Every morning, Celia woke with a sense of something lingering, something she should remember – a feeling of something important; something that she was missing. She woke unrested as if she had been wandering all night instead of sleeping soundly in her bed. Occasionally, she had a glimmer of a memory but it was as elusive as water pouring through her cupped hands and all that she came away with was a sense of…. white, for the lack of a better explanation. Not white as a colour, but rather as a lack of colour, a void, a clean slate.
This went on for months and after many warm baths, lavender, and then sleeping pills, the doctor finally referred her to a sleep clinic. She was a little apprehensive as she packed her overnight bag feeling a little like a kid going for a sleepover at a friend’s house. But there would be no popcorn or movies where she was going and there would be no friends either. They were all strangers who would be watching her sleep. She just hoped she didn’t drool.
As she pulled into the parking lot, she noted the oddity of an office parking lot filled with cars at night. She grabbed her overnight bag from the back seat and locked her doors. As she opened the front door to the clinic, she hesitated for a moment, expelling all the air from her lungs.
“Just breathe,” she thought.
She just hoped they would find something. She was so exhausted and it was really starting to interfere with her life. She couldn’t concentrate at work, she had no energy for a social life, and she had just about fallen asleep at the wheel, twice. The first time someone had honked at her and the second time it happened she was saved by the flashing lights and siren of a police car as she was pulled over for crossing the center line. Yes, it was definitely time to do something about this situation.
She approached the desk to check in and noticed the sign hanging on the wall behind the receptionist.
“Sweet Dreams,” it read and this made her smile.
As the receptionist glanced up to greet her, smiling as well, she felt an overwhelming sense of déjà vu, like she had been here before.
Celia just nodded and the receptionist passed her a clipboard with a form attached.
“Please fill this out.”
She sat down in the waiting room to fill out the form. There were the standard questions regarding her health and her family history but at the bottom of the form there were some questions about dreams. Then the last question made her pause.
Do you dream of any particular colour?
She thought it was odd but some part of her sensed the significance of the colour white. It was a feeling. She had the flash of a memory, a feeling of white.
She was starting to get a little creeped out now and she nervously giggled as the words from Hotel California starting playing in her head.
“On a dark desert highway, cool wind in her hair….”
“Get a grip,” she thought to herself.
She finished the questionnaire and handed it to the receptionist.
“Someone will be with you in a moment,” she smiled.
A door, that she hadn’t previously noticed, opened and a nurse, dressed all in white called her name. She was smiling like she knew Celia.
“There she was in the doorway, I heard the mission bell.
I was thinking to myself this could be heaven or this could be hell.”
“Follow me,” she said.
“Then she lit up the candle and she showed me the way.
There were voices down the corridor; I thought I heard them say,
Welcome to the Hotel California….”
She followed the nurse down the long, sterile white hallway and then they stopped at another door. The nurse punched a code into the keypad on the wall to the right of the door. Celia heard the door unlock with a buzz and a click and as they entered the door buzzed and clicked behind them.
“Last thing I remember I was running for the door.
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
Relax, said the night man, we are programmed to receive.
You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.”
She seriously had to get that song out of her head. It wasn’t helping matters.
She looked around the room they had just entered. Everything was white. There were three other nurses busily writing in charts. They all looked up as she entered and smiled in that knowing way. It was all very “Stepford-ish” and did nothing to calm her anxiety.
Along the back wall, there were six cubicles separated by glass partitions. Each cubicle had a bed and three of them were filled. The people in the beds were hooked up to large machines and appeared to be sleeping peacefully.
A tall man entered the room and strode towards her. He was dressed in white, of course. He must be the doctor. He reached for her hand and both of his warm hands enveloped hers as they shook, slightly.
“Welcome, Celia,” his voice resonated deep within in her.
Again, she had the feeling that she had been there before but this time it was comforting. It was like coming home, as if she was supposed to be there. All her apprehension ebbed away. He took her by the elbow and led her into a smaller room with two white love seats and a low coffee table set between them. Upon the table was a glass pitcher of iced water with slices of cucumbers floating atop.
“Please sit down,” he gestured to one of the couches.
She obeyed and sunk into the overstuffed furniture accepting the glass of water that he poured for her without asking.
“You are probably wondering why everything seems so familiar to you, like you have been here before.”
He paused for a moment as she nodded.
“Well, it is because you have been here before, several times, in fact. You come to us at night in your dreams.”
She should have been shocked but she wasn’t. She knew it was true. Her acceptance of the fact lifted the veil surrounding her consciousness and everything became clearer for a moment.
“Why?” she asked.
“We don’t really know,” he said gently, “but we are trying to find out. We believe it has something to do with the healing properties of an all-white environment but it is much more complicated than that.”
“When I set up this clinic about ten years ago, my goal was to treat people with sleep disorders, such as apnea. And we did and still do, actually. We designed the all-white environment because of the theory that the absence of colour promotes a deeper REM pattern – kind of like the visual version of white noise, if you will.”
“Then something strange started to happen. We have six beds and not all of those beds are filled every night. On the nights when we were supposed to have an empty bed, a patient would show up in the bed anyways. They were always gone in the morning. This caused a great deal of confusion, as you can imagine, and fright. I have lost several employees because of it. Anyways, we noticed that some of these “patients” would return night after night whenever we had an empty bed.”
“And then another thing happened. We recognized one of our real patients as one of our “phantom” patients. She had been coming to us for a few months in her dreams before she ended up here in the flesh.”
“Since then we have had fourteen more patients just like you find their way to us. You are the sixteenth. You must have many questions, but unfortunately, I don’t have the answers to many of them. Yet. We are working on it. I do know this much, though, that when our phantom patients – Dream Walkers, I like to call them – finally make it to us, they are very tired. Am I right?”
She nodded, wearily, not sure if she could find her voice at the moment.
“All of our Dream Walkers have the best sleep of their lives after finding us. It is like they have found what they have been looking for so they no longer have to wander in their dreams. Are you ready to go to sleep?” he reached out his hand.
Again, she nodded as tears of relief slid down her face. She was just so tired.