I have a strange talent. I don’t dream like normal people. All my dreams are nightmares. Not my nightmares, never my own but others. Friends, family, strangers, It doesn’t matter. I would find myself inside their minds as I slept. Seeing what they dreamed like a peeping tom outside a window. But what I found was never pleasant. I experience moments when your heart and mind are racing. I do not come out of the experience untouched. When I wake up I know things about you. Secrets and memories seep into my own mind like osmosis. However, most importantly I never gaze into the abyss alone.
It started when I was about twelve. I remember it well, unlike a foggy dream every detail of this one was burned into my brain. Over a decade later and it is still as clear as that morning. I stood in the open doorway of an old grimy bathroom that I had never seen before. My neighbor, Mr. Williams, stood at the mirror over a sink. His right hand in his mouth, picking and pulling at his teeth. Bits of white fell into the sink. They were soft and peeled like an onion. He panicked as more and more fell out with each tug of his fingers.
I remember feeling confused and scared. I cried out, but Mr. Williams could not hear me. He continued digging endless chunks of teeth out of his mouth like a man trying to scratch an itch that won’t go away. I could not escape, nothing existed outside of my neighbor’s bathroom, nothing but darkness. It was then I saw it. A white snake slithering out of the darkness. No larger than a foot it moved its way under Mr. Williams feet and crawled into a ball. Mr. Williams could not see the snake anymore then he could see me. It wasn’t till much later that I realized what the snake was doing. It was sunbathing in his torment.
When I awoke I found I knew things about my neighbor that I shouldn’t. Bits of his memories and secrets had slipped into my head. The child that I was did not question this. I just accepted it as fact. It wasn’t till I told my mother what happened and that I knew Mr. Williams was cheating on his wife, did I suspect what I saw and learned was not normal. I was scolded harshly, told not to spread rumors and make up stories. It wasn’t until later that year that I was proven right as my neighbor’s arguments spread into the street. I was proved right about a lot of things when I was young, I knew more then I should. A distance grew between me and my parents as time went on.
I am an only child. I’ve been told as a baby I was spoiled because of it but I only remember growing neglect. My parents were distant. My father drank every day, empty beer cans always filled the trash, but never enough to get into trouble. My Mother was happy to let me raise myself. It was not long after the nightmares first started that I saw my fathers. He was looking out a window of a tall skyscraper. Without a word he opened that window and jumped out. My father was not a happy man. The bits of knowledge I learned while in his head spoke of regret for a wasted life. Instead of acknowledging this in the waking world, he drank. When he wasn’t drinking he was working. I was simply furniture in his unhappy life. I was far too young to empathize with him. Instead, I resented him for it. I knew too much. Thanks to the dreams of my parents I learned that they had me out of wedlock at a young age, a sin according to their religion and were often reminded of it by my presence.
I spent many days alone in my room. Playing Super Nintendo or reading a fantasy book. I also slept. It did not take long for me to lose my fear of the nightmares and replace it with curiosity. Every night I woke up with a little more information. Words I never heard before, movies I never saw, memories of experiences I never lived, and secrets people tried to hide. I was a connoisseur of other peoples minds. By the time I was a teenager I was used to making my own meals and setting my own schedule. My parents no longer cared to interfere.
I remember a boy, no older then I was. I had never met him before and don’t think I ever will. Despite this, I visited his dream like I had done with so many others. He was walking on the side of a long road when a car sped towards him hitting him in the back with enough force to send him flying into a ditch. The car sped away without even slowing down. In the ditch he cried in pain, his body broken. He could not move even enough to crawl. Cars drove down the same road, one after another. He yelled over and over for help but no one could see or hear him or perhaps they simply did not care. Unnoticed by the boy was a familiar white snake, at least two or three feet long by now, slithering around him in a circle like a shark around food. The boy awoke first. When this happens the world seems to fly away from me and return to a world of darkness till I awake myself. I have never enjoyed that darkness.
Not all nightmares were so crystal clear. Many were vague and undetailed like a photograph with its resolution turned down. On an unknown pond, a girl sat in an undefined car as it slowly sank through broken ice. I joined men and woman with blurry faces watching her panic as she sank deeper and deeper. In a bedroom with no walls, a fire broke out. I watched a man who unable to move his body struggle to get out of bed and escape. On and on I watched, I learned many things. Repressed memories of childhood trauma, pain and suffering caused to others and pain and suffering caused to themselves. People are an open book to me, but I can only read one page at a time. All the while my scaled companion followed. Growing along the way, both longer and fatter.
I went to college on an Academic Scholarship. I never spent a day studying, I simply knew things, after all, all things stolen. I was glad to find a place far from home, and am sure I made others glad I was gone. For my freshman year, I tried, I really did. I made it to class, finished all of my assignments on time. I kept a low profile in my dorm, nobody knew me and I went out of my way to never cause any trouble. My companion was still there, and I still dreamed of nightmares but for the first time, I felt I was finally going to have a life that I was owed. I was hopeful for the future.
Then came year two. I was tried, endlessly tired. I was able to leave the dorms and find a place on my own all thanks to a grant, but this did not help. I grow worse. I had no one to pretend to be normal too. I slept more and more. Missing classes, assignments, even sleeping through tests. That was when I realized how big he had gotten. My reptile companion was now larger than a full grown man. Like the metaphor of a frog slowly boiling alive because the temperature was increased only a little at a time, my familiarity with the snake allowed me to ignore his ever-increasing growth. Such a large creature would surely have a larger appetite.
So here we are in my final days. I haven’t been to school in a long time, I haven’t left this apartment in a long time. I wake only hours at a time, just long enough to eat and drink. Long enough to write this story. There is not much food left but I can’t travel too far away. I eat very little now anyway. Soon, I will go to sleep and not wake up. Then someone will find me, after an unpaid bill or perhaps the smell. I don’t know If I’ll be alive when they do. I spend more time in the darkness between dreams now. I only hope if I do die, I will not have to stay there. The snake is still with me, he is very large now. Recently I discovered he was not a he at all, she laid eggs. Sometimes when we find a particularly nasty nightmare we leave an egg behind.