I would have woken up screaming last night, but when I clawed my way out of sleep the air was congealed in my lungs. This is uncommon, but not unprecedented. I have a ridiculously overactive imagination and a rich inner landscape, which often spill over into my dreams.
Only I don’t dream, I embark on epic quests. I have dreams so detailed and nuanced that they should be full-length feature films. I’m often fighting and running. I frequently battle evil. Sometimes I fall in love. Sometimes I revel in solitude. Sometimes I triumph. Sometimes I die. I dream almost every night and usually, when I wake up, I remember my dreams in all their Technicolor glory.
I also usually recognize that it was just a dream. Sometimes, however, it takes me a while to get to that point. Sometimes even when I realize it was a dream it was so deeply disturbing that I still can’t shake it off. Last night was one of those nights.
There was a lot to my dream, most of which is irrelevant to the terror that drenched me when I woke. It actually started as a nice dream – I was at a bonfire party, enjoying the play of flames, the refreshing taste of cool beer, the laughter of friends – but something went horribly wrong.
The night turned cold. The dark turned menacing. The scenery turned sinister. Mist so heavy it could choke rolled in, blanketing everything in shadows, smothering the fire and obscuring the sky, twisting otherwise ordinary shapes into grotesque monstrosities.
I got confused and wandered away from the group, ending up alone. I yelled, trying to get people who I was sure were nearby to respond so I could echolocate them. Even as my shout faded into expectant silence, I regretted the sound that revealed me. And my fears were realized as, instead of the replying voices of friends calling back, a screech ricocheted through the night, filled with equal parts rage and pain.
What should have been a woman tore through the mist. Her clothing was all wrong. A dress decades, if not centuries, out of date hung off her in tatters. Her hair was a Medusa’s nest of dark, tangled curls. She was gaunt to the point of skeletal. Her mouth was open, continuing to emit that chilling screech, a gaping maw darker even than the now pervasive shadows.
Out of the mist she flew at me, hands outstretched, her emaciated fingers with their bony knuckles and long ragged nails reaching for me. I tried to back away, to turn and run. I tried to throw up my arms to protect my face. But by the time I saw her emerge from the mist she was already on top of me.
One wasted thumb caught in my mouth as her fingers reached for my neck. I almost bit down on that digit, but something in me rebelled deeply at the thought of consuming any part of this hag. Even if it was just an ounce of flesh that could be quickly spat out, I was convinced that the inevitable blood would still somehow contaminate me.
Even as I debated with myself, however, she extracted her thumb from my mouth and clenched her hands firmly around my throat. Within seconds, I began to black out, my starved lungs screaming for air.
And that’s when I woke up, with my lungs still aching, locked tight and refusing to gather enough oxygen for even a whimper. In the darkness of my bedroom, I couldn’t shake the image of the woman burned into my brain, lunging out of the darkness, tearing at my throat.
And so, when I finally did get my breath back, I yelled just to prove that I could, to prove that I wasn’t trapped in a dream where you can’t scream.
It felt amazing.
My apologies to any neighbors who might have been rudely woken up at 2:35 this morning.