My father died from pulmonary hypertension when I was only four years old. I still remember the night he had the heart-attack, watching from the third-floor window of my great-grandmother’s bedroom as he was wheeled on a stretcher across the driveway. Hell, I still remember the bare and twisted trees in the front yard, their shadows creeping like eerie tendrils across the lawn.
This has little to do with the story I am about to tell, but it illustrates a point to all those who have questioned my validity in the past. My memories of early childhood have always been very clear, especially during that time of loss in my life. This is not something I imagined. This is not a memory that is vague to me. If I can remember that fateful night, I am sure that I am remembering this perfectly.
The real story started in the middle of October, not long before I lost my father. Halloween was my favorite day of the year and the entire month leading up to it was always a time of excitement. There would be nights where I would lay awake in bed, thrilled by the thought of dressing up as a cat for the third year in a row and what have you. One night in particular, after my mom stuck her head in our room and scolded me for still being up, I forced myself to close my eyes and attempted to drift off.
I was almost there, just on the edge of sleep when I heard the door slowly creak ajar. Being a clever kid, I thought it was my mom and kept my eyes closed while feigning cartoon snores that, in reality, she totally would not buy. It was my assumption that my mom would eventually leave, satisfied that I had finally nodded off.
But instead, the door creaked even wider and heavy footfalls began to trot into the bedroom.
Eventually, I dared to peek with one eye open to see what was going on. What I saw was not my mom at all, but a monster.
He was by no means scary. In fact, he was kind of cute. Covered entirely in thick orange fur, he towered over my bed with a wide grin of pointed teeth. Two gnarled ram horns sat on either side of his head and due to his size, they almost scraped against the ceiling.
The monster did not acknowledge my sleeping little brother in the bed across the room. Instead, he held a clawed hand out for me to take. I’m not sure why I thought it was okay, but I accepted his gesture and placed my tiny palm within his and held it tightly.
Slowly, he led me across the room and towards a blank space of wall where my mother had been intending to put some sort of wicker furniture. I watched in curiosity as the orange monster gently scraped a wide door-shape against the wallpaper with his claw and in an instant, a gateway had appeared. Still leading me with the utmost care, he stepped through and we were engulfed in a bright flash of light that forced me to squint. As it faded and my eyes adjusted, I found that we were no longer in my bedroom.
We were in what I can only assume to be ‘his world’ and it was a world that I marveled at. A cobblestone marketplace stretched on before us, filled with stands and carts manned by every kind of monster you could picture. Witches cackled from a booth full of frothing potions and they gave me candy corn as we passed them by. Vampires chilled beneath the shade of an awning, selling decorative vials of blood that glowed like obscene stained glass. There were werewolves, skeletons, mummies and so much more, all of them busy preparing for Halloween and all of them very friendly.
Making our way through the market seemed to take hours, but it eventually led out into a wide park filled with trees and another glimmering gateway at its entrance. My monster guided me there and, after exchanging a warm embrace, he ushered me through the gates and gave a cheerful wave goodbye.
And then I woke up in my bed. My brother was still sleeping soundly across the room and the blank wall was back to being blank. During breakfast, I told my family the wild tale. My mom reacted the way you’d expect the mother of a 4-year-old to react to some made-up story; my dad just smiled weakly. It was a dream and I figured that was the end of it, but it had been such an exciting one! I wished I could have had it all over again.
One year later, my wish came true.
It was the middle of October again and though it was still an exciting time, I no longer had trouble sleeping. But once again, one night I awoke to the creak of my bedroom door and I opened my eyes to see my orange monster shuffling into the bedroom with a sheepish smile. I sprang out of bed to meet him and yet again, he drew the doorway on the wall with his claw and took me to his world.
Everyone was excited to see me and all of them remembered my name. The witches gave me candy again and the vampires hissed hellos. It went the same way as the last dream, winding through the busy marketplace until we reached the gates at the park and bid each other farewell. The next year, I had the dream again and the year after that, again. It had started to become my yearly Halloween tradition that only I knew about.
It wasn’t until I was eleven that the dreams began to change. That year, none of the monsters in the marketplace seemed happy to see me. They gave me and my orange monster stern looks as we passed, whispering in hushed voices that I could not understand. There was no candy for me, no greetings or smiles. It was an unnerving trip and I think that my monster knew this, for he began to pick up his pace and was quick to lead me to the park.
When I was thirteen, the marketplace became a hostile environment. All the kind creatures I had come to know for almost a decade shouted in harsh voices. They pointed with bony fingers, spitting angrily and ordering us to leave. For the first time, my monster actually picked me up and carried me through, not stopping until I was safely at the gateway.
I was sixteen when the dreams finally became nightmares. My monster had come for me, like he always did each year, but something about him was different. His plush orange fur had grown thin and wispy and his ram horns had various chips and cracks in them. He still held out his hand and took me through that doorway, but that was a grave mistake. We were chased through the market, bitten and clawed and slashed at. My ears were filled with whispers loud enough to drown in, but nobody’s mouths were moving and it almost seemed like they were being spoken in tongues. I was too big for my monster to carry, but I let him pull me along to the park. The other creatures followed us all the way to the gateway, not leaving any time for goodbyes. I was shoved through and woke up drenched in sweat in my bedroom.
Seventeen, my monster was a shadow of what he once was when he came to collect me. There was no chasing in this dream, no sense of imminent danger. There was, however, a massive dread that hung over us as we ambled through the cobblestone marketplace. The creatures stopped still at their booths, black holes in place of their eyes and mouths. They turned and stared as we passed, though they were otherwise motionless. My monster had to stop often to catch his breath before we made it to the park.
Before I entered the gates, I enveloped him in my arms and squeezed him tight like I had done as a child. He looked at me with saddened eyes, but grinned with those big teeth and ushered me forward like he always did. When I woke up, I found my eyes were wet with tears.
The next year, I wondered if perhaps I would have the dream again. It was very late into October, much later than usual and I had yet to dream my dream. On Halloween night, after late-night partying with friends, I dreamed in a daze that someone was clawing at my walls. I got out of bed and moved cautiously across the floor to see that the light-filled doorway to my monster’s world was wide open. My bedroom door, on the other hand, was shut and I was completely alone.
I went through the gateway by myself, wondering if perhaps he was waiting on the other side. Again, I was met with change when I found the long cobblestone street was empty, void of all structures and life. The only thing that accompanied me were the long smears of dark brown blood and the scatterings of what I could only assume to be flesh. There was a horrible rotting smell that made me cover my nose with the collar of my pajamas and forced me to make the familiar walk with trembling legs.
For hours I walked, my bare feet slipping in blood and gore, staining my toes and making me shudder. I called out, but was only met with the sounds of the wind whispering through the streets. As the marketplace ended and gave birth to the park, I came to a halt and my stomach churned violently.
There were corpses in my path now, of the witches, the vampires, the werewolves and monsters. They were mangled, horribly disfigured and discarded in piles carelessly. No longer were they eyeless or cruel-looking, but the friendly creatures I’d imagined when I was very young. I was slipping through more blood, more flesh and was now dodging bodies and bloody bits of candy underfoot.
Straight ahead was the gates of the park and standing before them was a familiar sight. The recognizable shape of my monster was waiting for me, but his back was turned. His fur was also very patchy, I noticed, revealing a muscular gray body that bulged and twitched with veins. The closer I drew, the better I could hear his deep rasping breaths. He did not turn to face me but instead seemed hunched over something.
My foot connected with a limb and I tripped, yelping in surprise. The voice that came from my mouth was higher, though, sounding much younger than that of an eighteen-year-old’s. The sudden cry made my monster freeze and slowly, he turned to face me.
In his claws, he held the dismantled remains of some sort of corpse. Its stinking brown blood stained his fur. When he saw me, he grinned with a new set of razor-sharp teeth. The smell of decay breezed out of his mouth and I found myself gawking at the bits of flesh that dangled from in between his fangs.
I was a child then, drowning in my adult pajamas and feeling my eyes well up with tears. I stumbled back to put space between us and choked back a tiny sob when he reached out for my hand.
“Why?” I pleaded, overtaken with fear as he drew up to a much higher height and loomed over me.
“Because.” he answered.
It was the first time I had heard his voice, yet I knew that he did not sound that way. He spoke in a low rumble, wrong and inhuman like something ancient and not of our world.
“You grew up.”
Again, he held his hand out with splayed-open claws but I did not take it. I shoved him away and went scurrying over the bodies below, making my way towards the gateway as quickly as I could. I awoke in my room with my mother standing over me, demanding to know why I was screaming in my sleep and if I needed to go to the hospital.
I’m twenty-three now and haven’t had the dreams since, and if I’m being honest, I don’t think I ever will. I still think about them from time to time, musing about it to my husband and friends. They always shake their heads at me, laughing and reminding me that nobody remembers things like that at such young ages. It must have been one dream, all thought up at once and made to feel as though it had been recurring.
But I know that’s not the case.
I remember. I still remember.
Credit: Samantha Miyake
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