My Dreams - Your Nightmares

Written in response to: Write about two people whose dreams are somehow connected. ... view prompt

20 comments

Drama Fantasy Horror

TW - horror sequences


The curling leaves of the twisted oak scraped Emma’s window. Rain lashed the glass and the low rumble of thunder rolled over the sky. Lightning split the night and reflected in her gleaming teenage eyes. It was glorious. Her grandfather's funeral was almost forgotten.


‘It’s ok Ben, it’s ok.’ Soothing tones drifted through from the next room. ‘Shhh, it’s just bad weather, that’s all.’


Was it the ‘bad’ weather or the dead Grandad? Difficult to tell with a six-year-old. Emma’s money was on Death. Though she had never understood why her brother cared for a man who tormented him so much. Grandad could be cruel to them both.


The thunder’s grumbles gradually edged away and the intermittent flares of light got further apart until the show was over.


Emma grabbed the remote and clicked her TV into life. The glow from the screen picked out the edges of the puzzle box, perched on the bedside cabinet. A creepy pre-death bequest from the old man. 


‘It holds a secret, Emma.’ He flashed that grim look she hated. The one that always made her think the white-haired gent was at least partially evil. ‘Which you will uncover if you have the wit.’


The box was the shape of an octagonal prism about four inches cubed, with eight vertical sides and a flat top and bottom. It fitted nicely in her hands and could be manipulated with ease, the pieces gliding over and against each other on a hidden mechanism underneath. It was made of walnut wood and inlaid silver. The silver patterns seemed to shift and change independently of the movement of the wood, but Emma thought she was imagining that.


The last week had been spent trying to open it and success had only come an hour ago. She’d left it open in the hope of reverse engineering the process tomorrow. 


Ben finally settled and their mother went back to bed without bothering to check on Emma.


Click. Netflix. Click click. Continue watching. Click. Dark Vengeance. Shadowy images came to life on the flatscreen in the corner of the room. Wrapped up in her black and red covers, Emma got ready to flinch and shiver as the characters, hideous inside and out, exacted torturous revenge on each other.

A final touch of mascara and some deep red lipstick and Emma’s pale face was ready to go to college. She picked up her canvas backpack with the Tipp-Exed skulls on the side. Buckle-clad New Rock boots clattered on the stairs as she pulled her black jersey tube skirt down to an almost parentally acceptable length.


College. Drama, Film Studies and English Language in equal measure. Each one an opportunity to explore human nature, get creative and tap into her dark side. The whole experience was much more fulfilling than she would ever let on to her mum.

Emma went to the library after class, partly to research the box and partly to avoid putting out the bins. Miss Berringer, the slightly gothic librarian who always impressed Emma with her apparently boundless ability to look shit up, smiled as she arrived. She loved a challenge and Emma brought her plenty of those.


‘What weird and wonderful thing are you researching today?’


‘Puzzle boxes. Octagonal, wooden, complicated, made from walnut and silver.’


‘That’s very specific. Another disturbing story idea you’ve had?’


‘This is more, er, personal, but it could make its way into an assignment if I find out anything good.’


‘I assume you’ve tried online? Doubt there’s much in our collections, but, leave it with me and I’ll see what I can get on inter-library loan.’


Emma expressed her gratitude with a large box of Maltesers.


Once home she clomped up the stairs without saying Hello. It was time for homework and Paranoia Road. Filmed through keyholes, closed gates and gaps in curtains, the series had an extra creepy feel and kept her riveted.


‘Emma! Dinner!’


She attached a stickynote to her textbook, marking a passage in the chapter on Stephen King adaptations, then followed the scent of garlic down to the dining room.


‘How was college?’ Jane forced a bright tone.


‘Fine.’ Emma did not reciprocate.


‘Anything interesting in classes?’


‘Yeah.’


Jane sighed and put her fork down. ‘I don’t think Ben slept last night. I assumed it was the storm, or the funeral, but he says he had bad dreams.’


‘Oh.’


‘Emma, they sound like one of your movies. You’re not letting him in your room, are you?'


‘I wouldn’t let him in if you wanted me to.’


‘It’s just that I don’t know where else he can get these ideas.’ Jane covered the ears below Ben’s soft blonde hair and mouthed ‘Severed heads. Maggots. Rotting corpses.’


‘There were maggots in a dead guy’s head!’ said Ben, stuffing lasagne into his mouth. ‘And he had a red tie and his eyes rolled round and he stared at me. And then everything blew up.’


Emma shifted in her seat.


That wasn’t one of her movies.


That dead guy was Grandad.


It was one of her dreams.


She’d thoroughly enjoyed it two nights ago, writing it down for story inspiration, as she always did when they stuck with her ‘til morning.


‘Well, it doesn’t seem to be bothering him now.’ Emma plucked a slice of garlic bread from the bowl.


‘That’s hardly the point! He’s only six, he shouldn’t be having these thoughts.’


‘I agree, but I don’t know what you want me to do about it. It’s not my fault. I haven’t shown him anything weird.’


The rest of dinner felt strained. Emma left the table before dessert. Back in her room she pulled her dream journal out from under her pillow. She ran her palm over the red velvet cover and her fingers down the gold edged page block.


The last entry read:


Severed heads and dismembered bodies were strewn across a blood-covered battlefield after war. I was riding an enormous black horse. I stared down at one corpse after another, looking for someone, but who? One of the heads turned to face me, a red bow tie at the neck. Maggots crawled out of the mouth as the eyes spun frantically in their sockets. The pupils came to rest pointed directly at me. It was the face I had been searching for. My Grandad’s. I kicked the horse on to escape the gaze, but he stepped on a mine and the explosion threw me to the ground as the world was engulfed in flames.


Emma felt a drip of sweat down her back as she re-read the notes. Ben was annoying, but she wouldn’t wish those images on any child.


Picking up the open puzzle box she examined the interlinked pieces, studying how they might fit back together. The parts twisted and turned with ease. Emma pushed two sides back to their original positions and watched as the silver inlays seemed to move and shift within the wood. She didn’t close it any further for fear of never opening it again. The plan was to photograph it tomorrow and make a record of how it worked. 


When she fell asleep her head was filled with memorised snippets of Stephen King movies from her Film Studies class.

After an excellent dream, based on the clips she’d been studying, Emma woke at 2am and jotted down the films her subconscious was paying homage to.


It was 4.27am when the wailing started. Perfect. Too early to be rested, too late to get proper sleep. The landing light came on and her mother’s footsteps passed the door.


‘It’s ok Ben, it’s ok. Mummy’s here. What’s the matter?’


‘There are weird twins and a mad dog and a man in a black hat.’ Ben stuttered between tears. ‘And it’s cloudy on the floor.’


‘It’s another dream Darling, just a dream.’


‘There’s blood falling from the ceiling. And a scary clown.’


Emma froze in her skin as she recognised her own dream montage one King film at a time. The Shining, Cujo, Secret Window, The Mist, Carrie, IT. In the same order as her own mental show.


She slithered out of bed and took the book from under her pillow. It was soon locked away in the secret drawer in her desk.


Ben calmed down after half an hour and Emma went back to sleep to be met by a giant, vampire-fanged, spider which could only be defeated by calling a giant, vampire-fanged, exterminator.


I took out a mobile phone but the contacts list appeared somehow frozen in ice rendering it useless. I tried to dial 999 but my fingers glanced off the screen, it was impossible to touch the numbers. I ran to a phonebox, the door was taped shut. I pulled at the tape but my nails split and bled. When I stopped to tend to my hands a tree root broke out of the ground and wrapped itself round the phonebox sealing the door shut again. I set light to it with the torch I was suddenly carrying. The fire spread along the cables to the whole of the phone network, burning out every landline in the city. A familiar white-haired man passed by and I asked him for his mobile. He snarled at me and threw it in the river. I looked over the bank and the water was full of phones, none of them working.


Emma did not write this one down.


On waking she recollected the details of the dream several times to commit it to memory while idly toying with the puzzle box. Then headed off to college, a little paler than usual.

After spending another dinner being accused of poisoning her brother’s mind, Emma was even more convinced that it must be something to do with the journal. Therefore the situation could be resolved by not writing anything down. It wasn’t an ideal solution as future notes would be lost, but perhaps she could do a better job of hiding them and be able to carry on again later.


Sleep came that night with an episode of Paranoia Street on the TV and the puzzle box open in her hand.


At 3.07am the crying started. The routine played out, as was becoming normal, and details of the nightmare were soon forthcoming.


‘Does your phone work Mum? Does it work?’


‘Yes Darling, it’s fine.’


‘So you can call the exterminator?’


‘Oh Sweetheart, another bad dream?’


‘Are you sure your phone isn’t in the river with the others?’


It wasn’t the book.


Emma fretted until 5.45am, then gave in, and got up.

Over dinner her mother announced that she had taken Ben to Doctor Simons after school. He would start some medication tonight for five days. Emma was, under no circumstances, to put any unpleasant ideas in his head.


She spent the evening working the puzzle box shut, taking multiple pictures at every stage. Once finished, the resulting octagonal prism was extremely satisfying.


Ben went to bed suitably spaced out and Emma double checked her dream journal. She had definitely not written anything about the spider and the broken phones. She locked it up again.


Sleep brought an exciting chase through tropical river rapids.


Crocodiles were snapping at every turn and flesh-eating piranha leapt onto my make-shift raft. As the waterfall came into view I reached for a branch sticking out from the bank, but it snapped and the piece I was left holding turned into a poisonous snake with Grandad's face, which bit my wrist. The venom flooded my veins and I could no longer hold myself upright. I dropped the paddle and trailed one hand in the water with the snake still clinging on. As the raft went over the edge of the falls the snake wrapped its tail around a rock in the rapids and the craft juddered to a stop, hanging over the drop, water swirling around it like a whirlpool.


Emma flashed back to consciousness fully aware that the dream she was enjoying so much would be a nightmare for her kid brother. She listened in the dark, waiting for his screams for a full three and three quarter hours. As the sun came up she breathed easy. There had not been a sound from Ben all night.

College was challenging with so little sleep. Dinner was accompanied by yawns and closey eyes whilst her Mum spoke of her relief that Ben’s medication was working.


There was no homework due the next day so the evening was spent using photos from the night before to guide the process of opening the box again.


It was only an hour later that the screaming started. Evidently the drugs weren’t strong enough. She strained her ears to hear Ben’s description of his latest nightmare.


‘There are crocodiles and fish with teeth and a snake and I’m going to drown!’


It was last night’s dream. He was picking it up a day later. What was different? She flicked on the bedside lamp. The puzzle box on the window ledge was just within reach. Hiding under the covers with only enough light to see the inlaid silver tracks, she fiddled with the pieces.


Wait. She’d left it open tonight. It was closed the night Ben slept.


Emma carefully slid the sections of the box into alignment and watched as they pulled together into their closed up resting position. She rotated it in her fingers, checking that every piece was perfectly placed with no gaps or edges standing proud.


Ben stopped whining after about half an hour and Emma soon fell asleep again.


I was suspended from the top of a coconut palm in a fabric sling. The tree was bending from side to side, my bare feet reaching within a few inches of the ground. Below the branches was a churning pit of lava. Blackened skeletons clawed their way out, bone fingers stretching towards my ankles. Each time the tree bent over I got closer to the fiery chasm. Soon the skeletal hands were grazing my toes, scratching the skin. The scratches got infected with creeping bacteria, turning the flesh black and oozing back out through the wounds. Slowly my necrotic muscles darkened in patches as the healthy tissue receded and the dying parts of my body fell away into the flames. When the first skeleton grabbed my shin, I was skeletal too. I tumbled into the pit and joined the others in the swirling pool of molten rock. I grasped at the legs swinging overhead as the palm tree bowed to either side. The victim rocked closer and soon his face could be seen. It was Grandad. I reached up and scratched his foot.


Emma kept the puzzle box firmly closed. While enjoyment and inspiration flowed from her own dark dreams, Ben’s nightmares stopped. Emma restarted her journal.


A week after her visit to Miss Berringer an email arrived to say that the inter-library loan was in and she could collect the books that afternoon. She took her Grandfather’s box with her.


The librarian was just as enthralled by the glossy-paged hardbacks as Emma was and when she saw the box she was hooked. They sat together, after closing, glued to the pages. Emma leafed through “Underworld Artifacts” while Miss Berringer checked “Boxes of The Olde Worlde”.


‘Show me the box again, does it have a completely flat top and bottom? And definitely eight sides?’


‘Yes, look. Have you found it?’


The librarian pulled her book across the table to display the open page. The image was black and white and a little grainy, but the description underneath fit perfectly. Walnut wood and silver inlay.


‘It’s a Dream Together box. Origins unknown. Only two in existence both in private collections, London and San Francisco. Well, apparently there are three!’ Miss Berringer pointed at the text on the opposite page.


‘Said to allow he who possesses the box to transfer his dreams to another, via a lock of their hair, held in a secret compartment. Dormant when closed, the box only operates its magic when the puzzle is solved and the sides are open.’ Emma turned the page and stared at the hand-drawn diagram that was reproduced there. 'The person who gives you the box will inhabit your dreams forever.'


‘You didn’t know about the compartment?’ asked the librarian, judging from the look on her companion’s face.


Emma shook her head.


‘Shall we open it?’


‘I suppose we should.’ Emma shifted the pieces up and down along the hidden mechanism, twisting here and pushing there until the box opened. ‘And then it looks like I just turn the base three clicks to the right.’


With shaking hands she steadied the open box on the table and pushed the bottom section round in a clockwise direction. A different mechanism kicked in, a smooth, automated one.


The pair sat in awe as haunting, tinkling, music played and the compartment at the centre of the box rose, balanced on a shallow glass chamber that appeared underneath.


There in the centre, catching the light, was a lock of soft, blonde hair.


‘Someone has been seeing your dreams every time you leave the box open!’ said Miss Berringer, plucking the hair out and placing it in Emma’s open palm. ‘Any idea who?’


'Grandad really was an evil bastard.'

September 30, 2021 23:18

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20 comments

Annalisa D.
03:16 Oct 07, 2021

This was a really well written and eerie story. I enjoyed it and your wonderful descriptions.

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07:21 Oct 07, 2021

Thank you, that's very kind.

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Alex Sultan
07:49 Oct 01, 2021

I enjoyed reading through this. I especially liked the Stephen King references, and I think the concept for this piece is pretty cool. I don't think the story is a rough as you think it is - there are a few issues, I found Mike just to be sort of thrown in at the end for plot convenience, but I like the dialogue for the last line. Maybe foreshadow their relationship earlier? Idk. I'm really intrigued by the box. Maybe a sentence more of imagery for it early on? Something that would really stand out and mark it as unique. There are odd sym...

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10:28 Oct 01, 2021

Thank you Alex! Yes, all the points you raise are definitely issues with this story. I'm thinking of cutting the Mike character and having her look up the box at the library instead. There was a lot more box description in the original draft but it was too long, but I could try to squeeze some back in. And the whole grandfather link is a plot hole to contend with, but again, lack of words. I'll see what I can do.

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16:10 Oct 01, 2021

Hi Alex, great points you made earlier, I hope I have addressed them all in the edit I've just finished. Would love a more thorough critique from you if you have time and I will, of course, try to get in another edit once I hear back from you. I'm not sure if this piece is contest quality but it's been fun to write, if a little difficult.

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Alex Sultan
20:01 Oct 01, 2021

A definite improvement from the first draft! I can see the word count being a problem, however. Your style of writing is limited here with the 3k word restriction, unfortunately - either you need a 1000 more words to work with, or you have to rework the story, but I think you found a pretty decent line between the two. Here are my notes: The curling leaves of the twisted oak scraped Emma’s window like nails on a chalkboard. > Could this be a bit shorter? > The twisted oak scraped Emma’s window like nails on a chalkboard. I think either wor...

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21:12 Oct 01, 2021

Thank you!!! Ok, I've taken up most of you line by line suggestions. I've clarified, I think, that the grandfather put the kids hair in the box and I've explained how he's in all the dreams - it's a property of the box that the person who gives it to you appears in your dreams forever. I still don't think it's contest worthy but I'm much happier with it than I was. Your comments are so valuable! Thank you.

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Alex Sultan
10:37 Oct 06, 2021

Hi Katharine, I hope you're doing well :) I've posted my story for this week - I'm sort of bitter that 'mistweaver' isn't going to win anything this week and I think my newest story came out a bit rough because of it. I'd appreciate your feedback to clean it up if you have the chance. Also, let me know if you plan on writing for these prompts. It'd be cool to read another contest entry from you.

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12:11 Oct 06, 2021

Hi Alex, why do you think Mistweaver won't win anything? I think it's great! I'm probably not writing this week, I have a stack of other stuff to do and I'm not very interested in the prompts. But I'll take a look at your latest story when I finish work.

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Alex Sultan
13:00 Oct 06, 2021

Thank you - and mistweaver is definitely good! Worth a win in my opinion, but I've noticed, as far as I can tell, reedsy puts their candidates for win/shortlist in the recommended section and on your profile(Under the shortlisted tab) which I didn't make.

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20:44 Oct 06, 2021

If I'm really honest I was quite disappointed that Between the Black and White didn't get shortlisted. I thought it was really good.

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14:18 Oct 06, 2021

Oh. I can't see a recommended section or shortlisted tab....I thought everything was announced on a Friday.

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Jon Casper
11:15 Oct 01, 2021

I'll give this another read when you post the update, but I have to concur with Alex - it's not as rough as you might think. I really enjoyed it. Solid plot, and superb nightmare descriptions. I'm not an avid King reader so I think I missed some of the references, but it doesn't detract. Looking forward to the edit.

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16:06 Oct 01, 2021

Thank you Jon, I'm glad you enjoyed the initial draft. It was very difficult to get it within the word limit. I have had a go at a full edit and just posted the update one if you have time to look it over? It has changed quite a bit.

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Jon Casper
20:42 Oct 01, 2021

I like what you've done with it! The change to first person on the dream sequences works well. (One spot still has third person though: "I peeled the tape with [her] fingernails but [her] nails split and bled." I think those should be "my"?) The story feels a lot more cohesive as far as the grandfather's role and motivation, and his relationships with the grandchildren. Nicely done. I like the visualizations of the box details, and the librarian's discovery of its rarity. The horror sequences are superb. Nice and gory and creepy and pe...

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21:15 Oct 01, 2021

Thank you Jon! I really appreciate the reread and I'm glad you think it's improved. Good catch on the first person edit, I've fixed that now. Thank you for your help. I don't think it's good enough for the contest but I'm a lot happier with it now, and every story is a chance to learn.

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23:20 Sep 30, 2021

This is a VERY rough draft. I'm only posting it to persuade myself to edit it tomorrow. I know bits of it don't make sense. if you have any constructive crit on the piece as a whole please feel free to comment but line by line assessment is better left til I redraft tomorrow as I expect a lot of things will change. Thanks!

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Tommie Michele
08:29 Oct 11, 2021

This is the first story of yours I've read and I loved it! Your words flow very smoothly and your descriptions are vivid without weighing the story down. Your characterization of Emma was very nice, too--again, enough to establish a connection and an idea of who she is, but not so much as to feel forced and drag things down. Nice work! --Tommie Michele

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10:37 Oct 11, 2021

Thank you for reading and for the kind comments. I'm glad you liked the character ☺️

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