For Hallowe’en, here is a post that some will love and some will hate. My personal opinion is that it is creepy, so this is the perfect day for posting it. (In fact, I read it to a writing group this morning, since it was one of the writing prompts and I had been revising this story lately. Thank you all for your feedback today!)
You will have to do some guessing about who the “watcher” is, but by the end of the story you should know. My own rather strange nightmares over the years are the stuff of the dreams in the story but most of the rest is fiction.
I will say that I don’t have any pictures or paintings to go with it, and I don’t decorate for Hallowe’en, so how about a photo of my backyard garden as it looks this very day (in the rain)… I’m a little sad to see all those leaves on the ground, but I will look forward to spring!
Enjoy the story!
The child was lying peaceful only a moment before I entered the room. Now, her brows creased, she pulls the blankets up to her neck, gripping them with tight fists. Rolling into a fetal position, she does not awaken, for she is a prisoner in the dream she is having. As always, it repeats from the beginning, since the first time it played in her subconscious mind. There is blackness and a far away, steady hammering. Then, shapes begin to emerge out of the blackness as she cautiously moves toward the cacophony. Maybe they are being revealed to her, as if a veil is removed, but by whom, and for what purpose? They do not have distinct features, and their outlines are indecipherable, but they emit high-pitched cries, which she perceives simultaneously with deep, wicked laughter. Discerning the one thing the figures appear to have in common, the girl awakens in a sweat, though she fears to move even slightly. She believes they are targets for persecution, enslavement, and eventually, murder. She could not give words to these heavy thoughts at the time, but I was there, and I have listened over the years to her recalling of nightmares. The dream had come only this far, and at this time, she was only 5 years old. How she had concluded so much at such a young age is surprising, which makes me wonder if she is an old soul.
With every passing year the dream reveals more. Perhaps the child can withstand more revelation as she grows older, before she is overcome with fear enough to waken, or maybe she has a strong mind. Upon reflection this time, it occurs to her that she is being held within dream state, as if in a vise, to be tortured through these visions, so that she will identify with the figures. This idea is horrifying for the young girl, because she is beginning to believe that she is one of them. Her increasing fears of the dark and of falling asleep are understandable, but she perseveres to retain control, to focus on what is real and cast aside the unexplained.
This nightmare haunted the young girl for many more years, right into young adulthood. It demonstrates the complexity of her experience of life and of her continual search for meaning and purpose, even from a young age. She was always acutely aware that she existed, thought, and had some reason for being – I knew from observing her – but she couldn’t discern my presence. As a child, she wasn’t sure if anyone else she met was like her. She remembers thinking that her parents were planted in her life like robots. They certainly didn’t understand her – she was so convinced about this! Little did she realize at the age of 5 that they had simply forgotten the wonder of childhood. Even then, they were at risk of losing grasp of their purpose and meaning. Indeed, a time was coming when the girl would be shaken from the fall-out of their division.
Children are generally considered to be egocentric, but there are some young children who are capable of great empathy for others. Normally, as children get older, they start to understand that humans have parallel experiences, but they are still truly distinct from those of other people. Although she was still very young, this recurrent dream already confirmed for her that she was not just an individual looking on, but that she was somehow connected with the oppressed, and targeted for something that she couldn’t fully comprehend, in a much larger world than she knew. Instead of believing herself to be merely a helpless individual person, she discerned that she was also part of a larger group, with people whom she was certain she hadn’t met yet. I did my best to steer her away from them.
I noticed the signs that she is a sensitive soul in many ways, even spiritually sensitive. At some point, she began to believe that there is more to life than what can be experienced in the physical world, but she became keenly aware that many people react harshly to “religious” ideas. Her dreams, and a few “unnatural” experiences, made her wonder if there was an “other” world within her own, one she couldn’t see, except for glimpses, or manifestations.
In her teen years, the number of recurring nightmares increased. Most of the time, she couldn’t see her enemy, but she could sense the heaviness of dread in every scene that appeared in her mind. She was usually entering an old house. Her fear of old houses started when she lived in the house that her parents rented on the main street of their village. Features of that house were unsettling for her, from the long stairway to the creaking floors, as well as the wallpaper and the drapery, from which she could make out faces in the patterns. To her, the faces always seemed to be watching her, just like a spooky old portrait painting. There was no comic relief from watching cartoons, for Shaggy’s and Scooby Doo’s reactions certainly did nothing to alleviate her fear, and only encouraged her imagination to be dark. Her mind could be her worst enemy, so much that she would tell herself it was only her imagination and yet, submit to her fright anyway and bolt from the room, which did nothing to increase her courage. Little did she realize that some of that drapery was going to end up in her new bedroom when they moved to their new house.
During these frequent episodes of unsettled sleep, she would often find herself in the same place, knowing what was eventually going to happen if she went through a certain door or passageway. Classic tell-tale signs for her to recognize were the creaking walls that only seemed to move at first, as if in warning, and the peeling wallpaper and shredded drapery with the stained patterns that told stories of evil times. There might even be evidence of a more recent homeowner’s attempts to do some renovations on the old house, but the building materials and the scaffolding always looked to be abandoned. As she moved about the house in the dreams, she would see puddles of water on the floor, and looking up, holes in the roof. The further she went in, she’d hear more noises, and sense more tremors, but something would draw her in deeper still. Inevitably, she would end up going through some doorway into a forbidden room where there would be an object of interest, such as a shiny, red wagon, or something that just stood out from the surrounding environment of darkness and decay. This was when the house would come alive and protest with a deep, angry, booming voice, and in an instant, the door behind her would slam shut, and walls would start moving and closing in around her, trying to block her escape. That was usually when she woke up.
In all her waking moments since her early days until her late twenties, she could not remember a single sweet dream. Restful sleep was elusive. Sheer exhaustion forced her into it, but the nightmares kept interrupting, sometimes playing over from the beginning, and other times picking up where she awoke the previous time. That first childhood horror of the hammering, the deep-voiced laughter, and far-away screaming did not turn out to be the most crippling for her. It portended mystery and doom, but it seemed to warn of something distant, and so, she pushed it away, but not without some struggle, at least. After all, nothing in that dream was chasing her, like other frightful scenes during sleep. Someday, she would figure out what it meant, but she kept waking before the truth was revealed.
One person in her life showed great concern for her fright, and she attempted to help her feel protected when it was time for sleeping. This woman was her grandmother, who taught her a prayer to ward off evil, to say whenever she went to bed. She assured her that God was watching over her, that he wouldn’t let anything happen to her, and that she could ask him anything when she prayed. Now, to be clear, the child noticed that her grandmother didn’t talk about such things outside of this bedtime ritual, but it did make an impression on her, limited though it was. In later years, she realized it was a popular prayer, because most people recognized the words: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” The phrase, “soul to take,” rather concerned the girl. Even so, with all her sleeping troubles, it was the only prayer she knew. She repeatedly tagged on a request for her parents to get back together, but eventually, she gave up on that, as well as praying altogether.
Well into her twenties, the dreams with the hammering and evil laughter still haunted her. She could identify the steady beating sound with what she thought looked at first to be oil pumps moving up and down, crushing and stamping. But they were not fixed like most machines that large, so that increased her terror. Then, she realized that the small shapes in the distance were people, being corralled into the bases of the blood-thirsty, bone-crushing machines, and as she stared in horror, she perceived that the machines were more like living giants, which were trampling all under foot. And yet, she knew the laughter came from another source, for there was one voice of malicious laughter that rang out over the continuous noise of wailing and bedlam.
While the cacophony she endured from that nightmare was enough to torment her throughout the following day, there was more to be feared from the suspenseful silence and dreadful presence in yet another recurring set of dreams she had during this decade. These were offshoots of the dreams of being in the old house which came to life and started closing in on her and screaming at her. Playing and pausing throughout the night, causing a restless sleep, she would startle awake repeatedly and fall back into a morphed scene on return. Eventually, she would find herself entering a large room in which there was a single armchair, strategically positioned so that it was deep in the center and turned away from her. As if under a spell, she was compelled to move closer to identify who was seated there. Sometimes, it was empty, or there was noticeable weight on the cushion, but no one was visible. Other times there might be a decoy. Yet, the effect of the heavy silence was such that the sudden loud movement of the walls or the sliding of the chair would wake her, and she could never get back to sleep after that.
However, an opportunity presented itself for the girl to discover who had been sitting there all along. This time, as she approaches the armchair from behind, she is surprised to see the top of a smooth, bald head, and on one arm of the chair, a pale, long-fingered hand resting. Cautiously, she edges close enough to peer around from the side, just as I am turning my prominently sculpted features toward her, and I hold her wide-eyed gaze. With my piercing eyes I begin boring a gaping hole through to her heart and mind, savoring her fear. But suddenly, I feel a disappointing jolt of disconnection. I had wrongly believed she was within my grasp. I don’t think I acted too soon, but I think she saw beyond my limited disguise.
In confounded disbelief I watched her without ceasing. Waking from the ordeal did not alleviate her fear of impending doom, so I waited for my next opportunity, and I was not inactive. Unfortunately, she concluded that the source of the malicious laughter was one and the same as the seated enemy in her most recent vision. She couldn’t explain why she thought that, except that being confronted with this entity immediately caused her to believe all the recurring nightmares were blending together. No longer did the warnings seem so distant.
I heard her relating this experience to her new love interest, saying that she has never felt so hated by anyone, and concluding that I seemed to be just biding my time before she fell into my clutches. Not to be swayed from my purpose, I continued to target her mind, but she has grown strong enough to resist my every attempt since she woke up in the night.
And just like that, within the same day, I could not connect at all with her anymore. She went over to the enemy and has been given the “gift” that prevents me from accessing her mind. I had no warning. While I watch her going about her days, it’s as if she is a completely different person. In fact, she doesn’t even seem to notice that her nightmares have ceased.