wakefulness.
Suddenly waking Joan was struggling to breath. She was panting, gasping for breath, her mind full of visions, a collection of moments, individual but nonetheless connected. The dream vivid in her mind. This was becoming an almost nightly occurrence. Stopping breathing. A moment of asphyxiation causing her to wake in some distress. The dream, the repeated dream always in her mind.
She had seen the doctor, “that’s it doctor” she had said “that’s exactly how I feel. I wake and cannot breathe. I feel I am choking in my sleep.”
“I believe you are suffering from sleep apnoea.” he had said. “Normally, if the condition is mild and you are aware of the symptoms it can be controlled. I think this is something we should monitor. If it persists or worsens you may need a CPAP machine. This gently pumps oxygen into a mask over your mouth and nose that you wear at night and helps improve the quality of your breathing. In the meantime I will refer you to the sleep clinic for tests. Remember if you notice even the slightest deterioration come back to see me.”
Returning home, Joan had at least some hope she would be able to manage the condition, in her own way, without the need for what sounded like a cumbersome solution. She was concerned and periodically over the coming nights she suffered similar bouts, although with her greater understanding felt she coped well enough. The dream she found disturbing as though something was probing her inner self.”
The stress she felt since it happened had convinced her the breathing problems were in some way linked to that. There had been a knock at the door, unusual for that time of day. Five o’clock in the afternoon, normally a slack time in between workday and evening leisure. She had opened the door. The policeman and policewoman standing, grim faced, side by side. She had read the stories, seen the films and knew that the news was sure to be bad. Standing there, silent, open mouthed with an expression of extreme worry and panic spreading over her face, waiting for the words.
“Are you Joan Davies?” the tall, young policeman had said. There was a slight, almost indistinguishable waver to his voice.
She nodded and looked at the policewoman who was clearly struggling to maintain her composure, her face ashen, trying to be professional when all she wanted to do was melt and let the tears that were lingering in her eyes flow unabandoned.”
“Mrs Davies,” the policeman said, “My name is David and this is Helen we need to talk to you. Can we come in please?”
Silently Joan stood aside and waved them in leading them into the sitting room.
Helen said, “can I make tea, in the kitchen?”
Joan nodded still unable to speak. She remembers thinking “that cliche, it really does happen, or was is it just so Helen could escape the worst effect of the trauma to come.”
“I’m afraid I have some bad news.” David struggling with the words. “Your husband, John, has been involved in an accident. He was knocked down by a speeding car as he crossed the road. Witnesses said he seemed to be rushing to catch a bus. He was taken to hospital but unfortunately did not survive.”
And that was that. She had of course broken down, drank tea and said no to the “can I call anyone?” question. They had only been married a short while and were so desperately in love that it almost hurt to be with him. The worst thing over the next few weeks was the continuous stream of friends and family all saying the same, “if there’s anything we can do” when all she wanted was to be left alone, to deal with it in her own way.
Shortly after that the dreams started. Always the same with that feeling, that strange feeling, impinging upon her deepest places. Not every night, but regularly. There might be a few nights just tossing and turning but then they would return. Sometimes very vividly as though there was about to be a conclusion. Then sometimes only a brief glimpse as though something had been abandoned. Altogether there had been maybe seven instances when the dream seemed to have a proper meaning. Then she had woken with her breathing failing perceiving that part of her had been lifted and then replaced. After a while she began to feel tired, not so much physically but mentally drained as though her capacity was slowly being sapped. Her condition, she felt, was steadily deteriorating.
Her sister came to stay. They were very close and Joan confided in her, describing the many details of her dream. Her sister said she thought John’s death and the dreams had to be related, that it was no coincidence they, and the breathing problems, had started at the same time. But all the time her sister was there the dreams stopped and her breathing eased.
She returned to the doctor and tried to explain her anxieties. In his opinion, she was suffering from severe depression relating to her loss, the dreams disturbing her sleep and prompting the apnoea. He recommended antidepressants but she refused not liking the route that dependence could lead to.
She so missed John and her sister’s company had deflected her depression somewhat. When her sister finally left, Joan’s feelings of loss returned with a vengeance and with that the dreams and the choking sensations. Those visions. That wind increasing, rushing towards her, then suspended over her, a swirling mass. With the noises, seducing her with their mystical rhythm. She would toss and turn, putting up a firm resistance to whatever seemed to be assailing her. Her breathing would be ragged, would stall, about to cease. Then there would be a sudden dislocation and she was sure she heard a howling of frustration and despair hidden within the wind as it quickly retraced its path. Waking in a panting sweat, depleted, mentally exhausted.
She felt she was being worn down by something with a determined patience. The dreams became more frequent, with greater intensity, seeming to thrive on her failing resistance and being given impetus by her increasing weakness. On the last occasion the scene had been truly dramatic. There was an almost laughing sound within the thumping beat of the wind, even though it was above her, circling, hardly moving, there was still a drumming sound, almost euphoria, that a goal was within a whisker of achievement. She could feel it. She could see the outline of a form within the clouds. A wresting sensation consumed her, about to overwhelm her, but at the last she summoned her final resolve and broke free, waking suddenly, not breathing, throwing herself up, sitting, in desperate pain, her chest bursting. Then with an almost involuntary effort she gasped a full breath and collapsed to be overtaken by a sleep of sheer exhaustion.
The next day she slept until late but did not wake refreshed. She was totally depleted. It was an effort even to just get out of bed. She felt unable to do the simplest task. Laying on her bed she sobbed in great heaving waves calling out for John. She missed him so much, needed his protection, his strength, more than at anytime in the past. He worshipped her she knew that, his devotion evident to everyone they met. And it was reciprocated. She loved everything about him, but most of all she loved him for his strength, not only his physical strength but more importantly his mental strength. His ability and resolve that culminated in the strength of love he felt for her. She dreaded the night, the coming darkness but felt there was nothing she could do. She was exhausted and after a quick light meal she retreated to bed to fall into a deep and restless sleep.
She slept well into the night, then, without waking, she went completely still. She could see the mist forming, that same swirling, the awareness of indistinct movements within the murk, creating gaps, revealing shadows that had some dancing motion. The wind appearing without warning, rushing into the space above her, revolving, issuing those strange seductive sounds, enticing her, touching her core, prising, twisting, pulling. Laughter of sheer delight, almost an exaltation, an exclamation of pending victory, gathering the fruit of a long campaign of attrition. The time was approaching. That time. The time between night and day. The one moment when the living and dead collide. Just the briefest of moments, before the dead retreat and the living depart the safety of deep sleep, beginning the process of waking, presenting a millisecond of extreme vulnerability. Joan saw above her within the cloud the crouched form of a wizened man, old, but exuding an impression of extreme energy. His grotesque, wrinkled features split by an enormous grin showing his yellowed and blackened teeth. Head thrown back shaking with mirth. In his bony, long fingered hands he held a huge net made of fine steel mesh and suspended on a long iron pole. Poised ready to sweep across her at the exact moment of his triumph, the pivotal moment of that particular time. She knew she was beaten, her last resolve being already consumed. Her breathing had stopped. The net twitched, the moment was now.
Then a sudden piercing cry cut through the atmosphere. The Being stalled, stopped on the cusp of that pertinent instant and looked towards the sound. The cry again, this time shrill making the creature cringe, the words now clear and distinct.
“You will not take her,” was the yell, “she is not for you.”
Joan recognised that voice and mouthed “John” that was all, she had no strength for anything else. Out of the gloom John strode, erect, glowing, standing his full height, determined, displaying his strength and saying again with all the power derived from the strongest of emotions: true, dedicated and absolute love.
“You WILL not take her. Be Gone and look for other prey elsewhere if you dare.”
The spirit thief, the stealer of souls, always preying on the weak and vulnerable, looked John full in the face and knew he had lost. Knew he could not stand against such a mighty devotion. Screaming and spitting his rage he took a wild swipe with his net at her spirit that had been slowly rising, lifting, drawn out by his song, but he came away empty handed. In that moment of hesitation the opportunity passed, the boundary was complete, her spirit returned and her body was restored. The thief in his fullest fury departed along with all his singing, sighing minions now fully revealed, the mist having dispersed. Joan looked up, into John’s face and saw all his love and tenderness revealed as he slowly drifted away, retreating from the boundary and the first light of the coming dawn as he was compelled to do.
Joan woke in the morning fully refreshed for the first time in weeks feeling an immense pressure had been lifted. Remembering her dream vividly, she was momentarily lost in overwhelming grief but was restored by the thought that John had not deserted her. In her moment of need he had appeared as he had promised to do those few years ago when he swore to always protect her, to never let any harm come to her. That had been the final demonstration of his love for her on the day he asked her to marry him, when she had no hesitation saying yes. Her grief had been expunged allowing her to move forward to a place of fond memories convinced that John, wherever he was now, would always be there looking down on her protecting her from those demons that may still offer her harm.