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The winter’s night grows cold. The frigid wind howls in the distance like a wolf on a mountaintop. When the darkness appears and the light of the world curls up in a tiny ball, I do the same. Three blankets acting as my armor encompass my freezing body and Mama walks into the tiny room where I rest my head for the night. She turns off the gas lamp beside me and whispers, “Goodnight my sweet angel. God is with you. Sweet Dreams.” Mama walks away and leaves the door open, letting in a small sliver of light. I know what will happen once I fall asleep, so I try my best to keep my eyes open. He will come for me. Whether I’m ready or not.
Something changed inside of me that night. My eyes grew wide; I felt my breathing become heavy, almost as if an elephant was stomping on my lungs. As my body fell asleep that night, my mind stayed very much awake, as did my vivid dreams. I felt like I was truly experiencing my dream right in that moment. I have dreamt about the same experience for almost a year now.
When the dream begins, I am traveling on foot through a moonless forest with nothing in view for miles upon miles. I take in all that my senses can pick up on; the monstrous Oak and Pine trees with scattered branches of various sizes, the expired leaves that have departed from the branches above causing a forceful crunch when they are stepped on, the bitter wind brushing against my skin, and the smell of the woods fresh, crisp air. After I pass the seventeenth tree on the left side, a dark figure jumps out and begins to follow me. He starts out slow, stepping when I step, the leaves crunching on the cold, stiff ground. I speed up my pace, attempting to escape the dark figure’s, but he is relentless and continues following me. I hear him rustle his hands through his jacket pocket, in an attempt to find something. He begins to pull it out of his pocket. I don’t know what it is exactly, because if I turn around I am sure that I will not see the daylight again. I assume that it is some type of weapon, perhaps a knife. I begin to run faster and faster and loop around the tallest tree in sight, hoping that I can break free of his reign and I embark on my charge back home.
Just like the previous dreams throughout the past year, tonight is no different. I feel my consciousness ebbing away, and my thoughts, as clear and concise as they were mere moments ago, come to an end. My eyes grow heavy and flicker into the darkness as I lay my head back on my pillow, that is so hard that it feels as if my head is laying on a boulder. I give into my exhaustion and I become unconscious to the world. Yet again, my nightmare begins and I can’t find a way out. I am like an inmate locked in a prison of my own mind.
Tonight is the same. In tonight’s dream, I am again being chased by the man and after I take the corner around the tallest tree escaping the dark figures clutch, I see the wooden shack where my Mama, Grandma Lil, and I all live in the distance. Poorly built, it stands sloped on the hillside with wooden planks protecting the interior of our cozy home, and three gas lamps in the windowsills. The tiny shack gives me a sense of peace amidst all of the horror and chaos of my dream, from which I can’t break free. I run home as fast as I can, my legs moving faster than they ever have. I reach the doorstep, turn around, and look for the dark figure in the eerie woods, but he is nowhere to be found. Escaping his wrath is exhilarating and I give a monumental sigh of relief. I see Grandma Lil in the slanted doorway and I feel safe again.
“Grandma Lil!” I exclaim through my shortened breath. She seems so real, but I am still dreaming, I thought. How could that be?
“Angellina? Is that you?” She asks while sorting through the furrowed pages of her journal sitting on her lap.
“You have no idea how happy I am to see you!” I say.
Her off-white nightgown contrasts with her short grey hair. The sleeves are puffy and the gown reaches down, sweeping the dirt floor, collecting the brown particles. Her wrinkled skin covers the five foot frame of her body, which radiates wisdom, sophistication, determination, and grace.
“Angellina, have you been out in the woods again? I specifically told you never to step foot out of this house after the lamp goes out. You know what is out there.”
“Oh, Grandma. You are out of your mind. It’s not real. I told you, it’s only a dream. Even right now, I’m still dreaming.”
“It’s not a dream my sweet child. It is the reality of the heinous woods out there. The dark figure that you think is make believe is not. You’ve got it all wrong. He is real. The knife is real. Everything is.”
“What’re you talking about?” She’s insane, I thought, it must just come with old age.
“Last year Doctor Marshall came by the shack and he noticed that you get up in the middle of the night, rise out of bed, unlatch the door and walk into the woods. It is Hell back there, Angellina. Those woods will chew you up and spit you back out, waiting for you to return the next night. Each night for an entire year I have told you that you are not dreaming. This needs to end right away. Why don’t you ever understand me?”
“What’re you talking about, Grandma? I stay in my bed all night and I never once have gotten up.” She must be insane, I thought. But this feels so real. Maybe I’m not dreaming anymore.
“You sleepwalk, Angellina. You have been every single night for more than a year.”
“So, how do I stop?”