By: The Earthotic Way
My breathing seemed odd, labored and shallow. It was too dark to see my surroundings, but something had frightened me. My hands were outstretched defensively. What was it?
A stray cobweb tip-toed across my face, making me jump. I swatted at it, but soon realized it was just a pull string to an unseen lightbulb above. Heart thudding with the ice choking my veins, a realization dawned on me. My mind lurched with the knowledge I was back in my grandmother’s cellar.
Please, no, it couldn’t be. I don’t want to see. I don’t want to go back there and see them. Not again.
The light snapped on above me. It was always the same, the flickering movie reel having played out dozens of times in the dream theater of my mind. It never changed. The worn wooden steps always led downward into the swollen darkness reaching for me on the stairs. Each one creaked with my passing, leading me to the dreaded floor. It was there where the secrets waited, culling the darkness, whispering of rot and decay within the dirt.
Wall to wall.
Corner to corner.
Cursed, cool, dirt.
The light bulb never dispelled all of the shadows, the corners festering with them, the cellar watching with held breath, waiting for me.
“Dad! Dad! Wake up. Come on!”
Small hands bombarded my chest, the dusty remnants of the nightmare fading as sunlight cascaded through the blinds. Jonah, my youngest son, was doing his best to wake me. His older brother, Micah, must’ve been too busy watching cartoons to be bothered.
“I’m up, buddy.”
“No, you’re not. You’re still in bed.”
Seven-year-old logic is undeniable.
“You’re right, bud.”
Even in the daylight, I could feel the chill, a thick scent coming to me.
“It’s Saturday. Mom’s making breakfast. You can’t sleep the day away. We were going to the lake, remember?”
I’d forgotten. I closed my eyes and rubbed my hands across my face to try and tease the dusty tendrils of sleep into the light so they’d let go and I could fully wake up. When I opened them, Jonah was gone and I was alone in the bedroom.
I checked the basement door on the way to kitchen, making sure it was still locked. Shivering, I walked into the kitchen, smelling bacon and eggs.
The lake was wonderful. The late summer weather was still hot enough to ward off the impending chill of fall, the sky full of stacked white bits of fluff, their shadows spilling across the water.
“This was a good idea,” Faye said, taking my hand, our lawn chairs side by side, the boys playing in the water.
She was right. I nodded to her.
“You sleeping okay?”
I knew it wasn’t a question so much as a statement.
“No, I’ve been having the dreams again.”
“Nightmare, you mean?”
Shrugging, I leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes. I didn’t want to talk about it. I started to cry, the tears quick and hot against my cheeks, Faye’s hand no longer in mine. A few people looked at me strangely, the chair empty.
I wondered how the dirt always felt so cool under my bare feet. It never made any sense to me. The chilled touch always felt so good on a summer day but sometimes at night Grandma would send me down to get some preserves. I noticed certain places smelled worse than others then, the dirt darker, more secretive, almost sinister. I never liked those places much and always avoid walking on them. They brought back too many memories. I didn’t like memories.
“Can we get Tastee Freeze on the way home?”
I’d fallen asleep, the sun working its magic. I opened my eyes and smiled. Faye had a playful light in her eyes, biting her lower lip as a smile crept across her face. She caught me off guard sometimes with how beautiful she looked, heart feeling pinched.
“I don’t know about Tastee Freeze,” I said, trying to keep the smile from my lips, laughter in my voice.
“You don’t, huh?” Faye tickled me, my hands reaching to tickle her too. We were being silly, never caring what others thought. People were looking at me again and I wondered if I’d said something I shouldn’t have.
“We should support local businesses. There’s not a lot of money out this way.”
I shrugged, looking at the smattering of people enjoying the beach like we were. The parking lot had beat up vehicles from two decades ago, plastic bags for windows and duct tape holding bumpers in place.
“True,” I said, though I didn’t like saying it.
Back home I felt relaxed, the day so nice. It’d been awhile since we’d done anything as a family. Made me a little sad to think about.
“Are you taking your meds?”
And there it was.
The question which always cut me to the quick. She knew how to do it better than anyone.
“Yeah.” I lied I hadn’t taken my meds in over a year. What was the point? They weren’t doing me any good and besides, I was doing fine. I hadn’t had an episode in months.
“Maybe you should see Dr. Patrick again.”
I cleared my throat.
“Maybe.” I didn’t want a confrontation so close to bedtime. It always made things slide sideways.
I climbed into bed, Faye beside me, the boys already asleep, the lake having worn them out. Struggling to fall asleep, I reached for Faye, an odd scent wafting upward.
“Dad can you come down here, please?”
It was Micah. Walking through the kitchen, I realized the basement door was open. But it wasn’t my basement door. It was a door that didn’t belong.
His voice called again from somewhere below me.
“Hon, are you okay?” I turned toward the voice expecting Faye but instead I took a step back, standing face to face with my grandmother. It couldn’t be. She’d been dead for nineteen years.
What was happening?
I was far from it, hands shaking, legs ready to buckle. Maybe I’d waited too long to wake from the nightmare this time.
Walking down the steps, I knew Micah wasn’t waiting for me. None of them were. Faye. Jonah. They’d been gone a long time. A long, long time. The basement floor was concrete in our house, but that’s not where we were. I remembered now, the nightmare in bloom around me. My laughter skittered around me. I’d moved them so we could be closer. I’d left our empty house around the same time I quit taking my meds.
I was lonely.
I took off my shoes and socks and walked barefoot in the cool dirt of my grandmother’s basement floor. This time, I didn’t avoid the darker patches. I knew what they were. Smiling, I welcomed them and sought them out. I knew exactly where they all were. After all, I put them there. Each one.
I felt like I needed a little company and began to dig.