A dream I had
The house always made noise. Clicks, creaks, random thumps and pops as the house warmed in the morning and cooled in the evening. It had been that way since the lawyer moved in. He'd been excited to sign the deal on the old house. He could see potential. It would be a long road of renovations and it would cost a lot of money, but he would make the money, he was sure of that, and the renovations would be an enjoyable challenge. Mostly, he couldn't believe his luck on the price and the location. He could ride his bike to the local stores, to the law offices, to the courthouse. The house was central to every meaningful thing in his life.
During his first week sleeping in the house, the thumps and creaks were unsettling. He'd always had the sense that he didn't scare easily. “A predator,” his father had said. He'd always been hard to startle, but in that first week he'd jumped at the sudden noises of the house at least a dozen times, even calling out down a hallway at one point to see if anyone would answer. For a moment, he'd expected to hear a reply. He expected a low moan or a frothy demon hissing from beneath the floorboards. One loud boom on the third day made him cry out. His fearful outburst enraged him and he stomped through the old house shouting the twisting shadows from his mind.
The second week he jumped less, laughed at himself more. The third week, when the sounds seemed to intensify in volume and frequency, he pushed them out of his mind and thought forward to the new floors that would soon be installed. He thought of the new paint smell, the granite counter tops, the new light fixtures and stair banister and bathroom tile and shower/sauna combo. He thought of his budding house in its amazing old, central neighborhood and he smiled as he laid his head down on his pillow. He was asleep before the voices started.
"You can get get out of here, just grab your stuff and go.”
The man woke and opened his eyes without stirring. His eyes strained for light and his ears listened to confirm what he thought he'd heard. It was a voice, a hushed, somewhat gravely, male voice. He wondered if the voice had been from a dream. He wondered if the voice in his dream woke him, or if he'd awoken from his dream because of a voice. The blood rushed to his head and thrashed through his ears. He tried to calm his nerves by breathing in long, slow breaths, but the rasping of his breaths felt too loud. If it had been a voice, a real voice, and the person was in the room, they would hear his breathing change. He held his breath, but the blood rushing through his ears was loud enough to take his hearing, all but a slow thumping somewhere in the distance.
You can get out of here, just grab your stuff and go?
Holding his breath didn't work for long. The rush in his ears grew and his brain began crying out for air. He tried to get a sound, something close and real, before inhaling. He heard nothing as he sipped in a series of trembling breaths. If someone was in the room, they would surely know he was awake now. No sense staying down and waiting for them to act.
The man sat up.
“Hello?” he called. The rushing in his ears slowed and the room returned to him. There was a small hum from his bedside clock, and as he squinted into the rest of the dark room looking for shifting shapes or dark, out of place figures, the ceiling popped in the far right corner where it always popped.
He breathed out a long breath, let it slide out into the darkness and probe the area at the end of the bed, the far corners, let it slide under the door and search the rest of the house. He was ready to lie back down and try to go back to sleep.
“I'll clean it up."
The voice came from the man's left. When he first moved in, the man had placed his old sofa chair, his favorite chair, his lucky chair, against the wall near his bed. The living room would soon be filled with all new furniture, and he was willing to sell or throw away all of his old pieces. All but his lucky chair. There, sitting up, his fingers curled into the bed covers on his lap, he could make out the edge of his lucky chair. As he followed the edge up to the top, the edge continued in a long curve, rounding at the top in the shape of a human head.
“Don't worry, I'll clean it up,” the voice said again. It was casual, apologetic, but unfamiliar. The man reached for the nob on the bedside lamp and twisted it. When the light clicked on, the man pulled the covers up to his mouth and screamed into them without thinking, unconsciously biting into the fabric and readying himself for a fight to the death.
In the chair, a man sat, his shoulders and head heavy against the sofa back, exhausted. His arms hung limply from the chair arms in a posture that suggested appreciated comfort and much needed relief. The posture didn't match the color scheme, a violent shift between flesh tones and white and blue clothing and long smears of shiny red blood. The man could see bloody hand prints on the figure's shirt, blood spatter on his neck and face. The blood was thickest and wettest down his right forearm and hand, and it was many seconds of screaming terror before the man even noticed the bloody hammer, clutched loosely, hanging from too-long fingers. In that moment, watching the droplets of blood fall from the hammer's disfigured head, hearing them plop into the puddle of blood on the boards below, the lawyer knew what the pounding sound had been.
He leaped from the bed and stumbled to the door. As he passed the figure, words came again and sent him screaming into the hallway.
“I said I'll clean it up.”
The door to the hallway burst open under the pressure of the man's shoulder. He hadn't turned the doorknob enough and the impact cracked the bolt housing from the door frame. He stepped out onto the landing at the top of the dual staircase and grabbed the railing. He needed the grip to steady himself as he looked down onto the entryway below. His usually neat entryway was unrecognizable. The Persian rug had been folded over on itself and then again. A pool of blood was spreading from one end, and a pair of pale and lifeless feet extended from the other. The man looked away, only to see another body sitting against the old bookshelf. Most of the volumes had been ripped loose and thrown around the room. A small stack of open books with crinkled, blood-spattered pages, lay at one of the body's feet. The man did not look at the faces. He knew what he would see there if he did.
He turned his head again, and again, his sight running from the carnage and seeking shelter in every dark corner, every high shelf, every shadow, and finding none. The bloody mess followed him, like it knew where he would look next. It was ready whenever his eyes opened, whenever his gaze slipped away from one dead body there would be another, and another, until his flailing hands found the doorknob at the end of the short hallway. He turned the knob and pulled. The faces, their eyes black and their mouths open, yawning wide and hot like caverns to hell, followed him to the door, followed him screaming and gnawing and biting at his heels with broken teeth and tasting the air with shriveled, gray tongues. Their gnashing and screaming followed him. He could feel their breath on the backs of his knees. He could feel fingers grasping at his ankles, nearly getting their grips on one leg, and when he ripped that leg clear they would have their blood-sticky skin on the other. His feet danced up and away from them and he growled and screeched. Their moaning followed him down the hallway and up to the doorway and cut out as the lawyer slammed the door behind him.
Silence. The lawyer waited, expecting to hear nails scratching on the wood and the ghoulish moaning slide under the bottom of the door. But there was nothing. A new room opened before him, a familiar room. His feet slid warily across the floral strip of carpet ushering him into his mother's study. As he made his way along the entry wall, his hand slid along the wallpaper, guiding him. His fingertips barely touched, barely made a sound, but he still stopped for fear that the whisper of his skin on the old paper was too loud.
The silence surrounded him for a moment. Then in the distance, in the heart of the study, the slight dinging of piano keys crawled through the quiet and sent small plumes of dust sparkling into the dancing light of a single candle on an end table. The flame flickered at each new note. The man smelled dampness, the smell of old wood and old books and an old soul. It was his mother's study where his mother would go to play. When he was a child, he would sneak in to listen. He would watch her pull the sheet music from a single box, like ancient scriptures only she could read. She would decipher and translate, and the man would hide in a corner, in a dark and quiet place, to listen to her holy incantations.
The music stopped. The man stopped and clamped his teeth and pressed his hands over his mouth. He knew if she heard him she would run him out. She would usher him with soft hands and harsh whispers to a door she would open silently. She would warn him of his father, warn him not to go sneaking about like a spider.
This time she didn't come to usher him out.
“Have you come to hear or to listen?”
Her voice seemed farther away than the ten feet between the piano and the edge of the entry wall. The man couldn't tell if she was talking to him or to someone else, or if the voice had actually been uttered by a person, at all. Did I imagine it? He waited. The music started again. He pulled his hands from his mouth and pressed them gently against the wallpaper. The oil and sweat from his hands made his fingers stick. He pulled back instinctively. His fingers peeled away from the wall with a loud sucking noise and the man could feel something on his fingertips. He looked down and nothing had stuck to his fingers, but instead the skin from his finger tips had come off on the wall. The blood oozed out in hot red dots and ran down his fingers to his palms. Before he could cry out, he stumbled into the study and the song from the piano stopped. He grasped his fingers and squeezed. He felt the blood oozing out. It seemed to ooze faster the harder he tried to keep it in, and soon the droplets were falling onto the floral rug at his feet.
Over the top of the piano, he saw his mother shift in her seat and look toward him. The light from the candle twisted her features, shrouding parts of her face in darkness and unnaturally bathing others in warm light. As she moved, the features moved.
“Don't worry, I'll clean it up.”
Her head turned to the right and the lawyer watched a hand appear on the ground from behind the piano. The hand was attached to an arm, but the arm didn't extend from forearm to elbow to bicep and tricep to shoulder. The hand supported a forearm and an elbow that lead to another forearm and elbow, and another, and before the man could see how many segments the arm had, another hand slapped down next to it. This second arm contained at least as many segments, and as the two arms and hands shuddered in the candlelight, six more hands slapped against the hardwood floors, their forearms and elbows leading up to a central body, a short torso. The torso was pallid and bruised, and there seemed to be something squirming beneath the surface of the skin, as if the torso was a bag of snakes. From the other end of the torso, a head rolled up onto the top of the body. A face turned to look at the man. It was upside down, and righted itself suddenly, in a single hard jerk, against the sound of cracking bones. A slight hiss escaped the thin lips that divided the face nearly in two, and when the lips parted, a long row of thin fangs slowly separated.
A hand dropped on the man's shoulder. He turned to face the twisted scowl of his dead mother, and he suddenly stared into the empty holes where her eyes had once been.
“Little spider, sneaking around in the dark,” she moaned. Her face turned to the eight legged creature. The beast hissed and exposed its teeth, but mother's stare pulled a screech from somewhere deep in its chest and the legs gave out, curling underneath its rippling body. It fell to the floor in its frozen crouch and its head cracked again as it twisted sideways. Its eyes closed and the thin lips sealed shut and the skin stretched over the lines until the head was smooth and featureless.
“Are spiders welcome here?” she asked.
A camera flashed and whined nearby. The flash shined across the walls and ceiling of the room, and the man's mother was gone. He felt he knew where she'd gone and he turned to run back out of the room. Once back in the entry hallway, the door was gone. Another flash from the camera stole the candle's flame and the darkness reclaimed its territories.
Another camera flash. Another long whine as the bulb recharged. The man tried to call out into the darkness. He felt his friends must be nearby, that they must be playing a trick on him. Before the camera flash went off again, the man knew these weren't his friends. He remembered them sleeping in the next room, passed out on sofas and inflatable mattresses. He knew they were asleep and he was alone and something was sending flashes of light out at even intervals from the corner of his mother's study.
“What if they're not sleeping?” the man whispered, knowing before he finished the question that they were all dead.
Another flash lit up the room. Something was different. Something was there that wasn't there before. Ahead of him, was it seven feet? something was on the ground that he didn't see during the previous flashes. As the flash bulb recharged a new sound emerged, the slight pattering of something along the ground, a pattering and something else, something rough against the wood. He tried to dismiss the thought as soon as it appeared. He couldn't. Fingernails. It sounded like fingernails scraping the wood in front of him. The sound made its way across the room until it was directly at his feet. The flash bulb charged and was set to go off again. He knew what he would see when the room lit up.
“Does the defense rest, counselor?”
His mother's voice. He felt her hands on his shoulders when the flash erupted. But when the light filled the room he didn't see his mother. The floorboards creaked and the creature looked up at him with its head upside down, its fangs parted and dripping with blood, its fingers dug into the wood and its legs coiled to leap. He didn't scream until the fingers were pulling at his clothes and curling around his flesh and pressing into the gaps between his bones. As it made its way up his stomach and chest and twisted its pale arms around his neck, the weight of the demon pulled him to the left and he teetered and slammed into the nearest wall. The picture frames fell to the floor, their glass covers shattering in unison. The man heard the glass break but couldn't see it. The creature's hands were covering his eyes, the jagged, blackened fingernails clawing at the lids. When the man opened his mouth to scream, the fingers jammed themselves between his lips and pulled at the inside of his cheeks. They pulled and scraped and reached deeper. The man felt the fingers around his tongue, felt them slide along his back teeth and mash their way into his throat. The more frantically he clawed at the creature's limbs, the tighter they squeezed and the deeper they reached. But the hands over his face relaxed enough for him to pull them from his eyes. He opened them to see the man from his bedroom, still holding the hammer, limping toward him across the floral throw rug.
"Does the defense rest?"
The creature shrieked as its bones cracked and snapped under the new pulling pressure and the man's cries faded into the cold corners of the old house.