“They’ve promised that dreams can come true- but forgot to mention that nightmares are dreams, too.–Oscar Wilde
As the world locks down around me, so too does it seem that I am running into a bit of trouble in the dream world as well.
Most nights, nightmares have replaced my normal dreams.
Dark dreams of despair and hopelessness.
Sometimes they are vague. Many dreams of inky black, sharply shaped creatures, tearing at me with their terrible black claws as they visit me in the night. They tear away my clothes and scratch at me until I am raked over with fine red lines on my pale white skin. No matter how bare I am, it’s never enough for them.
Other nights are worse, as I witness terrible things happen to those I love, most painful of all being dreams of Liam being wounded.
I relish the nights that these malevolent visions leave me be, as rare as they are right now. They do shine through like sunlight in a dark forest, giving me hope.
One sequence in particular keeps replaying. The dream usually starts off as something innocuous, like being at work or going to a movie. Something totally mundane…
And then I’m suddenly in an old plantation house in Georgia. I don’t know where but I can guess that it’s a house I spoke of breaking into once, though that conversation now seems ages ago. Another life time, maybe, one where we didn’t turn around.
I’m upstairs in a long and narrow attic, filled with old bed frames, furniture, and boxes upon boxes of antiques. I can hear my love somewhere downstairs singing softly to himself.
As I look through the boxes, a stack of 3 paintings catches my eye. They are propped up in the corner near a large, circular window and a bed that is made up as if someone would come to sleep any minute, despite the age. It is adorned with the most delicate white lace coverlet that looks freshly washed, a stark contrast to the dust covered boxes surrounding it.
The first painting by the bed is of a young woman, perhaps late teens or early twenties. She is dressed in a fine Victorian lace gown and corset, all ivory. Her hair cascades in ringlets of dark, sandy blonde. In a way, she favors me a little. She’s sitting on a swing and holding a flower. At the top of the painting are scrawled the words: “Sweet Dreams”
I smile and flip to the next painting. The same girl is in the same clothes, again on the swing, but frowning this time, and there is another girl with her. In appearance, she seems like a twin to the first, but looking very ominous in a plain white dressing gown and straight hair instead of curls. She is glaring at the blonde on the swing. Again, there are words written across the top, this time saying “Why Must I Dream of This?”
At this point I’m a little confused but I flip to the next painting. This time, the girl on the swing is being devoured by the straight-haired girl. She has torn open the girl’s stomach and is eating her intestines. The top of the picture says “I AM ALWAYS IN YOUR DREAMS”
“What are you doing?”
I gasp and drop the stack of paintings, whirling around to see the girl from the swing standing behind me.
“I… um… oh God!” I try to run but I am locked in place. I scream for my love but I can’t hear him anymore. “You! You’re in the paintings! You died!”
“You did not see the last one.” She says plainly, as if this were all a tediously boring affair.
“There isn’t a ….” I stop myself mid-sentence, staring at the fourth painting which has materialized suddenly out of nowhere. Grimacing with fear, I flip the horrifying painting forward so I can see what lies beneath.
This painting is of me, standing in front of the swing with my arms at my side but palms facing forward, wearing the gown from the first painting. I am alone. The words at the top say “The Key Is Above You.”, and in the painting, there is a golden key just above the words.
I look at the girl, confusion growing. “What?”
“Take the key. And hurry.” She vanishes.
Behind her, where she had just been, stood the other girl. The devouring thing. She smiles and cocks her head at me. “You don’t have it!” She trills with excitement, “You don’t have it. You don’t have it.” The words become a chant, over and over, her voice dropping low and guttural.
I scream and run as she lunges at me, the chant dissolving into a fit of maniacal laughter. Panting and frantic, I duck behind an old wardrobe as thoughts race through my mind. What to do? Where to run? Should I attack? Is she even a thing that can be hurt? Why does she look like me? Why is this happening?
The floorboards creak as she steps closer to the wardrobe, her voice slowly rising as she hurls insults at me. How dumb I am, how ugly, fat, useless, I am. How unprepared I am. How I would die here and it would be my fault.
Gritting my teeth, I make a run for the attic door, pulling a box of books down as I go to block her path. As I hit the door, I find it locked, my hands twisting at the knob in vain.
She cackles as she approaches, a swagger of victory in her walk and a glimmer of malice in her dead eyes as she steps over the pile of books. “You never did look above you.”
I look at her dumbfounded, then look up. Above me, a golden skeleton key hovers, glowing in translucent light. I look back at her, my mouth open though I have no words.
“Pity, you’re too late.”
I reach up for the key as the girl lunges for me, her fingers long and distorted now, with teeth just as long and sharp to match. Her eyes roll back into blackness like a shark about to strike.
I can feel the cool metal under my finger tips as I snatch the key from the air and frantically try to fit it in the lock.
It’s not a match. I’m out of time.
“That’s now how you wield it!” The curly haired girl’s voice calls out from the ether.
But it’s too late. Searing hot, the pain strikes me on my left shoulder. She has reached me.
Mercifully, I woke up. The room was quiet, my dog and one cat deep in calm sleep beside me. The silence was only interrupted by the erratic beat of my heart in my chest, and the huffs of my heaving chest as I sucked in air.
I’ve had this dream a few times now, almost always ending the same way. Sometimes, I get the key and make it downstairs to my love, and we make a break for it. Sometimes, I don’t even see the 4th painting before I’m attacked.
I hope that soon enough, these nightmares become the rarity, and my surreal and happy dreams return to the normal quota. I hope that I won’t see the devouring girl anymore.
Until then, wish me luck on grabbing that key.