There was a short stunned silence, broken only by the creature’s fragmented breathing as Lionel let its words sink in. He stared at the monster in front of him in disbelief.
“…you’re a dead man!”
“That’s it?” he let out after a while when he was able to form words again. “All these years and that’s all you got? No deeper meanings, just some generic bullshit scare tactics?”
Suddenly, he wanted to laugh. Apparently, the shrink had had no idea what the hell he’d been talking about. These dreams didn’t have any goddamn hidden life lessons. They just sucked for no good reason, just like life itself!
Lionel scoffed and shook his head, then looked up at the monster. “Fine,” he said with a resigned shrug. “Fine. You want to kill me, eh? Well, get it the hell over with, then!”
Lionel closed his eyes, rolled his shoulders back, and waited for the jab of death that would soon be coming his way, knowing that it would wake him up. But, to his dismay, instead of “getting it the hell over with,” the creature burst into horrible, throaty laughter.
Lionel opened his eyes—annoyed—sighed, and pressed his palms against his ears. He was getting really tired of this dream. Why wouldn’t he just wake the frig up?
“Hey, buddy! Yo!” he said, trying to shout over the monster’s loud giggles. “You mind toning it down with the evil laughter?”
Just out of sheer surprise, the monster stopped laughing. It tilted its head and stared at Lionel inquiringly.
“I mean,” Lionel continued. “I get that being creepy is your thing as a nightmare being, but must it be so goddamn loud? Would it kill you to be evil and quiet at the same time or are the two mutually exclusive?”
Instead of any kind of aggression, a look of excitement spread across the creature’s face as if it had been waiting for a long time to make this point. It lifted up its index claw on its right front paw.
“Actually, I get that all the time,” it enthused, “but, believe it or not, this is just my normal laugh. Like, you know, how some creatures have a resting bitch-face and they can’t help it? It’s the same kind of thing.”
Lionel deadpanned at the monster. He took it back—his subconscious did still have some crack-headed rabbits up its sleeve.
“But why laugh in the first place?” he said at last. “Is it, like, just to demonstrate your evilness? Because if so, why would laughter equal evil? I mean, is that the kind of shit they teach you at the Hound of Baskervilles Academy or something? Like, I don’t get it.”
The creature nodded to communicate that it understood the confusion. “To tell you the truth, my funny bone just happens to be very easily tickled,” it explained. “Like now that you said something about me killing you…” It burst into laughter again, its tongue lolling between its pointy teeth like a dead bloody snake.
Unfazed by the disgusting sight, Lionel snapped his fingers and pointed at the monster. “See, that’s exactly the point I’m trying to make! Killing somebody is not funny. Laughing is a weird-ass response to that, man. You know, these dreams would be a whole lot more believable if they had some goddamn logic to them.”
This only seemed to encourage the monster, whose sides hurt from the giggles. “But it’s not the killing you per se that’s funny,” it finally managed between its bursts of laughter. “It’s that–oh dear Dark Lord, I can’t believe I get to be the one to tell you this—it’s that you’re already dead, you doughnut!”
The creature threw its head back and cackled with laughter. Lionel blanked at it and shook his head in disappointment. Already dead? Really? This dream was pitiful.
“Also,” the monster said, almost as if reading his mind, “I should probably point out to you that this is not a dream-like you seem to keep insisting. You’re actually dead in real life!”
Now it was Lionel’s turn to laugh. “Okay, let me stop you right there. I know I’m not dead so don’t even—” he started, then trailed off.
He looked at the monster that was still laughing, then at the ground that was hot under his feet. The smirk on his face faded, and he gazed into the distance where the blood orange-colored sky was hanging over everything like a giant ominous hand. It looked so out of this world and yet… so real. So very real.
He squeezed his eyes shut. Wake up, Lionel! he ordered himself. Wake up!
Then he opened his eyes, slowly, praying to once again find his flannel-clad body lying on those cold sweat-drenched sheets, shivering and gasping for air as if he’d just lifted his head up from that toilet bowl, but instead he found himself standing on the same hot asphalt, opposite the creature, under that horrific blood orange-colored sky that was pulsating like a deep flesh wound dripping blood and pus.
The nightmare dog had stopped laughing now and turned to Lionel. “Sorry I have to do this again,” it said.
“Do what?” Lionel managed, his voice thin as mountain air, but barely had he gotten those words out when he felt the shocking sensation of the hellhound’s paw smack him across the face.
Strangely, amidst all the throbbing pain, he had a brief moment of clarity, in which he knew one thing for sure: Nothing that was just a dream could hurt this much. But then the moment was over, and he felt himself drifting away.
He woke up with a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach. He vaguely remembered having a nightmare, one that he’d had before, but like all dreams, the moment he even attempted to put any of the pieces together, the memory escaped him like Houdini. And even now, just a few seconds after waking up, he wasn’t sure if he’d actually been asleep at all because something was clearly very wrong. He didn’t know why or how he’d gotten there, but somehow he found himself running on a hot asphalt being chased by an 8-foot-tall humanoid-looking black dog with sharp, pointy ears, horse-like hooves in the place of its back paws, and mouth gaping open like a black hole in space, sucking in everything that came its way, spewing out foam and fear.
Run, Lionel… Run, Lionel… Run, Lionel…
About The Author
Katariina Ruuska is a writer, blogger, and a language teacher, who enjoys writing both in her first language Finnish as well as in her second language English. Her work has previously appeared in Eunoia Review, and she is currently working on her first full-length novel.
Originally from Helsinki, Finland, she now lives in Mexico City with her fiancé Daniel. You can find Kata on Twitter at https://twitter.com/katawrites and read her blog at http://katawritesblog.blogspot.com/