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Thunder Pie | The Ballad of the Nightmare Kid

No one wants to be known as the Night Screamer. But that’s who I am.

“I’ll split you in two.” — Freddy Krueger

The other night, deep in the dark, way after the bats had flown out of the holes in the eaves and the deer in the woods out across the crick were thigh-deep in the frightening solitude of their own strange paranoid peace, I must have been nightmare-ing again.

Arle laughed about it the next morning. It made me smile to be hit with her joy so early. But it also made me a little uneasy, I guess. I mean, no one wants to be known as the Night Screamer. But that’s who I am, if we’re being honest. I scream my way through certain midnight flights across the celestial planes of the alternative living that I do up in my head/ when I’m asleep/ but maybe not really.

Why though?

You know what I mean?


Why do I have reoccurring nightmares? Some I recall, loosely/ vaguely: like the over and over-ness of the shadowy figure standing by my bedside in the dark. I see nothing of him, only sense him opening the ‘locked door’ (Arle forgot to lock it/ wtf?!) and then he is by my side. Breathing silent noise into the air conditioner wheeze. It is as if he has been traveling for thousands of years to this place, towards this moment, and my horror/ as it wells up into my chest and into my throat/ it emerges as a kind of muted scream. An incapacitated cry for him to get the fuck out of here or else that is as genuine as anything I have ever uttered: and yet: it sounds like a goat giving birth.

Poor Arle.

She awakens to the warm, pissy feel of low muffled caterwauls washing up all over her tired body. Laying there in the dark, it must be unnerving for her to suddenly be thrust from her own tranquility/ from the God-knows-what-is-happening-in-her-NORMAL-dreams/ from the hot flirty lifeguards and the bags of money falling off the armored car and the riding on the backs of whitetail deer bounding through the sun-streaked forests of HEALTHY dream scenes/ into the stark contrast of a Hellscape where a sweaty, smelly grown man is gasping from within some kind of anxiety and alcohol-fueled Saran Wrap mummy shit to bellow at his mistress MURDEROUS DEATH once again.


Fucking melatonin is bullshit. 20mg and I’m back at the Star Wars bar in my head a few hours after I drifted off to sleep/ slobbering a silvery strand of long hard day down into my book/ Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage/ in what amounts to a true show of honest manhood. At least that’s what I tell myself in the bobbing and weaving moments when I am laying there on my stomach trying to fight off the unstoppable fading/ to read just one more page/ one more paragraph/ but no/ Goodnight, Sweet Prince/ Adios, Daddy-O/ lay it down, big boy/ you did alright today.


This back and forth between worlds is exhausting. This stringing me along between consciousnesses, as fascinating as it is, it’s also like, I don’t know, hard. Tough. Strange. Unresolved and unrepentant.

I wander down into my own dreams willingly, I must admit. I’m curious to go there. Hungry for sleep, craving the wildly alluring semi-death experience that is our ever-so-common human night’s rest, I line up eagerly in between my weird stuffed trout pillows and besides Arle’s MILF body and I read my Civil War book (or my Chinese novelists or my Russian novelists or my blah, bah, blah) and I slip down the hill, almost unknowingly, every single time, like beautiful clockwork, like dependable weirdness, down the muddy hillside, trying to skid my boots onto old rocks to pause my slide, like little steps built into the mountain, but all the time I am descending down into the hollow.

And all the time, I never know who is waiting for me there.

Lurkers/ highwaymen/ travelers/ killers/ thieves/and man rapers waiting for me down there in those irresistible misty bottoms.


What are we all afraid of? Is it the same stuff? And if it is, well then, why? And a lot of us are are all scared of different things, well then, how come? I mean, what is wrong with us? Or are we normal?

There are no easy answers. There can’t be. Whether you find yourself emerging from an unfettered night’s ultra rest or stumbling into the coming dawn with nothing but fitful, clammy rolling around in the back and forth awake and asleep to show for your efforts, one thing is for certain. We will be back again. Tonight.

Like a fool at the entrance to the old gold mine, some of us. And like an addict at the door of the opium den, the rest. Sleep beckons. So dreams tempt us. And darker things, they stare up at our bedroom windows waiting for the moment of truth.

Arle laughs in the bed in the morning and it’s her laughing without control. She can’t breathe right, she’s gagging so hard on the hysterics. I’m trying to read the lay of the land but I can’t quite understand.

It seems though I was talking again last night. In my sleep. Nothing too unusual there. But it also seems as if there were some new developments this time around.

“You were doing different voices,” she manages to say between teary-eyed bursts of maniacal laughter. “You were talking in your regular voice and you sounded confident and not scared this time, but then you were answering yourself in a totally different voice! It sounded like your witch voice!”

And then she falls apart again, her body heaving with the thrusts that can only come from within a very, very entertained human being who is merciless to the power of her own riotous recollections. She snorts. She gasps for breath. She buries her face in one of her leaky old fashion fucking Victorian feather pillows that drops feathers all over the goddamn bed like some dying Hobo Angel all in an attempt to maybe stifle the unstoppable.

Whatever I did last night/ whatever I said in the midst of my nightmare or dream or whatever, it has literally picked Arle up in its arms and pulled her in tight with hard tickling like you do to a kid who doesn’t want it at all but wants it more than anything in the world too.

I stare at her, dumbfounded.

I don’t know what to say or how to feel. I have NO recollection of anything! None of this makes any sense to me because I recall nothing! It’s all news to me and now I’m feeling a little cheated, frankly. How come I can’t share in some of this Hardy-Har-Har if I was the motherfucker who gave birth to it?!

Then she calms herself somehow, landing the jet in the jungle/ taking out a thousand treetops and scaring the shit out of all the jaguars and the parrots and the 50-foot boa constrictors as she sets that big puppy down in some swampy land of the lost with the cool collective of a pilot who has something to prove.

Something to add.

One more thing to say.

She collects her thoughts in a way that I can sense it happening; cooing her bad self; massaging the breathless jester right there in front of me.

“Oh my God,” she says, “you said two things that were just….OHMYGOD…I can’t!”

She begins to fall away from composure again, back into the arms of comedy. But she maintains herself and fights it off the best she can. I raise an eyebrow. I am intrigued and also: afraid.

“Okay okay…” she mutters, trying to move us forward while she is still so intoxicated from this whole debacle.

“At one point you said very matter-of-factly, ‘You’re fucking dead,’ to whoever it was you were talking to!”

She loses it then again, as expected.

“Was it the witch?” I ask, impetuously. “Was I talking to the witch? Did I answer as the witch that time!?”

She laughs a bit and then comes back to me.

“I don’t know. Maybe! Hahaha! Oh my god, then you said the best thing ever.”

There’s more?

Oh boy.


“What? What did I say??!!”

I watch a tear roll down her pink cheek. I’m not fucking kidding you. This is all so wonderful to her that she is crying tears of joy now. In our bed. In the morning. About things I don’t recall.

“At one point you said, and you were really like calm about it and all, but you said, ‘I’m not a strawberry, I’m an apple.”

And then she loses her mind with laughter in that kind of way that other people cannot resist. That I cannot resist. I fall into hysterics with her, even as I am mystified as to what the hell is happening.

‘I’m not a strawberry, I’m an apple.’

What kind of Sgt Pepper bullshit is that?

In my dreams?

To a witch?

To my murderer?

I don’t know where to turn to find out.

And the girl of my dreams laughs and laughs.

It’s kind of lovely, really.

To read the rest of this essay and more from Serge Bielanko, subscribe to his Substack feed HERE.

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Serge Bielanko lives in small-town Pennsylvania with an amazing wife who’s out of his league and a passel of exceptional kids who still love him even when he’s a lot. Every week, he shares his thoughts on life, relationships, parenting, baseball, music, mental health, the Civil War and whatever else is rattling around his noggin. Once in a blue Muskie Moon, he backs away from the computer, straps on a guitar and plays some rock ’n’ roll with his brother Dave and their bandmates in Marah


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