When I move in with Francis, we know it is temporary. His fiancé will be arriving from Brazil before long and I will have to move out.
When that time comes, so does the For Rent sign in the yard a few doors down. A basement apartment in an old house built decades ago. I sign the contract with the owner and walk my belongings across the street over a couple of days.
There are six inches between my head and the ceiling. I have to stoop to enter the bedroom. Hilarious, cool, the place has character. The bedroom has one small rectangle of window at street level, and a side room that’s cozy and quiet, perfect for writing.
I’m moving my computer into the side room when I notice a door, tucked away. Should have seen it before but didn’t. The way the main door to the room opens conceals this other door. I thought I was seeing the whole room when I walked the place prior to signing. I wasn’t.
I stand there with my arms around my desktop, keyboard resting on top. I stare at the door, the door at me. I bend down, set my computer in the corner. I stare at the door.
The brass knob is cool when I touch it. Clacks as it turns. The door squeaks, swings into a dark space. A musty scent swirls. The space beyond is a closet. Piled to one side are a dusty vacuum, a broom, an old pair of shoes. The floor is tamped earth. The walls are earth. The walls don’t meet the ceiling, or rather, the underside of the house. It’s pier-and-beam, and enough sunlight leaks in at the edges that I can see without a light. I can see over the earthen mounds rolling to the corners. Someone could crawl over them. Crawl to this door.
My fingers fumble over the door knob, up and down the door jamb, looking for a lock. There is no lock. I try the door knob from the outside. I don’t want it to turn, but it does.
The door is the way in. It’s my dream.
I’ve been having a recurring dream since I was a child. In the dream, I’m living somewhere for a while. Once it was the house I grew up in. Once it was a dorm room. Once it was an old, musty house, huge and ancient, not unlike this one. Each time I discover there is more to the place than I ever knew. Stairs, hallways, rooms. As I discover, I sense… evil. I explore the place and feel this present evil overwhelm me, filling my chest like ice water. And I discover ways in. Windows thrown open. Rooms missing walls, opening into pavilions full of silhouettes, creatures unseen.
Here in the closet, like in the dream, fear floods my chest like ice water. The horror of the dream, the horror that can only be felt in a dream. That I’ve never felt outside the dream. I feel it.
But I am awake.
That night, I lay in bed, eyes wide. At best, my eyes close on the border of sleep not-sleep, then pop open. Come morning, I am in a haze, exhausted.
I phone the owner. He lives upstairs. He agrees to install locks. He will come this afternoon.
He does not come.
Next night, I’m in bed. I begin to drift. I startle myself awake, hearing things on the far side of the door. I shoot up in bed, sitting in the light from the rectangle of window above, my ear towards the door.
Morning of the third day. I stumble to the front of the house. My apartment key opens the front door of the house and I climb the stairs to 4B. I pound on the door and it swings open, but it’s not the owner, it’s Francis. He looks through me, like I’m not there. He steps through me, sees nothing. He smiles. He shuts the door, and before it closes, he says, “Almost time.”
I pull myself down the steps, out the door, across the lawn. I can’t move the way I want to, my arms heavy, the grass wet and swampy and the muck sucks at my ankles. I cross the street and struggle against gravity to my old apartment door. Francis’ door. I ball my fist to pound on the door but it passes through, and I follow, off-balance. Inside, two bodies wrestle on the floor. The owner rolls me over and straddles me with a knife. He plunges the blade into my belly and rips me up to my throat.
My scream is faint and distant. I push hard to make it come. I scream with all I’ve got but I can barely hear it. I scream as hard as I can and –
I wake myself up, jolt upright, clenching the covers. Streetlights shine through the one small rectangle of window at street level, in the bedroom of my basement apartment. All is quiet.
Elbows on knees, face in hands, in bed I sit. I rub my face, sigh.
I hear movement. Crawling. Muttering. They’re coming inside.
“No!” I shout.
“Yes,” says a voice.
“It’s time,” says another.
They reach for my bed, pull the covers. A dozen hands, gripping, groping. They clamp on my arms, my legs. I’m pulled to floor, dragged to the door.
“It’s fine, my love. It’s fine.”
“It’s time,” says Francis, who flashes before me and then is gone.
I ride their hands, rolling on their fingers into the side room, through the closet door into mustiness, over the mounds I float, their fingers under me like a bed of nails.
One of the earthen mounds is dug out. I drift toward it, fall in. I land on cool, dry earth, and they scoop the sides over my calves, my back.
“Yes yes, lovey. Yes.”
Earth covers my legs, my neck, but I still hear them. “Time to sleep, my love,” one says.
“Perchance to dream,” says another.
“Oh God,” I cry.
“You’re one of us now,” one says. “You sleep. Enter dreams.”
“Sleep and raid dreams.”
“Find others, make them dream. We go get them.”
My eyes are heavy, can’t keep them open. The fear I’ve only felt in nightmares. I want to wake up but I am not asleep.
“You’re one of us now.”
“Die, my darling.”
“Yes yes, my love. First you get real dead.”