I tend to have two kinds of nightmares.

My scariest nightmares are usually things that were just plain silly when I woke up. For instance, years ago, I dreamed that the next door neighbor was reaching into my room through a missing window and putting things on my bed. No matter how many times I told them to stop, they kept doing it. Or when I was a child, I dreamed that my brother and his friends tricked me into climbing the side stairway of a haunted house. The stairs collapsed, leaving me on the second floor platform… and then the ghosts attacked my brother and his friends while I was powerless to help.

When I do have dreams that seem more likely genuinely terrifying events, there’s usually some clear indicator that I’m dreaming. If the dream gets too intense, it will become lucid, and I’ll calm myself down during the dream. When I was a child, I was being bullied in the hallway at school. The other students were getting really mean, and then I asked one of them to pinch me. They asked why; I told them that I thought I was dreaming, and that would let me know for sure. They pinched me, and it hurt, and then I realized I’d only dreamed that it had hurt.

And then, once in a while, I have a nightmare that’s just all around mean. Terrifying in content, and with no indications that it’s a dream. Make it vivid for extra scare.

That was last night. It was the most terrifying nightmare I remember ever having, and even now, eleven hours after waking up, I don’t know any aspect of it that could have given me a clue that it wasn’t real.

We were on the highway. V was driving, and we were talking about the sort of stuff people talk about on long drives. We were going to see my younger brother for some reason that was very clear in the dream, but which I’ve since forgotten.

The conversation drifted into silence. I watched out the window. The highway passed by. A pickup truck passed us.

We were approaching a fork. We were supposed to take the south fork, a connecting ramp that would take us to the highway we needed. The north fork curved off to our right.

I noticed that V had missed the exit, but she was still driving straight ahead. We moved off onto the rumble strip. An expanse of grass stretched out ahead of us. My body felt the rumble strips, and I heard the road noise; that’s how vivid the dream was.

I turned to V to say something, but only got as far as, “Honey, are you….” I didn’t finish “okay” because she was staring off into the distance, completely unmoving. I touched her and her head tipped to one side, foam coming out of her mouth as she let out a gurgling noise.

By this point, we had gone off the highway entirely and were driving on the grass. There was only a short distance until there was a drop-off.

And that’s when I started to scream. I screamed so loudly that my throat is still sore from it. I left early for work this morning so that I could avoid the highway, which I did. I did take I-75 on the way home, though, because I didn’t want to let the nightmare fester into a phobia.

There was nothing, and I mean nothing, about this dream that told me that it wasn’t real. Even my equilibrioception told me I was sitting upright, when I was not. All of my sense memory colluded to tell me this was real.

I have to have a serious talk with my dreaming mind.

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