Jessie Raymond: Terror lingers after nightmare ends

I’m not sure what caused the bad dream I had on Halloween night: the horror movie we watched or the 78 mini Reese’s peanut butter cups I ate (we only got one trick-or-treater). I suspect it was a combination of the two.
A red-eyed demon woman was screeching and grabbing at me with her long talons. She was an evil spirit bent on “getting” me, whatever that meant. I knew it wasn’t good.
In my dream, the demon was part of a Disney ride/experience called “The Exorcist,” and the worst part was that everyone in my family was eagerly waiting for the ride to start, unconcerned that, right in front of them, I was being viciously attacked. (Come to think of it, “The Exorcist” would make a terrific Disney ride, far more frightening — though maybe no more disturbing — than “It’s a Small World.” I should shoot an email to the Imagineers.)
The fear I felt went beyond anything I’ve ever experienced in reality. At certain points, I knew I was in a dream, but in typical sleep paralysis fashion, I could neither reach for my husband, Mark, nor cry out for help.
When my futile screams of despair did finally break through the dream/reality barrier, they came out only as newborn puppy grunts.
Mark elbowed me, muttering, “What is wrong with you?”
“A demon lady got me on the ride,” I said through ragged breaths, letting him absorb the terrifying imagery.
“Well, quit it,” he said, rolling over. “You keep waking me up.”
And there I was, wide awake and alone with my fear.
The demon lady wasn’t real, of course. But it’s hard to be rational in the middle of the night.
Some dreams have a strange way of lingering. Last year, for instance, I dreamed that a possessed terry bath towel was floating around town, twisting itself up like a rope, sneaking up behind people and then strangling them. I didn’t think any of my own towels were capable of such brutality, but the next morning after my shower I played it safe and drip-dried.
Friday night after the nightmare, lying weaponless in our dark bedroom with adrenalin coursing through my body, I couldn’t shake my panic. While I don’t know of anyone who’s ever been attacked by a wicked, shrieking harpy (except, perhaps, my husband when I have PMS), this was no time to take chances.
When it comes to fighting the supernatural, I remembered two widely accepted rules:
1.          Ghosts/evil spirits can’t get you if you are under the covers. Any part of your body that is exposed — even if it’s just your toes — is apt to be grabbed.
2.          Ghosts/evil spirits can’t get you if you stay perfectly still. (As we learned in “Jurassic Park,” this rule also applies to velociraptors.)
So I was stuck. Still in full fight-or-flight mode, I was sweating profusely and gulping for air. But I couldn’t leave myself vulnerable by throwing back the covers. And despite a fierce thirst, I couldn’t risk reaching for my water bottle on the far side of the nightstand.
Similarly, I couldn’t distract myself by reading. I had dropped my book on the floor earlier that night, and were I to extend my hand down, even very slowly, to retrieve it, the demon lady might reach out from under the bed, seize my wrist with her bony claw and drag me back into the nightmare. The only bright spot I could see is that Mark, when he woke up and discovered that she had gotten me, would feel like a real heel.
So there I stayed, motionless, sweat running off me. My eyes darted around the room looking for moving shadows but I saw nothing. My ears tried to pick up any sounds such as a vengeful spirit might make as it hovered over me, looking for an exposed limb to grab, but all I could hear was my own racing heartbeat.
The next thing I knew the alarm was going off. I had made it through the night with no ill effects other than a lack of sleep and a sore jaw from clenching my teeth until morning. Either there never had been a demon in my bedroom or — more likely — my passive defense tactics, as called for in Rules 1 and 2, had worked.
Halloween will be different from now on. I’ll refuse to watch any movie scarier than “The Sound of Music” and I’ll know better than to binge on mini Reese’s cups.
Next year I’m switching to KitKats.

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