Writing the Nightmares to Death

I never finished high school. I was short one credit: Math. I hated Math more than pig’s brains fried with onions (which I will never eat again, no matter how much I don’t want to offend Albanian naval officers who jump ship in Halifax in the 70s and move to Fredericton where they give house parties featuring Albanian cooking and fried pig’s brains being an Albanian delicacy).

Regardless of the school’s requirements for graduation (which they changed the following year), I wanted to go to university. So I wrote the college entrance exams and passed, which left me with a choice: attend high school for another year to take one course in a subject I hate…or…go straight to college and take subjects I love.

Went to college. Got an honors degree in English Literature. Still don’t know what a cosine is. Don’t ever want to know what it is.

So, everything was going smoothly until about five or six years after I graduated from college. I started having nightmares. I was back in high school after being away for a while; in fact, it was the exact same school that wanted to torture me with Math for another year. 

Only different.

I didn’t know anyone. Couldn’t find my locker. When I tried to ask questions, the students walked past me as though I were an invisible ghost. Somehow I managed to find my locker. Nothing inside it made sense. The books were a mystery. My schedule was a mystery. Everybody was in class and the halls were empty. I was alone, trying to figure out what class I was supposed to be in and where it was. I was terrified and puzzled. I was afraid I was going to flunk if I didn’t get to my next class soon.

Suddenly, I was sitting in a classroom. (You know how dreams are. You’re here, you’re there.)

It was a French class. I hadn’t been to any of the classes and the finals were coming up in a few days. I didn’t have a clue about the material I was going to be examined on. The text  book was in a foreign language (well…yeah). I couldn’t hear anything the teacher was saying; in fact, I couldn’t even see the teacher. The students around me were all looking straight ahead at some place where the teacher was supposed to be. They were expressionless and completely unaware of me, negating any hope of help from my fellow students.

I started to worry. I looked at the text book. All that stuff I was supposed to know in just a few days. I was doomed. I was going to flunk French. I’d come back to high school just to fail. 

Wait a minute! I’m back in high school? Why the hell am I back in high school? I have a college degree. 

At which point, I’d wake up all sweaty and stressed out but relieved that I wasn’t going to flunk French.

BTW, even thought I didn’t graduate, at the end of the year, I had the highest mark in the school in French. 🙂

I had this dream two or three times a month right up to the time, years and years and years later, when a fellow by the name of J. Richard Jacobs invited me to submit some stories to an anthology he was putting together called Twisted Tails. They were stories with a twist at the end that caused revelation, shock or whatever wasn’t expected. A surprise. 

According to J (may he rest in peace), he scowered the planet for the 12 weirdest writers on Earth and I was one of them. I wasn’t sure what to think about this, but the project sounded like fun.

And I was experiencing a serious case of writers block at the time. The novel I was working on was mired in a complete lack of knowing where I was taking it next. Everything had just stopped dead. But there was this invitation to write some short stories, so each evening I went to the coffee shop where my daughter was working and wrote…in pencil. I wrote four short stories to the sound of an espresso machine and the aroma of coffee.

One of the stories I wrote was called School Dazed. It was about my post-school nightmares and it shook me more than a little as the words tumbled out of my head, through the lead of the pencil and onto the paper.

The story was published in the first Twisted Tails anthology…and guess what? That’s right, I never had that dream again. The same happened with a recurring nightmare I had about being caught in a labyrinth of horrors in a haunted house I’d visited when I was a teenager. I had a nasty case of arachnophobia. Wrote it away. 

I tried writing a story about a man who won the lottery, but apparently it just works for nightmares.