You know how when you’re little, you’ll hear a term which sounds like it means something fantastical? Nobody defines it for you, so you labor under that misapprehension until you either mature enough to realize what you thought it meant is impossible, or you find it properly defined in a book.
That happened to me all the time around ages 3–6. One of the terms I misunderstood was “night life”. I thought, in the same way that the ocean has its own separate set of animals distinct from those on land, there was also a separate set of animals for night and day.
In some limited sense that’s true, as there exist nocturnal and diurnal species. But what I was imagining was a bestiary of terrifying, black furred beasts and “night people” (another overheard, misunderstood term). Something like vampires, but before I knew what a vampire was. I imagined pale black haired humans with cat eyes so they could see in the dark, skulking about in shadows or perched up in trees.
Around this time I had a dream that I was a “night runner”. Somebody tasked with patrolling the woods around a walled kingdom, off-limits to everybody else after dark due to the “night life”. The moon was impossibly large in the sky, like a supermoon on steroids. Its light made visible silhouettes of distant castle-like architecture.
Not just a single castle but a whole city built in that style, protected by a surrounding wall of immense stone bricks. On the periphery of the castle city were suburbs of a sort. Straw roofed medieval looking cottages like out of any fantasy game you’ve played. Some of the windows were illuminated.
Silhouettes passed by the windows. Over and over, at the same interval. Like nobody’s really in there, and it’s just a screen or automated shadow puppetry. Some of the cottages bended and flowed in their construction, like some postmodern art museums I’ve seen. Some were cylindrical.
I don’t recall why, but I broke into one. Inside were wooden tables littered with interesting trinkets. A pocketwatch with a cracked glass face. A wind-up mechanism like for a clock, but removed. A scale model steam engine, various hand tools and uncountable gears of varying sizes.
There were also a couple of CRT picture tubes like from inside an old TV. They were hooked up to Sega game consoles that were filthy, like they’d been salvaged from the dump. They didn’t really belong in this setting but I was pretty obsessed with Sega at this age, so their machines made many out of place appearances in my dreams.
I cracked one open to find no circuitry inside. Yet when I touched the controller, the character moved. He was dressed just like me, but a pixelated sprite. He stood in a pixel art cottage interior just like the one I was standing in. I thought maybe it wasn’t a television tube, but a window into a rudimentary pixelated universe with a version of me in it. A version of this whole city.
I heard a noise outside, and at once was on my feet and through the door. I saw the glint of animal eyes in a tree just inside the wall. When I approached, the beast leapt to another tree just outside the wall. I cut down the tree on the inside of the wall to prevent it from getting over that way again, then pursued it into the woods.
Somehow I could run at an impossibly rapid pace. Trees whipping by on either side, like the speeder bike scene from Return of the Jedi, though I was on foot. I think at one point I lifted my feet up off the ground, trailing them behind me and was “gliding” forward instead of properly running.
What I didn’t count on is that the beast was a ruse to draw me into the woods. Night people waiting in the trees threw nets onto me. As I lay tangled up on the damp, cool forest floor, they gathered all around me. “What should we do with him?” one asked. “He’s killed so many of us. We should just kill him.”
But another objected. “He is fast and powerful. If we turn him into one of us, he could be very useful.” The notion of being changed into a night person was gut wrenchingly scary. They didn’t seem to be overtly inhuman, just adapted for darkness, but I recoiled from the idea of joining their ranks.
I awoke drenched in sweat, and recall that my mother said I’d been screaming in my sleep. I do have a history of night terrors, and much later in life my first roommates would complain that I often screamed, cried or talked about monsters in my sleep. I’ve never recorded myself sleeping so I don’t know exactly what sort of things I say, but perhaps I will one of these nights.
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