I remember having this nightmare a few years ago (my dream log tells me it was in October of 2012), which is odd because I rarely have nightmares and, when I do, they rarely startle me this much. This one had me staying awake for a bit.
In the dream, I was living in some secret, secluded society—almost like M. Night Shyamalan’s The Villagers, but not quite: nobody wore pioneer clothing, but the garb was simple, uniform and concealing. The village was secluded like that, but more in the guts of a forest. There were two roads leading out of town: one that led East and one that ran West. Members of the society traveled East for supplies, but only to a point. Supposedly a man met them there and gave them what they needed in exchange for goods (produce farmed by the society…clothes we made, etc.). If you went East, you were never allowed to stray from the road, not even a little. I had only ventured a short ways along the road, but (in the dream) I recalled another boy taking only a few steps off the road into the forest. He turned and taunted his mother about it. The caravan of folks all stopped and stared, horrified. His mother’s dramatic reaction seemed to frighten him, for he leapt back onto the trail and into her arms, eyes wide in alarm.
We were often told to never, ever go down the West road. Of the many rules, that’s the only one I really remember.
I don’t remember all the happenings of the dream. There were interactions with townsfolk and other side dramas going on, but at a point something spurred an argument at a late-night town festival. There was a conflict brewing between two families and it was reaching peak escalation here and now. I didn’t see the whole thing unfold over the crowd of witnesses, but I heard the shouting. I tried to push my way to the front and heard one man call out another, heard the gasps when one man hit another and then, when I could finally see, watched in horror as one man threw a bucket of gasoline at another and then a match.
This was the thread that fully unraveled everything, it seemed, for chaos ensued. The festival had turned into a war field, with women herding their children indoors and fights breaking out everywhere. Things were getting ruthless. I watched one man bludgeon another’s face with a four-by-four…then another hold a man’s face against a hot branding iron.
Not all the men were fighting. Several were just trying to get away. Buildings were burning and bodies were everywhere. Without a stake in things, I followed suit and found myself heading down the West road by myself.
Dense forest aligned both sides of this road, and the path ahead looked dreary—even the sky seemed to dark further down the road. After a few minutes, I found myself at a stone wall that ran alongside the left side of the path. Lit torches had been mounted against the wall every few feet or so, and this wall evolved into an alley with a few leading downward into it. There were people there—maybe ten or so—men (judging by their size and how they walked) wearing heavy, gray cloaks. The cloaked men were exiting a door at the end of this alley, some forty feet away from where I stood. Before they could see me, I hid behind the edge of the wall, peering from behind to watch them.
At the end of the line of men came another man who was not cloaked. This man was being dragged out in chains, crawling alongside the others—crying, clearly beaten.
I continued to watch, horrified, as the cloaked ones spoke something ceremonial in a tongue I didn’t recognize. When they finished with what must have been a prayer, one of them stepped forward, which elicited a strident cry from the beaten man. This cloaked man called two others over to hold the beaten man down, and then he stabbed him in the heart with a blade.
Adrenaline took over and, as stealthily as I could, I retreated down the path from whence I came, not understanding what I had just seen, but knowing that it wouldn’t be wise to stick around to find out.
When I got back to town, it was in much worse shape than how I’d left it. Most of the ten to fifteen houses were aflame, and things were quieter with fewer conscious or alive people to scream and shout. I spotted a woman hiding by a tree, frightened to the point of hysterics. She wasn’t very well hidden, and I surmised that she wasn’t safe where she was either, so I took her by the arm and led her away.
I’m not really sure where we went, exactly: maybe inside a house or something like that. Nevertheless, we found a better hiding place—there was still a significant sized mob out there attacking whomever they chanced upon.
The woman’s eyes bulged to the point of freneticism, and she kept asking me the same couple of questions: “What are you? Why are you doing this to me?”
I would try to respond each time with, “I’m trying to help you.” When her hysterics reached yet another level, I responded with a series of “It’s OK. It’s OK,” but I got the sense that she wasn’t hearing me at all.
After a half minute of this, however, my words started sounding strange to me, like they were coming out a little different each time, and I slowly began to realize that I had not said these words at all. I’d only thought I had—in fact, I’d only thought them…but I knew that wasn’t exactly right either. I had done everything to try to say these words, but the feeling of my mouth and throat and lungs actually working together to speak them was riddled with phantom sensations.
I continued to try to speak the words, “It’s OK”, but my lips refused to move even as I continued to hear them in my head. Gradually, those words evolved so that I could hear them in the physical world, but it wasn’t my voice speaking them. The voice was deeper and with a heavy rasp, and the audio of it didn’t seem to sync with the rhythm of my intended speech—it was close, but still off. And, while I was using the contraction, “it’s”, the voice was saying “it is.”
My lips began moving in tandem with the strange voice that spoke, and now the woman could hear the words, hear the voice. She looked at me with a terror I don’t think I could ever forget, but she wasn’t really looking at me. Her eyes had a vacuous quality to them, as if she was staring into nothingness.
That’s when I realized I wasn’t really there at all—not in the physical sense, at least. I had a strong sense that I wasn’t alive.
Then I woke up.