Everyday Life

What Nightmares Are Made Of

Photo courtesy of clickrfreevectorimages on Pixabay, public domain.

I wrote a book that was called by a reviewer “the perfect nightmare,” but honestly, it didn’t look like one of mine at all.

Of course, in many ways, neither did the one I had last night.

I’ve had nightmares all my life. That’s not so unusual; most people get them now and again. But I don’t; I get them in waves, and for many years, I got them all the time. Every night, every other night, twice a night. Night terrors, really, because I’d wake up and wasn’t convinced I was awake. Because I don’t wake up when I start screaming, I wake up when everyone else does.

There’s a reason I don’t like horror anything.

So back to the one last night, because it wasn’t typical. I managed to do something I’ve done only once before in my entire life: I screamed myself awake.

It was one of the most effective nightmares I’ve had in years. Let me tell you about it. Don’t worry, this isn’t a scary story; it’s only scary if you were there. After all, it’s a nightmare.

I was twelve years old, maybe thirteen. My parents were there, and my sister, and one of my sister’s friends. There was a lot of bickering going back and forth, and everyone was in a bad mood. My dad had boiled eggs, but he’d done it wrong and now the shells were all stuck. So I was trying to peel badly boiled eggs and getting fed up. My mom abandoned the task to talk about hippie poetry with my sister’s friend. My sister went somewhere else. My dad was grumping about something. I asked to go to a friends’ house and they said no. I went into the living room to sulk, and then I went to the restroom to wash my hands.

And then a psychopath ripped through the shower curtain with a foot-long knife to kill me and I screamed, and then I really screamed.

I woke up.

See? Told you it wasn’t scary.

It was utterly terrifying.

Fear is in the details, and everything was right for me being twelve years old, from the old Teflon saucepan with the plastic handles to the fabric on the living room chairs. The bathroom had its floral wallpaper that’s been gone for ten years now, and the shower curtain the killer ripped through was the one that had gone with it then, dark green with a subtle triangle weave.

The mirrors worked. The eggs felt like eggs. The conversation was quite real. The view from the windows matched up. I was home, I was twelve, I was expecting to go back and argue about eggs, and possibly a turtle statue.

Imagine, just sitting there on your computer, going into the bathroom with nothing more on your mind than whether you’ll have enough time to play an entire game of Candy Crush on your phone, and someone tries to murder you.

That was what happened to me last night. No, it didn’t really happen, but that is what happened.

Waking up because I’m screaming is not the way my husband wants to spend his nights, but he is very sweet about it. He talks until I’m ready to sleep again, lets me drag him to the kitchen for a glass of water. And I do have to do that, because though I’m awake, I’m not certain. This life looks real? So did that one. Nightmares don’t paint over real life, they weave right into it, and we all know what a good imagination I have.

Like many people with nightmares, I spend a lot of time trying to not have them, because I’m rather fond of a god night’s rest. So I periodically ask myself if this is a dream, and I check for real details around me.

My subconscious reacts by putting those self-same details into my dreams, a vicious cycle that gets zero out of five stars on Trip Adviser, thanks very much.

Why did I have a nightmare? Stress often sets them off, which explains why I had them continuously in high school, but it doesn’t excuse them entirely. So why last night?

I know why, and I can’t say I’m pleased about it.

See, in the book I’m currently writing, I have a character who is supposed to kill someone. But the question is: will they? Can they? What does it take to make them kill?

A jump scare, apparently. Ta, brain.

I’ve had nightmares of dead bodies in the closets that I had to make sure someone found even though they were going insane from the fear and horror because if she didn’t kept finding them, we’d both die. There was that one dream with the vampires, and others where I was drowning. And I can’t forget the one where it turns out everyone I knew was a cannibal, because they all very calmly explained it to me using real events and traits and it all made perfect sense. But I’ve never had a scare like this one.

Well, at least it was for a good cause. Because if I’m going to have the bloody things, they’d better be useful for something other than interrupting a good night’s rest for all involved.

So, are you one of the lucky dreamless or the nightmare besieged? Ever taken inspiration from one? Ever managed to scare the crap out of your loved ones by yelling your way out? Tell us in the comments below!

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One thought on “What Nightmares Are Made Of

  1. I confess I dream. But I occasionally have nightmares which usually mean something to me. The last one I had was horrific I woke sweating and my heart palpitating. The result – I am working with a rescue and recovery service. So you have my sympathy regarding night terrors and dreams because there is no knowing what happens even when you wake from them.

    Liked by 1 person

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