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Empty and Endless

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It was approximately 4:00am. I had been driving for a very long time. The long stretch of road cutting through the desert landscape was seemingly endless, and completely void of any signs of life. There weren’t even any cacti on the side of the road where I expected them to be. Then again, it wasn’t exactly bright enough for me to see very far. Without any differentiation on an almost perfectly straight route, I found myself dozing off periodically. The monotony was beginning to get to me. The only thing keeping me from falling asleep was an overwhelming sense of terror. I was being chased - chased by something. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was gaining on me and I had to get away. My fear and sleep deprivation levels were now equal. I could feel myself losing the fight. The fight that is, to survive.

It was at this point that I woke up, drenched in a fear induced sweat. My anxious and soaked state was caused by a nightmare. This was the same nightmare I had been experiencing for weeks now. None of it made any sense. I had never even been to a desert, let alone driven through one. I lived near the beach for crying out loud. I spoke to my physician about my state of affairs, but he just blamed it on an overabundance of stress. He told me to relax and take a few sick days off from work. Work, however, was the only thing keeping me awake. I found myself nodding off at odd times during the day, sometimes even while driving to and from my workplace. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense seeing as I was not an insomniac; not even in the slightest. Despite my troubling dreams, I still managed to get at least eight hours of sleep each and every night. My doctor didn’t really shed any light on this either - simply telling me to take some caffeine pills during the day to keep from falling asleep at the wheel. The situation at hand was my burden and mine alone to bare, seeing as nobody could offer me any form of valid insight.

After another long day of work, I ventured home to inevitably get some rest. Before finishing my commute, I unsurprisingly found my eyelids growing heavier. I tried to keep my eyes on the road, but I could feel my mind yearning for sleep, just begging me to close my eyes and drift off. Seeing as this was not exactly a good time to catch some shut-eye, I figured that I should pull over before endangering other people’s lives, not to mention my own. I would have done this, had my insatiable desire for sleep not taken over in a matter of mere seconds. These were anything but ideal circumstances.

In a seamless fashion, I went from driving home from work, to driving through that long stretch of road located only in my nightmare. It was dark out, as was to be expected. What wasn’t expected was a pair of lights off in the distance. I could barely see them, but they were definitely there. I still had an unnerving sense of being chased, but something didn’t feel right. I kept driving nonetheless. After what felt like maybe ten minutes of driving, I could make out what the lights were. They were headlights! They belonged to a truck driving in my direction on the opposite side of the road. This was astonishing to me because my recurring dream never contained anything within it, other than myself and the landscape. As the truck grew closer, it started honking it’s horn. The sound grew louder and louder until finally, I awoke from my untimely slumber.

Without even a proper moment’s notice to react, I swerved to the right, avoiding the oncoming traffic. My car had wandered onto the wrong side of the road while I was asleep. The honking I had heard in my dream was actually that of on oncoming car. I looked back to make sure I hadn’t been the cause of some sort of pile-up in the middle of the highway. To my relief, I was not. Even so, I was lucky to be alive.

After adjusting myself onto the proper side of the road, I realized where I was located. I was in almost the exact same spot that I had been before drifting off. My dream may have felt like it had lasted ten minutes, but in actuality it only lasted an instant. Thank goodness for that, otherwise I could have very well died. With my newfound understanding, I drove the rest of the way home, successfully avoiding sleep’s unyielding grasp.

After getting undressed and putting my things away, I let myself fall onto my bed, completely missing my pillow. Even still, I fell asleep almost instantaneously. My dream commenced once again. I was driving down that all too familiar desert road, when I once again noticed something. The headlights from my previous dream were back again, off in the distance. I was perplexed, as I had assumed the fast approaching truck had only leaked into my dream before, given my setting at the time. I let the dream continue as it normally did. I could still feel the fear instilled in my fast beating heart, knowing that something was still out there, chasing me. After roughly ten minutes of driving, the headlights came into view, revealing the very same truck. This was then followed by the sound of a car honking its horn. I then woke up.

Upon waking, I found myself in my car driving into oncoming traffic. I swerved to the right, mimicking my motions from earlier in the day. After doing so, the confusion set in. What was going on? Where was I? The answer to this would only leave me with more questions. After looking around and getting my bearings, I knew exactly where I was. I was back in the exact same spot where I had been driving before - the same spot where I fell asleep and almost collided with another car. My next course of action was to look at my clock. No, this couldn’t be. It was not only the same spot, but it was the same time as well. How? Was I still dreaming when I woke up the first time? If so, then how did I predict exactly what would happen when I awoke? I could feel a large amount of anxiety setting in, as well as more fatigue. I decided to discard my questions for the time being and simply focus on driving home.

I made it home safely, but as puzzled as ever. I would have delved deeper into the problem in a search for answers, but I was far too tired. I simply assumed that the entire ordeal was nothing more than a strange, somewhat premonitory dream. In accepting my theory as truth (just barely), I undressed and put my things away. I walked over to my bed and fell onto it, completely missing my pillow. After a moment or two, I fell asleep once more.

I was greeted with the very same desert landscape, and the very same straight and narrow road that I was now accustomed to. Sure enough, off in the distance were those very headlights I had seen twice before. I drove onwards, giving in to my dream’s lackluster narrative. Surely I wouldn’t wake up in the middle of oncoming traffic a third time, right? Ignoring the possibility of what I presumed might be another false awakening, I pressed on. Though fearful, I was curious as to what would happen when I reached the truck this time. As it came closer, I heard the usual honking sound and woke up. What I awoke to was anything but alleviating.

I swerved onto the right side of the road, almost hitting the same car for a third time now. This couldn’t be happening. There was no way that this was a dream. Even as weary and tired as I was, I could tell the difference between fantasy and waking life. I was stuck in some sort of repetitive reiteration of my day, unable to escape from a constant cycle of the recurring events at hand. I could neither explain what was happening in any logical sense, nor could I seek help for what was occurring. I not only didn’t know who to go to, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open long enough to do so. I was in a rut, seemingly of my own creation.

I drove to the “safety” of my home yet again, managing to elude the clutches of sleep along the way. It was easier this time, as anxiety and utter panic kept me going. I was scared and bewildered, not to mention mentally exhausted - unsure of what to do next. If only I could stay awake long enough to figure everything out. This is what I told myself in my head over and over again, but after I undressed and put my things away for a third time, I walked right over to my bed, knowing that I had no other choice in the matter. Right as my head hit the soft blankets, I inadvertently slept once again.

Just as before, I was driving down that same desert road, staring off at those same ominous headlights in the distance. This was completely mad. How much longer would I have to endure this torment? In a fit of rage, I hit the brakes, and to my surprise, the car stopped. I had never done this before, afraid that whatever was behind me would catch up. I didn’t even know if it would work. Even stranger, once I stopped, the feeling of being chased ceased. It was almost as if that sense of being hunted only existed so long as I fed into it, unwillingly giving life to the plot of my dream. How peculiar.

I was relieved to be without fear for once in my recurring nightmare, but I still felt overtired, even though I was asleep. I still needed answers too. I got out of the car, and looked towards the headlights in the distance. I estimated that I would have about twenty dream minutes before it caught up to me and jolted me awake in the middle of traffic again (considering it reached me in ten minutes while I too was driving). Without a moment’s hesitation, I headed off into the desert scenery, on the hunt for a solution. I didn’t know if it would harbor one, but I was running out of options.

I had to walk, not only because I was oddly tired, but also because I didn’t want to make any hasty movements that might awaken me earlier than expected. As I walked, I could see rock formations in the distance. One in particular caught my eye, as it had what looked to be some sort of opening on its side. It appeared to be a dwelling of some kind - maybe one that contained a way out of all of this. My wishful thinking got the better of me and I started running. Luckily, I remained unconscious.

After a minute or two, I reached the stone dwelling, hoping it would have within it the key to this bizarre mystery. As I stepped over to its opening, I noticed a flickering light from within. There must have been a fire, and if there was a fire, there must have been a person to make it. I told myself that, but this was a dream, and a dream fire did not require a dream person to make it. I just let myself believe this for the time being, so I would at least have a shred of hope to hang onto. I turned the corner to see where the light was coming from, and to my surprise, there was indeed a fire. Not only that, but there was something else too. Not something, but someone.

In facing the opening on the side of the rock formation, I could see two things. There was a small fire illuminating the dwelling. There was also a person, sitting by the fire on a makeshift wooden stool. I say person, but it wasn’t really. It had skeletal legs and hands, and wore a purplish tattered cloak, hiding all of its other features. It was very small too. If it stood up, it probably would have only come up to my waist. I saw no face, as the cloak was hooded, and within it was pure darkness. Not even the fire could light up its face - it’s almost like it didn’t have one. Before I could examine the being any further, it looked up at me and spoke.

“It’s about time.”

I didn’t even have a chance to converse with it. After it spoke, I woke up. Where did I wake up exactly? You guessed it - in the middle of oncoming cars on the highway. How marvelous. I must have run out of time. I swerved to the right, narrowly avoiding a collision. With a new sense of focus and motivation, I drove home again. I knew that whatever that thing was in the desert, it must have had the answers that I so desperately desired.

I reached my house once again, still feeling as tired as ever. I went in, undressed, put my things away, and went to bed. Much like before, I fell asleep in an instant. My dreamscape remained unchanged. Thinking more clearly now, I took a sharp turn to the right and drove off into the desert. I reached the rock formation rather quickly, almost hitting it with my car. Luckily, I slammed on the brakes before I could do so. I got out of the car in a haste and walked over to the dwelling’s entrance, seeing the familiar flickering light. In arriving at the same spot I stood in before, I saw the same exact scene, to my delight - the fire and the cloaked figure. Now was the time to speak with it properly.

“It’s about time.” He repeated, as if my dream had reset itself.

“Who are you?” I asked bluntly.

“I am an apparition of the mind and a warning of things to come.”

“A warning of things to come?” I asked in confusion.

“Yes. You are vulnerable. The problem at hand must be confronted at once, otherwise you will cease to exist.”

“Cease to exist? Confront my problem? Isn’t that what I’m doing right now?” I demanded specificity.

“Not in here. Out there.”

“I don’t understand.” I didn’t have the will to argue with it. Fatigue and exhaustion were taking over, and I knew the truck was getting closer. My time was running out.

“You must. Your brain is at fault. Look within. A solution will be found.” I didn’t say anything. I just looked at the creature in defeat, unable to decipher its meaning.

“You are very sick. Face this sickness and reveal its cure.”

I awoke, once again in oncoming traffic. I swerved automatically, relying on my muscle memory to do so, for I was preoccupied with my own thoughts. The creature’s words stuck with me, especially ‘brain’ and ‘sickness’. My dream was trying to tell me something, but I was just so tired. What was I to do? In a fortunate moment of clarity, the puzzle pieces clicked into place. Without a second thought, I sped to my destination. I wasn’t going home this time. I was going to my doctor’s office.

I peeled into my doctor’s parking lot with so much ferocity that I scared a few people walking out of his office. I opened my car door and jumped out without even thinking to take my keys out of the ignition. I ran into the building and up to his office, slamming his door open, startling the hell out of him and his staff. I didn’t care. It was imperative that I spoke with him now.

“It’s my brain!” I yelled.

“What? What are you talking about?” He asked, clearly looking angry that I had barged in without so much as notifying him first.

“It’s my brain! You need to look at my brain…”

I was told at this point that I collapsed in the middle of his office, though I can’t remember doing so. My doctor rushed me to the nearest hospital, and with my words in mind, asked them to take a look at my brain.

After making sure that my vitals were stable, they did so. What they found was surprising, mostly to my careless doctor who never cared to look into my problems before. After running several tests, it was revealed that I was suffering from a brain disorder; one that caused it to overheat sporadically. The brain naturally overheats when sleep deprived, but my brain was doing so even when I was asleep. This explained why I was always tired. My brain needed sleep to combat its overheating, but with the disorder I suffered from, it wasn’t helping. My brain was unknowingly heating itself to death.

In revealing this disease, the doctors at the hospital were able to treat it, much to my satisfaction. My doctor told me all of this when I woke up a few days later in the hospital. After briefing me on the situation and assuring me I would be fine now, he then told be that I was actually lucky to be alive. The doctors caught the disease just in time. I could see the guilt in his eyes. He simply apologized and walked out. I could see that he was tired, having probably been in and out of the hospital constantly over the past three days. I was thankful, but it was probably time to find a new doctor.

After one more day of tests in the hospital, I was free to go. It’s been a few months now, and not only have I felt refreshed every time I wake up in the morning, but I have not had a single nightmare since. It would seem that my brain was trying to tell me something all along, through my dreams. Maybe I was being chased in the beginning - not by something tangible, but by death itself. Either way, I was happy to be alive. Maybe my subconscious was able to communicate with my conscious mind when I slept, or maybe I’m a little bit clairvoyant. I can’t be sure either way, but one thing is for certain; my nightmares unquestionably and inexplicably saved my life.

Written by Christopher Maxim
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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