Nightmare by David Macfie

 I woke with a pounding heart, breathing shallowly and rapidly.

“Not again,” I thought, as my panic gradually subsided.

This nightmare had been plaguing me for weeks, sometimes several nights in a row. The nights when the dream didn’t come, were such a relief that I started to look forward to them with almost manic longing. A friend noticed that I was looking increasingly haggard and asked what was wrong. It was a relief to talk to someone about it.

“I’ve been having a recurring nightmare,” I began, trying to get my jumbled thoughts straight in my head.

“It’s always the same. I’m running, running, running. And I’m scared. More than scared. Terrified. I hear something behind me. More than that, I feel it chasing me. It sounds huge. I don’t recognize anything around me. Nothing looks familiar or even normal. I’m running so fast, I can’t even make out details. But the sounds behind me are telling a story of changing terrain. I hear the sounds of a large mass crashing through underbrush, or large slapping footsteps on stone, or splashing as something crosses a stream. I notice none of this in my headlong flight, but my panic is palpable. My heart is straining and I’m scared that I will have a heart attack. But I have to keep on running or the thing will catch me. I don’t know what it is. I only know that something terrible is going to happen if it catches me. I feel it closing in. Now I can hear its breathing. That scares me even more. It doesn’t sound even remotely out of breath. It’s been chasing me for what seems like hours, and it isn’t even puffing. I speed up but it’s no good. I feel and hear it closing in. Then I feel the hot breath on the back of my neck.”

“Then I wake up, drenched in sweat, with my heart racing and my panic overpowering. It takes ages for me to calm down and even longer before I can fall asleep again. It’s wearing me down.”

My friend had listened in silence and when I was done he’d looked carefully at me.

“You got anything big on your mind?” he’d asked. “It sounds like your subconscious is reacting to a problem or situation that’s scaring you so much that you feel out of control.”

“No, nothing like that,” I’d replied. He’d thought for a moment then told me I probably was stressed and needed a holiday. He’d arranged for me to spend a week in a cabin in the forest just out of town. It belonged to a friend and was ideal for getting away from everything. There was a lake with good fishing and small game in the forest for hunting. There was an abundance of bird life if I felt like bird-watching and many walking trails. And all the necessary equipment for all these pass-times was in the cabin. It sounded idyllic so I agreed.

And so, here I am. I arrived three days ago and I’ve already fished, hunted walked and birded.

And I’ve had the nightmare every night.

I’m beginning to feel exhausted and I can’t believe that the dream keeps on coming. If anything, I am as relaxed as I can ever remember being. The surroundings are so beautiful and peaceful, but the bloody nightmare keeps on coming.

I’m so frazzled that I’ve decided not to go to sleep tonight. I’ve kept myself busy all day and I’ve cooked my supper over an open fire. Right now I’m eating, while sitting and enjoying the full moon in a starry sky. Tomorrow I’ll sleep. Maybe the nightmare won’t come if I sleep in the daytime. The fire is warm and comforting and the moonlit scenery is breathtaking. The water of the lake is like glass and a mirror image of the nighttime sky is reflected perfectly in the stillness. I can feel my anxiety bleeding slowly away, as my surroundings work their magic. Somewhere, a loon calls, the eerie sound perfectly suited to the situation. Another replies, and the two start a conversation, their calls reverberating through the stillness of the night.

An owl flies silently past and pounces on a mouse in the long grass, not far away. Obviously hungry, it gives me the rare view of an owl feeding on its prey. It just hops to the stony path and starts to eat. In no time the mouse has disappeared and the owl flaps away, looking for the next course. I realize that the bird’s antics have made me smile and that I feel contented for the first time in weeks.

I suddenly feel invigorated and it is so light that I think I will walk for a while. I stroll to the start of a path that meanders along the fringe of the forest and begin to wander along at a regular pace, not too fast and not too slow. I don’t want to miss anything like the owl so I’ve got my eyes peeled, and my head turning to scan my surroundings. The night is quiet and the only sounds are the rustling of small animals in the long grass and the occasional cry of the loons. I’m having fun and thing staying awake was my best decision for a while….

My walk is suddenly rudely interrupted by a cacophony of noise coming from the cabin. It is rapidly followed by the clear sound of a large animal coming along the trail. In a flash of understanding I know that I am being followed by a hungry grizzly bear that has picked up my scent from the cabin. I hear and feel him getting closer.

In my second flash of understanding in as many moments, I realize that my nightmares weren’t just bad dreams – they were warnings and now I start to run….