Three O’clock Nightmare

I awoke with a jolt, the chilling sound of a child’s distant cry echoing in my ears. My heart raced as I fumbled for my phone, desperately trying to orientate myself. As I sat on the edge of the bed, my head pounded after abruptly being pulled from a deep sleep. The crying stopped once again. I glanced at my phone; it was 3.00am.

Lucid dreams had plagued me for months now, escalating to the point where they seemed to invade my waking life. I would wake up to sounds and even smells tormenting me. But the crying baby was the worst. It reminded me of the life I so desperately tried to avoid, the family I had no intention of starting. Adam didn’t know, of course.  I hadn’t been entirely honest with him when we got married, and the thought of some snivelling, burdensome kid haunted me. It wasn’t for fear of falling pregnant, though, since I was secretly taking the pill without his knowledge.

I nudged Adam, hoping for some comfort. He stirred, ever the doting fool.

“What’s wrong, babe?” he murmured, concern etched on his face.

“Another nightmare,” I said, my voice trembling dramatically. “I dreamt about a towering tree; it had a face, and its branches reached out to grab me in the wind.” I shivered, embellishing some of the details for effect.

He wrapped his arms around me. “It was just a dream, babe. Do you want a glass of water?”

I shook my head, feigning gratitude, before rolling over to get comfortable again. I couldn’t let him know the true extent of my fear. It would show weakness. But each night, the dreams became increasingly weird, sometimes convincing me I was going mad. And always at 3.00 am.

The following day, I relished having the house all to myself. Adam was at work while I had the day off from my passionless job as a litigation solicitor. I should have been working from home, but I had other plans in mind. I needed to escape the weight of my own thoughts and the monotony of life, so planned a walk in the woods with our German Shepherd, Zac, followed by a small shopping spree to replenish my wardrobe. Maybe it would provide some temporary relief.

As I closed the front gate, I noticed the freshly painted picket fence. Adam made a great handyman; the front lawn had been freshly cut, the flowerbeds were neat and tidy with colourful bedding plants, and now the once shabby fence was refreshed like new. The cottage looked beautiful. Picture perfect with its quintessential roses around the door, but life within its walls was nothing but dull.

Ignoring the warning sign for high winds, I zipped up my coat and tied my hair back in a tight ponytail. As Zac happily chased after sticks, I stumbled upon a tree which eerily resembled the one from my nightmare. Its branches furiously swayed in the wind, just inches away from me. Before I could react, a gust of wind sent it crashing to the ground, blocking our path. Fear gripped me as I realized the eerie connection between my dream and reality. Perhaps the dream had warned me, causing me to halt before the tree hit me.

That night, I regaled Adam with the terrifying encounter. Yet, his usual obliviousness prevented him from seeing the truth. He claimed it was a mere coincidence, which pissed me off, if I’m honest.

“But my dream forewarned me of the tree,” I said.

He continued straining the pasta for our dinner and replied, “Babe, I think it’s just a coincidence. It’s easy to connect things with our dreams in hindsight, just like the dream you had last week, when you dreamt Zac died, and then he got lost in the woods. The two weren’t connected; he’s always running off in the woods.”

“So, you don’t believe me?” I said, “What about the time I dreamt of that itchy rash, and then the next day, you had an allergic reaction to the mussels we ate.”

“I don’t know babe, coincidence again.”

He placed the steaming bowl of carbonara in front of me, along with a glass of pinot and some homemade garlic bread. I dropped the subject, my hunger outweighing the need to make him understand.

Days turned into weeks, and the boundary between dreams and reality began to blur. The haunting sounds and sights consumed me, tormenting my every waking moment. A distant church bell, a waft of coffee, or a particular repeating colour triggered dreams I’d forgotten, giving an eerie sense of déjà vu. But, by far, the worst was waking each night to the sound of a baby or children screaming, their cries fading into the distance. The clock tauntingly displayed at 3.00 am.

One night, when sleep claimed me again, it took me to a place I failed to recognise. Strange shops and buildings surrounded me, leaving me disoriented and lost. Seeking refuge in a small café, I sat at a table and ordered a cappuccino. The sounds were vivid: voices chattering, a radio playing, and the constant grind of the barista machine.

It was then that she appeared. A beautiful woman who was a wondrous vision with her angelic face and warm smile, sitting across the table from me. My mind began to suspect this to be a dream since her flawless face and flowing honey-coloured hair were reminiscent of a Disney princess. Our conversation flowed effortlessly, as if we were old friends. It was certainly a more pleasant dream than others I’d had recently.

As our laughter rippled through the café, my dream suddenly shattered. It spun out of control, forcing my eyes to open with a jolt. But rather than the softness of my feather pillow, my head was placed on something hard and cold. I sat up and squinted at the bright light around me to discover that I was in Copper Pot café, just a few blocks from home. Everything appeared familiar, but I knew my last moment of reality had been one in the safety of my own bed as I’d dropped to sleep.

Confused and disoriented, I left the café searching for answers. I couldn’t find my phone in my bag, but my car keys were there, evidence that I had driven here in a daze. I found my car in its usual spot and drove home, trying to make sense of the inexplicable events unfolding before me.

Pulling up outside our house, I sensed that something was horribly wrong. The picket fence seemed off as if it hadn’t just been painted, and there was a small boy playing in the front garden. I didn’t recognise him, and the few friends we knew with children all had daughters. Confused, I approached the front door, but before I reached it, a woman emerged holding a baby.

“Can I help you?” she said, her voice laced with suspicion.

“Er, this is my home; what are you doing here?” I asked, my confusion rapidly morphing into anger.

The woman’s face darkened, and she called out to Adam, who came running to the door.

“Adam, what the hell…”

“Who are you?” he said, his shocked expression wary and questioning. I pinched the skin on my wrist to check this wasn’t a dream, noting that my watch said it was 3.00 pm.

“Adam, it’s me.”

The kid ran to his mother’s side and clung to her skirt. It was then that it hit me. Her long flowing hair, beautiful blue eyes and perfect skin confirmed that she was the woman I’d met in the café…in my dream.

“What are you doing here with my husband?”

Adam stepped forward, shielding her. “Look, I don’t know who you think you are, lady, but if you don’t back off and leave my wife and child alone, I will have to call the police.

Wife?!

I searched his face, hoping for a glimmer of recognition, but there was none. It was as if he had amnesia, erasing all memories of our life together. Panic seized me as I took in the unfamiliar surroundings – the mini slide and sandpit area, the beds of flowers in full bloom.

This wasn’t my home.

This was a nightmare.

Tears welled in my eyes as I stumbled backwards, their hostile gazes burning into me. I retreated down the garden path, eyes locked with the woman from my dream. She stared back at me, her features hauntingly familiar, yet also a perfect stranger.

As darkness closed in around me, fear took hold. I had somehow been set adrift in this nightmare, with it becoming my new reality. There was no waking up from it. I didn’t know who I was or where I fit in with this new existence.

I started the engine, pulling away from the cottage that was once my home, not knowing where I would head or what I would find.