I woke in my bed. It was midday and the house was empty. Where was my family, my dog? I peered into corners and behind furniture as if I was playing a game of hide-and-seek and I was ‘it’. There were no sounds – no wind, no birds, no traffic, no airplanes – only my own hollow footsteps. We lived on an air force base on Okinawa at the time, 1956, and I was in third grade.
Creamy yellow light streamed in through the windows. It was uniformly bright but there was no sun. Somehow, going from my bed to the front door, I’d gotten dressed: tee-shirt, square-side-pocket olive trousers and tennis shoes.
I walked to the street, looked left and right, but saw no cars, not even in the driveways. Our neighborhood was normally filled with children, but no one was playing and there were no toys or bicycles in the yards.
I turned right up the empty street. The houses, standard Air Force officer housing, were hollow facades. They had frames and roofs but no windows or doors. They were all the same pale blue and none had any siding or roofing tile.
Bright lights shined out the bare windows of my friend Stewart’s house. I walked up and stood on my toes to look in. There was a long table in the middle of the room. The table was covered with a white sheet and surrounded with spotlights on tall poles. On the table was a human figure, but all I could see were his legs in olive trousers and tennis shoes. Red splotches covered the sheet.
Around the table stood four white-lab-coated figures not much taller than I was. One of them turned and saw me. It had the green triangle head of a praying mantis with red ball-shaped eyes high at the back corners and long black antennas. It screamed and all the figures turned. They were all praying mantises and they all screamed and rushed at me.
I ran to the street and away from my house. The mantises called out and waved their green jagged-clamp arms into the air. Suddenly I heard loud buzzing. As I ran I looked back to see a dozen giant dragonflies swooping down.
The buzz grew louder. I pumped my legs but wet tar on the pavement sucked and held my feet. With each step the downward pull grew stronger.
Suddenly I went down, hit hard from behind. A dragonfly worked its jaws like sharp cutting shears into my neck.
Huhh, huhh, huhh, I sat up panting in my bed. I was drenched in sweat. My brother was asleep. The full moon shone through the bedroom door from the screened porch across the hall. I got out of bed and walked to the porch. The house was quiet but there were crickets and other night creatures chirping outside. The moon cast long shadows across the furniture on the porch. I calmed, changed my soaked pajamas, and went back to bed feeling the chill of the moisture still in my bed clothing. Exhausted and still afraid, I fell asleep.
My eyes closed and opened. It was midday in our empty house. The sky was creamy yellow and uniformly bright. I went outside again and remembered where I was going. Stewart’s house streamed light from its bare windows. I started running immediately. Looking left, I saw mantises scurrying and screaming. Buzz, Zzzz sounded behind me. I turned and saw dragonflies diving. Tar grabbed my feet and I fell hard hit from the back.
Huhh, huhh, huhh, I jumped out of bed. It was darker. The moon was down but the horizon had a line of red. So I changed my shirt again and stayed up.
Everyone got up that morning as if it was a normal day. My sisters and brother shouted at the breakfast table. I watched and ate my Cheerios quietly. Only my mother noticed.
“Keith, don’t you feel well?” She pressed her cheek to my forehead and stroked my hair. I told her about my dream and said I was afraid to go to sleep that night.
“We’ve seen a lot of big critters since we got here,” she said, “dragonflies, praying mantises, spiders, lizards, snails, crabs. Last month you watched Tarantula on the boat coming over, and last year we saw Them at the theater. So I’m not surprised you’ve had a bad dream. Think of it as a movie and it’ll go away.”
But it didn’t.
That night I left the house again. I noticed that the creamy yellow sky cast no shadows. I ran immediately but stayed on the sidewalk to avoid the tar. The dragonflies took a little longer to reach me. This time when I woke, I walked it off then went back to bed. The mantises and dragonflies were waiting outside for me. They’d learned too. I left the house running.
I knew how this would end—the thought hit me mid-stride. So I decided to change it. I stopped, grabbed a big rock and turned. This time I’d get in a good hit before I died. I was angry. My only thought was timing my blow as the dragonfly lunged.
But it didn’t.
As I stood defiant, the dragonfly shrank to normal size and landed on the sidewalk in front of me. My heart pounded as I stepped forward to crush it, but it darted away.
I learned something that night: my dreams were mine.
That one never came again.