Photo by: Hanae Jackson
I faced the floor. I couldn’t tell if I stood hunched over, or if I balanced in a table top position on my hands and knees, or if I lay on the blurry floor like a slug. But, I couldn’t move. Of that I was certain.
My sight began to falter. Like a horse with blinders, a vignette of black faded into a barely visible distortion. If the sun burned brown, the tunnel of vision before me would be what it looked like to peer into its glare.
I reached my hand forward. Or, at least I think I did. It almost felt like a phantom limb, because I could not see my outstretched arm. I gained the ability to crawl, but it didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere. Was I on a film set treadmill? Am I injured? Is something blocking my way? Thoughts flooded my panicked brain as I searched for a solution to my handicap, dragging myself through the imaginary tar that held or didn’t hold me back.
Nothing appeared in front of me, nothing behind. But, I couldn’t wade through the atmosphere around me.
I lifted my head at the speed of a dying heartbeat. Remarkably, I started to make out an opening of light before me. At about the same moment when I recognized the stone walls around me, I felt the sudden sensation of someone chasing after me. I was as visible to them as they were to me, but they knew my location and headed my way.
To my dismay, my movement did not improve. I squinted towards the bright white and screamed, “Move!” in my head. A feeling of pressure on my back grew as my unknown pursuer closed the distance between us.
The more I attempted to gain speed, the farther I seemed to get from the mouth of the cave. A full palm clasped over the back of my head like a basketball. Then I only saw black.
Then I saw faded black with darker shadow shapes of my dresser, desk, and bean bag chair in the background. Wasn’t I too old for nightmares by this point?
I breathed heavy beneath my blankets. I shivered cold, but sweat beaded around my hairline and between my chest.
“This has to stop,” I thought to myself, turning over on my side to see the red glow of 4:17 laughing back at me.
My mom and dad moved us to country community after my older sister went off to college. They wanted to downgrade their house for retirement purposes. I get it, especially since I’ll be off to college myself in 2 years. But, I can’t help envy my sister who didn’t have to deal with the move.
Our “new” house was built around the late 1800s or early 1900s. I'll admit, I do love the architecture. Tall windows and doors, heavy wooden staircase, and antique tiling. But, it smells a little moldy for my taste.
The entire town looks quaintly ancient. The vibe isn’t too small town, until the few Southern extremists pass by on their John Deere ride mowers… to go to the convenient store down the street. Nothing like reading in our parlor’s window seat, only to get distracted by the sickly guzzle of a hand-me down, rusty truck with American and Confederate flags waving unapologetically from the truck bed.
I’ve never been happier about being a homeschool kid. I didn’t experience the TV family drama scene where my parents sit me down to tell me we are moving, and I whine about missing all my friends and graduation and being the new kid this late in my schooling career and stage direction: insert tears. My parents did sit me down for the moving discussion, but my only complaint was packing.
I made myself sound like a loser. I do have friends, but they are also homeschooled. And, we are only an hour away from where I grew up, so it’s not a terrible country road drive now that we all have cars. Plus, we will all be a lot further away in college, so best get used to it. I should get the most understanding kid of the year award. Blue ribbon.
As I lay with my hands underneath my pillow to prop my head up, my white tank top clinging to my freshly nightmared damp skin, I let my mind wander to positive thoughts of college, and beer, and boys…
Alarm. How I despise you.
It’s Sunday, but I promised my mom I’d go to the local Farmer’s Market with her. That means up and at ‘em by 7am to snag the top produce. I’m currently regretting this suggested mother-daughter bonding time.
I sauntered around the Market with the town’s local coffee brew, fresh and dark. My fraying shorts caught less than approving looks from the conservative bunch.
My mom slinked between the mass crowd of amateurs to snatch up her avocados, tomatoes, and herbs. The locals spent far too long staring blankly at the inanimate fruits and veggies trying to convince each other that they knew the “process” of picking premium produce. Like living in a small rural community makes you automatically certified in farming. Their act was about as convincing as a nineteen-year-old with a fake ID judging a wine tasting.
As I stopped by the kettle corn stand, I noticed a darkness weaving between people. It wasn’t a solid dark hole, or a cloudy overcast. The movement cast off of its surroundings like when you mix paint color in black to create shadows. As it darted, it took on a shadier tone of the background, but retained whatever color (blue jean clothing) it stood against.
“Alice,” my mom called out to me, waving her hand in an exaggerated fashion above bobbing heads like the mom she was.
I looked back by the popcorn stand, and I didn’t see the murky blob anymore. I shrugged it off and jogged over to my mom.
Back at the house, we unloaded everything into the fridge. All I wanted was to plop face first onto the couch and zone out to Pretty Little Liars reruns. God bless Netflix.
“That’s a lovely face you’re making, Alice,” said my mom, smiling at her own joke.
“Hmm,” I responded.
My resting morning bitch face can best be described as a sleep deprived new mother mixed with someone who suddenly smelled something terrible.
“Oh, sorry, mom. I’m just sleepy.”
“Why don’t you grab that bag in there and go relax,” she said, pointing to our last cloth shopping tote.
I reached in and pulled out a medium sized bag of kettle corn.
“I bought it before you even moseyed over there,” my mom said proudly.
“Thanks, mom! You’re the best,” I cheered, already bee lining it to the couch.
I couldn’t move an inch. My legs were cripple as I tried to drag them through the tar floor. Except the ground didn’t look like anything dangerous, besides a smelly, brown pattern 1980s bowling alley carpet.
I thought I saw a nonthreatening shadow figure near the tunnel’s freeing light. Safety lied beyond, but I couldn’t even begin to reach it.
Something was coming up behind me. Was it bigger than me? Definitely. Was it stronger? Obviously. My tunnel vision blurred rapidly until I became almost blind. I shut my eyes tightly and screamed out of helpless fear right before I sensed the being reaching for me.
“Hannah, run! That’s not Caleb, it’s A,” Spencer shouted from my TV as I jolted awake screaming with her.
“Fuck,” I verbally expressed after realizing I was safely in my living room, still.
I pushed my sweaty roots back and sighed. What was up with these dreams? I adjusted my tank top and situated my legs Indian style with my kettle corn in my lap. The clock ticked 6pm at me, but I needed some comfort food regardless of how close it was to dinner.
It started to rain outside, which added to the ambiance of my guilty pleasure thriller series. The Rosewood girls could keep my creepy company any Sunday in this little town. What else was I going to do? Cow tipping? Ice cream with the town football hero? No, Netflix and chill alone was perfectly fine with me.
I heard something thump repeatedly on the wooden staircase to my right. It wasn’t the average swelling, damp wood creek. It sounded like an object tumbling down or a person stomping in their decent.
I called out, “Mom?”
I peeled back the curtain behind me and peered out our front window. Her minivan wasn’t in the driveway. She probably ran to pick up a last minute grocery item she forgot for dinner before Dad got home from work.
A little creeped out, I thought of calling my sister. We needed to catch-up anyway. But, my phone sat all the way over on the kitchen counter. Too much effort. I shoveled more kettle corn in my mouth.
I really should be getting over these cheesy high school shows and expand my TV horizons before I meet people of the real, public school world. But, who said that had to be today?
Emily was just about to try to chicken out of an A hunt once again when I heard a crash in the kitchen. Not a dish, glass shattering crash. It sounded more like a body falling and knocking a few cutlery items to the ground in the process.
I didn’t let out a peep. I sat, eyes wide, frozen in the same cross-legged position. I slowed my breathing and tried to make no noise at all.
After a minute or so as a statue, nothing else happened, so I relaxed. I turned off the TV and tiptoed over to the kitchen and saw a whole lot of nothing. No body, no mess on the floor, not one item even slightly out of place. My eyes darted around the room searching for any change like a child with their head stuck in an I-Spy book.
“I’m fuckin’ crazy,” I thought to myself, still too nervous to say anything aloud.
I walked back to the living room and just sat there. I kept gazing around, unable to turn the TV back on. Then the front door swung open.
“I’m home, my top two girls,” my dad beamed.
“Dad! You scared the shit out of me,” I hissed.
“Whoop, sorry, hun. And, don’t tell your sister about the two favorite girls thing,” he teased.
“Got it, Dad.”
“Where’s your mother,” he asked while taking off his Italian leather work loafers by the door, one struggle at a time.
“I think she went to the grocery real quick, but I’m not totally sure. I fell asleep.”
“Ah, well I’ll text her in a minute then.”
My dad jogged upstairs whistling a Rihanna song. Oh, parents and their attempt to stay relevant. I went to the kitchen to set the dinner table for Mom while my dad changed out of his work clothes. I checked my phone, and sure enough there was a text from my mom.
“Grocery. You are asleep. Didn’t want to wake. Onions! Be back soon J”
I could’ve sworn she had bought onions at the Farmer’s Market, but I guess I imagined it.
The chicken fajitas sizzled as the three of us dug into dinner.
Usually, my sister took the conversational reigns at dinner. But with her away, it was all about me. Yippee.
“Have you gone outside and met anyone interesting in town, Alice,” Dad asked first.
“So, are you still stuck on that Algebra formula,” Mom chimed in.
“How’s the room decorating going?”
“Any of your old friends call you up to see how you’re doing? Or text you, or whatever?”
“Hear any creepy noises around this old house yet?”
I stopped my dad mid-bite, “Yes! Actually now that you mention it, I have.”
I startled my parents by dropping my fork freefall onto my plate. All of our eyes went wide, mine from curiosity and theirs from shock.
“Well that certainly got a decent response out you, finally,” my dad said.
“Have you guys heard anything? Because I swear the steps and kitchen are trying to creep me out.”
“It’s an old house, honey,” my mom cooed. “You probably just heard the plumbing or an animal in the wall.”
“Right, of course,” I agreed, not wanting to sound crazy or childish. “I guess I still have some adjusting to do.”
My parents let off a bit on the interrogation after that. It made me thankful that I wasn’t actually an only child, because feeling like one lately had become exhausting. I finished my fajita and rice and went upstairs to get ready for bed aka zoning out in front of my bedroom TV in solitude.
One thing I could eternally live with in the house was the bathroom. The white porcelain tub stood on little gold antique feet with a matching modern gold shower spout. The black and white geometric floor tile captured Instagram worthy pics with my pink painted toes. I could never go back to early 2000s dull, cookie cutter bathrooms again.
The water pressure wasn’t ideal, but at least it warmed up steaming hot. I washed the nap sweat out of my hair in a foamy lather. I stand by the fact that my hair isn’t soapy enough unless I can utilize the bubbles to construct a wet, white 1960s up-do.
My feet touched slippery ice when I stepped out of the tub.
“Must remember to buy a floor mat ASAP,” I thought to myself.
I wiped the steam off of the mirror and applied a dollop of moisturizer. Brush teeth, Q-tip ears, pin up wet hair; the regular evening ritual. I opened the medicine cabinet to grab a nail file and closed it to realize I had smudged some toothpaste on the mirror side. Damn sink spit splash.
I tiptoed in my wrapped blue towel down the upstairs hallway so my steps didn’t give me away downstairs and provoke a parental chain reaction of being asked to family bond the remainder of the evening. I managed to avoid too much sound near the stairs, the crucial and most audible point. I almost made it to the end of the hallway where my room was when two flexed hands pushed forcibly on my back and shoved me face first into my bedroom door.
I whipped around in shock to sit knees up with my back against my door. Nothing stood in front of me besides a dim hallway.
“Honey, are you alright,” I heard my mom call out from below, confirming that my parents were in fact downstairs.
“I-I’m fine, mom,” I managed to shout back. “Just a clumsy moment.”
“Be careful in that shower. Old tubs can be slippery,” she responded.
Panting, sweat mixing with my wet hair, I pulled myself up by the door handle and rushed into my bedroom. I immediately turned on the light and caught my breath, clenching my towel out of fear rather than to keep myself covered.
Happy Netflix rom-coms huddled under my bed blankets seemed the top option for the evening. I tried to rationalize what happened in the hallway. And, when that didn’t work, I did all I could to distract myself from thought of it, but even Clueless just wasn’t cutting it.
I finally fell asleep without realizing, either from pure exhaustive fear or my nerves decided to give out and send me into dream land.
The illuminating mouth of the cave appeared far clearer this time. I could even make out the grainy details of pebbles, textured rock walls, and a path before me. I still crawled toward the tunnel opening, or away from some dark entity.
I sensed the presence gaining on me. I only moved forward in slow motion, no matter how I pushed or strained. Something whispered in my head that the entity behind me, about to grab me, and whatever pushed me into my bedroom door were one in the same.
I braced myself for the capture when I saw a shadow in front of me. The figure stood under the arch of the cave’s opening. The light hid the detail of its features, but the shape reminded me of a boy’s body, no older than me.
He turned and tried to run into the beaming blankness, but each time he failed to make it through, and turned to stare back at me. He continued like a gif on repeat.
I reached for him, for help, and then I felt that terribly strong hand on the back of my head.
Jolting awake, the teenage boy stood translucent at the edge of my bed. Our eyes connected, his sad and mine wide with fear, before I screamed like a damn Scream Queen, and he disappeared in an instant.
Sitting up in bed, drenched in sweat, I did what any normal teenage girl would do; I ran to my parent’s room. I don’t think I ever ran so quickly in the middle of the night since I was a kid racing for the bathroom.
I came to a dead stop in front of their door, hand fisted and prepared to knock, when I realized I was not a child anymore. I couldn’t just bolt into their room claiming nightmares were manifesting as ghosts in my bedroom.
Hesitating, I turned around to face my open door at the other end of the hallway. I sighed a deep breath and sprinted to my bed. I leapt onto it and wrapped myself up in my blankets like sushi roll. Only my nose poked out of my cocoon for breathing purposes. I eventually drifted back to sleep.
Yes, alarm. I hear you.
Hair disheveled from my safety wrap, breakfast consisted of coffee, toast, and my mom staring concerningly at me.
“I don’t mean to be an annoying mom, but did you sleep okay, honey?”
“I tossed and turned a lot actually. Bad dreams,” I under exaggerated.
We sat in silence for a while, eating and wiping crunchy toast crumbs off our cheeks.
“Mom, do you know anything about the history of this house?”
“Hmm. Well the realtor said that this place was rumored to be part of the Underground Railroad back in the day, but no one has ever confirmed it.”
“Yeah. If you ask me, I think the closet under the stairs used to have an opening in it. Looks sealed up to me.”
“Did anyone ever die in the house?”
My mom laughed, “Whoa, calm down Sherlock. I don’t think so, but if you’re so curious all of a sudden, go Google it or something.”
Brilliant advice, mom.
I took my shot at “Googling” the house, but nothing interesting popped up. Horror movies where the characters suddenly find all this eerie information at their fingertips that’s been hidden for centuries by the click of a few buttons are bullshit.
After a few hours of soul sucking computer searching went by, I decided my efforts were a waste, and I should probably actually do my homework.
I was focused on Spanish packets when I heard banging near the stairs. Against my better judgement, I got up off the couch and creeped towards the stairs. The noise stopped, so I continued to tiptoe, back hunched and eyes peeled.
Hand on the side beam of the living room’s opening to the front hallway, I inched my head into the next room. Under the stairs, the closet door began banging open and shut over and over.
“Fuck,” I couldn’t even scream, only curse under my breath as I raced back to the couch. I put my back against the arm rest so I could stare into the next room, curled up my knees, and white knuckled an AP History text book like it could properly defend me.
I sat like that, eyes on the stairs, for at least 10 minutes. Nothing else happened.
All I could chalk it up to was that Mom’s talk manifested this terrifying occurrence in my head. Either way, I knew I didn’t like the stairs anymore and I would probably sleep on the couch tonight.
Supernatural on TV and a spare knitted blanket pulled up to my nose, I zoned out that evening trying to convince myself to fall asleep. I kept glancing at the stares in the next room. I couldn’t shake the bad feeling.
I heard a noise and my eyes darted to the stairs without moving my body an inch. The front hallway lit up with natural daylight. The living room stayed 11pm dark.
“Am I awake? Am I dreaming? Can I not move because of the dream or because I’m too afraid and in shock,” I thought to myself. I could make sense of none of it.
I saw a man’s old era boots descend the stairs. I was paralyzed, but felt no fear. I was merely a spectator.
The man, definitely Civil War era, pivoted around the banister and headed towards the closet door. A family of three, wife, husband, and daughter, concentrated from mist in front of me and chased after the man from the living room in slow motion.
More soldier looking types broke in the front door, startling me and the entire dream family. The man pushed them out of their home while the soldiers assisted pulling them out the door. The family reached towards the closet. The wife screamed, it sounded like a warning, and a soldier pulled back on her hair as they were drug out of their home.
The man slid back towards the closet, out of my view. All body sensation came to me, and I knew I had to follow the man. I rose and walked into the light scene before me. The stair closet door was ajar.
I peered around the door and saw a gaping hole in the closet floor with notches cut into the dirt for stairs. I held the side of the wall and took slow steps down towards more darkness.
The basement curved at the end and I turned to see my dream cave before me. Only I was wrong. It wasn’t a cave, but a tunnel. An underground tunnel.
The light shone brighter than usual as I watched a group of shadowing figures running towards it. Except one.
The man held his rifle up and shot. My body jumped at the sound as one silhouetted figure fell. Another shadow, a woman I think by the skirt shape of her lower half, turned and screamed, but the other dark arms grabbed her and made her continue on.
The man walked over to the teenage boy who lay on the ground, begging, and shot him a final time. I gasped and put my hands to my mouth. The man turned like he was leaving another boring day on the job and came towards me. I closed my eyes as his ghostly body walked right through me. I started choking as I realized that this was the dark entity that had been menacing me since the Farmer’s Market.
I caught my breath and stared back at the shadow body. I inched toward it and connected with two moving eyes staring back at me. The dead boy slowly stood and reached for my hand. I took it, feeling only sadness.
The boy pointed towards the tunnel’s light. He needed me to take him. I smiled at his innocent face and led him towards his bright eternal salvation. Fingers laced together, we walked towards the light…