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When I was a kid, I had this recurring nightmare that always preceded the death of a loved one. It wasn’t quite a premonition – I didn’t know who was going to die, how they would die, or when – only that it would be within the next few days to a week. I had the dream a few times before I figured out the link between the dream and the deaths. These were ordinary deaths – elderly relatives, my grandfather’s terminal cancer, my aunt who lost a child during preterm labor. I grieved for each lost loved one.
The dream was short. It took place in this massive white room, so big that I couldn’t see the walls. Maybe there weren’t any walls. It was like I was looking through a rip in reality – more like I was seeing behind the fabric of the reality we live in, seeing the machine that operates our universe. I say machine because it felt so cold, so mechanical. In the vast nothingness of all white, I would see this gray, not-quite-steel cable, extending as far as the eye could see. On the cable was a massive black sphere. No light reflected off of this sphere. In this too-bright, white plane, the sphere was impossibly dark, as if it absorbed any light. The sphere would move swiftly along this cable, until suddenly, the rest of the cable would just vanish and the sphere would stop instantly, without any slowing. Then a wall would appear, a too-bright white wall that was indistinguishable from the rest of the too-bright whiteness, but I would know that it was there. On the wall, a name was printed. At least, I always assumed it was a name. I could never picture it after I woke up. This wall would only stay up for a split second, but it was an eternity. Everything around me would evaporate, and I’d have this feeling in my entire body that was a combination of pure weightlessness, the feeling you get when you’re about to fall, and utter, consuming dread.
In that split second, something – someone – ended. This was an absolute ending; there is no afterlife, no heaven or hell, after the certainty of this mechanism.
I would wake up gasping, crying, completely disoriented. The first time I remember having this dream was when I was 7, although it was already familiar to me then, so I’m sure I was even younger when it first started. I was raised Catholic, and was actually pretty religious when I was a kid. This dream was the antithesis of my entire religion. I tried to ignore it at first, tried to forget about this dream.
I had the dream a couple more times after that. When I was 9, I had it 3 nights in a row. Then my great-grandma passed away, and that night was dream-free. I realized what it meant, and tried talking to my parents about it. They chalked it up to grief and an overactive imagination. I tried talking to the school counselor about it. She talked to my parents. My parents were going through a rough patch, made worse by having to foster and provide for three of my cousins, plus my brother and I. I overheard things like, “seeking attention,” “acting out,” “maybe she got it from one of her books,” “needs more socialization.” I tried talking to our church’s priest about it too, who seemed very skeptical and just told me to have faith in God and pray more. After that, I learned my lesson and stopped talking about it.
The dream came again when I was 10, and I guessed (correctly) that it was my grandfather, who had been ill for some time with terminal brain cancer. I convinced my dad that they should go see him that weekend (he lived a couple hours away from us with his wife). My grandpa passed the night after they arrived.
I tried researching the dream, but unlike the movies, neither our school library nor our public library had many books about premonitions, the afterlife (aside from biblical texts), or anything supernatural. The internet wasn’t helpful either – this was in the 90’s. And not surprisingly, it’s hard to come up with relevant results for something like “big black ball precognitive dream death.” I did pick up dream interpretation as a hobby, and because of all the time I’ve spent digging into dream symbols, I’m pretty good at interpreting people’s dreams.
I had the dream again when I was 11 (great-grandma), then again when I was 13. This time the dream started nightly on September 4th, 2001. By the next week, I was very paranoid and freaking my parents out, mostly because I kept urging them to be careful, and telling them that I loved them approximately 100 times a day. They kept asking what was wrong, but I didn’t think they’d believe me, so I didn’t tell them. September 11th, 2001 happened, and I didn’t have the dream that night. I didn’t lose anyone close to me in the attacks, but it was a tragedy felt by the whole nation.
The next day, my mom asked me why I had been so weird all week, and all I told her was that I had a dream, that I knew something bad was going to happen, but I didn’t know who it was going to happen to or when. She didn’t say anything after that, but I got the feeling that she believed me and was a little scared of it.
I was just shy of my 14th birthday when the dream started coming again. I also had the flu, and was running a fever, so I’m not sure if that affected me and made me a little delusional but I spent about a week feeling like I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming or not, even though I was awake. Two nights before my birthday, my fever peaked, and I went to bed early. The dreams were intense, alternating between my recurring dream and other, creepy black-and-white dreams that I’ve never been able to remember. What I do remember is sleepwalking. I’ve always been a sleep-talker but this is the only time I have ever sleepwalked. And I have lucid dreams quite often, where I’m able to change the dream that I’m in, and remember it, but this was completely different. I wasn’t in control of myself. I knew I was dreaming, but I was trapped inside myself, a spectator, helplessly watching as I walked around.
My house was different, too. The blinds and curtains were gone from the windows, and instead of the streetlamps and lawns outside, there was just black. A flash of light, similar to lightning, would go off and light up the blackness for a split second, but there was no ground, nothing to light up. The inside of the house was stripped bare, down to just the beds – no other furniture, no clothes, toys, towels, anything else that you normally see lying around a house. Everything was black and white, except the people – my family. I walked around, in my sleep, not in control but fully aware of what was going on, checking on all of my family members to see if they were alive. Once I had checked on all of them, I looked out this big window at the landing of the stairs, and when the lightning-like flash went off, I glimpsed the familiar cable and giant sphere in the distance. I felt this cold, unforgiving, omnipotent presence behind me, at the bottom of the stairs, and I knew that I had been found – something knew that I had seen behind the curtain, had seen the mechanics operating our world, and it was here to fix that problem. I turned to face it.
The next thing I knew, it was morning, the sun was shining through the blinds of my bedroom window, the birds were chirping outside (I’m not being dramatic, I remember this very clearly) and I was lying in bed. I felt great – my fever was gone, and the flu that had me in bed for a week had disappeared overnight. It was a beautiful morning, the stuff of fairytales (minus the singing birds and animals that help with chores), and I was utterly confused by it, because it seemed like a second ago, I had been nearly face to face with something that didn’t want me peeking behind that rip in reality. I was still filled with such dread, and I rushed downstairs to find my mom to ask if everyone was okay. Now that I think about it, I should probably apologize to my mom for that morning, because I’m sure I scared the hell out of her. The day before, I was so sick that I couldn’t keep any food down, and I had to alternate tylenol and ibuprofen just to keep my fever below 104. Then that morning, I was running around, looking much better, except I was obviously scared and asking if everyone was okay.
Everyone was fine. Everything was fine. But someone was still going to die, and I had no idea who. I spent the day frustrated and scared because I was powerless to stop whatever was going to happen, and even though that presence was gone, there’s not really a guarantee when it comes to forces that are far beyond mortal comprehension. I tried not to think about the sleepwalking – I was in no way ready to begin to wonder what happened there.
No dreams that night. I slept great, but I awoke with a heavy heart, because I knew what it meant. It was my birthday, but I was not celebrating.
Around 5pm that day, my mom came into my room and sat on my bed by me. She was trying to hold back sobs as she told me that a friend of mine was in his parents’ van, with his dad driving, his mom in the front seat, and his sister sitting next to him, heading into town the night before. For some reason (they think maybe an animal ran into the road), the van swerved and went off the side of the road, flipped upside down, and landed in the river. Several hours later, someone was driving by and saw frost on a tire that was barely sticking out of the water, and called it in. The family had all drowned.
It took me years to find an uneasy peace with what had happened. I felt such guilt, like I could have prevented it, like I could have stopped any of it. Losing my friend and his family was devastating to me. They were wonderful people, and although my friend and I were young, we could have been more than just friends eventually.
I never had the dream again. I’ve tried again and again to make some sense out of it, but I’ve never really found anything close to what I experienced. I know I didn’t cause any of these deaths, that I was just someone who, either by chance or for an unknown reason, saw through this immersive illusion we call reality, and got a glimpse into the mechanism behind it. I don’t feel like I was punished by the presence I felt – I think it simply closed up that rift that I was seeing through. I still don’t understand any of it; I don’t think we are able to understand. We just aren’t meant to.