The nightmares began when I was thirteen. At first they seemed so real, but then they became so predictable that I knew exactly when to wake up. The moment I close my eyes, I am walking in the woods. It is winter and the air is stale. The trees’ leaves have fallen and their branches are gnarled into knots, grasping for each other as if the wind would blow them away. I don’t know where I am going; I never do, but there is always a cabin. The cabin is surrounded by thorn bushes, warning me not to go inside, but of course I do not listen; I never do.
I recognize the cabin from my childhood. My family used to travel up to northern Michigan during the summers and we would stay there for weeks at a time. We had barbeques by the lake and in the evening, we would sit on the dock and watch the sun set into the ambient sky. Now here I am, standing in front of the cabin, a phantom of my childhood. I look around me, hoping for comfort, praying that I would see my father standing over the grill and my cousins grasping onto the rope swing before hurling themselves into the lake, but I see nothing. The lake has frozen over and nothing from my childhood summers is left, just the cabin. I approach it, my footsteps steady. I raise my hand to knock on the tarnished door but nobody answers. I knock again and the cabin moans, however, there’s still no answer. So I go inside, uninvited.
The cabin is empty except for a battered chair in the corner, facing a window, away from me. The toys are no longer sprawled out on the floor and the dishes that were always piled up in the sink have disappeared. The cabin looks like it had been abandoned decades ago. It had been used and soon forgotten, just like our summers in northern Michigan. Nothing was left except for our memories and the chair in the corner. Suddenly, I feel tired and I wearily walk towards the chair, thinking maybe I could rest my eyes before I continue my journey through the woods. I reach out to turn the chair towards me and an icy hand grabs my wrist. I cry out and a voice hushes me – a voice that I haven’t heard in seven years.
The chair twists towards me and I make eye contact with the decaying body of a woman who was once so beautiful.
“Mija,” she says, referring to the Spanish phrase for my girl. I can hear the death in her voice. It is dry and raspy, nothing like the sing-song voice that I once knew. She smiles at me and I can see that her pearly, white teeth are gone and in their place are the rotting teeth of an animal. That is the worst part of the dream, the part I regret the most. I should have smiled back. I should have smiled back before I started to scream, before I started to run away, before the worms started crawling out of her skull.
Suddenly, the toys are back on the floor but they’re not the same toys I remember playing with. They are old and worn out. The dolls’ heads have been ripped off, creating a blockade to prevent me from leaving. I trip over them trying to escape and they shriek with evil laughter. I hear my mother trying to get up from the chair. Her spine is cracking and she moans as she twists her neck towards me, watching me run out the door and making sure that I can’t get away.
“Mija!” she screams, but it is no longer the voice of my mother. It is the deep, horrific voice of the devil. He’s tricked me! He has lured me to the cabin, to the chair, to my mother. I run and run and run, tripping over the uplifted roots of the dead trees. I gasp for air as I claw my way through the tangled branches. I dare not look back. But I still see what is happening behind me because it’s a dream and in a dream, the dreamer sees everything. The figure of my mother is falling apart as she chases after me, screaming that she wishes she never died, that she wishes she never left her little girl. Her skin slips off of her deteriorating bones to the ground, leaving a trail behind her; leaving behind all of the memories, all of her love and all of her being. Trailing at her feet is the devil, laughing at me and mocking me.
“You can’t have her,” he howls. “She was never yours. She was doomed from the start.”
Suddenly the devil turns into my mother, but not the hideous, decaying creature from the cabin; it was the woman who held me when I cried and who rubbed my back when I was sick. It’s beautiful for a moment. All around me is life. It’s no longer winter in the woods, but spring and the birds are singing and the trees are in full bloom. The lake isn’t frozen over anymore and the rope we used to swing on is hanging from the old tree we used to climb. I stop running and look back at my mother, who has also stopped running and is holding out her arms, inviting me to come embrace her. I stand there for a moment, staring, taking it all in. Suddenly, my hands feel wet and I look down to see crimson blood dripping from my fingertips.
Then, all at once, the woods burst into flames and my mother’s face flashes between hers and the devil’s. She cocks her head sideways and her voice distorts as she speaks to me.
That’s when I wake up. Even though the dream has become so predictable, I still wake up covered in sweat and tears, crying out for my mother, hoping that maybe her entire death was a dream. But, of course, it wasn’t, and I’m left sobbing in my loneliness, reaching out for comfort, only to be confronted with the sharp prick of a needle.
I scream in resentment and then I slip away from the asylum walls and back into darkness with no one to catch me but the devil. Somewhere I hear harsh whispers as I fall closer and closer to Satan, with his black eyes and demeaning grin.
“We’re going to have to get stronger sedatives soon, she’s been waking up more frequently.”
“Her lashing out gets worse every time she wakes up, she’s going to end up killing herself.”
As I fall, I hope that the dream doesn’t come back, and that this time, the devil will just let me be, but I know deep down that that won’t happen. After all, I deserve this punishment. No one gets away with killing their mother.