The bathroom tile was icy on Sam’s feet. The room dark, gray, and desolate like the inside of a long-forgotten cave abandoned by miners eras ago. Sam leaned into the hollow wooden door—pressed her back to it. Her breath ragged and sharp as it hissed from her lungs. She attempted to blink away the darkness, but her eyes wouldn’t adjust. There were no slivers, no pinpricks of light seeping in from the moonless night. Sam’s lungs rattled like a beggar’s coin can. She covered her mouth with her hands—a futile attempt to stifle her terror. The floorboards in her bedroom groaned. A loud thud, followed by glass shattering, shoved Sam deeper into the recesses of the barren bathroom. Silence. A high-pitched squeak reverberated ominously in the darkness, and a rush of water began flowing into the porcelain bathtub.
Sam’s eyes darted blindly, seeking the hand that twisted the knob. Her ears perked, knowing everything inside the usually mundane room was wrong—menacing. The water wasn’t gushing forth as smooth and freely as water should. It was trembling, lazy. Sam tiptoed to the tub, two outstretched fingers reaching to the gelatinous sounding water. The liquid was warm, sticky. Sam jerked her hand away, holding her soaked fingers to her face. Emptiness, her hand was gone, disappeared into a wasteland of nothing. She whimpered and shuffled back to the door when she felt something, a piece of mutant ivy, grasp her ankle. Sam shrieked as she shook her foot furiously. Her body slammed involuntarily against the puny white door. The foggy claws released her, but around Sam’s ankles the evidence of invasion was clear. In the darkness, something inky—blacker than night—crept under the infinitesimal crack between the carpet and the door. The distorted, muddled shadow of tentacles seeped in, dragging themselves inch by gruesome inch. The rest was coming. Sam clutched her throat and screamed.
Fluffy white foam clung to Sam’s upper lip. She sipped absentmindedly at her caramel cappuccino—it’s sweetness tickled the tiny bumps on her tongue and scorched her esophagus. The café was filled with vibrations. Mismatched tea cups tinkled behind the counter, paper rustled quietly as book pages flipped, and the bearded hipster behind her punched typewriter keys. Jackie had been chortling about something for nearly twenty minutes, but the words were cluttered and chaotic. Sam hadn’t heard anything Jackie had said.
“Can you believe he said that? Sam? Hello, are you even listening?”
Sam used the heel of her palm and dug at her eye sockets. “Sorry, I’m just so tired.”
“You look like shit.”
“Thanks. Appreciate it.”
Jackie leaned in across her still steaming latte. “Are they happening again?”
“I’d rather not talk about it, Jackie.”
“Better out than in.”
“Yeah, ok. It’s been like, an every night thing.” Sam rubbed her eyes again and took another sip of cappuccino. She sat in the aluminum mid-modern chair as if she could tighten herself into a ball. As if the smaller Sam became, the less likely evil would be to find her. Crouched over, arms across her chest, knees tucked up—Sam was her own forcefield. Except that the monsters and demons and evil spirits were only an infection wreaking havoc inside her mind. None of them could touch her out here. “I don’t know. Maybe I need a med adjustment.”
“Those pharmaceuticals are nothing but trouble,” Jackie snorted and waved her hand in the air. “Tell me about them.”
“Come out with it. Leaving them roaming around in there isn’t going to help.”
“It’s just the usual. That weird monster thing—”
“I love the Lovecraft monster dreams.”
“Yeah,” Sam hissed, “they’re a lot of fun.”
“Just the usual.”
“I thought the dreamcatcher I got at that place in New Mexico helped.”
Sam winced, “It did. I don’t know why. Superstition probably. At any rate, it doesn’t now.”
“It’s been two years. Have you had it cleaned?” Jackie asked as she dipped a chocolate chip biscotti into her over-sized mug.
“Is that a thing?”
“Sam, honestly, Google is your friend. Yes, you have to have them cleaned periodically. They get full. I imagine yours is overworked, and as crowed as Penn Station.”
Sam twisted the leopard print key that opened her front door. It creaked open, she kept forgetting to buy WD-40 at the store. Sam stepped inside fumbling with the canvas tote on her shoulder—off balance with a gallon of milk, coffee pods, bananas, and the increased dosage of antipsychotics Dr. Black had called in.
The kitchen was dimly lit. The only window let in an awkward, lazy orange glow that shone like a dying spotlight on the kitchen sink. Sam shambled through the doorway and flicked the light switch—a fat calico, asleep on the kitchen table, startled and stared at her angry for the intrusion. It screeched, stretched, and leapt away.
“Sorry to disturb you, your highness,” Sam grumbled as she tossed the canvas tote on the table.
The milk jug was slick with condensation, the plastic had begun to warm, and Sam scurried to place it in the fridge. Her foot slipped in something slimy and slid clumsily away from her body. Sam righted herself and lifted her foot—concerned she had stepped in some horrid cat surprise. Strings of gleaming crimson stuck like taffy forming an intricate network of gore between Sam’s shoe and the sky blue tiled kitchen floor. It made a sticky peeling sound like elementary kids who have methodically glued their hands together. The color drained from Sam’s face leaving her wilted, a corpse in a casket. Her hands shook, and the sweaty jug of milk dislodged itself from her fist—it jiggled when it hit the tile and transformed into the White Sea as the fluid slithered across the floor.
Sam’s head shot up, interrupting her reverie over the milk puddle, when she heard a guttural growl emanate from down the hall. Now, she noticed more globs of viscous, bloody matter, like spackle, on the walls and furniture. The ruby red masses seemed to glow and pulsate. They oozed thick creamy blood that stained the surface they were fixed to. Sam sucked in jagged breath and turned toward the origin point of the menacing growl, leaving the milk to warm and curdle. As she moved, her shoe stuck to the tile as if there were a fresh wad of gum pulling at the sole.
A fuzzy bleakness had fallen over the skinny hallway that led to the bedrooms in the back of Sam’s house. Rich, black dust floated like snow from the ceiling. Sam covered her mouth, fearful of breathing in the alien particles. Unable to see in the darkness, Sam reached out and rattled the light switch. Her fingers brushed one of the illuminated cells. The domed light above Sam didn’t respond. Adrenaline began to rush through Sam’s veins, warming her body, making her limbs tingle with horror. Sam turned to recede back to the light of her kitchen. The hallway door slammed, and another grinding growl shook the closed hallway. Sam recoiled. Two yellow eyes glared at her from the smog inside her blackened bedroom. Between Sam and the yellow-eyed creature stood her little calico, Charlie. The cat growled again, its long, sharp fangs displayed as a warning to the shadowy monster.
Sam sneezed at the strange tickle on her septum. She reached up to rub her nose only for her hand to be met by a mound of fur and whiskers—a sandpaper tongue. “Charlie?” Sam groaned, and she stroked the fat, over-sized cat.
Violet stained light seeped in through Sam’s living room window. The television was silent—stuck on a screen that asked, “Are you still watching?” and Sam stared at the ceiling fan from her gray couch wondering when she had fallen asleep. She picked Charlie up and gave her a quick cuddle. The cat purred loudly. Sam relished the vibration against her chest—let it ground her in reality, the safety of her quiet living room. But she couldn’t go on existing with the line blurred between the waking world and the darkness of her nightmares.
Perhaps Jackie had been right about the dreamcatcher. Sam remembered when Jackie had given it to her. Jackie had gone to some New Age retreat—something about yoga or crystals or finding your Zen—maybe it was all the above. Jackie had traveled nearly 2000 miles from Pennsylvania to an isolated place in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Jackie had bought the handmade dreamcatcher, lilac ribbon wound around the outside and a shiny silver moon charm dangling from the woven center, from a Native American woman with a stand on the side of the road. Sam had never believed in superstition, but she accepted the gift. It was a pretty piece of art to hang above her bed. But the nightmares did seem to stop for a little while. Sam had felt so relieved. She could sleep, concentrate on work, and she was even able to lower her medication doses.
Sam scratched Charlie’s belly absentmindedly—the fat calico had been just a baby when Jackie brought the dreamcatcher to Sam—it gave her the opportunity to raise the cat to be friendly and warm. Charlie wasn’t evasive and stuck up like most cats. Sam reached for her laptop and opened the internet browser. Google is your friend. She typed, “clean dreamcatcher” into the search bar.
Sam received a litany of answers to her question. Most of them were answers that she didn’t think would be helpful in the long run. Websites that gave step-by-step instructions on gently hand washing a woven dreamcatcher. How to use apple cider vinegar, bleach, or some other household product to make the object sparkle again. No, none of this was useful advice. Sam didn’t want to disinfect the thing—not like that. Finally, on page three she stumbled upon a website that she thought seemed helpful. Zenith Starr, a self-proclaimed witch who seemed to know the ins and outs of the New Age/ Spiritual stuff that Sam was utterly unaware of. Sam scoured her website for contact information, decided to request a skype session with Zenith, and then went to the kitchen in search of something that resembled dinner.
“I just don’t see why on Earth you’d go and contact some random ‘witch’ on the internet when I know plenty of people.” Jackie chastised as she crunched away on her salad.
“I don’t know. I guess I was desperate. Her website looked legitimate.”
The two had met for their usual Wednesday lunch at The Olive. The cozy Mediterranean diner was quaint and vibrant. Art decorated the walls in color schemes that weren’t intended to match. Designs and patterns were uncoordinated causing patrons’ eyes to dart from one wall to the next. All of them were for sale. The waitstaff were all bright and chipper with glossy smiles. It was almost off-putting. The music piped in over the sound system was too loud for a lunch crowd—it seemed more appropriate for nightlife, but Jackie adored the place. Sam thought the food was palatable.
Jackie scoffed, “Oh, like that’s difficult. A legitimate looking website is pretty easy to come by if you have any kind of basic computer knowledge.”
“What can it hurt? Worst case scenario, I waste a half hour on a skype call,” Sam said through a mouthful of grilled chicken.
“Those type of people are scam artists, Sam. They prey on sick people. It starts off innocent and before you know it you’re giving her your credit card number in exchange for tarot readings and dream analysis.”
“Says the girl who can’t tell the difference between being awake and asleep.”
“I can tell.”
Jackie sneered at Sam and sipped her unsweetened iced tea. Tiny drops of water dripped onto her cleavage.
“I can,” Sam protested, “just as soon as Charlie wakes me up.”
“Mmmhmm. You have an unhealthy codependent relationship with that cat. Anyway, why don’t you let me introduce you to my guru, Mark? He could really help you.”
“You know I’m not really into all that stuff,” Sam muttered into a fork full of antipasto salad.
Jackie raised an eyebrow, “What time is your skype with the incredible, mystical Zenith?”
At 7:03 p.m. Charlie was kneading on Sam’s belly, purring rhythmically, and Sam was beginning to rethink her rendezvous with Zenith, when the screen on Sam’s laptop blinked and the white box emitted a ding alerting her to a call. Sam answered.
“Hello, are you Sam?” a pale-faced, black-haired woman said from the monitor. Her lips were stained a deep raspberry hue. She had what looked like tiny star tattoos around her left temple. A silver filigree ring dangled from her septum.
“Yes,” Sam hesitated, “you’re Zenith?”
“I am,” Zenith answered in a sweet relaxed voice. “You said in your message you had some questions about cleansing.”
“A dreamcatcher,” Sam blurted.
“You need to cleanse a dreamcatcher?”
“Yes. I think so.”
“What makes you think that?”
“My friend Jackie said they have to be cleaned or they won’t work anymore. I—I have nightmares. The thing worked at first, but it isn’t now. Do you know how I can clean it?”
Zenith sat silently on the screen, rubbing her hands together as she processed the information Sam had unloaded on her. “Well, that’s a lot Sam. First, where did you get the dreamcatcher? You know those store-bought ones are junk, right?”
“Jackie brought it back from New Mexico. She bought it from a Native American woman.”
“Power of suggestion probably isn’t the problem then.”
“What?” Sam asked.
“It’s probably not that it was junk all along and your brain finally worked it out,” Zenith explained. “What’s your diagnosis?”
“Your diagnosis, Sam.” Zenith said softly, tilting her head to the side, “What are they medicating you for?”
Sam quickly glanced around her. There was no pill bottle, no paper prescription, no evidence tossed aside that would alert Zenith of her medical status. “PTSD. Anxiety. They say I experience psychosis.”
“The nightmares are a symptom?”
“I see. Well, you can certainly clean a dreamcatcher. It isn’t difficult. You can smudge it yourself with some sage or have someone who’s done it before do it for you.”
“What does that entail?”
“Mostly just letting the sage smoke waft over it. Focusing on your intentions. Sometimes people recite a verse. The important part is the focus.”
“That’s it?” Sam asked hotly. She was more than a little annoyed that cleaning the thing sounded no more difficult than lighting a cigarette. Sam began making a list of herbal stores where she might purchase sage. Charlie hopped in Sam’s lap and pawed at Zenith’s face.
“Oh!” Zenith squealed. “Aren’t you something?”
Charlie meowed at her.
“Watch out for your mommy. Sam, it isn’t as easy as you think. Find someone to help, ok. If you can’t find someone local, you can ship it to me and I can cleanse it for you. I charge $50 for this type of cleansing. Contact me if you need to.”
“Thanks.” Sam said.
Sam disconnected the call. Just like Jackie warned, Zenith attempted to sell a service by the end of the call. Something so simple for a pretty steep price tag. The whole thing seemed pretty hokie, but it was worth a shot.
Charlie’s face hovered over Sam’s, her piercing neon green eyes stared ravenously into Sam’s dirty blue ones as if she were impatiently awaiting the answer to a life or death question. Charlie’s cotton candy nose twitched in the darkness, her whiskers tickled Sam’s cheeks. “Come on, Chuck.” Sam muttered contorting her face against fluff and lingering sleep. She hadn’t remembered a dream since she burned the white sage and cleansed the dreamcatcher. Sam wanted to linger in oblivion.
A worrying thump rebounded down the hallway. Charlie’s ears reversed—an attempt to decipher the noise. Sam stretched her neck, her eyes greeted by familiar blankness, and dropped her head back to her pillow. She fixed her eyes back on Charlie, reminded of her presence by the weight on her chest, and became acutely aware of a foreign patch on Charlie’s calico printed body.
“What’s on your chin, Charlie?” Sam whispered as she pulled a hand from under the comforter. Charlie stared, unmovable, as Sam wiped as her chin. The sticky substance was like blood, except that it was much darker. As if someone had been playing alchemist—mixing blood and black ink. Charlie sat upright and groomed herself.
“This isn’t real,” Sam said to herself. “This is a dream. Real Charlie is going to wake me up soon.” Charlie meowed indignantly then bounced from the bed to the floor where she waited with her tail pointed high in the air.
Sam rubbed her eyes. Her body was heavy, weighted deep in the cushion of the mattress. She didn’t want to pull herself from its safety. Sam knew that whatever Charlie was taking her to would be horrifying, but she also knew that if she stayed, it would come for her anyway. So, Sam heaved herself from the warm bed and into the frigid air. She found herself surrounded by a gray cloud tinged with the odor of tobacco smoke—fermented cherries, rotten wood, and overturned decaying graves. Charlie sauntered down the hall, and Sam padded after her.
The cloud and the scent followed Sam through the house. Charlie receded into the shadows, lost. In the living room the television flickered, the static on the screen jumping as if it couldn’t decide which channel of static it liked best. The pulsating globs clung to the walls, the couch, the doors and windows. Sam bypassed one and slid the curtain aside. Outside it looked like a nuclear bomb had gone off. Rubble was strewn everywhere. Cars lay on their sides. The only people to be seen positioned unnaturally like broken store mannequins—limbs fractured and lifeless.
Sam’s breath skipped as she inhaled. Her pulse raced. Another ominous bang resounded in her ear. She didn’t know whether it was Charlie or something more sinister. Sam moved lightly to the kitchen door. From the darkness inched misty black tendrils, creeping tentacles twirling and extending from an unknown host. Sam became stuck to the floor, unable to flee. Where would she have gone? Outside looked just as dangerous. The long gooey arms unfurled and curled, reaching, hunting for their target. The creature had been hungry for Sam. She knew it had wanted her, waited for her. Why wasn’t she waking up?
Sam felt the arms squeeze her ankles, leaving indents in her bare flesh. She trembled, willing herself not to scream. Charlie appeared suddenly, claws extended, fangs bright in the fog. The cat pounced drawing inky blood from the transparent monster. She tore at its flesh—flesh that Sam was sure didn’t exist—sending torn pieces floating in every direction. Sam and Charlie stood in a black pool of oily muck.
Orange light pierced the morning, flooding Sam’s room with warmth. Sam rolled in her bed protesting against daylight. She tossed an arm across the vast open space of her mattress and found soft fur vibrating next to her. Sam yawned and opened her eyes, Charlie slept contently stretched out across the blue sheet. Sam scratched Charlie’s belly, enjoying the feel of her fluffy fur, when she noticed crusty black stains on the cat’s white paws. Sam sat up to get a better view of Charlie’s mouth. Her chin was also black, caked in some kind of hardened goop. “What the hell?” Sam said aloud. She wondered what Charlie could have gotten into. Sam slid out of bed, her feet hit the floor with an uncomfortable crunch. She realized her feet, too, were crusted in dry ooze.
In the living room an ocean of dried black liquid and gummy tar stared at Sam as if they were old friends getting reacquainted. Sam furrowed her brow, she had never seen anything like this before in all her life.
#Dreamcatcher #HumpdayHorror Copyright 2018 Kira McKinney
Welcome to my blog. Sit back and enjoy a short story, a poem, or some flash fiction--whatever I have recently cooked up. I will post a new piece as often as possible. Check back once a week to see what's new.