I sink down into murky water. I’m submerged in dirty sea-green. Suddenly, I feel a rush of cold water. I turn my head. Soulless eyes stare back at me, dozens of them. The creatures look human, but they’re not. Red-greenish veins run through their slimy, scaly bodies. I panic, and start to swim. Sharp claws dig into my skin and grasp my right foot, yanking me back. Before I know it, the vampire-like sea monsters rip off my feet and hands. I scream in agony, as they continue to tear me apart. It feels like a thousand needles burrowing into me.
I’m gone. Dead.
Until I’m not…
I’m back in the murky sea-green, back with the monsters, dead again and again. After the tenth, twentieth, fiftieth time, I realize it’s a cycle I will never escape. I cry out, and ask for help. That’s when I see her: Buddha, sitting cross-legged above me.
I wake up.
I was thirteen, living in Taiwan, the land of Buddhist temples, so I decided to visit Lung-shan temple to see what the bi-chio-ni (nuns) and monks had to say about my nightmares.
As my mother and I approached the temple’s opening, I peered up to the golden, slanted roofs and noticed how beautiful the shimmering yellow looked against the blood-red walls. I stepped over the wooden block that separates the outside world from the inner sanctuary with my left foot, as I had been taught to do as a little girl—a sign of respect, showing you understand you are entering a holy space. When we got to the innermost courtyard, I saw hundreds of people praying to statues of Taiwanese deities. Some threw red crescent-shaped wooden blocks on the floor; others prayed towards the sky, upwards, into space, where Buddha and the Gods reside. My mother and I stepped into one of the booths and approached the two nuns.
“I keep getting nightmares,” I said, desperate for them to stop.
“Are you participating in anything involving evil spirits?” one of them asked me, looking deep into my eyes, scanning for the answer.
“Well, I watch a lot of horror movies. Is that what you mean?”
When I thought about it more, I realized the nightmares began shortly after I saw my first horror movie, The Conjuring. I became addicted to the genre. I binge-watched television shows like Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries. I knew I should probably stop watching these terror-inducing shows, but they were so exciting. They made me feel a heightened kind of aliveness, whereas my nightmares just made me feel scared to go to sleep.
“Yes, stop watching all horror films and television shows. Distance yourself from all lower energy forms. And pray to Buddha every night before you go to bed. You can also listen to Miao fa lien hua jin every day to further distance yourself from evil.”
That night, dimming the lights, I bowed down in 90 degrees to the painting of Guan-Shi-yin Buddha, the Goddess of Mercy, portrayed as a young woman dressed in pure white silk laced in gold. On top of her head rested a small crown with a painted image of a bodhisattva sitting peacefully in a lotus position. Remembering what the nuns told me to do, I clasped my hands, stood up, and whispered in Mandarin, “Thank you Guan-shi-yin Buddha for protecting me” before wishing for protection.
Looking down at my hands, I expected to feel magically changed. I’m not sure why. I thought maybe I would see a glow of protection, but there was nothing. I changed into my pajamas and climbed onto my platform bed. I looked at the clock: 9:30 p.m., the same bedtime I had since I was ten. I hesitantly turned off the lights and held my blankets tightly.
I am running as fast as I can through an abandoned hospital. I look to my right and see a younger boy sprinting towards me. He is human, like me, but I don’t know him. Suddenly, a creature jumps out in front of us, baring its long white fangs. The pale concrete hospital walls darken in comparison to the monster’s pale skin. I wonder if this is what the dead returned to life look like. Turning his head from side to side, his dark, red eyes scan the boy, who is shivering in fear beside me.
“Run!” I shout, grabbing his hand, and pulling him through hallways, as we turn and turn and turn, running as fast as we can. Yet, there it stands, in front of us. The same bloodthirsty eyes—
I woke up startled, gasping for air. I looked at my alarm clock. It was 2:00 a.m. I crawled out of bed, and walked towards the praying table.
“Save us, protect us!” I cried
Lying in bed, thinking about my prayers and what the nuns had said, I wondered if Buddha had tried to save me by providing me company. Usually, I am alone in my nightmares and the cycle never ends until the alarm clock rings. This time, I had a friend, a little boy, and before the monster could kill us, I woke up. I felt comforted, thinking that maybe I was being protected, and that sleep wouldn’t have to terrify me anymore.
Praying to Guan-Shi-yin Buddha quickly became a ritual, and soon my nightmares became more and more infrequent. Every night, I stood at the praying table and reminded myself to “just breathe,” a Buddhist motto I now cleaved to as a way to align with my higher self and energy.
Once I was no longer gripped by sea monsters and zombies, I thought about what my nightmares had taught me. They seemed to reiterate my belief that life and death are an endless cycle of karma and growth. Maybe the nuns were right and the horror movies were to blame, but I wondered if something deeper was going on. Perhaps I had done something horribly sinful in a past life and my dreams were reflecting my punishment. Now, I feel grateful for them. They helped me wake up to this lifetime and made me realize I have the power to improve my karma. If I stay on the right path, I have the chance to ascend higher in my next life.
In the meantime, I will continue to just breathe.
Lola Wang is a sophomore at the Taipei American school in Taiwan. She wrote a lot of personal essays but is starting to write some flash fiction and short stories. She loves drawing too, mainly sketching and painting. Golf is another hobby she likes to do. This will be her first publication.