I wake up in the middle of the night, my sheets and pillow drenched in every human fluid imaginable. I run into the bathroom with an icky feeling rising in my chest and vomit it all in my toilet. I stare into the bowl, dry heaving for at least a minute, my heart pounding. I return to my bed to find that this was not the first time I vomited that night, just the first time I did awake.
This went on for as long as I can remember. It used to be just every once and a blue moon, but then it started happening every night. I tried a couple of doctors, but they all told me the same thing. Whatever was wrong with me was most likely in my head.
No. I really didn’t want to see a shrink; they creeped me out. But as I had to keep washing my sheets over and over again, I realized I couldn’t keep doing this anymore. I needed a way out.
Dr. Wu was surprisingly not creepy at all. He was kind and offered me some m&m’s from his glass bowl, but I told him no thanks.
I think candy, all of it, is gross. There’s this weird artificial quality to it, no matter the type or flavor. If I put a piece in my mouth, my tongue is bombarded with this saccharine, rancid, acidic sensation. The thought of it made me gag a little in Wu’s office. I tried to control myself, but I think he noticed.
I told him my situation, and he asked what my sleeping situation was like on a normal night, what my dreams were like. I said I don’t really dream.
He raised a brow at me, and after talking for a little bit he told me what he thought was going on. My mind was repressing something, something it didn’t want me to know or to experience again.
Wu suggested that I keep a dream journal. As soon as I woke up, I would write whatever I could remember. I would bring my journal to him during our sessions and talk about it.
Sounded stupid to me, but I did it. After my nightly vomit, I scribbled down whatever was swirling around up there. My hand seemed to almost move by itself as I just stared down at the page.
There were only flashes at first, glimpses of moving images, but as I wrote about it, as I talked about it, more and more of it became vivid to me. It was familiar. The images stitched themselves together into one piece, one dream.
I had the same dream every night for years and I didn’t remember it all, but as I read it back to myself, I knew every detail of what happened. It was real, hazy, but real.
It always started the same. I was holding my mother’s hand, must’ve been seven or eight years old then, and we walked across the parking lot to the Green Acres Mall. It was this huge white building that laid at the edge of town. Nothing beyond it but miles and miles of woods.
We came around to the back, where a whole crowd of adults and their kids floated around the edge of the paved asphalt. I smelled the faint hint of meat being barbecued and I heard the endless chatter of the hundred or so people deep in my ears.
Mom put me behind a red line with a bunch of other kids, and I looked up at the yellow banner hanging above us: Green Acres’ Happy Easter Hunt! That’s right, mom signed me up for the town’s annual egg hunt. She said I was good at finding lost things around the house and maybe I could win some money while I was at it.
The sound of the starter pistol rained in the air, and we all ran off the asphalt and into the woods. Seven eggs of different colors needed to be found, and the kid who got them all was gonna get a hundred and fifty dollars.
I wanted the money, mom wanted the money, so I scrambled into the nearest bushes and just destroyed everything in my path. I practically tore bushes apart like paper. I climbed up branches. I even hid in the brush and watched for other kids. Maybe I could’ve grabbed an egg out of their hands after they’ve got it for me.
The kids were brutal though. In my sweep, I saw many throw hands over the brightly colored plastic eggs. There was this one fat kid that actually took a bite out of another’s hand to get a blue egg.
Anyway, I realized quickly that this game wasn’t for me and I just tried to keep to myself. Making my way to the very edge of the clearing the adults made for us, I ran my fingers through a patch of tall grass. Nearby, there was a yellow rope tied between two trees. That was their attempt at creating a barrier for us. My young brain barely paid any attention to it all.
Then something caught my eye.
Something shined between the trees, a glimmer. An egg? Maybe. It was a sparkling one too. Maybe it was a special egg that was worth more. Maybe the grown ups put one beyond the barrier for only the really good kids to find. I smiled as I inched toward it.
A twig snapped. I looked back and found that the fat kid was moving in on my territory, my egg. No sir, that egg was mine! I jumped into the thick brush between the trees.
There was nothing there. I rolled down a little hill, my head slamming into the mount almost every second. My knees dug into the ground, my neck sprung back before I finally flopped face first onto the grass.
My jaw ached. I started spitting up the grass my mouth had picked up, but the flavor hit me. I rolled the blades around in my mouth for a little bit as I rubbed my jaw. It didn’t taste like dirt, and I knew the taste of dirt very well at that time.
It actually tasted kinda sweet. The texture melted into a little powder on my tongue, and as the powder turned into syrup, I had got a hint of some kind of fruit. Strawberry? No, it was more of a green apple.
I looked down at the grass, and it was much greener and brighter than it had been before. Even the grass on golf courses wasn't this green.
Standing up, my eyes wandered through the surroundings. The trees and the bushes were just as bright and green. They were almost glowing like neon, even in the daylight. I gazed into the sky. It was purple, I think, or purple was the only color my eyes could get a handle on. Looking at the sky was like gazing into a kaleidoscope of twisting rainbows. Dizzy, I was so dizzy, but I kept looking at the sky. Was the sun orange or red? How many suns were there? I had to keep looking, keep staring into the sky.
There was a rustling in the brush.
I tried to see what it was, but now there was this haze over everything. It just came from the bushes. It emerged from out of the woods.
My eyes tried to focus, but its form only became clear as it got closer. It was white and yellow, a white figure in loose yellow overalls. One strap wasn’t even buttoned, just flapped around in the wind. The figure had arms that swung lazily at its sides. Casually and without hurry, it paced toward me.
It stood over me, blocking the sun with these things hanging from his head. I squinted. Through the haze, I could only make out a red bow tie wrapped around the neck, nothing from the face.
“Hey there,” he said. His voice sounded weird, distorted, like he was talking to me through a buzzing fan. “Can I take your picture?”
“What?” I was still trying to make out his face.
“Your picture,” he repeated, “can I take it?” He smiled a little bit; I could see that. His face was pure white, like the rest of him, but it didn’t seem to be a part of him. His face moved and folded when he talked. As my vision started to focus on it, he whipped out a black box.
The flash burned my retinas. I shoved my hands into my eyes and collapsed onto my knees. Rubbing away, I felt them sting and water more than they ever have in my life. I opened them to find the figure swirling over me.
“That hurt!” I yelled. “Who are you?”
“I’m Mr. Funny Bunny.” He scampered off, leaving behind a yellow shadow of himself in his place.
I was out of there.
I ran, but the world seemed to spin around me. My eyes looked at a couple of trees, but when they looked away, the trees followed. I looked down at the grass, but when I looked back up, a transparent image of the grassy field floated around in my vision. I would close my eyes, but everything was so bright that the shapes of everything would shine through my eyelids. And there was the smell. That sugary smell of fake fruit wafting up from the grass overcame my nostrils. I could almost taste it in my mouth again.
I bumped into a tree and hung onto it for dear life as I rubbed my temple. Everything was still spinning. My senses were all being stung at the same time. “Mommy! Mommy!” I flung myself off the tree. I dashed through the woods screaming my head off. My eyes darted around for anything solid, anything coherent. I screamed and screamed.
A big mass blocked me, forcing me to the ground.
“Hey, watch where you are going!” The mass formed in front of me. It was the fat kid. His square head glared down at me as he chomped down some of the grass.
My jaw trembled. “We have to. We got to. We—”
“Did you see any eggs?” he asked.
“What?” I forgot about the eggs. I forgot about a lot.
Fat pulled me up by my shirt. His disgusting hot breath slapped my face. “Did you see any eggs? I wanna know! You got any?” He pushed me up against a tree.
“Listen,” I tried to say, “Something is. Something isn’t. Some. . .” He wasn’t listening to me anyway. Fat’s head turned.
A gaping hole laid in the ground surrounded by a ring of dirt. Or was it brown sugar? Whatever it was, Fat was transfixed by it. He headed toward it as I slid down the tree. I braced my head in my arms. I didn’t want to look.
“Don’t do that!” I called.
“Shut up!” he said as he made his way. Through my fingers, I saw him standing at the edge for a moment, and then he kneeled down.
“I got a pink one!” he blurted. Fat then laid on his belly at the edge of the hole and reached in.
“Quiet! I will pummel you!”
“I’m telling you!” I screamed. “This is weird!”
He just reached further down there, rolling himself off the edge. His legs clinged to the grass as his torso hung down there. He slid down deeper into the hole.
I looked. Fat waddled his way back, tossing around his plastic egg. “Too easy,” he said, “Way too easy for the bestest one around.”
I agreed with half that statement. Legs shaking, I pushed myself back up the tree. “We gotta go,” I said with some spittle. “This place isn’t good.” Fat’s image still wavered in front of me, but I could still get the impression of disgust from his blurred face.
”Whatever,” he said, “I’m winnin’ this, and I—”
Fat turned around to face two figures coming close. They kept coming in and out of focus, but I could see that one had glasses and the other had pigtails. I squinted. They were holding hands too?
“Hey, where did you find that egg?” Glasses asked.
As he tore more blades of grass off the ground, Fat snorted. “In that hole. I think there’s a whole bunch in there actually.”
“Really!” Glasses sprinted over to the edge. “Down in here?”
“Yeah, just keep lookin’,” Fat said, chomping on the grass. He walked away from the rest of us, only stopping to munch on the greens.
I stumbled over to Pigtails. “How did you get here?”
She jumped away from me a little bit, must have spooked her. “Um, well, um, we were just walking around and, um, we went into some bushes, and. . .”
“Can you take me the way you came?” I blindly reached for her arm. “I can’t see good. I need my mom.”
“Um, um, okay.” She wrapped her fingers around my wrist. I took a breath, probably the first real one I had in awhile. She guided me forward.
“Hey, I think I see them!” Glasses yelled out. He leaned onto his knees over the edge of the hole. I opened my mouth to call him.
It wrapped itself around his knees and sucked him down there.
She screamed and the ground shook.
A little mount bubbled out of the dirt. It moved, the ground itself moved toward us like a wave of water. We ran, gripping tightly onto each other.
We ran past Fat, who must have seen it also, because he ran as fast as he possibly could. Rapidly, I blinked at the world around me. The ground was the sky and the sky was the ground. The bright colors swirled around. I didn’t know where I was running. Pigtails dragged me along, yanking me by the wrist as she screamed.
It rumbled as it came toward us. The sound ate my ears as it came closer and closer, the sound washing over me, through me.
We were knocked over as it came right under us. My jaw was pressed into the grass again, but I barely noticed the pain. That smell, that saccharine smell of the grass was so strong that it choked me. I jumped and gagged from it. Rotten, the grass was rotten now.
“Where is it goin’?” Fat asked. We huddled together on the grass and looked. The wave kept on going forward, not bothering with us at all.
“Woah! Woah!” Something was up with Fat. He pushed his egg out toward us. Blinking, I couldn’t decide if what I was seeing was actually happening, or just my vision acting funny again.
The egg shook in his open hand. It shook until the plastic shell crackled. A hole split open on the top of it, and something oozed out of it, dripping onto his hand.
He tilted his head and raised his hand to his face; he sniffed then licked it off his palm. “Chocolate!” Fat said. “Hot chocolate!”
I crawled behind Pigtails as the egg shell disintegrated. It seeped an endless fountain of chocolate all over his hands. He just kept licking at his palms, sucking on fingers. He mumbled as he engorged himself on his hands.
Words clogged my throat. I wanted to throw up. We stood and backed away from him as he lapped away at the chocolate eating him.
He stopped. He threw his finger out of his mouth and screamed. Steam rose out of his hands, and I felt it. I actually felt the chocolate boiling his flesh. He rolled onto the ground as the burning chocolate worked its way up his arms.
I wrapped around her, closed my eyes. He squealed and screamed. Then I heard a crackle. I wanted to run. I think we both did, but it’s like we were frozen there in that moment.
When I opened my eyes, a mount of dirt formed by him. He laid there, arms out, his body a dark brown. Two hands came out of the dirt. Blindly, they padded the ground for a while, found his shoulders, and dragged him down with them.
She let out a creak from the back of her throat. The sound of it brought me back to something resembling reality. I shook her by the shoulders. “Go! Go!”
I dragged her as I ran, and the rumbling came again. It followed us, but I tried to focus on what was ahead of me. Squinting, I tried to make the world come back into some shape, make the blur turn into a way out.
It rumbled next to me, passing me. I ignored it, only gripping her hand tighter and running faster. I didn’t notice until it was too late. A dark spot formed at the bottom of my vision, rising out of the ground. I was heading right toward it. I stopped. We fell as the mount exploded.
My entire face burned at the flash. I closed my eyes and everything was still just pure white. She cried from somewhere. I blinked and blinked until I could see where she was, where he was. Forcing my eyes open, I spun my head around.
I saw him coming around me, swinging his arms, but he held something too. He swung around a long stick as he walked. It was some tool, like a shovel or a. . .
Too bright. I had to shut my eyes. I heard her cry and I crawled after her, running my fingers through the rancid grass. I kept feeling around for something. I stretched out to touch anything in front of me.
Nothing. Nothing out there. I leaned over an edge and fell. My brain jiggled as I rolled onto my head, probably three or four times. I laid in the dirt, my neck in agony, and heard her scream again.
I don’t know what happened to her.
Tremors went through my hands as they felt around the dirt. Minutes passed before I could open my eyes again. When I did, I headed for the closest shape nearby, a tree tall enough to block out the sun.
I felt around for its roots, and as soon as my fingers grazed against the bark, I followed it toward its source. Through watery vision, I noticed a dark spot at the base of the tree. A hollow? I reached out to make. The base of the tree was hollowed out.
I crawled in, curled up in the little pocket of dirt under the tree, my back against the wood. I rested my head between my knees. I was in there for a while, shaking. Even if my own mother called out to me, I’m not sure I would’ve left that spot.
Then there was a thud.
The tree vibrated, dirt falling on my head. I choked down whatever bile was in my throat at the moment.
I ground my teeth together. It was just gonna pass by. It was just gonna pass by.
I folded my knees into my stomach.
“What’s up, doc?” He peered in, a basket in one hand, half a carrot in the other. He tilted his head at me, shoving the carrot into his mouth. I could hear the grinding and munching of his teeth right in my ear. “Is something wrong? You seem sad,” he spat.
I just couldn’t. It was like I wasn’t even in my body anymore.
“Is it because you're lost?” He reached into his basket, pulling out another carrot. “Don’t worry, what’s lost is found. What’s gone comes back again, you know?” His ears flopped down. “Carrot for your nerves?”
My eyes glazed over, I stared into space.
“No,” he said, tossing it at my feet, “I bet a boy like you wants some candy, don’t ya?” Placing the basket down, he pulled out something wrapped in tinfoil. “You like chocolate bunnies? I think they’re absolutely delicious.” He shredded the tinfoil and laid it in his open palm for me.
I really didn’t want it, but my hand reached for it. Maybe I thought it would please him? Maybe I had just given up.
He clobbered the bunny with his fist, scattering chocolate everywhere.
“Hollow!” he yelled. “Why are they always hollow? That’s not good candy. That’s not good at all.” Jamming his hand back in the basket, he whipped something else out. “How ‘bout a marshmallow birdie, huh?”
I laid there, my mouth gaped.
He leaned in closer, flying the bird around. “Here’s the birdie, here’s the birdie. Where’s the nest? Where’s the nest?” he said, flying it to me. “ Oh, there it is! Here comes the birdie!”
The bird was shoved into my mouth. He covered my face and made me chew that tasteless, squishy, gooey, chunk of rubber glue. When he let go, I spat out as much as I could, but it was stuck to the inside of my mouth.
He dug into the basket. “Would you like jelly beans with that?” he asked, shoving a mountain of them into me, most rolling onto the ground. They almost cracked my teeth, releasing their waxy fruit syrup onto my tongue.
“Everybody likes Easter grass!”
His glove was a plunger, and he just kept forcing new concoctions into my mouth. Acid rose high and higher in my chest until I spewed chunks all over myself. I heaved and I coughed.
“What’s the matter?” he asked. “Don’t like it? Well I’m sure we can find something in here for you.” He dumped the basket on the floor and rummaged through the colored candies.
My fingers wrapped around the discarded carrot.
He mumbled to himself. “Cotton almond candy? Fluffy sweet money?” Giggling, he picked up some pieces from the ground. “How about some sugary—”
His scream echoed through the hollow as I put the carrot through his eye. Something splattered onto my face and I rubbed it off, some kind of hot jelly. He clawed at his face and hopped out of the tree.
I crawled my way out into the light. I went forward and never looked back, trees and bushes wiping by me. Dozens of branches must’ve slapped my face, but it didn’t slow me down. I ran and I screamed through the woods.
Eventually I found the yellow rope and dashed underneath it. Next thing I knew, I was running through the mall crowd, heading straight for my mother.
I tackled her and begged her to take me home. Worried, she picked me up and took me back to the car. I held her in a death grip as I shook in her arms, tears and snot rolling down my face.
And that was the dream, always like that. It never changed.
I told the whole story to Wu and asked if it made any sense. If it was a repressed memory, then why was it so weird?
He suggested that since whatever happened to me in Green Acres was at such a young age, maybe the dream was my mind’s way of dealing with the incident, altering information until it was something that it could understand. He suggested that I go out to find what really happened that day.
Last Sunday I had to help my mom move into her new apartment, so I thought I would ask her about it, but I really didn’t want to. As I talked to Wu and as I remembered more about what happened, the less control it had over me. I wasn’t throwing up anymore. For the first time, I was getting a good night's sleep.
But it itched at the back of my mind. I needed some answers, so as I unpacked mom’s last box, I asked her.
Mom didn’t really seem so keen on talking about, barely taking attention away from her dishes. She said that she remembered me freaking out after the hunt was over, but I wouldn’t or couldn’t tell her what was bothering me, I just kept crying. The next day, I went back to normal and acted like it never happened, so she didn’t press me about it.
The only other thing she remembered was that it was the last Easter egg hunt Green Acres ever did. It just went away and no one in town ever talked about why.
I was gonna ask her more, but she told me to grab her pictures so that she could put them on her shelf.
I went and grabbed the album out of the box, and a Polaroid fell to the floor.
Taking it, the bile rose in my throat and I covered my mouth, barely holding the vomit inside me. I saw myself at that moment he took the picture: confused, mesmerized, ill. There was one word written with marker at the bottom.
Written by Dr._Caine