This is part of a series of night terrors, sleep paralysis, and strange dreams I’ve had over the years.
The shadows threatened to eat me alive as I stood still. I gazed up at the ceiling as they pulsated around me, and I realized I’d been staring at the door to my office for some time. I checked my watch. It was three in the morning, which meant everyone would be gathering soon in the living room downstairs. Not that it was a living room anymore. We’d stripped the carpet from the old wood, but the walls were still crimson with an intricate white design. The furniture was absent save for a large fireplace and whatever ritual materials were required.
I blinked hard to clear the fog and slipped into my bedroom. A dark form was sprawled out on the bed, and upon extending my hand toward it, my fingers met with coarse fur covering a cold body. I jerked back and clenched my jaw. A dog. My dog.
My lungs burned with emotion as I spun from the room and was claimed by the shadows in the hall once more. Was it them? Did those bastards kill my dog for some sick communion that had gone too far? I’d been a fool to get involved with such lunatics, but after my wife left me with nothing, I was prepared to do anything for money. Even if it meant hosting freak shows downstairs that I was never to speak of.
My body lunged forward as I grabbed for a door that was no longer there. Pain shocked my wrists as I looked out into a hall where my office should have been, and I climbed to my feet to continue. My office was somewhere. It had to be. It was there yesterday and the day before.
I paused and took in the squirming shadows. The walls were breathing. The house was alive, and I knew it was their fault.
I let out a primal sound of frustration as both fear and exhaustion overwhelmed me. These strange rituals that happened night after night finally took their toll, and they were beginning to shift reality. I’d been a spectator on the third night — dawned in the plain black robes they required with nothing underneath. The room had been silent save for the crackling fireplace, and the orange flames danced like spirits on the walls as a golden chalice was raised. It held a liquid I was better a stranger to. There was no chanting but continued silence as the circle remained still. I glanced from one person to the next to see they’d been completely enraptured in the moment. The red sigil beneath all of us had begun to glow, and it was the moment I realized I’d gotten in over my head.
The days that followed were the beginning of something horrible. I would fall asleep in my bedroom with my dog at my feet, and by morning, I’d awaken in a room I’d never seen before. I tried to stay awake after that. It didn’t help. I would pass out for an hour or two before I’d awaken again, and the inevitable would happen. Last night, I hadn’t slept a wink.
And yet, I wandered throughout my own house as it led me somewhere new once more, although I was awake for it. I paused. A different floor was best.
I backtracked to the stairs and descended. To my relief, my office was waiting for me and I raced inside and slammed the door. I didn’t give a damn if it interrupted my distinguished guests. I was done.
Fishing through my desk, I tugged a top drawer until a gun rattled into my eager hand. As I clicked the bullets into place, a knock resounded in the silence. There was only one person it could be, and his timing was impeccable. “Come in.”
A darkly robed figure drifted inside and stood before me. Despite being a man of few words, he uttered in a guttural tone, “You intend to kill me.”
“You killed my dog.” I cocked the gun and aimed it at the man’s head. “You’re fucking with my house. I didn’t agree to any of this.”
“You agreed to be our host and keep our secret.” The man held out a pale, wrinkled hand. “It is not the fault of my brethren nor I that you did not inquire further.”
“You didn’t say this shit was actually real!” The trigger clicked as I trembled. “You didn’t say you’d sacrifice my fucking dog for whatever abomination you’re trying to summon.”
The elder laughed in a way that sounded like a death rattle. “That was but a mere casualty in something greater. While I did not harm your pet, it seems something else did. We have been successful. We shall awaken the old ones in due time, and they shall swallow this world and end all of our suffering.”
“The old ones?” My gun lowered. “Is my house possessed?”
“Time has less meaning now than it did last night or the night before it.” The elder moved to the window to look outside. It was nearing dawn but still quite dark. The sky was a hazy burnt sienna. “The old ones exist outside of time — outside of this world. When they awaken, we will be one with them and at peace, and the time is nearly at hand.” The robed figure turned to me. “Reality is fading, and our next ritual will be our last. Your shifting environment is a sign of that success. We’ve reached the source and they have answered us.”
The man’s head cracked against the wall as I pulled the trigger. Gore smeared the window red as he died with a grin.
The gun fell from my hands and I stumbled forward before blacking out.
It wasn’t long before my eyes opened to the body slumped against the wall. My empty stomach lurched, but I swallowed down the bile as I rose with a powerful dizziness. I tried to think of my daughter for a reason to continue as I ascended the stairs, but as I reached the top floor and climbed through the open window in my bedroom, I remembered what I’d done. Oh god, my daughter.
I raced to the first floor, the house breathing and watching me as it allowed my path unhindered. The living room was larger than I remembered it, and the orange glow from the flames licked across that dreaded symbol on the floor. It was nothing Biblical, Satanic, or any kind of witchery I’d suspected. It was something that could only come from a mind as mad as the one splattered across my office window. On the other end of it against a wall, a small day bed rested with a young teenager’s body relaxed across it. I choked.
“Aggie.” The room split as I watched in horror, my own daughter in my arms hanging limp before lying her on the bed. I’d been possessed then and I knew it. The thing possessing this house was very much inside me, and it carried with it a cold emptiness of space.
The tear in time healed and the room was silent once more, but the decaying body on the bed sat up slowly to look at me. As still as a cobra eyeing its prey with certainty, Aggie stared through milky white eyes into my soul. Her dry mouth opened but nothing came forth.
“I’m sorry,” I cried. “Oh god. It was me.” I shook my head. “No, no it wasn’t me. These old ones… it was them. They’re inside me.” I realized then what my purpose was and why the elder allowed my presence during the rituals. I was a washed-up man with nothing to lose because I’d already lost everything. Who else would have been such a fool? The cult members had mentioned words I didn’t understand — of vessels and old gods and the great silence before everything. I hadn’t realized I was the perfect ignorant pawn. I knew none of it, and I was already empty inside swimming around in my own dark void.
I retraced my steps to leave the corpse behind. Shuffling feet alerted me to its presence, and I glanced back to see Aggie swaying in the shadows in silence. My legs were like lead as I tried to lose her, but each twist and turn brought her before me. If there was a kind and just God in existence, this was surely his doing to make me pay for what the old ones had made me do. To pay for my own weakness and ignorance.
The basset hound on the bed was festering with insects and bacteria as I approached the window again. Maybe things could be right once more. I glanced back at Aggie, who had taken to stroking the dog’s fur. The world was better without me. I was better without me.
Without another thought, I jumped.
The bright sun stung my eyes as I rolled over in bed. A sloppy tongue bathed my face with the stale smell of dog food, and my eyes shot open. “Bassie!” I opened my arms to hug the large hound as he fell into my lap, tail wagging enthusiastically and very much alive.
My head jerked in the direction of the hall, and through the open door I could make out the sound of crackling bacon on the stove. “Mary?” I mumbled the name as I slid from under the dog and made my way downstairs. My hands jumped to my loose tie and my white button-down shirt that was half-open. Must have fallen asleep working late again.
I sighed with relief at the sound of Aggie giggling outside. Everything was fine. We were fine and Mary was beautiful and Aggie was the light of my life.
I attempted a greeting as I rounded the stairs into the kitchen, but all was still. My brow furrowed as I approached the stove. “Shit!” I jerked my hand back from touching the cast iron pan to see red spreading across my palm. Racing to the sink, I flipped on the cold water and looked through the kitchen windows to see a quiet neighborhood. The sky was orange and the sun blurred behind a strange haze, and there was no soul to be found. Cars rested peacefully on the street and in driveways awaiting commute, and houses remained still as if tombs for the families that once dwelt within their walls.
Aggie and Mary were nowhere to be found. The living room was equally as scarce of life, but it had returned to its normal splendor of cream sofas and a coffee table, lamps, and a large wooden TV set on the floor with the dial set to channel 6. The picture moved in time, but there was no sound.
My office greeted me in its sterile glory, and I fell into my chair. The larger cabinet to the side swung open at my command and produced a large bottle of amber liquid, and I settled in to numb myself before I paused. The bottle crashed against the wall and sprayed amber in all directions.
A knock on the door brought my attention back around, and I remembered the gun in my drawer. No one should have been there. “Come in.”
The elder in his black robe greeted me once more, his hands out in a welcoming gesture. “All is well and good, and we must prepare for the ritual.”
There was no hindrance to the quick tug of my finger against the trigger, and the man swayed as the bullet pierced his forehead. My limbs grew cold as he continued to approach me. No blood or gore gushed forth as if he were a mere shell of a human.
I stumbled as I raced up the stairs, and upon reaching the top floor, the hallways plunged into darkness. The shadows undulated around me as I approached my bedroom window once again. The morning sun caused the atmosphere to sway in the heatwave as I climbed out, but before I was able to jump, I caught sight of the man on the lawn below. His hands were raised to the sky, and although I did not understand the strange language coming from his lips, something within me stirred. My blood turned to ice, and a haunting, bestial growl approached from high above the atmosphere. Daring to glance upward, the sky had begun to sway.
This time, with meaning, I leaped.
©2020 Shane Blackheart