× Home Team Articles Culture Shock Far + Farther Fashion Showcase Influencers Love. The Millenial Way Sound Interactive Nightmares on Campus
Issue 8
Fall 2018
Columbia College Chicago

Nightmares on Campus

For most of us, sleep is our best friend. There’s nothing more comforting than the thought of diving face-first into a pile of pillows, swaddling yourself under a mountain of blankets, and mentally checking out for a good eight hours. But for those of us who are plagued by less-than-pleasant dreams and are haunted by the things that go bump in the night, the hours between dusk and dawn may not be the most anticipated part of the day.

There is no shortage of research on why we dream and how our dreams correlate to other psychological issues, but there is still so much we don’t know about the human brain, and thus, much that remains unknown about our subconscious — and unconscious — minds.

It can be quite unnerving to really analyze some of the nightmares that plague us. From being a child who is sitting in the backseat of a car made of dismembered body parts, to feeling the hot breath of a wolf growling next to your face while you are trapped in sleep paralysis, to the all too common teeth-falling-out-of-your-skull nightmare — there is no shortage of horrifying stories about what goes on in our minds when we lay our heads down to rest.

Have you ever woken up terrified from a nightmare, but can’t recall the events of the dream? All you know is that you are utterly and primitively terrified. And other times, perhaps, you can remember every ghastly detail of that dream for years to come, as vividly as if it were playing on a screen in front of you.

For Khyla Wallace,

For Khyla Wallace, a Columbia student and avid poet, this rings eerily true. Wallace recalls a childhood nightmare featuring a witch with green skin. In her dream, she is being chased around her neighborhood by this witch, terrified and desperate to escape. Out of fear, she runs into her neighbor's house, and peeks out the window, scanning the surroundings for the wretched witch. Strangely, when the witch appears again, she is driving Wallace’s mother’s old car. Wallace questions this, but is unable to conjure a reason for this odd occurrence. Wallace turns away, and as she looks back out the window, the witch suddenly appears. They are staring at each other face to face through the glass. The witch slowly raises her hand to her chin, her fingers are inhumanly long and cracked. She peels back the skin of her face, revealing her true form, which turns out to be none other than her own mother.

The dream ends, and Wallace wakes up.

Avery Smith

A green-faced witch has haunted the dreams of more than one Columbia student. Avery Smith, a cinema art and science junior at Columbia, has also encountered the terrors of this nighttime witch roaming her subconscious. Smith recalls a recurring childhood nightmare in which she is terrorized by a green-faced witch — the same description given by Wallace. In Smith’s version, she is trapped in her home, being chased down by this witch. When she runs, the witch is always tight on her tail. The thrill, it seems, is in the chase. And each night, just before the dream is over, the witch catches her. With one hand, she clutches Smith’s arm, unwillingly to risk her escape. With the other, she scratches Smith down her back with her talon-like nails, forcing an arch in her back and a wail from her soul. Smith wakes up screaming, with the physical sensation of the witch’s scratching still lingering on her back.

The line between sleep and consciousness can often be blurred, as can the distinction between real and phantom sensations. Smith could feel the sensation of the witch’s hands on her back after she woke up, but she was fully conscious and able to move. Some people, while experiencing phantom sensations, are not so lucky.

Sleep paralysis is a common phenomenon which occurs when a person's brain is awake and aware of the REM (rapid eye movement) cycle of sleep having ended, but their muscles remain unresponsive to the brain's commands. During this time, it is common for people to have hypnagogic hallucinations, which are hallucinations that happen in between the moments of wakefulness and sleep.

A common hallucination reported by sufferers of sleep paralysis is the sensation of being restrained, with a heavy pressure on one's chest as if something large is weighing them down, making it hard to breathe. Then, an old, terrifying woman will slowly make her way to their bed. The person lays there, motionless and speechless, as the woman inches closer to you, and attempts to strangle you.

Wallace can describe in vivid detail each episode of sleep paralysis she’s experienced, and each one tops the previous on fear factor. She remembers being alone in her grandfather’s car, and deciding to take an innocent nap. In seemingly no time, her mind wakes up, but her body remains unwillingly motionless. Her eyes are closed, but her senses are wide awake. She is alone in the car, alone in the parking lot and as far as she can tell, alone in the world. And yet, seemingly from every direction at once, a low, inhuman laugh begins to vibrate around her. As the volume of the laugh increases, so does her level of fear.

Unfortunately for Wallace, even when she escapes from this torture, she knows she has not heard the end of the terrifying sound of that inhuman laugh. It will return to her, in due time. It will return to her, in due time.

By and large, scientists don’t know why humans need sleep, and there’s a plethora of theories on why we experience dreams and nightmares. Some say we evolved the ability to dream as our mind's way of focusing our attention to stressors or potential dangers in our lives. Others say our dreams work hand in hand with sleep itself to help us sort through the vast amount of information our brain collects throughout the day. From sleep paralysis to night terrors, hallucinations to premonitions, there is no shortage of sleep phenomenon to keep us busy — and confused — for years to come. So grab your favorite fuzzy blanket, fluff your pillow and get ready for all the horrifying dreams your nighttime mind is preparing to throw at you.

Happy Dreaming.

ILLUSTRATOR: Jack Mcraven AUTHOR: Jordan Clay