I had a recurring dream.
Nightmares are nothing new to me, but this one was different.
I was running from someone (or something). I had a stabbing pain in my side as if I’d been wounded; the longer I ran, the weaker I became; for some reason, I didn’t dare look behind me.
I crossed an old road. There was a lake in front of me, and behind it, a mountain. I skirted the lake and headed for the mountain, but the land was marsh; almost a bog, and that slowed me even further; I could hear my pursuer coming closer. I realised that even if I reached the mountain, I was too weak to climb it; I stumbled and fell face first into a small puddle of water, deliberately took a deep breath, and died. I didn’t want to be captured by whoever or whatever was chasing me.
I had this dream many times before I told my girlfriend about it.
She asked me what I thought it meant.
“I don’t know.”
“Where do you think you were in the dream?”
I told her that it looked like Donegal, but I didn’t recognise the specific place.
“I have an idea! Let’s go hiking in Gweedore for a week or two.”
We went. Up into the hills, to the home of a friend of a friend; I’d never met the man before but I’d heard good things about him and rang ahead, of course; he offered us a place to stay.
It was a long hike upwards to his place, and the sky was becoming overcast. Halfway up, I said to my girlfriend, “I have a bad feeling about this.”
“I feel it, too,” she said, which scared me even more because she wasn’t one to go in for superstition.
Less than a mile from our destination, I saw an old man cutting turf. He stopped and stared at us, because we were strangers, and thought I was staring at him. But I wasn’t; I was staring at what was behind him; the very same lake and very same mountain from my dream.
“We have to go back,” I said to my girlfriend, and explained why.
“Back where? It’s getting dark. Are you sure you’ve never been here before, maybe when you were a kid? Or maybe saw a photo somewhere?”
“Well, we have to go ahead.”
When we reached the man’s cottage, he welcomed us in and showed us to our room.
“I want to show you something.” He pulled open the curtains of our single window and pointed outside. “Do you know what that is?”
I did. It was a small Celtic burial mound.
“Come out for a moment and have a look.”
“No thanks. I don’t like the looks of it, and I don’t like that lough back the road, either.”
He just laughed and shook his head. “Come on.”
So we went, and he explained what he knew of the mound, as far as local lore was concerned. It was a little more information than I needed in my state. I must have gone pale; he asked me what was wrong.
“Nothing. Just tired.”
“Well, help me make supper and we’ll have a little whiskey.”
That made me feel better. The three of us made soup, each of us had one glass of whiskey, and then he went off to bed, and my girlfriend went off to ours.
I stayed awake in the little parlour. The fire was still going, the owner of the house had many books, and I wanted to stay up and read for a bit. As I was looking over his library, I saw a volume of poems by William Makepeace Thackeray.
I’d never read him in my life.
Something told me to pick the book up; something told me to just let the cover fall open to whatever page. That page was a poem called “Little Billie”. And although it wasn’t the first line of the poem, the first line I saw was—
“O, Billy! We’re going to kill and eat you–”
I snapped the cover shut, and went to bed.
After closing the curtains.
At three, I awoke.
As I was laying there, I heard a noise at the window.
Tap tap tap. In rapid succession.
I froze. Must be a tree branch, blown by the wind. The problem was, there were no trees outside the window, just the burial mound.
Then it came again. Tap-tap-tap.
Something wanted in. I didn’t move. My girlfriend was sound asleep; I wanted to wake her, but I just couldn’t move.
Then a third time. The final time. This time was different.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Very insistent; this is your last chance. Open the curtains.
I didn’t move, nor did I sleep.
At sunrise, I woke my girlfriend and told her what had happened.
“Are you sure you weren’t dreaming?”
“I know I was awake, I know what I heard, and I know what I felt; and you know I don’t believe in ghosts.”
“I know you didn’t. But you do now, don’t you? What do you think would have happened if you’d looked out the window?”
“I think whatever was out there would have paralyzed me.”
“I think you need tea.”
We had tea with our host. I had to ask him.
“Were you tapping at my window last night?”
He got a befuddled look on his face; I explained. I wanted him to tell me I was imagining things, but he wouldn’t.
“Strange things happen in places like this. Things that can’t be explained. Tell me why you said you didn’t like the lough down the hill.”
I told him about my dream.
He took a sip of his tea and sat in silence for a long while, and said, “Has anyone ever told you that dreams don’t mean anything?”
“Whoever told you that was wrong.”
(For Ed Mooney. Every word true.)