Waking Dream is a short story about a child named Jackie who became trapped in a strange forest having no memory.
A chilling, biting draft brisks across my face as I lay curled on a tree stump. Arising from what seemed to have been a slumber of eternity, I frantically look about the hinterlands surrounding me. Leafless, gnarly trees with twisting branches outstretching like clawed hands reaching to pull me away into the encroaching grey fog draped over the sky.
I don’t like this type of dream. The ones where you are terrified and alone. I want to wake up. Yet, for some reason I can’t. The soreness and aching of my bones from that uncomfortable position I awoke from. The slight bit of dirt smudged against my cheek. Seems jarringly real. But that doesn’t make sense. This had to be a dream. Nobody just suddenly wakes up in the middle of a forest for no reason, right? I had to have gotten here somehow.
I call out a hello only to be met with the moaning wind swaying the branches. I cry out again, and I’m still met with silence. I stand there thinking. Thinking and recalling. How did I get here? Actually, wait a minute. What did I have for breakfast this morning? No, I have an excellent memory. I don’t forget things. Think. What did I have for breakfast?
Thinking and recalling some more and more. No, I can’t answer for the life of me. Perhaps whatever I ate didn't settle all too well. Perhaps I had a rotten egg with spoiled milk. Perhaps I caught a bad cold. But as disoriented as I am, I don’t feel sick. Whatever is going on, my body feels flat somehow. As if I got squished like a pancake. Did I have pancakes for breakfast? No, I would have remembered what they taste like or at the very least be craving them right now. Maybe I’m actually flat? Then how am I breathing right now? I suppose I just lost a lot of weight.
Actually, now that I think a little more, what’s my name? I have one, right? Think. What did my parents always say? Wait, who are my parents? Do I have any friends? Did I talk to anyone? Why can’t I remember anything? I thought and thought until my brain cramped. Nope. I can’t remember anything. Nothing rings a bell.
I’ve got to focus and concentrate on something. Let’s try counting. I can still do that, right? Let’s see. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Eight. Oops, skipped seven on accident. But whatever, good enough. I still know my numbers. What about powers of two? Let’s see. Two. Four. Eight. Sixteen. Thirty-Two. Sixty-Four. One-Twenty-Eight. Two-Fifty-Six. Five-hundred and...twelve? Yes, that’s right. I can still do math. At least my brain is working. Sort of.
Okay, maybe I’ll just make up a name for myself. Am I boy or a girl? I think I’m a girl, right? Or am I boy? I dunno. So let’s pick a name. Any name. Um...let’s see. Well, I can’t think of anything. I’ll just blurt out the first thing that comes out of my mouth. But I remain silent. I can’t think of any names for myself.
And then, from nowhere, a name rings in my head. Jackie. Is that who I am? Or did I just make up that name? Okay, until I figure this out, I’ll just call myself Jackie. I’m Jackie, the kid lost in the forest. Even if that’s not who I am, I’m going with that anyway. It’s who I am right now.
What to do though? Stay and wait in hopes that someone would come to rescue me? No. No chance. There has to be a way back to wherever I came from. But where to go exactly? I shouldn’t wander aimlessly or else I’ll just go in circles. Just pick a direction and go.
Looking for the largest opening in the trees, I stand up from the tree stump and walk forward, the dried leaves on the ground crackling with every step. Cautiously, I eye my left and my right. Just keep going straight. Don’t make any turns. All forests end somewhere.
A skitter in the woods. Something else is here! I quickly turn around, but saw nothing. Whatever it was, it was gone. I am not alone out here. But on the bright side, I'm sure if I was actually all alone with nothing else alive in this forest, that would be equally terrifying.
When I turn around again, I find that something seemed off. The trees. They don't look right. Was there something different about them? And looking behind me, I can't find my own footprints. Somewhere had to be the tree stump from which I awoke. I couldn't have walked too far, right? And yet from where I stood, I couldn't see it. There has to be another way to get my bearing. What about the sun? No, not even that helped. The dusky pale grey clouds obscured whatever radiating light that could leak through. I was lost.
Just pick a new direction, I told myself. And just go that way. Keep walking. Don't so much as turn your head. Maybe the trees were somehow shifting around? No, that's not possible. Trees can't up and walk wherever they want. That would be silly.
But as I tread deeper and deeper into the woods, I felt a stringy, sticky web accumulating on my left hand. And in that same moment, something skittered across my shoulder prickling and tingling against my skin. When I reach to swat it away, I find that the web just grows thicker entangling me more and more as I struggle to escape from ensnarement. But I can’t.
Emerging from the shadowy thickets come thousands of those tiny skittering creatures moving together like a muddy fog. Each individual creature jet black with eight lanky legs all connecting to a tiny single body with a set of eight, glowing crimson eyes. Spiders, I think? I don’t know of any kind of spider that acts like this, but here they are, coordinating as one entity. They swarm and circle about my body meticulously wrapping me in web as I wriggle and cry out in panic. And within moments, I find my struggles in vain as they bundle me up in a web cocoon, my mouth sewn shut silencing whatever screams I had.
With my legs also sewn together, I could do nothing as the spiders nudge me with a unified combined strength toppling me over to the ground. I lay there unable to move as the spiders gather around crawling all over my body to lift me off the ground and swiftly carry me away. And with my arms bound at my sides, I find that I can’t scratch the itches of their little hairy legs brushing up against my skin. I can’t feel them biting or puncturing me at least. More like an endless tickling, but not in the fun, pleasant way.
I don’t know how long I was being carried away for, but I soon find myself set onto the ground, the spiders scattering away like a dissipating cloud of mist. And it isn't long until I hear something far bigger nearby. Large thuds like footsteps but very rapid. A horse? No. Too many thuds. A group of horses? That didn't sound right either. An oversized insect? No, those don't exist. Giant bugs are extinct. I think. If my memory is working correctly. No wait, I couldn’t even remember my own name. Maybe giant bugs still exist after all. Maybe those horses were actually really big flies. Horse flies.
But whatever those other spiders were, I’m dreading of the very likely thing that would happen to me next: I’m going to get eaten. I’m going to become a meal for some giant monster. But why me of all the different types of monster chow? I’m wafer-thin and I have no meat on me, so at best, I would be a light snack. Hopefully, I’m just bony and bad-tasting enough so that I get spit out by whatever monster tries to eat me. But I’d much prefer not being taste tested at all, so I’ve got to get out of here.
When I try move around a little more, I fortunately find that the web had loosened slightly from the branches snatching themselves on my cocoon while the spiders were carrying me here. I have a tad more wiggle room now, able to move my wrists and fingers and even turn my neck a little. But the web still covers me, not quite as tight as before, but still ensnaring me.
Waiting for the footsteps to go away, I take a risk. Noting how loose the web had gotten, I roll over trying to stand up on two feet. Still wrapped in the cocoon, I find that I can’t really walk that well, so I figure I could just hop to get away. But then an ugly thought occurs. Get away to where? Where do I hop to in this shifting forest? What if the monster finds me trying to escape? It will just catch me, and then I’ll get eaten! No, don’t think that. Calm yourself. Think positively. Just pick a direction and go, I tell myself.
After hopping forward a short distance, I spot a slightly shimmering object buried in the leaves. A tin box for a deck of cards. Not a full deck, only three were inside each with emblems of cartoonish drawings. Reaching as far as I could through the web entanglement around me, I draw a card, and embedded on one side is the emblem of a pawprint from a clawed animal. Slightly comforting to look at somehow as it relaxes me as if I were much safer from before, yet it also invigorates me. A warm power surges through me as I secure a firmer grip on the card which I find to made of tin as well. The edges seem rather sharpened, and my first instinct was to cut myself free of the web. First my arms, and then around my face.
Having broken free from the cocoon, I take a deep breath, filling my lungs with fresh air once more. Or at least I think they are filling up. I definitely feel the fresh, chilly air rushing into my lungs, but my chest barely expands with each breath. But as long as I feel reenergized, it shouldn’t matter a whole lot, right? However, I find the chance to take a breather short-lived. The pungent, lukewarm stench of something utterly disgusting was behind me, and its shadow imposes like a great throne. Maybe it was just a horse that hadn’t bathed in a long time?
I turn around slowly, my skin crawling, my knees locked, my breath staggering and my whole body quivering as I lay my eyes upon the beast behind me. I want to say it was a giant spider. It kind of looks like one. Eight legs. Eight eyes. A pair of clipping fangs dripping with webby saliva. But its body is enveloped in some kind of hairy fungus with beady little pods dotting it while a large, tulip-like vase lined with teeth rises from its back. Even though my memory is foggy, I know for a fact that whatever this thing is does not and should not exist by all rights. Geometrically, it just doesn’t make sense. I try to scream, but I can’t. I just freeze.
The fungus spider approaches, clattering its fangs together ready to feast. I shut my eyes hoping that whatever I’m seeing isn’t actually real, but when I open them again, I find it to still be there. As my attempt to wish it away ends in failure, the monster pounces knocking me to the ground, trying to plunge its fangs into my face as I push them away as hard as I could. Shoving the monster off balance, I manage to kick myself back a little to get out from underneath it. Grabbing the tin deck of cards with me, I took off dashing away as fast as I could without looking back.
I was definitely faster than the spider. Somehow, being flat made me a lot lighter and quicker. But I just ran in one direction making the occasional serpentine movement to throw it off by weaving through tangled tree branches that the spider was too big to crawl through. I leap into the air jumping way higher than I thought I would. Almost like I’m flying, but really just gliding. Had I known I could do this before, I might have jumped straight up above the canopies from where I awoke so that I could see the whole forest, but now is not the time for hindsight. I just want to run away.
Even with my agile maneuvers, my foot catches onto a root and in one swift motion, I fall over landing on my face. I try to get up again, but the spider caught up rearing back to take a bite out of me. Without thinking, I draw the card with the animal clawprint and toss it with pinpoint precision as it lands squarely between the spider’s eyes making it shriek and recoil. What? What are these cards made of to do something like that? Surely, tin isn’t that strong.
And just a short time later, no more than a few seconds, I find the same card I threw in the deck again as if it returned to me on its own. As the spider crept forward to strike once more, I fling the card again, hitting the beast in the same spot as before, and with that last shot, the spider dissolves and fizzes away into white bubbles. No corpse or remains. It completely vanishes. Well, it’s gone now. Did I wish it away? Given all the effort I had to go through just now, I’m doubting it was that simple.
But just when I thought I got out of this mess, my right hand goes numb no longer able to feel my fingers. When I look at it, I find a pierce mark. I was bitten. And I can feel the poison crawling up my arm, numbing it more and more as my breath slips away. But where do I go to get help? Just pick a direction and go.
I have no choice but to keep going and find somewhere safe. There could be plenty more of those giant spiders in these woods. As I briskly walk further and further the poison creeps closer and closer to my heart. And yet, fewer and fewer of the black claw trees obstruct the view. The landscape turns to a lush, green hill with a great waterfall pouring down from the mouth of a cave. The grey clouds part and give way to a great, golden full moon dominating the sky.
As my whole body aches more and more from the poison, I find a nice flat rock I could lay down on. I am so tired now. Perhaps I could use a very long nap. My eyes slowly close as the gentle moonlight tucks me into bed hopefully ending this dream on a good note. Everything is so peaceful now. I can rest.
I don’t know how long I slept for, but I feel relaxed as my eyes open to be greeted by a peeking sunrise and birds chirping away happily. And the soothing sound of a waterfall. Wait. Waterfall? I’m still here? I thought I was going to wake up from this dream? I arise and stare at my reflection at a nearby creek. My body is still flat and compressed. And then, I look to my right hand. The gash from that ugly spider. Still there, but not as big as I remember it to be. And the tin box with three cards. Still with me set down against the rock. I guess I’ll have to dream a little longer. At least I think this is a dream.
I still don’t know who I am though or where I came from. I refuse to believe this is all random coincidence. This whole situation just seems so unreal as if it was engineered by someone else. Or something else. Yet here I am. All I know is that I named myself Jackie, and that I can at the very least think and make decisions. Let’s take a deep breath, concentrate again and try to focus. Let’s get back on track, and just count to ten. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Pancakes. Ate. Wait, that’s not right.
Even if my memory is still a little funny, I can think, and I know what some things are. Sort of. My memory is not all gone, just incomplete. I stand up from the rock and brush myself off, pocketing the tin box. I gaze beyond the waterfall at the great landscape stretching for miles. Distant mountain peaks, valleys, hills and cliffs. So many places to go. What should I do? Will I be able to find anyone that can tell me more about where I come from? I’m not too sure, but for certain, there’s one thing I can do: Just pick a direction and go.