I used to have this recurring nightmare that haunted me ever since I can remember.
First, a normal dream, its web of sights and feelings with no logical storyline. Usually bright, carefree.
Then I would feel it coming, a creeping terror. A slow, syrupy feeling of suffocation, ringing in my ears, something locking down my limbs. Darkness invading the edges of my vision, a nameless horror.
By flailing and thrashing for my life, I could eventually wake up.
But the waking was agonizingly slow. By the time I did, I was covered in sweat, panting, my sleep wrecked for the night.
The worst part is that I could feel it starting, but be powerless to stop it. The darkness would wrap up my limbs, make me unable to move, and I would be powerless in its grasp unless I flailed in a soundless scream.
At some point, I had enough. Maybe I was around 10.
I knew it was a dream, after all. Perhaps I could face the fear. And so I tried. When the darkness started to cloud my vision, I relaxed. But its grasp grew tighter. And when I waited, the creature began to appear. A dark, demon-like dwarf. I never saw its face. I only saw its heathen movements at the edges of my vision, moving faster than a child, a little beast.
When it began to appear, I kicked and punched violently, even as I felt the pins and needles in my arms and legs and stomach. As I felt like I was being gored by the darkness itself. Without any reason or logic or name.
As I grew older, in my teens, I decided to try something different. When the dwarf came, I decided to fight it. Only I didn’t really fight it. I picked it up and heaved it as hard as I could, as you would pick up and heave a cockroach, resolve accompanied by a full-body scream that blocked out any sensation of actually touching the little demon.
First it was here, now it was there. Then I ran. Straight into the wall of dark, nameless, fathomless syrup that I would have to kick and thrash against in order to wake up, knowing all the while that the dwarf would be coming back.
I never found out where this nameless, faceless terror came from. And why.
As I entered my teenage years, exhausted with this particular nightmare, I decided to try something different.
I knew it was a nightmare after all. And so instead of flailing and thrashing for my life, what if I just saw where it took me? Instead of fighting it, what if I did nothing?
It worked. When the darkness came, after a momentary tightness, it faded, as smoke would. Expecting a fight, and getting none, it was as if the darkness just decided something wasn’t worth it. Although I would never know why; of course, the darkness was without rhyme or reason.
And it continued to work. When the dreams came, I just paid it no attention.
During these years, something else was happening; I became disinterested. This transition to adulthood, and young adulthood, was accompanied by a lot of realizations about my limits. I gave up on certain dreams.
Maybe in shutting down parts of myself, the bright, clear edges of youth faded. And with that, maybe the vivid, crystal-clear and fathomless, reasonless darkness, also faded too.
And when I entered college, that’s when the dreams almost stopped altogether. There were isolated moments of terror, here and there, but I didn’t even have to fight it, or even give up, anymore.
The terror came, and my mind’s eye looked at it, grew disinterested, and looked away. Although I could feel the creature there too, beyond the darkness.
The last time I felt the creature, it felt almost sad. Like it was waiting for me, but I refused to come.
The dreams faded altogether once I started my first job. Because when I started working, I didn’t have time for anything else. For recollection, for deep reflection. I worked. I started traveling for work, all around the globe. I woke up in hotel rooms and sometimes had a moment of terror – but because I didn’t know where I was. I was fully conscious.
I went back to sleep with a smile on my face because I knew I was free of the demon dwarf and the smothering darkness. I had left them behind. I traveled everywhere, for nearly a decade. To Bali, to Dubai, to London, Beijing, Seoul, Shanghai. To Tokyo, Merida, to Panama. I met with clients. I left my previous life behind. I lived out of hotel rooms, I became deep friends with other career itinerants from a home base in Hong Kong.
But one day I grew tired. Endless traveling is a great career perk in your 20s. Less when you’re thinking of starting a family. I began a period of reflection, perhaps for the first time in a very, very long time.
What dreams had I left behind? Who had I become? I hadn’t kept any journals, and I had completed purged my emails and letters multiple times, mostly for heartbreak-related reasons, so it was hard to find a compass.
I began spending some time in cafes and restaurants, eating by myself. Reflecting. Thinking.
And then I saw it, in a dark corner of a vegetarian restaurant right around closing time. This vegetarian shop, on the 2nd floor on Henderson Road, was staffed entirely by deaf workers. It was a completely silent shop, except for the sounds of other diners, clattering dishware and the beep-beep of credit and Octopus cards making payment.
I was the last diner in the shop when I saw that little bastard. The demon dwarf, who had terrorized my dreams and childhood. I couldn’t believe it. Would you?
In a dark corner, next to where the shop had stacked extra chairs, it was sitting there calmly, eating a meal. By now I was over my fear of it. I was more curious, for various reasons.
It was a memory of my past, my past that I’d been trying to find.
Maybe it meant something that the creature would come find me. I had never allowed it to get close to me. I had never said anything to it.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been so afraid, maybe it was trying to tell me something. Or remind me of something.
After finishing my sweet and sour fried mushrooms, I approached it. It didn’t have a face. It had a top of the head, in a shape, that was its whole head. It was more of a pitch dark shape in reality. A shadow.
“Why were you always chasing me.”
It got up.
“Well now you’ll have to chase me now, m*****f****r!” It bolted, scurrying away into the space under the chairs.
I ducked, looking for it. But it was gone.