To Sleep to Dream to Scream

Just a little thing I tossed off recently in response to a friend’s Facebook post about remembering the good old days of wooden screen doors. Thanks for the inspiration, Darrell!

How many times have you heard it. The phrase. Come on, you know it. “The stuff that dreams are made of.” Yeah, that’s the one. A new car, winning the lotto, getting that big inheritance, the stuff that dreams are made of. Well here’s a little head knocker for you. That stuff is all about the dreams you have . . . in the daytime.  It’s about stuff you run through your head while you’re working, or driving, or paying your bills. Day dreams. You make them up yourself. They’re your wish list.

The dreams that steal into your head all by themselves while you’re sleeping, now, that’s different. The ones that float through your subconscious whether you want them or not, those are the real McCoy.  Those are the ones you don’t want, and can’t turn off. They are the images and sounds and voices that reach out from the depths of darkness to pry open the inner chambers of your mind, to break through the locks guarding your deepest, darkest thoughts and fears and phobias and paranoia.  Those are the dreams that make you toss about in the night. They are the ones that jolt you awake with your eyes jerking open to swivel in the darkness, to take a moment, as you cringe under the sheet, to reassure yourself you really are in your own safe bed and it was only a dream. Yes, thank God, only a dream.

That small, deserted, dilapidated house you stopped in front of when your tire went flat. Only a dream. The old crookedly leaning homemade swing set with one seat missing, the other dangling from a single frayed rope, just a dream, no more real than the broken, one-eyed doll lying in the mostly grassless yard overtaken by weeds and dust that stirred gently when the breeze rose. It was all a manufactured figment born of an unsettled imagination due to a restless sleep.

None of it was any more real than the house itself, standing torturously in the deep dusk after another day of withering heat, laboring to draw in air through the hole in its one remaining glass window.  It was just a dream, an eerie, gauzy, ephemeral scene generated by a restive mind not yet willing to relax. None of it was real. Not the flat tire, or the swing, or the doll or the yard. Not the warm breeze. Not the house or the broken window or the screen door with its ripped fabric that slowly moved back and forth, banging against the door jamb, drifting open only to fall back again against the jamb, the soft slap of ruined wood against ruined wood creating a kind of slow dirge. Bang. Bang. Bang.

If it hadn’t been a dream you would never have been drawn by that door, pulled closer by the slow, steady, sadness of its beseeching monotonous call. In the real world you would not have crossed that dusty yard, the weeds scratching at your legs in the growing darkness. You wouldn’t have taken the single step up onto the small porch and moved carefully around its missing planks. You wouldn’t have heard the faint painful moaning of the breeze through that broken window. You would not have caught the edge of the swinging door, which hung crookedly now that you looked at it up close.

In the wakening world you surely wouldn’t have felt compelled to turn the rusty knob of the inner door, much less push against its resistance, the resistance of swollen wood and disjointed frame. You would not have forced the door open to a dusty, stifling hot  interior even darker than the outside, a

blinding, disorienting blackness within which you heard for the first time the plaintive, heart-breaking sobs of the softly crying child. You wouldn’t have taken that one step forward into the darkness that swallowed you as something grabbed your throat. You wouldn’t have screamed as you were pulled further into the dark eternity, arms flailing, feet scraping along the floor, trying desperately to pull you back .

But the suddenness with which you gasped awake was real. So was the pounding of your heart, the sweat that soaked your sheets, the desperate shaking relief of  your return to the waking world. And the self effacing almost hysterical laughter that celebrated your escape from the dream world, from the nightmare of your imagination . . . that was very real.

Throughout the day you paused in thought now and then, drawing up fleeting images of that excursion into the darkness beyond sleep. You reminded yourself that it was only a dream. A strange, compelling nightmare, so real, so clearly a product of the imagination.

Hours later, as you set off on your weekend trip, you were still chiding yourself for the scream with which you had awakened, still laughing in relief at the unreal grip the dream had on you, when you heard the pop of your tire being punctured, the hiss of the air escaping. You cursed mildly and slowed and pulled to the side of the road. You were lucky there was an open area well off the pavement you could use for changing the tire. A dusty open area in front of a dusty, weed infested yard with a broken swing set, and a broken one-eyed doll, and a deserted, dilapidated little house with a single broken window, and a desolate screen door with a long tear in its fabric, that swung in the breeze, banging into the jamb. Bang. Bang. Bang.

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