My dreams had always been vivid and intense, for better or for worse. Some people have told me they “never dream” or “they have dreams, but never remember what they are about.” Me? My dreams were like movies, complete with complex characters and dynamic plots. I created entire worlds with my dreams. I lived entire lives. Sometimes it’s a lot of fun. When I was about six, I had a dream that I was the sixth member of the Power Rangers, and with the help of Wolverine we were able to defeat the evil King Bowser and his robotic Foot Soldiers. On the other hand, there were times that I had such petrifying nightmares that I thought I would never feel safe in my own room again. I recall waking up to find that my mother’s head had transformed into that of an alligator, and she chased me around the house until she cornered me in my room, screaming that she wanted to eat my insides. It sounds puerile now, but I remember waking up in a cold sweat, and it was a week before I would let my mother hug me again.
Most of the time, though, I loved dreaming. I’m a writer, so I loved to draw upon my dreams as inspiration. I felt like my imagination was unleashed while I was asleep. My subconscious could take my imagination to destinations that were otherwise unreachable. My waking imagination was a horse-drawn carriage, and my dreaming imagination was a starship. I used to wish I could live my life in that half-awake state between consciousness and reality.
That was before.
When it all began, my father had died a year earlier in a car accident. I was there when it happened. I was riding in the passenger seat of a car with him, and we were listening to Aerosmith and talking and laughing like we did a thousand times. There was the road ahead, and then there was a semi-truck, and then we were upside down.
I spent one night in the hospital. So did my father. I woke up the next morning. My father didn’t.
Suffice to say, it was tough, but a year later, I felt more or less okay. There were good days and bad days, but I really surprised myself at how well I handled the loss. All throughout my formative years, losing a close family member was one of my worst fears. I went in to see my doctor for a routine checkup, and he offered to refer me to a mental health professional if I ever felt like I needed to talk anything out. I appreciated the offer, and I intimated the possibility, but I really felt like I’d been doing okay. I’m not one of those nonverbal males who push down all of their emotional baggage until they die of a bleeding ulcer. I have some close friends and family with whom I’m comfortable enough to share whenever I’m feeling down.
The truth is, other than my father’s passing, that year went extraordinarily well for me. I got a promotion at my job that came with a decent raise. I wrote a short story that got published in a local literary magazine and I was awarded five hundred dollars. Best of all, I got a girlfriend named Brooke who I could only describe as a “perfect ten.” Seriously. Brooke was like, model hot, and I’m far from it. She knew it too. She frequently liked to tease me that she was way hotter than I was, which sounds mean, but she knew how to give just the right amount of teasing and could take it just as well as she could dish it out. I never thought I’d snag a girl like her. I was fine, except for the dreams.
You see, I dreamt pretty frequently of my father. Probably that’s normal…the loss was never far from my mind, and being the vivid dreamer that I am, it was only natural that he should make an appearance. I wish that these dreams were of happier times, but to be honest the dreams were unsettling.
The problem was, in my dreams I knew my father was dead, and yet I saw him and spoke to him. It’s not like I knew I was dreaming, and I don’t remember thinking he was a ghost either. It’s hard to explain. Every time, I knew my father was dead, and I also knew that he was right there, but in my dreamlike state, the logical part of my brain never penetrated the contradiction. He was both dead and alive, and it never occurred to me that this was impossible. Both were correct. This was profoundly frustrating. I can remember a dream where we were at a family reunion, and my father was just sitting at a table by himself while the rest of my family was sitting together and laughing, and I kept trying to get them to come over and sit with him because he was dead and they needed to spend some time with him before he remembered.
I remember another where he and I were bowling, but he seemed confused and couldn’t quite remember how to properly hold or throw a bowling ball, and I kept trying to comfort and console him and tell him it was okay because dead people don’t tend to go bowling. The last time I dreamt of him, it was frightening.
I can remember him driving a car, with me in the passenger seat. Ominous, I know, but I honestly wasn’t thinking that at the time. My first thought, actually, was, “Dad…you’re dead. I really don’t know if you should be driving.”
I said this to him. He didn’t seem to hear me, so I didn’t say anything for a while because I didn’t want to offend him.
Then, my father turned to me, looking at me with eyes that displayed no emotion or recognition. He looked at me, but didn’t really see me. His face in that moment still haunts me, because when my father was alive, there was always some sort of emotion. Love. Pride. Failing that, there was at least frustration, anger, sadness, or weariness. He showed none of that. He was utterly blank.
His voice, too, sounded unlike him when he spoke. Totally devoid of any emphasis or dynamism, he said, “You shouldn’t be here.”
“You shouldn’t be here.”
“I shouldn’t…but dad…” I remember feeling my voice cracking with emotion, even in my dream state. “Dad, you’re the one who shouldn’t…be here.”
“You have to wake up now.”
Just like that, I was jolted awake. In the movies, you always see people waking from a nightmare and sitting bolt upright in their beds with their eyes wide and their brows sweating. I’m sure I didn’t do that, exactly, but that’s what I felt like as my bulging eyes frantically scanned my bedroom.
Something had woken me up.
Something or someone had made a noise and woken me. My eyes were adjusted the dark, but I didn’t see anyone else in my room. I live with cats, but I didn’t see them even when I turned on the lights and searched the hallway.
I looked at my clock. 4:30. I had to be awake for work in about two hours. I tried to go back to sleep, but all I got was the aggravation of an insomniac desperate for rest that will not come. I could not drift off again, and my alarm screamed at me two hours later.
What kept me awake? It wasn’t the dream of my father. It wasn’t the pressure of getting needed rest before a busy day at the office. It was that sound.
I’d distinctly heard it. It was the sound a pair of shears makes, but twenty times louder. I figured it must have been in my dream…but no. No, I was certain that it had happened in my bedroom. The sound had been right next to my ear.
The next day at work I doubled my usual intake of coffee, and I still kept nodding off at my desk. My bloodshot eyes made me look like I was hungover, but my co-workers were kind enough not to say anything. Even a year after my father’s passing, they still forgave me for being a little disheveled from time to time. Even my boss said nothing when he stopped by my office, though he did give me a once-over that made me feel self-conscious. I hadn’t bothered to shower or press my shirt as I usually did each morning.
That evening, my roommate John and I were sitting around having a few beers and playing Super Smash Brothers. I’m usually able to hold my own in that game, but I was getting my ass handed to me match after match. His bedroom is right next to mine, so I asked if he’d anything peculiar the night before.
He said, “I dunno, dude. Like, what do you think I might have heard?”
“It was, like, a snip.”
I wanted him to tell me that I was crazy, or that I must have been dreaming, but instead he said the worst possible thing. “Yeah, I heard something that woke me up too.”
“What?” I paused the game.
“Yeah. When do you think that would have happened?”
“At like, 4:30.”
He nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I definitely heard something around then. I couldn’t quite place what it was. I figured it was a cat or one of you guys.”
“Did it sound like a snipping noise?”
“I couldn’t really tell,” he replied, “but it sounded like it came from your room.”
I felt pins and needles begin in my chest and prick their way down my arms and legs. I swallowed hard, trying not to betray any sort of emotion in my face. Suddenly, John broke into a goofy grin and relief washed over me.
I punched him in the arm. “You fucker.”
“Ow, dude!” he said, laughing. “Sorry! You just make it too easy.”
“Bro, noises happen at night. It was probably the goddamn cats.”
“Yeah,” I replied. I un-paused the game, and instantly John’s Pikachu body slammed my Kirby, causing him to fly offscreen to his death.
That night I dreamt again, but not of my father. God, I wish I had dreamt of anything else.
I recognized the setting: it was clearly my house at night. The strange thing was I didn’t have the sense that I was myself, but rather that I was observing from somewhere far away. Was I having an out of body experience?
A brief word about the layout of my home: I live on the second floor of a triplex building. You can enter my house through the back by way of a set of stairs leading up to a deck. The back door opens into my kitchen. You can then move through the kitchen into the living room, and on the far wall there is a set of stairs leading to the second floor where there are three bedrooms for my roommates and myself.
My view was from the middle of the living room looking through the door into the kitchen. For several long moments there was no sound but the ticking of a clock and the gentle wrrr of the central air. I tried to move, but couldn’t so much as look around. I tried to speak, but couldn’t even move my lips. Again, even though I could see clearly, I had the sense that I wasn’t really myself, but a silent observer. This gave me a despairing sense of helplessness. I was Alex from A Clockwork Orange, my eyes pried open to a something I didn’t want to see.
Then I heard a metallic jostling noise. Someone was jiggling the knob of our back door. They were trying to turn it, but they couldn’t quite get the door to open. Was it locked? No, if that were the case, they wouldn’t be able to turn the knob at all. So why the struggle? I was incapable of blinking, but even if could, I’m sure my eyes would have been locked on the scene.
The knob turned. The door opened just a crack. Then, it swung open in full.
What I saw is etched in my mind forever. To be honest, I’m struggling to type with trembling fingers as I recall the numb sense of horror I felt as I beheld the thing for the first time.
The creature might almost have been human. It had two arms, two legs, and it stood at about my height, but I cannot conceive that any human could endure the anguish of this thing’s existence. It was naked, and its skin was very pale and covered in cuts of varying length and depth. Some looked like years-old scars, and some of the wounds were one day fresh. The thing’s age was impossible to know; it might have been thirty years old or ninety. Its physique made it seem male, but it had no genitals. It also was lacking nipples, a belly button, or any visible hair.
Its feet, devoid of toes, looked like a pair of milky-white potatoes, and the thing seemed to struggle to remain upright as it walked. Three fingers had been removed from each of its hands, leaving only the index and thumb of each. These held two pairs of shears which were jagged, rusty, and nearly two feet long. Every so often one of its hands would twitch, and it would SNIP! the air with a sound that seemed to deafen me even though it came from such a small thing. As terrifying as those weapons were to behold, it was nothing compared to the face. Its ears, nose, and eyelids had been cut off leaving gaping holes in their stead. Its eyes were bloodshot and dry as a result. Worst of all, its mouth had been snipped at the corners, giving an unnatural, unending grin.
The thing made no noise as it stalked through the kitchen, snipping the air and shuffling along on its mutilated feet. I could do nothing but stare, taking in every inch of the thing’s lean, grotesque body. Suddenly, my perspective changed like the feed from a security camera system. I was following the creature as it stalked through my home. It walked uncertainly like a toddler or a drunk, and seemed to almost fall once or twice, but it never lost its footing as it maneuvered around the living room furniture.
At the bottom of the stairs it seemed to linger for a fraction of a moment, but then it took its first step up, and then its next. I watched from just behind the thing as it ascended, and on each step it would SNIP! one of its too-long shears. Oddly, the steps never creaked, even as it stopped and stumbled. The only sound was the irregular SNIP! SNIP-SNIP!
My next perspective was of the top floor of my house, but it seemed like the roof had been removed. I could see both the upstairs hallway, and inside of my bedroom. I even saw myself, sleeping soundly in my own bed. Slowly the creature came into view as it reached the top of the steps. At this point, even in my disembodied state, panic set in, because I knew I was the creature’s target. The shears hungered for blood, and I was to be their sustenance. I willed myself, pleaded with myself to wake up and see the danger, or for my silent spirit to repossess my body so I could flee.
The thing stopped just outside of my bedroom. I was screaming in my mind to "WAKE UP!" to "RUN AWAY!" Perhaps I heard my pleas, because my body grunted softly and rolled to the side.
The thing was right by my door now. Slowly, its right arm came up, raising its shears to its face. An impossibly red tongue slithered out of its too-wide mouth, licking the blade of the shears before taking them between its teeth. Its hand freed of this burden, it wrapped its thumb and forefinger around the knob of my door. It seemed to shudder with excitement, and its left hand twitched.
Abruptly, I was in my bed again. I was drenched in sweat, yet I pulled the covers all the way up to my chin and slammed my back against the wall, cowering. My eyes were locked on the doorknob. I couldn’t be certain, but in the dark I thought I could see it moving ever so slightly. I strained my ears for a sound that would confirm my fears, for the jostling of my doorknob, or worse: the thirsty SNIP! SNIP! of those ruthless shears.
I stared at the door unblinkingly for an hour, and sleep was the farthest thing from my mind. After that, I chanced moving enough to turn on my bedside lamp. I finally thought to pick up my cell phone and call John, who was sleeping next door. He sounded annoyed until I told him there was someone in the house.
Even though I protested, he got up out of bed and looked around for me.
As you’ve probably guessed, there was no sign that anyone had been there.
Just another one of my hauntingly vivid dreams, I thought. I was embarrassed that I’d dragged poor John out of bed over it. I felt stupid, rather than scared. But I still didn’t sleep.
The next day I was almost too tired to even go over to Brooke’s house, but when she sent me a text saying “I’ll make it worth your while ;-)” I was convinced. The evening we relaxed on her couch, cuddling and watching a dumb movie that we didn’t want to pay much attention to. Brooke was always easy to talk to, so I described my dream to her.
“Ew,” she said when I had finished, and that made me laugh.
“Man, that was a bad one,” I said. “I mean, nightmares always just sound dumb in the retelling, but this one really got to me.”
“No, I believe you. That sounds awful.”
I shook my head. “I thought I was done with all that. I haven’t had a bad one like that since I was a kid.”
For a moment, she didn’t say anything. I thought that meant the conversation was over, but then she asked, “Did I ever tell you I used to have night terrors?”
I was surprised. “No.”
“It’s a bit different from having a nightmare. Doctors always told me it was more of a reaction of fear when you transition from one stage of sleep to another, but that was never good enough for me. They didn’t understand.” She shuffled slightly. “I remember feeling, not that I had imagined something awful, but that something was coming for me. I remember thinking I was going to die…even if I couldn’t point to how.” She looked into my eyes. “Are you still dreaming about your dad?”
I blinked twice and nodded. “Sometimes.”
“We all have our demons. I think, in dreams, they show themselves in the worst ways.”
With a lump in my throat, all I could say was, “Yeah.” Instead of saying anything more, I pulled her into my arms. I whispered in her ear, “I’m so lucky I have you. You make everything better.”
“You do too.” We broke from the hug. Then she placed a hand on my knee, which started to travel north up my thigh. “I know something else that could make you feel better…”
You can imagine what happened next.
But we both had an early morning at work, so I didn’t spend the night. I went home. I went to sleep.
Musk. That’s what wakes me. My eyes are heavy from two sleep-deprived nights, and I almost drift off again.
But I don’t.
Something is wrong. It’s not a sound this time. No. It’s musk. It’s the smell of an un-bathed dog, and it’s filling the whole room. It’s an itch in my nose that scratches at my consciousness until I open my eyes.
And I scream.
The monster is right there. It’s RIGHT THERE. It is standing over me, smiling its slit-mouthed smile, its lidless, bloodshot eyes boring straight into mine. The thing is in my room, and it’s here to kill me. It’s right there.
I scream and cry, louder than I ever have before, and I feel my throat going hoarse. I pray that my roommates or my neighbors or my mommy will hear me and come and rescue me.
Somehow I know that I will not be heard. I start scrambling to get up, but when I try to move a searing, stabbing pain starts and my wrists and shoots up my arms to my chest and to my brain so that I squeal and my vision blurs. My eyes snap to my wrists, and the sight brings bile bubbling to the back of my throat. My arms are stretched out to my sides, and each of my wrists is pinned to the headboard with a pair of those long, rusty shears. Blood flows from the wounds, running down my arm in rivulets and soaking my mattress. My first instinct is to try and pull free, but even the slightest twitch of my arms causes a jolt pain that attacks my entire nervous system. It’s like being stabbed all over my body. I scream, and it’s all I can do not to vomit on my chest.
This has to be a dream! This has to be a dream! I tell myself. It must be, because this creature could not exist. It must not exist. If horror like this exists in the world, then I’ve been a fool for ever feeling happy and safe. If this is how I was always meant to die, then what was the point of living?
Though the monster’s shears have been employed to drain my lifeblood from my wrists, it somehow has materialized two more, and the monster eyes me up and down, twitching and snipping hungrily. Its eyes linger on my bloodied arms, and the sight of the carnage seems to arouse it. Its lips peel back to reveal yellowed teeth and a blood-red tongue.
It seems to be considering what next to do with me. I’m pleading unintelligibly, begging it to let me go or for this nightmare to end, but to no avail. The thing cannot, or more likely, will not hear me. If anything, my screams seem to entice it further, its lips pulled back and its jaw hanging loose in a silent cackle.
It leans in as though to get a closer look at my tear-streaked face. The wet-dog smell pervades my senses. I gag, and the thing leans in closer and closer. With both of its toeless feet still firmly planted on the ground, it seems impossible that the thing should be able to lean so far toward me without tumbling down on top of me. Still, it does, and it inhales my scent through the slits that used to be its nose. The thing reverts to its upright position. As the creature steps away from me I dare to feel an iota of relief, but it flutters away as the creature slowly falls to its knees at the foot of my bed.
The creature slowly raises the shears in its left hand up to its face. Its red, red tongue snakes out from between its lips and licks the blades tantalizingly. It then takes the shears between its teeth, and with its freed hand it snatches my right ankle up with its thumb and forefinger. The icy-cold grip of its spindly fingers is impossibly strong. I kick and kick, but the creature is utterly unphased. I use my other foot to kick at the monster’s forearm. This causes pain to shoot up from my wrists as my body gets jostled about, but the monster only grins wider. It’s grip tightens, nearly crushing my ankle. I can only whimper pitifully.
It raises its right-hand shears up, and I know what its target must be.
“No…please…” I manage only those two words.
But when the cutting begins I howl unintelligibly into the darkness as the thing snips into the flesh of my ankle, spewing blood and crunching through flesh, muscles, bone, and sinew.
It seems impossible that even a creature such as this should be able to cut through a human leg with just a pair of shears, but my flesh gives way like soft cheese, and each SNIP! takes me closer to insanity.
It takes about a dozen good cuts, and then my foot rips free. I scream and scream as I watch the thing raise my blood-slicked appendage into the air like a trophy. My stomach finally gives, and my vision clouds from the pain and blood loss. I can feel myself growing cold, and but even now the thought of death is secondary to the horror of the creature.
The monster’s jaw drops open, allowing its other pair of shears to clatter to the floor. It opens its cut mouth impossibly wide, revealing all of its teeth and that gory tongue. It manages to jam my entire foot into its mouth and it begins to chew. CRUNCH! CRUNCH! Its yellowed teeth make quick work of it, bones and all.
As unconsciousness takes me, all I hear is CRUNCH! CRUNCH!
I woke up screaming and thrashing around, and two nurses had to come in and restrain me so that I didn’t tear out my IV. It took a good five minutes for me to understand that I was in the hospital. It was another ten before my breathing slowed.
My heart was still palpitating when the doctor came in to see me. After a brief exchange of pleasantries, she asked me, “Do you remember what happened?”
I told her.
“Uh huh,” was all she said. I was both impressed and annoyed that her face did not betray her thoughts.
“How did I get here?” I demanded. “Who…found me? Is that thing still in the house?”
The doctor grabbed my arm to check my IV and the bandages on my wrists. “I’m afraid you’re a bit delusional. That’s nothing to be alarmed about. You’re probably dehydrated, and we have you on pain medication, so this is pretty normal. Are you sure you don’t remember what happened?”
“Yeah!” I exclaimed, though my “exclamation” was little more than a whisper. “I told you. A monster…”
“There was no monster, hon. You don’t remember the accident?” the doctor asked.
She sighed. “You were in a car accident. It was bad. A collision with a semi-truck knocked you off of the road, and they say you rolled half a dozen times. You were badly hurt. You’ve been out for three days.”
“No, I…” and I stopped. I stopped because what she said made more sense. Of course. An accident. I didn’t remember driving, but I must have been. Of course it made more sense than a monster with scissors devouring my foot.
The doctor said, “Listen…over the past couple of days we’ve had to go through several procedures. This is going to come as a shock to you, but…I’m afraid we had to amputate your right foot.”
“You…you…” I pulled the sheet up slightly, and I felt the blood drain from my face. That much was true. My bare left foot was exposed, and then the white bandages covering the stump-end of my right leg.
“I’m very sorry,” the doctor said. “Um…listen. Your mother and sister are here. I realize you’ve just endured a shock, but are you ready to see them?”
“I…yeah. I think so.”
They came rushing in, and there were several minutes of tears, sobbing, and unending hugs. For minutes we just sat there and embraced as we had far too many times that year.
“Thank God you’re okay,” my mom said between wracking sobs. “I didn’t think you were ever going to wake up. I didn’t think…”
“I’m okay,” I assured her. Even then, I had to be the strong one. “This…this sucks. But I’ll get through this. We’ll get through this.” There was more crying and hugs. My sister was tearful, but otherwise strangely quiet. I understood. I could only imagine what she and my mother had been going through the past three days. We lost my father to a car accident just a year ago, and now they’d faced the very real possibility of losing me the same way. I was the one who broke the silence by saying, “The thing is…the thing is, I don’t even remember driving.”
My mom started wailing, suddenly inconsolable. Strange, I thought. Why did that of all things set her off? She collapsed into my sister’s chest. My sister, eyes red and wet, took her hand in mine.
She said, “You weren’t driving.”
I blinked a few times. “Then who was?”
My sister couldn’t bear to look at me. In a choked voice, she said, “Daddy’s dead…”
“I…I know,” I replied.
This set my mother going even worse. She was shaking, and so was my sister.
She said, “What do you mean, you know?”
“I know. I’m not delirious, whatever these doctors say. I know dad died last year.”
My sister shook her head. “No…God, no. No. You couldn’t know. Dad didn’t die last year. He died while you were still sleeping. He died last night.”
I’m sorry if this is disappointing. This story ends with the old “it was all a dream” cliché. I’m sorry if that’s a letdown compared to pale monsters and pedal mutilation, but think about what that meant for me. It was all a dream. All of it. A year of my life was gone. I’ve had to go through the entire grieving process anew, and had to relive all the tears and all the well-wishers. This time it’s been worse, though, because I am different than I was, and nobody can understand why. Regardless of what people told me, I felt that he’d been gone a year. I tried to explain this to my sister, and she accused me of being callous. I’m sure my mother felt that way too, though she’d never say it.
Since the accident I’ve drifted through a perpetual fog of confusion. It seems like every other day or so I learn that something I took for granted was a lie, and each time it’s like waking up from another dream. I never got that promotion. I never published that story. Worse, Brooke never even existed. That was really the worst thing, even worse than losing my foot. I actually still miss her. My memories of her are still so clear and exquisite, though just like all dreams, they are fading with each passing day.
Those memories are fading. What doesn’t fade, what never fades, is the too-wide smile of the scissor creature as my foot disappeared down its bloody throat.
I don’t think I’ll ever understand exactly what happened to me, though I think about it every day. The way I see it, there are three possibilities.
One: it really was all a dream, and predicting my father’s death was just some tragic coincidence. Personally, I have trouble accepting that.
Two: I had some sort of dreaming premonition. Maybe I have the gift of foresight, although if that’s the case I have never experienced it before or since. I have trouble accepting that too.
Three: the creature really did this to me. All of it. It manufactured that year of my life, prolonging my grief and my pain, and in the end, devouring a part of me. Maybe each scar that it carried on its marred body had a story. I’ve often wondered, did it mark itself this way, to remember its victims? Maybe it has been doing this to people forever.
In a way, it’s never truly gone, especially when I lay down to sleep at night. I’ve never exactly dreamt of the creature again, but the image of it is burned into my mind’s eye and becomes visible whenever night falls. I take sleeping pills, and often drink excessively. Even that doesn’t help much.
That’s why I had to write it all out. Maybe I’m posting this as a cry for help. Maybe I’m hoping someone out there has had a similar experience and could help me sort thing out. Maybe the very act of writing is my way of sorting it out. I hope when I put it in perspective I can finally laugh about it. Nightmares seem so silly in the retelling.
But last night…
Last night I dreamt of my father.
It was he and I, driving in the car on a sunny country road, and he looked at me with the eyes and soul of the dead.
He told me that I have to wake up.