Written by Jonathan Wojcik


The Nightmare Menagerie hasn't been as popular this year as it has in the past, but I know a lot of people still look forward to it, and before it's a new year and technically new decade, I'm not only squeezing in one more round of dreams I illustrated myself but have picked what I think are four of the very scariest of those not yet drawn before...

The Man Fish

Posted by Sphinx:

" i recall a dream from a few months back, where i was trapped in a dark and windy valley. the earth was pale compacted soil which seemed to produce a great amount of clingy dust. i was by a cliff which plummeted into a grey abyss, which the wind was constantly blowing me in the direction of. that was to my right. to my left was a steep upward slope which i wanted to climb, but knew i couldn't, at least not until i came to a path which would allow me to. the place as a whole actually seems to have based itself off of lanakila mountain from pokemon ultra sun, which i'd been playing around the time!

a little way ahead of me were several people who were my companions, though they were only talking amongst themselves and seemed to have forgotten me. their voices were high and distorted, and i couldn't make out their heads, which i only know were absolutely not shapes which heads should be. they wore thick gaudy sweaters of bright solid colours. anyway, i was following them at a little distance, hoping to come to a path which would lead me back up the slope. behind me, by the way, was a dead end, so i have no idea how i'd ended up in this spot at all.

along the cliff edge were these strange little houses, like beach huts but more equilateral in shape. they mostly blocked the path i was travelling on, and i had to squeeze around the backs of them if i wanted to pass. i went past one of them - and there i saw the creature whose appearance has stuck with me for a long while: it was a giant grey fish-like thing with the small, smiling head of a man. his body was long and creased over itself quite a bit, as he was laying against the steep slope of the mountain in an uncomfortable position. he seemed like he'd have been streamlined in the water, but on the dry earth he was clung with loam and dust, and had grown what seemed to be air bubbles which bulged out grotesquely here and there. he had drab silvery scales and four little fins, two on each side of his body, and he was lined with thin spines of cilia, which were rippling slightly in the wind. his head was black-haired, and his skin was white and greasy. he had an almost effeminate face, with big eyes which bugged out just a liiittle too far. his expression was manic. he was smiling with his little mouth, his small rectangular teeth visible between his grey lips, but his eyebrows were heavily furrowed in a sorrowful expression, and tears were streaming down his face. i noticed that he seemed to be muttering things, but no voice came from his mouth.

the manfish was rotting. he was peeling open from his tail to the middle of his stomach, and maggots were swarming visibly inside the wound. my travelling companions had completely ignored him, and were far ahead now, but i approached his tail end and started looking into his open body. it was dark red and teeming with larvae, and what seemed to be silver coins of a currency i didn't recognise.

the wind was picking up now, and the fear of being blown off the cliff was heightening - so of course, i climbed into the manfish. yep, i stepped into his gaping wound and curled up inside it. he didn't seem to mind. the dream, as i remember, ended there. "

Every single element of this is top-notch horrid dream material. I didn't do the monster the least bit of justice compared to the image this description really paints, but a narrative in which a central monster is already dead and rotting is positively killer. A tremendous, putrid fish festering in the dirt, with or without an agonized human face, is something that would have definitely haunted me had I dreamt it myself, and the ending, the dreamer entering the thing for no apparent reason, feels like something a quack psychotherapist would have had a field day trying to interpret back in the day. Without posing any known threat, this might be one of the new creepiest dream monsters I have ever heard of.

The Man in the Woods

Posted by MadHighlander:

" In the dream, I lived in a 19th/early 20th century sort of rural village, which was governed by a council of elders who determined what tasks each villager would perform related to the upkeep of the village. No one spoke about it aloud, but everyone knew that certain tasks, such as gathering firewood or catching fish at a nearby lake, were only assigned to those who had offended the Council in some way.

The reason for this is because those tasks would require people to go beyond the border of the village and into the forest surrounding it, and everyone knew that that was where you were likely to encounter the Man in the Woods. No one knew what the Man looked like, only that if he saw you he would take you away, and when the person assigned to work out in the forest wasn't back by nightfall, it was whispered that the Man had gotten them.

Eventually, I was unintentionally rude in some way to a Councillor, and the next morning word came that I had been instructed to go into the forest and gather firewood. Though I was filled with apprehension, I grabbed an axe and headed out.

The day's work was surprisingly uneventful... until I was just about to head back. I came upon an old, overgrown footpath, and as I looked down the path I saw it made a sharp turn, and partially behind a tree just next to that turn was none other than the Man in the Woods.

He was at least twelve feet tall, with long, thin arms and legs, and dressed in a dirty lumberjack style red plaid flannel shirt with suspenders and worn greenish-brown pants. I couldn't see if he was wearing shoes because the shrubbery was so thick where he was standing, and his exposed skin around his neck and hands was the color and texture of tree bark. The feature that really stood out, though, was his head, which was disproportionately large, featureless, wrinkled, and completely covered in short, spiky hair, like a well-chewed wad of jet-black chewing gum that had been rolled around on a barbershop floor.

To my surprise, he just stood there and stared at me as I turned around and went back in to town. My memory of the dream gets spotty after first seeing the Man, though I do recall that the Council, incensed that I'd made it back, sent me to catch fish the next day, and the lake water was so crystal clear that I could see a hole at the bottom and the Man in the Woods standing in that hole, staring up at me. Again, though, as long as I didn't bother him, he seemed content just to watch me go about my business. "

.....But here's another that manages to be terrifying without making any menacing move yet. A monster that's just there, but doesn't need to do anything at all to be bone-chilling. I think seeing this entity standing at the bottom of a hole underwater is possibly the scariest way anything could ever possibly just "be there" to boot.


Posted by Karl T. Face:

"Resubmitting from last year, but I dunno if it counts as a monster. I did have a recurring nightmare as a child, involving a rocky-looking sphere, veined and speckled with every color, including a couple I've never encountered in real life. I'd "wake up" facing the wall, roll over, and it was there in my room, slowly rotating in the air. I knew it was alive, and that it absolutely hated me for some reason. Paralyzed with fear and the palpable force of its hatred, I just lay there and stared.

Then I found myself at the edge of a cliff, overlooking a blasted and desolate landscape. From the dark and unbroken cloud cover descended the sphere, now miles across, and as it touched the ground, I felt myself -and the world- disintegrating, and woke up. Then I rolled over, and there it was, still floating there. The dream played on a loop like this 2 or 3 times, every few days, for a month or so. Then it just stopped. I have no idea what changed, but I get the uncomfortable impression that something got what it wanted and moved on. "

This ABSOLUTELY counts as a monster, Karl. This abstract object just hovering, rotating and hating is scary enough, the vision of it dissolving everything over and over is scarier still, and the sense of it leaving because it "got something it wanted" is, I think, the very scariest. We don't know what that could have been, but we know it couldn't have possibly been anything we wanted this thing to have, right?


Posted by Ghost somnambulist:

" I was having a stress dream about a significant friend breakup in my life. This was a long term but significantly strained friendship that had weathered major life changes; however, when we graduated high school we grew spiteful and angry. Shots were fired, boundaries were crossed, and we explosively ended our friendship and I lost all the rest of my friends with her, plunging myself into suicidal depression. In this dream, we were in my living room, and we both agreed to talk through our problems to work things out. She sat across from me glaring over her glasses. The lights were soft, the room was silent and hollow.

Except for the grandma on the couch.

She wasn't my grandma. She had pale caucasian skin with deep wrinkles, her face was kind with deep blue eyes and black pinpricks for pupils, but her skin lacked dimension, like it was a rubber facsimile glued over something vaguely human. Her face attached directly to a thick leather hood with no hair visible along the edges, weathered and hardened like it had aged in the sun. Her hands were bony and white, covered in desiccated skin with cracks and flakes coming off but immaculately trimmed fingernails and pink polish. She smiled, content with her knitting.

We talked. Then talking grew louder. I told my friend I was sorry, sorry for what I said and did and pleaded for something to make it better. She screamed in anger. She told me I was a bitch, that I would never be in her life, to die. She pushed me aside and left, slamming the door.

I cried, feeling the tears pool against my glasses, my chest knotting up so tight I couldn't breathe. Then I felt a cold hand on my shoulder, I looked up and the grandma was there with a worried look. "Oh dear, what's got you so upset?" I just cried more. She picked me up and led me to the couch, cooing affirmations. She gave me a warm hug and kiss on the forehead. We sat as I sobbed into her shoulder.

I felt the loving arms wind around me. Gentle at first but then staring to constrict me, squeezing with crushing force against her breast. The leathery folds encased my body, the hands like snakes' heads. I remember her lips elongating into a thin, bony and sharp proboscis, clear like a cockroach's wing case. The skin around her eyeballs stretching and revealing black nothingness in the sockets. Her face protruded from the hood, stretching the skin against the seams and I realized she had no ears. Her fingers bent back and wrapped around my neck, holding my head in place. From the end of the proboscis came a bright red wormlike tongue with a pinpoint bone needle. I felt it enter my ear, slime pooling in my car canal. My head went numb, but I could feel the needle push against my eardrum, then puncture it. The proboscis followed, entering in through my ear canal and positioning itself deep inside. I felt her suck, the vacuum forming against the skin of my ear. The needle moved around somewhere deep within my head. Finally, she withdrew leaving thick strings of slime trailing from my ear. There was a strange, yellow waxy substance caught on the tongue-needle. Not earwax, but some form of ambergris. I saw her proboscis suck this up eagerly, then puckering her horrible lips and her face returning its uncanny human form. I was speechless. She cradled my head and brushed the hair from my face.

I remember what the hag said:

"I know, I know this is all your fault, but it can't be helped. This is just who you are."

I sobbed harder into her chest, and felt her warm embrace.

The last thing I saw before I woke up was her malicious smile. "

That's it. That's the worst. That's the worst, most awful thing any of you submitted this year, every single thing about it, from start to finish. How did you ever even sleep again after this. The thing I wound up drawing here came out so innocent and cute compared to what my mind actually conjures when I read this dream; I literally just don't have the skill to illustrate something that obscenely wrong.