Nightmares

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He woke up screaming!

Ever since Jake Jones returned from combat duty in Afghanistan he was plagued by nightmares.

They were so real that he woke screaming every morning, bathed in sweat, with bruises and even scratches on his body.

The Army psychiatrists said he had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and put him in counseling, and fed him pills that were supposed to help.

While he was patient at the White City VA, in White City Oregon, the doctors observed his bruises, cuts and scratches on him every morning. The consensus was they were self-inflicted, despite Jake’s denials.

He refused to speak during group counseling so they had to resort to one-on-one counseling. His doctor experimented with every anti-psychotic medication available but none of them helped.

All the doctor knew about Jake was that he was wounded twice in 2009. He was among 3000 U.S. soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division that moved into the provinces of Logar and Wardak to push out the Taliban.

A group of Afghan Federal Guards fought alongside the Americans. They were the first wave of an expected surge of reinforcements originally ordered by President Bush and increased by President Obama.

One day Jake and his squad were exploring caves looking for enemy insurgents. They came upon a group of old men and some young Taliban fighters and a deadly firestorm erupted.

When it was over half of Jake’s squad was dead or wounded. Jake suffered a bullet wound through his left shoulder. All of their enemies lay dead except one old man. He had been hit several times and was sitting with his back to the wall.

When Jake approached him blood was running out of the corner of his mouth and he was muttering something. Scott, the team translator came over and listened to the old man’s fading words. When they stopped, Scott turned to Jake and said “This guy has cursed us 1000 times over. Too bad that I don’t believe in that crap.”

Jake was medevaced to safety and returned to combat duty three months later. All of his remaining team members were gone, dead, or returned to the United States.

Three days after returning to his new unit his platoon was ambushed. Jake was the only one wounded. This time in the chest, just missing his heart. That’s when the really bad nightmares began.

While recuperating in the hospital the first one happened. One moment he was sipping water through a straw and sitting up in a hospital bed, and the next he was in an unfamiliar place that looked a lot like the province of Wardak.

Three old men approached him with long canes. He stood there, powerless to move while they beat him and chanted ancient curses. He could feel every blow. When he couldn’t stand the pain anymore, he screamed…and woke up with a nosebleed.

A nurse ran into the room and comforted him as she washed the blood off his face and beard. In her report she noted that the patient had somehow inflicted injury upon himself while sleeping.

The same thing happened for three nights in a row before he was transformed to a mental ward and strapped onto a bed for his own safety. When the nurse checked on him the next morning he had a black eye and more bruises on his chest.

The stunned staff immediately launched an investigation to see who had attacked him. The night nurse said no one had entered the ward, and the security guards verified her story.

The nightmares continued, but the beatings stopped. He was released back into the general population and assigned a new doctor two weeks later. Jake was a pale shadow of himself having lost fifty pounds since his second wound.

The nightmares morphed from beatings to ghosts of dead Afghani children, women, and old men surrounding him with sad eyes. They were the same old men in the cave that he helped kill.

He continued to wake up screaming until one day he decided that he’d had enough. He tied his sheets together, firmly securing one end to the ceiling fan and wrapping the other around his neck. Then he kicked the chair away from beneath his feet.

As It Stands, this tale was an exercise in mixing a real mental problem with the supernatural.

Trouble In Dreamland

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The dreamers twitched nervously in their sleep.

I watch them breath.

Some are breathing too lightly for a good sleep. Something must be tormenting them. They are tossing and turning in their hospital beds.

My job, as the guardian of Sleep Land, was to protect sleepers from bad dreams. Nightmares could kill. I’m not sure how I got this job, or mission if you will, but I feel great satisfaction watching people wake up from a long sleep, rested and happy.

I don’t think many people would want my job. It does get stressful, and I’ve seen some horrendous things. But it was never my choice to become a guardian. That’s because I’m always sleeping. Been in a coma now for eight years.

I don’t know what will happen if I ever wake up. I quit thinking about it years ago. I’m comfortable with my routine at the hospital, checking in on patients all night. The hospital holds 200 patients. I manage to stop in on all of them before dawn arrives.

When I sense a patient is experiencing something unpleasant, I step into their dream to see what I can do to make it better. Usually, I end up dealing with small annoyances that flee when they see me.

There have been exceptions. I’ve dealt with nine full-on nightmares in eight years. Each time it becomes more exhausting, and I sense my body weakening.

Make no mistake. A nightmare is a powerful thing. It can even make people do evil things after they wake up. That was the case of four of the nightmares I confronted. Each patient woke up with murder in their eyes.

Luckily, none of the four were able to carry out their desire to kill someone. They all ended up in an insane asylums. The remaining five nightmares, were defeated in Sleep Land and they never made it to the patient’s consciousness.

I’m feeling a bit odd today. Normally, I don’t let my mind wander around the hospital during the day because it’s too stressful watching life-and-death situations. That’s when I spotted him! A nightmare in the making.

He was there to get surgery on his knee. An armed correctional officer accompanied him. The prisoner had facial scars from countless fights in the day yard. The guard, Eli Benson, had to stay with him (with the exception of the operating room) every moment until he was released by another guard taking his place.

The knee replacement surgery took place shortly after Benson and his prisoner, Hans Hartmann, arrived. Still asleep after surgery, Hartmann was taken to a special room that only had a hospital bed, and one chair in it. Benson took his place on the chair.

When I saw Hartmann’s nightmare a few hours later I knew what was going to happen.

As night descended, I prepared myself. I saw enough. Hartmann was going to kill the correctional officer, a nurse, an old woman there to visit her sick sister, and one highway patrolman outside the hospital as he was getting away.

I had to stop the nightmare from stepping into the daylight.

The nurse who was monitoring my vitals was startled. I was waking up! She called for the doctor on duty, and ran to my room. The bright light blinded me for minutes. I kept blinking, trying to focus my eyes. I felt a sense of urgency.

When the doctor came he was all smiles, and told me he’d contacted my sister about my miraculous recovery. For the next two hours, nurses unplugged me from monitors and took the feeding tube out of my throat.

When I was finally free of all the life-saving equipment I was able to talk. My voice was raspy and words were difficult to form. I was able to get the attention of the last nurse before she left.

She was in her forties and knew her way around the hospital and how to work with patients. I asked her to do me a big favor. Of course she agreed right away. I asked her to get a security guard and to go check on the room with the prisoner who had knee surgery yesterday.

She looked at me like I was crazy. I couldn’t blame her. I told her that I had a terrible dream and would really appreciate it if she would check on the prisoner. I could see the doubt in her eye, but my sudden awakening had an impact on her.

She said she would. I waited impatiently, wondering if it was too late. It seemed like eternity before she returned. There was awe in her eyes. The prisoner was caught fighting with the correctional officer. With the help of the security guard, Hartmann was overcome.

I’m waiting for my sister right now. Something bothers me though. Who will take my place, and be the guardian of Sleep Land after I’m gone? I was in the lobby when I saw my sister, and something else. My replacement.

A small group of family members were crying as a doctor told them their daughter was in a coma, and he wasn’t sure if she would ever come out of it.

As It Stands, the idea of being in a coma has always fascinated me, but I’m in no hurry to lapse into one and find out what happens next.