Kaylie Russell stood looking out the window of her two story house. The view was comprised of a mountain side and thick acres of woodland. This place is what she always dreamed about. It was a mansion in the country side, isolated to provide an illusion of safety. No city noise was present and there were no irritating neighbors to deal with.
She had just woken up, and was stretching while taking in the surroundings. Kaylie could not remember a single dream from last night. This was a bad thing when considering what she did for a living, although overall she was happy to be free from the nightmares.
Kaylie had written and sold a book titled ‘The Dream Dictionary For The Average Jane’ last year. It had a glossy pink candy cover and sold well. She used the advance money to rent this lodging. It was her ticket to a great life, but the rent had increased, and last month’s sales were not as good as the previous ones.
Kaylie knew that deciding to live here was a compulsive decision based on how she had grown up poor, and finally had an opportunity to live differently from the days of ramen and micro-waved food, the way her family had always existed. Kaylie also knew that she was going to do anything and everything to stay at this estate, with its polished oak wood floors and spacious main living quarters, even if that meant finding someone else to share the place with.
Kaylie opened up her laptop and within minutes put out an ad for a roommate, the requirements being that they pay half of the monthly living fee and be female.
She crossed her fingers and hoped that whoever responded was quiet and did not wear a flesh suit. Kaylie received a response within half a week. They had agreed on a time and location. The first rule of meeting someone face to face with whom you made initial acquaintanceship with online is to approach them in a public area, one that is populated. So, a coffee shop in town it was, a place next to a lake owned by the same family for decades. The correspondent said she would be wearing a Victorian black & purple dress.
Kaylie pulled up to the coffee establishment in her Sedan. There was only one other vehicle in the parking lot. It was a Ford Taurus whose exterior was disintegrating in a mire of pallid rust.
She walked into the stuffy café, its floors carpeted with a plush red rug and its tables draped with a yellow cloth. There was a row of truckers sitting at the counter. This business was one of the rare few that did not enforce the anti-smoking legislative, so the effervescence of tobacco use thickened the air.
There were two women at a table against one of the windows overlooking the wind pummeled lake. One was roughly seventy years old, with long black hair and dark bags under her eyes. The other was in her mid twenties, wearing the dress described in the letter.
Kaylie walked over to them and introduced herself, at which point the younger woman insisted she take a seat. The younger woman was smiling at her. The older one was staring off in the distance and not making eye contact. It took Kaylie a few seconds to realize something, after observing how the woman was transfixed towards a certain direction of the room where nothing appealing was setup. This lady was blind.
“I’m Anna,” the mid twenties woman said, extending a hand, which Kaylie shook. “This is my mother, Gillian. I’m the one you were writing to. I should have told you it was two of us. I’m sorry if it seems like we lied, it’s just that we’ve been busy, and it didn’t seem worth it to really explain everything right away.”
“No problem,” Kaylie said, taking in a deep breath and gazing for a long second at Gillian.
“My mother can’t see,” Anna said. “She went through blindness ago. She’s independent and takes care of herself. She doesn’t need help getting around. If she does, she’ll just call me and I’ll swing by. I promise you won’t have to do a thing. I just need a new place for her to live, because she can’t handle where we’re at right now.”
“You’re not going to move in with her?”
“No,” Anna said, shaking her head. “I’ll just drop by to visit her once a month, or more if she calls me. I’ll always give you advance notice of that.”
“Okay,” Kaylie said, her thoughts swimming. This was not what she envisioned.
The woman turned and said something in a foreign language. Spanish, Kaylie thought, great. Not only is she elderly and blind, but she doesn’t speak English. What perfect conditions for a roommate. Then Kaylie mulled it over some more, and considered it as having hidden benefits. After all, it must be effortless to get along with someone who does not know the same language.
“She’s a good human,” Anna said. “We recently went through a traumatizing event. She wants some time alone to grieve the passing of my father.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Kaylie said.
“He died trying to protect us,” Anna said. “Someone broke into our house and stole our jewelry. My father caught up with him. They both shot each other in the woods. Both died. Anyways, I’ll bring her food when she needs it. She’s healthy for her age. She calls me every day. There are no pre-existing conditions you need to worry about. She’ll never fail to pay the rent because she has retirement money coming in. My father ran a wholesale market chain and left her a good sum. She doesn’t need a roommate. We just saw pictures of the house you live in and it looks nice, far away from where everything happened. I have a husband and three kids. I don’t have the space in my apartment, or the money to buy a bigger place and stuff her away in a room somewhere, it wouldn’t be fair to her or my family. Please give her a chance, Kaylie. You’ll be fine, it’ll be like she’s not there.”
Kaylie nodded. Anna did touch upon all of her worries and immediate anxieties in regards to the situation.
“Deal,” Kaylie said, and a final handshake was given.
Over the next few weeks, everything went well. Anna rarely visited. Kaylie checked on Gillian once a day. A friendly wave and exchanged smiles was the entirety of their encounters.
While Gillan was private (and even reclusive), Kaylie observed how the room became personalized with an obscure style since she moved in. Velvet colored candles strewn across the room, these lighting fixtures circled the general perimeter in some kind of pointed design that Kaylie did not pay attention to.
Kaylie had begun to think that the old lady was good luck. By the third week, she had received a call from her agent, who stated that the publishing house wanted a second dream dictionary, and they had snagged a blurb from a well known sitcom actress. The agent asked her if she would move to L.A. to become a celebrity dream consultant. These words made her knees shake, and she felt like crying out of happiness, although she did not answer the question. The notion of moving out of the abode she had always wanted would take time to decide upon.
Kaylie celebrated. She called a cab and took it to midtown, spending the rest of the night blurring the lines between reality and the dream state with bourbon, orange peels & cherries floating in her cup. Kaylie remembered dancing and contemplating having an office in the city of angels where people of notoriety would ask her about what their subconscious was trying to tell them.
Somehow, she got home safely and passed out in bed. In this dream, she was laying down on the concrete floor of an empty wine cellar. The racks held countless unlabelled bottles. She stood up and walked up a decrepit, damp staircase coated with layers dust. She opened a set of doors at the top.
Kaylie was now standing in the middle of a desert, a mountain range of dirt, cacti and illuminating planetary radiance surrounding the circle of desiccated tumbleweeds. There was a flat house miles away.
Once Kaylie was standing in front of it, she saw it was not a large residence, but a labyrinth of bones. All of them were deformed. The spines were twisted, curved, the jaws jutting in opposite directions of the foreheads, the ribs bent in half, all of them glowing with a powdery color underneath the moon’s luminescence.
She woke up covered in sweat. Kaylie walked out into the hallway and to the bathroom, deciding to throw up. Kaylie twisted the doorknob, relieved that it was all a nightmare, when she realized that the door to the restroom was locked. She knocked on the door, knowing it had to be Gillian on the other side.
A scream erupted. Gillian’s guttural lamentation sounded like she was choking on blood amidst a death rattle.
Fatigued but determined, Kaylie lifted up her foot and smashed in the wood next to the handle. With one more solid kick, the entrance gave way.
There was no sign of Gillian. There was, however, a bath tub filled with Polaroids. Kaylie looked at them for a second, and suddenly the urge to vomit was stronger. She crouched over the toilet and let loose a stream of acidic bitters, cherries and whiskey.
After she was done, she slid over to the bath tub and took a look at all of the pictures, each one of them grainy. Each one showed a dead body. The carcasses varied from men to women, all of them naked and bound, their blood dripping on the gritty cement they were sprawled on.
Kaylie heard rustling behind her. Turning around, she saw Anna standing in the threshold. The woman lunged at her, wrapping her hands around Kaylie’s throat. She struggled and got in a few strikes at Anna’s face, thereby cutting the end of her nose open, but the lack of oxygen was consuming and she felt blackness overtake her.
Kaylie had another dream. In this one, she was being buried alive by a toothless man whose skin was littered with pockmarks. Scorpions were crawling out of the holes in his flesh, and despite the dirt being thrown on her by his shovel, she was happy to be down in the ditch instead of up there fighting him.
After waking up, Kaylie knew by staring at the ceiling that she was in the living room, except now she was tied down, her wrists bound to nailed planks on both sides. Gazing to her left and right, she saw illustrations on the floor; it was difficult to make them out at first, with her vision clearing from the darkness, but inevitably she realized that she was in the center of a tetrahedron. This was a star, the focal point of the merkaba meditation that she had read so many times about in new age books.
All of the lounge chairs and dining sets in the space had been removed. There was shattered glass everywhere. Glyphs were drawn on the walls in crimson. To the left, there was a rooster with a bloody stump for a head. Next to the dead animal was a splintered wooden bowl filled to the brim with blood. In the center of the room was a makeshift fire pit, an inferno blazing in the center, lighting up all of these accessories.
Anna paced a few steps in front of Kaylie. She was wearing a tattered, windblown dress smeared in scarlet.
“Sleeping beauty,” Anna said with a smile.
“Why are you doing this?”
“We want something from you.”
There was a sound of rustling behind her. Within seconds, the figure of Gillian appeared to the right, wearing the same dress as Anna. Her arms were draped in blood. She was holding a jagged piece of glass.
“All of the men and women in my family have been stricken with nightmares since the early eighteen hundreds,” Anna said, approaching closer. “It is a curse in my family, placed on us off the Florida coast when we were in the slave trade by the people of Santeria. You actually wrote about this in your book. You went into detail about what Occultist symbols mean, remember? We do not get any sleep. Since you write what you do, we knew that you have great dreams all the time. We will take them from you.”
Kaylie could not help herself, because before she knew it she was laughing. “I have nothing but nightmares,” she said. “I always have. The dream dictionary was just wish fulfillment.”
“Mentiroso,” Gillian said. Gillian took the rooster, split it down the middle with the glass, drained it, and tossed the animal into the pit.
She stood over Kaylie and got down on her knees. She took the glass and opened up Kaylie’s top.
She carved a glyph onto Kaylie’s stomach. Her screams of pain echoed as the searing agony crept all over her torso.
“You’ll make your own nightmares worse,” Kaylie said, before passing out.
When she woke up again, she was no longer tied. Neither Anna nor Gillian probably expected her to regain consciousness after having lost so much blood, and deemed the ropes an obstruction to the ritual they were practicing.
The mother and daughter were in the corner, chanting from a decaying leather bound book.
Kaylie stood up and kicked the fire pit over. Orange and yellow tendrils spread across the bottom of the house, snaking its way across the wood. As the two turned around, Kaylie grabbed a kitchen chair near the back after having stepped over many shards, and smashed it against Anna. Once the chair had fractured, it left a jagged stump of oak where the leg used to be. Kaylie brought it back, and then impaled Anna’s stomach.
Gillian was screaming as her daughter dropped to the floor, pointing at her and repeating the same syllables over and over again, probably a curse, as the fire lapped at her feet and soon consumed her whole.
Kaylie glanced over and saw that the back kitchen window was open. She hobbled over to it as fast as she could, hurting every step of the way. One she reached the back patio, she took the stairs down and then crawled into the woods, resting next to a tree and staring up at the moon.
The house was now engulfed in flames. It would be eight long minutes before the sound of sirens in the distance could be heard.
Kaylie looked up at the passing clouds. They were forming a familiar maze.
This story originally appeared in Schlock!.