A lot of teenage girls dream about dating their crushes. I used to murder mine.
I would put on my pajamas, turn on the bathroom light, shut the closet door, turn the lights out… and start crying.
After about the third night, I knew it was coming.
My friends and I would be driving through the cornfields on a country road- the moonlight so bright you could see each stalk of corn. I was in the middle of the back seat, so when the thing jumped out, and the car swerved, I saw it. Dark fur, too unnatural to be black or brown but instead the color of emptiness, with the body of a tall, skinny man and the head of a wolf. Its eyes glowed orange like he was on fire inside; his sharp bone claws, forever curled at the joints perfectly to wrap around my neck. He was too tall, too thin, too violent to be real; all sharp movements and pacing. He made no noise when he ran between the cornstalks. Never still, never safe. After the first few nights, I knew to expect the swooping feeling of tires leaving pavement, control leaving the small corner of the world that seemed so harmless, so safe during the day.
After I was done screaming, I’d turn around, but the demon would be gone. My friends were shaken, but they weren’t scared like I was. The next day, I found the first body at school. He was attached to the corner by half a glass bottle- half sticking out; and half embedded in his throat. You could see his vocal chords through the glass. Next, it was the cheerleading team. Lying there, still in formation- arms and legs bent how they shouldn’t be. Their heads were turned the wrong way. When I went to musical practice, a body hung on the curtain rod like it was part of the set decoration. No one knew what was going on. I wanted to tell them it was the thing- but I couldn’t. It wouldn’t come out.
No one heard me.
Walk into the locker room before p.e and you’d notice the blood on your shoes first, then the body. At lunch, someone would take a sip of soda, and then start drowning from the inside. Pretty soon, I was the only kid left. I’d seen them all die- my friends, my lunch buddies, even the kids I didn’t pay attention to. I had to find them all. The adults brought me to the police station. It didn’t matter. No one there believed me.
They thought I was crazy. They told me I was crazy. They made me feel crazy. So when the thing came through the window, part of me felt relieved for a second. Now someone would believe me. They opened fire. But it didn’t matter.
When I ran out into the cornfield, only one was left alive. I’d been supposed to stop it. I was supposed to save my friends from the thing. Those bullets hadn’t even stopped it. I didn’t know what to do. The moon was out, everything was quiet, and I was alone. The cornfields didn’t feel safe anymore. I heard a car coming. I ran out, to get help. I saw… myself, screaming in the back seat.
That’s when I’d wake up. It got harder, each day, to force myself out of bed. Each night, the same pattern, the same deaths.
The first couple times, I tried to run faster, stick together. After a while, I stopped trying.
nothing I did mattered. It was always me in a cornfield; Feeling myself scream as two people at the same time.
This went on for two weeks. Going to sleep felt like falling off a ledge, but waking up was even worse. By the end of it, the transitions between sleep and awake had blurred. I couldn’t even keep track of how little actual rest I was getting. It was just a circle of wandering around cornfields. I’d go in to school and I’d know in my heart when I saw him without glass in his neck I’d killed him. I would walk past cheerleading practice and realize how the bones had probably gotten twisted like that. A scratch on someone’s neck and I had a moment of panic thinking they’d actually had the rope around them before… I would hang back rounding corners. I didn’t want to let anyone out of my sight. But I couldn’t look at anyone. I was scared to see if there was a flame behind my eyes in the mirror. I was falling apart.
Then on the last day, when I saw him- Alive, not sprawled on the floor in a pool of his own blood- he really looked at me. The dark circles under my eyes. The way I couldn’t stop trembling slightly. The shuffling walk- I was so tired I couldn’t have fully opened my eyes even if I’d wanted to. He gave me a hug. That night, I didn’t have the nightmare. It felt like he’d forgiven me. I didn’t dream at all. It was over.
Until it wasn’t. The dream came back. I was no longer in high school; those friends in the car no longer went to movies with me. We lived in different cities at different places in our lives. It hit me in the chest, years of violence and murder and night terrors, pinning me down to the bed and keeping me from crying out for help, trying to warn someone, anyone, once again. It came unprompted, out of nowhere. I thought for sure it must be a warning; an ominous, deadly reminder that the small town had not been safe. The bottle of alcohol, jammed into the throat of a boy I worried had begun drinking too much. The cheerleaders, bodies contorted in judgmental letters proclaiming crimes of passion and morality they had not committed. Everyone dying, everyone leaving me. I thought for sure that they would haunt me, spending the day dreading the moment I would finally fall asleep. I tried to escape my fate. I lasted something like thirty-three, thirty-four hours.
I told someone. I reached out and admitted I was scared my brain was telling me things I did not want to learn; that a part of me wanted to be the wolf. I felt guilty for having a dream I couldn’t control, for worrying so much about my night terror becoming a reality it kept coming back; feeling my weaknesses, knowing how small and defenseless I was against myself. I did not want to judge my classmates for having different experiences than me; I did not want to think that I was the wolf. I did not want to be the wolf. I told someone, hating myself more than ever, hating bedtime, hating my eyes closing when I didn’t want them to, bracing myself to see familiar faces and hearing voices I hadn’t heard in years; voices I would have loved to hear in any other context.
I woke up in the morning. I never had the dream again.
Anna Kaye-Rogers’s previous work has been published in Illinois Valley Community College River Currents, The Feminine Collective, Eastern Iowa Review, Zoetic Press Non-Binary Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, Pen 2 Paper, and Zimbell House Publishing. She received the Editor’s Choice Award in Non-Fiction in Northern Illinois University Towers 2017. She studies English, Creative Writing, and Professional Communications at Northern Illinois University.