Halloween Extravaganza: Charles Gramlich: Nightmare Season

Charles Gramlich has stopped by to talk to us about nightmares. Very interesting. Enjoy.

I’ve been blessed with nightmares for most of my life. In one, I watched a sorceress rip another woman’s eyes out with magic. Then she turned on me. I began to come apart. My lower jaw tore off; it hit the ground and burst into dust. As my head exploded I realized I was dead.

That wasn’t the first time I’ve died in dreams. I once fought my doppelganger, switching from head to head throughout the bout, and when I stood over my own body with a knife in its chest I wasn’t sure which survived—the good me or the bad one. I’m still not sure. Are you?

Where do such dreams come from? As a kid, Mom and Dad wouldn’t let me watch scary shows like Twilight Zone or Outer Limits but they didn’t monitor my reading. I read bible stories, history, animal tales, football and racing stories, science fiction and fantasy. That’s probably where the imagery in my dreams first originated. I’ve since added scary shows to my experience. Recently, I published a collection called Out of Dreams: Nightmares, which contains retellings of dreams I’ve had in story form.

In dreams, I’ve been villains and victims. I’ve been children, and adults, and monsters. I’ve been the devil. Once I was a serial killer writing a novel on the walls of my house in the blood of the murdered. I wouldn’t want to be most of these things in real life, but dreams let you live many lives. They also provide fodder for creative work, either in writing or other arts. Below, I touch on some dream related phenomena that can also feed one’s creativity.

In Lucid Dreaming you become aware of the dream. Sometimes you’re just along for the ride and sometimes you can manipulate the dream. When I can, I fly. Talk about “a dream come true.” The other night I chased dragonflies through the pines. A little before that I was “watching TV” when I realized I was dreaming. Since I couldn’t fly inside the house, I pushed myself off the couch into the air and floated around the room.

Being well rested and avoiding caffeine and medications are important to the production of lucid dreams. You also need to recognize a dream. Most people experience clues that indicate dreaming. For me, light switches failing to work is often a clue. This also triggers a feeling that something bad is about to happen. But only while dreaming. When I’m awake, I just know the electricity is off.

I have a test to tell if I’m dreaming. Pinching myself doesn’t work for me but jumping does. In real life, I can’t jump very high. So, if I jump and touch the ceiling, or a low hanging branch, or if I seem to hang in the air, I know it’s a dream. And the fun begins.

Sleep Paralysis can be extremely disconcerting. Here, you wake up from the dream state but remain paralyzed. You’re normally paralyzed from the neck down during dreams to keep you from acting out and hurting yourself, but it’s supposed to end as dreaming ends. When it doesn’t, you lie there wide awake but unable to move or call out. Fortunately, my sleep paralysis lasts only a few seconds. Some attacks can last for half an hour or more.

A variant type of sleep paralysis can be much more terrifying, though. You wake up and believe yourself to be “fully” awake, but you remain paralyzed and certain dream-like phenomena continue occurring. There’s often an intense feeling of a malevolent presence in the room. It may be invisible or appear only as a shadow.

My most terrifying event of this nature occurred when I awoke and saw my wife lying next to me completely covered with the sheet. I knew something was wrong. The sheet clung to the body beneath it, which was far more skeletal than my wife. As I was about to speak, the figure turned its head toward me beneath the sheet. The linen cloth clung tightly across deep-socketed eyes. The mouth was open and the sheet fluttered as the being breathed. I thought I screamed, but otherwise I couldn’t move. The figure under the sheet shifted toward me in a slow scootch. I felt clearly that it was a ghost or a demon.

I tried to throw up my arm to block the thing and a cold hand underneath the sheet grabbed my wrist in a violent grasp. Again, I screamed, but then awareness came. This had to be sleep paralysis, which I’d had before, although never so frightfully. Struggling against sleep paralysis is counterproductive. The more you try to break free, the tighter it grips. The best solution is to relax. I did, and the hand let go and the figure deflated and disappeared. I didn’t need to write a story to remember this experience.

Sleep paralysis is a possible explanation for a variety of ghost and demonic experiences, as well as some out-of-body and alien abduction scenarios. I believe it. If I’d had that encounter a century ago, or with no knowledge of sleep paralysis, I almost certainly would have blamed the supernatural.

The term “narcolepsy” means sleep attack. The individual occasionally falls asleep without warning during normal daytime activities such as eating or talking with friends. This uncontrollable sleep is usually REM related and the person has a dream, though it lasts only a few moments.

Two symptoms of narcolepsy are hypnogogic and hypnopompic hallucinations. These are brief, vivid, dream-like experiences that occur while one is falling asleep (gogic) or waking up (pompic). My sheet/ghost experience might be described as a hypnopompic experience. Another memorable one that I had was of a train blasting its whistle while it rolled through one window of my bedroom and out the other.

Many people enjoy a good scare during Halloween season. For me, it can be as simple as going to sleep. Have a great Halloween, and… pleasant dreams!

Charles Gramlich writes from the piney woods of south Louisiana. He has authored the Talera fantasy series and the SF novel Under the Ember Star. His stories have been collected in Bitter Steel, Midnight in Rosary, and In the Language of Scorpions. He also writes westerns as Tyler Boone. His most recent releases, under his own name, are Farhaven & Other Stories, a collection of kid’s tales, and Out of Dreams: Nightmares, which are retellings of some of his most memorable nightmares in story form. Charles’s books are available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, or through the author.

I’ve been blessed my entire life with nightmares. I love them. My wife has strict instructions ‘not’ to wake me up if she thinks I’m having a bad dream, no matter how terrified I might seem. From the first, many of my dreams had strong “story telling” elements to them. Some made for complete tales with beginnings, middles, and ends. All I had to do to make them into stories was write them down the way they’d occurred. This collection features retellings of some of my more darkly fantastic dreams. Most are nightmarish, but not all. Some are just strange. Many of these tales have been published elsewhere but have never appeared together before. Each has brought me joy, even if they brought me terror first! I hope you’ll like them.

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