Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dripping Crimson

When I was little, my nightmares were about machines that moved on their own, or cars bearing down on me when I couldn't move. Even then, I knew those dreams were about control. I had no power over my life and I hated it. Even worse, I didn't trust the people who did have power over me.

Gradually, those nightmares gave way to what I call my red or green dreams.

My parents abandon my sisters and me at a Victorian brownstone. We're shown into a parlor with a keyhole entryway that's hung with red velvet drapes. The furniture is heavy and upholstered in red silk and velvet. It stinks like an antique store and copper. There's some sort of meeting with people we don't know. As the people mill around talking, someone is murdered. No one saw it happen. Everyone rushes over to look at the body. At the back of the crowd, a man lies in a thick pool of his blood.

My eldest sister quickly figures out that the second we lose eye contact with people, the murderer strikes. People are dropping dead so fast that there are few of us left alive. So we three sisters link arms in a formation so we can keep watch on each other as we back out of the room.

You'd think we'd head for the door. We don't. As many times as I've had this dream, I've tried lucid dreaming to force us toward the front door. But the nightmare leaps ahead, putting us where it wants us - at the top of a dark, carved staircase.

We enter a bedroom. The bed is four poster, surrounded by red curtains. There's red watermark silk on the walls. We barricade the door, but my eldest sister and I don't feel safe. We head for the bathroom. I realize that our other sister didn't follow. I turn around. She's sitting up on the bed, but there's an axe in her skull. Blood trickles down her cheek. It's my fault for losing sight of her. When I turn to my eldest sister, she's in the bathtub, stabbed countless times. It's my fault for turning away when I knew in my heart that our other sister was already dead. As many times as I've had this dream though, I've never been able to keep both of them safe.

How it ends: I'm looking in the mirror, watching myself, because that's the only way I can be safe. Then I turn away from the mirror so that the killer can get me.

The smell of damp earth is so strong that I can barely breathe. I'm in a dense, lush jungle. The air is so hot and humid that walking is like swimming. This is not a nightmare; it's a night terror - a "wake up screaming, afraid to ever fall asleep again, not able to shake it for days" night terror. In this dream, I'm a dispassionate killer. It's been years since I've had a green dream, but the memory is so vivid that it still terrifies me.

I'm in an old theater. Gilt cherubs and drama masks look down from second and third story balconies. The seats on floor are covered in red velvet. I'm on the red carpet on the floor, looking up at the ceiling. An unseen person cradles my head in their lap. I'm calm, even though I know what will happen. As with my other nightmares, this is a recurring one.

The centerpiece of the baroque ceiling overhead is an orrery (a mechanical model of the universe). In this universe, black Saturn is the center, not the sun. Distant calliope music starts to play, only it hisses, pops, and warbles as if coming from an old record. The planets in the orrey lurch forward in their orbits. A gold shooting star slides along a track in the ceiling from the orrey toward the stage. When it gets to the stage, the red curtain rises. A grainy black and white movie flickers on the screen. The countdown begins as a black line sweeps over the numerals: 7,6,5... When it reaches one, the movie starts. The person cradling my head slits my throat.

My nightmares are as stuffed with Freudian symbolism as a Henrik Ibsen play. In daylight, you can only imagine the wry smile that elicits, considering the disdain I have for Freud. But at night, when the scents get intense and those jewel tone reds or greens fill my vision, it's not so easy to laugh.


  1. God, Kathleen!

    Your nightmares make mine sound like fairy tales.

    You've evoked the terror so completely, I would not be surprised to find these images showing up in my own night frights.

    Thank you for opening the door to your unconscious, scary as it is...


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  3. Lisabet,

    We have a dream day coming up in a couple weeks. I promise to play nice.

  4. Kathleen,

    This is genuinely chilling. More frightening though is the way you claim to have disdain for Freud! I love that man. He was a genius of the highest order ;-)


  5. Ash - I know! And here I thought that my familiarity with Ibsen's plays would be the thing to give someone palpitations.

  6. I second everybody else. You have some very vividly described dreams. In some ways the jungle is most interesting, because the way you describe it, nothing happens, and yet you wake up intensely frightened. I've had dreams like that were there weas no violence at all, only an unnamed dread. Those can be the worst.

    But the head in the lap thing . .. that's creepy too.



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