by Anika Morshed
Let me give you a dream of lavender and mint against indigo sky. Let me show you pinpricks of light that break through dark to shimmer and dance on ice and water. Let me fill your head with songs that hum low and shudder deep in oceans, songs of wonder, of peace, of beauty. For night is a time to rest still and let the world grow closer to you.
Rest tucked tightly into furs. Be warm on a cold night. Let in the light in dark times. As the room dims and your mind brightens, let the last thought you conjure be one of hope. You dip into slumber and pass into my domain, making your way through half-remembered memories, theories of strangeness and notions of wonder.
Come to me.
Come and watch ribbons of colour snake their way through the indigo sky. The shimmering greens and blues descend through the clouds, swirling and dancing to their own secret melodies. Don’t think they’ve forgotten about you. Jump, and jump again. Higher, this time. Become entangled within the Northern Lights as they embrace you, and hold you, and bring them with you.
Soar with auroras and moonbeams, let the colours and shapes pull you through the Arctic air. Chase frost and dodge the biting winter winds. Laugh, and be filled with the wonder of the night. I made this dream for you. You fly upwards, hunting the moon, desiring a piece of that gleaming white pearl. It would make a great gift for your mother. You close in on the moon, the colours in the air supporting you always, and bring hands around it. It will to be difficult to carry, but you think you can lift it. Just as you’re about to grab hold, the moon goes dark.
Everything goes dark.
Why has it all gone dark? You can’t see anything. You panic. You’re afraid. This isn’t right. There’s a desperate howl in the darkness, a wailing shriek in the distance. I didn’t plan this. You shudder. Without the colours of the night keeping you afloat, you fall.
Don’t scream. Who wants to give you bad dreams, dear child? Not if I can help it. As you fall, little yellow lights pop up in the darkness. Fuzzy at first, they dance in your vision and land on your nose, making you sneeze. You laugh. Now you aren’t falling anymore. You float lazily in inky currents as the fireflies dance, landing softly on plains of tall grass. I can’t find the moon, or the stars, but surely the lightning bugs can guide you. You chase one in particular, that you name Lusa. They look just like in your picture books, don’t they? But one by one, the little lanterns disappear. Lusa dims and blinks out of existence and you blink too. The tall grass wraps around you, twisting your arms, restraining your legs, trapping you in your place. You scream, and I know that tears will follow soon.
No, I will not let that happen.
That won’t happen. I try sending you away from the grass, to the forests in your favourite fairy tales. Forests of woodland animals to chase and rocks to climb and streams to cross. But the woods corrupt too, darkening, losing their leaves, the rocks sharpening and falling, the animals baring their teeth and chasing you back. I try sending you out into the ocean, to sail the seven seas, but a hurricane capsizes your boat. I try the city you visited this summer, with the neon lights and never-ending skyscrapers. But they are poisoned too, and the towers creep forwards, whispering that they’ll crush you between them.
You’re crying now.
Children should not cry in their dreams. This is my time to show you excitement and intrigue and all the beauty you can comprehend. But I can’t. You run. But not to chase down the goodness in the world. You run to escape evil, you run out of fear.
Fear of what?
In between your sobs, the whispers continue. I listen. The voices, wicked and menacing, seep into your subconscious. You trip. You fall. So much falling. There’s blood on the pavement and it’s yours. I want to see you fly again, up away from the towers that threaten to trap you, and the lights that drip poisonous green and the rats in the storm drain clawing their way out. But my powers are gone. The voices whisper in ill intent.
The voices get louder.
We can hear the words now. You clutch your head and bring your nose to your knees, but you can’t escape them. They speak of long days and loneliness. The dream changes, and it is not my doing. The city is sick, sicker than any of the previous scenes. A single penny under your palm stretches and slides, growing around you, encasing you. A copper cage with wheels.
You’re in a car.
The car is too small. You bang on the windows, but there’s no escape. It’s too hot and it burns your hands. The towers of the city curve towards you, creeping too close for comfort, creating a cage inside a cage. The car starts, and you’re whisked down a sickly street, past faceless souls in the night. The voices speak of days in cages, of wasting away, of screaming in silence. They grow louder, more confident, with each passing moment. I listen closely, unable to do anything else. A few moments, and I know who is doing this. I know who is giving you bad dreams.
And I will stop him.
You’ve had bad dreams before, child. Nightmares of unnamed monsters and unknown evils. But this is a new kind of nightmare, a nightmare named and known. And I can help, just wait. You won’t be crying for much longer. But first, you have to open yourself up to the fear, you have to let it sink in. The car hurtles towards one of the grey city towers, and you scream. There’s no escape, dear child. You must let the dream take you inside.
The car crashes into the building.
Rubble explodes into the street and the windshield cracks. The noise is deafening. You cover your ears but it doesn’t help. We whisk through the building, white and sterile, no colour, no plants, no life. You’re crying, but I’m listening. The voices speak of empty rooms and lost memories, of never going back, of never knowing joy, of concrete and isolation. I listen. From the fears, I spin memories. From these memories, I find what you’re afraid of.
You’re afraid of moving.
The city you thought was so vibrant and full of life is the place your old life will come to die. The copper car dissolves around you, and the apartment sneaks in. Four walls form a new cage. The whiteness is blinding, overwhelming, bleaching. It stains your left foot, sapping the colour and leaving a dried husk in its place. You jump up and down, but there’s no escape. Then your right foot is drained of colour, and the bleach works its way up to your knees. You scream.
From the memories, I conjure him. As the room shrinks and you lose yourself, he appears. He is cloaked in white, hidden from you, but his darkness makes me uneasy.
To eliminate Fear, we must face him head on.
His curses echo off the soulless white walls, ringing in a chorus against you. But it’s okay. You wouldn’t believe me, but it’s okay. The bleaching white works its way up to your neck. You look down, and your body is a shriveled white husk. You’d scream if there was any air left in your dried-up lungs. From under his white cloak, Fear smiles, and I have to restrain myself. Be happy, Fear.
It won’t last long.
When you’re fully encapsulated, nothing but a wrinkled white statue, I act. For every nasty thought that Fear puts in your head, I find a nicer thought. A thought of hope. This I can do. We can’t escape him, but we can fight him off. So help me, dear child, help me to fill this nightmare with colour and life. Fear says you’ll be trapped inside, I say no. Let’s add some windows: big ones, wide ones. Let’s let in the bright city lights and neon colours. And you’ll never forget your old life. Let’s paint this room lavender and mint against indigo sky. You add your furs and your stuffed animals, and I make the toy polar bear do a little dance around Fear. Fear recoils.
I can win this.
Outside, a city street hunches up and wiggles, like a worm, until it pokes through our new windows. You won’t be trapped. You won’t be alone. Those faceless souls outside will soon have faces, smiling faces. And there will be new joys here.
Let’s take a road trip.
I call the copper car that you so hated and it’s no longer too small or too hot. You get in, and I close the door before Fear join you. He slams against the windows, hissing, but you’re not paying attention. Instead, I give you a map, and you pick out all the places you’ll go. We drive the car outside, though the big wide windows, and whisk past new food and music and parks and shops in a whirlwind of city lights and neon colours…
It’s almost time for me to let you go, dear child. And so, as the world brightens and your imagination dims, let the last thought you have be a good one.
Let it be of Hope.
“Bad Dreams” (© Anika Morshed) was published in Issue 7 of Capricious. If you enjoyed this story, please consider subscribing to Capricious.