The kraken of nightmares just swam past my dreamy dinghy and I am unbelievably shaken by the turbulent waves accompanied by it. So much so that it’s currently 2:00 AM in the morning and I’ve been up for an hour processing everything that just happened because closing my eyes is a danger to my health. This’ll sound dramatic, but I beg to differ. You haven’t heard the entire story.
I’ve been struggling with nightmares, real nightmares, not some “oops, I’m naked and I’m in my high school cafeteria trying to work on my giant paper I forgot to do while my crush laughs at my terrible teenaged body” dreams. Real nightmares on a gargantuan scale that literally have me waking up in cold sweats, sometimes sitting straight up in bed and crying out in that cliche movie way that doesn’t seem so cliche when it happens. Dreams where I witness someone being brutally shot in the street amidst a cacophony of high pitched screams wrapped up in a violent wind seemingly sent to pierce straight through the same bullet holes that inevitably end the person’s life. Dreams where I know I’m in love with someone and I’m walking with her into a park at night but realize upon seeing her turn around that her face is blank, her movements become epileptic, and out of the area where her face should be materializes a gaping maw and I know it’s my time to die. Dreams where I attend a Christmas party in a tall building with an interior identical to LA’s Bradbury Building in Blade Runner and I end up helping an old woman I’ve met under the dingy, green flickering light of a freight elevator find her way through the pitch darkness of an abandoned floor of industrial machinery only to come out onto the roof where leathery, grey, twisted, hobbling creatures the size of rottweilers descend on me. And dreams like tonight’s which didn’t make me sit upright in bed and scream at all; tonight I was so terrified by a dream I couldn’t physically move when it followed me into reality.
My dream revolved around a basement. I had created this little house out of light cardboard and assembled it so I could show some unidentifiable authority figure (Boss) my work. I then started sketching vignettes of things that would scare me if I were to see them in the basement; most of the sketches resembled horrors akin to the “Hell” panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s famous “The Garden of Earthly Delights” painting from the late 15th century. I then drew an image of a little girl with purely white eyes and cracked, yellowed, porcelain skin in a baroque era black dress. When I was finished, a chill ran down my spine because I had figured out the image I’d want to see the least in that basement. Setting aside the drawings of my fears for the moment, I showed Boss the little cardboard house I had made and he commended my work, offering to put it into “rotation” as soon as I figured out additional designs. He asked me how I did it and I proceeded to make the comparison to how movie theatre standees are put together; interlocking, foldable pieces bring together the walls of the structure and allow it to stand with remarkable stability once properly constructed. I looked to my left and there was an old standee conveniently placed right there. I showed him the interlocking pieces by undoing one and the standee started to fall. I panicked and grabbed it and tried to hold it up. Everything spiraled after that.
Boss disappeared suddenly. Struggling to hold the standee that was falling apart, I began hearing a disembodied voice.
“I don’t ever stay in that hallway. I can’t handle seeing her down there.”
I suddenly realized the standee I was holding up was long and span the length of a 20 foot hallway that went further into the basement. It wobbled uncontrollably in waves. The end of the hallway opposite me was dark and I resolved to let the standee fall over instead of continuing to try to keep it together. That disembodied voice was in my head and it didn’t echo. It was like someone was speaking through a pillow straight into my brain and it didn’t sound pleased. The standee made a surprisingly loud crash as it hit the wall and slid to the floor.
“You need to leave.”
I turned back toward the stairs but it was nothing but blackness. Blackness so thick, it was like someone had filled the entire basement with cotton balls that had been dipped in tar. I couldn’t see anything but the floor directly beneath me and the hallway, which terminated in that same blackness. There was no way out. My little cardboard house I’d created seemed absurd in that moment and I kicked it out of frustration and fear. That same chill from before trickling down my spine, my heart an uncontrollable thrumming base note.
Suddenly, I’m prostrate with my eyes closed facing the ceiling. I open my eyes just a bit and I realize I’m in the hallway, now black on either end. I can feel a presence walking up behind my head. I can hear shallow breathing getting closer and I can feel footsteps through my back that’s flat against the floor. The voice repeats the line about not ever wanting to be in the hallway like a nagging parent who’s disappointed in me. In my head I’m simultaneously furious at the situation because I tried to leave but couldn’t and terrified for my life. It’s closer now and I close my eyes so hard tears squeeze out of the corners of them. The footsteps stop right at my side and I can feel the breathing on my face now. It’s just waiting for me to open my eyes so it can shriek in my face and kill me. I’m so scared that I accidentally open my eyes for a split second and I catch a quick glimpse of what’s beside me. A black dress, baroque era, dirty and tattered and inches from my face. It’s the sketch I’d done from before. The pupil-less, cracked, yellowed, porcelain-skinned specter I was so frightened by earlier was here to take my life.
I vowed to not open my eyes again thinking this would save me. If I kept my eyes shut, she couldn’t hurt me. What happened next was something I’d never experienced before, however. I think at some point I awoke from the dream and I was back in my actual bed in reality, but I was very much still in a version of the dream simultaneously. My eyes were closed and I didn’t want to open them for fear she would be there even though I could now hear the sound of my fan running in my room on the 9th floor, very much not a basement, coming back into focus. Because I believed her to still be there, my body was paralyzed. I started seeing bloody fireworks on the insides of my eyelids as I could feel my blood pressure increasing to levels I don’t think I’ve ever felt before. The feeling was like being placed upside down while being strangled and feeling like my eyeballs were going to burst out of my head. My heart beat so hard I could hear it moving the fabric of the blanket on top of me. I hadn’t felt such absolute raw fear, a fear that literally paralyzed my body and made me feel like I was about to explode, from any of those other nightmares I’d had lately. This was different, this was dangerous, this was beyond a normal nightmare. Surely this was real because there was a real ghost waiting for me to acknowledge her presence.
But I didn’t give her that courtesy; I remembered I don't believe in ghosts. After an incalculable amount of time of resisting what I felt like could’ve lead to a heart attack if prolonged, I courageously opened my eyes and realized I was alone. No ghost, no basement, no dream. Just me again. Just my room with my fan and my desk and my nightstand and the August picture on a calendar across the room. I’ve never been so relieved to be alone. I got up and turned on a light while my heart rate returned to normal levels again. I walked around the apartment to shake off that lingering, gnawing feeling you get when you have an upsetting dream. My mind was racing as it tried to parse the scenes and analyze the details of everything that happened both within the nightmare and outside of it when it followed me into reality. I sat back down after a bout of pacing and anxious meditation, but I wasn’t ready to sleep. This needed to be talked out so I could feel better. Obviously I’m not going to call someone at this time of night, so I had to write it out.
This entire post has taken about an hour to put into words, but I think I’m ready to try sleeping again. Hopefully talking about this hyper-personal ordeal has been exercise enough to let my mind turn off for a few hours.