Lucid dreaming effect is a phenomenon experienced by several people, wherein they are unable to distinguish between reality and dreams. Several people manage to gain certain degree of control over their dreams while others don’t.
I heard them. The sounds of the hammer that kills pigs, of the blade that scratches their hair, and of the axe that haunts the bovines, I heard them. The cacophony of their cries rang in my ears as I witnessed an old man, hunched by age, preparing to cut open the throat of a petrified goat. The man’s clothes were so dirty with animal spatter that their original colour seemed almost incomprehensible to me. I saw the look on his face, one of impassivity and indifference. He sharpened his knife on a whetstone and kneeled over the goat. Without even batting an eyelid, he went ahead with it. As the blood seeped out, he covered its eyes with its ears.
The man, next handed over the knife to me with a reassuring look on his face. Perturbed, as I was, I felt compelled to step forward, I felt so powerful taking control of the situation – to have an authority over something that wasn’t mine to control. I took the knife from his hand, walked towards another bleating goat, and without much thought I pointed the knife towards its throat. I could feel my insides quivering but I had lost sense of control. I did not want to stop. As soon as the tip of my knife pricked the neck of the helpless creature, a sudden darkness spread all over.
I had woken up.
With trembling hands, he grasped the cool glass of water and brought it up to his lips. The pungent smell of cleaning solution and bleach wafted his nose. He had woken up feeling sick to his stomach, throwing up soon after while searching for a glass to get some water. Now beads of perspiration trickled down his forehead and his body shook from weakness and the horror of his nightmare.
Samir had had trouble sleeping lately. He used to get frightening nightmares ever since he split with his wife. Though it was hard to figure out the reasons, his current therapist had told him to keep a dream journal to record his recurrent dreams and keep track of his sleeping hours. It wasn’t uncommon for him to wake up and puke soon after. These dreams were so terrifying that Samir was scared to even fall asleep. He’d often sit on one of his plush armchairs in the dimly lit living room of his house, attempting to distract himself from the lethargy. Alas, the nature of human body would succumb to unconsciousness as the clock ticked.
He got up from his chair, ignored the divorce lawsuit paper that were neatly kept on the kitchen table and made his way out of the house without looking back. Fresh air and a clear head was what he needed right now.
The crisp 5 o’clock morning couldn’t have been gloomier. He made his way down the subway station, which was relatively less chaotic at this time of the day. He glanced at his watch to see the earliest train he could catch to Rockefeller. Footsteps echoed on the marble platform as Samir sauntered into the doors of the train. He took a seat at the mostly empty chairs and leaned his head against the window, watching the blur of motion as the train moved.
The station was so silent, I could listen to the blood rushing to my ears. The luminescent lights flickered above my head, shadowing everything with an eerie look.
I knew I was dreaming. There was no way I would’ve walked on the same station twice. But…I couldn’t recall when I had fallen asleep. The dread of impending situation came to me with a full force. I knew something bad was coming.
I felt the cool sensation of metal and looked down to see a large butcher knife in my right hand. My breath quickened as I looked up and saw a hazy figure standing in front of me. Once again, the impulse to take control dawned over me. It was like a beacon of hope beckoning me towards itself. I took a few steps towards the person and heard them open their mouth to scream. I do not remember the face. All I remember seeing is a deep crimson liquid spewed on the pavement, my hands and the knife, all covered in blood.
Next thing I knew, I’d woken up.
The rhythm of the ticking clock matched his foot on the ground. Mr. Andrews, his psychiatrist, had been holding his diary for quite a while now. As the silence in the room got heavier, Samir broke it saying, “I had to come see you. These dreams are too much for me.”
“Sometimes the trauma behind a certain situation could lead to night terrors. As you have described, you are always aware that you are in a dream. You still find it hard to control it. There have been numerous researches based on it. With your condition of narcolepsy, it is inevitable for you to fall asleep. What we can instead work with is for you to start controlling the narration of your sleep. This is called ‘lucid dreaming therapy’ where you are self-aware throughout your dreams and are able to control it your way.”
“How do I do that?” he asked, hoping desperately for a way out of this mess.
“There are several techniques of ‘reality testing’ that you can do. For example, glancing at the clock. If you’re in a dream, you will never be able to read the time on the clock. It will appear blurred, that is when you will realize that you’re in a dream. Instead of panicking, try leading the situation to something which is better. If you feel a certain dream is not going good, will your legs to walk away. This can help you fight the night terrors that have been towering over you and your peace. You can build your own dreams, be able to manipulate and steer situations to your liking.”
Samir sat up on the rocking chair nonplussed. He looked down to find an album of pictures flipped open on his lap. He had been looking at the pictures for quite some time now, he realized. He recalled how his wife would continuously pester him to create a “montage of memories”. Not a single weekend would go by without her constantly nudging him to get photographs clicked under the pretext of creating memories that would last a lifetime. He had always been rather reluctant and used to shy away from the camera, but there was something about her that would always convince him to awkwardly pose for it.
He looked down at a picture of the two of them. A sudden bitter sweet fervour consumed him for a while. There was a certain sugary warmth in her smile that would never fail to melt his heart even when he was at his lowest. But now as he looked at her face all he saw was a stumped emptiness. His sudden urge to take do something about it overpowered his senses. He tore out the photograph gawkily and ran to the kitchen counter to grab a pair of scissors and a lighter. Ripping apart the picture into two pieces, he lit the half with her in it on fire and watched it burn with discomfort, an uneasiness settling in.
He walked towards the swing by the porch as the warm whiff of the summer night created a rather irritable atmosphere to distract him from the fire of his own overwhelming emotions.
I walked down a dimly lit hallway towards the flickering light in the distance. No matter how fast I walked, the light always seemed to keep its distance. My pounding heart almost drowned out the sound of my footsteps. I encountered a sharp turn in this seemingly endless pathway. Without a thought, I turned right hoping to find an exit from this grimy maze. I found the source of light but it was hindered by a rectangular figure. I inched closer with an uncertainty. As my proximity from the light source increased, I pictured the rectangular figure clearly. It was the swing- the swing by the porch. I felt the hot gush of the warm wind against my face. It felt almost painful like the stifling pang of crackling fire, itching my eyes so much that it felt almost impossible to keep my eyes open.
I saw her sitting on the swing with a calm look on her face. She had half a photograph in her hand. I did not want to see her face any longer so I turned my back way from the swing. As I started walking away from the light source, I heard a crackling sound, a sound of something burning. I looked back to find the swing lit on fire, with no sign of her. No sign of life; just me and the bottle of kerosene.
I could not think. All I could hear was my heartbeat thudding in my ears. The sound was so intense I woke up.
The thudding sound down the hall made him almost fall off his bed. He threw away his blankets and stomped down the stairs. The knocking was as constant as the searing pain in his head. Removing the lock, he opened the door and came face to face with the entity of his nightmares.
Julia, his wife, stood in the night, moonlight giving her the exact shadowy look as his dreams. He blinked several times to make sure he still wasn’t dreaming before opening his mouth to ask, “What are you doing here? It’s middle of the night.”
“You haven’t signed the divorce papers” is all she said.
Samir was about to say something but she had already brushed past him inside the house, towards the living room. She picked up the papers lying on his coffee table and waved them in front of his face.
“Sign them right now!” she demanded.
“Why are you in such a hurry? Want to elope with your new boyfriend?” He charged towards her, trying to grab the papers. He hadn’t had time to register what was going on as he held her wrist and pulled the divorce papers out of her hands.
Julia stumbled, almost tripping over the side of the table. Next thing he knew, she had started screaming. It was another one of their never ending fights.
She charged at me, her nails raking the side of my face. It left a stinging pain on my cheeks, dripping droplets of blood on my shirt. She was pushing me back, trying to storm out but I didn’t let her. I grabbed her by the wrist and flung her against one of the walls. My hand had a knife. I didn’t know where I had procured it from.
I glanced at the clock, but all I saw was red. I was angry. And it was a dream which meant I could kill her and it would be completely okay. I would wake up satisfied and go on with my day.
I pinned her with my body, our breaths mingling together, with rage and fear. I had my palm against her mouth. I hated her screams. And so I did what I had to. I took the knife and plunged it into her stomach. Her scream pierced into the night. There was blood everywhere. The metallic smell filled my nose as her body fell on the floor with a thud. I looked down.
I don’t think it was a dream.
—Written by Radhika Taneja and Anushka Shrivastava for MTTN
—Edited by Tejas Mishra for MTTN
—Featured artwork by Sindhura for MTTN