Do Books Really Give You Nightmares?


This is an expression that gets bandied around all the time. You can usually find it in the blurb of a horror novel as it promises to scare you senseless. It’s a sort of anti-warning to readers that this book may be a rather harrowing experience and one you’re unlikely to forget in a hurry.

‘Great,’ you’ll say, if you’re a lover of horror fiction that is.

Reading a scary novel is like watching a scary movie, we do it because there’s something very cathartic about being scared. Many great novels and movies will stay with you for days and even weeks afterwards. But you’re not on edge or frightened beyond cataclysmic proportions, of course; you’ve just had the reaction that the author or film maker had planned. That is, as long as the novel has been well written and the movie well acted, directed, etc.

But how many times has a book (or film, but I’m concentrating on books today) caused you to have nightmares? Waking up in a cold sweat, heart thumping in your chest like its on the verge of exploding, whimpering like a child as you check around the room, pinching your arm to confirm that you are awake? I bet not that many times. I had never had a troubled night’s sleep from reading a book. Pah, I’m not some kind of pussy. Man up!

But that all changed recently.

Now I didn’t have nightmares, just one solitary, yet extremely frightening experience. And believe me when I say, it shat me right up!

I’m a fan of Stephen King, I’m sure most readers are, and if you enjoy horror I’ll bet you’re definitely one of the clan. I wasn’t as much an avid reader ten, fifteen years ago as I am now, so there are a number of Mr King’s novels I haven’t read yet. Sure I remember them from my parents’ bookshelves as a child, staring at the covers and asking questions about them, but not bothering to read them as they didn’t have any pictures or seemed boring to the kid-me.

So recently I’ve been dipping into some of his back catalogue. Something I really should have done much earlier, but hey-ho I ain’t got no time machine! One novel was the most excellent The Dark Half. I knew the basics – writer’s alter ego goes mental and sadistically murderous – but was yet to immerse myself in the story first-hand.

I won’t go on about the plot, you probably know it and it isn’t vital for this short tale if you don’t. But last week the images this book created in my head made themselves very much known to my dream-self.

I awoke in my dream, terrified that someone was after me and about to bring me harm, or maybe (probably) even death. I remember running from the bedroom to be confronted by my mom, who doesn’t live me I might add. I hugged her so tightly and could feel the tears soaking into her top as I cried, no, sobbed into her shoulder. I was so scared, it was the kind of fear that makes us all want our mommies, no matter how old we are!

Cut to me still being asleep, in my own bed.

I can only describe it as the feeling of electricity running through my fingers and up my arms as I writhed in bed. My fingers gnarled and palsied and I cried out for the ‘thing’ to leave me alone. It was in my house, the floorboards creaking in a subtle warning to get the hell out of bed and fight for my life. But the shocks through my limbs prevented any such movement. An eye opened and I saw birds in my room, even felt the breeze as they fluttered around me. I knew I was still asleep and wanted more than anything to wake, perhaps that’s why I moaned like a pathetic child. I tried to hide under the covers but the motor skills required to grab the duvet were sadly lacking.

Next thing I know, I’m awake. I’m shivering and sweating. And in desperate need of emptying my bladder. There may even have been the hint of a boner, not something I’m proud of, I wasn’t getting off on this experience by any means!

Now, I’m an adult man, not a Mr Tough Guy sort of dude, but the kind who may sneer and tut at the suggestion of someone being scared of a silly dream. I’m old enough to know it’s just the mind playing tricks.

But you know what? I lay there in bed for ages, awake (I think), not daring to get out of bed to go to the toilet in case the bad man was there.

I know, crazy, right?

Well eventually I did what I needed to do. The hallway was dark but I was alone, as far as I could make out. Opening the bathroom door, my arm quivered on the handle, the lock rattling like a frightened drum roll. I spoke out loud, told myself to stop being so stupid, but still hesitantly pulled the door open. Obviously there was no one there, but afterwards I still ran back to bed and threw myself under the covers.

But then I was so scared of going back to sleep that I tried to keep myself awake for a while. I had a look at some emails, browsed Twitter, avoiding any mentions of sparrows or intruders or nightmares, trying to rid my mind of the horrors it had inflicted upon me earlier.


Eventually I fell back to sleep and had no further nightmare, but when I woke up for work the next morning, all I could remember was the terrifying sensations I had experienced only hours before. I was so grateful for it being summer with its light mornings. But still the dream lingered in my mind.

It must have been bad, I’m writing a damn blog about it!!

Don’t worry, I’m OK now. I can look back at it and laugh, exactly what I have done with friends. This scenario did actually occur to me as I cautiously paced the dark and eerie hallway in the middle of the night, but back then I couldn’t convince myself I’d actually ever feel good about this.

This was the first experience like this I’d ever had. I really hope it doesn’t happen again. But thinking about it, isn’t this the sort of thing us horror freaks crave? The chance to live through such a nightmare while chuckling about it when remembering it in the cold light of day? Come to think of it, maybe I do want another one!

I could put the experience down to my wonderful imagination conjuring up these scenes of extreme terror, but really isn’t that the genius of the writing? The fact that Mr King’s words ingrained themselves so vividly into my psyche is the sign of a great writer. There’s no denying that he is a great writer, but after this I’m inclined to say that he’s much better than I originally thought.

Maybe one day I will write something that freaks someone out this much. Now that’s really something to strive towards! Although if you write horror, isn’t that the ultimate goal?

Have you ever had a book affect you so much that it infested your dreams and made you question whether it was real? I hope not. No, actually, I hope so!

Thanks for reading!


Photo credit: Michał Koralewski – mobile photography via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-NDPhoto credit: clement127 via / CC BY-NC-ND


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3 replies

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed this read. Entertained me a great deal. Can’t wait to read more.

    Alas… off to prepare dinner for the fam. Wish I could just read and write!

    Peace out friend!

    Liked by 1 person

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