Thursday, January 20, 2011

Welcome to My Nightmare

Water lapped at my hips, fresh and blue and brilliant. The sand slid through my toes, the song of some ancient wisdom caught up in the grinding of seashells beneath my heels. One step and then another and then I was floating, the waves cresting against my skin, salt water dripping from my hair. Warm and aching beneath the sun, I swam, dimly aware of the coastal shelf falling away beneath me.

It was always the same. No matter how I raged at myself to stop it, to stay on the shore, I inevitably ended up in the ocean, lazy and careless. I opened my eyes and my mouth clamped down on the scream threatening to claw its way from my throat. Black now, the watery depths became nothing more than a pool of ink from which no light glittered. In the distance, the shore teased me with its safety, a golden patch on the horizon. I hovered over the abyss, my limbs like cement, my heart slamming against my ribs.

Would they be able to hear it? The syncopation of my organs pulsed the blood through my veins like the distressed flutter of a fish as it struggled against the current. I eyed the island, knowing I would never make it. I knew I would try anyway, knew I would fail. The current stopped, leaving me in a pool of silence, the water still and even. I held my breath, the barest movement threatening to broadcast my presence in the telltale ripples that would surely mean my doom.

Something brushed past my feet, and I bit my lip at its sandpaper sharpness. Like teeth for skin, biting and hooking into my flesh. I fought the urge to yank my foot away and closed my eyes.

Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop.

My mouth formed the words in an empty prayer. There was another sharp tickle – a tug – jolting me from my ankle to my thigh. I looked down, already knowing what I would see, the scream forming on my lips. Blood poured from my midsection, my legs gone, cut out from under me.

When the fin broke the watery surface, my mind blanked, my arms flailing uselessly. I struggled toward that golden shore, the current suddenly picking up again. Sometimes I almost made it.

Not tonight.

The shark snapped at me, pain replacing fear, and all around me was the taste of blood and salt and death, my wailing voice ebbing into a haunted gurgle as it finally pulled me under the darkness…

- A Brush of Darkness

I’ve mentioned before that A Brush of Darkness stemmed from a dream…but parts of it were also drawn from my own nightmares. I often have dreams like the one above, usually when there’s something I need to do or look at. Though the setting may change – an aquarium, the bay, the ocean – the shark always remains the same. Sometimes it’s more than one (though it's almost always a Great White). My dream self knows the shark will be there. Sometimes I even see the fin, but no matter what I do, I *always* end up in the water with it.

Seems like an odd thing to dream about, but for me there is just something so primal about sharks in general. Maybe they're just tapping into my caveman brain. Maybe it's because I saw Jaws when I was ten and it scarred me for life. (And as a lovely aside, the events in Jaws were actually based on a series of shark attacks in 1912. Where? On Long Beach Island. Where I spent every summer growing up. Okay, maybe NOT so odd that I might have symbolically have issues with them...though I certainly don't have a phobia of any sort.)

Thankfully, I either wake up or barely manage to escape before something terrible happens. I still get freaked out by the concept. Hell, even when I play World of Warcraft and end up swimming out in the ocean all alone (and there *are* beasties out there), I get genuinely upset.

Thus far this week, we’ve been discussing dreams in general and there have been some wonderful discussions about it, but nightmares are a part of dreaming as well, especially repeating ones. I’m sure some nightmares are random – if I’d watched Jaws and then dreamed about sharks that night, I wouldn’t think much of it, for example. But timing with dreams can really make a difference. I’ve come to recognize that it usually means I need to pay attention to something in my life. If I can pinpoint the stressor and either defeat it or deal with it, the shark dreams recede.

Anyone out there have recurring nightmares or dreams that you think mean something?


  1. I'm with Archie and Jughead in the jalopy going through a car-wash when a lion jumps out and eats me.

    This nightmare plagued me as a kid. Yes, the top was off the car while we were going through the car-wash (did they ever have the top on it?). No, I didn't have a fear of lions (I thought they were kinda cute).

    Perhaps Phobetor was just messing with me.

    ...though, I never did develop a love for convertibles. hmm

  2. I used to have the same dream/nightmare in the past just before I would get a flu or something:

    I'm chased by giant bones and I just can't seem to lose them. Finally they are gone and then I see an eldery lady holding some daisies. When I approach her she suddenly turns into the bones and they catch me.

    Really freaked me out I can tell you.

  3. My recurring nightmare started when I was about 6 or 7 and has popped up from time to time ever since. It was after I watched Halloween 2 (thanks Dad).

    The nightmare doesn't happen in a hospital, but at my nursery school. I have no idea why I was there at night, but I dreamed a Michael-like figure stalked and killed all of the other kids and was coming after me. In the end, I discover that Michael is actually my dad. Yeah, seriously, thanks Dad!

    I haven't had this particular dream for a couple of years, but now that I'm remembering it I'll probably have it tonight.

  4. Heh. Nightmares can definitely change as you grow older. When I was little, I used to have nightmares about being in the back seat of my dad's car with my little brother. No one was in the front, but the car was just driving itself. For some reason this absolutely terrified me. (I'm sure it has something to do with lack of control.)

  5. Allison, that passage from Brush of Darkness is truly chilling. Shudder.

    Hmmm. Recurring nightmares - not so much for me. When I was younger I dreamed about a bear occasionally, but not regularly. My recurring dream always, always involves a house with unknwon secret passages, often tiny, and my drive to get into them and through them to - somewhere. Sometimes these dreams take on a nightmare componenent when the house belongs to somebody else and I'm discovered. But my nightmares are truly few and far between. (knock wood, and hope it stays that way.)

  6. The women in my family have fever dreams, kind of like Sullivan. Always the same dream, distinct to each of us. My mother's is sideways elevators. Mine is more formless - a low, hissing voice in the background, laughing softly.

  7. My recurring one is that I'm back in college. I call it my "Can't Get My Shit Together Dream." It's the end of the quarter and I've apparently missed weeks of classes and can't read my schedule. I'm late, and I'm running around between buildings trying to get caught up so I won't get failed. Or, I'm trying to drop some of these classes that I had no idea I was signed up for, and the registrar's office is out of forms. There's usually some panic about trying to find an apartment to rent in there somewhere that takes cats. And my car's gonna get towed.

    Jeffe...I've had some like that, usually when I'm in that weird space between sleep and waking up. *shudder*

  8. I don't have any recurring nightmares or dreams, but I do have nightmares every...single...night. It's exhausting!

    Water is often present in my dreams too, Allison, almost every time in fact. Which is really no surprise--water in dreams represents emotion:

    **Water: Dream symbol meaning of Water deals with cleansing and emotional stirrings. If the Water is murky in your dream, this is a warning not to get involved in new endeavors. If the Water is clear, success is coming your way. Seeing yourself in Water's reflection means that you aren't being fully honest with yourself. When you contemplate your dream of Water, keep in mind Water is a symbol of your emotional state.


  9. @Jeffe and @Laura I get that same thing. It's not a buzzing for me, but sometimes as I'm drifting off to sleep, I hear someone say my name. Sometimes it's my mom or my dad. It's really weird and usually wakes me right up. I've been told that it's actually a form of clairaudience, but I haven't done enough research to find out. I've also suffered from sleep paralysis from time to time. (Which is super scary.)

  10. I also have recurring nightmares, it's one of the reasons I write so much. I stay awake until I drop from exhaustion and go into the deep sleep that is safe. When everyone is in bed, the only thing I can do without bothering my sleeping family is write (or read).

    It is a family history thing. My mother and I would often have the most intense nightmares on the same night, which usually occured just before a bad event (i.e.- an unexpected car wreck).

    My mom's mother (whom I've never met) also had these nightmares, and would often live on sleeping pills. Should I divulge she was also in and out of psych wards because of the dreams?

    Anyway, all this leads up to one point: maybe dreams and nightmares DO have more of an impact on our life then we think?

  11. I also see nightmares as warnings--they're always worse when I'm neglecting something. As a kid, they usually took the form of me being kidnapped or lost, and nowadays they manifest as me being trapped in a basement.

    I also still get the late-for-class dreams--I don't think those will ever go away!

  12. this why you didn't query Janet Reid...?

    I kid, I kid. :)

    I've had the same nightmare more'n once, but only when I was younger. Nowadays I don't dream often. I chalk that up to exhaustion. *sigh*

  13. @Simon - Probably. LOL. Although honestly, I didn't query her because I didn't think she'd like my stuff. Go figure.

  14. @Allison...Ah, yep. Sleep paralysis. I always manage to do that every couple of months. Good times!


  15. @Allison, that voice that you hear as you fall asleep sounds like a Old Hag Syndrome.

    @Laura, I have that same back to school dream; I think I had it last night! Except for me it's high school, and in the dream I always stop and say, "Wait. I'm 31 years old, I've already got my master's, and everyone else in here is 16. Why am I even here?" XKCD did a cute strip on that.

  16. Whoops, part of my post disappeared. I tried to insert HTML for my links and failed. Allison, I was saying that what you're describing sounds like a hypnagogic experience, and that you might be interested in reading about Old Hag experiences.