Ria had entered dark dreams before but rarely this terrible. The darkness blinded her for a moment and a thunderous animal roar deafened her. She jumped, hitting a stone wall behind her.
Calm down, she told herself, trying to still her pounding heart, I am a dream keeper. I am trained for this. There is no dream I can’t handle.
She could see a little now. She was standing in a narrow stone corridor with no end. She looked down it on both sides to see who was making such a dark dream and then she saw the dreamer, running towards her, screaming.
She had not expected this – a young woman, barely out of her teens, running desperately, arms flailing, her dark hair and her lacy white nightgown streaming behind her.
She was not alone. Her screams mingled with the roars of the monster which pursued her, a dark formless thing, made of bloated shadows, which stretched out a long, clawed hand to grasp the trailing edge of lace.
Just great, Ria thought as they passed, why do I always get the monsters?
She waited, knowing that nightmares repeat. The next time the dreamer ran past Ria stepped in her way.
Tactic one - communicate.
“Wait,” Ria called to her, “Listen to me, and don’t be afraid. This is just a dream.”
The dreamer did not notice. Her screams had turned into a thin, penetrating wail which hurt the ears. Combined with the monster’s insane roaring it was deafening. Ria understood why so many old, sick people or very young children were waking up shaking and white with fear.
The terrible dream had no ending. The monster never reached, the dreamer never stopped running, and night after night the screaming chase was on.
Ria sighed. She had to make her presence known in this endless loop.
Tactic two – break the pattern.
She called light and the darkness vanished. The stone corridor went with it, revealing the dreamer; stick thin, shocked, standing like a deer caught in the headlights.
“I am here to help you,” Ria said.
The dreamer cried out, shifting in her bed, outraged at the changes.
Darkness fell again. The monster howled.
“Stop this nonsense at once,” Ria snapped, losing her temper, bringing back the light. “Can’t you understand? Your monster is bleeding into the dreams of others and it has to stop.”
The dreamer gasped at the anger in her voice.
“Now, you,” Ria said strongly, “You have to stop creating monsters.”
“I am so afraid,” the dreamer said.
“You are running mad and this can’t go on, do you hear me? You have to face your fears.”
Tactic three – demonstrate control.
“It’s all in the mind,” Ria said. “You can change your dream and your life too. Watch and I will show you how to control your dream. Sunlight. Dancing.”
The forest faded into a sunny clearing and music and laughter filled the bright golden air. Dancers whirled and leaped upon the emerald grass, singing. Come and join us, they called.
“See? Now you try it,” Ria said.
But the world was turning dark again and monsters appeared among the dancers. The dreamer began to run once more down her endless, dark corridor, wailing as she went.
That had not worked. Very well, Ria thought. Tactic four, take away control.
On the next pass, she turned the monster into a kitten.
The roaring died out and silence fell.
The dreamer stopped, bewildered, and turned.
A small, grey kitten with sea green eyes batted at the end of her trailing nightgown. Meeooow?
There, Ria thought, let’s see what you make of that, your ravening beast is the cutest kitten.
The dreamer saw the kitten and started to back away. The kitten leaped towards her, the dreamer fell backwards, squealed, scrambled up and began to run.
“It’s just a kitten,” Ria called, but the dreamer was stumbling, groping, panicked out of her mind.
Just my luck, Ria thought, I get someone who is more afraid of a kitten than all the nightmare monsters.
She followed her into a forest of gnarled trunks and creeping shadows. The dreamer lay crouched against a tree trembling and sobbing in fear. Ria approached her cautiously.
She shrank, “Don’t hurt me. Please, don’t hurt me.”
Ria saw that she had been hurt badly, many times, in the world outside dreams. There were scars on her body and on her soul and pain everywhere.
Ria said gently, “I want to help you. If you just listen to me I can teach you how to live so that no one will ever hurt you again.”
“Leave me alone.”
“I can’t. Your emotions are too strong. Must you always have monsters?”
“There are always monsters.” She shivered and clutched onto herself tight. She looked behind Ria and her eyes widened in terror. She flattened herself against the tree, whimpering, “No, please, no, please.”
Ria turned expecting another towering monster but it was only the playful kitten leaping agilely over the roots, pausing to bat at a dry leaf. Its purring shook the forest.
“What on earth am I going to do with you?” Ria said. “I want to help you deal with your miserable life, and I can’t let you harass others either.”
The forest faded and the stone corridor emerged again. Ria watched helplessly as the dreamer ran, wailing, down its endless length.
This time, Ria sighed and let her go.
On her way back, she checked the dreams of old, sick people and children. They were waking smiling and happy.
“Is the problem over?” her teacher asked.
“She just won’t listen. I will have to go back and keep talking to her.”
“And the nightmares?”
Ria laughed, “That, I solved. She will find it hard to keep them going with this monster. Even better, most people don’t seem to mind being pursued relentlessly by a cute, purring, fluffy, grey kitten.”
- - - I am a writer from Mumbai, India. I have published non fiction and poetry books, written articles for newspapers and magazines and am now writing fiction. My stories have been published by Every Day Fiction and some Indian websites.