top of page
  • Writer's pictureMerle Emrich

Awake/Asleep: Part 3 Act II

Read Part 3 Act I here.

Skip to Part 1 here.


I have been waiting. Patiently listening to the whispers. It would have been easy, so easy, to plunge into the thoughts floating on the surface of his mind with both hands. To take what is there; all the small everyday worries, the irrational fears and doubts, the more rational concerns. To sift them off, ravel them, and throw them back, somewhat distorted but otherwise as if nothing had happened. It is a lazy attempt at subtle madness and half as effective.

Mind you, I have been there and it is fun for a while. But after some time, it gets quite boring. So, I am trying something new and I have been biding my time. Not idle. It has been far from a holiday – an exercise in restraint. And I have kept busy. While I have starved myself and grown weak and weary, I have been diving into the darkest depth of the human mind. I have unearthed hidden fears and secret hopes. I have seen through the eyes of another. Listened with his ears. And I have taken notes. I have done my research and I have done it well, if I may say so myself. Although I would not describe myself as a researcher. I am more of an artist if you will.

While I have been focusing on assembling my collected material in collages and cut-ups, he has grown careless, and unexpecting. Ready to be surprised, and who doesn’t love a good surprise? This is one of the reasons why it is worth the wait and the hunger. But now, I believe, it is time. The sky is already dark and I can sense his focus fading. His gaze flickers between the TV and the window where the wind rustles through the dead leaves. He squints and rubs his eyes. He stretches as the end credits flicker across the screen. Showtime.

It has been a long day.

You deserve some rest.

He flinches. Of course, he does. It’s been a while, old friend.

I know exactly what he thinks. He is tired, he imagined it. No, it is not even his imagination. It is nothing more than a random thought that crossed his mind. A little weird, but essentially meaningless. Probably a quote from the movie. Or some song… Nothing more. Well, this should be entertaining.

Easily, he drifts off into sleep. And I feed him back his experiences and thoughts, scenes from his day and memories, voices caught in the wind down the road or through the white noise rumbling of a bar or café. The familiar. The unfamiliar. The in-between. Yet, still, he is on the threshold of waking and I go easy on him. It is a privilege, really, if you think about it. I am sure he would recognize that with a little perspective. He gets his own bedtime story, after all. Personalized and immersive. A fleeting smile washes over his face and a sigh escapes him as he turns and drifts deeper into his sleep. Good!

I spin my story; weave words and faces into the fabric of his mind; whisper names into his ear. He better be writing this down when he wakes up with a silent scream caught in his lungs. It’s an excellent story. And just today I found the perfect piece just sitting there on the border between consciousness and subconsciousness as if waiting to hitch a ride, to me molded and reshaped. And so, I have tweaked the memory a little. It can’t be too recognizable, too obvious. Otherwise, it takes away from the fear and confusion. It is that attention to detail that makes all the difference. A path that turns left where it should turn right. A trick of the light. Something that should not be there, something barely visible, barely graspable, in the shadow between the trees. That’s usually all that is needed. It certainly is for him.

I can feel his heart beat faster. And if I stretched out my hand… Slowly. Carefully, so as not to wake him. And if I placed it on his chest to feel the blood pumping through his veins, feel the rise and fall of his shallow breath, feel some muscles twitch… I suppose it is a human instinct. A reaction to danger. The brain switches to high alert and the body prepares to flee or fight. It is all the more enjoyable knowing that there is neither escape nor the chance of resistance.

A laugh escapes me as I feast on the terror. It almost pulls him out of his sleep. But only almost. Instead, his entire body tenses and his heart beats faster even, fast like that of a small and fragile bird.

I let the shadows dance in the corner of his mind’s eye. Fleeting enough to not take form but at the same time sufficiently persistent to be more than a fluke. How far can I push him, I wonder. How far until he wakes? How far until madness takes hold of him? I won’t be able to find out tonight. It is a delicate balance to strike, step by step. But I believe that I can push a little further still.

And that is when he begins to slip away. I don’t realize that something is off until I notice the shadows slow, then stop entirely in their movement and begin to shrink. And I cannot hold on to them. I still see him, sense him, and hear his thoughts. But they are muffled as if by a wall of water separating us. He fades – if it is even possible to fade from your own dream, your own mind. I probe; reaching out toward him. Yet, no matter how close I try to get, the invisible, unmeasurable distance between us stays the same.

I should have known.

The shadows have dissolved into darkness now, the dream vision I have curated so carefully has blurred into the same. Small flecks of light float through the empty space and concentrate where I can sense him. His voice was barely audible now, dulled and distant. It does not sound like him at all. And yet, it is a voice that is somehow familiar, like a memory that is out of place. If only I could understand the words he speaks!

I take a breath. Focus. I try to pull the flecks of light toward me. But they escape my grasp. I feed images into the darkness but they flicker and vanish. Could it be that I have already pushed him too far? Surely not. I have been witness to insanity countless times. Often it has been of my making. But this is new and quite odd. Not least because of the voice that I cannot place.

And so, it looks like I must wait once again. And observe to understand. To feed.

Read Part 3 Act III here.

Part 3 Act II of Awake/Asleep was written by Merle Emrich.

Cover picture by Amr Abbas.


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page