Sunday, August 12, 2012

Skin child: A terrifying glimpse into my subconscious

You're gonna be glad there are no pictures in this one.

We all know that it's generally pretty boring to hear about other people's dreams*. And yet we all tell each other our dreams. It's kind of self-indulgent and narcissistic yet oddly whimsical and naive at the same time, like a little kid who is still amazed at the stuff their brain can come up with.

So it's kind of like having a personal blog...

*cough* moving on.

I have really bizarre dreams. Which I thought was normal until I reached an age where I had to listen to other people talk about their dreams. And I have to say the King of Boring Dreams is probably our ex-roommate, Stephen, who dreams about things like going to the store and working out. That's probably the sign of a well-adjusted subconscious. Which does not bode well for me.

My dreams pretty much come in two flavors: completely nonsensical and terrifyingly cinematic. Both types are quite vivid, though I can never really explain the first type. Often I'm trying to protect something small, a baby or a pet, and the thing I'm protecting changes size and sometimes it talks and generally there's a goal I'm working towards like climbing a mountain except sometimes it's like the world falls out from under me and I'm...

You know what, never mind. Let's just say that these dreams are hard to make sense of and leave it at that.

The second type are white-knuckle vivid dreams that stick with me for years. I can still remember dreams from my childhood (for a long time I had a reoccurring dream that I was a superhero fairy who could fly, which was awesome and maybe explains a lot about me). Though sometimes (rarely) these are good dreams, they are more likely to leave me just happy to wake up again.

And I have a lot of zombie dreams. I like zombie movies, tv shows, books (like Stant Litore's series set in Biblical times), but indulging in any of these inevitably means zombie dreams. If I think about zombies for too long I have zombie dreams. I'll probably have one tonight. I suffer for my blogging.

In fact, I had a zombie dream just two weeks ago. In the dream I was a soldier out on patrol with my unit. The dream was so vivid that I could feel the helmet on my head, the gun over my shoulder, the utility belt around my waist with a radio and a sidearm. And yes, I dream in color. I recall the olive green of the uniforms. It was sunset, the sky streaked orange behind the other soldiers in my unit.

And then came the zombies.

At first we thought they were just the enemy. Until our guns had no effect on them. Or to be more precise, our guns mowed them down, but they were able to get right back up again, flagrantly defying the zombie-genre convention that a headshot can kill the reanimated.

I pulled out my primary weapon, a machine gun, and felt the percussion of it as it slammed against my shoulder, and it grew hot beneath my hands. Each time I sprayed the mob it gained us only another few seconds, and we kept falling back, falling back.

Finally we came to an abandoned market stand, just me and one of the other soldiers left. The ammo for the machine guns was gone, and we rested our arms against the counter top as we fired our sidearms into the crowd.

One of the zombies was almost on us, a man with dark hair and a white shirt, and he was reaching for me, his hand so close to my wrist.

I pulled the trigger. The gun went click. I felt it, the impotent jolt against my hand. The zombie reached for me.

And then I woke up.

Not only is sleeping occasionally terrifying for me, it can be equally frightening for the other people in the room. See, my dreams sometimes leak through into real life.

During the hypnagogic state (transitioning to and from sleep), it's not uncommon for people to experience all kinds of sensory phenomena, up to and including full-on hallucinations. Which I sometimes have. And like my dreams, they tend to be very vivid. Once, sleeping in my room in Minnesota, I woke to see a man with a bike - wearing a helmet - standing in my doorway. I got out of bed and took two steps to my right, into my bathroom. Peeked out a second later. He was still there. Ducked back behind the wall again. Peeked out again. He was gone.

In my room in England, I woke to see an old woman sitting on my chair, knitting unfurled over her lap.

In one college bedroom, I opened my eyes to a face right in front of my own, with dark eyes and white skin, grinning at me, hands pillowed under its cheek.

On vacation beside Lake Chautauqua, a black human-shaped thing with fuzzy edges came through the bedroom door and dove under my bed. I woke up my sister in the next bed and my boyfriend in the next room with my frantic attempts to find the thing under my bed.

And the thing is, as my logical brain reasserts itself, I also see the way that the shapes resolve into ordinary things or just melt back into the shadows.**

Anyone I share a room with just has to get used to me talking in my sleep or half-sleep, trying to explain the pictures in my head, or even sitting straight up or calling out to a hallucination lingering from my subconscious. I'm not generally scared when I see these things.

Case in point, last night.

I woke up around 2:30 AM and looked down towards my feet, where I saw something slumped over the side of the bed. What I saw, more precisely, was the empty skin of a child, like something had slurped out the bones and organs and so on and left the rubbery rest of it hanging over the edge of my bed. Except the head. The head was still intact, facing away from me. I could see the dark hair.

So I did what anyone would do if they saw a skin child draped over the end of their bed. I sat up and touched the head. And it was soft and fuzzy, just like I expected. I wasn't afraid or weirded out. Maybe just curious and a little confused.

At that point I realized I was touching the cat, and the rest of the thing resolved itself into a blanket. I wasn't sleepy anymore (not because I was freaked out or scared, mind you, I just wasn't sleepy), so I got up and went into the other room. A few minutes later Leland joined me. Not thinking, I told Leland the story of what I'd seen.

"Why on earth would you tell me that?" he said, and then refused to go back into the bedroom without me.

Leland's really easy to scare.

*If you're a person who regularly tells me their dreams, this does not apply to you, I love hearing about your dreams. Just so we have that covered.

**So do I think these things could be ghosts? There is no reason to claim that these are ghosts when there is a recognized scientific phenomena - hypnagogia - to explain them. But I would never say that I knew for sure that they weren't ghosts. To be quite frank about it, I'm none too pleased with the idea that they might be.

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