My recurrent nightmare wore a neon purple condom as a hat. She stood in front of my hospital bed, staring at me from the darkest corner of the room.
I was going to open my eyes all the way, maybe send her packing, but the tall shadow that appeared next to her made me reconsider. I knew my nightmare was a gentle coward—she kept me awake, muttering nonsense that wouldn’t scare a sheltered five-year-old. But she was the only one I had. I would not make her look bad in front of a stranger.
“I wouldn’t be the first mara who got a bit restless around a security blanket,” my nightmare said.
“Of course not.” The stranger sounded annoyed.
My nightmare crossed her arms and turned towards the stranger. “Are you sure this place only issues koala bear blankets? Maybe I should go back home and prepare myself better. Mother might think me irresponsible if I don’t take the usual precautions.”
“I’m positive. Things will go as they must,” the stranger said. “Only koala bear blankets, no nightlights. You’ll scare your dreamer to madness before your fifteenth birthnight, little sister. Then you’ll take control of the family, like our foremothers before you.”
“Why couldn’t you be the head of our family, Dread? I would give you my birthright. You are older.” She reached for his arm, but Dread vanished before she could touch him.
In a disembodied whisper that felt like gravel being jammed into my earholes, Dread said, “I need no gifts, Eerie. I’ll never sink so low as to take your inherited hand-me-downs.”
I lay very still in my hospital bed, listening to Eerie whimper softly in the dark.
After a few minutes had gone by, I said, “I didn’t know nightmares could cry.”
I blinked and my nightmare was gone. Taking a chance, I said, “I know you’re still there.”
“You okay?” I squinted, searching for the glowing condom hat. “You are beginning to scare me, Miss—”
“Really?” She popped up from behind the visitor’s couch. Grinning a mouth full of pretty teeth.
“I knew you were still here.” I smiled, happy without knowing why.
“You lied to—”
“Why are you wearing that thing on your head?” I said, before she could finish her accusation.
“Koala bears carry chlamydia.” She looked uncertain and defiant at the same time.
“Okay…” I didn’t say that I doubted stuffed koalas painted on fabric could be contagious, but the tone of my voice probably gave away my thoughts.
She pulled on the condom. It popped off her head, leaving a line across her forehead. “It was Dread’s idea. He said this would protect… I guess what my brother said doesn’t matter much.”
“So,” I said, trying to change the conversation. “You’ll be fifteen soon?”
Eerie walked closer to me, and sat on the edge of my bed, her eyes on the floor. “Have I ever scared you?”
I opened my mouth to say, of course you have. But remembering how nasty the same words sounded when coming out of her brother’s mouth, I shook my head.
She looked more confused than hurt. “Really? What about the winter you turned nine, and I filled your sleep with Krampus yelling that he would beat you bloody because you were bad.”
I shrugged. “I hadn’t been bad, so I could tell it was a dream.”
“Dread helped me find you,” she said. “He told me you and I could help each other. I don’t get it. He knows I must do this. If I can’t show that I’ve consumed at least one bad dream before I’m fifteen, our family will lose the Nightmare Realm to the Tooth Fairy Clan. The idea of bone-eaters running wild in dreams… It would be pain and madness for all.”
“What do you mean?” I said.
“I can’t tell you.” She stood up and began to pace. “The knowledge would—”
“Tell me anyway.”
She sat back down and looked at me. There were sparkly black tears in her eyes, running down her cheeks. “Knowing would drive you mad if you’re lucky, kill you if I’m not.”
I tried reaching for the hand she had placed so closed to mine that I could almost imagine her warmth. But only my fingers twitched. She must’ve divined my intentions because she lifted her hand and gently touched my fingers. “If I go mad, it won’t be for long.” I smiled at her.
“No.” She pulled her hand back and got to her feet. “I won’t hurt you.”
“Why don’t you ever say my name? I’ve watched you look at my hospital bracelet. I know you heard it, back when my mom and dad still kept me company on bad nights.”
“It doesn’t work that way. I can only know your name if you trust me with the gift of telling.”
“It’s Terence.” I ignored the wildness that entered her eyes. “But friends call me Terry.”
“Terry?” she said.
“Huh?” I said.
She leaned closer, and whispered, “Would you want to help me dream terrible, terrible, terrible real things into someone else’s head?”
“Yes, Eerie, I want terrible.”
the wee notes…
– Some time ago, I was at the Department of Social Services, helping a client get into a shelter for the night, when I overheard a man said to another that he was going to tell his girlfriend that he got chlamydia from a koala bear. When I got home, I discussed the odd conversation with Shelle. We were terrible (and laughed more than thrice). That night, I went to bed, thinking, Hm, I wonder if he will tell his girlfriend that he got a job in a zoo. Where else would he find a koala bear in NYC? This story was born the next day. Yep, the Muse works in mysterious ways…
“Pretty in Pink”, by Shelle Kennedy
Wondering why I chose this image? Too bad if you aren’t. I’ll tell you anyway. I’ve always thought that most monsters/horrors/nightmares are seldom what we imagine them to be. After writing this story, I knew this nightmare could only look cute and dreamy…