It's fading till all I can remember is the sensation that if I didn't wake up quick, I would never wake up; a race to the surface where losing meant I would be drowned in the dream. I remember awaking to the sound of "ohgodpleaseno" being forced from my breathless lips and croaking throat. Whatever it was in the universe; the face of Astaroth himself in all his chaos (it was something like that or my life flashing before my eyes so much that when I awoke I needed proof I was not dead), I was not really scared until I woke up and called Michelle. When she said "sleep apnea" my insides froze. It didn't help, of course, that my nightmare had just injected a 4 or 5x dose of pure adrenaline horror into my brain.
Imagine all the small things; the little bits that you tell yourself aren't really scary in childhood to soothe yourself. Imagine the hockey mask that hides the terror of the killer's face; imagine the skeletal face of One-eyed Willy from Goonies; imagine all the Twilight Zone episodes you ever watched by yourself late at night, telling yourself afterwards that they weren't scary... no, not at all.
Imagine them all, come back, flashed before your eyes within the span of a second. I imagined I was having some sort of epileptic seizure by how many images managed to pass before my eyes in less than a second. Hundreds of thousands, and the sheerest sense of pure horror. Complete with swelling violin strings a la the X-Files or whatever Outer Limits ripoff is on the air this season; just as the revelation is made. And oh my god there was nothing to be scared of, just some girls in a dorm room one second and then the wall had peeled away and whatever underlies reality was exposed. I understand how Lovecraft's characters went mad, now.
You'll forgive my dramatics; I've only had two nightmares (three now, I guess, although this was cheating, Morpheus) in my life, and both were when I was six, over 15 years ago. And I've NEVER had to face the idea that one day my brain might decide it's tired of the taste of air and I will just forget to breathe... and never awake.
And then there is the last and final horrific thought... that I wouldn't have been able to force myself to breathe and awake if it hadn't been for the promise I have to visit a certain princess in a foreign land again. I keep my promises, and death can wait.