At Waking

It’s the news, it must be the news, I thought. Why else would I dream something so horrific? 

Night after night, tales of violence recounted from breathless newscasters. On America’s city streets, in Kabul and Delhi, London and Paris, in Islamabad and Istanbul. 

The dream came to me during a nap on a clammy September day in 2009. Our TVs, our world, had upped the ante since 9/11, bringing reports of Biblical justice meted halfway around the world in undulating sandscapes where we sent our own to fight. Al-Qaeda would take a back seat, in time, to one more terrifying; an acronym that rolled off the tongue with a serpent-like hiss. ISIS.

Hanging crosses, beheadings, stonings. We hadn’t advanced, not really, over two millennia. We’d learned, years earlier, of journalist Daniel Pearl’s beheading. We would learn, years later, of another; one of our community’s sons. James Foley, journalist. His parents live fifteen minutes from me.

I woke that afternoon, terror clawing up my throat, my heartbeat slamming my ribcage. It was so vivid. Real. In my dream, I knelt. Counted down the endless minutes to my own beheading. Shadowed, hooded figures crossed in and out of my line of sight. I squeezed my eyes shut. No. Jesus, no. 

I’ve never felt more disoriented, at waking. Mute with terror, head pounding, heart racing. I clutched at my chest. My scheduled open-head surgery to try to reach the tumor bleeding in my brain was then just two weeks away.

Ann Kathryn Kelly lives and writes in New Hampshire’s Seacoast region. She’s an editor with Barren Magazine, works in the technology sector, and leads writing workshops for a nonprofit that offers therapeutic arts programming to people living with brain injury. Her essays have appeared in a number of literary journals.


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  1. Pingback: 2020 Pushcart Prize Nominations – Dream Journal

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