Bashiketa suddenly found themself awake in their bed, in the dark, heart pumping.
They had graduated from a crib just yesterday. This was their first night in a larger, open bed. Memories of this came back to them after a moment of pure panic and bewilderment. Their room looked so different from this angle, and without bars blocking the view. They felt vulnerable.
But, just seconds ago, something big, loud, and fast had been chasing them. And if they made a noise, it might find them. But if they didn’t call for help, it would find them anyway. They were out in the open with their blankets bunched up around their feet.
They sat up and snatched a look around their room to see if it was there. Their eyes didn’t have much trouble seeing the details of everything, their dresser, their toybox, their shelves of favorite things, their rug with houses and city streets printed on it, there was just enough light from the ceiling panels to give them enough illumination for that. But it was significantly less than during the day, and everything was so silent, and they felt its presence. It felt like the thing was behind them. Which would mean that it was in the wall.
Bashiketa was so afraid to turn and look at the wall that they could barely move at all.
Realizing that they’d already moved to sit up, giving away their position, they reached behind themselves for their pillow and pulled it up like a shield to cover the back of their head and shoulders, leaning forward. They drew their knees up to their chest, wrapping their tail tight around their legs, and bowed their head, clenching their eyes shut, ears flat. They felt their lips pull back from their teeth and a whimpering whine escaped their throat. They couldn’t control it.
The thing, whatever it was, came up to them so fast. They could feel their bed seem to shake as its feet came down on either side of them. In their head, the feet thumped like something hard hitting a solid surface, which didn’t make sense. And in the moment of the sound they knew the noise was just in their head, but less than a second afterward the memory was as if it had happened right in their room. Then the presence of a large metal fist came crashing down to the ground in front of them, half a meter away, and they thought they heard someone’s voice from above them. Saying something that felt like it made sense but they didn’t understand it.
Taking in a sharp breath, they dared to open their eyes to behold what was there, but it was just their bed and their crumpled blankets. And for a moment everything was still, and they began to feel safe.
The thing hadn’t been hunting them, the voice had been comforting, it had been moving to protect them. To act as a guardian and a shield. It had been scary and confusing, but now it was obviously safe, and whatever had been about to happen to them was not going to. So Bashiketa let out their breath and began to smile and open their eyes wider to look around their room again.
And that’s when the whole mountain above came down on their psyche with an unimaginable sound.
They screamed and couldn’t stop screaming.
They didn’t even hear their door open, or see, hear, or feel any movement near them, they were so overloaded with their pounding blood, the pressure of their own voice, and what had just happened to their mind. But after two cycles of losing their breath and taking in just enough to fuel the next scream, they felt Fredge’s arms curl around them, pressing them to Fredge’s body. Then they felt the bottom of Fredge’s jaw on their top of their head, with their chin lying just in front of Bashiketa’s right ear, and felt Fredge take in a deep breath and begin rumbling.
Fredge couldn’t purr like Bashiketa could, but they could use their deep voice to make a low rumbling vibration with every breath. And the effect was almost immediate. Bashiketa felt themself stop screaming in order to purr back. The constant vibrations in the back of their head was the most soothing sensation they could remember experiencing. Bashiketa liked it when they purred. Fredge seemed to like it too, and adjusted their hold on Bashiketa to be more comfortable and nurturing.
But then it reminded Bashiketa of the big thing moving to protect them just before the whole world collapsed and they panicked again, a yelp escaping their mouth.
“Hey… hey…” said Fredge, “Let’s go out to the dining room and have some light, OK?”
Bashiketa felt Fredge pick them up and begin carrying them through their quarters, but they kept their eyes tightly shut and focused on their purring. They felt Fredge pause at their bedroom door to make sure it shut, and then turn back to their path again and take four more steps.
“Lights on,” Fredge said, and Bashiketa’s eyelids became veils of orange that they weren’t quite ready to open yet. “Now,” said their caretaker, “I’m going to sit you down in your chair. You’re safe here, but I won’t leave your side until you let me, OK?”
Bashiketa made a squeak, so Fredge held them a little longer and swayed back and forth like they did when Bashiketa was younger. And things started to feel considerably better. Thoughts started working again.
The word “OK,” managed to work its way from Bashiketa, and they felt like they could feel Fredge smile as they leaned forward to put them in their chair.
Their eyes had stopped hurting from the extra light filtering in through their eyelids, so they slowly opened them and turned their head to see Fredge kneeling beside them. The earnest, concerned look on Fredge’s face was reassuring.
“Did you have a nightmare?” Fredge asked.
Bashiketa was confused by that question. They hadn’t heard that word yet. “What’s that?” they asked back.
“A nightmare is a bad dream,” their caretaker explained patiently. “A dream where bad things happen to you.”
Bashiketa felt themself nod. Fredge nodded back.
“OK, well, I’d like something to eat. Would you like a little food?” they asked.
“Yeah,” Bashiketa said.
“OK, I’ll need to get up to make the food. May I do that? Or do you need me to stay here a bit longer?”
“How about some warm formula and a cookie?”
Bashiketa didn’t know how to say anything but “yes” to that offer.
Fredge served themself the same thing and sat opposite Bashiketa, eating slowly, making a ritual out of dipping the cookie into the milky formula, then taking a nibble of it. They smirked mirthfully as it turned into a game of who could dip the smallest section of cookie and take the tiniest nibble, to make it last longer. When Bashiketa didn’t even put the cookie in the liquid, waving it over Fredge’s glass, and then just touched it to their lips, Fredge laughed.
Bashiketa laughed back.
“So,” Fredge said. “Do you want to tell me about your dream?”
“It was scary,” Bashiketa said.
“I bet it was,” Fredge nodded solemnly.
“I was being chased.”
“Oh, one of those dreams. I hate those.”
“Then the world fell.”
Fredge tilted their head in confusion, “The world fell? How? What do you mean?”
“On me,” Bashiketa couldn’t stop their face from crumpling and tears coming to their eyes. The memory of it was the scariest thing they’d ever experienced.
Fredge’s face took on a very concerned look and they started to say, “why would you -” Then they shook their head and said, “That sounds super scary, and I don’t want you to have a dream like that again. Do you want to sleep next to me for the rest of the night?”
Bashiketa screwed up their face as if to cry and squeaked, “yeah.”
“It’s OK,” Fredge reassured them. “You don’t have to sleep in your own bed ever. As long as you live with me. Unless you want to. OK? But it’s there for when you need it for yourself.”
“Some caretakers let their children share their bed until they move out. They feel everyone sleeps better that way. You and I were doing things the way my caretaker did, but now I’m having second thoughts about that.”
“I love you, Fredge,” Bashiketa said, wanting a hug.
“Love you, too,” Fedge responded. “Are you done with your cookie and formula?”
Bashiketa shook their head very seriously, eyes wide. They stuffed as much of the cookie in their mouth as they could fit and chewed on it with big wide movements of their jaw. Then, after swallowing, they repeated that with the rest of the cookie. And with both hands picked up their own lidded cup and drank as carefully from it as they could.
Fredge finished up at the same time, then got up to put the cups away, and finally came around to give Bashiketa a hug and carry them to their room.
After Bashiketa had fallen asleep beside them, Fredge reached for their tablet and used it to write a short report:
“Child had a nightmare. Said that they were chased by someone and then the world fell on them. Obviously very traumatized. Am concerned. Cannot think of what they might have experienced yet to prompt this dream. Life’s been uneventful. Suggestions welcome.”
They waited several minutes, staring at what they’d written, before a reply came:
“Unfortunate. Hope that Child recovers. However, this may be a sign the experiment is working. Strong experiences may come through the tunnel at this early stage. Please keep sharing notes via this channel. Thank you. Be well.”