Aisling is Gaelic for mystical vision or dream.
When I was about my son's age, somewhere between the age of innocence and knowing, I had a dark dream of a beastly image containing unknown meaning. Breathing somewhere between dreams and thoughts of the nether world, I felt like I was in a surreal existence. It was one of those dreams that moved me to get out of bed. At least, I think I remember getting out of bed. It seems so clear that I was not simply dreaming or misinterpreting the nightly maneuvers of the pet dog. I can't say if I was sleepwalking, or that I actually got up out of bed. There was someone or something in the room. A presence looming in the room. I could feel it and almost see it, but the darkness enshrouded with a thickness and slowness of water. The window was open. It was quiet. I adjusted my eyes and opened them as wide as I could, but it did not help as the darkness in my room was like a mist. Unable to see across the room, the walls that enclosed me in my bed fell away into a black landscape. I could not go back to sleep. The hairs on my arms stood out and I slowly rose from the protection of my covers. As I left my bed convincing myself that I was awake, and put my feet down onto the shag carpet, I turned to look in the direction of my window. The window at the other end of the house from where my parents slept. Too far away for them to hear me moan any discomfort. Curtains shut, only a wisp of moonlight coming through the edges, casting those shadows that make creatures. Creatures moving in the darkness upon the walls and ceiling. Monsters that never quite take their shape, but move in their pursuit of mystery and night madness.
I slowly waded through the darkness around my four-post bed, holding onto it as if it would float away. The darkness was like liquid and my movements were slow like those explorers on the news, walking on the moon. I felt for my bedspread neatly folded down part way near the middle of the bed. It made a certain polyester scratching sound as I ran my hand across. My feet were lost in the thickness of the rug below and my face was cold with the enormity of darkness.
I wanted to close my eyes to keep from seeing, but when I opened them, I saw the same. Stopping for a moment to consider and question what quest I was on, I contemplated stillness. My hands walked along the bedspread to avoid the sheen slipping sound that would echo in the mind if moved. I could not risk spooking away that which I pursued in the night. I crept along. I didn't let go until I got to the opposite corner of my bedroom where my closet was open. I had those louvered shutter doors that fold, accordion style, to reveal the messy contents of a child's closet. I never bothered to close them as it seemed pointless, except in games of hide and seek. At times, the open closet gave me comfort that there was nothing hiding as I slept.
A strong presence again loomed near me and I could nearly feel it’s cold breath on my face. As I approached the end of my bed, I found the corner post and held on with the gold trimmed white paint pressing against my cheek. I dared to look, to find the source of the apparition. There it was, in the corner of my room. Not in the closet where most childhood monsters reside, but over in the left corner of my room near my window. Between the wisps of light breaking through the curtain and the shadows on the wall. It was only a head that I could see, one with horns, scales, and what seemed like feathers. I struggled in the darkness to make out its features. I could not find a body attached to this head that I could barely discern. I blinked quickly hoping that my eyes would adjust to the darkness. I stared hard into the darkness. It had a large mouth like a lion and primitive sharp teeth as from a saber-tooth tiger. Not human, but something subterranean. I felt a cold shudder of fear, but my curiosity kept me looking. I felt bold with my fear, yet exposed in the darkness. I wanted to know why it was there, looking at me. Not moving or attacking, but just looking at me, like it was sleeping with it’s eyes open. I struggled to see its eyes, but I felt them piercing into the darkness breaking through my intimate space.
As a child, I had occasionally felt this sort of paralyzed mix of emotion when a rattlesnake decided to interrupt the day playing in the California desert behind my house. Those monsters I could see sunning themselves wishing to be alone. I contained a respectful fear, looking at its long marked body, repulsive to my own human eye. Knowledge of its poison made it ugly and something to fear. Advised by the adults meant to protect me, I learned to fear with respect, but ignore their beauty and inner purpose for the world. I watched as our neighbor gallantly killed a few to protect the children at play, even though we likely invaded their space. Those heroic reactions and impulses to kill taught me to forget their unique beauty. Instead their repulsion was contagious. Rattlesnakes. A natural part of the desert landscape. We were there invading its territory. We were the monsters killing them when found under the swing set or in the wood pile. They were not our predators, but rather, we were theirs. Beautiful dangerous innocence of the wild, meant to create order and balance ridding nature of lesser creatures that spread disease. I never worried about them hiding in the boulders I played around, but feared their dead bodies when stretched out as trophies in my street. Kids crowded around staring at its impotent body cut down by a protective parent. The prize of the rattle tail fought over by a few competitive neighbor boys hoping to claim the tale of a kill. I simply remember seeing the headless body slithering and twitching for a time even after the head was cut off by the powerful landing of an ax to its head. The head would be lifeless lying in the street, while the body continued to move and strike for a time, tail rattling.
The heady animal likeness kept in the shadow and I continued to stare hard into the darkness trying to make out its features. Was I invading its space or it mine? Was I asleep dreaming, or awake living a nightmare? I did not feel like it was going to attack me, so I didn’t run or scream. I wanted to find its eyes and stare it down. The curious bold nature of a confident child. I don’t remember much about the rest of what I saw and whether it was a vision or a dream. I checked the same place in the morning hoping to soothe my mind that it was simply shadows playing night time tricks with an object in the room. My room was plain and undecorated with toys. Clean and simple. A four post bed with canopy and lace around my bed table light. I looked. There was nothing there in the space I stared into the night. It’s been a few decades in the forgetting, yet I still remember that particular image and the feelings it conjures. I remember how it impacted the rest of my week. I could not get the image out of my head for days. I remember feeling it as if it were some kind of evil presence, but yet I did not feel compelled to run or hide or scream. I kept my vision to myself knowing I would not be comforted by those meant to comfort me. They who slept soundly at the other end of the house. I remained alert in a sleepy haze unable to succumb to the unconscious mind. It was like looking at the unknown darkness, feeling its closeness, but unable to see. It never revealed its details or features, yet it never disappeared that night into the darkness. Was that the first time I had a sustainable premonition for the futurity awaiting before me? Or perhaps it is simply the grown up interpretation of my mind’s eye as a child? In any case, its powerful memory has grown deep roots into my soul defining something of who I’ve become since then.