I jolted awake, body shaking, drenched with sweat. So much, in fact, that my hair was stuck to my face. Not again, I thought, as I felt for my bottled water on my nightstand in the dark. I took a long gulp, then a couple of smaller sips as I sat in bed willing my racing heartbeat to return to normal. I glanced at the angry red glow of my clock when I replaced the bottle. 3:12.
It was still dark. I could see the faintest sliver of moonlight creeping around my window shades, somewhat reassuring me that the moon was still there, silently guarding all who slumber against things that go bump in the night. I wasn’t quite sure that it was keeping an eye on me, however.
I brushed the damp hair out of my eyes and reclined against my pillows, pulling my comforter up to my chin.
The nightmares had become increasingly worse.
I initially chalked them up to the horror movies I watch far too frequently. I recently started viewing short films on my tablet as I try to fall asleep each night, waiting for my sleep meds to kick in. Naturally, I attributed my nightmares to being a scaredy-cat; however, the intensity of my terrifying reveries was increasing exponentially, and I was genuinely afraid of what the next one would bring.
While my nightmares’ plots and actors varied somewhat, the unifying theme involved a chase. Specifically, I was being chased—through a field, a house, a deserted asylum, the creepy little The Hills Have Eyes town in which I used to reside, the woods—wherever my subconscious transported me. Those doing the chasing have been quite, shall we say, interesting: rabid dogs, zombies, hungry bears, chainsaw-wielding maniacs, various horror movie villains, bill collectors, and, once, an abusive ex-boyfriend. There was neither rhyme nor reason, and the overt absence of logic was a huge affront to my Virgo sensibilities.
I made a mental note to tell my therapist of my dreams’ increasing frequency and magnitude. I’ll probably have to see the shrink for new sleep meds, I thought. I’ve taken most of them actually, with little-to-no relief. I might sleep three or four hours before awakening, unable to fall back asleep. For nearly 20 years I have struggled with this damn insomnia and while I was actually rather used to it, it certainly did affect my quality of life to some degree.
As I lay in bed waiting impatiently for my eyelids to grow heavy, my analytical mind tried to glean some insight into my nightmares. They had started when I was around seven years of age, after my father (or, rather, sperm donor) abandoned my mother, brother, and me. My doctor at the time believed my dreams were a manifestation of my missing him, even though he was an asshole who I was glad was gone.
As I grew older, the nightmares would reveal themselves differently. I remember when I was about nine, I dreamt that I went to visit my paternal grandmother in her Beverly Hills high rise condo; however, when I knocked on her door, I was confronted with Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein, Lon Chaney Jr.’s Wolfman, and Bela Lugosi’s Count Dracula who proceeded to chase me throughout the 52 floors of the building and into the basement where implements of torture were strewn about. Granted, at age seven, torture involved no television, a spanking, or being forced to visit my grandmother. As I aged, my ideas of torture morphed into a compendium of Medieval devices, scenes from the Hostel franchise, and Saw traps.
This nighttime scenario replayed itself countless times until my grandmother succumbed to cancer when I was twenty-two. My psychology professor during my junior year of college surmised that these beasts were some subconscious effort on my part to villainize my grandmother who, not unlike my father, I really could have done without.
Throughout the rest of my 20’s, I experienced other repetitive nightmares—none which merit individual mention but, as I said, they always involved my being chased. Now, in my mid-thirties, the eerie reveries were more frequent, more lucid, and more shocking.
What was rather interesting was that I had never been caught. In any of them. I only wish my cardio endurance was as phenomenal in real life as it is in my nightmares. Although I shudder to think what might happen if I was captured. Tonight, however, I had nearly been apprehended by Pennywise the Dancing Clown from Stephen King’s It. I despise clowns. Oh, and ventriloquists’ dummies. And dolls. Like Annabelle.
After what seemed like an eternity of what if’s and why not’s, I finally succumbed to sleep. Almost immediately I found myself on an abandoned street in a generic neighborhood, racing down a hill toward—I don’t know, downtown maybe?—running from…something. I dared to steal a glance behind me and saw burn victim Freddy Krueger in hot pursuit, the shadow from his finger knives elongated by the waning crescent moon. I took some odd familiar comfort in the fact that it was the original Robert Englund Freddy and not Jackie Earle Haley from the unnecessary and underwhelming 2010 remake.
Then the unthinkable happened.
I tripped. Over what, I have no idea. I’ve always been a klutz, even though I’ve danced since I was four. Anyway, my palms and knees were bleeding from their forceful impact upon the asphalt, and I winced in pain as I rose to continue my flight. But my mishap was to be my ultimate downfall.
Freddy reached me and pierced my back with his finger knives and pulled me toward him. The searing pain was both real and unreal, and I felt a panic unlike anything I had ever experienced in all of my years of nightmares.
Wake up, wake up, wake up, I pleaded under my breath, trying to will myself into consciousness.
As a broad smile spread across Freddy’s hideously scarred face, he sneered, “My, my, aren’t you mistaken young lady. This isn’t the nightmare, your pathetic life is. This, my dear, is reality!”
“Some people ask why people would go into a dark room to be scared. I say they are already scared, and they need to have that fear manipulated and massaged. I think of horror movies as the disturbed dreams of a society.” ~ Wes Craven