“Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.”
― Stephen King
There was something ominous and foreboding about the stillness of the forest on that chill autumn evening. The hairs on my neck were petrified stiff as a frigid assailing wind whipped the hem of my dress around my ankles. My long raven hair twisted and tanged in the breeze. With each new step, the fall foliage snapped and cracked under my shoes. We we foraging for nuts, my three little sisters and I, trying to add to our winter food reserves before the first winter frost set in.
Milly and Jane were twins and were 12 years of age. They each had matching brown hair, brown eyes, and snub noses but differed greatly in temperament. Our youngest sister, Eliza, was 5 and stood apart from all of us in looks. She was cute as a button with her strawberry cheeks, golden locks, and crystal blue eyes. Quiet as a church mouse and unusually pensive, Eliza tended to keep to herself. I fancied myself their protector and guardian, as I was much to old to be a friend to them at the age of 18.
My mother’s voice cut through the twilight stillness as she called out from the porch of our wooden cabin, “Mirra, Milly, Jane, Eliza! Supper is ready!” Milly and Jane took off towards the house giggling and swinging their baskets full of nuts, Eliza trailing along behind them. As I stepped through the threshold, I was instantly greeted by the smell of fresh boiled potatoes and cabbage. A generous fire crackled in the hearth, kissing my hands and cheeks with its delicate warmth. Milly and Jane were already hard at work setting the table as Ma struggled to wash the caked earth from beneath Eliza’s fingernails.
My father, a slender frail man of few words, seated himself at the head of the table as my mother and I began doling a small serving of food onto each plate. When we were all seated, my mother initiated prayer, “Dear Lord, we thank you for the blessings that you have bestowed upon us and we ask that you use this food on our table to nourish our bodies and our spirits. We ask for your protection throughout the coming winter and from the evils of the forest. In your holy name we pray, Amen.”
Silverware clinked against china as we ate in silence. The only sounds were that of tree branches as the blew back and forth in the wind. Milly and Jane snickered quietly to one another as I offered Eliza an encouraging smile. After dinner, the younger girls were sent off to bed to say their nightly prayers. Back at the kitchen table, my mother sighed deeply as my father gave me a long apologetic look. “We need you to go back,” he whispered. “Are you serious?” I asked desperately as I looked to my mother for support, she offered none. “I’m sorry Mirra. You know that we wouldn’t ask you if we had any other choice. We don’t have enough food to make it through the winter and there isn’t another settlement within miles to help us. You have to go.”
“We don’t belong there father!” I shouted in protest. “If I’m caught it could mean the end of us all.” I could see it in his eyes before he said it aloud, the raw resignation of surrendering one’s self to an unknown fate. “We have no choice,” he murmured. His eyes seemed to beg my forgiveness as he left the table. I exchanged a worried glance with my mother before jumping into action. I walked to my room that I shared with Eliza. I could hear her breathing heavily, lost in some dream world unbeknownst all the pain and sorrow of the real world. I gripped the wooded trunk that was hidden under my bed and slid it out in front of me. From inside, I pulled out a long wooly black shawl that I draped gingerly over my head. I casually slid the trunk back under my bed and made my way out into the wood.
The night air was more unforgiving than it had been earlier in the evening. Pins and needles pricked my cheeks, fingers, and toes as I slowly crept through the forest. I couldn’t bring a torch with me, it would have drawn too much attention, but the light of the full moon was just enough to light my path through the thinning canopy of trees. Every footstep seemed to reverberate through the stillness. Finally I approached the hollow in the grand oak. It was the largest oak tree in the forest, yet somehow the most hidden. It seemed to exist unnoticed as the other trees in the forest shrouded around it. I had been lucky to find the tree to begin with, entirely by chance while foraging for food a few summers back.
The tree hollow was pitch black and endless, just big enough for an average sized adult human to crawl through. A tremble caught in my breath as I braced myself on the mouth of the hollow. Now face to face with the abyss, I shivered from the memory of my last jump. A world of chaos and lawlessness, lightyears into an unforgiving future. I braced myself against the tree, feeling it’s bark dig into the curvature of my palms. My eyes clinched shut as I tried to relax the exhaustion in my breath and the fluttering in my chest. There was no use counting down. I knew that if I hesitated, I would never make the jump. So, as naturally as falling into a deep sleep, I released my grip and surrendered myself to the hollow’s infinity.
I emerged in a dreamlike state in the middle of a dark underground city. The oak tree was the only living plant in sight, though it seemed to go unnoticed just as it had in my forest. The walls, ceiling, and floor around me were all made of charcoal colored cement. Only the dim yellow light from street lamps and the neon glow of store fronts embedded into the wall lit my path. I didn’t know this world but I somehow knew that I didn’t belong in it. The people were strange, hustling and bustling angrily from place to place. Their glares served as a warning, remain guarded and vigilant. The air was foreign, stifled, and unnatural. There was no breeze in the air, and the atmosphere seemed to mimic that of a musty damp cave. This place was nothing at all like the wild open forest that I called my home. It was alien to me, but somehow tugged on the memory of my last visit there several years prior.
I cautiously made my way towards one of the store fronts where food rations were being given out free of charge. Across the corridor, groups of men were engaging in street brawls, disappearing in a tumble of elbows, knees, and fists. People were darting in and out of the shops collecting as many goods as they could carry. There was a general sense of post apocalyptic anarchy in the air. Everyone seemed to be looking out for themselves alone, no one could be trusted.
Just as I made it to the entrance to the food shop, a man grabbed my shoulder from behind and furiously spun me around. Shocked and dizzied by fear and the spin, it took a moment for his features to come into focus. He cradled my face in his calloused palms. As his features began to sharpen, I was finally able to see the pleading frenzy in his chestnut brown eyes. His jaw seemed to tremble beneath his burly brown beard. He gazed at me several moments before speaking. “Thank God your eyes aren’t blue. You’d be dead in minutes,” He stammered before taking off down the corridor. I tried to call after him, but he refused to stop.
I was starting to think that coming to this place again was more dangerous than even I had anticipated. Tightening my shawl around my chin, I decided to head back towards the oak tree. On my way, I swerved to escape the path of passerbyers as they scrambled past me. I was almost there. A sense of relief settled into my stomach as the oak tree appeared in the distance. We can get food another way, I thought, as long as we are all safe. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough.
Suddenly, horror shook through my body as I felt the cold round shaped barrel of a gun pressed against my back. I froze, daring not to provoke my attacker. With the gun still pressed to my back, a man walked around to my side so that I could see him. He was about my height, a bit husky with brown hair and striking blue eyes. His features were youthful, but the terror in his eyes made him look much older. “I need you to follow me,” he said, “don’t try to run.” I fearfully complied as he led me over towards a dark narrow alleyway near the oak tree. His eyes met mine for a moment, and I could see that even with a gun pressed to my back, he was no threat to me.
He slowly pulled the gun from my back and gently placed it in my hand. “I need you to shoot me,” he said. “Someone is going to kill me anyways, at least this way I will die quickly. I would do it myself, but I just don’t have the nerve.” I felt so much sympathy for him in that moment. My hands began to tremble beneath the cool metallic weight of his gun. “I’ll do it,” I said earnestly, “but I can’t bring myself to do this without knowing anything at all about you. Would you walk with me for a little while?” He looked at me quizzically, understanding as if for the first time that I was some strange object out of place, like a palm tree in Antarctica. He hesitated for a moment before nodding grimly in agreement.
I was just about to ask the man what his name was when a group of men came rushing up behind us. They had spotted my walking companion and were out for blood. Without a word, the man and I began running towards the tree. However, he was unable to keep up with me. The group of men tacked him to the ground and began beating him to death. I felt a sick feeling of relief and horror settle into my stomach as I stopped to catch my breath. However, to my surprise, I looked up to see another mob of people heading my way. I took off towards the tree again, panting and heaving along the way. Without hesitation, I dove through the hollow, tumbling out on the other side into the sweet comfort of my woods.
My lungs ached as I gasped for air. I slowly rose to my feet, turning to head towards home. I had only taken about three steps when I heard the sound of a man emerging from the hollow behind me. Without looking back, I sprinted off towards home. I was fast and I knew the land, but behind me I could hear the pounding feet and the chants of a mob at my heels. I barreled up the steps to my house, swung the door shut, and barricaded it with a plank of wood. Outside I could hear the people calling for us to come out and face them. The commotion had woken up my family, who now stood beside me trembling with fear. Milly and Jane linked arms and cried as my parents exchanged worried glances. “I told you this wasn’t safe,” I stammered through clinched teeth. The chanting became louder and louder as the mob approached the house. There was no way out. I had led them right to us. A moment of horrifying realization dawned on me as I looked down at Eliza, clinging to my leg and staring up at me with her big blue eyes. Then I woke up.
Do you keep a dream journal? Have you had any spooky nightmares lately? I would love to hear about them in the comment section below. If you enjoyed this post, please shoot me a like, comment, or follow.
Love Always, AnxiouslyM