18 is too old to be having nightmares. Every time I woke at 2 or 3am, screaming and thrashing with tears pouring down my face, that is what I would think. Charlie, I’d say to myself, you’re pathetic. Imagine waking up screaming like a banshee in halls. You’d either be a laughing stock, or you’d have people calling the police on you.
But I couldn’t help it. Those dreams – they were more than dreams. They were visceral, tangible, primal. And terrifying. Every time I evaded the rapist chasing me down a dark empty street, or the flames slowly burning the house down around me, or the sight of my parents’ dead mangled bodies on the living room floor, I would weep with relief that none of it had been real. And yet I would feel as traumatised as if it had been real.
Had it been real?
I was alone in the house, and the doorbell rang. I had always been a bit wary about answering the door, especially when I was home alone, but Mum had only gone down to the shops for ten minutes, and she hadn’t taken a house key with her so she was expecting me to let her in. So when the doorbell did ring, I answered it, assuming it would be her.
I knew something was wrong when the silhouette I could see through the frosted glass was taller and broader than Mum’s. When I opened the door, I was greeted by a man I’d never met, wearing normal clothes, but strange, huge, dark sunglasses.
And then he grabbed me.
I was blindfolded, my hands were tied with a plastic cable, and I could feel myself being bundled into a car. I struggled with the cable, kicking my legs wildly and thrashing around in an attempt to escape. But he had me.
Next, the dream changed: I was blindfold-free, my limbs were my own again, and I was running as fast as I could down a long white corridor. Time slowed down, and I slowed down with it, so I compensated by taking longer and longer strides, desperation mounting, but I could only move in super slow motion. It was going to get me. The shadowy monster with eyes red as fire. And when it caught up to me it pinned me to the floor, arms above my head, before bubbling like sticky tar and metamorphosing into the man who had answered the door, sunglasses gone and the monster’s hellish red eyes staring down at me. I tried to scream but, that way it does in nightmares, my voice wouldn’t come out as anything more than a rasp.
I willed myself to wake up, wake up, wake up, as the distinction between nightmare and reality was becoming increasingly blurred. Because suddenly, I was awake and I knew I was awake, yet I was still quite clearly in another nightmare. I was stumbling along a footpath, tripping every so often, before lurching into the road, and the oncoming traffic.
A flash of headlights. A scream.
And everything went black.