Much of my life has played out in one rehab circle or another, so you can take my story or leave it. All I can do is tell it, tell the truth…and the truth is, I’m not even sure I believe it.
My mother was one of those people who collected souls. Vagrants, husbands kicked out for the night, down and out relatives, everyone and anyone was welcomed to grab a meal or a bed in her old farmhouse. As you can imagine, this opened up our world–me and my two brothers—exposing us to endless possibilities through stories and illegal substances. Instead of our minds being stuffed with skewed parental beliefs, closed off and capped…we soared, we expanded, we soaked up lore and logic, creating an environment where anything could happen. And eventually something did.
It began with a dream.
I could see myself sleeping; blanket tossed on the floor, one arm thrown over my head, chest rising and falling in soothing slow motion. Then I could see the wall alongside my bed breathing; white plaster pushing out, sucking back in. IN. OUT. Eventually, the bulge expanded like a balloon and began to move. It slid toward the adjacent wall and turned the corner, ending up behind my headboard. I watched beads of sweat form on my sleeping self’s forehead. My breathing became jagged, more like panting. Suddenly, large hands pushed through the wall as if the wall was giving birth, stretching out, reaching for my sleeping self. Blood trickled down the arms in thin channels, rolled over the knuckles and dripped from the fingertips onto my white pillow. I tried to scream, ‘Wake up!’ No sound would come. My sleeping self whimpered as the hands wrapped around my throat. I wheezed, my air cut off, my eyes bulging under the pressure.
Brrrrring. Brrrrrring. Brrrrring.
Startled, I jumped up and slammed my hand down on the alarm, knocking it to the floor. Something wet remained on my face. I ran into the bathroom and collapsed in relief. Tears….no blood. I checked my neck. No signs of being strangled by some lunatic behind the wall.
“Just a bad dream.” I reassured myself. “A really bad dream.”
My hands were still shaking as I buttered my toast at breakfast.
“You all right, Joan?”
“Fine, Mother.” I rolled my eyes. Why was she always so observant?
A week later, I wasn’t feeling so fine. I was still having the dream, only it was starting to cross some kind of barrier. What do I mean? I really have no idea. All I know is, it was becoming stronger, breaking through to the physical world. The hands were beginning to leave marks. Finger imprints on my neck that I would wait to fade before heading downstairs for breakfast.
I decided to move my bed to the center of the room.
There was a new guy at the table that morning. He looked like I felt: sleepless and scared out of his mind. I glanced at him as I reached for the butter.
“He’s your cousin, Marti, from New York. Say hi.”
“Hey,” I waved. He looked fried. Mother smiled and began to make small talk with him about his bus ride, some family up north, whatever. I was just glad she had someone else to worry about that morning. I was in no mood for her scrutinizing. I glanced at my older brothers, realizing they were unusually quiet.
“What’s wrong with you two?” They both looked drained of blood.
“Nothing,” Jacob answered without looking up. Bobby ignored me.
No snappy comebacks or cut downs? Something was definitely wrong.
Brrrrring. Brrrrrring. Brrrrring.
I jerked up, gasping for air. It hadn’t worked. The bloody arms had just stretched, gotten longer to reach me. This time they tried to drag me from my bed. I ran from the room and slammed the door behind me.
That morning at breakfast, I had an idea.
“Mom, I think Marti should sleep in my room. I’ll sleep on the couch for awhile. It doesn’t look like he’s getting much rest.”
“How thoughtful of you, Joan.” She beamed at Marti, who really did look like he could use somebody to knock him on the skull and put him out for a few days. Anyway, I knew this would work because mother was always trying to instill unselfishness in us. She looked at my brothers and I noticed her smile wane.
“You two sick or something?”
“Can’t sleep, stupid nightmares,” Bobby grunted. Jacob reached over and popped him in the arm. “Ow!”
“Jacob, don’t hit your brother.”
At this point, I had dropped my toast and my jaw. Nightmares?
With that one word, I had silenced both my brothers and watched terror widen their eyes for the first time in my life. I nodded. It felt good not to be crazy, at least.
A week later there was a new guy at the table. He was tall, pale with minty, round eyes; almost otherworldly.
“This is Samael.”
We all stared at her. Just ‘Samael,’ no long lost cousin, uncle, friend, grocery store bum?
“You all right, Mom?”
“Yes, of course.”
We glanced at each other and then at Samael.
He was calmly reaching for the butter, with mom smiling beside him like she was on something. I felt my face drain, my heart begin to race. His hands were large, each knuckle and vein very familiar to me. I glanced up the stairs.
“Mother? Where’s cousin Marti?”
“I don’t know.” She looked confused suddenly. “I guess he decided to move on.”
Samael’s eyes gleamed. My brothers and I excused ourselves from the table, making our way upstairs one at a time, trying not to draw Samael’s attention.
Then we all stood around my bed, staring at the blood spots dried brown on the pillow. Bobby began to cry.
Bobby doesn’t remember it happening like this. He became a psychiatrist. Jacob remembers it being worse. He became a priest.
And me? Well…I became a writer.
(photo credit: Hendrike)