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.

Days of Discovery, Nights of Terror

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Alternate Earth, Andromeda

Plex was an adventurer, amateur archeologist, assassin, and lone wolf.

Since being abandoned at six-years old, Plex had always been on his own. His remarkable survival skills were legendary.

His adventures over the course of two decades, were chronicled in every planet in the solar system. His very name became synonymous with fantastic discoveries and daring deeds.

The mountains of Moibus, Ceres IV

Plex could barely see through his goggles. The snow storm was turning into a full-on blizzard when he spotted the building. A round granite tower with one door and no windows.

When he drew near, he saw an old man open the door and gesture for him to enter. Once inside, they descended down a flight of stone stairs and emerged into a great cavern. Candles were burning in little alcoves cut into the native stone.

Shadows danced along the rugged rock walls and the lava stalagmites that rose as high as a hundred feet in the air. The light from the candles reflected off the eyes of little creatures peering out from jagged rock formations.

They walked for a while in silence as the guide led Plex into a network of twisting tunnels. Finally they came to a large room where a throne sat. It’s inhabitant was a tall gangly man with white hair and beard. He wore an ornate helmet.

His guide backed out of the room, bowing with respect.

Are you the one they call Plex?” the man on the throne asked in a shrill voice.

“I am, lord,” he replied.

“It’s said that you accept any challenge, as long as it makes for a good adventure and pays well.” 

“That’s true.”

“Well then, I have a challenge for you that should be irresistible.”

 “I’m listening, lord of Moibus.”

“I want you to go to Hell and get my wife who should not be there. It’s me, Satan has a problem with. He cannot hurt me in my kingdom, but he had his minions capture her when she was taking a nap in the courtyard one day.

How can I enter hell? I’m still alive, and the devil hasn’t come for me yet?”

“My necromancer has a spell that will allow you to enter hell, and return with my wife.”

“I’m intrigued, but I’m still curious what kind of bounty  you’re offering? The rumors I heard suggested a person’s weight in the rarest gems in the galaxy.”

“It’s true. Look behind me at the open chests with gems spilling out onto the ground,” the Lord of Moibus assured him.

Plex walked over to them and studied the glittering mass, buying time before giving an answer.

“Where’s your necromancer?”

Hell.

To Plex’s surprise, Hell was darker than a coal mine during a full eclipse of the two suns that surrounded Ceres IV. The spell transported him instantly.

If not for the occasional fire accompanied with screams, he was blind. The thought of finding anyone seemed like a dark joke. He didn’t know which way to go. He steadied himself from panicking and tried to remember everything the necromancer told him.

He counted one hundred steps and stopped. Turning to his right he knocked on the obsidian wall and it swung inward, exposing a dimly lit, sparely decorated room. A woman sat on a small bed and watched him with curiosity as he entered.

“Have you come to free me from eternal nightmares?” she asked with tears in her eyes.

Yes. Come here, and let me hold your hands.”

As she approached the necromancer’s words came to him;

“Hand-in-hand. Hand-in-hand. Let go, to save a soul.”

As they grasped hands he realized the mistake he made, after repeating the chant. Save a soul. One soul. Not two souls!

He didn’t have time to blink his eye before she disappeared, and the lights went out!

As It Stands, a price is often paid for those bold adventurers who go where no one else has gone before.

Dreams for Sale

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The piece of paper on the bulletin board in Woolworth’s said, “Dreams For Sale – 212-2641-0977.”

Alfred Oates blinked through his thick glasses and took his new Reynolds Rocket ballpoint pen out of his jacket pocket.

He carefully wrote the phone number down in a little notepad he kept in his other jacket pocket.

The year was 1947, and America was bursting with opportunities for clever men and women. Good jobs were available all over the country. Everyone was making money, one way, or the other.

Alfred made a lot of money, but had a peculiar problem. He couldn’t dream. He abruptly stopped dreaming when he became a teenager. Since then, he read everything he could find about his problem. There was precious little on the subject.

He wasn’t sure why he bothered writing the phone number down. It was probably some con man. But he had to admit, it was a clever way to get someone’s attention. He lit a Cuban cigar and leisurely strolled down the street until he came to the brownstone he was living in.

A black doorman in a tuxedo greeted him with a smile and opened the door. He walked into the luxurious lobby and headed straight for the front desk to get his mail. There were two letters. He took them with him, and went up the elevator to his room.

When he got to his room he put his ear on the door for a moment then inserted the key. He could never be too cautious in his line of work. The elegantly appointed room had a small desk and chair near the large picture window.

The first letter was from his brother who stayed in the Army after the war and was stationed in Germany. The second letter was business.

He memorized a street address in Manhattan, and carried a small black-and-white photo of a well-dressed young man in his shirt pocket. His hat was tilted slightly forward in the photo and made him look dashing.

Alfred went to his hotel’s parking lot and got the keys to his brand new 1947 Blue Hudson from the attendant. There was always someone on duty 24-hours a day to watch over the expensive cars.

It took nearly a pack of cigarettes and six hours before the man in the photo showed up. As the man approached the front door of his hotel Alfred got out of his car, screwed the silencer on his pistol, pulled up a handkerchief to cover the lower part of his face, and walked up to him as the doorman was greeting him.

Two quick shots to the head instantly killed the man. The doorman was spared. He shrieked with horror, as Alfred calmly walked away. Contract filled. He walked for a few blocks then turned around and took a different route to his car.

When he got back to his place he used the phone in the lobby to call the mysterious phone number.

Hello,” the deep baritone voice said.

“Hi. I’m interested in buying dreams. I saw your ad.”

“My room is located in Harlem. It’s in the Historic Harlem Duplex down the street from Columbia University. When would you like an appointment?”

“Yeah…sure.”

“Are you busy tomorrow?”

“I could work a time out,” Alfred said.

“Go to Room 13, at 1:00 o’clock.”

Alfred got a dial tone before he could agree with the time. As he left the ornate phone booth he felt silly. How could he logically think someone could sell dreams? If nothing else he’d whack the quack for trying to fool him.

The door opened after the third knock. A tall skeletal looking black man in a three-piece suit greeted him, “Good Day, Mr. Oates! Please come in.”

“Odd,” Alfred thought when he looked around the room. There was only a large desk and two heavily padded chairs. One behind the desk, and the other in front of it. Where was the bed he wondered?

“Please…have a seat,” the tall man urged him. Alfred sunk into the padded chair while studying the man as he went over to the other chair.

My name is Moses Gardener. I sell dreams. Been doing it for a long time. You are probably thinking I’m a fake trying to take advantage of you. Don’t worry, I deliver the goods.”

Moses opened a drawer and took out a small bottle made out of purple glass. He sat it down on the desk between them. Alfred’s eyes were riveted to the little flashes of light it emitted.

Carefully, Moses pulled the stopper out and tilted the bottle until a single round yellow pill came out. He laid it down in front of Alfred and closed the bottle.

“Because you’re a new customer, I’ll only charge you half of what I normally charge; one hundred dollars.”

“What guarantee do I have this pill will work? Your asking for a lot of money.”

“You know where to find me Mr. Oates. Take it, or leave it.”

Alfred paid him.

“Make sure to take it when your tired and ready to go to sleep. This is not a sleeping pill,” Moses advised.

Alfred sat on the edge of his bed and looked at the pill. Once again he wondered if this was worth it? What if the pill was poison? Then Moses wouldn’t have to worry about getting a visit from him.

Suddenly he didn’t care. He had no family. No friends. He really wanted to dream again. Closing his eyes he popped the pill into his mouth and chased it down with a shot of expensive bourbon.

When the dreams came they were convoluted. Faces flashed by. He was a boy again playing baseball in a dirty sand lot. Swimming in a pool. Playing stick ball in the streets. Falling in love with his 5th grade teacher.

The next morning Alfred woke up with a sense of sadness. He wanted the dream to continue. After getting dressed for the day and eating breakfast he called Moses.

“That’ll be two hundred dollars,” Moses said as he pulled the purple bottle out of the desk drawer.

“How do you do it? Where do you get these pills? I sure wouldn’t mind in investing in them,” Alfred said, as he peeled two one-hundred dollar bills out of his wallet.

“It’s a family recipe,” Moses answered.

Alfred hurried back to his place, eager for the night to fall. This time he didn’t hesitate to pop the pill.

His dream started out with his first kill. The owner of a restaurant who owed money to the mob. He saw the man’s shocked look as he shot him. But instead of falling down, the man grinned at him. His sharp white teeth gleamed with an unnatural light!

Then a crying woman appeared. Pleading for her life as he leveled his gun at her. Children were crying for their murdered parents. Blood ran down the walls in his bedroom.

He couldn’t wake up. He knew he was asleep. That knowledge terrified him. Two men suddenly attacked him with billy clubs! He felt the blows and the pain shocked him. Then he was stumbling around in a graveyard, and saw a headstone with his name on it.

When he mercifully woke up the next morning he was trembling, sweaty, and angry. Moses didn’t say anything about nightmares. He wanted his money back.

But Moses wasn’t there. The hotel staff said there was no room number 13. It was an unlucky number. Didn’t he know that?

That night, to his utter horror, the dreams came back and most of them were bad.

As It Stands, there’s a fine line between dreams and nightmares.

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.