I finally arrived home last night to find my visitor sitting on the front stoop, looking every bit as disheveled as that morning. I wasn't sure where he'd gone all day, and I was still a bit wary about his sudden presence, but I wasn't about to go back into my house alone.
He stood and began talking immediately upon seeing me, again apologizing and rambling on about how grateful he was and how I wouldn't even know he was there. Was he at all aware of the dark presence the place was casting across the neighborhood? It felt as if a silent giant sat hunkered down between the other houses, glaring at passersby out of sheer malice.
I unlocked the front door and gave it a little push, letting it swing inward, the evening light scattering shadows before us.
Seeing nothing amiss, I cautiously stepped in. My visitor immediately followed, moving to the couch and sitting. He took a moment to pop two pills, and then resumed talking as I explored the house.
Although I found nothing directly out of the ordinary, I had the oddest sense that the entire structure was no longer a closed unit, but, rather, the antechamber to some far more vast space. It felt like walking around in the front lobby of a church, with an elaborate cathedral hidden just beyond a set of doors I had yet to find.
Frustrated, I sat on the couch opposite my visitor. He commented about how exhausted I looked, and began commiserating about how tired he was due to his recent nightmares. With narrowed eyes, I watched him speak, realizing that he was talking about the same dream I'd been having.
Before I had a chance to get a word in edge-wise, he began slurring, and then tipped over.
Picking up his pill bottle from the coffee table, I found that he'd been taking sleeping pills. That made sense.
With no other option, I decided that I might learn more by tempting the dream again. After closing and locking all the doors in the house out of a sense of vulnerability - and taking care to block the guest room that still seemed to hold invisible menace - I reclined on my smaller couch opposite my already sleeping visitor, and resolved to keep my awareness as I fell into dreaming.
Thanks to my exhaustion, I was still able to fall asleep despite my intense stress. For a time, I hovered at the edge of awareness, clinging to thought in a sensationless well of darkness. At some indefinable point, I began hearing that subtle rush… but when I opened my eyes, I was no longer on the couch.
At first, I stared into darkness, thinking I'd awoken in the middle of the night… but as I moved my head, I began to perceive faint blurry orange… extremely dim hazy lines, dancing like fire in my vision. Beset by nausea, I tried to comprehend what I was seeing, but only managed to confuse myself further. The fuzzy orange lines were so faint that they seemed to almost disappear into blackness as I looked at them, until I learned to look away - perceiving them only with the edges of sight.
I realized that I was not imagining the surreal display when I raised my hand… and perceived a shaky orange blur in the rough outline of the fingers I expected.
The sound of moving air was louder here, as loud as my dreams the nights before, but I still felt no wind against my skin… if I still had skin here. Dizzy and spinning with sickness, I curled over and began crawling across what felt like rough, rotted wood. Spots of dry roughness crossed under my weak hands between random soggy bouts of mushy… something. Looking down, all I could see were incomprehensible patterns of blurry orange, interspersed with large patches of blackness.
My dazed crawl brought one of my outstretched hands against a chilly, coarse surface. My heart soared as I touched it, my senses instinctively recognizing cinder blocks. Whatever the hell was happening, there was at least some familiar element here, and I was not simply lost in an unbounded nightmare. Fighting my intense nausea to stand, I crept along the chill wall, trying to perceive anything ahead in the mad shifting darkness and blur.
My soul lit with hope as my hands found an edge, and then - a handle! It was a door! Swinging it open, I stumbled through, my head on fire and my limbs weak. It seemed every moment here made me feel progressively worse - but I had to see, had to know… something. The unknown object of my quest was up the rotting, half-mushy steps passing underneath my hands and knees… I just knew it. I couldn't spend another entire exhausted day not understanding what was happening in my home, and this had to be related.
Another door blocked my way up. Struggling to stand again, I reached for the knob - but it was gone, leaving only an empty circle. The door swung out, and I fell forward onto something my hands perceived as soggy dirt and matted carpet. Focusing, I managed to see a little more, as if this space had slightly more of the ghastly non-light that made every line and angle dance like shadowed flame.
Crawling forward, I was now more certain that I had awoken in some sort of basement, and had now managed to reach an analog of a living room. Here, that second inexplicable sound joined the first, that maddening metallic heartbeat mixing with the omnipresent roar to drown out the pained sounds of my own breathing.
Freezing in place, it hit me that I could hear and feel my own breathing. Was that supposed to happen in dreams?
While looking down in surprise, I managed to perceive a window out of the corner of my eye, and hurriedly crawled toward it while I had strength left. Each further motion spiked the dizzy sickness filling my head, but I pushed on, terrified of what I would see beyond, but seized by the desire to know…
Up close, I could tell that there were no curtains, and no panes. The wood lattice that had held the glass remained only in jagged splinters, long since rotted away. Gripping the frame, I lifted myself up and peered over.
The reaction seemed to start at my hands and feet, working the rest of the way through me in slow motion as bursting adrenaline fueled my perceptions. It was a scream; an animal sound of absolute horror backed by the full weight of soul, mind, and body. It seized my upper chest and made to rip out of my opening jaw...
...only to come up short as a hand closed over my mouth and pulled me forcefully down.
I remember screaming repeatedly into that hand, and then two hands, as my visitor desperately tried to keep me silent. My widely-strained eyes saw only incomprehensible orange until he shoved his face in mine and shouted silently to shut up.
I complied, if only because the absolute terror in his blurry orange-and-black features cut through my hysteria by sheer force.
I understood, as my thoughts returned, that he was right. If I'd managed to scream, we would have been heard… and then the things I'd seen outside would have been aware of us.
The image remained seared in my mind, even through my dizziness and terror. We might have been crawling around in some sort of rotted version of a house, but the landscape beyond was anything but a suburb. Oh, in some places, there were certainly structures that looked like buildings, dilapidated and putrefied by some otherworldly blight, but they stood at random odds to uneven orange-and-black silhouettes of bleak wasteland and twisted nightmarish shapes whose purpose I could only guess at.
Worst of all were the several lithe creatures moving past outside… processing the images, I could only begin to comprehend what I'd seen. Blank eyes sat empty within gnarled impressions of human heads, some with stringy hair, some with large missing patches that opened onto brain matter beneath. They walked on legs too thin and long, swinging arms that tried very hard to look human, but failed…
A creak in the house behind had us both turned over and frozen in an instant, staring in terror at a not-human moving into our room with an uneven gait. Standing tall and emaciated, it - no, the more I stared, the more the blurry orange outlines became clear, showing a shapely diseased body and a mockery of long hair - she looked back and forth around the room with blank eyes… searching…
My visitor - become my friend, then, because God help us - clenched my wrist with a death-grip and remained motionless, his entire body strained with fear. Stuck in place with him, for there was nowhere else to go, I watched and waited for the creature to make some move.
Her blank eyes turned toward us and paused.
I looked straight at those twin voids, my thoughts empty of anything but total alarm. If she moved, if she made a noise, if she called for the others - I would what? Run? Or… wake up? God… we were dreaming! How had I forgotten that?
She tilted her head slightly down and to the side, as if to dismiss some half-notion - a very human-like gesture - and then began treading forward again. She opened the front door with a skeletal hand that I noticed had only three fingers and a thumb, and then… the door closed, and, above that omnipresent quiet roar and maddening metallic beat, we heard a click. Had she just locked the door behind her?
Dreaming… dreaming… dreaming! I squeezed my hands, and then my awareness itself, pushing at the heavy blanket on my thoughts.
Shooting upward through the deep waters of consciousness, I seemed to reach an incredible speed, hurtling toward a surface that broke with a shout. Sitting up, back on my old couch, I kept shouting, my hands shaking in the air.
Across from me, on his couch, my friend looked at me with wide eyes and screamed right back, yelling at first in terror alone, and then about how she couldn't see us…
The work day passed in a daze almost as blurry as the dream had been. I knew for certain that something horrific was happening at my house, but that nightmare world had brought more questions than answers. Where was it? Was it real? What were those things? Were they trying to look human, trying to make buildings like ours? For what purpose? Or were they once human, since rotted by time and evil?
And why couldn’t she see us? Were we ghosts to them, like they were to us? I shuddered in my chair as I thought about the presence and malice I'd been sensing in my home. Were they walking around my house when they slept, dreaming of me?
There's no hesitation in me this time. I have a friend to do this with, and I know this is really happening now. I have to go back to the nightmare… because, judging by the changing feel of my house with each passing day, if I do nothing, it will just come here…