The nightmares started several weeks after Brad moved into the old house at the beginning of winter. He bought the little rundown house several months ago, hoping to fix it up and sell it for a profit. It would be his first real investment after getting a serious paying job out of school. Brad remembered his parents warning him about such a risky investment, because he was so young. They were always so overprotective, but after spending his summers working construction, building houses and seeing how much money his self-employed boss was making, how could he resist. Unlike his old boss, he was armed with a college degree in business, whereas his boss was uneducated. It was only a matter of time till his skills and education paid off big. By his figuring, he would live comfortably off the work of others in just five short years.
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Starting off wouldn’t be easy, so he decided that his first investment would be a fixer-upper. The home was sold by a realty company that had foreclosed on the previous owner. The house was originally owned by a single man who lived alone after his new wife had ran out on him after he was laid-off from his job at the nearby brick factory. Apparently the idea of ‘for better or worse’ was not something she took to heart. The house was originally bought by the previous owner with the idea of two incomes in mind, so when his wife deserted him, he was left with an overbearing mortgage payment that he couldn’t meet. After his wife disappeared on him, and the bank starting to breath down his neck, the former owner simply gave up, handing the house over to the bank. The last thing that was heard about him was that he moved out of state to live with his sister.
None of this the realtor had told Brad. He had learned the story behind his newly purchased home through the little snippets his neighbors would mention as they welcomed him to the neighborhood his first two weeks. Brad thought his neighbors were polite the first few weeks, but after the initial ‘welcome aboard’ visits, he didn’t really see them again. None of that mattered, because what was really important was to focus on the task at hand. Easy money would be rolling his way, after a little hard work, and a little time.
The house was run down and hadn’t been lived in or kept up in years, when Brad first purchased it. The plumbing in the basement needed serious work and some of the pipes had rusted through, allowing large water stains to form on the linoleum floor. One of the two bedrooms had all of its windows busted out from when a couple of neighborhood kids used them for target practice for their pellet gun. The wallpaper in the bathrooms and kitchen was a tacky outdated flower print and was peeling near the corners of the walls. There was a lot of work ahead of him, but he also knew that most of his investment in the house would mainly be cosmetic. After all, the house just needed to look nice.
Day after day, Brad would come home from the office, change out of his work clothes and start working on the house. Between the job and the house, sixteen-hour workdays were becoming common. At the end of the night, he would feel himself crash from exhaustion before his head hit the pillow. The weekends weren’t much different, since all of his free time was spent fixing up the house. That was how Brad spent his first few weeks in his new little rundown home. Get up, go to work, come home, work on the house, go to bed, repeat.
At first, he decided that he would only worry about the cosmetics of the place, but every time Brad would fix one thing, two others would break, and usually it was something that simply couldn’t be refinished or painted over. These problems were made worse since they always happened in the middle of the night, when he was trying to sleep. No matter how tired he was after going to the office and working on the house, he could not sleep but a few hours a night till the house woke him up. At first he tried to work less on the house, but a new problem would always arise demanding his immediate attention. The furnace would go out in the middle of the night and since it was the middle of winter, he would wake up freezing. This was impossible to ignore, unless he wanted to catch pneumonia. Other nights the water pipes would groan and gurgle keeping him awake, robbing him of precious slumber. Every night the house would have a new problem, an urgent and often times, expensive problem.
The few hours he did sleep were often interrupted by a frightening dream. At first the nightmare just came in snippets, but then the nightmare grew and drew him in. As the night temperatures grew colder and colder the nightmare would come more frequently and linger in his mind a little longer.
The nightmare was always the same. Brad would see himself crouched down next to the bed in his room. It was the same room where he slept in reality, but in his dream it was decorated with a woman’s touch. There were pictures of someone else’s family on a nearby make-up table, next to a well lit mirror. The bed had too many pillows and was too big to be his. None of these things belonged to him, but in the dream he knew all of these things were his. It was him and his husband’s bedroom, or at least that’s what he knew to be true in the dream. Someone was banging loudly on his bedroom door screaming, but no words could be made out. Brad knew what the yelling was about, and he knew that the person behind the door was supposedly his husband, angry at him about something. There would be more yelling then suddenly the door would be kicked open so hard that the top hinge would come out, ripping the screws from the wall.
In his dream, Brad did not stop to look at the face of the person who kicked down the door, but instead decided to run with all his might and try to make way past them, in hopes of escape. The feeling of panic would flood his mind, knowing that the person, who was supposed to be his husband, was right behind him. Every night the dream was the same, every night he would run, and every night he would make it only a few paces past them other man when something hard would hit the back of his head, causing him to stumble. Starbursts would fill his vision as he connected hard with the ground.
Hitting the ground sent spears of pain throughout his left arm. Terrified, he would roll over, putting his uninjured arm over his face, bracing himself for an onslaught of fist blows. This was the worst part of the nightmare for Brad. It was at during this segment of the dream that he was pulled in completely, unable to separate himself from the person he was in the nightmare. Mixed feelings of betrayal, fear, and sadness would overwhelm him. Lying on the ground prone, he felt himself crying, not only from the pain, but from the fact that someone he once cared for deeply was doing this to him.
With his arm in front of his face he could not make out the image of the man approaching him. A large meaty hand with would reach down and grab a hold of his short-cropped hair with the grip of a vice. His head was jerked up, and he did his best to stand quickly in hopes of relieving some of the immense pain from his hair being pulled violently. His feet would trip and stagger as he was dragged by his hair at a pace too quick for him to keep up with. The person pulling him was shouting at him, but Brad could not look up to see their face. He pleaded with the man who was supposedly to be his husband, to let him go home to his mother. The words were not his own, but he cried them out nonetheless. He pleaded that he just wanted some time to think things over and that he wasn’t planning on staying gone forever, but his cries went unheard by the man dragging him. His scalp was on fire and tears blurred his vision, and just when he thought the flesh of his scalp was about to be ripped off, a door would open just to the side of him. He would suddenly be hurled forward down the dark familiar stairway leading to the basement. His injured arm hit first, sending unbearable pain all throughout his left side. The edges of the steps dug into his sides and he felt a jolt of pain as a rib gave way. After tumbling for what felt like forever his body unfurled at the bottom steps, his head hitting the linoleum covered cement floor of the basement, causing an explosion of agony from the back of his skull. He hurt everywhere and he watched as the door at the top of the stairs closed leaving him alone in darkness, pleading with God to make the hurting stop.
Brad would wake from this nightmare; sweat streaming out of his pores, soaking his bed. He would be terrified and confuse. The sensation would linger endlessly, robbing him of any sleep he would hope to get for the rest of the night. Soon the nightmare became so frequent that he was scared to sleep and constantly pumped himself full of caffeine and any kind of pill that had a label promising to keep him awake and give him energy. Some times he could go two or three nights without sleep, but eventually exhaustion would over take him, and he would revisit the terrible scene all over again.
Work was becoming unbearable and focusing on his job was nearly impossible. He had already used up his sick days and vacation time going to doctors, but the sleeping pills the doctors prescribed him were of no help since they didn’t keep the nightmare away. At night he would continue to work on the house to busy himself to avoid sleeping. He thought about moving out once, but realized that he was broke after spending every dollar he had on the house. Leaving now was financially impossible. After a while, even the idle work around the house wasn’t enough to distract his mind from the lingering images of the nightmare. The house would creek and moan at night causing his heart to race. Sometimes while working in the basement he thought he could hear heavy footsteps coming from the rooms above. When this happened, Brad would often do his best to be as quiet as he could, not moving, and sometimes hiding for hours on end.
The winter grew colder and the nightmare became more intrusive. No longer was it secluded to his time asleep. The images had become so invasive that sometimes small snippets of the horrid dream would play out like a slideshow when he would close his eyes.
Deprived of rest and fearful of sleep, Brad did his best to fill the hours of the night. He was sluggishly moping around the basement attempting to work one cold wintry Friday night, when the images started bombarding him every time he blinked eyes. The sights became too much for him to witness. The images terrified him, and each image from the nightmare would send his heart racing faster and faster. Paranoia overwhelmed him and he knew he had to get out of the house, now. He rushed up the basement stairs, pounding his feet as hard and fast as he could, leaping up the steps three at a time. The sense of dread turned his blood to ice as he reached the top of the stairs to find that the door was shut and locked. ‘Why was the door locked!?’ he screamed in his head, frantically jiggling the knob. He never locked the door to the basement before; hell he never even shut it when he was working down here. Beating on the door was pointless. No matter how much he pounded or pushed on the door, it would not give. In the midst of his panic the lights went out, enveloping him in darkness. Brad redoubled his efforts, pounding and kicking the door with all his might. His hands were beginning to hurt and when he could no longer stand the pain shooting through them, he reluctantly gave up.
He was trapped in the darkness, scared and he could feel tears welling up in his eyes as hopelessness overcame him. It was like being a little kid again, only now he was a grown man afraid of the dark. ‘Why is this happening to me’, he thought to himself, wiping tears away on his arms. The only consolation he found was that the images of the dream had stopped appearing every time he blinked. For one brief moment maybe he could breathe easy, he thought, till a chill ran up his spine as faint crying started coming from the bottom of the steps. At first he hoped it was some kind of strange echo of his own sobbing, but it wasn’t. The voice was that of a woman and she sounded like she was in pain. The hair on the back of his neck began to rise as the air around him took on an eerie chill. He knew for certain that he didn’t hear anyone come into the house the entire time he was down in the basement. He tried again to attribute the sound to something less frightening in a fruitless attempt to quell his fear. ‘Perhaps the sound was from the old pipes in the house or possibly the rickety floors above’, he imagined without hope.
No matter how hard he tried he could not deny it; the sounds coming from the bottom of the steps were human and not his own. Trapped at the top of the stairs, his stomach knotted as the realization dawned on him that the only other way out was on the other side of the basement. Slowly he walked down the stairs, clinging to the small narrow banister, letting it guide his descent through the darkness. Called out below was useless. The only reply was the continuing sobs of a hurt woman pleading to make the pain stop.
As he reached the bottom of the stairs the pleas moved away and now came from the less used area of the basement, near the furnace. Brad was unfamiliar with this part of the house since he had not had seen the need to do much work there. Only on one occasion did had he gone to that room before. It was so dark down here; he could see nothing in front of him and groped blindly along his path. His adrenaline was pumping and every nerve in his body told him to run back up the stairs, but now something sinister forced his body to navigate towards the woman’s crying.
“I don’t want to...” he whispered quietly into the dark, his voice trembling as he squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block the woman’s crying out of his mind. Step by step his feet moved forward, pulling him along in the darkness, never once tripping or bumping into anything. He was pulled closer to the crying and further into the darker parts of the basement. He begged in whispers for it all to stop, but he continued into the darkness, one step after the other. The crying was becoming less distanced and grew in volume. It was becoming too loud and too real for him to bear. There should be no one down here. He knew for sure that he was alone in the house. The strangely familiar lamenting defied all reasoning his frantic mind could muster. Just as he felt himself slipping away into the dark hysteria, the room exploded with light as a single bulb lit up from above shining ever so brightly. The room went silent and Brad felt some small relief as the woman’s cries disappeared with the darkness. Was he losing his mind, or had he lost it already, he wondered to himself. He was so tired and had not actually slept for so many nights. He just wanted this to end. All he wanted to do was sleep in a warm comfortable bed, covered under a layers of blankets with the heater on as high as it would go. Lately, the nights had grown so cold leaving a permanent chill that seemed never to leave his body.
He surveyed his surroundings; to his left was the furnace and in front of him were some old bookshelves left behind from the previous owner. He sat in the furnace room for a few moments, basking in the light from the little naked bulb directly above. Finally after a few more moments Brad made up his mind to pull himself away, hoping the ordeal was over. Just as he was about to turn away, the bookshelves collapsed in on themselves, sending dust flying into the air. The dust forcibly invaded his nostrils and mouth, coating his throat and causing him to cough violently until his chest to ached terribly.
After a moment he managed to stifle the coughing fit and take in a few deep breaths to calm himself. He glanced over towards where the bookshelves had been only to see a cinder-block wall that was previously hidden. A dozen or more of the cinder-blocks were newer than the rest. The air took on a pungent odor, mingling with the already present chill.
Brad’s heart began to race with a fresh new sensation of fear. He wanted to turn to run, but his legs betrayed him. No matter how much he screamed at them in his mind to flee, they would not comply. His whole body shivered, not from the cold, but from shock. He had not slept in so long; his body was exhausted and his mind was on the brink of plummeting into a dark place that he knew it would never return from. His nightmare had crossed over into his reality and it was more than he was capable of handling. He stood frozen, a prisoner of the house, staring at a wall, watching it as it started to bleed. Tiny droplets formed on the surface, and slowly rolled their way down to the floor, leaving crimson streaks behind. Brad could not believe what he was seeing, and wanted so desperately to leave, yet his body would not comply.
“Ohmygod!, ohmygod!, ohmygod!…, he muttered over and over into the empty room, tears streaming down his cheeks as he begged not to watch. No matter what he tried, he could not turn his gaze from the blood as it trickled down the wall. Every part of his mind screamed, terrified as his legs slowly began to propel him forward towards the blood soaked wall. He began to scream so hard and so loud that his ears ached from the volume and the sound tore at his throat like tiny shards of glass. He pleaded for his life, as his hand rose by its own volition, reaching out towards the crimson wall. His hand, by its own will, pressed flatly against the wall and Brad felt the still warm blood as it pored between his fingers and over the back of his hand. His mind screamed as his vision tunneled, giving the sensation of falling down a deep and dark well.
Visions exploded in his mind’s eye. He was back in the nightmare again, but it felt too real to be a mere dream this time. He was lying in the dark on the basement floor again; pain throbbing in his left arm causing him no end of agony. The ribs along his side felt like sledgehammers beating him into submission. He lay there, sobbing, begging for someone to save him. Little spears shot through from behind his head, where he had hit it on the floor. His eyes would close and blackness would encompass him. The aching from his body would force him awake again, screaming from the torture that it was going through. He was so thirsty; how long had he been lying down here. His throat was so dry and his empty stomach emanated a dull ache as it begged to be filled. Again the world faded to black. He woke up again and still found that he was lying at the bottom of the stairs. He was feverishly cold now, and his injured arm sent fiery jolts throughout his body. His lips were dry and cracked; the pain of hunger had only grown, providing a constant slow torture adding to his misery. Jackhammers danced on the back of his head, and keeping his eyes open was nearly impossible, even though he was in the dark. ‘Why has no one come for me’, he wondered to himself, ‘Didn’t anyone notice that I was missing?’
He was so tired, and his was hurt and starving. Agony wracked his wracked body, and it was the only thing keeping him from sleeping. He just wanted to rest. He knew that sleep would deliver him from the pain of his body. With those last thoughts the world faded to darkness, and he welcomed it.
Brad’s eyes opened and he found himself in the little furnace room of the basement with the single bulb up above, burning bright. His hand was still pressed flatly against the wall where the shelving once stood. There was no blood on the wall or on his hand. Brad quickly pulled his hand away from the wall and took a couple of steps back, able to control his body again. A feeling of purpose came over him, and a sense of direction was instilled in his mind. The fear that had once penetrated him so deeply was now absent, with no lingering trace left behind. There was a terrible secret behind that wall, a secret that should not have been kept. He knew what was important now. He thought back at how he had spent months repairing leaky pipes, replacing old windows, plastering holes in the wall, poring every spare penny he had into making the house look nice. All of that was meaningless to him to now. He knew what was really wrong with his new home. It was late at night and he knew he had to get to bed. Tomorrow was the weekend and he wanted to get an early start on fixing his home, really fixing it. He knew he would sleep well tonight. The house would not have any problems tonight, and would not wake him up. It would let him sleep a deep and refreshing sleep because there were so many problems his home needed him to fix; important problems that could not simply be patched over or refinished.
He thought lovingly of his new home. His home was like person to him now, like a companion. He would take care of her.
‘This will be a good home’, Brad thought aloud, ‘I will make it a good home…’
‘…for both of us.’
Steven H. DeMars