Saturday, June 1, 2024




Al Bruno III
When I was young, I was prone to fevers and nightmares, something that my doctors and my parents alike put down to a weak constitution and an overactive imagination. Even as I grew older and stronger, nightmares continued to plague me, nightmares that no drug could keep at bay,  nightmares that frequently had me lashing out violently as I awoke.

As you can imagine, when it came time for me to attend University, I felt I had no choice but to live alone. The lack of companionship only aided my focus on all things academic. My grades were strong, and my instructors began to take a special interest in my academic progress.

Unfortunately, in my second year of studies, I began to experience incidents of sleepwalking and nocturnal violence. On four separate occasions, campus security had to apprehend me.

This is how I came to the attention of Dr. Palatine, the University's leading expert on the subject of sleep disorders. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say I was placed under her care and supervision. She was a handsome woman with iron-gray hair that was streaked with red; she wore thick glasses and spoke with an Eastern European accent. Dr.  Palatine explained that she had just returned from a long sabbatical where she had been conducting what she called 'the purest research.'

Dr. Palatine shared her theories about the nature of REM sleep and the source of dream imagery in the collective unconscious. She requested I keep a journal and a tape recorder at my bedside. Still, I must admit that the nature of my waking terrors left me with little clear or consistent information to impart.

This lack of hard data to work from led her to invite me to live with her. I felt I had no choice but to accept. Dr. Palatine lived in a crumbling brownstone several miles from the college campus. She made room for me in her basement so that my night terrors could be controlled and monitored with the greatest care.

My only night of observation began with Dr. Palatine giving me a mild sedative before having me lie down on the cot she had prepared for me. She sat beside me in an uncomfortable-looking, rust-colored chair with a pen and notepad in hand.

Soon, I was asleep, and I found myself in the most lucid dream I had ever known. In the dream, I found myself alone in the basement, staring up at the single bare lightbulb that was the only illumination. Dr. Palatine and the rust-colored chair were gone. A strange feeling of dislocation washed over me as I stood and walked up the basement stairs.

I found the cellar door had been locked from the outside, but I felt no panic at this realization. What better way to curtail my nightly meanderings than a locked door? I rapped on the door and called for Dr. Palatine. When there was no answer, I began to knock louder and louder. I called her name over and over, but there was no answer.

The feeling of dislocation grew stronger, and in my mind's eye, I saw myself beating at the door in ever-growing panic. I looked so small, like a forgotten child.

Without warning, the basement door rattled on its hinges as though something had been thrown against it. Fingers scrabbled and grabbed through the inch-wide gap between the bottom of the doorframe and the floor; they were thin and covered with thick tufts of red hair. They scratched and scraped.

Even now, you might assume that this was all some sophomoric prank, but my every sense told me this was not the case. Whatever was on the other side of that door was bestial and twisted. The grasping of the fingers became more frantic, as though searching for something precious that was just out of reach.

It was as though my every childhood nightmare was coming true. Hadn't the fear of seeing this very personal incubus driven me to night terrors and fugues?

I screamed at it. The claw-like hand retreated. There was a moment when I thought it was about to retreat, but then it began to sing. I cannot describe that voice; I do not know if that voice can be described. All I can say is that the sound that reached my ears was a loathsome crooning.

Unbidden, an image arose in my mind: the creature burbling nonsense, trying to lull the pink, quivering shape at its breast to sleep.

Desperate to escape that sound, I backed away, only to lose footing. I tumbled down the stairs, striking my head and plunging my mind into merciful, mindless darkness.

How long before I awoke again? I cannot say, but I do know that I blinked my eyes to see the basement door wide open. It took me some time to find the courage to mount the stairs, but when I did, I found myself in a barren house.

There was no trace of Dr. Palatine. Not only had she disappeared from her home, but she had also vanished from all University records. All my professors insisted there was no Dr. Palatine, that there had never been a Dr. Palatine.

The more I told my story, the more I became a subject of derision and unease. I left the University in the middle of the semester and never returned.

I found gainful employment far away from the University, but I had lost the capacity to dream, and with it, I had lost all sense of certainty in the world around me. I began to fear that I no longer dreamed because I  was still asleep in Dr. Palatine's basement, that I had never awoken at all.

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