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I’ve been dreaming things I shouldn’t

I've been dreaming things I shouldn't

Estimated reading time — 19 minutes

Dreams are a wholly different experience depending on who you ask. Some claim to have bizarre and vivid experiences every night; others say they don’t dream at all. If you were to ask me, I’d say it’s not so black-and-white. That, I’m somewhere between the two extremes – though I tend towards dreaming less than the average person. Yeah, it’s probably true we dream every night and just don’t remember it, but for all practical purposes, that’s the same as not dreaming at all. That’s about where I stand with the subject.

Honestly? I prefer the nightmares. Not the watch-your-family-get-murdered kind of nightmares, but those that are more… ambient. Unique, always dragging a forked tail of dread beneath the surface.

And while I enjoy a good spook or two, they can be a problem if they overstay their welcome. What I’m saying is, I don’t like recurring dreams. Just the idea makes me uneasy, of your brain hitting the exact same notes as it had before. Make no mistake, I’m as skeptic as regular human doubt entails, and I don’t believe dreams to have superstitious meanings – no divine messages for me. It’s because it’s like being forced to watch a movie again and again. It was fun the first time, but it loses its charm on the second watch, and the third, and the fourth. The only difference is that when I have a recurring dream, it feels like the first time, and I only realise I’ve had it before after waking up.


Anyway, the recursion I could pass off as coincidence. A child of stress, perhaps. That’s if it’s one dream. Thing is, I’ve been having these same dreams for about half a year now, and there’s four of them.

I can’t recall the order I first had them in, and I can’t say with any certainty if there’s an intended order at all. These are dreams, after all, and unless Hitchcock’s ghost is haunting me and directing my dreams, then the most I can do is record them in the sequence that seems most likely.

Every time I have them, there are only minor differences, but they play out relatively the same.

The first dream is no different.

I’m at one end of a long alley, or an aisle, when the first dream starts. At first I always think it’s a high-street somewhere – there’s stalls and wooden trolleys set up along the sides, running all the way down to the end. I don’t feel scared or anything, not yet. Actually, I feel content. I stroll comfortably down the long stretch, listening to people conversing, bartering, and taking in the smells of a farmer’s market.

As I walk, I look above me. The aisle is enclosed by tall metal shelves, making me think I must be in a warehouse, or a builders’ merchant, even if the shelves are empty. When I look back down and observe the scene, I come to an immediate halt. All the stalls and carts are still there, but there’s no people and no products. It’s completely empty. It just feels like there should be people, and I say something like, “oh, right,” like I already knew no one was here, but only just remembered.


Except, there is someone, at the far end of the aisle, where the market stops. At first I’m too far to make out any distinguishing details, but after picking up the pace and walking further, they come into focus.

I recognise them as an old friend from middle school, Jason. He’s older though, taller, with thin stubble and dark hair in need of a trim, but I know it’s him. Same square glasses, same green eyes as I remember. He’s behind a wooden counter, and behind him is a huge, spotless window. It looks out onto an expanse of reeds growing from black water. They don’t sway or move at all, and the sky is embers, like it’s sunset, but there’s no sun.

Despite not having seen Jason in years, I have no desire to get reacquainted. It would be trivial, at this time and place.

“You’re late.”

The words seem to waft out from him, like they were being held in his lungs for just this moment, but they’ve spent so long sitting there they’ve become stagnant.

“Did I miss the harvest market?”

At first he stays quiet, though his lips remain parted. I think he might be shivering.

“Slipped away,” he says, sighing and shaking his head, like he’s said all he has to say. He raises an arm and points off to his left. I look in the direction he’s pointing, and see something. I’m not really sure what it is, not in the dream at least. It’s brightly coloured, almost cheery, and it’s shiny. Rounded, hard, and shiny. The colour is never the same, sometimes it’s bright red, sometimes navy blue, other times a particularly obnoxious yellow.

Jason starts to whisper something, but the dream always ends before I can make out what he’s saying.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to say this dream is a nightmare, there’s an undercurrent of things being out of place. It’s like when you go somewhere and forget to bring something, but haven’t yet realised it’s missing – if the “somewhere” was dark and empty, a forest in the dead of night, and you’re missing something much more important than your phone or wallet.

Obscure impressions aside, this dream’s nothing special. It’s barely coherent. It’s the other dreams I’ve been having that lend it gravity. I had this one a few times before any of the others cropped up.

The second dream is different. The first always makes me uneasy, but in this one I feel scared. The kind of scared where you wake up in the dark, sheets ruffled and tacky with cold sweat while you palm around blindly for the bed lamp.

It starts out in one of those indoor soft-play establishments, with all the slides, tunnels, and padded scaffolding. I have a vague sense even now that I might’ve gone there as a kid – or maybe I’d just had this dream when I was younger. Either way, I’m a kid in the dream. Not just in body, but mind too.

In the dream, I’m messing about near the slides with another kid. A boy, who looks roughly dream-me’s age. His head is shaven, it looks like, and he wears these thick, coke-bottle eyeglasses that make his eyes big, so big it’s like they’re ready to pop out of his sockets. And, under his right eye near the rim of the eyelid is a mole, a real nasty one. The kind you should get looked at. I don’t know why that detail sticks out, it just feels… important, somehow?

Anyway, we’re loitering around the slides, playing some make-believe. It’s different every time, and the dream seems to start well after the rules are established so I never remember what it’s about. This other kid’s called Jay – I know because that’s the name I shout when he starts climbing up one of the slides. To me, it’s one step short of breaking the law.

Of course, my call goes unheeded, and Jay disappears into the slide’s scratched plastic maw. Every time, I figure it’d be best to follow him and try to coax him back down. Child logic, give me a break.

The slide itself is enclosed and has round holes on both sides. For all the safety regulations around slides, they couldn’t have built one less encouraging to break those rules. They’re damn near perfect handholds.

I keep pulling myself further up the slide, and it always sounds as if Jay is right around the next bend, but I never catch up. That is, until the background noise of children laughing and squealing cuts out entirely, and I mean it cuts out. It’s then that I finally catch up to him, and I start to regret my decision to follow.

Jay has turned around, poised with both hands hooked into the holes on either side. Before the thought of asking what he’s doing can reach my lips, he kicks me square in the chest, sending me down the slide in a ball of hurt and tumbling limbs.

I’m not sure how long I’m stuck in this state. It feels like forever, even though it ends. God, I wish that was the end of the second dream, but I’m not so lucky.

When I finally feel hard plastic disappear from beneath me, the surface I crash into isn’t a cushioned mat. It’s solid wood. After wincing, I open my eyes, expecting to see the bright fluorescent lights overhead.

I stare instead at nothing – to be precise, I stare into unadulterated, pitch blackness. Then, I look around, and I see some light, though my eyes don’t adjust. That’d be pointless, in a dream. I can tell I’m in a small room from the moonlight leaking in through the blinds, but they’re clamped to the windowsill by a lock. I’m already scared at this point. Dream-me can’t be any older than eight, nine tops, and I’m transported back to a time where the darkness was real and coming to get me.

The room is L-shaped, and there’s a door to my right. I try it, but it’s locked. It’s got one of those old keyholes, large enough to look through, and I do just that. Nothing but a dusty staircase, sometimes it goes up, and sometimes down. Sometimes there’s no staircase, it’s just black. But every time, it’s quiet. So quiet I can feel the silence, a heavy pall of dread in the air.

In the far corner, by the window, is a baby’s cot, empty. Eerie enough, if it weren’t for the beady-eyed brown bear reared up behind it. Taxidermy. The faintest suggestion of moonlight glints off those eyes, and its silvery outline is downright massive. It’s horrifying. I know it’s stuffed but it feels so wrong. I had a deathly fear of bears as a kid, but in the nightmares they showed up in they were always alive, usually chasing me. Never like this, a monument of childhood terror, harmless yet more intimidating than ever.

It’s usually after seeing the bear that I start to shuffle into the corner furthest from it. Sometimes, I’ll go back to the keyhole and have another look, and I find that now there’s something in front of it. It’s too dark to tell, but I think I see movement. My eyes flick back to the stuffed bear. I’m scared that- no, I know that if I stay in the light, it’ll come alive and maul me.

Now obscured in the darkest corner, I bump against something. At first I think it’s bedding, but no, it’s too coarse. Desperate for any comfort I wrap my arms around it and, to my mind-numbing horror, it’s warm. It’s hot. And it’s when I register that heat that the thing I’ve just snuggled up next to lets out a deep, gurgling, carnivorous growl.

There’s no way for me to not wake up with a start when that happens, so I don’t know if that’s where the dream is supposed to end, or if I just don’t want to experience whatever it has in store. So, I’ll call that the end of dream two.

I know, it’s hard to see any relevance between this and the first dream, but just bear with me. It all makes sense, I think, though I’m still figuring out how exactly it does.

I’m not going straight into the third dream just yet, because I want to talk about Jason. I say we were friends in middle school, but acquaintances would be more accurate. I saw him in school of course, but only a handful of times outside, and a good half of those would be chance encounters at parties or pubs.

Ergo, I had more than a hard time getting into contact. He still has a Facebook page, but like a lot of us, moved away from the platform a while back. I resorted to his mom’s page where there was a post about Jason’s new website. He’s a beat producer now apparently, real old school type rhythm. I actually got hooked listening to some of his samples before remembering why I was there.

I found his contact email and shot him a message, with a little refresher to tell him who I was and my mobile number. Within the same day he’d got back to me via text, and as luck would have it he lives in the next town over. I asked if he was free for a catch-up. He said he was on Friday morning, so I cleared my schedule and drove over there when the day came around.

It’s been best part of a decade since I saw him last, so I didn’t want to go straight into business after all that time. We met in a tea shop a few blocks from his place and talked about how our lives have been going. I got married three years ago to my girlfriend Kim, and have been on a steady freelance programming career for five. Jason has a boyfriend, not married but living together. He’s in a bit of a rut financially but told me a pretty big rap name has commissioned beats from him, so there’s that.

I held this conversation with as much sincerity as possible, knowing my reason for being there. I tried to bring it up naturally – in reality, there’s no way to transition into dream talk in such a long awaited reunion. I wasn’t even sure what I was looking to gain in talking about it, but one thing pushed me to do so more than anything: Jason looked exactly as he does in the first dream, and I haven’t seen him for nearly ten years.

“So I gotta ask,” Jason mused, “why the abrupt contact? Not that it’s a bother or anything, but I’d be lying if I said I thought about you, like, ever.”

“No, I get it,” I replied, “it’s just… okay, it’s a little weird, but I’ve been having recurring dreams, and in one of them you make an appearance.”

Jason smirked at this.

“Hmm, what kinda dreams we talking about? I’m taken you know, so I hope you didn’t come here to admit some repressed feelings.”

Though he obviously spoke in jest, I felt my cheeks flush, and cursed myself for not thinking about how he’d interpret this.

“No dude, nothing like that!” I chuckled, “it’s different. The dreams, they’re more like, how to put it? Like they’re halfway between dream and nightmare.”

Cocking an eyebrow, Jason just stared at me, waiting for me to continue. I told him about the first dream and, unsurprisingly, he agreed it was pretty bizarre how I dreamt his face as he looks now, when we hadn’t seen each other for so long.

Then, I told him about the second dream. That’s where things changed. I summed it up in much briefer a manner than I’ve done here. Already I could tell he felt uneasy. It was in his eyes. But it’s when I got to the part about climbing up the slide when those eyes got glassy.

“You okay? You’re sweating,” I asked.

Jason shook his head a little, apparently shedding the weight of… something. Or, some of it, at least. His lips parted and I could almost see the words being joined and nailed together in his head. The picture of his face made me shudder. It was the same as in the dream.

“What- this kid, do you remember what he looked like?”

I frowned, but described him as best I could.

“Uh, right, yeah. About my age- I mean, however old I am in the dream. Like, seven I guess. Thick glasses, short hair, maybe shaved, and a big puffy mole under his right eye.”

By the time I was done, Jason was still. I wasn’t even sure he was breathing, until he mustered a few choice words.

“On the rim of his eyelid…”

I gave him a puzzled look, concerned as to his sudden change in demeanour. He answered before I asked.

“I had a brother, you know. Jacob. We were twins, and the only way you could tell us apart was that mole under his eye. And the glasses, ‘course. Hated and loved each other to bits. He got leukemia a month after our sixth birthday, he…”

He started choking up. I laid a hand on his shoulder, hoping to comfort him, and it worked, however slightly.

“Um, they had him on chemo right away, and things were looking up. Beat it in under two years. His hair started to grow back, slowly, and I thought we were starting to look the same again. My mom took us out to one of those places, those fucking play places-”

I thought he’d break down again, but he raised a hand and steadied his breath.

“-and he did it too. Climbed a slide, I mean. I didn’t know what had gotten into him. Went after him, he knocked me back down, all that… but when my mom called for us to leave, we couldn’t find him. Had the whole staff team search that place top to bottom, and he was just- he was just gone. Not a trace, and the police search went cold from the outset.”

I struggled to find a response, and all I could do was ask the only thing on my mind. The burning question.

“Do you think I could’ve met Jacob, once?”

He shook his head rapidly, flinging his hair in sweeps.


“We moved state after that. Mom and dad couldn’t handle it, and neither could I. You’re born and raised, right? I can’t remember ever coming here before we moved, so no, I don’t think so.”

“Then… how?” I asked, more to myself.

Jason didn’t reply. He only gazed off into the middle distance of his own mind. After sitting for a while, he sniffed, and stood up from his seat.

“I gotta go.”

Then he left.

I haven’t heard a peep from Jason since. Then again, I haven’t tried to contact him either. Without drawing any reckless conclusions, I don’t know what to make of what he told me. I’ve heard that when you dream, your brain doesn’t make new faces. They’re all people you’ve met before, one way or another. Maybe it could blend faces together to make a new one. It still doesn’t explain the whole scenario, how eerily similar it is to Jason’s recollection. And like he said, I really don’t believe I ever met his brother. I’m born and raised, whereas he only moved here after Jacob’s disappearance.

The name is different – in the dream, the kid’s name is Jay. Although, I can imagine that being a shortening of the name Jacob.

Jason’s involvement in these dreams only reaches the first two. The third and fourth are different, the set of elements they contain is more… concerning. Not because of any immediate threat, implied or otherwise, but because of who’s in them.

At the start of the third dream, I’m in the driver’s seat of a car. I recognise the car, the texture of the steering wheel. It’s in my driveway right now. What I don’t recognise is the little boy sitting in the passenger seat. He hasn’t got a booster seat, and while I feel he probably should, our destination is only a short drive from home, and I’m not worried. I already know this when the dream starts.

Despite not knowing who this boy is, I talk and joke with him like I do know him. There’s one detail that still sticks with me, and that’s his eyes. Chestnut, with stark amber streaks. Just like mine. I want to ask him something, but I don’t, and I can never remember the question. Besides, I wouldn’t have time, because we’ve arrived. Thorne Gardens. I’ve been there before, it’s only a mile or so out of town. It’s a garden centre. Kim loves her flowers and vegetables, and I’ve been sent on errand runs to the place more than once.

When we pull into the parking lot, it’s empty. Ours is the only car there, and after shutting the engine off I find we were also the only source of noise. It’s dead quiet now the engine’s off, and it makes me worried – not about anything in particular, the air is just too still. Even the car doors slamming as the boy and I get out are jarring. When I see the entrance, so do I the man standing there. His outfit is bizarre, an insane cross between the overalls and button-up of a farmer, and a neat tailcoat suit – the sort of thing worn by the stereotypical butler. It’s all in one piece and it’s immaculate. Not a speck of dirt to be seen.

I get the feeling he’s been standing there, waiting for us for a good while, and it disturbs me. Then the little boy says something and I look down to his face, full of excitement and wonderment, and brush the feeling off.

The man nods and beckons the two of us inside, where he gives us a sort of tour of the place. The garden centre is made up of several long, vaulted greenhouses, side by side with iron pillars in place of glass. Maybe I’m lost in nostalgia for such a place, or I’m just not interested in what the man has to say, because whatever he is saying sounds distant and almost ethereal. Echoes lost in a boundless dream world.

Time passes, and we wind up at the cactus section of the store. Here, our guide stops and turns, looming over the boy with his eyes set on him. His lips stretch into a smile that seems contrived somehow, and he always asks in a low, slightly impatient voice,

“Would you like to see behind the curtain?”

I look down at the kid, anxious to hear his response. I don’t know why. It’s like this is all a recording being played in my head, because I desperately want to scoop him up and leave. The man feels dangerous.

The boy squeaks a small, “mm-hmm,” and the man outstretches a hand, which the boy takes gleefully. Every thought I have is screaming at me but I don’t move. I can’t. The man shoots me a look before spinning on his heels and practically dragging the boy through a wrought iron arch into a kind of indoor garden display: a circular patio bordered by a wall of cacti so dense I can’t see inside.

A few minutes go by in silence and the man returns. Alone. Something breaks through inside me and I ask,

“Where’s Mitchell?”

It’s safe to assume that’s the boy’s name, though I don’t think I’ve even met a Mitchell in my life. The man is staring into the distance, then looks at me like he forgot I’m here. That surprised expression crumbles away into nothing. His face is carved in stone, emotionless, like a lizard in a human body. He clears his throat, then says,

“Slipped away.”

It’s as if the floor’s disappeared beneath my feet, and is often enough to scare me awake. When it doesn’t, the dream suddenly feels more real than before, and I launch myself at the man, planning to shove past him and get into the show garden. I ram my palms into him, and it has absolutely no effect. He doesn’t move an inch. It’s like I’m fighting a granite monolith. He doesn’t react either, just keeps staring, vacant and without a hint of emotion.

I do however manage to peer over his shoulder. This is as far as the third dream goes, and right before it ends, I see the show garden. Just as I thought, it’s a circular patio, and when my eyes find the middle of it, I see something shiny. Something colourful. Sometimes it’s green, sometimes pink, other times it’s a colour we don’t have a word for yet.

You know those kinds of nightmares, the worst ones, where you lose something so vital that for the first few seconds of wakefulness, your world is shattered? Then you realise, of course, it was only a dream. That’s what this one feels like. Like I lost something so important to me that trying to describe that importance with language and words feels less than pointless. That writing it out would be an offence to truth and reality.

Though, I suppose that’s what I’m doing, isn’t it?

I don’t have much else to say about this one, so I’ll keep it brief and go right into the fourth and final dream I’ve been having these past months. I don’t know what I expect to gain from this. I certainly don’t think anyone can provide me help of any substance, no. I think having it all recorded so I can sit here and look at it, all at once, might just let me figure this out.

Perhaps because it’s the most recent, or perhaps it’s the sheer terror of it, the fourth dream I can remember most vividly.

I’m standing in the middle of my home street. Well, I recognise it as such, though there are minor discrepancies that are natural for dreams. The sky is dark except for the moon, which could be full, a crescent, waxing or waning, but always dim. Otherwise, the sky is empty. There are no stars, no blinking planes, no gliding satellites. Nothing.

The road is empty, too. There isn’t a parked car in sight. I don’t hear anything either. It’s so far past quiet that the silence screams in my ears, like the air itself is solid and collecting around my eardrums, weighing me down. That’s why it’s so strange that I feel a breeze, when I hear not a leaf upturned nor a blade of grass whisper. The breeze is hot. It’s humid, and carries a raw, meaty smell. This detail sticks out to me – supposedly, smells in dreams are especially rare, and less than half of us will smell anything in a dream in our entire life.

On the thought of the wind, and the leaves, I notice the trees. They’re all bare, and I don’t see any dead leaves on the ground. In fact, the trees look dead. Husky and blackened, not like they do in winter.

I’m walking down the road, along the white lines, though I’m not sure why. I guess it’s because there’s nothing else to do. I keep looking down at my feet, like I’m checking for something, or waiting for something to appear.

I realise, at an indeterminate point, I’m holding someone’s hand. It doesn’t surprise me – it feels natural. It feels right. The person beside me is talking, and from the tone and timbre I can tell it’s my wife, even if I can’t make out any of her words.


I go to look at her, but before I do, a lone street lamp flickers to life ahead, illuminating a manhole cover that has been partially slid off its hole. The sight stops me dead in my tracks. Kim, on the other hand, continues walking, with an added grace in her step. When she feels the tug of my arm, she turns, asking,

“Aren’t you coming?”

To that, I answer,

“I don’t know. Are you sure?”

A particular melancholy shows in her face. Her eyebrows slant outwards, and she pouts a little, though the corners of her mouth suggest a rueful and deeply knowing smile.

“You’ll be left behind.”

I hang my head.

“I know. I’m sorry.”

I abandon wariness and the pair of us walk over to the manhole cover. We guide each other’s steps, almost like we’re dancing in a slow waltz. After a few good paces, the street lamp’s orange glow reflects off of something underneath the manhole cover. It’s barely visible through the slit of a gap, but it looks hard and shiny. Sometimes it’s blue, or red, or green or brown or black or white – the colour stops mattering.

Kim doesn’t hesitate. She bends down, heaving the heavy iron disc aside.

This is the only time in any of the dreams where I get a clear picture of this shiny object. This thing that is ubiquitous across them all.

It’s the mouth of a slide. Like from a swimming pool. Or an indoor play-place. It looks to curve and spiral downwards.

The dread I feel in that moment is hard to describe. It feels like teetering on the edge of a whitewater rapid, thundering towards a waterfall, and some unseen predator is closing in behind me. Like there’s no more options.

Kim looks up at me, her smile now hopeful, then proceeds to pull herself into the slide feet first. I reach out for her, but it’s too late. She vanishes into the darkness, the darkness that’s somehow thicker and denser than the already dark sky above. She leaves me all alone.

I’m frozen. The longer I stand there, the worse I start to feel. The world is shrinking in on me, it’s pushing from all directions. How long I stand, uncertain, varies from dream to dream. If I wait long enough, a noise starts up off in the distance, and if I keep waiting, it gets louder. It gets louder and louder until it should surely deafen me, but I hear it all the same. It sounds like the tired ticking of an old clock, a clock that’s running out.

Stress and fear notwithstanding, I never choose to follow Kim. I back away from the hole, and as I do, the ground works against me. It warps and tilts downwards, forming a cone around me with the hole at its core. When I still manage to maintain my position, the asphalt turns smooth – no, it’s like it’s been coated in oil. There’s no grip or purchase to be had, and I slip helplessly towards the slide. The ground bends up and up and seems to swallow the sky, crashing down above me right before I fall into the slide’s hungry maw.

Darkness envelops me. I descend erratically, tumbling around random turns that don’t seem to make any sense. I’m smacked and dragged across hard plastic, burning and often tearing my skin.

Falling down the slide becomes my only reality. For as long as I can remember, the only sounds to accompany me have been those of my own, but as I slip down, further and further, my ears are introduced to something else. It’s vague at first, kind of like radio static. After dozens more painful bends, it grows clearer, and I can make it out.

It’s screaming. A hundred, a thousand, it’s a million voices screaming in a united chorus of grief and pain and torture. They get clearer as I roll helplessly in the dark, less and less muffled until the point where I know, with unwavering certainty, that the next bend in the slide will spit me out into wherever those screams are coming from.

I always wake up before that bend.

Maybe this is all just coincidental, happenstance that the details all match up. And they are only dreams. That’s what I hope anyway. To be honest, I’d be happy to stop having them and never think about this again.

Unfortunately, I think I’m past that point.

I mentioned earlier that our brains don’t invent new faces in dreams. Sometimes it mixes features, but there’s always a tinge of familiarity. I keep thinking about Jason, and his brother. Sure, I’ve seen Jason before, but the version of him I remember is a teenager, not the one in my dream – well, up until recently. His brother, though? I don’t see how it’s possible. It isn’t.

Then there’s the third dream. That little boy. I know for sure I’ve never seen him before. Even so, there’s something about him. It’s not that I recognise him. The only spark that flies from seeing him is those eyes. Those amber-streaked, chestnut eyes. Just like mine.

I’d still lean towards something psychological, even with the unexplainable aspects.

But, you see… Kim and I have been trying for a year now, on and off, until eighteen weeks ago, when she tested positive. Since then, she’s been to have ultrasounds. They’re not always 100% accurate, but she’s been twice now, and she insists on the results.

It’s going to be a boy.

And Kim’s already got a name.

Credit: A. K. Kullerden




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