What woke me up that night was the sound of a female voice screaming, coming from underneath my bedroom, but I was so tired and young that I mistook the screams for a horror movie playing loudly on the TV downstairs. But they were just starting to subside when I woke, and within a minute, maybe a minute and a half, they ceased altogether.
But during this time, I sat upright on the bottom bunk, petrified with a primordial fear that cannot be described with the written word, because now I was fully awake, and there was no way of mistaking the sound of your own mother’s voice, her own screams, her crying. Over the course of the past, I don’t know, year? (I’m too young to have a tenuous enough grasp on time) I’ve had to listen to my mother’s shouting and crying a great deal. Me and my two siblings would watch TV in the living room as the vicious fights between her and my father would escalate, my older brother turning the TV up to 100 and still unable to drown out their back-and-forth arguing-
This all flashes through my mind in exactly 1/4th of a second, and the thought of my brother suddenly breaks my paralysis and brings my mind back to reality. I duck my head upward, to the top bunk, but it’s empty, and the bedding is all disturbed and unmade, as if he had left in a rush. It’s possible he had left the room with me not noticing at all, as, to the best of my recollection, I was a very heavy sleeper back then. But it doesn’t really matter how he got out unnoticed, just that he’s not there, not there to give me comfort and reassurance, and now my fear is becoming almost all-consuming. It’s all I can do to get to our bedroom door, wrench it open, and reel out into the hallway.
And just as I do this, downstairs, from the living room Sony stereo, an electronic beat starts to slowly fade in. It’s just a constant thump-thump-thump, percussive sound, slowly building in volume (and thus intensity) that you can more feel in your chest then actually hear in your ears. But I can still hear very clearly, from the kitchen, which is closer to the staircase leading up the bedrooms, the sound of who I can only assume is my dad, opening the fridge, then slamming it closed. The sound of something bottled being open, but it’s not a beer, even though, at 9 years old, there is no rational explanation for why I know, but it’s not a beer.
Cork, I think confusedly, standing near the top of the staircase, my legs filled with a mixture of wet concrete and molten lava. I can’t even move until I hear my father’s laugh coming from downstairs, really coming from just feet away from me, but it sounds so scarily different than his usual laugh that my paralysis breaks again, and I run the opposite way, away from the staircase. Past my bedroom door, which is open. I’m trying and succeeding to be as quiet as I can and the bassy beats from downstairs are only helping me achieve this, and they’ve now become too loud. Way too loud, for this time of night.
Past the bathroom, the door also open: the lights also off, also vacant. I’m too young to curse but feel the emotion and continue down the hallways, but that’s when I hear my father’s heavy footfalls lumbering up the staircase. “Hey!” he shouts. “Kids!”
I see my sister’s bedroom that’s all to herself, but it’s in the far corner, past my parents’ bedroom and my father’s home office. And even though I suspect that my brother and her are inside there, in fact I even think at that present moment, in my confused state of mind, that my mother was probably in there as well, and they’re all hiding from dad for some reason that I don’t know about, my dad’s shouting again and really close to the top of the stairs so I just duck into his office and close the door quietly behind me, then lock it. Even with it locked I still feel wildly and animalistically unsafe. Going toward the large desk near the window, I grab a fancy chair (one of two; the other is on its far side) by the arm and drag it as quietly as I can across the carpet to block the door as well as I can. Once finished I run back to the desk and hide behind it.
My father must not have heard because I can hear him presently checking the bathroom thoroughly, and know that afterward he will check me and my brother’s room thoroughly, and after that…
He will attempt to check his office thoroughly.
I scramble out from underneath the desk with the dignity of a field mouse and reach for the phone I know is right there because I can see its coiled white wire from my angle beneath the desk. I’m gonna call 911. Even though that thought frightens me, it frightens me less than my father at that moment, even though I can’t have known why yet.
But just as my hand lights on the phone, I see my brother sitting there, in the chair across from the desk. I look behind him and see the chair that I had dragged to the door, still positioned as I had left it. And even though I’m so young that I’m stupid, I’m pretty sure this is impossible, but he’s sitting right across from me.
“I wouldn’t do that,” he says warningly.
“How’d you get in here?” I whisper frantically. “Why not? What’s dad doing?”
“Because the cops are already on the way,” is what he answers. At 13 he’s four years older than me. Weird kid, Glenn. Totally weird kid. “It’s illegal to call the cops twice because it wastes the city’s resources. A cop told us in school one time. If you do it, they’ll arrest you.”
I nod and take my hand off the phone.
“Hey, kids!” my father is screaming. His speech is slurred. It’s coming from the adjacent room, only barely muffled by the thin wall that separates the office from my bedroom. “Where are you?”
That thumping, electronic bassline has been ongoing for two minutes with absolutely no other accompanying instruments and now there’s this ethereal synth sound, slowly starting to mix in with the bass, in some obscure key that doesn’t matter, but at least there was tonality now, however minimal.
“What’s going on?” I whisper in that same frantic voice.
“Dad went mental!” he says back, but there’s something weird about the way he says it: it’s like he’s faking the fear…or better to say he’s mimicking my own.
“Where’s Kerry?” I say, meaning my sister, and he shrugs, eyes wide with faux worry.
But now Kerry is right behind me on the floor. I feel her grab me around the waist and hug me, and now I know this is impossible.
There’s only one door to this room, I think, but I’m so comforted by their presence that I don’t care that it’s impossible.
“It’s okay,” I tell my sister mutedly, “Where’s mom?”
But just as Glenn is about to answer, or at least I think he’s gonna answer, I’m not sure, the door to the office gets tested from the outside.
There are two full seconds of silence so melodramatic and thick it’s hard to bear and I have to move along now.
“Glenn!” he finally shouts. “Or Kelly, or Kerry, I know one of you is in there! Open the door. Your father needs to get something from his office!”
But none of us say a word. Glenn silently mouths the words “He’s drunk” to me, and I know what that means, at least kind of. I look over at Kerry and shake my head to signal not to talk. Me and her are Irish twins because we were born only less than a year apart (10 months) and that’s why we were given similar names. It’s all doubly funny because our family are half Irish. We’re both very similar in intellect, beauty, and general features, because we took more after my mother, but my brother is a little different looking: even though we’re all dark-featured, he’s darker, and looks more Italian, like my dad.
I hear my father lurch away from the office door and hear him enter the bedroom. Lastly, I know, he’ll check my sister’s room, then return to the office door.
“Glenn!” I hiss while my dad is away. “Can you hold my hand? I’m scared!” I’m embarrassed to ask this but I’m too scared not to.
“I can’t,” he says. His tone could be mistaken for regrettable, but it was, in reality, casual. “The distance is too great.” My sister starts to cry against my back after she hears me admit I’m scared out loud.
Glenn, man. Totally weird kid.
Five days ago, when all three of us kids were in the living room with Nickelodeon blasted up to 1,000% volume, trying to hear “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”, my parents’ arguing had become too loud and vicious. My father kept accusing my mother of “cheating on him”. That’s what she did wrong, “cheat” on him, I don’t know what that means but I’m able to process that it’s something bad and apparently worthy of punishment. My dad, irate, had started to go into graphic detail about the suicide of Joey, this younger guy my mom brought me to hang around with once, or twice. Once at Orchard Beach, and once at his apartment, where he let me play his Sega Genesis. I only met Joey twice but liked him more than my own father even after so little time. He had “blown his fuckin’ brains out with a shotgun”, those were the words my dad used, I think. The TV had been very loud. Me and my sister had exchanged worried glances with each other at this point, but my brother’s eyes had remained fixed and glazed, indifferent, on the TV screen.
“What happened?” I ask.
“Dad went mental,” Glenn says again.
“What happened to mom?” I ask.
But just then my dad comes back to the office door.
Through the door, I can hear him clear his throat one time. “This is your father speaking! Glenn, Kelly and Kerry! I know you’re in there! Open this door now! We need to talk, kids!”
None of us answer; even Glenn looks too scared to. From behind me, through the blinds, I can see the flash of blue and red lights coming from the dark street outside, then a spotlight. For some reason I think the cops are there to get me.
Now there’s an electronic shriek from behind the door. “THIS IS YOUR FATHER SPEAKING!” my father’s voice buzzes out at quadruple the volume, amplified by a megaphone. “OPEN THIS DOOR NOW!” His tone of voice, the brutality in it…It reminds of this guy I learned about in history class, he was the bad guy in a world war with a funny moustache, and my dad’s tone of voice reminded me of this guy. His name had been Hitman. That awful electronic song is still ongoing, it must be some kind of extended version, and painfully audible from the office, which is directly above the living room. I can hear the floors shaking from the sub-woofers my father owns.
Still not having gotten any reply, my father starts banging on the door in a fury. “OPEN THIS FUCKIN’ DOOR!” he screams through the megaphone. My sister shrieks and won’t stop shrieking.
“HA!” he screams, his voice insect-like, robotic, and loud, then starts pounding at the door with double the savagery- no! He’s got something in his hand, a tool…
“Do you know of prayer?” my brother asks mysteriously, his eyes glued in horror to the office door, which is starting to splinter. He pronounced the last word funny and I’ll never forget that: it sounded more like “player” than “prayer”.
“Take Kerry’s hand,” he instructs, very slowly, “and pray.”
We do this. “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…” We can only breathe these words, not actually speak them.
“OPEN THE DOOR!” my father is screaming repeatedly into the megaphone. “THIS IS YOUR FATHER SPEAKING! THIS IS YOUR FATHER SPEAKING! THIS IS YOUR FATHER SPEAKING!”
The tool he has is a hammer, and he’s destroying the office door with it. There’s a hole little bigger than a fist in the door, dead center, maybe close enough to the lock to reach if he could fit his arm through.
Through this hole, I can see my father’s midsection but not his face or lower half. Very, very vividly, I recall seeing two things that shocked me:
One of them was the part of his pants where your Private is was really big and bulgy, and just as I was staring at this New Thing in horror, the hammer swung into view as he went for another whack at the door. I saw blood and hair on the hammer’s head in the few seconds it was in my field of view.
In moments, the door will burst, not from the hammer but from his anger alone, his wrath, it will splinter into a million pieces and he will stand there, his hair being whipped by torrential winds that cannot possibly exist inside a home, his figure demonic and deranged. That’s what I’m scared of then.
But then that BOOM! From downstairs. Such relief, yes even in dreaming apparently déjà vu can exist; I can hear their furious, authoritarian screams for my dad to drop the weapon and comply, which he does while laughing drunkenly, before they even yell such commands. I know what’s going to happen next. They’re starting up the staircase, yelling very loudly at him not to make any sudden movements-
I sit up in bed. “I’m 28,” I say aloud, then a few more times in my head like a mantra, which usually soothes me after such nightmares. I sleep on the couch because I have a phobia about sleeping in beds alone. I live alone. I have developed rheumatoid arthritis from sleeping on couches for most of my adult life. My prescription pills are on one of the wooden chairs within arm’s reach, in their little orange-and-white bottles. I grab a bottle desperately, but after opening its cap I realized it’s only Prednisone; my sister got some for me illegally from the nursing home she works at. She pilfers them when she can, as they’re a corticosteroid that helps to treat the inflammation my Crohn’s disease causes, although usually the marijuana I use daily is enough to keep both my sanity and the inflammation at bay, but you can never have too much medicine. That’s my philosophy. There are only two other bottles on the chair, and I grab both. “I’m 28,” I say aloud again, the nightmare threatening to get to me. I’m staring at both bottles, one of them is for 1mg Clonazepam and the other is for 2mg Clonazepam. That’s not possible. I check the dates on them, and they expire on the exact same date: 12/29/21. That’s not possible. When I have them both in my hands I consider my options, and even though I’m holding the only things that can give me any semblance of relief at this stage in my life, I find myself unable to make a decision. For the past week or so, upon waking (I have no agency in my daily routine or sleep cycle, or when they start or end; these things are entirely controlled by my nightmares) I usually take half of one of the white, 2mg tablets. But I’m getting the urge to take a full pill for some reason, I guess just for the psychosomatic effect, and now I’m considering taking a whole, 1mg green pill. But I still can’t decide and I’m starting to cry pathetically as I hold these bottles in my hands, cold, as I always am in the morning, or night: the time when I wake. So cold. Eventually I can’t tolerate the internal struggle any longer and take one half of a 1mg green tablet and a whole 2mg white tablet.
On days when I am afflicted by this recurring nightmare, they usually go as follows:
If I wake up during the daylight hours, it is usually at some time between 6 and 7am. During this time, I preoccupy myself with worthless talents such as guitar-playing, reading, or writing- these things are “innate” to me, and that’s the only reason they hold my interest at all: because I’m already good at them without needing to try. I’ll do these things for as long as I possibly can, sometimes the tips of the fingers on my left hand, already calloused from years of playing, bleeding openly after hours and hours of playing. I have a Fender Telecaster Thinline reissue and a Fender Super Sonic 22 Amplifier. I will read sometimes; I will write a little less often. If I don’t drag this process out long enough, if I fail to drag my 3-4 daily cups of coffee out just so, I’ll end up staring at the walls, drooling, with nothing to do, no one to talk to, and nowhere to go. This is very bad, so it’s important that I avoid this at all costs. I’m tired during most of this process but a combination of solar energy and caffeine is usually enough to keep me going till around 2pm, give or take an hour. At this point my outrageous caffeine addiction will typically be sated, and I will, ironically, be able to finally rest- not go back to sleep. I will at this time lay on my couch, and whether it be summer or winter I will aim a fan on its highest setting directly onto me, then wrap myself in a blanket and lie down, usually in the fetal position if the couch is accommodating enough. At this time I can only go into a fugue state, during which I am not conscious but not sleeping, and I’m able to achieve some semblance of rest, but this lasts for typically two-and-a-half hours before my body will not allow me to lay anymore. If I can muster the energy, I’ll usually have one meal, or large snack, during the evenings, drink more cups of coffee so I’ll be able to sleep later on without going into caffeine withdrawals, then at almost exactly 11pm, take a full 2mg white Clonazepam and two 3mg Melatonin, as well as a mug of Sleepy Time Tea with milk and sugar if I have it on-hand. This usually does the trick in getting me to sleep, but never in quelling the nightmares.
When I wake up at night, is it unadulterated madness. Too late to play my guitar, because the amplifier is almost too loud for its own good. Nothing to do, nowhere to go, lots of staring at walls. My excretory habits seem especially erratic, even taking my Crohn’s disease into consideration, during these endless, umbral hours. During the day you can barely find any more restaurants or even fast-food places that allow you to dine in; at night, it is an impossibility. A lot of dairy, very easy to eat and prepare while also being very nutritious. Waiting with bated breath for hours upon hours for a dawn that is perpetually far off. But when it does come, it is meaningless. What does another day mean to me? Shall I seize it? With what? One time, at first light, when my apartment started becoming naturally lit by the dawn light, I saw the lyrics “LOVE WILL TEAR US APART” written on my white wall in a dark shade of purple lipstick, even though I haven’t the faintest recollection of doing this. Nor do I own lipstick of any shade. During these hours I’m afraid and paranoid that my father is after me and finding a way to break into my apartment. I have a phobia about doors being closed, and one time I woke up and, after taking half a 2mg Clonazepam, noticed that my bathroom door was closed, even though I was positive I had left it open the night prior. I don’t live in an apartment. I live in a basement. The door leading upstairs is always closed. It is locked, but from the outside, not the inside. I have proof. I think there’s a cricket invasion down here, but I can’t be sure if the bugs are real.
Physically I look like an eternal 16-, or 17-year-old kid (I still get ID’d for the cigarettes I chain-smoke), but that’s all just an illusion, a freak of genetics. I am utterly convinced that there will come a day, as early as tomorrow and surely no later than the 2030’s, when this outward look of precocity will vanish overnight. If there were someone in this world willing to sleep beside me, they would go to bed beside a skinny, baby-faced young man and wake up beside a man with hair grey to the roots, lurid wrinkles around his eyelids, and jaw drooling like a feeble geriatric.
Updates on my family?
My sister and I are able to communicate all but telepathically using the most basic and primitive of hand and facial gestures. We both hate our older brother’s guts.
I was involved in a knife fight with my brother 5 weeks ago, although there were no injuries, none, not so much as a scratch. He has developed a penchant for abusing dogs, which sparked the altercation. It would make me genuinely happy to take his life.
My mother, of course, has been dead for nineteen years.
My father, as of this very second, is free to walk amongst society. He is still equally as dangerous as he’s always been, but I cannot warn you to steer clear of him by providing you with his physical description, because I have thankfully forgotten his face. At least, I think that’s something to be thankful for. I’m not sure. I’ll ask my psychiatrist next week whether that’s something I should feel thankful about, although she might interrupt me. She interrupts me a lot. This is especially annoying when she asks me about personal details unprompted, and then when I make to reply, she usually interrupts me if my answer exceeds roughly twenty seconds. I have timed this and I’m sure it’s the truth. She has other patients; I understand.
What is thankful is that this latest nightmare ended before the door burst open. Usually it never does. The face of the figure in the hallway, forgotten to me, takes on many forms in my nightmares. It could be anybody: Frankenstein’s monster, Leatherface, a demon, the Pied Piper, Adrien Brody, sometimes even Hitman. Er, Hitler.
It could be anybody.
Credit : Sean Shahgholi
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