Surviving a Nightmare


Jodie awoke screaming, crying out, “NO! NO!” Sweat poured down her body, her pj’s drenched. Her feet were pulled up, her knees between her and the vision. “You do NOT get to do this again!”


Even in a deep state of terror, she could feel Peter pulling himself closer in the bed to gather her into his arms. She shook uncontrollably, sobbing, still gripped by the recurring horror that visited her dreams. Slowly she returned to the present, thankful for Peter’s arms around her. His warmth and gentle voice slowly counteracting the chill she couldn’t seem to shake. She wanted to lay here, his arms holding her, keeping her safe, forever.

She took a shuttering breath and asked, “Honey, what’s wrong with me?” He held her tighter and she snuggled against his chest, fighting the tense muscles and uncertainty. “Why can’t I see it? I know something or someone is there, lurking. Why can’t I remember?”

“They’re coming more often, more intense.” They both sat up on the edge of the bed. He reached for her warm, fuzzy robe and wrapped it around her. “Feel like getting out of this bed, maybe having a cup of hot chocolate? You’ll never relax, staying here.” As they walked into the living room, Jodi almost in his footsteps, he reached for the lamp beside the sofa, bringing light into the room. With a voice command, her favorite tunes began to play softly in the background. He silently, slowly stirred the chocolate, then turned back toward the living room, nearly knocking her over. She was almost glued to his back.

She looked wretched. “Sorry, I…I thought you might… need help.”

He maneuvered around her with the hot mugs. “I got it. Let’s snuggle and enjoy this gourmet hot chocolate.” Her mug was filled halfway with whipped cream, the way she liked it.

One heartbeat at a time, she felt herself relaxing. She smiled weakly. “Um, this is awesome. Thanks.” They were quiet, soaking in the calmness of the room and the smooth jazz softy surrounding them. She fought to keep the source of the nightmares from surfacing. Not knowing was better than facing the demons who lived there. But they were ever present, tormenting her nights.

“Honey,” he said softly in her ear. “Do you think there was anything — even the slightest nuance — that might have been different this time?”

She tensed, wanting to run away. But how do you run away from your own inner self? She let out a deep sigh, “Well, now that everything is back to normal and I can think straight, there’s the faintest feeling that — it — might be getting closer. Something felt familiar this time, not so alien somehow.” A tear slid to the collar of her robe.

Peter hugged her closer. “Have you thought any more about Dr. Collins suggestion that you try hypnosis? There’s a chance it could help unlock the grip these dreams have on your subconscious.” He took her empty cup, placing it on the table beside the sofa. “I know neither of us would ever let another person come between us.” He drew a deep breath. “But that’s what’s happening. It’s…hurting us.”

Slowly she shook her head, her normal response, but then she stopped, looking at him, seeing the fear in his eyes. He was feeling betrayed by this…thing. And he was right. It was coming between them, pulling them apart. She looked down at the floor. “You know, it isn’t that I’m afraid of the process. It’s what it might reveal that terrifies me.”

He leaned forward. “I’ll be there every step of the way. Neither of us can keep going like this.”

She nodded. “Will you set the appointment? Even that seems more than I can do.” She felt relief at making the decision. She hadn’t told him about the growing fear and deep depression that engulfed her during the day, alone in the house. It was almost like her dreams, only she was awake. Still, someone was there lurking unseen behind every curtain or closet door. She sighed. Maybe she was crazy.

On their visit to Dr. Collins, they reviewed the expectations, just as they had the first time she’d gone. Pete would be allowed in only after she was in the hypnotic state she needed to be in. Dr. Collins would record her responses for later reference.

Jodi lay still for several minutes, hearing the gentle music and Dr. Collin’s soft voice. She felt comfortable, calm. Then slowly tears began to flow down her cheeks. It was here. Angrily, she screamed, “NO, NO.” Her eyes wide with terror, she trembled, but moved forward, searching. She lifted her right arm, holding it in front of her for protection, her left hand moving, searching for something close by to use as a weapon. “You can’t do this again. I won’t let you have her. She’s mine!” Her hand wrapped around a vase sitting on Dr. Collins’ side table. She sat up and let out another scream. “NO, NO!” She threw herself back onto the sofa, her feet up, shielding herself from attack. Then she went limp, sobbing, begging, “No, please, she’s all I’ve got.” She tried to throw the heavy vase, but it dropped, crashing to the floor. Still sobbing, she began frantically pushing back, trying to move away, to put distance between herself and…it. She began trembling uncontrollably.

Dr. Collins glanced at Peter and back at Jodi, who remained in the half sitting, half laying position. In a quiet voice, she said, “Jodi, it’s okay, you can wake up now. You did great.”

She opened her eyes, her body shaking and her voice hoarse from screaming. “Was he here?” She wrapped her arms around her body and looked around the room. “Did he take her?”

Dr. Collins asked in a matter-of-fact voice, “You saw a man?” Jodi didn’t answer. “I don’t want to rush you, or make suggestions, only repeat back what you say and see if it triggers any memories.” Jodi sat silently, nothing came. After a while, they set an appointment for next week.

As she rose, she saw the form of a person pass the clouded glass in the door of the office. She stopped, backing away and turned toward Dr. Collins. Her voice shaking she said, “Yes, yes, I saw him through the glass.” She reached for Pete’s hand to steady herself. “He told me…” Then a look of confusion crossed her face. “I can’t remember.”

The doctor motioned for Pete to guide Jodi back to the sofa and she sat in the chair beside her. “Jodi,” Dr. Collins said quietly. “I wouldn’t normally ask you to do this, but do you think you can go under one more time. I feel we’re close to breaking through.”

She lay back on the sofa, taking a deep breath and closing her eyes. The music was calming and relaxing. Suddenly, she entered the dark, cold place. She was groping, moving slowly. She stopped, holding her breath. She whispered, “He’s here.”

Dr. Collins voice echoed in the chambers of her mind. “I want you to ask him who he is.”

She gulped, then slowly said the words. “Who…are you?” As he began to turn toward her, she crouched, trying to hide, to shield herself, fear gripping her heart, pounding in her ears. She gasped, “You!” His face contorted into an evil grin.

From behind her, Dr. Collins voice echoed through the darkness. “Help me understand what happened.”

“You took my baby,” she said flatly.

“Come on, Jodi, she’s better off with me.” Her hands were outstretched, her palms open and empty. She sobbed. He leered at her, “You’re barely more than a child yourself. That’s why you gave her up so easily.”

“I…” She gulped. “I only saw her for a little while.” Her voice was devoid of emotion. There was no fear in her now. Anger began rising. Sensing it, his grin began to fade, as he grew smaller.

“No!” She spat the word, and she ran toward him. Calmly, she said, “No, Sammy. No more.”

He backed away cautiously, the darkness swirling around him, hiding him. She sat up in Dr. Collins office, pale, sweating even in the cool room. She reached for Pete’s hand. “He’s been in our house.”

Pete raised an eyebrow. “Jo__”

“I know you think I’m crazy, but he’s there. He comes while you’re at work. I haven’t seen him, but I can feel his presence and…I can smell him.” She looked at him evenly. “He gets into the apartment somehow.”

“Jodi,” Dr. Collins said. “You called him by name. How do you know his name?”

She sighed. “His name is Sam Defino. We called him Sammy.” She looked at Pete, seeing the recognition on his face. “He was a junior at State the year I started.”

Pete squeezed her hand. “Tell her everything.”

“I fell in love with him. Older, good-looking, into all the sports. And I became his girl.” She sighed. “A couple of months later, you know… I was pregnant. He promised me we were going to get married, and he was very supportive. He graduated before the baby was born, and got a job on the coast. But he came back for the baby’s birth, and stayed until we came home.” She began sobbing, tears flowing freely. “The day he was leaving, it was just him and me with the baby.” She took a ragged breath. “And he took her and left.” She shrugged. “They were never found.” Her voice faded to a whisper. “It’s been three years now.”

“And you’re sure he’s coming back again? In your apartment?” Dr. Collins asked.

She shrugged her shoulders. Maybe she was going crazy.

“I’ve got a contact on the force, and we can ask for surveillance in the apartment if it’s a real threat, but I need the two of you somewhere else.”

Peter looked at Jodi. “Why don’t we take that mini-vacation we’ve wanted to take? We can take the car home and leave in the truck.”

Dr. Collins made the necessary arrangements with the police, while Jodi and Peter went home to pack. Jodi felt uneasy, and both of them kept glancing around the apartment. Peter emailed his PTO request, and they left for the airport.

Jodi leaned into his shoulder once they were seated on the plane and dozed off. When she woke up, they were taxiing into the airport in Virginia Beach. “Mom’s condominium?” she asked. “I was too beat to ask where we were going.”

After a week with no word, Jodi put in a call to Dr. Collins. “Hey, it’s me, Jodi. I’m going nuts not knowing if there’s been any progress catching Sammy.” She let out a slow breath. “Pete can’t miss work indefinitely.”

“Any more nightmares?” Dr. Collins asked.

“No. No nightmares. Just not sleeping very well some nights. Restless, you know?”

“Well,” Dr. Collins said. “We had a break last night, in fact. The officer staying at the house resembles you a lot. She’s been going and coming, in your car, trying to set a hook. They have a suspect in custody.” Dr. Collins paused, then said, “I’m here at the station now. I’m going to call you back on Facetime.” Minutes later the phone rang, and she and Pete were looking at Dr. Collins. She said, “I’m going to reverse the screen on the phone. Tell me if this is Sammy.”

Jodi swallowed, then breathed, “Yes, that’s him.” He looked older, tormented, ragged.

Pete was standing behind her, his arms circling her waist. He asked, “Why?”

“He legally changed his name when he kidnapped the baby,” she answered, “and was living in California until recently.” She paused. “They haven’t pieced the whole story together yet, but it seems he started having schizophrenic episodes shortly after, and they’ve progressively gotten worse. We’ll know more by the time you get back home.”

The day after they returned home, Jodi had an appointment scheduled with Dr. Collins. When she arrived, a detective was also present. Jodi was shaking, unable to control the anxiety. “I dread this,” she said. “Just going into the apartment last night was traumatic. We left again and spent the night in a hotel.”

“You don’t have anything to be afraid of, but…what we have learned is disturbing.” Jodi stared at her, waiting for her to continue.

The detective introduced herself, then said, “We were able to trace his medical history, and it appears that Mr. Delfino has had schizophrenia since high school. It was managed through his college years, but when he graduated and started living on his own, he stopped taking his medication. He believed he was well.”

Dr. Collins interjected, “They never really get well. We believe when the baby was born, he entered another episode.” She paused, then said quietly, “No one has any idea what may have happened to the baby.”

Jodi sobbed, leaning into Peter’s embrace.

Peter looked at the detective and asked, “Why was he back? Coming into our apartment?”

“He believed Jodi had another baby, and he was trying to find it, to take it. Why?” He shrugged his shoulders. “He doesn’t even know.”

“So, what now?” Pete asked.

“He’s going into the State Hospital. He’s not mentally competent.” The detective asked if they had more questions, then left.

In a quiet, shaky voice, Jodi said, “I dread going home. I think that will be a worse nightmare.”

Dr. Collins leaned toward her. “You know you won’t be alone.”

Jodi and Pete walked out of the office building.

“Let’s grab a bite to eat,” Pete said.

They were seated quickly since they were earlier than the lunch crowd. As soon as they placed their order, Pete studied her for a minute then said, “Jodi, I applied for a pre-approval for a loan so we can purchase our own home. I don’t want you to have any associations with what’s been happening.”

It was more than she ever imagined possible. Sure, they might change apartments, but to own their own home? “So?” She smiled, “Can we?”

Pete nodded and smiled. “We were pre-approved. We can get a list of houses we might like and start looking.”

“Oh, Pete, I already know the area I’d love to live in, can we drive through this afternoon? Maybe we’ll see the perfect one.” She reached across the table and held his hand. She had lost so much. But in the process, she had found Peter Taylor. “Have I told you lately how much I love you? You’ve always made me feel safe and loved.”

He lifted her hand and kissed her fingers. “Jodi Taylor, you have always made our lives seem like a beautiful dream.”


Our unaddressed fears can sometimes bury themselves so deeply they become part of our psyche and come out in our dreams. I am a very vivid dreamer, and many times they involve fleeing from an unknown danger. (I even bit my husband’s arm one night as he tried to shake me awake!) Be sure to keep a pad and pencil handy. You never know when your dream may become someone’s story.

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