Rage, rage against the dying light.
~ Dylan Thomas
I have a secret, one that you can only dream of. Or rather, you can only have nightmares about. Literally.
Almost everyone sees sleeping as a time to rest and recover from the events of the day. The night is a sacred time where the hustle and bustle calms down and turns into a tranquil time to relax and unwind.
Not for me.
My nights are plagued by a constant internal war where I fight to keep from succumbing to fatigue, only to fail and enter into a living nightmare. I wake up feeling more exhausted than the day before, my conscience tormented by the echoing memories of what I’ve done. The same accusation rings its truth in my head daily.
I’m a murderer.
You see, I’m a dreamwalker. Only when I walk unwillingly into the dreams of others, I end up controlling their body, but I don’t hold their memories. What I do there affects these people’s lives permanently, irreversibly. I have ruined marriages, lost children, and bled others dry on battlefields.
Of course, I experienced every single thing. Every heartbreak they felt, I felt it every bit. Every anguished cry they uttered was that of my own. Every dying breath they gasped out, I experienced too. Despite our shared suffering, it was they that had to deal with the consequences. They pay the price for my curse.
That’s not to say that I don’t have good dreams at all. It’s just that I feel like an intruder in every person’s life, a parasite that, at best, steals leeches off their intimate memories. At worst? A parasite that kills its host.
I remember each and every one of them, even if I don’t know their names. Emma, the lonely girl who stared at the stars and dreamed of being someone. James, the promising youth whom I couldn’t save from his school shooting. The homeless beggar who wandered into the wrong, unforgiving neighborhood. But the most vivid one, the one that haunts me whenever I think of it, is my “dream” of General Evan Olivier and Henderson.
I was fifteen when I had my first dream. Before that, my nights were pitch black, the darkness gently enveloping me in a deep rest like a mother embracing her newborn child. No one knows how I ended up like this. I don’t believe in magic, and this isn’t hereditary. All I know is, one day, like the spark from a lighter, the flame of nightmares blazed quickly and thoroughly through my nights.
I woke up in a tent. The air was thick with the sound of boots thudding purposefully outside, the smell of gunpowder permeating throughout. I stood in front of a map, my fingers grasping onto a rough stick.
Only it wasn’t my fingers.
I’d studied it, the neatly groomed short fingernails belonging to fingers shorter than mine, attached to a bigger and more calloused palm than that of my own. I’d stared at it, so absorbed by these unfamiliar fingers that I failed to notice the young soldier behind me until he cleared his throat.
“General Olivier, sir? What’s our strategy to defend our national borders?” the bright-eyed young man who couldn’t have been more than 22 years of age had asked, his face schooled into a determined expression waiting to carry out his orders.
Somehow I’d known this was a dream, and I’d been so absorbed by the experience of being another person that I’d half-heartedly shrugged, “Just put them anywhere. As long as they have sufficient ammunition then they’ll be fine.”
A long silence ensued before I went back to studying this body, my shock intensifying when I realised I had a few days’ worth of rough stubble on my cheeks, before the same man – his uniform read “Henderson” – hesitantly enquired, “Sir?”
“Just get them to paint on camouflage and hide within the terrain. The element of surprise alone will ensure that victory is ours,” I’d dismissed him, thinking nothing of my decision and wanting to be left alone, especially since I had no idea how to strategize.
Oh, how naive I was.
That night, 431 soldiers, including Henderson, died. The news that I’d saw the next morning described it as “extreme negligence” on the General’s behalf and that he’d be facing a court martial.
All of these, because I’d be careless with my words and actions.
All it takes is one hairpin trigger for the overwhelming guilt floods through me. And last night, I’d dreamt myself into the body of Fiore, a woman who’d tearfully sent off her husband as he left in his battle fatigues, their young son clutching his teddy bear and telling his father to come back quickly.
As I trudged along the road towards college with a lead-weighted heart, I heard my name being called. I looked behind me and I saw my childhood friend Angela running towards me. I paused to wait for her and watched as she suddenly tripped. I moved to help her but somehow, she twisted her body in such a manner that her body moved like a rubber band that had just been released and, wobbling about, straightened and continued as if nothing had happened.
I couldn’t help it. I laughed. Angie smirked at me and continued on ‘woman on a mission’ run before skidding to a stop in front of me.
“Whatchu lookin’ at?” she wiggled her eyebrows. “Nothin’ to see here. Just a normal day, folks.”
She threw her arm around me and we continued walking to our classes. Or rather, I walked; she swaggered. She didn’t know what was happening, nor why I was no longer the same best friend she had when we were children, but she knew that something was affecting me that I couldn’t tell her and so she did her best to cheer me up in her own way. I’m so grateful to and for her and I can never express how truly thankful I am.
With support from friends like her, I shall, in the immortal words of Dylan Thomas, rage against the dying light, to fight harder to control this affliction I never asked for, and to live a full life in the light.
Written By: Marinella Lotte