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
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
The house I live in now is lovely. It’s not my dream home (that would be a house with a wide front porch and a view of a lake), but it has beautiful features, like a coved ceiling in the living room and a gorgeous tree out back that explodes with white flowers each spring. The neighborhood is pleasant, and my family is happy here. I feel content living in our house, which we’ve rented for almost five years. More than that, I feel safe living here.
That’s a contrast to our old house. It looked normal enough—it was built in the 90s in a middle class neighborhood, and had a pretty front porch with brick pillars, a welcome respite from the sun. We bought it as a foreclosure, and quickly got to work renovating it, installing new appliances and cabinets in the kitchen, and countertops in the bathrooms. By the time we were done fixing it up, I was familiar with every inch of the place, having painted the entire house inside and out. I even taught myself how to tile.
I never had the same sense of peace in that house as I do in our current house, and I didn’t realize how edgy I felt until I moved. My sense of unease started when we first looked at the house with my in-laws. They had brought their dog with them. The poodle went everywhere—she was smart and house-trained, so there was little fear of her messing up the place. Still, when she followed us into the bedroom that was to become mine and my husband’s, she acted strange. She padded over to the wall where our headboard would eventually rest, and squatted down as though she were going to urinate on the white carpet. It was completely out of character, but there was nothing visibly unsettling about the house. It looked like a regular house.
A number of strange things happened in that house. I’d see shadows out of the corner of my eye, or get a sense of someone watching me. A year after moving in, I gave birth to twin boys. That was a tough time. Although I was thrilled to have my sons, I felt constantly overwhelmed and sleep-deprived. It was easy to blame the things that happened on a tired mind, particularly since my husband never experienced anything odd. That was better than the alternative, that what I was experiencing was real, or worse, that I was having a psychotic break.
Now that we live in a peaceful house, where I’ve never experienced anything remotely supernatural, I do believe that those things were real, and I wasn’t experiencing some kind of post-partem insanity. I may be eccentric and overly fond of ghost stories, but I’m sound of mind.
After the boys were born, we were drowning in baby gear. Some of it was electronic, with flashing lights and cute sounds designed to keep infants entertained. Sometimes those toys would go off by themselves. My husband blamed it on static electricity, or a button that got pressed and stuck.
One night, when he couldn’t sleep, my husband decided to go grocery shopping at a store that was open 24 hours. (When you have young children, you do odd things like that. It’s easier than dragging kids to a store.) Meanwhile, I was having a nightmare.
The dream was so vivid, I thought I was awake. I sat up in bed, and looked over at our closet. The door was open, which was weird, because I always insisted on sleeping with it closed. My room was dark, but I could make out the white louvered closet door, and the darker interior of the closet. There was someone—something—standing in my closet, a shadowy form even darker than its surroundings. Frozen in fear, I watched it for a few seconds, and I could feel it watching me. Then, it took a step toward the bed.
I jerked awake, breathing hard, my heart thudding in my chest. Immediately I looked at the closet door. It was shut tight. But my husband was missing from his place in the bed, and that’s when I realized he wasn’t home. It was just me and the boys.
I sat there in the dark, trying to calm myself, shaking off the nightmare. Then, out in the living room, one of the baby toys went off by itself, playing its happy little song in the middle of the night, in our otherwise silent house.
I stared into the hallway toward the living room and then looked back at the closet. I decided I didn’t want to sit there by myself in the dark, and I didn’t want my children to be vulnerable to whatever was paying us a visit.
I turned on some lights and checked out the house. There was no one in the living room. No one had broken in and tripped over the toy, setting it off. I went through the rest of the house and found nothing.
My kids were safe in their room, sleeping peacefully. I didn’t think I’d be able to sleep again, and certainly not alone. I grabbed some blankets and my pillow and made a bed on the floor of the boys’ room. Having other human beings near me helped, and somehow I fell back to sleep, this time with no dreams.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015