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My Zombie Nightmares

August 3, 2011

Last night I had a set of three dreams in which I was attacked by zombies.

In the first dream I had no idea what I was up against. I was home in Washington, on a sunny afternoon. I walked out of the back door of my house, apparently intending to wander aimlessly in the large fields behind our backyard. At the back of the field I was greeted by a grizzly sight: a pile of limbs and heads. To the right of the pile stretched a long row of inanimate corpses, some lying on the ground, but many standing. They wore grotesque expressions and stood frozen in awkward positions, hunched over or to the side, or leaning foward, their limbs hanging limp, swaying a little (in the breeze, I hoped, and not of the corpses’ volition). I stared at them for a while in shock. I still had no idea of the danger I was in. Of course, my mind—the one putting on the show, the one that at the moment still regulated the breathing and heartbeat and digestive functions of my sleeping body, was aware of the danger my dream-avatar was in. But that avatar—a dreaming version of myself—had a mind too, as each of your own dream-selves has. And that mind—that sub-mind—(a mind of my mind!)—still thought it was looking at a grim row of lifeless, and therefore harmless, bodies.

Still, I was aghast, and I turned and ran for my house. Opening the back door, I called to my parents, and pointed back to the fields. I began to say something, but was cut short as I looked over my shoulder. The bodies, now animated, had followed me to my home, and were no more than fifteen paces away. I woke up.

Lying in bed, I was aware that my newfound fascination with zombies (I’m writing a novel, a bizarre specimen of zombie fiction—if you’re bored or strangely intrigued, keep checking my blog for excerpts) was working its way into my subconscious. I didn’t know whether I should be pleased and encouraged that my subconscious was mulling over the subject of my novel, or frightened that I was becoming thus consumed, or some combination of the above.

I let my heart return to its usual slow and steady pace, then I drifted back to sleep, somehow aware that I would reenter the dream.

If you’re too excited to get back to a dream, you never will. Maybe because your Mind doesn’t want to reward your every impulsive demand. Also, if you’re too afraid of returning to a dream, chances are high that you won’t. Possibly The Mind takes mercy on your terrified self and moves on to other, more pleasant dream-topics.

But if you hover somewhere between too excited and too afraid, The Mind allows you to continue the dream. You just drift right back into it. You are encouraged to continue working it over—to make something of the cryptic puzzle—maybe to learn something, or more simply, just to experience something.

So I slept. I reentered the dream world. I was in the same place. My home. Why my home? Why not a stranger’s home or a foreign landscape? That would’ve been more frightening, I think. But sometimes I believe The Mind reels in self-awareness. It says, “I’m displaced. I’m lonely. I don’t know things.” And you find your dream-self wandering unknown city streets, where the people looking down from windows don’t have names like they don’t have faces. Displacement. Uncertainty and extreme discomfort. Often for me, it’s the nighttime river dream. In this recurring dream, I find myself near a river or stream at night, where frogs, owls, and other wildlife provide the only companionship. Always in these dreams I am aware that far away, friends and family are somewhere safe, warm, and bright. Always I wonder why I’m there at the river—how I arrived or when I will leave. But I don’t leave, in the dream. Never. I stay and listen to the sounds and continue to hash and rehash the same questions.

In real life, I love streams and rivers. I love to fish. The name Trent means river, and my last name is German for linen brook. But the nighttime river of my dreams is a haunting place for me and I wake up from these dreams feeling out of sorts, even gloomy.

This essay wanders like a dream. How did I get here?


What I was saying was, this wasn’t a nighttime river dream. I wasn’t wandering strange cities. I was at my own house—a house I had lived in for fourteen years. My Mind granted me Home, as a base or a shelter against the undead. I was as prepared as one could be for an unexpected zombie invasion.

This time, in the dream, it was night. The moon was not shining, but light shone from the windows of my home and illuminated the scene. I was in the field again. To my surprise and great relief, a tall, sturdy, chain link fence now stood between me and the row of motionless bodies.

So. Some kind of protection had been afforded.

Had the chain link fence been set up between my dreams? And who had put it there? Some splinter of my own cognition? I imagine a rogue dream-self, slipping onto the “set” (what else could you call it?), undetected by the greater Mind, throwing up hasty fortifications. I like this thought. I like the idea of a Jack Bauer figure, who looks like me, determined to save my psychological self from zombie consumption. Or perhaps, and more likely, the chain link fence was the work of The Mind itself. An act of mercy? Not likely. A test? Or worse—a game. Putting my psyche through rat mazes.

Either way, closer inspection of the chain link fence proved that whoever put it there, and for whatever reasons, the planning and overall construction was shoddy: at the corner of the field, the fence came to an abrupt halt, the tall grass beyond it uninterrupted in its night-winds. The zombies, then, would not be much delayed by the fence after all.

In the dream I was yelling. Not the senseless screaming of someone who had lost control of the situation. Certainly I was terrified, but I seemed to be shouting directions to someone. This meant two things to me: 1, I hadn’t given up hope for survival. 2, I wasn’t alone. There were people with me.

This second point is, of course, both reassuring and unsettling. It’s good to have friends when facing zombies. But it also means added responsibility. And the fact that I was shouting instructions to them, rather than them to me, told me I was the one expected to save them from the approaching evil.

They—whoever they were—friends and family, I think—followed my instructions. That is, they ran into the house, and closed and locked the doors.

I made myself useful. I stood in horror as the zombies leapt onto and crawled over the high chain link fence, and came in droves around the fence’s end. They were already near me. Finally, laboriously, concentratedly, I turned and ran for the house. The scene that ensued on the back porch was surprisingly realistic. The porch light being on, I couldn’t see into the darkness very well. But luminous eyes and shadowy figures were visible in the night, coming closer. I admit to a maddening sense of terror upon seeing them thusly approach.

I grabbed the door handle. Locked, of course. Just as I had requested. A friend stood on the other side (name withheld) and looked at me questioningly through the glass, as if to ask whether or not he/she should risk opening the door. To my own surprise, I shook my head. No. Don’t open it.

What? Why? What insane idea or emotion prompted my dream-self to deny obvious safety? Looking back, I think there was plenty of time for _____ to open the door, let me in, and relock it. Was I being a martyr here? Did I have some Freudian death wish, and planned on doing it with a zombie-tastic bang? But I’ve had martyr dreams, and those are different. There I was, standing on my own back porch, a locked door between myself and safety from the advancing corpses. And I chose to stay outside. Perhaps I was aware of the ability of dream-pursuers to sneak up quickly when you’re back is turned—their uncanny knack for getting an arm in the door just before it closes, breaking the hermetic seal of your shelter long enough for its fellows to come and force the door the rest of the way open and pour in, their rotting teeth bared.

I want to think this was my reasoning. A brave attempt to save friends and family. It is proven that the dream-self is capable of acts of great heroism, as well as those of deepest selfishness.

Having performed this seemingly heroic deed, I immediately turned and engaged in the typically unheroic task of running as fast as my feet would carry me. I saw bushes. I dove in. I waited in silence. Maybe I prayed. There’s no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole, and there’s also no such thing as an atheist in a bush during a zombie apocalypse. Add to that fact that I’m a practicing Mormon and it’s almost a guarantee that I uttered at least one silent prayer in that bush. I don’t remember doing it. What I do remember are cold, clammy hands grabbing my legs, my arms, my shoulders, my neck, and pulling me, wrenching my out of my bush. And again I woke up.

I was not surprised at the repetition of the dream. Nor was I surprised to fall back asleep and reenter it almost instantaneously.

I was again surrounded by friends and familiar faces. This time, I was in the shelter with them. Unfortunately however, the shelter was nothing but a tent, probably of the Coleman variety (it looked like our family camping-tent—dull green, and everything), and the zombies were already surrounding us. A friend of mine—(I would provide his name, if I could, considering his act was both ingenious and heroic—but sadly he either had no name or I cannot recall it—I only know he was a friend)—anyway, a friend of mine had the idea of making a certain noise, a sort of warbling cry, which according to him worked as an effective zombie repellent. He demonstrated, and we took up the call. Amazingly, but not surprisingly for a dream, the warbling cry worked exactly as planned. The zombies fled. After a few moments, they returned, and the call had to be repeated.

Now, what you have here is a semi-fixed problem. Zombies come. We shout. Zombies leave. We stop shouting. Zombies come again. Etc. The solution is effective, but only temporarily. The Mind watches the looping dream and says, “this can’t go on.” The anti-zombie warbling cry promises no conclusion—promises only an endless cycle of nothing-new.

And so The Mind intervened. Maybe because it wanted to save me from an endless tent-purgatory. Or maybe it sensed the ridiculousness of the situation and was embarrassed by its own handiwork. Either way, the important fact here is that The Mind can change the dream. Whenever it wants. Because in the dream, It makes the rules and It breaks the rules, and creates new ones to replace them. In the dream, The Mind has a plan, and It is the master of the plan, and if things go awry, it sticks its ethereal hand into your sur-reality and upheaves it.

Upheaved. That’s what my mind did. Literally. It upheaved the tent. No explanation. No half-baked exception to the warbling cry rule. No. It just got rid of the tent. And in our fear, we forgot about the warbling cry as quickly as we learned about it. The zombies closed in.

And then I was home again. I was standing on my back porch in broad daylight. Was I dead? I didn’t really know or care. Perhaps at dream-headquarters they had pulled the plug on the whole operation. You heard the boss—shut her down. Zombie dream is over. I don’t know who gave him the warbling cry idea, but it almost ruined us. Shut her down.

I walked into my house, said hi to my parents, shut and locked the door. A hand slapped the glass from the outside and my heart nearly exploded with fresh fear: the zombies surrounded my home.


© Trent R. Leinenbach, Ashen Apples, 2011

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