When I was four, my mother made me a life-size rag doll with yellow yarn hair. As the story goes, she spent countless hours laboring over it, and my reaction, upon receiving the gift, was less than gracious. Rather than showing appreciation, I tossed the doll to the side and said, “Just what I don’t want.” Admittedly, this was one of my brattier childhood moments, and not one I’m proud of. It must have broken my mom’s heart because she’s never let me forget it.
In spite of that, I guess I liked the doll because I slept with her every night for years. She was big and soft like a body pillow, and comforting for a kid plagued by nightmares. Comforting, until she became the subject of a recurring nightmare.
When I got to the age where I no longer slept with dolls and teddy bears, the rag doll was retired to a corner of my room, where she sat staring blankly at my bed. Residual guilt over the gift must have found its way into my dreams. That, or the doll had become imbued with bad mojo.
One night, in the midst of one of those awful dreams that are so vivid I think I’m awake, I looked over at the doll sitting in the corner of my bedroom. She was hunched over, her head bowed to her chest.
Then she moved. She raised her head and stared back at me with her embroidered eyes. Then she moved some more. She started crawling toward the bed, reaching for me. I woke with a jolt, my heart hammering in my chest.
The next time I dreamed about the doll, I again thought I was awake. I was in bed, covers pulled up to my shoulders, and the lamp on my nightstand was turned on. I didn’t even sleep with a nightlight, so this was odd. I remember feeling groggy, looking around the room, trying to figure out why my light was on. Then I heard something growl. The noise came from directly beneath me, under my bed. I looked over at that corner, where the doll sat. She wasn’t there. That’s when I knew she was the thing growling under my bed.
When I woke, I immediately clicked on my light and looked for the doll. She was still sitting in the corner. I felt relieved when I realized I’d been dreaming, but soft as she might have been, there was no way I’d ever put that doll in my bed again.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016
My Worst Nightmare
What do you dream about? Are your dreams filled with realism or fantasy? Do you remember your dreams when you wake up? I do. I have all kinds of dreams, and remember many of them. Some of them are pure escapism—flying, exploring places I’ve never been to in my waking life, or seeing the world as if through someone else’s eyes. The dreams I remember clearly are the ones that are the most vivid, the ones that seem so real, I think I’m awake.
It can’t be easy sleeping next to me. When I have nightmares, I startle awake, breathing hard. Other times, I’ve said things upon waking, still caught in the fabric of the dream. When I was first married, I had a silly dream about riding in a boat. A flat fish jumped aboard and wrapped itself around my hand. I could feel the slime on its scales, the spines in its fins. I sat up, shook my hand in the air, and yelled, “There’s a fish on my hand! There’s a fish on my hand!” For a moment, before I was fully conscious, I could still feel the pressure of something wrapped around my hand. I must have slept funny, causing my hand to lose feeling, but it was an incredibly stupid dream, and my husband and I had a good laugh about it.
Other dreams haven’t been so amusing. I’ve done battle with a variety of monsters and spooks, including zombies and a killer clown. Usually, my nightmares aren’t too bad, but every now and again there’s one that stays with me long after I’ve woken. I’ve never forgotten the worst one. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen, asleep or awake.
I was sleeping over at a friend’s house, on the floor of her bedroom. In the middle of the night I woke up (or thought I woke up) to the sound of her crying. I looked over at her bed and saw her lying there, trembling with sobs. I sat up in my sleeping bag, and looked around the room, trying to figure out what was going on, why she was crying. I remember seeing moonlight coming through her window, and how it illuminated her desk and bookshelf.
I glanced back over at her bed, and there was a person standing there, watching my friend. I must have made a noise, because the person turned, slowly, to look at me. With a shock, I realized the person looked just like my friend—but it wasn’t my friend. I could see my friend, lying in her bed, still crying and shaking.
The person standing next to the bed wasn’t human. I knew that in my gut, and knowing made my blood run cold. The thing pretending to be my friend resembled her physically, but it was almost like it was wearing a mask of my friend’s face. It smiled, and slowly started walking toward me.
The expression on its face was one of pure evil—an unadulterated lust to hurt me. It shuffled across the room, as if it knew that moving slowly was somehow more frightening than lunging at me, as if it was savoring my terror, feeding off it.
I started screaming. It kept coming, and I screamed the same thing over and over, “Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!” What I was saying made no sense, but it worked. I woke up for real, my heart thundering in my chest.
I sat up, searching the room for any sign of what I’d just seen. The house was deathly silent. I could see my friend lying in her bed. She wasn’t crying, and no one was standing over her. But the moonlight was streaming in through the window, and in the faint light, the room looked just as it had in the dream.
I heard a soft sound and turned. My friend’s cat padded over to me, curled up on my sleeping bag, and stared at my friend’s bed. I don’t know how long I sat there, petting the cat, trying to catch my breath and assure myself it had just been a dream. I do know I will never forget the look on that thing’s face.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015