I slept like shit and had the same dream I always had. I'm staring at a young boy, he looks exactly like I did when I was his age. He's lying atop a wooden work bench, hand and legs bound together behind him. The look on his face is one of terror mixed with shock and sorrow, but it also carries with it a quiet acceptance.
Beyond the boy, a scorpion-man hybrid, shrouded almost entirely in shadow, moves about. He's rummaging, frantic to find something. The occasional flash of the dim light reflecting off his beady eyes sends chills through my body. The man's frustrations were coming through in the form of inaudible mumbles and groans followed by an object flying across the shed. Although unable to see his face, I can clearly make out the clenched teeth and pursed lips with every disappointed syllable. This continues until I hear a soft and breathy, "yes." He found what he was looking for.
The scorpion man walks to the nearest side of the table and stands tall over the boy. The young child refuses to look at him, but not entirely out of fear. His face now carries on it some defiance.
The man begins to circle the table, taking his time as he moves, savoring the moment. He pulls a plastic grocery bag from behind his back and starts gently rubbing it over the boy's body. It's a taunting gesture for sure. Every time the plastic touches the boy's bare skin, he jerks away. The man continues circling, the shadows following him everywhere he goes. Its tail recoiling when touched by what little sunlight makes it through the lone, nicotine-stained window.
As the man stands motionless, staring down at the child, the boy's defiance breaks and he becomes hysterical. Between sobs he begs and pleads with the man, while flailing against his restraints, "Don't do the bag! Please don't do the bag!"
It's at this point that the boy looks directly at me, like an actor breaking the fourth wall looking into the camera to talk directly to the viewer, and continues his worthless pleas, "Please stop this. You can stop all of this." His despair is nauseating but I cannot look away. Some invisible force is keeping my head locked and eyelids peeled on the depravity playing out before me.
The man then bends over so that his mouth is right on top of the boy's ear, raises a finger to his lips and whispers, "Shh." In a fast and violent movement the man shoves the bag over the boy's head and cinches it shut at the nape of his neck. Condensation appears almost immediately inside the bag as it moves in and out in rapid succession.
The boy continues staring at me through the plastic. His eyes never leave mine as he begins to hyperventilate.
The scorpion man's tail begins moving back and forth on the wooden floor, increasing in pace to match the rhythm and intensity of the boy's screams.
Faster and faster...
The boy's face is now soaked from the water vapor.
The thrashing fades and his screams disappear. There is no air left in his lungs and his mouth remains wide open. The plastic bag perfectly outlines his small mouth. The time between his blinks grows further apart as he fights to stay awake. Each time his eyes jolt open, he frantically searches for mine, before getting heavy again. He isn't searching for comfort. He's making sure I'm still watching.
The boy's exhausted body goes limp and the man releases the bag while exhaling deeply.
A rush of fresh air floods the boy's mouth and fills his eager lungs. Where screams had filled the little shed, they are now replaced with desperate gasps. After several hungry breaths, the boy's chest begins to slow and the color in his face bleeds back to red.
The man's thick, calloused tail, now exhausted, comes to rest on the wooden floor.
That's when I awoke. That was the point in the dream when I always woke up.
"Same dream," I noted to myself.
Only it wasn't, not exactly anyway. Something was different this time.
The boy looking and speaking to me was new. In past dreams I was simply a viewer, a witness of sorts. This time I was made a participant, albeit against my will. It made me feel unsettled, but I quickly dismissed it. I was efficient at dismissing things.
I felt my wife wrap her arm around me and ask, "Everything okay?" My nightly commotions must have roused her awake. I peeled her arm off of me and told her I was fine. I slid out of bed and made my way to the sink.
As I stood there shaking off the uneasiness, a funny though crossed my mind, "Happiest place on Earth," I said chuckling to myself. "If you have to dream of rape and torture, it may as well be here."
That should be Disney's marketing approach, "Come to Disneyland, the place where depravity and torment are made just a little bit better.
The nightmares were nothing new and I had become indifferent to them. I largely ignored them, and occasionally laughed at them. "It was your quintessential coming of age story," I would joke to myself. There were slight variations between them, but otherwise the same. I wondered at what point do nightmares cease being nightmares and become normal dreams again. Is it the content that makes it a nightmare or our reaction? I had no reactions to mine anymore. It was no different than any other learned behavior. It transitioned from crippling fear and pain into now more of an annoyance. Whatever results my subconscious was trying to achieve were long gone. It put the same nightmare on repeat and walked away. Eventually it became a sort of stand-off. My denial and stubbornness versus my brain's determination to heal. I knew I'd eventually lose, in one way or another, but at least I'd do so on my terms. It was going to have to work much harder than putting an old, scary movie on loop to get me to move.