Growing up, people always thought that I had a really big imagination. When I was younger, my mom would ask if I wanted to watch TV or play a board game with her. She was usually prompted to do this after she would notice that I had been sitting nearly motionless at our big bay window that overlooked the front yard for hours on end. Sometimes I would amiably agree to participate in a different activity with her. Most often, though, I would come out of my reverie just long enough to shake my head at her and reply with a, “No thank you. I’m waiting for Vim right now.” She’d sometimes frown, sometimes scold me, or sometimes force me to do something different. No matter what, though, she’d take my face, look deep into my eyes and say, “You live so much in your head, Cara. What is going on in there?”
Vim was my “imaginary” friend and had been for some time. My mom knew all about his and my exploits together. I’d chronicle them for her at the start of every day while we ate breakfast. I’d regale her with stories of us two bold adventurers catching frogs in the stream behind our house or climbing the study maple in the backyard so that we could survey our kingdom from on high.
While I was very little, my mom enjoyed my stories of Vim. She wanted to know all about him. How old he was, what he looked like, where he came from. I always told her enthusiastically about Vim. He wanted my mom to know all about him. He was just that kind of sort.
Vim was a curious little creature. I likened him to a cross between a large teddy bear and a cat in my mind. He stood on two legs at about two feet tall and had the softest fur that you can imagine. It was a bright, shimmery pink color that glittered when the sun struck it. His gentle face had big beautiful eyes, a perfect pink nose that twitched when he was sniffing something, and delicate whiskers. He had a long tail that he would wrap around me when I was cold, and little hands that would grip mine tight when we were scared. My favorite part about Vim, though, was his ears. They stood straight up, almost like a German Shepard’s, except for the very tips which flopped forward. I loved to stroke their velvety softness and the space in-between them. He loved it too. I would know because he would sigh softly and lean into me when I did it.
Vim was my best friend in the world. I didn’t get to always see him, though. He lived in The Place That Isn’t as he referred to it. I could never really comprehend what he meant, though I understood that it was a world that existed alongside mine, but that I couldn’t see.
There were other creatures from The Place That Isn’t as well. Sometimes they would come and visit with Vim. Some, like the tiny and syrupy sweet smelling Sorg, and giant Ness, who was a towering orange character with cottony fur, I loved. Others, like Hobble, the foul-tempered and mean-spirited little imp, I truly disliked and attempted to avoid as much as possible.
As I got older, I saw even more of Vim and the others from The Place That Isn’t, not less as one might expect of childhood friends like Vim. It was around the time that I was 12 that my mother started to become very concerned that I was still playing with my “imaginary” friends. She began to become angry that I still referred to Vim often and that I seemingly only spent time with him and not with any other children. It was also around this time that Hobble started to become more and more of a problem.
Usually when Hobble came around, he would just be mean to me. Maybe say something to hurt my feelings, or tell me that he could read the minds of all the kids that I went to school with and that they all thought I was weird and that they hated me. But as I got older, Hobble got more aggressive. Though not particularly big, he was strong. His long gray-green arms had hands with fingernails that were as sharp as daggers. His wide flat face held a large mouth with rows of pointy teeth and a long tongue he used like a whip. He began to physically harm me when I turned 14. At first he would just poke me or push me down, but it quickly progressed to him pinching me tightly with his sharp nails or punching me hard enough in the arms and legs that he would leave bruises. Vim and the others would do their best to stop him, but they weren’t always around when Hobble would decide to show up.
My mother began to see the evidence of Hobble’s viciousness and would often ask what had happened. I knew that she would never believe me if I told her the truth, so I always lied and told her that I was clumsy and that I had accidentally hurt myself in various ways. As time went on, her concern only grew and I could tell that my lies were no longer working.
One dreary afternoon when I was 15, Vim and I were sitting together on the couch watching TV. His favorite show was Hell’s Kitchen so we watched reruns together often. About mid-way through the episode, Hobble strolled into the living room where Vim and I were. He crossed his scaly arms and leaned against the doorframe. With a smirk, Hobble inclined his head towards the television.
“Hell’s Kitchen, eh? Looks nothing like Hell to me. And I should know,” he said, jabbing himself in his chest with his thumb. “I’ve been there. This isn’t Hell. It’s a show for babies.”
“Go away, Hobble,” Vim said in an annoyed voice. “Nobody wants you here.”
“She does,” Hobble sneered, turning his attention to me. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”
I had nearly had more of Hobble than I could take recently. My left foot still ached from where he had stomped on it the last time he visited. I was almost certain he had broken my pinky toe. I was close to my breaking point with the nasty little goblin. “Go away, Hobble,” I said through gritted teeth. “I hate you. You’re horrible, you hurt me, and to top it all off, you reek!” While that wasn’t exactly true, he did often have an unpleasant odor around him, like decaying flowers. He smelled exactly like I remembered the funeral home smelling like when we buried my father.
Hobble’s tiny eyes widened to the size of golfballs and became as dark as storm clouds. “You little bitch,” he snarled, “I’ll teach you to say that I stink!” With that, he launched himself across the room at me. Before either Vim or I could react, Hobble sank his mouthful of sharp teeth deep into my forearm. Blood immediately spurted from my arm into Hobble’s mouth and began running down onto my pants and onto the couch. I let out a blood-curdling scream while Vim yelled and began striking Hobble in the face. Hobble let go and, laughing maniacally, gave me a sarcastic wave and ran out of the room, blood running down his front. My scream roused my mother who was folding laundry upstairs. I heard her flying down the stairs yelling, “Cara, what on Earth is wrong?”
“Vim,” I whimpered. “Help me. What is my mother going to do when she sees all this?” I asked, gesturing to my mangled arm with my head. He shook his head at me. “You have to tell her the truth, Cara. Hobble is feeding off of your lies to her about him. She needs to know. It might help keep him away if she believes you!”
My mother burst around the corner and paled when she saw me clutching my arm, blood all over me. “Cara, what happened?”
Sobbing, I proceeded to tell her all about Hobble and how he was behind all of my injuries and that they were only getting worse. Her face became more concerned for a time, and then more worried and drawn as I continued. When I had finished, she took my arm and said, “Come on, child, let’s get your arm cleaned up.” “You believe me, though, don’t you,” I cried. She didn’t reply, but the worry in her face became even more pronounced. “You live so much in your head, Cara. What is going on in there?”
That night, as I tried to go to sleep, I heard my mother’s worried voice coming from downstairs. I crept to the top of the stairs and strained to hear what she was saying. Her voice floated up to me and chilled me. “Yes, Dr. Richards. She’s always had these imaginary friends for as long as I can remember. The last few years, she’s been getting injured more and more regularly. She told me it was just clumsiness and I believed her for a while, but the injuries are becoming more severe. I think she’s self harming. Today it looked like she ripped into her own arm with her fingernails or something. And then she blamed it on one of these imaginary characters!”
I had heard enough. My mom didn’t believe me. She thought I was crazy. I turned to go back into my room and found Vim waiting for me in the doorway. “Cara, we have to get rid of Hobble. I think I know how to do it, but it’s not going to be pleasant.”
“I don’t care,” I said, wiping tears from my eyes. “He’s hurt me for the last time. What do we have to do.”
“We have to call The Dredge,” he said, whispering the name with a terrified look around him. “Who is The Dredge?” I asked. Vim gave me a panicked look. “Quietly! I don’t want to summon him until we’re ready. The Dredge is a gatekeeper of sorts. He holds the key to the door from here to The Place That Isn’t, and to all the other doors in all of the other universes and worlds that I know of, and even the ones that I don’t. We need him to open up a door to a place that no one can return from, and then we need to send Hobble through that door!”
“Great!” I exclaimed. “Why didn’t we do this earlier? It’s perfect!”
“No, Cara,” Vim said softly. “You don’t understand. The Dredge isn’t good. He’s not exactly evil, but he always demands a price for a favor such as this, and he sets the terms. And often you won’t even know what the terms are until after you’ve agreed. There was a hefty price to pay to permanently open the door from The Place That Isn’t to here.” Vim’s eyes took on a faraway look for a moment. When he looked back to me I could have sworn that he looked older, though I had never seen any stamp of time on him before.
“Ok, Vim, I get it. There’s a price to pay. But if I don’t pay it, my mom may stick me in the nut house! Or worse, Hobble could permanently injure me or kill me. What other choice do we have?”
“One, I’m afraid,” said Vim sadly. “Instead of you opening a door and paying the price to The Dredge, I could close the door to The Place That Isn’t, lock Hobble inside, and pay the price myself. But I will have to stay there, too. We will never see each other again.”
“No,” I cried out. “Vim, I need you! I’ll pay it. Whatever it is, it will be better that losing you forever.” Again Vim got that faraway look in his eyes. “I certainly hope so, Cara.”
Over the next few weeks, Vim and I prepared to summon The Dredge, gathering up certain items to entice him to come to us, things that Vim said he liked. Things like old skeleton keys and ornate antique doorknobs. We were finally ready one bright and sunny afternoon, just a few days before my 16th birthday.
“Ok, Vim. I think we have everything we need. What now?” I asked.
“Just call him,” said Vim. “If he likes what we’ve gathered, he’ll be here.”
“That’s it?” I asked skeptically. “Call him? Now? In broad daylight?”
Though Vim’s face was etched with worry, he managed a small chuckle. “Yes, that’s it. The Dredge doesn’t need to deal in darkness or secret. He’s no more or less likely to come in the daylight than he is at midnight.”
“Ok,” I said with a shrug. I began to call for him. “Dredge? Hello, Dredge? If you can hear me, and it so pleases you, could you come to me? I have gifts for you and would like to make a deal.” It felt a bit awkward to me, but I had no idea exactly how one was supposed to address an invisible and potentially malevolent gatekeeper.
For a few moments, nothing happened. Vim and I exchanged glances. I opened my mouth to call again when suddenly it was like all of the air was ripped out of my lungs, and indeed, the whole world. Gasping and choking I dropped to my knees only to see a huge rip forming in the very fabric of the landscape in front of me. Out of the slit came two grotesque looking hands, ancient and withered. They grabbed the sides of the tear from the inside and pulled, opening the hole wider and forming a door.
A foul, disgusting creature emerged from the newly formed entryway. It was bent and twisted at odd angles, it’s skin the color of a corpse, the place where its eyes should have been were dark empty pits. I had never felt such terror or revulsion in my life. At least I hadn’t until it turned its hideous face towards me. It was then that I knew what true fear was. This was a primordial creature, one who had no real interest in the affairs of mortals or of the living, no matter what species or world they came from. This was a being that cared only for itself and its own gains.
It took longer than I’d like to admit until I was able to calm myself enough to begin speaking to The Dredge. Thankfully, Vim had reached up and squeezed my hand, which had always helped. “Dredge, I humbly ask for your help,” I began. Somehow, through the horror and the air which still seemed almost non-existent, I was able to explain what I wanted. When I was finished The Dredge opened its horrible mouth and began making a low rumble that quickly intensified into a higher pitched groan and then into a full on scream. It was a noise that I will never forget. It felt like it was both in my own head and everywhere else all at once. It was so loud and so utterly terrifying that it rocked me back on my heels and I also began to wail. I clapped my hands over my ears and squeezed my eyes shut tight. Next to me I could hear Vim whimpering pathetically. Then, as suddenly as it began, it was over. The air came back in a whoosh and I could hear birds again. I opened my ears and peeked over at Vim. He looked traumatized but otherwise unharmed.
“Did it work?” I asked anxiously.
“Look,” said Vim, “the gifts are gone. He accepted.”
“So Hobble won’t be a problem anymore, right?” I asked, no longer sure if going through that ordeal had even been worth getting rid of the beastly rascal.
“Right,” said Vim. “Hobble should be locked away in another dimension now where he can’t hurt you anymore.”
“And what about the price I have to pay? When will I know what it is?”
Vim’s fuzzy forehead creased as he thought about it. “I imagine soon. As far as I know, The Dredge has never taken long to call in a debt.” At this, he reached up for me to lift him off the ground. I had never really realized before that as I got older and taller, I was rapidly outgrowing his own little height. The thought made me sad as I pulled him into my arms.
He looked deep into my eyes. “One thing, though, Cara, that you must never do. No matter what happens. Do not go through a door that The Dredge has opened. Ever. No matter what. That won’t be his payment from you, don’t worry. But he will try to trick you. To make you go with him. In addition to being the gatekeeper to all of the dimensions, The Dredge is a collector of sorts. He collects souls and keeps them trapped behind doors he has tricked them into going through. But as long as you make your payment and don’t go through a door with him, we’ll be alright. You and me, we’ll be together forever.”
I buried my face in Vim’s soft fur and hugged him tighter than I ever had. It felt like maybe we could actually be ok.
That night as I laid down to sleep, I had a sudden resurgence of the terror I felt in the presence of The Dredge earlier that day, though it was admittedly muted this time.
I could hear The Dredge’s awful scream in my head, but it felt far away. I began to hear a voice too, almost too quiet at first to hear, though the volume rapidly ratcheted up to a near deafening level.
“Pathetic human child, you called upon me to banish a creature from your world forever. It has been done. Thus, payment is owed and must be made. From now until the end of your days, your dreams belong to me. When you slumber, all dreams, good or bad, belong to me. They will be of my design and will last as long as I wish. This is the payment, beginning tonight.”
The voice and scream ended abruptly. I felt a short burst of relief. That was it? He just wanted my dreams? Fine, he could have them. He said good or bad, so surely there would be some good ones in there too. Seemed like a small price to pay to be free of Hobble and to keep Vim forever. Sighing softly, I rolled in my bed to get comfortable for sleep, excited to tell Vim all about the payment The Dredge required in the morning.
I was woken up abruptly by Nurse Heidi. Drenched in sweat, I quickly sat up in my bed and wiped the damp hair out of my eyes and off of my forehead. Chest heaving, I looked up at Heidi and saw the concern in her face.
“It was happening again?” I asked.
“It was,” Heidi said gently. “I thought you were going to fling yourself out of your bed this time. I thought it best to wake you up.”
I nodded mutely at her and, suddenly remembering my manners, thanked her softly. She responded by squeezing my hand and giving me a small, sad smile. “Breakfast is still about an hour away. There’s time for a quick shower, if you’d like. Let me know if you want to and I’ll let you out” With that, Nurse Heidi left, leaving me and my thoughts all alone.
I knew I should get up and get a shower; get the sweat and sleep smell off before breakfast. Instead, I flopped back on my bed and stared up at my ceiling. The same ceiling I’d been staring at since I was 15 years old.
I live in the Lone Gateway mental health facility, two towns over from where my mom still lives and where I spent my childhood. It’s a decent place, considering it’s technically a loony bin. There are rules, of course, like no touching the other patients, designated shower times, and lights out at 9:30pm, but no one’s trapped in a straight jacket or padded room. I mean, there are locks on the doors of our rooms at night, but they do a good job of not making us feel like caged animals here.
I was brought here when I was 15 because my poor mother was at her wit’s end with me. I still had imaginary friends at that age, and though it was simply worrisome for awhile, I began hurting myself around age 14 and blaming it on the imaginary friends. One in particular, Hobble, I think I called him, was especially vicious, and caused me to do myself a fair amount of harm. My mom started taking me to doctors, therapists, and psychiatrists when the bruises and cuts started getting worse. Dissociative Identity Disorder was the first official diagnoses. When I insisted that the creatures weren’t me, that they were real and outside me, they threw in Schizophrenia as the next diagnoses. And then, when things only got worse, even with medication, they threw me in here, and that was that.
I’ve come a long way since then. I’m 17 now and have done a pretty good job of blocking these creatures out. I still see them from time to time, but I’ve gotten really good at simply ignoring them until they go away. I know they’re not real now. The only real problem I have left are these awful dreams. Dreams like the one Nurse Heidi saved me from this morning. They are vivid, nightmarish things. Dreams in which I have to watch horrible scenes like people I love dying in the most gruesome ways imaginable, and ones where I’m being tortured endlessly by a host of demonic creatures with green scaly skin and razor sharp teeth…
Last night’s dream was particularly brutal. I was trapped in a dim room, manacled to the wall with thick steel bracelets that had spikes all around the interior. If I moved my wrists at all, the cruel spines would jam into my flesh. Across the room, my mother was bound to a chair, gagged and blindfolded. She moaned every once in awhile, so I knew she was alive. One of those green creatures entered the room with a small dagger in his hands. He grinned at me with his wide, terrible mouth, and walked over to my mother. Staring straight into my eyes he asked, “Was it worth it, Cara?” and began stabbing my mother repeatedly in the face. While she screamed, I began thrashing against the cuffs as they bit into my wrists, sobbing, trying to reach her. As the spikes cut down to the bone, I heard a voice, ancient and terrifying, whisper, “You can make it end, Cara. Just go through the door.”
What door, I would never find out. Nurse Heidi had woken me up at that exact moment. It wasn’t the first time, though, one of these awful dreams had ended with that proposition. Sometimes, it would get to the point where a door would open in front of me. I could never see what was on the other side, but it always filled me with dread. However, as the dreams got more brutal, the door was beginning to seem like a viable option. Maybe I should go through just to see what was on the other side. Next time, I decided, I’d go through if I could.
Glancing at the clock on the wall, I saw that it was 7:45am; only 15 minutes left until breakfast. I had missed my window of opportunity to grab that shower without anyone knowing. Now I’d have to wait until my 11am designated time. Sighing, I rolled out of bed and went to change into some clean clothes.
At 7:55, I heard the familiar buzz of my room door unlocking. Now feeling rather famished, I pulled the door open and headed out into the hallway, quickly making my way down to the large dining room. As I rounded the corner, a bright pink, fluffy little creature bounded down the hall towards me.
“Cara! Cara! Please listen to me, Cara!” the little character cried out to me. I brushed past him, not even glancing his way. “He’s not real. Not real,” I muttered to myself.
“Cara, please wake up! Come back to me!” Annoyed now, I picked up my pace. The creature ran alongside me and repeatedly tried to grab my hand. “You’re sleeping, Cara! This is a nightmare! Wake up! Don’t go with The Dredge, Cara!”
At the sound of “The Dredge” a little flutter of fear touched my chest, though I didn’t know why. This only served to make me more angry. “Go away!” I shouted. “You’re not real! And I’m obviously not sleeping!”
An aide poked his head out of one of the rooms that I was passing. “Ok, Cara?” he asked. “Yes,” I snarled through gritted teeth. “Ok,” he said, raising an eyebrow at me. As he disappeared back into the room, I sighed with the realization that this little incident would likely mean my medication dosage would be upped again. “Dammit,” I muttered. An increased dosage meant I was even further away from getting out of here, not closer.
The next few weeks passed without incident in my waking hours. However, though I didn’t see the pink creature again, the nightmares only got worse. I began seeing a withered, twisted, gray, shrouded figure with a featureless face except for huge black pits where its eyes should have been. This monstrosity terrified me to my core. When it would begin screaming, it felt like I would die from fear. Usually, when it began screaming, one of those doors would appear again, and that voice would return. “Go through the door, Cara. End this.”
I kept trying to go through the door in my dreams, but it felt as though as I was moving through molasses. Before I could ever reach it, one of the nurses, usually Nurse Heidi, would wake me up. I was growing increasingly frustrated. I tried to tell them to let me sleep, to ignore my thrashing and screaming, but they ignored my pleas. Finally, I decided to take matters into my own hands. During my next visit with Lone Gateway’s resident psychiatrist, I told her I was struggling to fall asleep and stay asleep and that I could really use some medication to help.
“I don’t know, Cara,” she said with a frown. “I’m worried about how you may react on drugs like these with your disorders and your current medications.”
However, after working up some very convincing crocodile tears, telling her about my violent and terrifying dreams and begging her to give me something to help me stay asleep, she relented.
“Ok, Cara. I’ll prescribe you some sleeping pills. Just be aware, in conjunction with your other medications, they may cause some uncomfortable side effects. Things like hallucinations. If you experience anything like that, you need to tell me.”
Nodding, I thanked her profusely and headed to the pharmacy for my first dose. I was so hopeful that this might be what allowed me to dream in a deep enough state of sleep that I wouldn’t flop around and alert any of the nurses to my nightmares.
Just before lights out that night, I popped the sleeping pill straight into my mouth and snuggled down into my bed. As I was nodding off, a noise in the hallway disturbed me. I was about to shrug it off as someone getting back to their room a little late when a high pitched squeal came from outside my door. I jerked straight up, recognizing the noise from somewhere deep inside my memories. “Vim?” I wondered in my head. I didn’t know where I had come up with that name, but I knew I had to figure out what that noise was.
I peered out of the small window near the top of my door, but couldn’t see anything in the dim hallway. The only light came from the tiny nighttime lights in the ceiling spaced a few feet apart. Without thinking, I put my hand on the doorknob and pulled. To my utter surprise, the door opened with ease. Nervously, I peered into the hallway. It seemed like there was something at the end of it, but it was hard to tell. I desperately wanted to crawl back into bed, but something was driving me to figure out what that noise had been. I crept slowly towards the figure at the end of the hall, pausing every few steps to see if I could make out what it was any clearer. The silence in the hall was oppressive. I could hear the blood pounding in my ears from my anxious heart beat.
When I just about reached the end of the hallway, I could suddenly tell that what I had thought was a tall, spindly creature was really just a new coat rack that someone had put in the hallway. I let out a big breath that I hadn’t even realized that I had been holding. “Probably for doctors to hang their coats,” I thought to myself. “Stupid place to put it, really.”
It was then that I felt a chill sweep over my back and every hair on my neck stood straight up. I turned around slowly and found myself face to face with the ancient gray demon from my dreams. In his right hand he held the pink creature up by the ears. His poor little face was bloodied and his limbs twisted at wrong angles. I stumbled backwards and cried out in terror. The monster held the mangled pink animal out towards me and then drew out a large knife. Realizing that he meant to kill the little creature in front of me, I began screaming. Suddenly, a door appeared out of nowhere to my right. The pink character’s eyes flew open and he yelled, “No, Cara!”
But I heard the sandpapery voice saying, “Save him, Cara. Go through the door.” Though my heart was in my throat, I knew I had to take the chance. I dove through the door and…opened my eyes in my old bedroom. I could smell bacon cooking downstairs and could hear my mom humming to herself. The extreme juxtaposition of where I had just been and where I now was was jarring. I blinked a few times and shook my head and then heard a musical tinkling laugh come from behind me. I turned around and saw an angelic child smiling at me. “See, Cara!” it said with another giggle. I told you if you went through the door everything would be ok!” Stunned, I could only manage to gape around the room some more.
“Well,” the little cherub said, “you’re not exactly home yet. You have to go through the door for real, next time. Then you can really be home! Wouldn’t you like that?”
When I finally managed to nod, the golden child walked up to me and held out its arms for me to lift it up. As I lifted the child, not for the first time, I felt a strange ping in the back of my mind, like I was almost remembering something, but not quite. “Close your eyes,” the angel said. I obliged and felt tiny soft lips brush my eyelids. “Wake,” whispered the musical voice.
I woke up clutching my pillow in my room at Lone Gateway. When I realized where I was, I wanted so desperately to cry. That had all been a dream? I had been so close to being home. So close to this nightmare being over that the fact that I was back here was devastating. I pressed my palms into my eyes and tried to remember what the dream child had said. It had told me to go through the door for real next time. Next time? In my next dream? Who was that angelic being? And why had it sounded so terrifying on one side of the door, but so lovely on the other?
With all of these questions burning in my mind, I knew I’d never get back to sleep. I paced the room and waited impatiently until my door buzzed open for breakfast. Walking down, I was once again greeted by the pink half teddy bear, half cat creature that often plagued me. Seeing his face whole reminded me of how bent and broken it had been in my nightmare the night before. Shaking my head, I once again walked faster to try and outpace him. “I’ll have to tell the doctor that these meds are giving me hallucinations,” I said out loud.
“I’m not a hallucination, Cara! It’s me, Vim! This is our last chance! This isn’t real! You’re dreaming and sleepwalking!” I stopped abruptly and whipped around to tell him to leave me alone when something caught my attention in the corner of my eye. I looked around and saw the last thing I ever wanted to see again. The gray monstrosity from my nightmares stood at the end of the hallway, long knife in hand, low groan emanating from deep inside its chest.
“The Dredge,” I heard Vim whimper. “Cara, I’m begging you, don’t go through any doors.” Just then, what had simply looked like a crack in the wall began to rip open and a dark doorway formed. Freezing, dry, stale air blew out at me.
“No!” Vim wailed. I looked down at the furry pink creature and my nightmare from before leapt into my mind. “I think I have to, Vim. To save you from that,” I said, glancing back up at The Dredge, who had begun advancing. “It will be ok,” I said, as Vim clung to my hand, crying. “I went through in a dream last night. I got to go home. I was normal again. Everything will be ok.”
“Cara, no, please,” Vim sobbed. “You are dreaming now! YOU’RE SLEEP WALKING! Please wake up!”
“Come with me,” I said, scooping the little pink creature into my arms, as The Dredge came ever closer.
“Ok,” said Vim, still crying. “If that’s what I have to do to be with you again.” I smiled and kissed his little forehead and turned to go through the door when I felt Vim yanked out of my arms by an icy cold grip. I tried to grab him back, but The Dredge held him out of my reach. Though my heart was in my throat, I knew what I had to do. I dove through the door.
I slowly opened my eyes as I struggled to wake up from my latest nightmare. It had something to do with being trapped in a mental hospital for years, though the details were already growing fuzzy. The gloom of another cloudy day did not make it any easier to wake up. As I glanced around the room I’d been sleeping in since I was a child, I realized that I should probably redecorate soon. There were still posters up of boy bands that had been broken up for years. Oh well, just another thing I needed to add to my list of things to do.
I swung my legs out of bed and put my feet down on the wooden floor. It was cold enough that I jerked my feet back into my warm bed. “Jesus,” I muttered to myself. “Why can’t I get this house any warmer? I’ll have to call a heating guy to come take a look at the furnace or something.”
I wasn’t looking forward to having to deal with that myself. A few mornings ago, I had awoken to a note from my mom saying that she would be visiting with her sister out of town for awhile and that she would be back soon and that I shouldn’t worry. I’ve tried calling her cell, but it just rings and rings and she never picks up. I’m not really that worried yet, though. My aunt lives way out in the boonies. She normally doesn’t have great cell service out there anyway.
I padded softly down to the kitchen for some breakfast. The cupboards were woefully bare. “Add shopping to the list of things to do today,” I grumbled. I managed to find a loaf of bread that was about 12 hours away from being inedible. As I munched on my stale toast, I went and stared out of the big bay window in our living room. It was so gray and cloudy out that it barely felt like it was actually daytime. This oppressive grayness had been stubbornly sticking around for days. I felt like it had started right around the time my mom left for her sister’s. It would figure that the days I was feeling lonely without my mom would be the nastiest days possible.
I wandered over to the TV to turn on the weather and see when I could expect the sun to return. I flipped the TV on and tried to get the weather channel, but every station was static. I turned it back off and flung the remote back on the coffee table disgustedly. Why was everything determined to break at the exact same time?
Snapping my fingers suddenly, I remembered I had the weather app on my phone that I could check. But I couldn’t find my phone, even after tearing the house apart looking for it. Feeling close to tears, I pressed my palms into my eyes until I saw stars behind my eyelids. After a few deep breaths, I decided I just needed to get out of the house. I had been in here for too long by myself with no company except for the ever-present gloom and chill that hung around the whole house.
Feeling like buying some food was the most important item on my to-do list, I went back into the kitchen to see what I needed. Everything was the answer. Even the quart of milk in the fridge had gone bad. I gagged when I opened it and gave it a whiff. “Gee, thanks for leaving suddenly with no provisions in the house for your only daughter, mom,” I snarled to no one in particular. I grabbed a handful of money from the jar she kept in the back of the pantry and headed out to the store.
It was only a short bike ride from our house, so I took my time. I didn’t see anyone out as I pedaled slowly down the street, but that was to be expected, I suppose. No one wanted to be outside in this nasty weather.
When I reached the store, it was pretty dead inside as well. I could see a few people hurrying around corners and rushing down aisles, always in the opposite direction I was headed. No one was talking. Not that it really bothered me. I wasn’t usually inclined to talk to other people anyway.
When I got to the checkout counter, the woman scanned my groceries robotically and didn’t say anything to me either. The silence was becoming so odd and oppressive that I attempted to engage her in some polite small talk while I bagged the groceries. But despite my best efforts with comments about the bleakness of the weather, I got nothing in return. Only a blank stare with no real life behind it.
Feeling even weirder and more lonely than ever before, I biked home quickly. Once back in the house, my sense of loneliness only intensified. I tried calling my mom again, but I still got no answer. I could feel a sense of panic rising in my chest. Why did everything just feel wrong? I closed my eyes and took some more deep breaths. When I opened my eyes, they fell on the DVD shelf across the room. “Perfect!” I thought. Even if the TV wasn’t working, I could watch a funny DVD. That would make me feel better. I selected one, popped it in, and curled up on the couch under a blanket. I did feel better while the movie was running, but as soon as it was over, the heaviness and dread reappeared almost immediately. I stared out the window hoping to see another person. Some kids playing ball, the mailman dropping off a package, someone walking their dog. But there was no one. I momentarily considered calling the police, but I had no idea what I would even say. “Excuse me officer, I think I’m having a mental breakdown because it’s cloudy out, my house is cold, my mom doesn’t have cell service, no one talked to me in the grocery store today, and no one is outside in this terrible weather.” Hearing myself say that in my head made me realize how ridiculous I was being. I gave myself a little mental shake and decided it was time for some dinner.
After whipping up a meal of all of my favorite things, I spotted a bottle of wine high up on a shelf. I only thought about it for a split second before I was grabbing a stool to get the bottle down. “Who cares if I’m only 17?” I thought. “This is what my mom gets for leaving a teenager alone in the house.”
I ate and drank myself into a near oblivion. Drunk, full, and tired, I dragged myself up the stairs and to my room. “ ‘S time for bed, I guess,” I slurred out loud. I pulled my pajamas on and crawled into bed. I searched under the covers for the little bright pink stuffed teddy bear that was really half bear/half cat that I slept with every night. I’d had it as long as I could remember. As I pulled it close into a hug, my fingers brushed over the scar on my arm from when the neighbor’s Cocker Spaniel bit me a few years back. I had had an extreme fear of dogs since then, but I was slowly getting over it. “Maybe I’ll go play with some puppies at the animal shelter, tomorrow,” I mused to myself. “Get some company and get over my fear of dogs at the same time. Kill two birds with one stone.”
Rolling over, I let out a huge yawn and closed my eyes. For a moment, I could have sworn I heard a pounding noise from very far away, like someone was knocking on a door loudly from a few houses down the street. As I was drifting off, it also sounded like a tiny, faraway voice was squeaking, “Cara! Cara, where are you?” I chuckled to myself. I had been hearing that same knocking and voice for a few nights now, but as I could never find any source of it, I guessed I must have been imagining it. And tonight I was certainly too tired and drunk to take another fruitless search around. “Oh well,” I thought, as I could feel myself being pulled into sleep. “At least the sun might be out tomorrow.”
Credit: N. Christ