Nine People Told Us Their Absolute Worst Nightmares
"I won't get into details, but it becomes a hostage situation. I've had that dream for many years, and then it's realized every night on television."—Conan O'Brien
This year I encountered many witnesses of living nightmares. I covered the Philippine drug war, a teenage murder in Israel/Palestine, interviewed Holocaust victims, sex-trafficking survivors, and atomic bomb witnesses. Nightmares are a frequent symptom of trauma, and the subject came up often.
For over three years, I've been gathering dreams from around the globe for my World Dream Atlas project. Every Halloween since then, I've compiled some of the most impactful nightmares from the previous year and published them here on VICE.
I hope you enjoy this year's collection. If you're having trouble with nightmares yourself, you might consider taking the advice of a shaman I crossed paths with in the village of Gerona in the Philippines. "If you want to stop nightmares," he advised, "nail a stingray tail above your door. Its barbs will snare malevolent spirits."
Happy Halloween and sweet dreams.
"My dream is a recurring one. I'm performing, and there are very few people in the audience, and I'm losing them. They're starting to leave. I try more and more ways to get them to stay, and they leave even faster. Finally, I won't get into details, but it becomes a hostage situation. I've had that dream for many years, and then it's realized every night on television." —Conan O'Brien in New York, USA
"I was six or seven years old when I escaped with my mother. That was ten days before the Germans came and murdered my family. They burned down the street where I lived with incendiary bombs. We found refuge in a barn and later in an empty building. It was the middle of the night, and we were huddled there in the basement when somebody knocked on the door. It was a man with a gun. He was wearing a Polish uniform with a red cross on his arm. We couldn't figure out why he had come, because the Polish army was withdrawing. He sat down on the only chair in the room and spent several hours telling us what was going to happen to us Jews after the war. 'Hitler is going to win,' he said, 'and we are going to be his allies, and our first task will be to exterminate you people.' At the time, my mother was wounded. Blood was dripping from her arm. The man said he had bandages, but she said, 'No, thank you.' He kept saying, 'But, you're bleeding.' I remember thinking that it was our last few minutes on Earth, but in the end, he got up, took his gun, and left. I'll always remember his final words. 'See you after the war,' he said. 'I'll be back.' I saw him again many times in my nightmares, returning and killing us all." —Southfield, USA
"Sometimes I wish that my sister wasn't born. She herself has said that if Mom and Dad die young, it's because of what she put us through. She gets herself into near-death experiences with drugs and alcohol. She threatened to cut her own throat and was committed to a psychiatric ward. She told us that she had terminal cancer and was going to die in six months. It was all a lie. She's done a lot of things like that. I remember a dream that I had about her ten years ago. We were young, and we were in my parents' bedroom. My sister and I were fighting over something stupid like a toy, and I reached over and grabbed her head and just slammed it over the footboard. I broke her neck—completely broke her spine. Her head was just dangling there. I did the thing that I should never ever have done, and it was over, and I had killed my sister with my own two hands." —New York, USA
"It was in the middle of a familiar room in the home of my grandparents. A small black hole became visible in the center of that room. It expanded bigger and bigger, and I knew that when it reached me, I would be absorbed into nonexistence." —Berlin, Germany
"My brother's wife is a drug pusher, and the gangs are killing all the drug pushers here. I begged him to go back to Bulacan where it's safe, but he wouldn't listen. I was standing right next to him the other night when three masked men came by motorcycle and dragged him away. An hour later, we found his body in an empty lot. They had shot him in his legs, his chest, his face. I see his abduction again and again in nightmares. I hear my brother screaming for me and for our mother. I run after the motorcycles, but they disappear into the distance." —Manila, Philippines
"I've had one recurring nightmare, and it's ultra realistic. It starts early in the morning. I'm loading vegetables into a 1930s-era vehicle with my son. I'm in my mid 30s—about the age I am now—and my son, who exists only in the dream, is about 12. We drive to the next town, and we're in one of the smaller markets on the edge, when there's a commotion in the distance. World War II–era vehicles come tearing into town, and soldiers begin to massacre everyone in the square. There is the sense that they don't see us as people. There is a delight in exterminating us. I'm separated from my son, and I'm desperately searching for him. I never find him. It was the same dream for years on end. I remember falling to Earth, and the smell, and the taste of it. I've never experienced that soil anywhere before. It had an alkaline mineral flavor to it, soft loamy clay with a faint fertile richness. Most of all I remember my son—how dearly I loved him, how proud of him I was. I don't think I know anyone like him—so deeply good, so affectionate, and playful. I remember that in the dream I was showing him how to trim tomatoes. They have to have the little bud removed to keep the fruit sweet. He learned so quickly and then he immediately came up with an even better way of doing it. He was always coming up with better ways to do things than I had ever thought of. He had a very quick mind. Maybe he was comparable to how I was at that age—just less hurt. I was molested and physically abused as a small child. That made me extremely withdrawn. He might be the child I would have become if life had been different." —Black Rock City, USA
"I dreamed that I cut open my five-year-old daughter's head with a fruit knife. Her skull was a lot softer than I imagined—like pig skin. After opening her head, I took her brain out. I didn't want to do it, but it was for her own good. It was for her rejuvenation. I wanted her life to be reset—like a game reset. There was, maybe, the feeling that if she could reset, then I could reset, too. In real life, I always feel that we are deeply connected. In some ways, she is who I wanted to be—my inner child. She is loved, and she knows it. I never knew. I still don't know if my parents liked me or not. I don't know how it feels to be loved. Sometimes, I'm a little jealous of my daughter. When I ask her, 'You know I love you, right?' she says, 'I know.' It's nothing for her, and it makes me happy when she says it like that—as if it's nothing. Love is normal, and there is no doubt in her mind." —Tokyo, Japan
"I have a recurring dream of being a kamikaze pilot during the Second World War. I am lined up with the other pilots at roll call. There is an imminent mission, and the commander asks for volunteers. The mission, of course, is to crash our airplane into a ship. The volunteering is just a formality. I know that the only reason I am here is to die. I want to be heroic, but still, I am afraid—and I am ashamed of my fear. I stand there, paralyzed in place, as the entire line steps back. In this way, I am selected. The kamikaze are exemplars of the Japanese mentality, a mentality that goes back to the samurai. Death was never about death itself, but rather about living to die with honor. It was said that the kamikaze died thinking of the emperor, but having lived that experience in dreams, I think most of them died thinking about their families." —Tokyo, Japan
"A vampire was trying to bite my neck and suck my blood. Before he had a chance, though, I reached up and began plucking out his teeth. They were made of candy, and I ate them, one by one." —Manila, Philippines
Roc Morin is a journalist based in San Francisco and the author of &, a book of short stories.