For this weeks Sunday Picture Press: Lunatic Dreams writing challenge I’ve decided to go with a real life theme instead of a fictional one. Only once have I ever had a nightmare where I’ve woken in a sweaty mess, bed sheets tangled around my limbs, struggling to breathe and scared half to death. And once is enough to last me a life time.
That isn’t to say I’ve never had a bad dream, there have been plenty of those, some frightened the bejesus out of me, but I seem to understand what they are and just ride them out. I’ve read a lot about sleep and dreaming as research for a novel and find the subject fascinating. I love the concept of lucid dreaming and yet being aware I am dreaming is something that eludes me.
And so, dear blog reader, I’d like to share a few of my dreams that have remained with me my entire life, from when I was young boy to the nightmare that hurt me a month ago. They are weird and scary and one that is downright funny…well, depending on your point of view!
During my primary school years, early 1980’s, I had a recurring dream about being chased by a beast I never saw but I knew exactly what it looked like. The beast was the size of a bear, with the same strength yet speed and cunning of a cheetah. It was a mass of spikes and dark sticky fur, razor sharp metal fangs and a growl that made my stomach clench up in terror. It was a sound that would have prompted my bladder to empty itself had I heard it when awake.
The beast is chasing me. I don’t know from where or why but it is also chasing my school friends. All I know is that it wants to get us, that alone is enough to bring the fear to full force, let alone thinking through the details of what “get” specifically entails. My friends and I appear in my Great Aunt Mary’s bungalow, how we got there I will never know, such is the randomness of dreams. Aunt Mary’s house has a peculiar smell, cabbages and liver and boiled ham. She has huge glass windows overlooking a long garden and in her living room are display cabinets of ornate glass and metal. Everything in her home feels transparent, the cabinets, coffee table, side tables, even a glass wall that separated the living room from the kitchen.
Not a well-chosen place to hide from the beast.
We all know the beast is coming, we can hear its growl and the sound of its teeth slashing at the air. We can smell it too, wet fur and rabid fury. Yes, in my dreams fury has a smell. I race through Aunt Mary’s bungalow, desperate to find a hiding place. My friends are slipping away, one by one they find hiding places, safe and sound from the beast. I’m gripped by panic like I’ve never known. The beast will crash through the kitchen any moment and it will see me through the glass wall, helpless and unprotected by a suitable hiding place.
I can feel it looking at me even though it hasn’t arrived. It can see me and it knows I am easy prey. The last of my friends seem to find places to hide even though the bungalow is made of glass. Suddenly every last piece of furniture is see through and I don’t understand how my friends are able to hide. Why haven’t they taken me with them?
The beast is so close I can hear its talons tap tap tap on the hard kitchen floor.
In the living room on the plush carpet I stare with wild eyes in every direction at once. There is no refuge. The beast is going to get me. There’s something of a transition where the bungalow changes yet stays the same, as if two realities merge together. The walls are still covered in ornate wallpaper but they look like the walls of a cave, white and stark with strange paintings of elephants and zebra.
A crack runs diagonally across the wall and at its centre is a minute hole big enough to fit the tip of finger inside. Despite the size I can see my friends through it and a garden beyond, a big green oasis of safety. My friends beckon to me with outstretched hands. I don’t understand how I can fit through the tiny hole that is big enough to see such a wide view.
Then I see the look of terror on their faces. Behind me the beast is slinking slowly toward me, ready to pounce. One by one my friends sprint away across the garden in the tiny hole. I put aside my questions and reach up. I don’t know the name of the friend who saves me, nor do I recognise his face.
I grasp his hand and he pulls me up. The beast lunges with a roar that scares me more than anything in the world. It misses me by a gnats wing and I struggle through the hole that is barely big enough to fit my finger tip.
In the garden I hide and watch the beast prowl around Aunt Mary’s bungalow.
I’m warm and cosy in bed. Tired after a hectic day at school. I’m on the cusp of slipping into my dream land, that weightless feeling where I’m not awake but not asleep. In my dream land I enjoy the thrill of dreams as they wrap around me, lead me through a collage of imagery, senses, sounds and feelings. Even though this is a good dream I sense something isn’t right. Something is waiting for me. Something bad.
I don’t know how or when I realise I have to pee but the sensation brings me to the brink of pushing aside the dreamscape and surfacing to consciousness. But I linger a moment longer because I know with absolute certainty that something is waiting for me when I awake. I want to stay and continue my adventures yet I must leave my bedroom, cross the landing and go to the bathroom. I’m not going to wet the bed so I have to wake up and take care of business.
I hover between my dream land and that cosy drifting place before consciousness takes hold. I think about what I need to do.
It’s five steps from bed to door. If I turn on my bedside light my parents will know I’m awake. I should have gone to the loo before I got into bed so I don’t want them to know I didn’t. A hazy orange glow from the street light outside our house squeezes through my curtains and casts a light shadow across the carpet. I can use this like lights on a runway. It can guide me to my bedroom door.
I’m safe in my bedroom but something is waiting for me on the landing. Like the beast I have never seen it but I know what it looks like. Our landing at the top of the stairs is dark, there are no windows yet there are subtle changes in the shadows. Some are darker than others, even in the pitch black of night. Hiding in a deep black shadow is a little red devil. Looking back now I see it resembled a Leprechaun, dressed in red not green. It wears a dark red coat and a hood covers his face.
His eyes are black and they see me through the walls. It watches me as I sleep.
I’m six or seven years old but the little red devil is shorter than I am. In one hand he holds a large scythe, a gnarled black handle and a blade that shines through the shadows. He won’t do anything so long as I stay in my bed. He won’t even move until I step beyond my bedroom door. But I know the second both feet are over that safe threshold he will slice me in half and laugh as I try to scream.
I don’t want to leave my bedroom.
I drift back to my dream land. The little red devil won’t get me tonight.
Sometime later I surface, brought to the edge of my dream as my bladder swells to the size of a hot air balloon. Instantly I know the little red devil is there waiting for me. He wants to slice me in two. That’s all he wants. Nothing more, nothing less. This battle between my painful need to pee and the thought of being cut in half rages on. To make matters worse my throat is dry. I don’t just fancy a drink, I am desperate for one. My throat burns like sandpaper rubbed against hot rock.
Dream land beckons me and I run to its call. Springs of beautiful fresh water flow all around me. I drink my fill, the crisp clean water gurgles down my throat, refreshing me until I know I’ll never need another drink of water for the rest of my life.
Again my bladder tugs me from my dream land and I hover on the edge of waking. The battle is getting worse. I need to pee, if I don’t do something very soon I’m going to be in a lot of trouble. I’m parched too. I can barely swallow my throat is so sore. And yet outside my bedroom the little red devil is waiting patiently to punish me for not going to the loo before I went to bed.
I hear footsteps on the floor boards but I can’t work out where or who. Is it the little red devil? I freeze under my bed covers. My body goes rigid and I breathe very slowly, my chest hardly moves. He can’t come in my bedroom. I know he can’t. But can he go elsewhere in the house? What if he gets my sister? We have a deal, unspoken such as it is, but I don’t know if that includes not harming my sister.
I’m fully awake now. I realise that if she sets foot outside her own bedroom the little red devil will slice her in two instead of me. I feel angry. He can’t hurt my sister. I won’t let him do that. He can torment me but not her. Never my sister.
Finally I understand that I have to leave the security of my bed and venture out across the landing to the bathroom. I travel along the orange runway glow to my bedroom door and hesitate. I press my ear against the door and listen. I can hear the little red devil even though he makes no noise. He is waiting for me. For what seems like an age I wait, listening, hoping he has slipped away and given up his own hope of swishing his scythe through my body.
In a flourish I snatch open my bedroom door, reach up to the light switch and shock the darkness.
The little red devil is gone. With my heat beating I dash across the landing and into the bathroom. I pee. Sweet blessed relief. I drink, great handfuls of cool water straight from the tap. By the time I climb back into bed I’m exhausted. I fall into a dreamless sleep.
The Tired Green Tiger
Flash forward to age 19. My first flat that I share with my girlfriend, we’ll call her GF for the sake of keeping something private. The flat isn’t a pretty place. I’m unemployed and a bit of a loser. She, however, is in college and going places. This tale is a bit different in that don’t remember anything about the event. I only know what my GF told me.
We’re in bed and both wide awake, although I assure her I was fast asleep throughout the entire thing. It’s summer and we have both windows open, the heat is intense. I’m woken up because I keep having a conversation with someone who isn’t there. A very clear and concise conversation but I don’t recall the exact nature. When my GF finally wakes me up, according to her, I proceed to tell her who I was talking to.
“He’s fine now,” I say.
“The old green tiger.”
“The tiger,” I tell her. “He lives at the bottom of our bed. He’s okay now.”
There isn’t anything at the bottom of our bed. GF points this out but I insist the old green tiger is right there. I even point to him.
“He’s had a good life,” I tell her. “He’s old and tired but everything is going to be okay.”
“But there’s no tiger there.”
“There is. He says he’s happy. He likes it here and he’s just fine now.”
Apparently I insist everything is going to be okay. The tiger is safe. He is happy and just fine. I don’t know how long this conversation with my GF goes on for, but I recall her telling me it went on for quite a while. I never elaborated on the details, who the tiger was, why he was green or old or happy. And I never said why he was safe either.
I must have gone back to sleep or the conversation ended. Either way the next morning I don’t remember any conversation with a tiger, green, happy or otherwise, and I don’t remember talking it through with my GF. She was very specific about me sitting up in bed, eyes wide open, talking to her. I could offer no explanation as to how this happened because as far as I was concerned I was fast asleep, never woke up and never spoke to her until the morning!
I’ve lived in Cambridge for about 12 years or so. I live with a family I adore and whilst the children are not biologically related to me, I love and care for them as if they were. From the ages of 4 and 6 I’ve watched them grow up into fine young adults and I could not be more proud of them. I am fiercely protective and would do anything to keep them from harm. In truth I would gladly give my life to protect them.
This dream is quite horrific and is the only time I’ve woken bathed in sweat and too terrified to close my eyes again. This is the reason why I chose the photo as my writing prompt. It’s quite scary how close it is to the nightmare vision of my dream land. In this dream the children, A and M, are around 10 and 12 years old.
Something terrible has happened. I don’t know what or why. I know it is going to get worse. A lot worse. We’re in a maze of sorts, a place of garish colours, slanted doorways. neon lights, polished floors and strange spots of darkness, like shadows but patches of gloom that don’t make sense. If you’ve ever seen Big Brother on TV, it’s similar to those surroundings, only with a deeper feeling of claustrophobia.
We’re running from something. An evil entity that wants to crush us with merciless hands of stone and blood. We all know it wants to squeeze the breath from our bodies like a python or a vice, then torture and consume us. We run along corridors of neon strip lighting, our footsteps echo as if we’re in a huge auditorium yet the corridor itself is narrow with twists and turns. Behind us lights flicker and die. The polished floors fade to a dull dust-covered path, cracked and warped like old wood left untreated under a murderous hot sun.
Left and right we flee along the corridor. There’s no end in sight, no exit and no plan but to outrun this thing chasing us. We’re exhausted, our legs heavy and we’re struggling to catch our breath. I urge the children on, we have to keep moving no matter what. But eventually we have to stop. In slanted door ways without doors we catch our breath and look at one another with shared horror. My eyes hurt from the constant glare of the neon lights and bold colours.
I tell myself that sooner or later the thing will catch us. I will be forced to make a stand against it. I don’t want to. I want to keep moving and keep everyone safe. But I know if I don’t turn and fight we will die. I can’t let it hurt the children. I will sacrifice myself in order to buy them time. Time to live just a few moments longer but it may be enough for them to find an exit. I know that once the exit is found the thing chasing us can’t follow.
We move on. The youngest, A, is tired. She can’t keep up so I sweep her into my arms and we push on. We avoid the strange pools of darkness that seep into the corridor. Along the way we shake doors but none open. The corridor just keeps going. Behind us the thing is relentless, a cold heartless creature without form, it has but one goal, to capture us, make us suffer and kill us. We can’t see it, even though we glance behind every so often.
At times we stop, we know this is okay for a few moments. It’s as if the thing is playing with us, allowing us a window of time to rest up before it comes again, but every time I call a halt I know we need longer to recuperate, and that means the thing is slowly gaining on us. I tell M that he must take his sister and keep going. I have to try to stop it, though I don’t know how. He yells at me not to leave them.
The fear in his eyes forces my dead legs to move.
We pass through endless corridors and the pools of gloom increase. We dodge left and right to avoid them. So far this has been easy, we just stick to the lit places and dash or leap around the dark places. As they become more frequent we are forced to slow down. With A in my arms I grow weary. I put her down so she can jog alongside me for a while so I can wrestle some sensation back into my burning limbs.
After a few more twists and turns the pools of gloom start appearing as we approach. We see them grow and expand, sucking in the colour from the neon lights a few feet ahead. I pick up A once again but I lose my balance and step into a shadow. My foot burns with fire and ice then goes numb. I stagger and drop A on the floor. I propel her into her brother arms and scream at them to run. The numbness is crawling up my leg. Seconds later I can’t feel my leg at all. M grabs my hand and pulls me up.
I can’t move very fast. The numb sensation is like pins and needles from sleeping or sitting in an awkward position. Every time my foot hits the floor I stagger and crash against the wall. The thing behind us knows I am hurt and I sense it has quickened its pace. We keep going at a brisk walk, the agony in my leg is unbearable.
It dawns on all of us that we won’t get out alive. The thing is going to reach us and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. When I finally collapse I stare up at the children, I am consumed by despair, fear and guilt for not doing a better job protecting them. I break down and sob. The thing wants us all and as a guardian I have failed to do my duty.
M is crying. He holds his sister against him. I wave my hand for them to keep going. M wants to do what he is told but he doesn’t want to leave me to the thing. He tries to pick me up but I push him away. M loses his balance and bangs against a door. It swings open and beautiful white light floods the corridor. For a moment we stare at it. We have found the exit. The thing has lost. I shout at the children to get through the doorway.
The thing hammers around the last corner.
The polished floor warps and cracks as it comes toward us. We have a few seconds to make our exit. I drag myself across the floor, my leg all but dead. The children wait until I am almost beside them before they step out into the light. They stop suddenly. I stare at them with horror. It’s as if they have walked into a wall they didn’t see. The door is open but they can’t get through.
There’s an invisible barrier over the exit. I scream in anger. Left and right the floor buckled and heaves. The thing is coming from both directions now. It has us hemmed in and is closing in for the kill. I see the massive stone hands reach out. With my last shred of energy I pushed the children against the doorway but they can’t go through.
The thing is upon us. I watch A cry as she is hauled away from the door.
M gasps as the stone hands grip him, lift him off the floor and begin choking the life from his body.
The numbness in my legs has spread to the rest of my body.
Unable to move I watch the thing destroy all that I love and care for.
I scream until my throat explodes.
I can’t save them.
I open my eyes and in the darkness of my bedroom I can still see the corridor and those giant stone hands reaching, grasping, tearing, killing. My heart bangs in my chest and I gasp for breath. I know it was just a dream but I’m terrified beyond words. The Insane Bear Beast and The Little Red Devil pale into comparison when it comes to thing that has invaded my dream land and chased us down the corridors.
I sit up in bed and keep my eyes wide open, staring at nothing in the dark. The nightmare lingers, the feelings of guilt and terror fades, but ever so slowly. I reach out and turn on my bed side lamp. Everything is as it should be.
It was just a dream. Just a nightmare. The worst I have ever had.
I remember every last minuscule detail of that terrible event as if it was real. Even thinking about and now writing about it makes my skin crawl and goose bumps break out on my arms. I know it was just my subconscious but it doesn’t make me feel any better knowing that I failed to protect those whom I love. After reading many books on dreams, the science of sleep, dream classification and so on, it saddens me to say none of them give me any comfort when faced with that kind of event in my dream land.
Sometimes the truth, or the warped truth found only dreams, is every bit as frightening as the fiction I write about.
This dream journal was inspired by Indigo Spider’s Sunday Picture Press – a challenge to write a 1500 word piece of fiction (or in this case actual events) using one of 4 photos as a prompt.
This weeks challenge was based on Martin Luther King’s famous quote: “I have a dream..” where the writer is encouraged to relate their piece to that quote. I found the photo unbelievably similar to the nightmare I experienced just over a month ago. As I scrolled down Indigo’s SPP page, I was immediately drawn to the guy with a squid on his head. I felt my funny bone twang with an idea about a guy who stuck a squid on his head and regretted it.
However when I saw Visual Prompt 4 – Arches by Lars Raun, I felt a peculiar tingle on the back of my neck. I stared at the photo as deja vu kicked me in the face. I knew I had to write about my dreams and the one nightmare I’ve ever had and never want again. As much I hated thinking about it, I am relieved I had a chance to write about it. Somehow it feels as if I’ve got it out of my system because I have thought about almost every day since then.
So I thank Indigo Spider for the strange coincidence. The best photo prompt yet!
Excellent picture prompts from Indigo. If you want to join in and write a short piece of fiction clicky-click Indigo Spider’s link above and wrap your imagination around one of the pictures.