A sensitive and impressionable child, I suffered terrifying nightmares for years.
Although the nightmares are long gone, today I need only scratch the surface
to remember 
the feelings of horror and dread that engulfed me until I finally gathered
the courage to call out for my mother – my hero – who came, always, to rescue me.

In the many years since those nights, I’ve often wondered what it would be like
to go to bed as a single adult, living alone, suffering the same terrors, but knowing
that there would be no one there to comfort me in the night, no warm
and loving arms to allay my fears and allow me to sleep again.

This is my attempt to imagine something of the courage it must take
in such circumstances, simply to go to bed at night.


Picture Credit:

In that mundane suburban box,
filled by day with the commonplace
trappings of normalcy, familiar
as skin – coffee table festooned
with magazines and books,
lipstick-crescent cups, comfortable
old sofa lolling in the den,
loose bric-a-brac of everyday life –
she lives serene, in peaceful silence
broken only by birdsong and
the sometime jangle of the phone.


But as the shadows lengthen
and lighthearted daylight
slips silently away,
the cozy landmarks of the day
are gobbled up in mystery,
shrouded in shadow;
her cheerful nest begins
its nightly metamorphosis into
creaking mausoleum.

A favourite book, a movie,
serve only to postpone
the inevitable dark reckoning.

Sooner or later she must begin,
reluctantly, the nighttime ritual:
walk the house, upstairs
and down, closing one by one
each curtain, each blind,
turning on radio, stereo,
relinquishing precious silence
in order that the sound of human voices
might cut a swath of normalcy
through the eerie night pall.

Determinedly casual,
she leaves her firefly mark
of lamps lit, room upon room,
as the demons of the night
slither from their noisome lairs
to taunt her.


Blurred shapes creep and shuffle
at the outer reaches of her vision,
gloating that she cannot turn
her head in time to halt
their ambush.

The eyes may not see, but frigid
goose-bumped skin knows; vigilant
erect hairs at arm and nape of neck know;
some ancient second sight warns her
of danger hovering in the air behind her
…or beneath the bed, grinning,
baring dripping red fangs…or lying in wait
in that murky darkness that she knows –
please God, she knows
is only her beloved everyday home.


Humming a vacant tune that fools
no one – least of all herself – she prepares
to do battle with odious visions
that cling like limpets to the
cobwebbed corners of her mind.


Carefully, slowly, she turns down
the bed sheets, forcing herself
not to give in, not to scream
and leap, gibbering in mindless terror,
into this one safe haven where,
counting endless hours until the vast
hollow darkness surrenders at last
to the morning’s sweet, safe sun,
she will swim the long river of night.

Man in a hood

~ Susannah ~


  1. So beautifully, evocatively, written!

    I had nightmares, too, and most of them were geared around the question of whether things were as they appeared to be in daytime or really something else, something sinister and untrustworthy. My little girl subconscious had figured it all out, but my conscious mind was having no part of the truth. Now, when I think of being a little girl, I have very mixed feelings — the shadow turned out to be the truth. I think this is one reason I have always loved morning.


  2. My worst nightmare was when I dreamed I was in bed, half asleep, heard a noise, sensed ‘something four-legged’ had entered the room, felt it jump on the bed, and then walk right across the covers. It then breathed warm breath in my ear. I woke up absolutely terrified, and had to get up and make tea. It was the days when my boyfriend worked overseas for months on end. The sense of evil in that dream was awful. Where does it come from? I’ve never met anything in life that’s been that terrifying, it was from another ‘place’ I swear. I dreaded going to bed the following night.

    Great poem Susannah!


    1. Thanks, Jude, both for the kind words, and for sharing your nightmare–one, incidentally, that might well have prevented me from going to sleep for a long, long time. At the least, I would have needed a light on. That was a doozy.

      Your nightmare was what I call a “cold sweat” nightmare because of its five-star horror value. I regularly had cold sweat nightmares as a child–and now that I think about it, occasionally into my adult years. Nowadays, the worst my dreams get is unpleasant, nothing like the visceral terror that some of my cold sweat nightmares produced.

      And what might cause a small child to dream horrors that she certainly never experienced in her everyday life, I haven’t a clue. I wonder if there are folks out there who never have these kinds of scary dreams. If so, I’ve not heard of them.


  3. I fall asleep with the t.v. on every night. Eventually, the t.v shuts itself off. Otherwise my mind keeps going and going and that leads to dreams I don’t want.


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