Strap yourself in: I’m about to tell you about a dream I had.
For background: As a horror fan and a sometimes-horror writer, I have quite a few nightmares. Generally, I actually sort of enjoy them, as a rule; maybe not so much when they’re happening, and not all of them, but many are actually pretty exhilarating. They also tend to fuel stories, and I’ve had many a night of waking up in something approaching terror after a dream about zombies or the creatures from Aliens or (increasingly) the Slenderman.
The dream I had this weekend is worth talking about because of two major features. First, it was extremely visceral in a way not many, or even most, of my dreams are. Second, because it touches on some incredibly terrifying sensations — sudden, unexpected paralysis and aphasia, or the loss of language ability.
Details are a little sketchy in terms of the story of the dream, although they always unfold as stories being told, rather than a series of strange events. Anyway, the thrust was this: There was some kind of phenomenon happening in which some people were seeing ghosts or images of people who had passed away. What’s more, they were reporting instances in which they said they felt as though they were finding ways to “the other side.” This was occurring both in the metaphysical “afterlife” sense and a physical, transpositional sense — people were finding themselves drawn forward into reflections and images, and finding themselves literally on the other side of some invisible barrier.
Things progressed, but the key moment of terror was one in which a small girl was staring down at a black, reflective granite counter. My position at this point in the dream was as an observer, and it may even have been as someone who’s aware that they’re dreaming. The girl noticed something in the reflection and said the word, “Daddy?”
She had caught something in the reflection, and a second later, I saw it too — an eye. It was green and belonged to a man. I thought to myself (or said in the dream), “Wow, I see it.”
Then, instantly: transported into the reflection.
It was possibly the most visceral, most realistic thing I’ve ever encountered in a dream. The feeling of transportation, of otherworldliness, was absolutely terrifying. I tried to scream, to cry out as I turned and saw the world I’d left staring back at me through the reflection like one-way glass, and found I couldn’t speak. My mouth moved slowly; the sound was hoarse and split. It came out more like a gasp, and was even more frightening.
In that moment I awoke, but it’s been a long time since I’ve woken up that frightened. Describing it now makes it sound kind of dumb, but in a horror film or a story, it would have felt right at home, a paranormal event of absolute terror. But being drawn into another world was made much worse from the dragging, slow response of my body, and my inability to use language to articulate the fear or call for help.
It’s that last bit that’s the real kicker of the whole thing. Dreams play tricks, and that makes them strange experiences, and even though it was deeply troubling at the time, the paranormal part of the dream was just one such trick. The really scary part was the idea of losing the ability to communicate, or as for help, or reach out to other people.
I’ve thought about aphasia as the subject of a story before. The sudden, intense loss of communication — language packing up and leaving your brain, trapping you within it — is deeply troubling to me. It’s something I’m looking forward to exploring more, because it seriously scared the crap out of me the other night.
If you want to take some advice from this whole escapade, it’s to draw inspiration from the things that scare you. I’m not really one for full-on dream analysis, but I do try to pay attention to the things that recur in my nightmares and tap them. When looking for conduits to horror, there’s nothing quite so reliable as the things that strike terror in yourself.