Written by Jonathan Wojcik
Happy Nightmare Memories: Part IV!
I have to say it's been a lot of fun sharing these stories for the past few weeks, because every one of your nightmare tales have just been such a joy to read. I could easily fill an entire spin-off website with my own screwed-up dreams and night terrors alone, and I'd sure as hell enjoy filling it with some of yours, too, but for now, we'll be ending this particular series with a story I've actually told on the site once before.
Some of you know it fairly well, but I've long intended to re-write and re-illustrate this one in deeper, more vivid detail. Whether you've heard it already or you're brand new to Bogleech, it's one of my most beloved of all personal memories, and this will be its most in-depth retelling; overall a very personal, very special post for one of this year's very last Halloween-season articles.
...It all started with an episode of Pee-Wee's Playhouse, one of the biggest television sensations of the 1980's and a program I surprisingly adored watching even at the peak of my younger self's borderline omniphobic leanings. For a series filled with surreal, nonsensical imagery, blindingly colorful puppets and screaming, so much screaming, it's amazing that I can only ever recall a single episode triggering my panic switch.
The episode in question, Monster in the Playhouse, aired on November 8, 1986, putting me at precisely three years and eight days old, so this time, maybe I almost have an excuse for a children's show to have rattled me.
"Monster in the Playhouse" began innocently enough, with Pee-Wee and his inanimate minions engaged in their usual meaningless antics, but things quickly took a slightly darker tone than usual when the playhouse caught wind of an ominous local rumor; a rumor that some sort of "monster" was on the loose in their native Puppet Land.
Considering that the average Puppet Land resident was apparently a piece of furniture with teeth, anything that qualified as "monstrous" in their world view had to be really fucked up, and I couldn't recall any other episode where the care-free, fun-loving cast ever displayed so much fear and paranoia. Pee-wee and his talking chairs and dinosaurs and shit were positive the monster could be coming to devour them all alive, and who was I to doubt them? As a stupid three year old, I still didn't fully grasp that I could nearly always trust an early-morning children's program not to mercilessly slaughter the entire cast in front of my eyes.
Hilariously, the show saw fit to finally reveal the monster as abruptly and unexpectedly as possible, simply cutting right to this huge, dual-mouthed, tentacled eyeball snarling and babbling in the middle of the Playhouse with little to no real warning. We never even saw how it got in. It was just there. Wound tight enough as it was, my erupting fearcano rocketed me down the hall before my mind had even finished processing what I had seen. They could have probably cut to just about anything at that moment - a sheet ghost, a moose, a paper bag with a frowny face painted on it - and I still couldn't have handled it. My terror-juice was already at critical mass.
I was at least brave enough drift in and out of the living room for the remainder of the episode, learning how harmless and friendly the hopping eyeball - Roger - ultimately proved to be and falling in love with his bizarre design regardless if not precisely because of what he had just put me through.
This did not, however, prevent any nightmares from happening.
Nothing ever really did.
The dream I would experience that night played out as an almost Lynchian re-enactment of the preceding day. There I was, on the ugly greenish carpet of our living room floor, parked way too close to that same huge, cumbersome television - an obsolete relic even by the standards of 1986 - but many details were already inconsistent with reality. My parents were present, but sat still and silent on the couch behind me, mere props in the nightmare's crude facsimile of the real world. It was also distressingly dark, the television's dim glow the only source of illumination in what seemed to be the dead of night.
Despite all this strangeness, I still had no clue that I was dreaming, and I truly believed I was just watching another episode of Pee-Wee's Playhouse, albeit one with a rather alarming dearth of either Pee-Wee or anything you might refer to as a "Playhouse;" only a pure white, featureless room, occupied by two very different figures that I'm going to add to my shitty drawing as we go along.
The first was an unremarkable, middle-aged woman I didn't recognize from anywhere in particular. I clearly remember her plain, red sweater, fluffy black hair, and wide-eyed look of disgust and horror as she stood stiffly off to one side of the screen, her attention on the other figure dominating the white room.
This second character was of the same overall outline as Roger the eyeball-monster, with a pair of flipper-like tentacles and a single huge, thick leg, but it was here that their similarities ended. Its grey, wrinkled hide was riddled with small, white growths I understood as octopus-like suckers, though no doubt inspired by barnacles, and where Roger had a tremendous eye, this entity had only a shiny, slightly rugged surface, devoid of any orifices or sensory organs.
It basically looked as though someone had rather carelessly sawed the leg off of a life-sized rubber elephant statue, then somehow cross-bred the result with a whale.
Worse than this creature's appearance, however, were its actions; it hopped in place, each bounce accompanied by a throbbing sound effect I can't quite liken to anything else, repeatedly smacking itself and repeatedly shouting the same two words in a shrill, tinny voice:
"HIT ME! HIT ME! HIT ME! HIT ME!"
(Click here for my closest possible recreation of this in an mp3)
Like the inane chanting of the Kool-Aid Man, this silly dialog and bizarre voice horrified me beyond all reason, and in this case, they were the final straw that launched me back into the waking world with a panic.
I would spend the rest of that morning nagged by an unshakeable sense of unease. I'm still not certain why this particular dream left me so disquieted, but I can still remember how off everything felt that day. The abstract appearance and behavior of that awkward, masochistic creature refused to leave my mind, and after describing it to every adult who would listen, I must have drawn at least half a dozen pictures and made at least one attempt to craft the being from modeling clay, one of my favorite things to play with. I even chose a name for it; the Hit-me-hit-me-hit-me Monster, or just Hit-me-hit-me-hit-me "for short."
Three "hit me's" was the minimum.
Of course, it becomes rather difficult to be afraid of something once you've turned it into a pile of artwork and given it an affectionate name. The more I dwelt on the dream, the more my fear gave way to fascination, and lacking any other children to play with at the time, Hit-me-hit-me-hit-me quickly attained "imaginary friend" status. I still wonder what adults must have thought of a three-year-old pretending to hop around with a faceless, self-injuring leg monster, but in my mind, he was a sort of "tamed" nightmare, following me everywhere like some sort of giant, invisible, headless puppy, sometimes hanging out with an imaginary version of his very inspiration, Roger the Eyeball.
I'd continue to suffer as many deranged nightmares as ever, but this one marked an important turning point in my perspective. Even when I couldn't predict or control them, I was beginning to understand that my nightmares were also my creations. They belonged to me, to elaborate upon and retcon as I saw fit the moment I regained conscious control of my brain.
Sadly, while my parents obsessively saved every scrap of paper I so much as doodled on, the original drawings of my first pet nightmare remain completely unaccounted for, possibly left deep in a long-destroyed storage shed after my childhood home was sold, but at the very least, I did add my old friend to DON'T GET SPOOKED, and maybe I'll find other places for him soon enough.
On a final note, my domesticated nocturnal terror is likely another reason I loved the first few Silent Hill games on so many levels. The overarching aesthetic of the town's monstrous beings hit so perfectly close to my old pal and other images from my early nightmares, from their textures and shapes to the way they moved, that it almost felt like I was right back on that dark, hazy dream-world imitation of my living room floor. The "ghostly haunting" imagery and humanoid enemies of the most recent titles can just fuck themselves sideways.
Like I said earlier, my favorite thing about these posts - as with most of my posts - has simply been your reponses. I may not have the time to reply back to every comment, but I sure as hell read them, and have sincerely hung on your every last word as you've related your own worst and weirdest childhood fears. As usual, feel free to leave me more.
...Unless, of course, you would rather save them as fuel for some short horror fiction, because that is totally happening again this year. Just stay tuned!