“I’ve been restless lately,” I said.
Dr. Walker looked up from his notepad. His grey eyes peeked over the rim of his silver frames.
“What do you mean by that, Jay?” he asked, scribbling on the pad of paper.
It always unsettled me when he did things like that after I spoke.
“I can’t sleep. I keep waking up from nightmares,” I said. “I can’t seem to concentrate lately.”
Dr. Walker leaned back in his leather chair. It was dark and faded in the center where it had endured years of being sat in.
“Why don’t you lay down and tell me about these nightmares,” he said.
I didn’t want to. They scared me. But what was I paying for, if not to lay down and complain about all my fucked up problems? I kicked my feet up and laid down on the flat couch like all his other patients. It was comfortable. My head settled against the cushioned headrest and my hands settled on my stomach. I looked up at the ceiling, and could hear the scribbling of Dr, Walker’s pen as I began to talk.
“It started a couple of weeks ago. The dreams, I mean. It’s usually the same one,” I said. “I’m in my house. I start off in my old room upstairs, and for some reason, I begin to walk around as if I’m searching for something.”
The psychiatrist didn’t say anything. He sat quietly, listening to me. This was the first time I was telling anyone of my dreams.
“It all feels rushed and I can’t remember it well.”
“It’s all right. Just tell me what you can,” Dr. Walker said.
“Well, I go around some more, searching the rooms. Again, I can’t really tell what I’m looking for but I eventually go down stairs and into the living room. I search there and in the kitchen while getting this urgent feeling,” I said, sweat trickling down the side of my face.
“Just take a deep breath. Don’t force yourself and continue when you feel ready,” the doctor said.
I wasn’t going to freak out in his office like some nutcase. It was just a dream. I took a breath and continued.
“After I look around downstairs, I notice the door to the basement,” I said.
Dr. Walker scribbled something furiously on his paper.
“I remember you hate basements, Jay,” he said. I nodded.
“I hate them, but I reach for the knob anyhow.”
I always reach for the damn knob, and in my gut, I know there won’t be anything good waiting for me. My palms begin to sweat. I don’t want to open the door, but I turn the knob and the door swings open.
I flinched and looked at Dr. Walker.
“What happens next?” he asked.
“Nothing. I open the door, and sometimes there’s darkness, and other times I just wake up,” I said.
Dr. Walker raised an eyebrow and wrote something else down. I took a breath and sat back up, waiting for his psychoanalysis.
“Let me guess, I’m looking for something in life?” I said. “I’m twenty-seven. It seems a bit too early for a mid-life crisis.”
Dr. Walker chuckled. “You still have a few years to go, Jay. But it seems to me like these aren’t dreams at all.”
“What do you mean? I’m sleep walking?”
He shook his head. “How long have you lived in that house?”
“I grew up there, so all my life.”
“Tell me about your family.”
“I grew up with both my parents, till my dad died. Then tragically, my mom. After my mom and dad passed, my sisters couldn’t stand to be in that house and I couldn’t stand to see it rot away. So I stayed and they left.”
“Where are your sisters now?”
I shrugged. “Far away from here.”
“You’re the oldest right?” Walker asked.
“You do have a lot of memories in that house. I think that’s what these ‘dreams’ are. Suppressed memories. Some change in your life could have triggered them,” Dr. Walker said. “Do you still sleep upstairs?”
I shook my head. “Why in the world would I have repressed memories?” I asked.
“It could be connected to why you hate basements,” he said. “Your mother…was found there wasn’t she?”
I flinched again. When the cops showed up, they said my mother had been found in the basement, sitting in a pool of her own blood. Her neck was gouged. Suicide they said.
“Perhaps it’s time to face your fears, Jay,” Dr. Walker said.
“You think I should go down to the basement?”
The psychiatrist cleared his throat. “I think you should spend a night in your old room. See what you remember. And when you’re ready, go to the basement.”
That seemed like horrible advice. But maybe he was right. Perhaps if I remembered what I was supposed to, faced my fears, then they’d stop haunting me at night.
I got home and closed the door, leaving myself to the mercy of my old, creaky, childhood home. When my mother was alive, it always smelled of warm baked cookies, cake or whatever treat she decided to make that week. I missed her cooking. After my father passed away, those sweet smells disappeared as well. The car accident had taken my father away, but it was depression that took my mother. I looked at the basement door that sat just below the stairs.
The cops said I had saw her dead. I don’t remember finding her down there. The images of her body are nothing but blank spaces in my memory. It was probably a good thing I didn’t remember, but it could also be the very thing keeping me up at night; my mom and that damned basement.
I went to the basement door. Perhaps Dr. Walker was right. Did I need to face my fears? My mother was long gone. What was I so afraid of? I placed my hand on the dull, golden knob of the door. The house creaked and I heard skittering in the walls.
“Damn rats…,” I said. “Come on, Jay, quit stalling and just open the door.”
The knob began to rattle with my shaking hand. Was I sweating already?
I let out a frustrated grunt and shoved the door open as fast as I could. It was my house. Mine. The door hung open.
“Of course. Nothing’s here,” I said, looking into a dark stairwell.
I took a deep breath, my chest swelling before the exhale. Nothing to be afraid of. I could go down.
My shoes clunked heavily as I went down the first stair. The air smelled dank, and was nice and cool as it drifted up from below. I forgot what we even kept down there. I took another step and felt the air chill the sweat on my forehead. Just keep going. I took another, one step closer to the waiting darkness.
“Why is it always so fucking dark in basements?” I said to no one.
I went down two more steps, then another two, moving faster. The darkness crept closer and began to surround me. The smell of dust and old wood grew stronger and under it, a scent I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I continued my descent, the light from above quickly vanishing as I neared the end of the stairwell. My heart was racing now and I felt hot despite the cold air.
“Just do it, Jay.”
I balled my hands into fists and continued before noticing the switch on the wall. I let out a breath I hadn’t even known I’d been holding and took three more hurried steps to flick the switch at the very bottom of the stairs. A single light bulb flickered to life in the basement; dull and yellowed. It hadn’t been changed in years.
“How many stairs was that, a hundred?” I looked back and counted. Twenty. Whatever.
The basement was bigger than I had remembered. It was L shaped, and about as big as a living room. Shelves, boxes, an old washer and dryer lined the wall ahead of me. I went to a shelf and swept the dust off with my hand. Tools, trinkets, and an old teddy bear my sister used to sleep with were sitting on the shelf.
I walked into the low glow of the lightbulb and turned to look at the rest of the basement. The light barely touched a few feet around. I squinted into the darkness and saw old tables, a lounge chair, an old television, a freezer and wooden planks piled up. The floor was cold, grey concrete, but there was one spot that remained darker than the rest. I walked to the left wall and kneeled in front of some boxes where the stain was. Why did it seem so familiar?
I reached down and gently placed my fingers on the cold cement. My head immediately began to pound. I gasped in pain and squeezed my eyes shut. Flashes came to me then. Flashes of my mother, years ago, sitting in that very spot with her blue dress on. But it wasn’t blue anymore, it was red; crimson and soaked with her blood.
I remember not being able to say a word. I looked at her, mouth fixed in a silent scream as she sat there, head lopped to the side and her neck stretched wide open. All the blood that had pumped out of her collected in her dress and pooled on the floor beneath her. Her chestnut hair was wet with it and her eyes and mouth remained open.
I remembered it. The smell of blood, copper and metallic, thick on my tongue; and under that, the sour smell of shit and bile from her cooling corpse.
I opened my eyes and fell back, quickly getting on my hands and knees as my body wretched and vomit burned its way up my throat before spilling across the floor. My stomach twisted and so did my body. I heaved and shook, muscles and bones aching with the force of my expulsion. Tears stung my eyes and I whimpered from the pain of nearly throwing up my organs.
I spat on the ground and waited till I was sure I wouldn’t throw up again to shakily climb to my feet. I stumbled but I ran for the stairs, vision blurry and head pounding. A hundred stairs became two as I fled the basement and slammed the door behind me.
“Fuck!” I screamed. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” I fell to the floor and slammed my fist on the wooden floor boards. “This is not what I wanted.” I could hear my voice trembling, full of tears.
What the hell was that? Those memories? I always knew I had seen something bad in the basement, but my dead mother? I could still see her, like a waking nightmare. I was only a kid then. It made sense that I wouldn’t remember her sitting there, neck torn open. I regretted every choice I made to face my fears. Screw Dr. Walker. Not everything had to be remembered.
I went to bed with my mother’s corpse fresh in my mind. I didn’t want to take anymore of Dr. Walker’s advice, but I also wanted to be as far from the basement as possible. I decided to sleep in my old room upstairs. It was small, meant for six year old me.
The wallpaper had spaceships on them and were peeling from the corners. The room was clean, with a small dresser pressed against the wall and a bed that would have been more suitable for me twenty years ago. I changed into a pair of loose pants and curled my long limbs close to my body as I settled into the bed.
My mother’s body flashed in my mind and I groaned. I felt so restless but sleep still managed to take me. The moment I drifted away I began to have the same dream I’d had for nights. I was used to it by now.
I started in my old room, walked out and into my parent’s room. In the dream, the house is always dark but cast with a pale pall, like moonlight, it was just enough to see by. The house was just how I left it when I went to sleep that night. It changed with every dream only if I moved something.
In my parent’s room their bed is empty. Of course. I check the other rooms before deciding to go down stairs. I look into the darkness of the living room, at the Persian rug, the sofas and the blank TV. No one is there. I don’t know what I expect to find but I feel as though I need to continue to search.
I check closets, the kitchen, the bathroom, and find myself alone. There ends up being only one place I haven’t checked. I head to the basement. Oddly enough, I am not afraid now. I reach for the knob, the door opens to darkness and I begin to descend the stairs with no hesitation.
I move deeper into the darkness, each stair creaking with my weight. Like earlier, the basement was cold, damp and smelled funny. I reached for the light switch and it flickered to life. I knew my way around somehow. I went to the back of the basement, into the darkness and stood before an old freezer. It was the kind of freezer on its side, meant for storage; it was big and square with a lid that opened at the top, like some giant cooler.
Without pause, I opened it. Cold air rushed out. I must have had it plugged in because it was working. Along with the smell of frozen ice, came the weird scent I had smelled earlier. Like old meat. I looked into the freezer and saw a face. I didn’t panic, I recognized it. A woman was inside, stiff limbs curled up and dead eyes staring up at me.
It was my mother.
I brought my mom out of the freezer. Her body was heavy and cold. She felt fake and rubbery from the frost. Her cold skin slipped under my warm hands, but I managed to lift her body out. She wore the same clothes she had the day I found her. I dragged her across the basement and laid her in the spot of her death. I sat her up perfectly.
Her neck still had the wound except now it was dark and black, an old cut, no longer red with blood. I got down on the floor beside her and let her cradle my head in her lap. I wanted her to hold me, to put her arms around my body and tell me everything would be all right. I missed my mother, I needed her. Every boy needed their mother. How could mine have left me so young? What was I to do? No wonder I needed a psychiatrist.
I looked up at my mom’s frozen expression, hot tears trailing down my face.
“You’ll never leave me again,” I said.
I awoke in a cold sweat, startled. It was still night and I had finally seen the rest of my dream. And now I knew what I searched for through the dark halls of my home; my mother. She left me, took her life. She only loved my father. A part of me hated her for it. What right did she have to abandon her children? It was selfish. But I couldn’t truly hate her. I knew deep down she regretted it, she missed me. She did love me. My dreams were trying to tell me this, but I was too busy being afraid of the basement. I had no reason to be.
I left my old room and began the process again. I looked into the master bedroom, searched my sister’s rooms, the upstairs bathroom then went downstairs. The house was darker than in my dream. I went to the living room, checked closets, the kitchen, and the downstairs bathroom. I looked everywhere till I had only one remaining room; the basement. This is where she wanted me to go.
This time I reached for the basement door unhindered, although my chest pounded and sweat soaked my shirt, I faced the darkness without trembling. I walked down the stairs, much different than I had during the day. I turned on the flickering light and went to the back wall and found the freezer. I knew my mother wasn’t in there; we had buried her, but my dreams had led me here. My mother was calling me.
I approached the freezer. It was a dingy white and rusted where the dream was not. I slowly gripped its top and lifted. Cold air rushed out and I could smell old meat again. I froze.
There was a dark shape inside.
My heart began to hammer against my chest and I felt light headed as I opened the lid all the way to reveal a body. It was a woman with chestnut hair, just like my mother. My throat felt tight and I suddenly felt as though I couldn’t breathe. The body was young, like an earlier, adult version of my mother. My whole body shook, but I reached in and lifted her. She was naked and cold. Her flesh felt rubbery like in my dream, fake and cold.
I pulled her out and her head lolled to the side revealing a face I didn’t know. This definitely wasn’t my mother. I looked down and saw her neck was slashed, a dark, bloodless cut that had probably ended her life.
I began to scream, horrified. I dropped the woman and fell back. She hung limply, half way out of the freezer, eyes glossed over and frozen bits of ice clinging to her long lashes. Her mouth was parted slightly and I realized she wore faint traces of lipstick. It looked fresh.
I tried to stand with the help of a shelf and ended up almost taking it down. I caught the steel frame just in time, but objects went clattering to the floor. When I looked down, I saw different shades of lipstick, blush, a comb, small scissors, a brush, nail polish and a knife. I was panting hard now. I recognized the knife. It belonged in my kitchen.
I looked at the girl in the freezer and began to sob. I cried, voice breaking in ragged screams as my heart broke. I just wanted my mother. That’s all. Dr. Walker said I wasn’t dreaming and now I believed he was right. Not dreams, but memories, every night, I relived memories.
I cried for her, I cried for myself and I cried for my mother. She was still so close to me. Watching me, guiding me. I wiped my face and looked at the woman. She was beautiful. I went to the dead woman, lifted her with all my strength and finished dragging her out of the freezer.
Her body fell with a heaviness that only the dead had. I brought her across the basement as in my dreams and laid her in my mother’s spot. She resembled her so much. I could see why I had chosen this girl.
Perhaps there had been previous ones, not quite to my liking, but as I gazed at her, I could see my mother in her face. She was perfect. Brown hair, slightly curly, and dark eyes. Her skin was unblemished, but lacked color. Her legs were a bit shorter than I would have liked but she was tall enough. She was so pale with dark nipples atop rounded breast that hung limply.
I looked past her navel to see the dark hair between her legs had been trimmed and groomed. I suddenly had a flash of cleaning the strange woman up, just before I dumped her body into the freezer.
“I found you…mother,” I said in the darkness.
I felt disgusted with myself, but underneath was a small amount of joy. I was so alone, but not anymore, not if I kept my mother here.
I moved to stand beside the woman. I went to my knees then laid down on my side, resting my head in my mother’s lap. It was cold and smooth—somewhat comforting. She smelled faintly of meat but I could rid her of the smell perhaps. Maybe a rose scented bath. I hadn’t taken a bath with my mother in so long. I took her arm and made sure it rested over my shoulders. She made me feel safe. I needed this.
I looked up at my mom’s frozen expression, hot tears trailing down my face.
“You’ll never leave me again.”
About the Creator
Hi i'm Mercury, a Black American, dark fiction writer in Southern California. I narrate and produce my own audio stories.
I have been in the anthology Blood in the Rain 3, published by JitterPress and in Gypsum Sound Tales’s Colp Magazine.