I have this reoccurring dream. Well, it’s more like a nightmare, but I’ve had it so often that it’s become expected and doesn’t bother as much as it once did. It goes like this: I find myself wandering around the woods late at night. I’m familiar with the surrounding, yet I don’t know exactly where I am at. I start feeling that bit of panic that you do when dreaming and you’re unsure of what is going to happen to you. It’s the type of coldness that you feel deep in your bones; only it’s not just a feeling in your dream, but in your actual body too. I’m sure we have all had that feeling during a dream, but this one was always able to trigger it pretty quickly. I can never tell just where I’m going, but it usually involved cutting through a bunch of tangles tree branches and bushes. I never have anything on besides my underwear, and I always end up with a bunch of little cuts and scrapes because of it. It’s not really the darkness, or the sense of being lost in a familiar place that gets to me. No, it’s the skeletons.
You see, the ending of the dream is always the same. I stumbled through the thickets only to find myself falling face first down a slight incline thanks to it being slick from rain and mud. I slide all the way down the hill and come to rest in even more mud at the bottom. But it’s not just the fall or the mud that makes that situation bad, it’s the fact that a bunch of human bones are waiting for me. I usually panic at this point in the dream, grabbing onto a shin or jaw, and wake myself up because of it. I always have trouble falling back to sleep because all I can picture when I close my eyes is the sight of those bones covered in mud, thrashing about trying to get away from them, and the terror of the whole ordeal.
I would forget about the dream as soon as I woke up the next morning, and it’s not really something I ever would think about unless I was having the dream or had just woken up from it. But something changed all of that recently and made me realize just how powerful our dreams really can be. A couple of weekends ago, I was invited to go hiking with some friends of mine who are really into the whole “off trail scene” and like to drag me into things I’m not prepared for. I thought we’d just be going to some state park and walking down some trails. But I was wrong, no; we ended up going to the middle of nowhere on some “state land” and trespassing.
The plan, if you could call it that, was to start on one end of the land and cut through the deep woods to the other side. There was a river or a stream or something that we would hit and know to just follow the rest of the way out. They said that it was only going to take us the day, if that, so I begrudgingly agreed to go through with it even after finding out the real plan. We all met up on this desolate stretch of highway and started our journey into the trees. It was hard to even find good enough places to walk through, and we had only just started. I regretted my decision to not just go home almost immediately. But by the time I was ready to say “Fuck this.” and turn back around, I would have just had to have gone through an awful lot of the same hard to navigate bush and vines. I accepted my situation and just kept on following my friends, slowly, towards the eventual exit point. It sucked.
We were supposed to reach that stream before it got dark, but that didn’t happen. The worst case scenario of not finding the one and only landmark we were looking for happened. None of us were really prepared for the trip, let alone trying to navigate those thick woods in the dark with nothing but glow sticks and some less-than-ideal flashlights. One of us, I don’t remember who know, had the not that brilliant idea of splitting us and then reconnected once one of us round the river. We couldn’t have been THAT far off, so we reluctantly went along with the plan. We would split up, and if one of us found the river, they would start yelling until the others found it too. At the time, it didn’t sound so crazy, but saying it now sounds pretty damn crazy. Did I mention that it started to rain at this point?
Some of you might be able to see where this story is going already. I started wandering through the woods, at night, while it was raining. It all started to seem familiar to me and that chilling feeling began to grow at the base of my spine. Even then, though, it didn’t hit me as to just why it was all so familiar. I just wanted to find the stream and get out of there before I ended up any more soaked than I already was. It might have been the eagerness to get out of the woods that made me not care so much about where I was going or that I kept getting stuck. I also didn’t seem to notice how much I was cutting up my clothing and skin with all the thickets and thorny vines.
But then I slipped and slid down a muddy embankment. And when I reached the bottom of the trail, I knew exactly why things had felt so familiar. I knew what I was feeling when I reached around in the mud and grabbed hold of those long objects that I could only vaguely see in front of me. It was the dream, almost exactly as it had always been, and I felt like a fool for only just realizing it. I could have spared myself a date with a skeleton or two if I had just paid more attention to how I was feeling and didn’t blindly trounce through the foliage in the pitch black.
I remember screaming at the top of my lungs, but also remember tasting a whole lot of mud in the process. I think I may have been screaming while face down, but I don’t really remember now. What I do remember is finding picking up a skull and staring directly into its eyes…or at least the space your eyes are meant to be. I recognized it as someone I knew. I tried to get my footing and flee, but I just kept slipping back into the mud and uncovering more and more bones in the process. I can’t say for sure, but that cycle happened probably a few dozen times before I blacked out from panic.
The next thing I remember, I was being slapped awake by one of my friends as the other held me upwards. They were shining a light into my face and asking me if I was okay. I was covered in mud from head to toe and my head hurt, but otherwise I felt okay. I reached around me looking for more bones, but there was nothing there. I asked them “Where did the skeletons go?” and they just looked at me confused. They said that they found me passed out at the bottom of the hill and that I was tangled up in vines and tree branches. They thought I must have been dreaming of the bones and that I hit my head on something at the bottom. It all felt so real and I couldn’t believe that, so I started to dig through the mud looking for something but only found bits of branches, sticks, and rocks.
Had I really just had the dream again in the perfect setting for it? Or was the dream warning me of what was going to happen that night? And that I was going to end up the skeleton if my friends hadn’t of found me? I can’t really say for sure, but I haven’t had the dream again since that night.