by Sherry Morris
She was twelve when the dreams began. At first she couldn’t remember them, just woke covered in sweat, her hair and pajamas stuck to her damp skin, heart racing. She didn’t tell her parents—there wasn’t anything to say. Within six months they were shaking her awake, having heard strange noises coming from her room. When they turned on the light, they’d find her under the bed, curled in a ball–unseeing eyes wide with fright, mouth open in a silent scream. Her hands were thrust deep between her thighs. It’d take both of them to pry her hands loose and pull her out. She’d eventually come round with a sob, gasping for breath, her throat raw. They’d give her a glass of water and ask her what she’d seen. All she could say for sure was her fingers tingled. They’d pick up the covers from the floor, put her back to bed and say it was just a dream. She believed them at first: her parents worked for the government. They had access to information. Sometimes they would laugh at the news on tv, but as time went on they shook their heads and turned away.
When she turned thirteen, she asked for mittens for her birthday even though they lived near the desert. She began remembering small scenes of her dreams: hags wore black robes and paced in large rooms cramped with cribs of crying babies, carrying pails of dirty diapers or buckets of half-finished bottles on yokes across their backs. In another dream, she saw a room with a long aluminium table positioned over a drain. A chisel, mallet and straps lay together at one end of the table. Fluorescent strip lighting gleamed off white tiles. Sometimes from a great distance she saw a building, larger than she’d ever seen. An endless stream of what looked like ants on their back legs marched into its doors. The chimney stack belched red smoke that covered the trees in layers of ash. She didn’t know what to make of these dreams—they were like nothing she had seen or read. Their realness disturbed her in spite of her parents’ reassuring words.
Sometimes a man appeared, a handsome middle-aged man, dressed in a fine linen suit and silk tie, with blonde hair. But he was candy-coloured and there was something wrong with his eyes. He wore boots. He addressed crowds from a stage. Each time he spoke, filth poured out of his mouth. Each time he walked, he left a trail of dark slime. Yet large crowds cheered his every word. She didn’t want him to see her. She asked her parents about the man with the boots. He looked vaguely familiar. They said nothing, but exchanged glances over her head. They thought she didn’t notice, but she did.
When she then began describing to her parents a small, bald-headed sidekick, her parents got rid of the tv and kept her away from newspapers. Still her fingers tingled. Especially her thumbs. She took to wearing her mittens when she went to bed, keeping each thumb tucked inside her fingers. She did this during the day now as well, not knowing why, only knowing she needed to hide them. As her dreams grew stronger, she noticed when the hags opened their mouths to howl and screech along with the wailing babies, they had no tongues. She tried to see their hands, but could not.
One day, her father came home from work babbling incoherently. She heard ‘black robes’, ‘red smoke’, ‘white tiles’. She hadn’t told her parents those parts of her dream. Her mother hushed him, closed all the windows and curtains, turned the radio up loud and gave him a snifter of whiskey. She stood outside their bedroom door. She thought she heard him say ‘inhumane breeding programme’ but maybe it was ‘insane reading programme’.
At dinner, her father put down his fork and said, ‘We will send her away.’ She realised he was talking about her. But there were checks now, at school, at work, when completing weekend community chores and attending evening nationhood sessions. She’d heard her parents’ whispered conversations that some of their friends had been disappeared when they’d sent their children away.
Nevertheless, she would leave the next evening for the safe house. It would take a week to walk there, travelling at night with a trusted guide. She didn’t argue, her thumbs tingled non-stop now. She was already awake when a knock came at 3am. They were early. From her bed, she heard struggling and muffled shouts from downstairs, then heavy thuds. She shuddered and curled her thumbs tighter inside her mittens. Their tingling pierced her. Someone with heavy footsteps was coming towards her room. They stopped outside her door. She wanted to believe this was another dream. The door creaked opened. She saw a man, silhouetted in the hallway light. He wore boots. She was grateful she couldn’t see his eyes. Moving towards her he said, ‘Go to sleep. Everything is going to be alright.’ Then she saw his face and began to howl and wail.