Nightmares have many purposes, albeit at the time the primary one seemingly to frighten the bejezzus out of us.

Many dreams are scary, but we don’t necessarily consider them nightmares; there are also dreams depicting real dangers that unfold without emotion, only to become truly terrifying in hindsight when we begin to understand. Some nightmares are evidence of internal “spoilers”, attitudes that seem to rise up to knock us down just at the moment when we are finally beginning to make progress. And then there are repeating dreams in which an actual trauma is relived in all its gory detail—until, that is, we are able to confront the memory and deal with its repercussions.

The nightmarish dreams I wish to address in this article are those I call visitations. These are dreams when a door seems to open in the heart flooding us with dread and heralding the arrival of a most unwelcome guest: a ghost, an intruder...an alien.

A few years ago when I was working at a London university, I arrived at the office one morning to find one of my co-workers in a state of considerable agitation. This woman had ‘woken’ in the night to find a strange man standing at her bedside; she was absolutely terrified, but all he had done was eagerly offer her one-half of a golden notebook.

My colleague had not had the opportunity to go to university; at the time, she was taking an extramural course as part of an adult education program. The way she described the man suggested to me that he might represent her intellectual potential. I wondered whether the partial notebook might mean that he was attempting to meet her half-way, that is, that he was coming forth from her unconscious to join the unlived intellectual potential he represented with her current desire to learn. Not only that, the notebook was gold, suggesting, perhaps, a golden opportunity; the fact is that if this woman applied to the university and got accepted she would—as a member of staff—be exempted from paying the fees. Her experience also lead me to encourage her to apply for the degree course—rather than extending her extramural studies for another year, which was also a possibility—as the stranger’s eagerness seemed to suggest that she was more than ready for this.

When she had first described the apparition, the dread surrounding the ‘visitor’s’ appearance had been palpable. But by the time we had talked it through this had gone. It was not long after this that she did apply for the course and her application was accepted.


*An earlier version of this article appeared in 1998 in the special Halloween edition of Electric Dreams (vol. 5.10).
†See “They came from inner space”.