The moon shone through my curtains as I slipped into bed, covering my feet with my blankets. Tree branches outside scratched at my windows as the wind threw them around. Every so often I could hear the clap of thunder far away from my house. I stared out the covered window and wished that the sun would rise quickly.
I glanced at the clock. 10:35. I had a long way to go. I rested my head on my pillow but I didn’t shut my eyes.
For the past few days I had the same recurring nightmare that always ended the same way. I would be in a large dark forest after it had rained, the mist coating the air above and all the colors of the forest dampened and dull. I would be standing alone, lost with no idea where to go or what to do.
A giant monster would emerge from the thick wall of trees and attack me. I never stared long enough to see what it was, but I was terrified of it. Perhaps it was a Wendigo? Maybe it was just wolf?
It would chase me throughout the forest and I would scrap myself against trees and thorns to escape it. I would hear its raspy breathing behind me and I would pump my legs faster, but no matter how fast I sprinted it would always keep my pace.
I would always yell at myself, ‘It’s just a nightmare!’ to try to make myself wake up. I knew it was nothing but a dream, but I couldn’t find a way to wake myself up before it ended.
The nightmare would finally end when it chased me to a river ledge where unforgiving water crashed down the river. Without slowing down to think of the consequences, I would jump, and the monster followed me down, determined to end me for good.
The dream would always end after I jumped.
I stared up at my ceiling and dread what was to come. I knew I couldn’t just stay up all night; I had a family reunion the next day and Mom would kill me if she found out I didn’t go to sleep. I tried to hype myself with happier thoughts: summer, water parks, video games, watching my favorite movie. Anything to distract myself from the hell I was about to create.
Soon I gave into my fatigue and fell asleep, trapping myself in my own mind.
I stood in a forest, the fresh mist of past rain clouding my lungs. Distant chirping of birds echoed around me, as if giving out a warning of what was to come. I started walking to try to find a way out, the wet moss sinking under my feet. I walked around for what seemed like hours, only getting more and more lost. The entire time I wandered around and waited for the monster to come chase me, but there was nothing. Soon I couldn’t take it anymore and started yelling into the empty forest, challenging it to attack. The anticipation was hurting me more than the monster ever could.
I woke up more tired than the night before. I sat up in bed and thought about my new nightmare. I was in the same forest as before but with no monster. What did it mean?
I didn’t have much time to reflect as my day started right when I woke up. The whole morning through breakfast all the way to the car my mom was pacing around, making sure we didn’t forget anything for the reunion and made sure to have plenty to brag about once we got there.
A little after eleven we loaded into the car, exaggerated stories and a crockpot of macaroni in hand and drove to our reunion. I stayed quiet while my mom droned on and on to herself, reassuring herself more than me that it was going to be fine. I thought about my dream and worried I wasn’t going to be able to stomach any of the food.
When we got there I was momentarily distracted from my nightmares. We rented out a venue in a small campground, a large tent holding lots of food and tons of talking adults. A bunch of cousins, nieces, nephews, and anything in-between were running around and playing. I quickly went to join my older cousins who I hardly got to see.
One of them suggested a game of hide and seek, which I found weird considering I was the youngest of our group. I was only 13 while my oldest cousin was almost 18. They all seemed exited to play and started trash talking each other, so I guess it was more of a challenge to better each other than to have fun.
I was elected to start the search first along with one of my other cousins because there was so many of us. We stayed behind at the edge of camp while the others ran into the forest, the sounds of their feet cracking branches slowly fading into nothing.
When we started the search we went out together and searched everywhere from the tops of the trees to cracks in between rocks.
She suggested that we should split up to try to cover more ground. I didn’t like the sound of splitting up, but I also didn’t want to act like a little kid. I agreed and went left as she went right.
My fears of the forest slowly came back to me and I stepped over branches and rocks, the sounds of the forest surrounding me. ‘Stay calm,’ I tried to tell myself. ‘Just keep looking. The property isn’t that big, anyways. They couldn’t have gone far.’
I searched for at least 10 minutes before deciding to turn around and search in a different direction. I turned around to try to retrace my steps but realized I actually didn’t know which direction I came from. With all the searching and checking I hadn’t gone in a fully straight line. I was lost.
‘Do. Not. Freak,’ I commanded myself. I walked much faster as before, my breath competing for speed. ‘Whatever, it’s fine. The tent is around here somewhere. You just got to find it.’
I tried to push forward as fast I could but the trees made it increasingly harder, growing closer and tighter together, weaving their roots and branches like a nest of snakes. To make matters worse the rain the night before coated the moss invested ground, making it more slippery than the roads after a blizzard.
I heard a cracking of a branch and ran towards the noise. I thought it was one of my cousins who had just blown their cover. I grinned as I ran towards them, glad I finally found one of them.
I froze in my tracks when I saw not one of my cousins, but a pair of beady red eyes behind a fence of trees. I stared at them and they stared right back, not blinking once.
Doing the only thing I could think to do I bolted. I turned on my heel and ran the way I came, trying to run as far away from whatever it was as possible.
I heard it chasing after me, growly and breathing heavily. I realized I was having another nightmare. “It’s just a nightmare!” I screamed. I scraped my arms against a sharp branch and yanked it free to see freshly drawn blood. I knew right then and there that it wasn’t a dream; this was real.
I could hear it getting closer. I was scared to look back and see how close it really was, so I kept running. I tripped from roots and branches littering the ground, tumbling into trees and rocks. I was slowing down. It was getting faster.
I heard the deafening crashing of water ahead of me; the river. I ran towards the sound, unsure of what else to do. If I could get to the water there was a chance I could escape whatever was behind me.
I pumped my legs harder, trying to reach the river before it was too late. The smell of fresh lake water filled my nose. I could see the edge of the forest from where I was, almost to the river ledge.
It was right on my heels. I gave my last burst of energy out the trees to the ledge. I prepared myself to jump at the very end to give myself as much distance as I could.
The world around me went black just as I was about to jump.