In my dream, I’m noticing the Schwan man delivering food to a house. It’s dark blue in color, with a large front yard. Small. One floor. A door flanked with windows. The Schwan man is walking back to his truck. He has a wooden mask with a face on it that is barely human, a hollowed log with a bit of 2×4 where the eyes should be. His head seems smaller than the rest of his body. He appears not unlike how one might expect a wooden robot to appear.
There is someone with me, a woman my age, who suggests we leave. I ignore her and she goes without me. I am interested in the house. I mount the steps and peer in through the door. It has glass windows set in it, and I can see a bit inside. Fighting the feeling that breaking and entering is a crime, I step inside.
Instantly, I am overcome with nostalgia. Each piece of furniture in this house is a piece of furniture from my life. The chairs are from my grandmother’s house, a desk from my childhood, a table from my house in Pontiac, Illinois. I turn to see a smiling old woman standing there.
“You got it all,” I hear myself say. “It’s all here.”
“That’s right, dear,” the old woman says, nodding. There is a youthful joy dancing in her eyes. “Every bit of it.”
I am fascinated, running my fingers over the patterns in the upholstery on one of the chairs.
“You know the devil took me,” the old woman says. “At Briarcliff.”
Her head tics to the side, just so. A curious look, but knowing. She’s waiting for me to get frightened.
“The devil?” I say.
“At Briarcliff,” she nods. “He took me, and he’s going to take you.”
“Take me where?” I ask, a formality, knowing the answer.
“To hell, dear,” the woman laughs. “It’s where we’re all going.”
To my left, a dead body appears, as though it’s fallen out of the wall. There’s no panic in me. The old woman doesn’t start to attack me, she simply smiles in a sinister manner. The body is of a different old woman, but I know immediately it’s the true owner of the house. I know that the furniture was a trap to draw me here, and I know that people from a mental institution are coming to take me there, and then take me to hell.
I also realize that Briarcliff is the name of the institution in the FX original series American Horror Story: Asylum. Suddenly, this all seems comical. I realize I’m dreaming. All I have to do is wake up.
Then suddenly, my daughter is there.
“They’re taking both of you,” the old woman says, somberly. “To Briarcliff.”
My daughter is scared. I see that there is a class of students outside of the house. It’s her first grade class. I send her to them. She nods, looks back at me, and runs outside.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with you,” I say to the old woman. “This was going really well until you said Briarcliff. Do you not know the difference between real stuff in my head and commercially created content?”
My daughter’s class files into the house. This isn’t right. They were supposed to go to school, away from here.
“They sent us back,” my daughter explains. “I don’t like it here.”
I pick her up and hug her.
“It’s okay,” I say to her. “This is a dream. We just have to wake up. That’s all.”
“They’re coming,” the old woman says, smiling.
“I can’t,” my daughter whispers, tears rolling down her cheeks. “Dad, I can’t wake up!”
And I get it. The thing I haven’t for so long. The panic, the heart-pound. The idea that something in this dream can actually hurt my real life. I can escape, but I have to wake up without my daughter.
“They’re coming,” the old woman repeats.
And I wake up. Frightened, for a moment I just sit in bed. I check the time. Fifteen minutes until we have to leave for school. I go into my daughter’s room. She wakes up, groggy, and I hug her. She asks me what I’m doing and I tell her my dream. She looks at me seriously and says:
“Dad, only YOU had to wake up. That wasn’t me-me. That was dream-me. The dream was tricking you.”
Of course, she was right.