The Nightmare

I am running. I don’t know from what.

Anxiety blooms in my stomach, and spreads up through my body, forcing me to run faster. The fear pushes me forward despite the nagging ache in my lungs as my breath comes in quick gasps. My legs shake, weak with terror, and beg me to stop. I stumble, over what I’m not sure, and I don’t even realize it until my palms crash into the cool marble floor. It makes such a loud noise that I wince. The fear drives me to my feet again, and I’m fleeing through a gilded hallway. The ceilings are high, the floors a pristine white marble, and cool air that instills a threatening chill seems to emanate from it. Stained glass windows to my right, high as the ceilings, are eerily lit by a full white moon. At the end of this hallway, I find my freedom in the form of two giant wooden doors. When I see them I run faster, my feet riding on hope. I let my body crash like a wave against hard wooden shores, hoping that my speed and weight will force them open. It doesn’t. I look down frantically. There is a handle. The anxiety in me ceases.

I open the heavy door. It creaks; groans with effort. I don’t remember walking out of it, but suddenly I am outside. My breath catches in my throat. I don’t really know where I am. There is a nothingness about this place, but then it comes into focus. I’m surrounded by a thick scent of night blooming jasmine and moonflower, which line the pathways of this intricate high-walled courtyard. I can’t even admire the beauty of it; I am solid with fear. I suck in a breath that stings my lungs, and as I let it out I can see the white puff of smoke escape my lips. I am drained of hope, of effort. When I try to move forward my body feels weighted like I am trying to walk through viscous liquid, until I hear the howl of wolves hot on my trail. Somehow I am instantly fueled, and I find myself at the back of the courtyard staring at a high wall, where two large marble water chutes jut out like playground tube slides into a fountain pool. The one to my right has an entrance blocked by a marble statue of the Virgin Mary holding a baby Jesus. The other is not blocked by anything. I consider attempting to scale the high walls. Then comes a shrill bark that snaps me back from my daydream, and I know that there are wolves coming, with women in black cloaks and white hoods following behind.

I scramble for the open chute and head up into it, but this marble is cold and slippery, and it’s difficult to find my footing. I hear the large door creaking from here; hear the wolves’ toes tap dance and scratch against the cobbles as they surge forward, searching for me. A part of me learns instantly to climb ice cold marble, and I work as hard as I can to make my way steadily up and forward.  As I am nearing the top, I hear someone at the entrance of the chute. There’s a brief whistle, then the definitive clawing of a trained wolf scrambling to climb after me. As I reach the top, my freedom tastes like sweet sugar on my lips. I hold out hope that I’ve succeeded, that this beast chasing me has been outwitted, that I will make it… until there is another statue blocking my way. Fear, and astonishment, and confusion all battle inside me. I can see that the marble tunnel continues after it, but I cannot get past it. In a last ditch effort, I wedge myself between the statue’s shoulder and the wall of the chute, but I am too big, and can’t fit. The snapping of a wolf’s jaws comes next, and I kick at it, trying to preserve this taste of brief emancipation. The wolf is relentless, but I too refuse to give up. I reach forward, trying to grasp onto anything, but there is only smooth stone beneath my fingers. I feel the wolf’s mouth close on my leg, a combination of strength and searing pain trying to pull me back despite my fighting.

And then I wake up.

—Kayla Hughes