The Stuff of Nightmares by Vivienne Moles

She’s not very well. She’s been to the doctor’s but they said they can’t do much. All in her mind, they said. She’s had a lot on her plate, of course. That’s what generally happens. It all comes at once. 

Merry, funny name, not so merry as it turns out, lost her mother to cancer just last month. She’s not been sleeping well. Doctor said it wasn’t a good idea to take tablets for it because she needed to work through it. It’s a process, you see, that’s what she’s got to do. Tablets aren’t going to help in the long run. 

‘Aaaah!’ screams Merry, sweating profusely as she sits up in bed, a look of alarm across her face. 

‘Another nightmare, dear?’ says her husband Pete. Pete has been her rock. 

Pete has been there for her those nights she struggled not to see the haunted look on her mother’s face when she was in the hospice those last few days. 

Pete has been sympathetic, empathetic and full-time counsellor these past few weeks. He kisses her forehead tenderly and soothes her brow. 

‘I’ll get you a cup of tea. We could both do with it, I’m sure,’ he says. He rushes off before she has a chance to respond. She doesn’t want tea. She wants the nightmares to stop. That’s where I come in. I am allocated several, usually in the same area, but the end result is the same: to cause maximum pain and heartache. It’s nothing personal, you understand, it’s just the way it is. 

Someone else is responsible for drawing up the lists. I don’t care how they do that, it’s not my job. I’ve been highly commended on several occasions for my resourcefulness and forensic detail. 

Merry’s profile is shapes and shadows. I love doing shapes and shadows. It’s so flexible working with them. I always have to check the profile before I download the nightmare. I’d hate to get it wrong, not with all the effort that goes into tailor-making them. There is some code in the program that triggers the dream just when the subject is at their lowest ebb. Clever, huh? I think it’s tuned in to the brainwaves but I’m not sure. I don’t do technical. That’s another department. I get to choose the size and colour of the scenes. It really challenges my imagination. She doesn’t like long and tall. I can work with that. My shadows are sometimes so long they fold over and take up two axes. I get a lot of job satisfaction when it goes well. I always leave a feedback form. It helps, you know, with getting it perfect for next time. Funny though, not many people fill them in...,. They seem to want to forget. 

‘Feeling better now, love?’ says Pete. Bless him: he’s arrived with two cups of tea. Merry’s looking a bit pale but seems to have rallied round. I know she’s on my list in another couple of nights. I’ll look forward to seeing her again. I’d better let them get on. I have places to be. 

Little Billy Fenton. He’s not been having a good time recently. He went on this day trip with some friends at school — some sort of birthday party — anyway, they went on a few of those rides, you know the ones. He went a funny colour and was violently sick. Of course, his friends all laughed and called him names. He felt dreadful about it but they won’t stop having a go. He keeps waking up in a sweat. I’m going to give him one of those falling off a cliff dreams — let’s hope he sees the irony in that. Last week he fell off the top of a tall building. He thought there was a window there but it was a gap. You should have seen the state of him when he woke up. He looked terrified! If his mum knew who was responsible, my life wouldn’t be worth living. This time, I’ll make it a cliff. He can have a nice little gentle walk along the chalk path and then… I need to ring in some changes so maybe next time I’ll do one of those fairground rides where you just whizz round and round at speed. 

Perhaps he’ll wet the bed! I like to stir things up a bit: keep things fresh. 

Now, look at this fellow. This is Baz. His profile says lots of angst, really hamming it up. That gives me a whole lot of scope. He’s been hanging around with the wrong crowd; been pulled in by the police umpteen times; and is now up on a charge for breaking and entering peppered with a smidgen of ABH. He’s scared. He’s never gone right down to the wire. He always pulls out before he goes too far or gets caught. There was a fight and he hurt someone. He knows he might do time. This is great fun for me. I can be at my most creative. 

I’ll start with some aggressive faces. If I can access his previous profiles, I can adapt those faces to morph into people he knows now: the ones he wronged. They want retribution and they don’t care how they go about it. I’ll have him crying like an infant before the night’s out. He’s already rolling around holding his jaw. I think I just picked up the bit of the download where he had a tooth extracted. How fortuitous was that! 

That hasn’t happened on my watch in a long while. He just fell on the floor. That usually happens with kids, not adults. That’ll have to get reported in triplicate. In fact, anything overtly physical has to get added to their profiles because of health and safety issues. It’s the same with sleep walking. It’s something I don’t enable. If it happens, it happens. I just have to log it back at base, so they know. My role is to make people uncomfortable, not to cause them actual bodily harm. Baz is the sort of guy that does that, not me. 

I’m on my way to — no, just been diverted. I have to go back to Merry. That’s a bit odd. I don’t normally get recalled to someone I’ve already seen. 

It seems as though Merry is on her own. She’s told her husband to get some sleep and she’s gone into the spare room. By all accounts, she’s in a room with a lamppost immediately outside. I can have fun with the shadows there. If I set it up correctly, I’ll have large figures towering over her head, interfering with light on her eyelids. That should spook her. That’s probably why I got called back here. 

The problem with Merry is that every time she screams, her husband comes running in to pacify her. I am having little to no effect on her. I might as well get on to the last one of the night, a teenage girl. 

Sophia is wide awake when I get there. I hide, or at least, try to make myself look as unobtrusive as possible. She’s got exams coming up and is really worried about them. Her profile clearly said mix up all her notes in her head, causing panic. I was looking forward to having a bit of a game here. I always like a good tease. Problem is, I can’t do a thing if she’s awake. I find her reading, with the light on. She’s not even pretending to be asleep or hiding under the covers with a torch. 

She looks around the room. At first, I wonder if she’s seen me. I don’t think so but teenagers are a bit strange like that. What I haven’t mentioned is that if I am seen, not only am I completely ineffective, I would lose my job. My whole reason to be is built on the premise of not being spotted. There’s a lot riding on this. 

This is no good at all. She’s too old to do the roaring monster under the bed thing I do with the toddlers. I need to look sharpish and get out of here. If she sees me...,. 

That was close. I think I’d better call it a night. Dawn is breaking. I’d better go back to base and write up my notes. I’ll try to make sure Sophia has a particularly tiring and gruelling day at school tomorrow and ask if I can be put on her list for tonight. As long as she’s well primed, I can use the one I had ready tonight. That’s a bit less preparation for me. 

Published in Issue #25

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