For as long as I can remember, I’ve suffered from nightmares almost every night. It started when I was ten. I don’t know what caused the dream, but here’s how it played out:
I wake up and the house is completely dark. It’s 11:48pm and not a single light is on. Not even my nightlight, which was plugged into the wall next to my dresser. I get out of my bed, totally parched. I go outside my bedroom and down the hallway, in search of the bathroom door so that I can get a drink from the faucet. But the moment I step into the hall, the bedroom door slams shut behind me. I pause for a moment, startled, then proceed down the hall. Eventually, I see my weeping mother. I walk up to her and ask what’s wrong with her. She says to me in a shaking whisper, “Something’s in the house. I think it’s after you.”
I start to panic and back away. I had taken four steps back, when suddenly, my mother’s head is lifted up. She lets out a scream, just before a tall silhouette snaps her neck, causing her body to fall to the ground like a ragdoll. I cry out in horror, and upon seeing the bathroom, I bolt inside, shutting and locking the door. I flip on the lights, still watching the door, waiting for the figure to attempt to break it down from its hinges. Five minutes pass. Nothing happens. Then the lights go out, and after a pause of dead silence, I feel and smell warm, putrid breath down my neck. I stand frozen in terror, and just when the phantom grabs my throat, I wake up.
That was my first night terror. From then on, I’d have bad dreams of all shapes and sizes. From middle school to high school, I would seek help from my friends. I’d ask them why I would have such demented dreams every night. Dreams ranging from monsters hunting me and family members being ripped apart by unseen forces, to natural disasters and nuclear bomb attacks. Nobody knew what to say. All they could conjure up was, “This isn’t normal. To have such dreams every night. How have you not gone insane yet? How do you still manage to sleep?”
That’s been the question I always ask myself. How is it that I’m still alive, still sane, and still able to get myself to close my eyes at night? Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been praying that one day, I would find the answer to my problems. A cure for my nightmares, if you will. One night, I finally got that answer.
It was on my 19th birthday. I was up late that night, chatting with my guild members on Wrath of the Lich King. At one point, my friend, Liv, asked me why I was still up – it was 12:14am at the time – if I had school in the morning. I told her my problem, and after a pause, she typed, “Well, have you looked into lucid dreaming?”
“What’s that?” I asked in response.
“It’s when you enter the dream world, and you become aware that you are dreaming. Once you have that awareness, you can take control. In your case, you could take the nightmares you’ve been having and bend the rules so that -”
“I can become the nightmare’s nightmare,” I interrupted. Needless to say, this concept excited me. To be able to have monsters fear me, part tsunami waters like the Red Sea, take off into the sky and send nuclear missiles off into deep space with my bare hands…oh, the possibilities would be endless! I thanked Liv for mentioning the idea to me, and told her I was gonna do further research on lucid dreaming. I told everyone good night before logging off. Without a moment to lose, I Googled the words “lucid dreams.” Before I knew it, I had come across a list of possible techniques: binaural beats, dream journals, sleep paralysis, and so on. The one that intrigued me though, was quite simple: lay in the bed, completely relaxed, and mentally tell yourself, “I will know I am dreaming.” Keep repeating this thought until you fall asleep, and when in the dream world, you will have awareness and control almost immediately.
That night, I decided to put the technique into action. I had gone to bed at 1am. That much I was aware, for I had checked the time on my watch before I began the lucid process. Minutes passed on by, without me realizing it. I checked the time again, and it now read 5am. I blinked in confusion, and the bedroom went from pitch to luminous.
“What? How is that possib-”
I stopped and looked at my watch again. 9am. Within a few seconds, four hours had passed. In the blink of an eye, night became day. And the realization finally dawned on me:
“I’m dreaming right now.”
I immediately became ecstatic! I ran outside and felt the warm sunlight on my skin. Believe me when I say, the sun in the dream world feels so much more…rejuvenating, than the real one! But I wasn’t here for a vacation, as I later had to remind myself. I was here to rid the night terrors that had plagued my mind for nine years. And I knew exactly where to start. I closed my eyes and whispered, “Take me back to when I was ten.”
Even with my eyes shut, I could see behind my eyelids the glow of the sun rapidly dissolving and transitioning into blackness. I could hear the wind whistle, as the world around me began to spin rapidly and shake violently. The smells of freshly-cut grass and lavender flowers were replaced with those of new drywall and orange-scented wood polish. Under my feet, I felt the rough asphalt of the driveway smoothen into what I knew would be hardwood. Then everything stopped. I slowly opened my eyes, and sure enough, I was in the dark hallway of my childhood home. And to make it even creepier, I was in the form of my 10-year-old self.
I checked my watch instinctively, but I already knew the time. 11:48pm. After a few cautious steps down the hall, I saw her. My mother, crying. I turned around for a moment, and began to psyche myself for what was to come, while pulling out a flashlight from my backpack.
“Mommy is going to die. That is, unless you make a stand, right here and right now. Don’t back away, don’t scream, and don’t run and hide in that damn bathroom.” I took one deep breath, turned around and squeezed my grip on the torch.
“Be brave,” I whispered to myself.
I carefully approached the silhouette of my mom. She whispered the warning, and just as before, her head was pulled upward by an unseen hand. But just before the shadow could snap her neck, I took a step forward and bellowed, “Let her go!” The figure dropped mother and hissed. But I knew I couldn’t afford cowardice at this point. I had to stand my ground.
“I’m not afraid of you! You’re not real!”
I activated the torch. The light shone brightly, causing the phantom to shriek and burn. I smirked.
“This is my home. And you don’t belong in it. Get out.”
With those words, the monster vanished with a rumbling boom. Almost immediately after the malicious presence had gone, a faint light from outside had begun to pour in. I checked the time once again. 6:30am. As if on cue with my discovery, the flashlight flickered out. It was over; the nightmare from my childhood had finally been defeated! I ran to my mother and embraced her, relieved and overwhelmed that I had saved her life. Eventually, she let me go, looked me in the eyes and said, “It’s alright, sweetheart. You can wake up now.”
It felt great to awaken with a sense of ease and accomplishment, rather than be jolted conscious by adrenalized panic. I had never felt this way before! It felt so good that for the first time in my life, I was looking forward to the next time I’d sleep. And since that day, there hasn’t been a nightmare I couldn’t take on.
I’m 25 now, and I have a wife and son. I have a job working as an architect, which is great, because it helps me spend time with my family whenever I decide to take a break. Tonight, I’ve been given a last-minute assignment, so I need to stay up. I head through the hallway and into the kitchen, to make some coffee. I’m just about to reach for the coffee beans when I stop. I don’t know why, but I feel like something is wrong. The feeling causes me to halt my actions, and just stand quietly in the dim light. I’m snapped out of the trance by my son, tugging on my hand. The act is so subtle and gentle, it startles me.
“Buddy, why are you up? You should be asleep.”
“It’s mommy,” he says to me, rubbing his eyes. “I heard her crying in her room.”
My breath suspends and my heart begins to pound. I look at the clock on the coffee machine.
Written by Midnite Marshall