The Night Terror

The Night Terror

by Paula Pettit Skender


At thirteen, the dream came again. I awoke in a bath of sweat as in former years. It was the third time for its visit. The first night it arrived, I was five in the troubled mists of sleep. Due to the intense images and visions, I never forgot it. After this third terror, it never came again. That was over fifty years ago.

In the nightmare, a woman dressed in a blue-satin ball gown floated down the steps with confidence. Her face remained hid in a flesh-colored fog which hovered over it. Strangely, a large black question mark sat in place of eyes, ears, and mouth.

At the bottom of the stairs, many women and men waited for her descent, all clothed in fashions from a previous age. The ladies dressed in formal gowns. The lords wore regal suits as though they attended an affluent gathering.

The spacious, lighted room looked like a 17th century ballroom with a lengthy dining table of cheery wood placed under a lovely, well-lit, glass chandelier. In the center sat a heavily cut, French vintage punch bowl brimming with dark red wine. Food filled each platter, roast, pheasant, chicken, turkey, deer with more meats and seafoods. All delicacies burdened the stand with several vegetables. Many guests casually conversed in friendship, awaiting the blue-dressed lady.

Only one lone man in uniform stood at the bottom of the staircase. Tall with black hair, he wore a red jacket with rank and medals. The soldier was me. But I’m not a man. And I didn’t recognize myself as I looked on in the dream as an invisible observer.

A long broad sword lay sheathed down my left thigh.

Since that time, I researched what armies wore the red military uniform. The English wore it as early as 1640. They removed it from combat service in 1914. But they still wear red uniforms today for English parades and castle guards. Other foreign nations wore red also: The Danish army in the 18th century. Irish volunteers who enlisted in the French and Spanish units likewise kept the red uniform fighting against the British in the American Revolution. Swiss fighters traditionally sported red, as well.

Looking on in the night terror, the sword sheathed along my thigh probably held the double-edged blade with a pointed tip. The swordsmiths shaped the hilt in a cross, a traditional sword’s appearance for earlier centuries.

My mission in this nightmare was to kill the woman descending the stairs. A queen? I do not know. But the gleaming staircase with its winding path shouted she was royalty and a threat to what I valued. I felt terribly afraid. The enemy surrounded me with only an infinitesimal chance for success. When she reached the bottom, I took my step toward her. Sword drawn and raised; metal clanked against metal. Shouts sounded.

I woke up in sweat when reaching this point but only in the first and second versions of this nightmare. The first at age five. The second at age nine. I awoke in a bath of sweat, my clothing wet, as though I relived this long ago scene from another life; and as though this may have been the end of that one.

However, on this nightmare’s third and last visit to me at age thirteen, the dream continued past this point.

My sword’s metal rang against others. It waved above the heads of my enemies who fought me in the ballroom. The masses outside the edifice joined me in the fight as I fought on outside and down the tall steps of the building’s exit.

Was it a castle?

Struggling on, I continued through the gates which surrounded the site where I first raised my weapon. Men and women fought all around me, yelling in anger as I wielded my sword against my enemy.

Suddenly, the crowd lifted me above their head as though I were a hero. My sword raised high against hostile forces. The gates around the castle clanked closed in front of me, the invisible observer, who watched from behind the iron bars of the gate, safely ensconced within the castle yard.

As I continued to view the soldier with his sword held above his head, he transformed into an immobile iron statue, no longer a man but a monument. Sword lifted high in combat, the masses continued their loud triumphant shouts around the tall statue as though they revered what the monument symbolized—as though the man it represented might have fought for what the people valued.

I awoke in a bath of sweat, again.

Occasionally, I recount this long ago night terror to my three sisters on our sleepovers when we retell family stories or unusual dreams. I speculate what it might mean—even thinking it meant nothing. I still wonder.

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