Thursday, August 8, 2013

Night Terrors

Last night I had the worst, most terrifying dream I've ever had. I had to write it down quickly or else I knew I'd forget it. This is completely true- I woke up in a cold sweat in the dark hours of the morning and for the first time since childhood was afraid to leave the security of the blankets.

In the dream I was attending a basketball game being played by a youth team from my church- I remember because there were several people from the church staff there. It was being played after hours in a school building. 

At some point, a teenager I wasn't familiar with sat down on the bench beside me. That was when I noticed that the legs of his pants seemed to be on fire.  Forgetting everything I ever learned about "stop, drop and roll", I said, "Come on, get to the showers!" I I hauled him up and we ran down the school hallway to the boys lockers room.

I arrived at the locker room a step ahead of him, slipping on wet tile as I entered. I turned around- and he was gone. What's more, all the lights in the hallway and in the locker room had gone out. A strange, chuckling voice sounded like it was right next to my ear- I couldn't understand what it was saying, but the sound chilled me utterly to the bone.

I started to run back to the gymnasium, but the concrete floor in the hallway was wet, so I kept slipping. I remember this part distinctly; the left wall of the hallway was white painted concrete block, and the right wall had long, strip windows that looked out onto a yard. I should have seen my own reflection and the reflection of the block wall in the windows as I ran back to the gymnasium. 

Instead, the reflection showed another room on the other side of the hallway, with long windows that I should have been able to see on my left. In the reflection, I could see a long, white room with bright lights mounted to the ceiling and huge metal tubs, like wash basins, laid out across the floor.

Finally I managed to make it back to the gymnasium. When I pushed the doors open, the first thing that struck me was the darkness, followed by the quiet. There was no game, no spectators, no snacks, not even trash left over after the game. It was just empty and silent. 

I walked through the gymnasium, calling out, trying to see if anyone was still around. That was when I noticed a light beyond a doorway at the far side of the court. I jogged to it, convinced someone was playing a joke on me. 

There was Emily, the young adult leader from our church, along with several of the high school youth. "Where'd everyone go?" I joked. drawing the attention of everyone in the room. They looked at me in puzzled silence for a moment, then Emily's eyes got wide. 

"Aaron... what happened?"

"... Huh? I was taking (name redacted) to the locker room, and then everyone was gone. What're you talking about?"

It was right about then that all of the student's mouths dropped open and they all started trying to talk to me at once. I didn't understand what was going on and asked about the kid I was accompanying to the lockers. "I just left with him a few minutes ago," I said. 

"Aaron," Emily said, "That was more than two years ago."
It took a few moments for it to sink in that she wasn't joking, and a moment longer for panic to hit me like a tidal wave.  

"No, it was only a few minutes. I was only gone for a few minutes!" I was trying to convince myself, but I could see it now- some of the youth looked distinctly older than I remembered them, and some of the older kids were nowhere to be seen. Somehow, it was all true. I'd been gone for more than two years.

I had nothing. There was no way I'd still have a job. Did I still have a home? Would Rebecca have been able to keep the house without me for two years? Rebecca... God, what was she thinking? Did she think I was dead, or had run off? Did I still have a marriage? What if she'd given up on me and was with someone else?

What about Mom and Dad? What had become of them in the two years I was gone? And Graham, where had his life gone?

I tried calling them- somehow I still had my cell phone, but it looked strange- it now had an old fashioned gray dot matrix screen, almost as if it had degenerated during my missing time. I got voicemail, no matter who I called. Clearly nobody remembered my number, or else had deleted my contact.  

I can't accurately describe the complete and utter loneliness that swept over me in those moments. I had been effectively dead for two years, and the world had learned to live without me. Now I'd been interjected into a world that no longer required me- it had gotten along just fine without me for this long. What good was I to anyone anymore?

More than two years... how much more, exactly? I pressed Emily for more details, but she couldn't remember the exact date I'd gone missing. Or the exact date that people stopped trying to find me. They'd closed the school for a while. One of the kids told me there was a rumor that I was haunting the school now. 

I wasn't entirely sure she was wrong.

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