Posts Tagged ‘ghosts


Layers, Part 7

(Haven’t been following? The story starts here!)


When I’d come in my dreams, I’d always assumed the blank spots, the skips that broke the sense of a cohesive narrative, would be resolved if I actually ever found the place.

I was wrong.

A moment ago, I’d had the rotten claw of a godawful who-knows-what wrapped around my arm, pulling me towards whatever death awaited. I remember screaming when it touched me and remembered it seeming happy that I was finally here.

Then, nothing. The next thing I remember was being in an unfamiliar part of the house. Taking a second to look around, I saw the kitchen behind me, and beyond that the still-empty living room. The room I was in looked to be a laundry room. Blue tiled floor, a half-dozen cabinets hanging above, one or two with doors that didn’t quite shut and gave a view of Borax boxes and bleach bottles. Taking up the majority of the floorplan was a paired washer and dryer, beige in color, and surprisingly clean and unmarred for their apparent age.

The washer was nothing remarkable, standing silently to my left with the lid up, a hungry maw waiting to be fed with clots of clothes and the blood stains they probably contained. Peering over the lip, I could see the agitator, covered in moss and mold that looked like it might have migrated from the bathroom. Part of me wondered if the thing in the shower stall brought the mold with it, some little chunks of itself or leftovers from its presence. But if that was the case, why would it be in the washing machine? Probably just the lack of use and general humidity.

Maybe I should have looked closer.

The dryer, though… that was a different story. It was on, producing a steady series of thumps and giving off an unpleasantly burned smelling heat. From the pattern – a swish, followed by a heavy thud, repeated every five or six seconds – it sounded like whatever was in there was wadded into a ball. Being pulled to the top as it turned, then falling back to the bottom, never completing a full rotation. It would explain the smell, too, since at this point it would be smoldering instead of just drying, singed on the outside instead of getting an even heat.

The crying sound was back, assaulting my eardrums and making my eyes water. It seemed like I could hear words in it, timed along with the thumps.

“Help me,” I thought I heard it say. Over and over again, punctuated by a fresh thud from the dryer each time, the crying it was buried in getting louder.

I didn’t want to. I knew what came next. I didn’t know how I got from the bathroom to here, but I remembered the rest clearly enough and didn’t want to open the dryer. What was in there was a thousand times worse than pulling the shower curtain back and being confronted with the thing that dwelled inside, a million times worse than Dad fixing me with that eyeless stare.

Thinking how much I didn’t want to do it, I tugged open the dryer door. With a final thump and a sickly-sweet smell that combined burning hair, blood, and mold into a single strike team designed to murder my sinuses, the thing inside slid to the bottom of the drum. The crying stopped, with a final whisper.

“Thank you,” it said.

I reached inside and drew out the bundle. At first, I thought it was just a wad of sheets, tangled in a knot and nothing to be concerned with. It was too heavy for that, though, and the unpleasantly solid weight of it made me try to unfold one end of the knot.

Like a series of petals pulling back to reveal the eye of a sunflower, or a disgusting parallel to birth, I uncovered a small head. Misshapen, caved in on one side, missing one eye and the other scrunched up so there was only the tiniest sliver of blue visible beneath the bruised lid. Untangling more of the sheets, I revealed a chest that was sunken, ribs poking forth like spears. One arm was broken, twisted behind her poor back, while the other was lifted up, what should have been chubby grasping fingers instead skeletal things that seemed to be trying to ward off a blow.

“Shhhh, honey,” I whispered. That was all I could manage. Between the vice grip on my chest that the asthma brought with it and the choking clot of would-be tears creeping through my throat, I couldn’t manage much more than that.

“Shhh,” I said again, running a finger along that shattered skull with as much tenderness as I could manage. “It’s okay. We’ll get you out of here, okay?”

I swaddled her back up in the sheets but didn’t cover her face. She deserved to see, to have a chance for those lifeless little lungs to fill with clean air. Once we were out of here, anyway.

Something from further back in the house moved. A scratching, slithery noise that brought to mind images of snakes or squids uncoiling, preparing to strike. Something grunted, then laughed. It seemed to be coming from the hallway. Apparently, the burned thing had decided it wasn’t going to let me go after all. At least not without its prize.

I bolted, through the kitchen and into the living room. Mom, Dad, and Sis were back, their heads swiveling to track my passage, but I didn’t give them much thought. They weren’t the real threat, wouldn’t interfere. I hit the door at speed, practically blasting it out of the hinges, and dove through the darkness – how long had I been in the house, anyway? Who knew? – towards the car.

I’d left it unlocked, keys in it. I was more concerned about the ability to make a quick getaway if needed than that little Billy might stumble upon the car and decide to take it for a joyride.

I wouldn’t let her go or put her down. Hugging her to my chest, I yanked the car door open with my free hand and dropped into the seat. The keys were still there. As I laid my hand on them to gun the engine, not certain of where I was going to know but knowing that I had to take her somewhere, anywhere, other than here, I was frozen almost solid by a sound.

First, there was the sound of an explosion, followed by a metallic rain; looking over my shoulder, I saw that the burned thing had come through the door, doing it with such force that the front portion of the house had literally exploded. The drops hitting the roof of the car and making the sound were actually splinters and fragments of the aluminum frame.

It raised one claw, the one it had wrapped around my arm, and pointed one finger at me. I felt something burning on my arm and glanced down at myself to see blood pouring out from under my shirtsleeve. The spot that it had touched me had gone a sickening blackish purple, oozing blood and other, less-identifiable fluids.

Didn’t matter, I told myself. All that mattered was getting away, setting her free.

It shrieked, a sound born of sheer rage. I didn’t know why; it knew I would come, and it must have known the outcome. I’d known since I was a child.

I wasn’t sticking around to hear it. I gunned the engine and popped the clutch, spinning the wheel one-handed while I clutched the child’s battered corpse to my chest with the other.

“Hold on, baby. It’s gonna be okay.”

Flipping the car around in the driveway, it caught in the gravel for a too-long moment as the figure on the porch descended towards us. It was almost close enough to lay a hand on the bumper – something that I knew would mean game over – when the tires finally caught and peeled away. There was a moment of savage glee when the thing was pelted with chunks of the house and gravel from the driveway kicked up by the tires.

I started down the mountain with my prize, whispering nursery rhymes to her the whole time.

(How does it end? Find out here!)

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Layers, Part 6

(Need to see where it started? Click here!)


I moved to the door, nudging it the rest of the way open with my knuckles. The room beyond was the bathroom, fully decked out in yellow paisley wallpaper, antiseptic green tile, and baby-blue formica fixtures.

I saw myself in the mirror for a moment as I scanned the room. It was almost like looking at a stranger. My hair, instead of being straight and brown, had gone frizzy and white. My face had none of its usual color, bleached almost the color of my hair, and the lines of old scars were replaced with the ruts and grooves of age.

I looked away quickly. I didn’t want to see what else coming here might have done to me.

I could see the toilet peeking out around a small corner in an alcove to the right, a dead sunlamp mounted above it. I wondered who’d sit on the crapper with a heat lamp pointed at their face. Assuming it was Dad, I decided he was even weirder than his little house of horrors might have revealed.

To the right was a combination bath and shower, the only thing showing any real signs of use in the house so far. Unlike the other fixtures, the lip of the tub was chipped in places, showing the rusty metal beneath. There were small puddles of mossy water breeding who-knew-what sorts of bacteria splashed on the floor beside the tub and along the rim. Blocking the view of whatever lay within was a vinyl shower curtain with a seascape pattern that looked more mid-90s than late-60s.

The crying was coming from behind the curtain. Steeling myself as best I could, I wadded one side of the curtain up in a trembling fist and yanked it back.

There he was. After all this time, all the bad dreams and wakeful nights, he was here in front of me. It wasn’t so bad. It was almost anticlimactic.

The thing in the shower stall was tall; probably just shy of seven feet. How I hadn’t seen its head peeking out over the top before pulling the curtain back was a mystery, but one easily solved. He hadn’t wanted me to see him, not until it was time.

The face was a pitted ruin, flaps of black and blue flesh interspersed with hillocks of burned and mutilated flesh, some of it leaking fluids that I didn’t want to consider. The whole of it looked like a mask that had been poorly stapled over a mannequin head. The eye sockets, like those of the family up front, were empty. Instead of flesh or whatever passed for a brain beyond, there were flickering flames that occasionally turned a rotten green. The mouth was just a wide gash, ringed with split lips and fractured teeth. It lay open though unmoving. The crying was coming from there.

The body was wasted, emaciated. Bones jutted through the broken skin in places, giving the impression of a skeleton someone had laid a sheet over and tried their best to stitch in place. At the shoulders, ragged wing-like flaps of skin hung. Unlike the rest of the meat on the thing, they were pallid, shot through with tattered holes as though moths – or something worse – had been gnawing at them.

The arms were longer than they should have been, hanging almost to the thing’s knees. It didn’t have hands; instead, it had spade-shaped claws with three fingers each, tipped with nails that extended several inches past the fingertip, black with veins of silver and red shot through them and looking razor sharp.

The crying stopped. The edges of that jagged gash in the middle of its face slid upwards and I was horrified to realize it was trying to smile. The fear came flooding back at that, caving in my chest with the force of a sledgehammer.

“You came,” it whispered.

One of those claws shot out towards me, circling those talons around my forearm. Though it looked fragile and skeletal, there was a terrible strength behind it and I could feel the bicep and the bone beneath screaming and creaking under the pressure.

I felt blood running down my arm, and realized the thing’s claws had punctured the flesh. The pressure increased. It was dragging me closer.

“You came,” it whispered a second time.

I began to scream.

(The story continues here!)

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Layers, Part 5

(Missed how it started? Click here!)


I turned away from the portrait of a happy family, slinking past the couches with all the hair on my body standing straight up. They’d never bothered me before, and whatever logic remained in this hellhole said they wouldn’t… but after the television, I wasn’t certain that things here were going to go 100% according to the script. Something was different this time. Maybe because I was actually here, instead of just visiting in my sleep. Maybe because what was waiting for me had gotten impatient and greedy, or maybe it was just stronger.

Once I was past them, creeping into the hallway, I lowered my guard. Just a bit, but enough that I felt I could breathe without sounding like a broken teakettle. I glanced back over my shoulder, not surprised when I saw that Mom and Dad’s heads weren’t visible over the top of the couch, and I couldn’t see Sis sprawled out on the other one. They’d vanished.

I was okay with that. One less thing to worry about, at least for now. What was coming was worse than their eyeless stares.

The crying was louder back here. I knew where I was supposed to go – the door at the end of the hall – but still wanted to put it off as long as I could. Wanted to make sure there were no other nasty surprises. Besides, I had to follow the script; I was sure if I tried to beeline it, something would stop me. I had to check the other door first.

I laid my hand on the doorknob to the left and pushed the door open a crack. The crying intensified for a moment, a brief period where it seemed like it was coming from right in front of me. Then it receded, as though falling down a long well.

The door opened on walk-in closet. A blue plastic bowling ball bag sat in the corner, the outer layer peeling and flaking. A long brown coat that looked like it was last in style sometime during the flapper era, reeking of mothballs and stale cigars, hung above it. A pair of battered cardboard boxes, the edges cracked outwards and yellowed with age, sat on the shelf above. One was a Monopoly set; the one on top was the old Parker Brothers Ouija board. Some people might have taken that as a bad sign; I figured the family had worse supernatural crap to worry about than a plastic planchette and a mass-produced particle board alphabet.

I pulled the door shut and turned back to the end of the hall. The crying was obviously coming from there. I moved towards it, feeling like I was walking through water rather than air. Something beyond the door was radiating something, an aura deadlier and more poisonous than radiation. I couldn’t let it stop me. She needed me.

I reached the end of the hall and pushed the door open. Even though I knew there was nothing to fear – at least, not right now – I still winced as the door rebounded off the wall, and kept one eye to a slit as I scanned the room beyond. Just in case.

The room beyond was a bedroom. The shag carpet continued, though it looked less walked on in here. To the left was a smooth wall, a recessed and half-open door beckoning at the midpoint. Ahead was an old-time slot machine, neon glass, chromed buzzer on top, polished level to the side, almost begging to be pulled. The lights were dark, and a thin layer of grime over the windows said it hadn’t been used in a long time, probably even longer than the television out front.

To the right was the bed, and as I came into the room and turned my attention to it, I saw a shape squirming in the middle, underneath the thin brown blanket that was otherwise without blemish, pulled perfectly up against the gleaming white pillows. The crying became louder again, very clearly from the bed.

I walked towards it, grabbing hold of the blanket’s loose edge on the right side of the bed. The image of myself in my head was that of a bad magician attempting the tablecloth trick, as I whipped the blanket away and let it fly into the corner. It crumpled there like the discarded flesh of an uncleanly killed animal, revealing the layer beneath.

There was an indentation in the bare mattress, right in the middle where the shape had been before I pulled the blankets away. The crying seemed to be coming from that same spot. I reached out and placed my hand on the mattress, feeling the smooth fabric cool against my skin. Sliding my hand towards the indent, even as it was rising to the same level as the rest, I felt the heat coming from it, as though a body had lain there not long before.

The crying stopped as I pulled my hand away. I glanced over my shoulder, to the half-open door. As I stared, the door wobbled in the frame, as though something had passed by it with a gentle nudge. The crying started again, coming from the room beyond. I backed away from the bed, taking a deep breath.

If there was any consolation to be hand, it was this: It was almost over.

(The story continues here!)

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Layers, Part 4

(Missed the beginning? Start here!)


Mom and Sis didn’t seem like it mattered to them one way or another that there was a gangly loser standing in their doorway, one who was trying to scream and had the reek of fresh urine hanging about him. Dad noticed, though. It looked like it was what he wanted because I could see the hard lines in that face go smooth, then contract in the other direction as his lips pulled back in a smile. His teeth were missing; only ragged gums and a flopping, greenish thing beyond that I guessed was his tongue.

As one, they turned away from me, rotating their heads towards the ancient television. Dad stopped smiling. My lungs unlocked enough for the shriek to slip past my lips and allow me to take a ragged breath.

The reprieve was short-lived. There was a solid thunk from the direction of the entertainment center, followed by the distinct hum of old technology powering up. A moment later the house was filled with a test tone cranked up to almost deafening levels. I screamed again, this time actually getting one out, but nobody could have heard it over that noise. Covering my ears, I looked over at the television and saw it was displaying one of those old Indian Head title cards in grainy black and white.

That was new. I’d been expecting a different sound, thought I might even have been prepared for it. Was hoping for it, really. That was the easy part, the only part that didn’t make my teeth grind and my heartbeat turn into a techno beat.

Doing the only thing I could think of, I lurched towards the television, probably looking like some poor man’s impersonation of Frankenstein. I took one hand away from my ear, instantly regretting it when the sound clawed into the canal and ruptured my eardrum. I felt something leaking out and dribbling on my shoulder. The pain was bad, but at least the sound was deadened.

I reached out and shoved the television, rocking it on the little rubberized feet a bit. It was heavier than I expected. I shoved a second time, harder, and it tipped over, landing facedown only a couple of inches from my foot. I heard glass shatter, but the sound kept going. I don’t know what else I’d expected; things were built like tanks back then, and breaking the glass wasn’t liable to trash the speaker.

I did the next thing that came to mind, grabbing the power cord that snaked out of the back of the unit and yanking it as hard as I could. It came loose in a shower of sparks. For a moment I hoped they’d hit that obnoxious carpet, catch fire, and burn the whole mess down. Preferably complete with Mom, Dad, and Sis.

I wasn’t that lucky. Whatever toxic chemicals they used to pour on the carpeting in the way back when meant the sparks barely singed it. The lightshow ended a moment later with a loud popping noise from somewhere deeper in the house. The living room dimmed a little. I guessed a fuse must have blown or a breaker was tripped.

Either way, it put things back on track. When I took my hand off my other ear, I heard the sound I’d been expecting. Faint, coming from further back, down a hall past the family couches.

Somewhere back there, a baby was crying. I had to find her. Even though I knew what would happen when I did, I still had to try.

(Want more? The story continues here!)

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Believe Me – Fiction Snippet


Carole stood by the side of the bed, running her fingers over the chilly forehead of the child she thought of as her daughter. She looked very out of place, a paradox that shouldn’t exist; in sharp contrast to her solidly built frame, smart sport coat, sensibly long – but not too long – skirt, and authoritarian hair bun, the room was small, brilliant pink, festooned with rainbow streamers and had the added attraction of an audience: a set of mock bleachers crammed with stuffed animals of every description, their glass eyes fixated on the princess-style bed and its occupant.

Sarai was half tucked in, having insisted that the covers not be pulled up completely. Carole had fought with her on it, especially given the chill the girl was giving off, but had finally relented when it became apparent that Sarai was only going to fuss more and toss them off the second Carole left the room anyway. When they’d gotten home, Sarai still sniveling and fitful but at least willing to be led to her room, Amanda had knelt down in front of the girl and told her that she needed to have a little discussion with someone, then had left the rest to Carole.

“Somebody who needs his hide tanned,” was the explanation Amanda had given her wife, and while Carole didn’t disagree that Gabe was in need of a fresh reminder of his responsibilities, she still felt that tending to their daughter was the more immediate issue. Amanda hadn’t quite seen it the same way, and had blown out of the house to hunt down her ex-husband.

Carole didn’t really mind; it was probably better this way. Lord knows, Sarai had been jumpy and more than a little fragile of late, and might take her mother’s anger as a sign that she’d done something wrong.

Thus Carole stood the vigil, having been the one to shrug Sarai out of the little black dress, so grown-up and carefully chosen, and into her soft squirrel jammies. She had cleaned the makeup from Sarai’s face, had used the polish remover and cotton balls to strip the already-chewed gloss off her fingers, had given her hair a hundred strokes with the brush and then a dozen more for good measure, pulling back the costume of the woman Sarai would be and once again revealing the child she was.

Then it had been off to bed, with a cup of hot cocoa and a Benadryl to help her sleep. Sarai was fighting it, though, every few minutes forcing her eyes open and staring at Carole in a way that was far too intense for a child and made her skin feel like it was attempting to crawl off her bones.

Carole hadn’t been aware that she was halfway to dozing until she was jerked to full wakefulness by Sarai’s voice. It was thick with sleepmud and the effects of the pills, slightly slurred and deeper than usual, but perfectly understandable.

“Is momma gonna hurt daddy?”

In her distress, Sarai seemed to have regressed to her younger language; she’d been using “mom” and “dad” for over a year, occasionally dipping a toe into the waters where “mother” was an acceptable term – though she typically saved that for when she was upset or exasperated. Carole’s lips pursed in a scowl, as she reached down to brush an errant lock of her daughter’s thick black hair from her brow. Rather than the chill that had been present previously, she now felt hot to the touch, causing Carole’s frown to deepen.

“Why would you say that, honey?”

She asked in as flat and calm a tone as she was capable, but between the scare she’d been given by jerking awake to that voice and her own worries, Carole thought she could hear a faint tremor in it. She just hoped Sarai hadn’t caught it.

The girl rolled over, pulling back from Carole’s touch. She scrunched herself almost into a ball, hugging her knees to her chest.

“Dunno,” she mumbled. “Dreamed it.”

Carole took a deep breath before speaking, trying to steady herself. It helped, as when she responded her voice was solid, with none of the shakes or fear she felt breaking through. Now she was once again the no-nonsense librarian, completely in control of the situation.

“Just a dream, love. Mom wouldn’t hurt anyone, especially not you, or me, or your daddy.”

Silence. Carole saw Sarai’s back moving, slow and steady. She thought that Sarai must have fallen back asleep, and probably wouldn’t even remember this in the morning. Just when she’d managed to convince herself of the idea, and was reaching for the light switch, intending to head to her own room and begin the wait for Amanda to get back home, Sarai spoke again.

“She might. If someone hurt me. She told me so. And daddy hurt me.”

“Oh, honey…”

Carole came more fully to the bed, pulling Sarai up into a sitting position and wrapping her arms around her. The girl was shaking, and Carole was expecting another crying fit. Her body was giving off an unholy amount of heat.

“You’re burning up!”

Sarai pulled her head away from Carole’s chest and stared up at her with eyes that seemed to be nothing but pupil. In those black depths, Carole saw nothingness. An absolute void that seemed to be calling to her, pleading with her, begging her to jump on in as it promised the water was just fine.

An involuntary shriek tore its way out of her chest, leaving her gasping and struggling to take in a fresh breath. Not knowing what else to do, she swept Sarai off the bed and made a dash for the bathroom, holding the girl close with one arm while her free hand sped over the handles and switches of the tub to get it running with fresh, cold water.

Once the water was running, Carole set Sarai down. The girl stood, still just staring at her with those empty eyes, while Carole shucked off the pajamas and tried to coax her into the tub.

“C’mon, honey. You need to cool down a little, alright? You’re scaring me.”

Sarai didn’t seem to have heard. Didn’t even blink. Carole found herself wondering if she’d seen Sarai blink at all since picking her up off the bed, and wasn’t certain that she had. Still, the immediate situation needed to be dealt with. When it became apparent that words weren’t going to be enough, she hefted Sarai again, and dunked her into the water. It would probably ruin her sport coat, but Carole wasn’t concerned about that right now.

The effect of the water was immediate; Sarai began screaming as though she’d been dunked in burning gasoline. She started to thrash and claw at Carole, her teeth clenched and guttural snarls slipping out between her cries. Between the flailing arms obstructing her view, and her own attempts to grab hold of Sarai’s wrists so she wouldn’t put a hand through the shower door and cut herself, Carole swore she could see the girl’s eyes dilating rapidly, caught in flux between that black stare and a puzzled, but at least human-looking, blue.

Carole didn’t let it deter her; she did her best to maintain the upper hand, keeping Sarai in the tub while her mouth worked, chewing out the air and spitting out prayers she wasn’t aware she was offering. After a time – Carole wasn’t certain how long, only that it had felt like aeons had come and gone but probably only the space of a few seconds – Sarai quieted, and Carole was able to loosen her grip and sit back.

Without looking as though there was anything odd about the situation at all, Sarai scrunched herself up, scooting to the back of the tub and a natural sitting position, before staring up at her. Her eyes were a clear, blameless blue; tears were pooled at the corners, but appeared to be from the tantrum rather than any present source of pain.

“Momma? Why’m I in the tub? Did I have an accident?”

The question was asked in such a genuine, confused way, such a goddamn normal way, that for a moment Carole was unable to process it. When it sank all the way in, a harsh laugh that didn’t sound at all like her burst from her throat. It took her a moment to respond, time which Sarai gave her. The whole time she was staring at Carole, head slightly cocked and with one corner of her mouth tweaked in a confused smile that suggested Carole might be the crazy one, and that she had certainly done nothing out of the ordinary.

When she could finally answer, she found that most of the shaking fear had faded from her voice, leaving – mostly – the stern confidence of the librarian she knew her daughter frequently compared her to as the only tone.

“No, honey. You’re sick. You were burning up. I had to cool you off. Sit tight, okay? I need to make a phone call.”

Sarai nodded, her expression not changing. Unlike before, where the lack of change had troubled her, this seemed natural enough to Carole; it was the “parents are crazy” face that so many children seemed to wear when the actions of the adults around them were incomprehensible or stupid. Carole could live with that.

She stepped back from the tub, backing into the hallway and pulling out her phone. She left the door open, so she could watch the girl while she called, but wanted to be far enough away that she couldn’t hear what was being said; she’d had enough trouble for today, and would probably only get worse if she realized how much of a fright she had given Carole.

Button three on the speed dial was Dr. Najeeri’s after-hours emergency number; Carole’s finger danced over it for a moment. On the one hand, Sarai seemed better, now; bothering the doctor if it was nothing would be embarrassing both for herself and her daughter. On the other hand, better safe than sorry… and there was the matter of what her eyes had been doing. What if Sarai’d had a stroke or something?

Thinking about a stroke decided her. Her father had suffered one ten years ago, though he’d acted like he was fine at the time. Found dead in bed hours later. Silly and overprotective or not, Carole didn’t want to have to deal with that scenario all over again with Sarai.

She pressed the button and hit “Call.”

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Layers, Part 3


(Need to catch up? Part 1 is right here; Part 2 is over here!)

The inside seemed pitch black when I was standing on the porch, but as soon as I stepped through the doorway a fey half-light seemed to brighten the room. It was like watching someone turn a dimmer switch from completely off to about one-quarter on.

The living room – at least, that’s what I guessed it was, from previous exposure and the layout of the place – was on the small side, maybe eight by eight. The walls were fake wood paneling to go along with the fake log style on the outside. They’d even gone so far as to put in loops and whorls, as though there were limbs that had been lopped off in the process of flattening the boards. The effect might have worked if it wasn’t so obviously repeating. The effect it did manage to give was dozens of faces screaming in pain or snarling in rage.

To my left, next to the door, there was an entertainment center that was probably as old as I was. Huge, oak or mahogany, housing a television that had probably last been used to watch the Kennedy assassination and was liable to give you cancer and a permanent squint if you actually tried watching it. Beside it was a behemoth device with burgundy carpeted sides, a gold-latched lid and a skeletal metal extrusion on the top. I assumed it must be a radio, or maybe even a record player.

The floor was also frozen in time; pale green shag. As I always did when I came here in my sleep, I found myself wondering just what had possessed people back then, that led them to think something that looked like a tie-dyed bear was murdered and stapled to your floor was the height of fashion.

Across from the television were a pair of vomit yellow couches, cocked at 90-degree angles from each other. The cushions looked a little worn, but not to the extent they needed replacing just yet.

Everything was clean. Almost too clean. It looked like Donna Reid might have come through five minutes before I got here for a final cleaning session just in case I decided to give the room the white glove treatment. The stale air and the scent of rot said otherwise, though. No one had been here in a very long time.

No one alive, anyway.

Sighing, feeling spiders creep along my back and burrow into the back of my skull, I turned back to the door. Everything beyond the porch had gone still, silent and dark. Someone had put the world outside on permanent pause. I’d expected that, too. Knowing what came next, I pulled the door shut.

It fell into place against the jamb with a sound far louder and more final than you might expect. It sounded like stone closing against a tomb. It didn’t even make me jump, though. It was the least of my worries.

I took a deep breath, not relishing the taste of the air or the way it made my chest scream in rebellion. I wished I’d brought my aspirator, but knew it would have somehow gotten lost. I wasn’t supposed to have it, after all. I hadn’t changed anything else; why fight to change that?

I turned, preparing myself.

The couches were no longer empty. On the larger one, directly facing the television, were a middle-aged couple. Mom was wearing a green pantsuit, her blonde hair coiffed into a half-flip, her face looking plastic with the amount of makeup she’d caked on. Dad was wearing tan slacks, a white shirt that looked a little too crisp and a blue and green striped tie that was loosened. His hair was brown, graying at the temples, and cut military style. His face was hard, tanned and lined with the look of someone who worked outside a lot. She was almost rail-thin, probably chasing the Twiggy look, while he was at the stage where he was starting to run to fat, but with a thick layer of muscle hidden underneath.

On the other couch was a girl, maybe seventeen or so. She had her mother’s body and fair skin, but her father’s hair. Not much makeup on this one, just a hint of lip gloss and a little blush. An almost shapeless purple dress preserved modesty in a way that seemed out of place given the 1960’s style of everything else in the place.

All three of them had empty sockets where their eyes should have been. They should have been blind. If they were even alive at all. I’d never seen any of them take a breath.

That didn’t stop them from turning their heads in unison, pointing those eyeless holes in my direction. The feeling of spiders creeping across me got stronger, almost maddening. It didn’t matter how often it happened, didn’t matter how ready I thought I was, it was always the same.

I tried to scream, but my locked lungs could only produce a thin wheeze. A warm rush along my leg as my bladder let go.

It wasn’t that there were corpses sitting here, or even that their eyes were gone, or that they were facing me. It was that feeling, like when someone stares at you from across a crowded room.

Eyeless or not, they were seeing me.

(Want more? Part 4 is right here!)

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Layers, Part 2

(Missed Part 1? Click here!)


I pulled up the drive, stomach in knots. The back of my throat was coated with acid, making every swallow torture, every breath ragged. The air felt like it was made of heavy, bitter syrup and no matter how many blasts I took from my aspirator, my asthma wouldn’t let go.

I’d dreamed of this moment. Dozens – maybe hundreds – of times, since I was just a kid. I’d done everything I could to change the circumstances. In the dreams, it was always late in the day, at the edge of twilight; I’d left early, as soon as the sun was up, to be there before that. In the dream, I was always in an old red sedan, and to avoid that I’d rented a gray pickup.

Of course, the year-old and recently inspected truck didn’t make it up the trail. It blew a rod and died at the side of the road with no help in sight. By the time I’d gotten ahold of the rental company and had them come fetch me, the day was mostly gone. The car they brought as a replacement – apologizing the whole time, as it was the only one left in their fleet – was a red Chevrolet Cavalier.

I should have quit right then. Should have known better. But there was the sense that I didn’t really have a choice in this. That one way or another, the dreams were going to end today. Maybe it was pointless to try to resist the script that had been playing out in my sleep for the better part of three decades. Better to go with the flow.

Of course, the flow ended with a painful death, but at this point, that seemed unimportant.

Layers, again; peel away the best-laid plans to discover that you’re dancing to someone else’s tune. Peel away the nightmare, intending to expose it to the light and to the so-called real world, discover the nightmare was the truth all along.

Maybe that’s why I kept going. To be done with the onion-peeling, to be done with everything. I was tired. So tired. Not just of the dreams, of insomnia and headaches and nosebleeds and everything that went with them, but with life. One way or other, it would be done. I could put it all aside and be something else… or not have to be bothered by any of it at all.

I got out of the car, listening to the gunshot echoes produced when I slammed the driver’s door shut. The echo bothered me, but it took me a minute to figure out why. There was no response. No other sound. No little birds chirping, no bugs buzzing, no sense that the sound had disturbed any natural order that would otherwise be going about its business at the tail end of a sweltering day in July.

I could feel it. The house – or whatever was waiting for me inside – pulsing like a tumor in the landscape, a diseased heart sending whatever passed for its blood through the surroundings. Poisoning them, twisting them, making it unfit for anything that it didn’t allow to exist.

In that toxic heartbeat, I could hear it calling my name. God help me, I answered.

“I’m here,” I whispered. “I came.”

Without conscious thought, I walked towards the house, running my fingers along the smooth wood of the banister attached to the short steps leading to the porch. Despite the age, the length of time since someone had actually lived here, it was in good shape. No signs of rot, dust, or damage. No graffiti or broken windows, no cigarette butts and used condoms. Whatever aura the old place had, it was enough to keep the kids away.

I laid my hand on the brass doorknob of the stout wooden door, squinting, trying and failing to get a glimpse of what lay beyond through the frosted glass panes at the top of the door. The knob was cold, icy, beneath my hand. I felt that if I pulled my hand back and looked at it, I’d see a rime of ice melting against my palm. I didn’t try the experiment.

For a moment, I found myself hoping it would be locked. I knew it wouldn’t be, but if it was, I could be free. I could shrug and walk away. Despite following the madness this far, I wasn’t going to break a window or kick in the door just to sate my obsessions. That’s what I told myself, anyway.

It was a futile hope. The knob turned easily, without even a squeak, and the door slipped open like a mouth waiting to swallow me.

I couldn’t see what lay beyond; the clash between the darkness inside and the lingering bright outside left my eyes going spastic as they tried to decide which to focus on. Not that it mattered, anyway; I think the darkness was from something other than a lack of lights being on, and even if I’d thought to bring a flashlight it wouldn’t have made a difference.

Sighing, resigned to what was coming, I stepped through the doorway.

(Want more? Part 3 lies ahead!)

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