Places Between Asleep and Awake #2 by Shimmy Boyle



Photo by Felicity Palma

When I woke up I couldn’t move and I was cradling a ghost woman.

She was right there in my arms, her head on my shoulder, nuzzled up against me like a lover.

No matter how hard I tried, I could not get my muscles to respond.  I was filled with a deep horror.  My body was frozen, but my mind was conscious, thinking “Oh god, oh god, oh god.”

I have been known to do a fair bit of wandering.  There was a brief period of time when I harbored the delusion that I could travel around the country spouting poetry to people, and that I could live out of a van to save on expenses and make just enough money to eat a little and move on to the next place.  I’ll admit, I am a little embarrassed that I was once one of those van guys.  But I figured it was all in the name of art.

That particular summer, I had decided to venture north from the Bay Area and park my van on the land in question for a few months of soaking up sun, swimming in rivers, working the land and hanging with friends.  If it sounds idyllic, that’s because it was.

There had been a few stories of weird things happening.  Some people claimed the land was haunted.  I had friends who said they’d seen a woman walking the hills, only to have her disappear before their eyes.

Just as I was falling asleep one night, I heard footsteps approaching on the gravel outside the van.  I remember thinking it was one of my friends coming to talk to me before bed.  But I was already in the in-between state.  Not quite asleep and not quite awake.  The footsteps stopped, but no one ever knocked on the door.  I thought nothing of it and fell fast asleep.

My dreams were strange and fitful.  They were all about disruptive things happening in my immediate surroundings.  The final dream I had before waking was that the police had showed up and that there were cars with flashing police lights all around me.

And then I was awake, paralyzed and hugging a ghost to my body.  I tried to scream, but I couldn’t.  My mouth wouldn’t move.  My voice didn’t work.  I strained with all my might to move my muscles.  But they wouldn’t respond.  My mind was blank with fear.

After what seemed like a very long time, I regained control of my body.  I immediately backed away from her.  I was scared.  I shouted at first, then I spoke calmly, in the tone of voice you might use on someone who is robbing you at gunpoint.  I asked her to leave.  I told her she was not welcome.  I told her to please not come back.  After an interval, I’m not sure how long, she left.  I saw and felt her leave.  It got much darker in the van, like someone had shut off a light, and then I heard footsteps walking away in the gravel outside.  I sat there for a long time, terrified she would return.  I couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night.  But she didn’t come back.  That was the only time I saw her.

Once upon a time, there was a family living in a two-room cabin. There was a mother, a father, two daughters, and a family dog.  The cabin was tiny.  They all lived together in a single room.  There was a lofted bedroom, which the parents shared, and a living area below, with a bed that the daughters slept in.  This was all way out in the country, the kind of place with a wood burning stove for warmth, no plumbing, miles from the nearest neighbor.

By all accounts, they were a close and loving family.

One night, a huge thunderstorm rolled in.  The rain was torrential.  The thunder was deafening.  Everyone in the family was hunkered down for the night.  The two daughters tucked into their bed downstairs, husband and wife asleep above.  No one saw or heard a thing.

The next morning, the storm had subsided.  The sun was shining in through the windows and the husband awoke to find that his wife had been shot in the stomach and had bled to death beside him during the night.

There were reports that a mysterious man had been seen hanging around the cabin, and that the family dog, normally suspicious of strangers, seemed to know him.  But the police were unable to locate him for questioning.  Suicide was ruled out, as no gun was found in the house.  The father and two daughters moved away, in shock, unable to comprehend what had happened.  The murder was never solved.


I don’t know what happened.  I don’t know whether that land is haunted or not.  I don’t know whether I cradled a ghost in my arms, or whether it was all a dream that seemed extraordinarily real.  I have no explanation.  But I know that the fear has worn off.  When I look back on that experience now I feel heartbroken.  I can’t help but feel the loneliness of it.  I can’t help but imagine the despair of being a ghost, very probably in torment, unable to have human contact, wanting only the comfort of a touch, but being met instead with blind terror.


Shimmy Boyle is a writer and carbohydrate-enthusiast living in Brooklyn. He is currently working on a novel called Girl City Dream. He used to write poetry, some of which can be found at: He also has a cool mom. You would like her.

Felicity Palma is an independent photographer based in Brooklyn.