Only a dream

I just woke up from one of the most horrifying, vivid nightmares I have ever had. So bad that an hour later, I still feel like throwing up. If I were smart, I'd leave it alone, and pray that in five years, ten years, the nightmare will fade and I will no longer remember it.

But I'm not particularly smart and I'm going to do what I've always done with the worst nightmares. I'm going to write it out. See if I can lance the nausea like a wound, and with a shower later, wash out the fear like an antiseptic.

I'd been tasked with finding a temple buried deep in the mountains of some far flung Asian country. Where, I wasn't sure. How I'd been tasked with this, I wasn't sure. I only knew there was a child in that temple. A holy, blessed child whom, if they died, would instantly bring about the end of the world.

Think Eddie Murphy's "The Golden Child", except with the deaths of billions riding on the line.

And there was...something else searching for the child. Some ancient army of the dead, thousands of them marching, wearing nothing over their skeletal visages other than a headdress that would have named their origin, except they were so old no one could remember where they came from. And swords. Swords that could splice the flesh of the living like a razor. Swords tuned to the ugliest parts of human nature, that could see the truth of a person and send them straight to hell.

They were following me, only going where I went. I couldn't shake them. I could only hope to stay ahead of them.

There was one sole protection against them: Faith. True faith, a true goodness of the soul. Anything else, any shred of what we would call the human condition, would cause them to notice you.

Myself and a small handful of people were ahead of the army. The journey was long and we needed refuge. We'd been told of a place of safety just a few miles up the road. On motorcycles, we drove there and found it to be a spiritual commune. The leader took us in, explaining that they, a group of 100, knew good and evil. He said that nothing could touch them, so strong was their faith. I looked around and saw what seemed the kindest, strongest set of people I'd ever seen. People of ALL KINDS of faith surrounded me. I was relieved.

He assured us of our safety and of having a bigger group to search for the temple. Like idiots, we decided to stay the night, warning the commune of what was coming behind us.

"They will try to fill your head with evil thoughts. Murder. Rape. The worst of what you can do to other people. You MUST NOT give into those thoughts or you will die. Your soul must be clear, must STAY clear, even as terrifying as seeing them will be," I told them.

The worst of it: As the sun began to fall, we were to move to a smaller building. To sing, to worship, to join the faith of over a hundred people into one grand shield. We started outside, walking the small forest between buildings, and the army came upon us.

At first, they simply marched through us, not seeing us. I could see the horror on the faces of the people around, as we could see THEM, but I wasn't worried. I was with people of True Faith. We would make it.

And then a young man, only in his very early twenties, on the phone with his girlfriend to help him through it, was asked one question. "Do you think you're a good person?", she asked, trying to reassure him.

"I am", he replied, "but sometimes...". He averted his eyes to the ground, as if trying desperately not to say something. "But sometimes...I have dark thoughts."

It was like some kind of magnet had been flipped on. I saw one army man, as soon as those words were uttered, whip his bony neck back towards us. He had heard what the young man said. His jaw dropped in an unholy shriek and the army was all over us.

A frenzy, a bezerker of thousands, dashing through the crowd. The press of their ghostly forms was so thick I couldn't see anything but white. I could hear, though. I heard screaming. I heard the sound of flesh tearing. I heard slaughter. I stood there, frozen, paralyzed, wondering why they were simply passing over me, around me, while I could hear so many others dying screaming.

God, the sounds echo even now. How can something you only dream be so LOUD?

In the dream, I eventually passed out, waking later in a small cottage room. I wandered out into the main room and my heart sank. There were only a handful of people in the room, faces pale, shaken...but alive.

"How many of us made it?" I asked. The pause, the silence between the question and the answer stretched an eternity.

"," said a woman.

"Seven," I said. "Seven out of a hundred of us made it". A grief so deep I nearly dropped to my knees fell over me. Seven people. Out of so many, there had only been seven truly good people.

One of them, strangely enough, an ex-gang member who had been a hired murderer. He hadn't seemed particularly good when I first met him, as he'd been graphically open about how he used to terrify, torture, and kill his victims. I asked him how the hell he survived.

"I didn't care. I figured if I died, I was just paying the price for what I did." He gave a nonchalant shrug. "It would have been fair enough."

I looked around the cottage and saw the form of a corpse that someone had draped a white sheet over. I held the bottom of the sheet, thinking to flip it over and see who was beneath it.

"No." I dropped the sheet. It didn't matter whose face was under that sheet. They were dead and there was nothing I could do about it. What mattered was ahead of us. What mattered was the people who had survived.

I pointed to three people who had been with me all along. "You're coming with me." I told the remaining few that they were going home.

I had led the army to murder nearly a hundred people. Those deaths were on me. I had killed them. Had I simply pressed on, the army would never have detoured over the camp. They would still be alive.

I had killed them. Good people or not, they had still been people, people who likely did not deserve to die outside of some insane code of black and white. Their blood, their screams, their last moments spent in terror, were my fault.

I could not imagine why I'd survived. I did not...consider myself a person of faith, or a person of shining goodness. I am human, beautiful and ugly, good and bad, evil and light.

My soul is not pure.

The other ugliest piece. I'd wandered outside for a moment, trying to breathe away the horror. I saw a piece of paper with words written on it, words smeared over with blood.

"Kenny wrote out his confessions," a man told me, startling me as he came up behind me. "I think he survived, but..." There were two lines of arterial red leading off into the forest, as if someone had slit their wrists and crawled away.

I looked away from the paper fluttering in the grass.

"We don't have time to look for him. We have to go."

Why do I have dreams like this? Is my brain so broken? Is there some guilt buried so deep that it only comes crawling out in my sleep? Have the recent near-death experiences drawn out some fear of the afterlife, of where I would go? A fear that I simply don't want to deal with and so it only comes out in my sleep?

Are demons and angels real, and for some reason, I can only see them in my sleep? I DO NOT BELIEVE in demons, angels, God or Gods. But sometimes the dreams are so vivid. I can still HEAR the sounds of slaughter two hours after waking up. I can only wonder if what I am seeing is actually real on some level.

It was only a dream. That's what I'm telling myself. That's what I tell myself every time. It was only a dream.

It wasn't real.

It was only a dream.

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Oh my god - they killed Kenny!

There's a school of thought that says that everything in dreams are parts of yourself - you're the flawless faithful, the ones who fell short, the army of forgotten dead, the golden child you're still looking for, and the billions who depend on you finding it, all at once.

Seems pretty straightforward that way - your forgotten dead have been doing a number on your faithful selves, this past little while, cutting and killing both metaphorically and literally. They're not hunting you - they are you, because that kind of search has a cost. But what's best in you rises up to sustain you even despite that cost.
Everyone's got a different level of how deeply they dream. How intensive their experiences get from something that only is a product of brain reforming its shape for the next day.
If you got a strong sense of your position, where you are, what time it is and that, then it's just something of your subconscious, of the part that is controlled by emotions and not by mind, that still keeps haunting you for a while more. Slowly settling down because of realizing by the impressions you perceive "it was only a dream, I am somewhere totally else, there is not that danger, nobody's after me".
But, I imagine there also are people out there who don't have such a strong sense. Be that caused or reduciable on whatever there may be.
All I can say is only "it was only a dream". And if you want to put a thought onto this "true faith"-, "being pure-hearted"- or "guilt"-thing, then you can rack your brains about it as these are questions and topics being current in your life.
But, otherwise... Say, use it as a base for a story to write. Such lively dreams can make up a background story for some thought-out written text, even if they're not real. It's too fluid for when you don't find inspiration in the wake state.