It was not actually a singular nightmare, but a series of them strung together through a common theme. I remember that there were at least five of them in the chain, but the only two I remember are the first and last of them. Serial nightmares are not common for me, but neither are they unusual. In fact, I often find myself revisiting familiar locations in my dreams - both good and bad.
The strange series of nightmares started off abruptly when I found myself sitting alone in the cloak room of my grade 5 classroom from elementary school. I was sitting on the floor, with my back against the wall and both of my hands palm-down on the floor. It was obviously the middle of the night, because the only light in the room was from a single, incandescent ceiling light overhead.
The cloak room was at the back of the classroom, and was actually just a walled-off area rather than being a true room unto itself. The ceiling-height wall extended most of the width of the classroom, with open entryways at either end opening into the classroom. It had hangers on both sides, and shelving across from me for lunch boxes and muddy boots. The light overhead was one of those round, single-bulb ceiling fixtures that were popular in schools of this vintage. In retrospect it is probably the fact that I took notice of the lighting fixture at all that lent a lot of realism to this dream; usually the lighting in my dreams tends to come from ambient, unimportant sources. What made this light notable was its sheer normality.
Everything in the dream was unnaturally real, in fact. The floor was cold, hard, and slightly gritty under my palms, and my back was slightly stiff as if I had been sitting against the wall for quite some time. Even in my nightmares, there is always a certain dream logic that kicks in to explain the situation, no matter how convoluted that logic twists itself. In this instance, I was aware of exactly where I was, and puzzled over why I was there, or how I had arrived there. The initial scare in the dream was the fear over finding myself in a mundane place with no knowledge of how I got there.
Then things started to get strange.
As I sat there with my back to the wall, considering if I should just leave, or look around for some clue as to how I had got there, I began to notice just how quiet and dark the school was during the night. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was not just dark and silent, but preternaturally dark and silent. There was a door to my right that led into the hall, and it may as well have had a square of black paper in its frame as glass. Also, the light in the cloak room should have been spilling out into the classroom, but it ended abruptly at the openings on either side of the wall. At first I thought it a bit odd and creepy, but the longer I looked at it, the odder and more disturbing it became.
I realized that the light did not project out into the classroom because the darkness was projecting into the cloakroom. It scintillated shadows around its edges, and as I watched, the ends and floor of the cloak room slowly dimmed. I realized that the light overhead was the only thing holding it at bay, and it was slowly overcoming that. And it made noise - sort of. I could feel pressure on my ears as it encroached on the cloak room, though there was no whisper of a sound other than my own breathing.
Then I woke up. Except that I didn't. I dreamt that I awoke, and everything seemed normal until the darkness reappeared. Then it happened again, and again. After four abrupt dream transitions, each one ending with me waking up in a different place, I finally awoke again, lying on the sofa in the living room. I awoke with a start, heart pounding with an adrenaline rush.
The TV was on, with the sound turned low, and the orange spun-glass swag lamp was lit. I vaguely remembered sitting down to watch TV earlier, and realized that I must have fallen asleep in the middle of whatever I had been watching. My parents' bedroom door was about six inches ajar (they always left it slightly cracked when they went to bed - presumably so they could hear if any of the kids were up and about), and I was curious why they had not woken me and chased me off to bed before they turned in for the night. I found that a bit strange, but now that I was awake, I decided to head off to bed under my own volition.
As I was about to stand up and head off to bed, I was struck by how quiet it was in their bedroom. They were not quiet sleepers (dad's snore could shake the house), but I could not hear them breathing. Also, it was very dark through the crack in the open door. Very very dark. As I watched, wispy tendrils of darkness crept around the edges of the doorway and caressed their way into the living room...
I finally woke in my own bed. For real this time.
The dreams felt very real - that's what made them frightening at the time. Each false awakening made me realize that the nightmare was just toying with me. I am pretty sure that I am awake now, but there is that little nattering of doubt in the back of my mind telling me that it is just playing the long game this time. If you see me hesitate before stepping into an unlit room, you know why. It's just my subconscious brain momentarily flinching, wondering if the darkness has returned.