Nightmares and Story Grains by Irina Slav

If someone asked me what my worst nightmare was, they’d have to pack a lunch and a lot of coffee because I can talk about my nightmares for hours. And hours. And hours.

I don’t mean nightmares in the sense of “What’s the worst thing you can imagine happening to you?” That one’s easy—it’s easy for every human who’s decided to become a parent. I’ll leave it at that.

No, I mean the worst scary dream I have ever had. I’ve had hundreds, and I tend to remember my dreams for years. Especially the nightmares, of course, I remember too many of them for comfort.

The ones you wake up from panting, still trying to run in the suddenly syrupy thick air. The ones you emerge from crying, crushed under the weight of gratitude that slams into you the moment you realize it was all a dream. And, most of all, the ones that make you question your sanity when you wake up. The weird ones. The “How did my brain come up with this?” ones.

I’ve drunk blood out of bowls in my nightmares. I’ve watched demons have a picnic by the road with raw flesh their starter, main course, and dessert. I’ve been hunted by a monster wearing a rabbit skull for a hat. I’ve killed my fair share of zombies using things like pencils and ladles (Okay, those weren’t nightmares, they were action-packed fun).

I’ve had feathers grow out of my arms, and no, it most definitely did not feel like I was becoming an angel. I actually had to skin myself to get rid of these. I have been imprisoned in my own room by a nightmare version of my father, and I have died in my dreams, and I’ve flown.

And one night, I found myself wandering along dark, empty hallways looking for a room 22. My room in an utterly unfamiliar, surreal place. This dream left me exhausted and disturbed when I finally woke up. It had to become a story. It was the first one.

It was only a matter of time, really. I make a living with words. Words are the only thing I know how to work with relatively well. It only made sense to start using them to make a sanity as well. Because when you’re in the right frame of mind, you don’t need to ask yourself that question we all know well: “What if?” When you’re in the right frame of mind, your brain does that for you and supplies the answer. In your sleep.

In dreams—in nightmares—your brain graciously, or maybe out of desperation, sometimes produces these story grains that grate and grate on you until you give up and plant them in that dark field of imagination, hoping like hell you struck fertile ground.

Sometimes, you do. Sometimes, the soil of imagination is so fertile the spot you planted the first story grain sprouts several stories. That first story, which I wrote five years ago and called “Then,” over the years became the start of a longer narrative that has so far resulted in two more stories, which, although unrelated to that first one, take place in the same world and two involve Nina, the girl from “Then.”

That girl, who was initially supposed to be a vessel for my visions, eventually came to have a life of her own, a life I wanted to write about, in a world I also wanted to write about because I wanted to learn more about it.

I’m still finding more and more things about this world. I’m still writing stories about it. Stories that have nothing to do with each other, and I’m the only one who knows they are, in fact, related. Well, I was until now. And it all started with a single story grain. With a nightmare that made me itch to find out what that place I was wandering around was. The answer surprised me. Nightmares often do, I guess.



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Irina writes about the energy industry for a living and has been doing it with no small amount of pleasure for well over a decade. Since writing is the only thing she knows how to do (sort of), she does it pretty much all the time. For some reason, the stories she produces always turn out scary or weird, or plain unpleasant and upsetting but she enjoys writing them anyway.


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