I've done anything short of propping my eyelids open with toothpicks to keep from returning to the nightmares that await me, and yet, being awake feels less and less real all the time. The hours in a day seem to be misplaced as I blink, and somehow I float from place to place until it's time for my argument with the clock again. It's as if sleep is no longer a function of my brain and body, rather, it is the will of something... someone, dreadful. I wish I could just give in to the part of my brain that tells me I know this is all a dream, but the part that forgets why we're there and who's behind it screams so much louder.
I am awake, but I am barely alive. The steady sound of my palms drumming on my bare thigh is no match for the sleep I so desperately need, and I feel myself drifting. I fall asleep for what feels like only a few seconds, but wake up to daylight pouring onto my face from the bay windows. I'm not in my house anymore. It's happening again, I know it is. I didn't fall asleep here. This is my old bedroom at my parent's house, so I need to go talk to my parents. And I have to remember they aren't my parents. I always sort of know, but I never really remember until I'm awake. Now is the part where I walk out of my bedroom onto a different floor of the house. I notice my movements aren't quite normal-- I seem to be gliding in some sort of spectral fashion, which is always what makes me ask him,
He looks at me. No, not at me: into me. He looks so annoyed of me like he wishes I would release myself from this nightmare just as much as I wish I would. His eyes are not quite my dad's, nor are his jerky movements and mannerisms. He suffers my question for what now must be near the hundredth time.
"what?" he hisses. "what's wrong with you?"
"Nothing... I just... do I seem weird? I feel weird?"
I look back to him awaiting his reply but he never answers. He shakes his head and walks away, revealing the glass door behind him. It's dark outside, even though seconds ago I lied in my old bedroom drenched in sunlight. It's not just night time: the world has gone completely pitch black as if the sun had left forever. I turn to follow the man who is not my dad, and I catch a glimpse of something just beyond the glass. Someone beyond the glass. Someone I don't want to see, and so I keep turning, and I move glide toward my dad. Except I don't move.
The entire room flashes red, and I am brought backwards against my own will to once again face the door. It's as if the nightmare is a recording and I am being rewound to face the source of that tinge of fear. I can never stop it. I cannot turn away as my vision now zooms beyond the door and to her decaying, dimly lit face. Every time she is there, just barely lit up by the red glowing light, snickering at me. She laughs as if my fear of her is unwarranted. I know that I'll see her again each time but my spine still chills as if I've never seen her before. Once I see her sunken eyes and watch as her smirk turns into an ear to ear grin, the world goes back to regular darkness, the red light fades, and I am released from my forced rewind.
The man who is not my father scowls at me again. I hate that he hates me so much.
"seriously what is wrong with you today?" he growls.
I try to talk to him like I would if he really were my dad-- the dad that loves me and listens to me.
"It's the strangest thing, dad. It's like I'm not even awake, or I can't tell if I am. I'm pretty sure I'm still asleep. You know?"
he is more annoyed than ever, now. He puffs up like a cartoon wolf about to blow down a house of straw, and at the height of his breath, I blink myself back into my own bed. Only, I didn't fall asleep here, either. I was sitting at my desk, tapping my leg. Oh, right. I remember this part too. If I sit up, I'll see I'm still there and I'm here at the same time. I sit up, and I can see myself sitting there, tapping, with my eyes closed. This time, for the first time, I'm not curious about how this is happening, and I don't find it interesting that I seem to be lucid in this dream state. I just begin to panic. I am so scared of this loop, scared of not feeling what the difference between waking and a nightmare is anymore. I'm ashamed and angry and scared of never escaping this purgatory. So I start to cry. I cry really hard. I'm gasping, wailing, sniffing, shaking the entire bed with my discomposure. I see my other self stop tapping and raise her head. She wants to ask me a question.
I try to gather my breath. For some reason, though the entire time I've live this nightmare I've questioned every detail, I'm not questioning this conversation with myself.
"Yeah?" I whine.
"Are you awake?" She doesn't turn her head to me. Maybe she isn't me at all.
I just cry harder. I can't answer.
"Hannah? Come back, Hannah."
I scream at her, "Come back to where?! I don't even know where you are! Where I am! What the fuck is this??"
"She's awake! There she is!"
I'm awake again, but this time, I'm on some sort of stretcher with a good 7 or 8 people standing around me smiling. They're holding clipboards and writing furiously, though I'm not sure what about. I've not done much other than open my eyes. I hear beeping, chirping, and I can smell that strange hospital smell. Oh my god. I remember. I can finally remember why this was happening.
"Wow-- you were a trooper, Hannah! You slept for 12 hours. We got some really great data from you. How do you feel?"
I pause to do just that: feel. It's like my brain fooled me into forgetting what the actual feeling of being awake was as I slept: perhaps that's why I was able to stay in the dream for so long. It's over now. I'm finally back-- this is what awake feels like. I'm not a ghost, I'm here. The people talk to me, not through me. I feel the fear drain from my body in a way that has literal weight. Whoops-- almost forgot to answer the room full of white coats.
"Uhh... good, I think? Is it weird if I say, 'like I need a nap' ?"
The team laughs. I forget the team lead's name, but he's a handsome young man with dark hair and dark eyes. He checks the monitors as he talks, and he begins to unhook me from the machines. It feels nice to not have the only person I can talk to stare into me.
"No-- that's perfectly normal. This type of therapy isn't really sleeping, and of course, the emotional exhaustion of facing so many fears is quite taxing. But you're here, and you're okay! No visible signs of lasting trauma, anyway. With this study's data, we may be able to change the face of exposure therapy alltogether. It's amazing-- it's like therapists won't really even have to be therapists! Just good at video games!"
The team laughs again, only this time, I'm not so sure I like that they're laughing. Surely it is just a joke, right? I mean, we won't really just be hooking humans up to these machines and "playing" their thoughts and fears for money? I'm sure that wasn't in the agreement I signed before participating in the trial.
"And the other subjects?" I look to the team lead again as he unhooks me from the monitors. I'm visibly relieved that these technological tethers are now non-existent. He still doesn't look at me.
"How did it go? what kind of data did we get from them?" I don't want to sound too forceful; I keep my tone as cheery and curious as possible."
"Sorry Hannah," he chuckles, "but we aren't quite done with your assessment yet. Tell me: what do you remember about your sleep?" The white coats all lean in with their pens ready.
I don't remember anything. I attempt to tell them about the neverending hell I've just experienced, but it is already gone. It's not even on the tip of my tongue. How can I forget an entire 12-hour nightmare? Dumbfounded, I choked out a reply.
"I-- uh-- umm. I honestly don't remember anything. It's like it's completely gone. Blank. I'm really sorry. I don't want to ruin your data."
He doesn't laugh, and they don't laugh, but they're all smiling. They smile, and they write, and they smile again and write some more, but the room is so quiet. One of the white coats hands Mr. team lead the envelope; he then passes it to me, holding the top flap open to expose the thick pile of bills inside. He looks up at me. No, not at me, into me, and he grins ear to ear. He shoves the envelope hard into my palm.
"That's great. Thank you for your help today- we look forward to your 6-week follow up. Don't forget to keep your nightmare journal-- if you can!"
About the author
Mom, Wife, writer, self proclaimed funny girl, and publicly proclaimed "piece of work".
Lover and writer of fiction and non-fiction alike and hoping you enjoy my attempts at writing either. Yes, you. Reading this. I want you to like it.