When I’d come in my dreams, I’d always assumed the blank spots, the skips that broke the sense of a cohesive narrative, would be resolved if I actually ever found the place.
I was wrong.
A moment ago, I’d had the rotten claw of a godawful who-knows-what wrapped around my arm, pulling me towards whatever death awaited. I remember screaming when it touched me and remembered it seeming happy that I was finally here.
The next thing I remember was being in an unfamiliar part of the house. Taking a second to look around, I saw the kitchen behind me, and beyond that the still-empty living room. The room I was in looked to be a laundry room. Blue tiled floor, a half-dozen cabinets hanging above, one or two with doors that didn’t quite shut and gave a view of Borax boxes and bleach bottles. Taking up the majority of the floorplan was a paired washer and dryer, beige in color, and surprisingly clean and unmarred for their apparent age.
The washer was nothing remarkable, standing silently to my left with the lid up, a hungry maw waiting to be fed with clots of clothes and the blood stains they probably contained. Peering over the lip, I could see the agitator, covered in moss and mold that looked like it might have migrated from the bathroom. Part of me wondered if the thing in the shower stall brought the mold with it, some little chunks of itself or leftovers from its presence. But if that was the case, why would it be in the washing machine? Probably just the lack of use and general humidity.
Maybe I should have looked closer.
The dryer, though… that was a different story. It was on, producing a steady series of thumps and giving off an unpleasantly burned smelling heat. From the pattern – a swish, followed by a heavy thud, repeated every five or six seconds – it sounded like whatever was in there was wadded into a ball. Being pulled to the top as it turned, then falling back to the bottom, never completing a full rotation. It would explain the smell, too, since at this point it would be smoldering instead of just drying, singed on the outside instead of getting an even heat.
The crying sound was back, assaulting my eardrums and making my eyes water. It seemed like I could hear words in it, timed along with the thumps.
“Help me,” I thought I heard it say. Over and over again, punctuated by a fresh thud from the dryer each time, the crying it was buried in getting louder.
I didn’t want to. I knew what came next. I didn’t know how I got from the bathroom to here, but I remembered the rest clearly enough and didn’t want to open the dryer. What was in there was a thousand times worse than pulling the shower curtain back and being confronted with the thing that dwelled inside, a million times worse than Dad fixing me with that eyeless stare.
Thinking how much I didn’t want to do it, I tugged open the dryer door. With a final thump and a sickly-sweet smell that combined burning hair, blood, and mold into a single strike team designed to murder my sinuses, the thing inside slid to the bottom of the drum. The crying stopped, with a final whisper.
“Thank you,” it said.
I reached inside and drew out the bundle. At first, I thought it was just a wad of sheets, tangled in a knot and nothing to be concerned with. It was too heavy for that, though, and the unpleasantly solid weight of it made me try to unfold one end of the knot.
Like a series of petals pulling back to reveal the eye of a sunflower, or a disgusting parallel to birth, I uncovered a small head. Misshapen, caved in on one side, missing one eye and the other scrunched up so there was only the tiniest sliver of blue visible beneath the bruised lid. Untangling more of the sheets, I revealed a chest that was sunken, ribs poking forth like spears. One arm was broken, twisted behind her poor back, while the other was lifted up, what should have been chubby grasping fingers instead skeletal things that seemed to be trying to ward off a blow.
“Shhhh, honey,” I whispered. That was all I could manage. Between the vice grip on my chest that the asthma brought with it and the choking clot of would-be tears creeping through my throat, I couldn’t manage much more than that.
“Shhh,” I said again, running a finger along that shattered skull with as much tenderness as I could manage. “It’s okay. We’ll get you out of here, okay?”
I swaddled her back up in the sheets but didn’t cover her face. She deserved to see, to have a chance for those lifeless little lungs to fill with clean air. Once we were out of here, anyway.
Something from further back in the house moved. A scratching, slithery noise that brought to mind images of snakes or squids uncoiling, preparing to strike. Something grunted, then laughed. It seemed to be coming from the hallway. Apparently, the burned thing had decided it wasn’t going to let me go after all. At least not without its prize.
I bolted, through the kitchen and into the living room. Mom, Dad, and Sis were back, their heads swiveling to track my passage, but I didn’t give them much thought. They weren’t the real threat, wouldn’t interfere. I hit the door at speed, practically blasting it out of the hinges, and dove through the darkness – how long had I been in the house, anyway? Who knew? – towards the car.
I’d left it unlocked, keys in it. I was more concerned about the ability to make a quick getaway if needed than that little Billy might stumble upon the car and decide to take it for a joyride.
I wouldn’t let her go or put her down. Hugging her to my chest, I yanked the car door open with my free hand and dropped into the seat. The keys were still there. As I laid my hand on them to gun the engine, not certain of where I was going to know but knowing that I had to take her somewhere, anywhere, other than here, I was frozen almost solid by a sound.
First, there was the sound of an explosion, followed by a metallic rain; looking over my shoulder, I saw that the burned thing had come through the door, doing it with such force that the front portion of the house had literally exploded. The drops hitting the roof of the car and making the sound were actually splinters and fragments of the aluminum frame.
It raised one claw, the one it had wrapped around my arm, and pointed one finger at me. I felt something burning on my arm and glanced down at myself to see blood pouring out from under my shirtsleeve. The spot that it had touched me had gone a sickening blackish purple, oozing blood and other, less-identifiable fluids.
Didn’t matter, I told myself. All that mattered was getting away, setting her free.
It shrieked, a sound born of sheer rage. I didn’t know why; it knew I would come, and it must have known the outcome. I’d known since I was a child.
I wasn’t sticking around to hear it. I gunned the engine and popped the clutch, spinning the wheel one-handed while I clutched the child’s battered corpse to my chest with the other.
“Hold on, baby. It’s gonna be okay.”
Flipping the car around in the driveway, it caught in the gravel for a too-long moment as the figure on the porch descended towards us. It was almost close enough to lay a hand on the bumper – something that I knew would mean game over – when the tires finally caught and peeled away. There was a moment of savage glee when the thing was pelted with chunks of the house and gravel from the driveway kicked up by the tires.
I started down the mountain with my prize, whispering nursery rhymes to her the whole time.
This story was originally published at KaineAndrews.com. Intrigued? Find out how it ends, next Thursday!
About the Author
Kaine Andrews was raised in the wilds of Nevada, molded by NASCAR-loving witches, a Catholic school education and typewriter theft, granting a natural fascination with all things dark and dreary and demented scribblings. He currently resides in Oregon, where the omnipresent drizzle keeps him somewhat sane.