In case you’re wondering, the nightmares depicted below are my own. I’ve had those dreams. The analytical part of me suspects they mean something. The human part of me just hopes I don’t have them again.
I don’t just think it’s okay to use your own stuff in fiction–I think it’s what we’re supposed to do. Yeah, it’s a vulnerable move, throwing bits and pieces of yourself into your stories. I’ve talked about that so many times in the past that it’s not practical to link all the previous posts. There are just too many.
But I keep coming back to the idea of making your fiction personal for two reasons. One, because I’m always hesitant to put my own psyche on display, despite how often I encourage others to. It’s a struggle every damn time. It never stops being scary. Or rewarding.
And two, because I think this struggle is more or less universal. I think we’re all afraid of showing too much of ourselves. I could have come up with other nightmares, but I doubt something I made up would have the same bite. The nightmares below are real. I think it shows. The story is stronger for it, even if I had to push myself to include those details.
No risk, no reward. Add that to your list of trite cliches that are absolutely true.
Okie-doke, kids. On to the story.
Everything felt disjointed, like puzzle pieces that don’t fit. There were no lines. No corners or edges. It was all just crammed together, beaten into place to create an unsettling topography without dimension or meaning.
The nightmares were back. Then again, they always came back.
She had a friend who struggled with honest-to-God insomnia. It sounded like hell, those restless nights that ended with a sunrise that was neither triumphant nor inspiring. When he talked about the weeks that sometimes passed without decent sleep, she wondered who had it worse. He was reduced up a comatose zombie for days on end. At least she could sleep.
But the dreams.
She tried to talk to a therapist about them once, but they defied categorization. There wasn’t a recurring dream, or even a constant theme, apart from horror.
One night she dreamt of spiders. Everywhere. They pulsed in the walls and scurried across her skin. She tried to run from the house, her house except it didn’t look like her house, but outside the trees were white with webs. Webs dotted black with even more spiders. When she woke, screaming herself back to consciousness, she could still feel their legs shuffling all over her body.
The next night she was living with her parents again. It was Thanksgiving, and for no reason she could discern, she was somehow back in high school, even though her dream self remained 34 years old. When her dad emerged from the kitchen to carve the turkey, he leered at her and then lunged, the electric knife buzzing as he cackled. As she sprinted from the room, she heard her mom call out, “David, she’s going for the front door!”
She’d seen so many terrible things–ghosts, demons, mythical creatures, and plain-Jane betrayal. All of them were one hit wonders. When she thought the next couldn’t possibly be as bad as the last, she was repeatedly proven wrong.
The uncertainty made it worse. If the foes had been consistent, perhaps she could have developed a strategy or, at the very least, a tolerance. But no. Every night brought a new terror, when it was nightmare season, anyway.
Sometimes nightmare season lasted a few days. Sometimes weeks. When it ended, she still had dreams, but they were mostly nonsensical. She was talking to her cat about buying new blinds, or riding go carts with the lead singer of her favorite band. These were more often pleasant than not, but the threat of the nightmares’ return always loomed.
She thought of it as her curse. If she were a character in a Stephen King story, there would undoubtedly be a gypsy to blame. If Clive Barker were her biographer, a demon. Reality, however, was a shitty author, providing her with no discernible root cause. She was shadow boxing a spirit, the very nature of which she couldn’t name if her life depended on it.
Until the night it revealed itself.