Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Incubus Dreams

Had another of my famous nightmares last night. In this one I was working for some television show that investigated supposed supernatural incidents. For this segment a camera man and I were visiting an old house long reputed to be haunted. The hauntings centered on one upstairs bedroom where some fairly horrible deaths had occurred over the years. I of course elected to sleep in this bedroom.
During the night I felt something moving at the edge of the bed and then the covers being tugged as if something were climbing onto the bed. A moment later a heavy something landed on my back. Whatever the thing was, it had claws because I could feel the sharp tips as the thing's hands or paws slid up my shoulder blades. (And no, Bruce the cat isn't staying with me just now.) Then I felt hot fetid breath at the back of my neck and something began whispering to me with its mouth close to my ear. I can't recall what it was saying exactly but the gist was that this was some sort of demonic creature and it wanted to tear me apart, eat my entrails, and drag my soul back to the howling void it had crawled out of. Fortunately at that point someone started knocking on my door and the thing fled.
The dream gets a bit jumbled after that, as dreams do. I remember we were looking around the house for secret passages since the creature seemed to be solid. It wasn't a ghost. Later we were back at our motel, deciding that sleeping in the house again probably wasn't a good idea. (Proving that even in dreams I'm smarter than the protagonists of most horror movies.)
Unfortunately I learned that the thing had followed us to the motel when it dropped onto my chest in the middle of the night. It was too dark in the room to see it but again I felt the thing's claws. This time though, I was apparently feeling more in my action hero mode. I reached to the edge of the bed and gathered the cover sheet in my fingers. Then I threw the sheet over the creature and scooted myself out from under it. The monster rolled off one side of the bed and me off the other.
The struggle had awakened the camera man in the other bed and he turned on the lights. We ran to the opposite site of my bed just in time to see the demon writhing around and tearing its way through the sheet. As H.P. Lovecraft used to say, it was so horrible I can't really describe it. Hats off to my vivid imagination. All that thing wanted was to get out of the entangling sheet and get to me.
Now a couple of interesting things about this nightmare. The original definition of the term nightmare "morbid oppression during sleep, resembling the pressure of weight upon the breast" relates to incubi or demons thought to sit on the chests of sleepers, smothering them. (This is the basis for the painting The Nightmare which I've used before at the blog but will attach to this post as well when I find it.) In Southern folklore, the incubi is replaced by a witch known as the "old hag" who similarly sits upon the chests of sleepers. So my dream has aspects of a classic dream structure. Mine was simply better plotted than most. Hey, I'm a writer. Old Hag dreams are sometimes thought to be caused by sleeping face down in a pillow and thereby not getting sufficient oxygen. These types of dreams are also often associated with high fevers and illness. I've had a few fever dreams myself so I can vouch for that.
The other thing I noted upon waking was a similarity between the second part of my dream and the 1907 gothic short story What Was It? by Fitz-James O'Brien, which concerns a man attacked by an invisible creature which drops onto his chest in the middle of the night when he is staying at a strange old house. Definitely worth reading if you're not familiar with it. It's available on-line at a couple of different websites. Now I'm wondering if O'Brien might have had an incubus dream or two himself.
Anyway, I'd like to say I came up with some clever way of defeating the demon, but what really happened was I woke up suddenly a few seconds after getting a good look at the thing. Took me a loooong time to get back to sleep too. Stupid subconscious. Oh well. Maybe I'll get a story out of it.


John Corey said...

The Nightmare is here at my local art museum, the Detroit institute of Art. If you have never seen it live, it is quite a thing.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

I bet it is. I'll have to make a trip and see that at some point.