The Sleepwalker

Shutterstock / Africa Studio © Young woman in pyjamas, eyes shut, gets out of bed in dark room

Why does Dawn keep waking to find herself at her desk, typing nonsense emails to the police?

I’ve never been a huge fan of whistling, but it isn’t so much the pitch that sends an icy shiver down my spine as my husband walks into the kitchen – it’s the tune.

“What?” he says as I stare at him, the cupboard door open, my fingers grazing the coffee mug I was reaching for. “Why are you looking me like that?”

“What were you just whistling?”

He shrugs. “Dunno. Something I heard on the radio. Some old song.”

He peels off his jacket, drapes it over the back of one of the chairs then rubs his hands together.

“What do you fancy tonight? I’ve been dreaming of a curry or chilli all day. It’s brassic out there.”

I nod, only half listening. There are goosebumps running the length of my outstretched arm.

I’ve had them before: when Alexandra Burke sang Listen on The X-Factor, when Paul Potts sang Nessun Dorma and whenever a large group of people sing Jerusalem… but never from a whistled song.

“Which one?” Steve asks, taking a pan from the cupboard. “Curry or chilli?”

“I don’t mind.”

He frowns at me.

“Are you OK, Dawn? You look a bit… out of sorts.”

“I’m fine. I just… I don’t know… that tune you were whistling reminded me of something but I’ve got no idea what.”

I stand on tiptoe to kiss him. “Shall we go for chilli then?”

At bedtime, I can’t wait to get under the covers and go to sleep. Today’s been draining, and not just because I spent all day on my feet at the hospital.

After my shift, I went to the care home to see Grandad. He’s ninety and suffering from dementia but he occasionally recognises me and we have a nice chat.

Today wasn’t one of those days. He didn’t so much as look round when I entered the day room and sat in the chair beside him.

The only time his eyes lit up was when I placed an old photo album on his lap.

The photos were of the summer of 1981, when I spent the whole of August with him and Gran in their static caravan in Aberaeron in Wales.

For an eight-year-old it was heaven. If I wasn’t splashing about in the pool, I was laughing my head off at the camp entertainer who kept all the kids amused with his slapstick jokes and terrible juggling.

I adored him and would have followed him anywhere.

“You OK, Dawnie?” Steve slides up behind me in bed and wraps an arm around me. “Not still obsessing about that tune I was whistling earlier?”

“No.” I shake my head lightly. “I was thinking about Grandad.”

“You’re a good woman,” he says, then plants a kiss on the back of my head.

I jolt awake, the vestiges of a dark dream still playing in the back of my mind, as someone gently squeezes my shoulder.

“Dawn?” Steve’s voice rings out in the darkness. “What are you doing?”

For several seconds I’m too confused to reply, then I let out a whimper of fear.

I’m not in bed. I’m sitting upright. Why –

“Dawn?” My husband says again. “Are you all right?”

Adrenaline surges through me, cutting through my sleep fog and familiar objects appear in the darkness: a bookshelf, a painting, the sofa bed, the long, dark stretch of the curtains.

I’m in the study, sitting at the desk. In front of me is the laptop, lid open, the pale blue glow the only light in the room.

The time in the corner of the screen reads 3.06am.

Steve reaches forward and taps the screen, making me jump.

“Why are you emailing the police?”

I stare at the screen. Sure enough, in the To field someone has typed police.

There’s no subject and, in the body of the email is what looks like a bunch of gobbledegook: Grass grass trees cold trees wind Karen stop home

“Who’s Karen?” Steve asks.

I shake my head. “I don’t know.” I look back at him. “Did you do this?”

The surprised look on his face convinces me otherwise.

“No, love. You did. I heard a noise and woke up. When you weren’t next to me in bed I came looking for you. You were typing.”

I can’t remember getting out of bed and walking down the hall to the study, never mind typing an email.

Steve reads the unsettled look on my face.

“Don’t worry about it, love. Let’s get you back to bed. We both need to be up for work in a few hours.”

I ease myself out of the chair and follow him across the room. At the doorway I pause, look back at the laptop then run my hands over my forearms. The goosebumps are back.

“You sleepwalked again?” Tessa, my colleague says, two days later. “That’s twice in a row.”

“I know.” I wrap my hands round my coffee mug. “I’m dead on my feet. I hope it doesn’t happen again tonight.”

“Is it something you often do?”

“No! Not since I was eight. I was on holiday with my grandparents and my gran said she woke up to find me standing at the bottom of her bed with wide, staring eyes and mud on my bare feet.”

“Creepy.” She reaches into the tin of Quality Street and unwraps a green triangle. “Show me that paper again.”

I hand over the print-out in my pocket. We both lean over the table to read it.

Email number one: Grass grass trees cold trees wind Karen stop shoe home

Email number two: Wet rain shoe feet Grandad run Jane stop

Tessa laughs. “Well, you definitely have creepy dreams, missus. Who are Karen and Jane?”

“I don’t know.”

She pulls a sympathetic face.

“Well, I wouldn’t worry. Chances are you’ll get a good night’s sleep tonight and you’ll never think about this again.”

She folds up the print-out, gives it back to me then stands up decisively. “Right, back to work.”

“I’m scared to go to sleep,” I confess to Steve as I pull on my pyjama top.

He looks up from his book.

“You’re not going to sleepwalk three nights in a row.”

“How do you know? You didn’t even realise I did it last night. I was terrified when I found myself in the study. What if I’d fallen downstairs?”

“Dawnie.” He touches my arm as I get into bed. “I can make sure you never sleepwalk again.”

He reaches down the side of the bed and I wait curiously.

“Ta-daa!” he says jubilantly.

I can’t help but laugh at the pink fluffy handcuffs he dangles in front of me. I’m chief bridesmaid for my sister’s wedding and it’s her hen do later this month.

“I found them in your bag,” he says. “Want me to cuff you to the bed?”

“No, thanks.” I swat his hand away.

“Your loss.” He’s still laughing as he turns off the light.

It’s half six in the morning and we’re both looking at my laptop screen. Last night I wrote a third email to the police.

“Maybe it’s time to think about seeing your GP,” Steve says softly.

Dark scared mud Claire run shoe please please please

“They all mention shoes,” my husband observes. “What’s that about?”

“I don’t know. Nothing I’ve written makes any sense.”

“Oh well.” He meanders towards the bathroom, whistling as he walks. It’s the same tune that gave me goosebumps in the kitchen a few days ago.

“Steve. Can you not whistle that?”

“Sorry love – that stupid tune’s got stuck in my head.”

As he disappears into the bathroom I turn back to the screen. Dreams are nonsensical, aren’t they? Your brain processing something you saw or talked about that day.

But I haven’t even heard anyone talking about a Karen, a Jane or a Claire, and I haven’t been anywhere with grass or mud.

I click in the internet search box.

Dreaming about emailing, I type.

To dream about writing an email shows you are trying to figure something out on your own, the first site says.


Dreaming about contacting the police

Your subconscious may feel that you are in trouble.

In trouble for what? The worst thing I’ve ever done is get caught speeding and I paid the ticket on time.

I get up and close the door to the study to block out the sound of Steve’s whistling, cutting through the roar of the shower, then sit back down.

Karen, Jane, Claire I type into Google

Nothing of interest comes up.

Karen, Jane, Claire, shoe

I press return then sit back in shock as a headline leaps from the screen.

Unsolved Cases: The Aberaeron Caravan Murders. Three young women brutally killed in the summer of 1981 and robbed of their shoes.

I rub at the goosebumps that have reappeared on my arms.

“You can’t really believe that?” Steve says now, sitting beside me in the car  outside Sunshine Care Home. “That you witnessed three women being killed when you were eight years old?”

“I don’t want to believe it, but it all ties together. Why else would their names be in my subconscious?”

“Probably your grandparents talked about them. I imagine everyone was terrified, especially as you were staying in the caravan park where it happened.”

“But my gran said she found me standing at the end of her bed, sleepwalking, with mud on my feet.”

“Who knows? It’s so unlikely, Dawn.”

“But I’ve been trying to email the police! What if I know who did it?” I tap the side of my head. “What if it’s locked in here? I need to talk to Grandad about it.”

Steve shoots me a sorrowful look.

“He doesn’t even know who you are half the time.”

As Steve predicted, Grandad is quiet and unresponsive. He glances at us as we sit down but, despite me talking nineteen to the dozen ever since, he hasn’t said a word.

A few minutes ago my husband shot me a look – I told you so – and got up to make a cup of tea.

“Grandad.” I lay my hand over his. “Is there anything odd you can remember? Did anyone funny come to our caravan?”

He would have been interviewed by police at the time, but I can’t let go of the grain of hope that maybe he can help me solve this riddle so those three women can find justice, and I can sleep again.

“Here we go.” Steve reappears and hands me a steaming cup. “Anything?”

I shake my head and we sit in silence.

“We should go,” I say as Steve starts whistling nervously. “I was silly to think –”

“Hush up,” Grandad mutters as Steve stands up.


“That infernal whistling. The song that bloomin’… what’s his name… he whistles it all the time.”

He points a shaking finger at me. “You go running after him like he’s the Pied Piper or something. Indoors or outdoors, off you go like he’s handing out sweets. What’s he called?”

I stare at him. “What’s who called?”

“Bob Jotter!” A delighted look lights up his face. “Entertainer. Aberaeron Caravan Park. Weird fella, but your gran likes him. Always says nice things about her shoes.”

Two months later …

Steve closes his newspaper and smiles up at me as I walk into the kitchen and run a hand through my sleep-ruffled hair.

“How did you sleep?” he asks as I gaze down at the newspaper headline.


I give his shoulder a squeeze.

“Better than I have in years.”