I woke with a start, and my heart was pounding. My wife, Donna, drowsily woke beside me and put a hand on my trembling arm. “Is something wrong?”

I swung my feet out of bed and sat up, trying to clear my head. “I just had a horrible nightmare that was so real.

“What was it?” she asked.

“I dreamed I was in a theater, and someone handed me a script and told me that I was to perform in a play in ten minutes. I had never even looked at the script before, but was shoved out onto the stage to improvise as best I could.”

“What a strange dream.”

“Yes,” I replied. “I’m happy to wake and find out it wasn’t real.”

That morning, as I hurried to our normal routine, I was just putting pancakes on the griddle when the phone rang. Donna answered it, spoke briefly, and then turned to me. “The community is putting on A Christmas Carol and wondered if you would help.”

The memory of the dream immediately returned. “I am willing to help with tech and stuff, but after that dream, I think I’ll forgo acting.”

My children decided to try out and all received parts, but I only helped with mundane set issues. On opening night I was on my way to the theater when I received a call from my daughter. Vandals had broken into the costume room and drew all over the boys’ white shirts with red lipstick. “Dad, is there anything you can do?”

I hurried to the local thrift store and purchased every white boys’ dress shirt they had – about 30 of them. When I arrived at the theater, the boys were desperately trying to clean their shirts and were happy to see what I had. Though the styles weren’t quite right, and the sizes didn’t all match, they were able to make do.

I settled into the audience by Donna to watch the night’s performance. Everything went well until the ghost of Christmas present entered the stage. He staggered about and stumbled through his lines. He barely appeared in the first act, having most of his performance in the second, so it was soon intermission.

As lights came up I stood to stretch my legs and visit with those around me. The director approached and spoke in a desperate tone. “The boy that plays the ghost of Christmas present just passed out from working with the cleanser on the shirts.” She shoved a script into my hand. “You’re the only one I know that can do this on short notice, so you’re on in 10 minutes.”

I stood there in shock as I saw her disappear back to the stage. Donna nudged me, trying to get me to pull myself together. “Honey, you better hurry.”

“But what about my dream?”

She just shrugged. “Look at it as a chance to prove it wrong.”

I reviewed the lines the best I could and took my script on stage with me. But when the lights came up I couldn’t read it anyway and discarded it. I then performed the most improvised role of my life.

When my part ended I slipped back to my seat by Donna. “That was incredible,” she whispered.

I felt my performance was anything but incredible, and was sure she was just being nice.

When the play ended and the bows finished, the director, with a brief explanation, asked me to stand and take a bow. People cheered loudly, spurred on by the cast. But with how I felt about my performance, I would have preferred to stay anonymous.

Donna hugged me, and I sighed heavily. “I’m just glad the nightmare is over.”

That was when the director appeared, shoved a script into my hand again, and said, “The boy that plays Marley just had an attack of appendicitis, so you’re on for the rest of the play.”

And that’s when I learned that sometimes nightmares can play out more than once.

Daris Howard, award-winning, syndicated columnist, playwright, and author, can be contacted at [email protected]; or visit his website