Earworm: Part 53 — Resolution

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 52 — Contagion

“You look like you’re serious,” Joel said.

“I am serious,” Hope said.

“C’mon, I don’t even want to talk about this stuff.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s nuts,” Joel said in a hushed growl, leaning forward and glancing around the back corner of the town library, where most high school students went on weekday evenings—a place for them to gather without parents nagging them about going out on a weeknight. “That’s why,” Joel said, leaning back in his seat.

“I know it sounds crazy,” Hope said in a voice sounding way too level for this—she actually did sound serious—“But wouldn’t it make sense?”

“Um… no, not really.”

“Look, it sounds ridiculous, but it does makes sense,” Hope said in a dire whisper, sounding like Nancy Drew unraveling some implausible plot.

“No it doesn’t,” Joel mocked her whisper.

“How else do you explain why we’re having these night terrors?”

“What the hell’s a night terror?”

“What we’re having. And how can our dreams have such similarities? And how come they all involve William Knight?”

“Mine didn’t involve William Knight. I dreamt about you, remember?”

“Yeah, the same way I dreamt about you. But in some way, William was in the dreams. In all your nightmares, you know, before you got paralyzed, or in the car crash, or in the locker room, what were you thinking about?”

“I have no idea. What? Am I supposed to remember every detail of a dream?”

“I think you do,” Hope said with the tone of a trial lawyer drilling a witness. “Think about it, what were you thinking about at the beginning of your dream last night?”

“I don’t know,” Joel said. But he did know, he distinctly remembered thinking about whacking William Knight in the face with the volleyball. “I don’t remember,” he lied. He wasn’t going to humor her and say that yeah, he was, in fact, thinking about William at the beginning of his dream. Because if he was following what she was saying, she was suggesting that little Willy Knightmare was causing matching his and her bad dreams.

“In my dreams,” Hope said, “it’s like his name is spoken in my head, and then, for a brief instant, I see him.”

What she said did trigger a flash of recognition. Wasn’t that how it happened? Don’tcha remember picturing him looking up at you with the blood running from under his fingers? No, stop it.

“And,” Hope continued, “it feels like something is filling my head and stealing my memories.”

This, too, struck a chord of recognition. He remembered the sensation of thoughts robbed from him as he looked around his bedroom, and Tom Brady threw southpaw… No, stop.

“And it feels like some animal is loose in my head,” Hope said, her voice full of conviction, yet detached somehow.

Yeah, detached from reality.

“Like I can feel him tiptoeing around up there. And the dreams, they’re so vivid, so lifelike…”

“Okay, enough, stop,” Joel said. “If you think this kid can get into our dreams—that is what you’re telling me, right, that William Knight is knowingly causing our nightmares?” It sounded even stupider when said aloud, and he could tell by the change in Hope’s expression that she thought so too.

“No. Well, yes, I don’t know about knowingly. But how else do you explain it?”

“We had nightmares. Sometimes people have them.”

“But the same type of nightmares? And when mine stop, yours start?”

“Ever hear of coincidence?” Joel said.

But when hers stopped, mine did start… will you cut it out.

And what was it William said in the locker room?

“I don’t know why you can’t see this,” Hope said, as if to herself.

Joel bit his tongue—almost saying: I don’t see it, cause I ain’t crazy.

Sweet dreams, Joel, William said.

Stop it.

“It’s like,” Hope’s tone took on an almost pleading edge, “in my last dream, I dreamt that you were going to burn me at the stake…”

“What?” Joel laughed.

“Wait, hear me out, that’s not the weird part.”

“It’s not?” he chuckled.

“No. In the dream, William shows up to rescue me, and it was like I had this sudden realization that he was somehow behind the dreams. How can you not see this?”

“Guess I haven’t had any sudden realizations. Look, Hope, dreams can seem very real, believe me, I know, but I’m getting uncomfortable talking about this stuff. I mean, you sound like you’ve gone crazy.”

Hope’s expression slid off her face. It was replaced with many different expressions. Starting with confusion, moving on to embarrassment, finishing with anger.

Joel said, “It just sounds stupid. You sound crazy.”

“You don’t have to keep using that word.”

“How about loony? Or whacko? Are those better?” Joel said.

Hope looked down at her homework and started scribbling math problems.

Joel shifted in his seat. “So, uh… then how exactly is William doing it?” he said, his voice saturated with skepticism.

Hope looked up at him, her expression saying: You wanted to drop this.

Joel chuckled under his breath and said, “I mean, do you think he’s like using ESP, or mind altering drugs, or… hey, maybe he’s from Mars and wants to take over the planet by using mind control.” Joel put his index fingers atop his head like antennae, and in a Martian voice said, “I am here to take over Bayview High School. Take me to your hottest babe…” Joel stopped and mocked an expression of deep thought, “You know, being from Mars would explain a lot about him.”

Hope glared at him and then went back to her math problems.

Joel then said in his best Tommy Chong impression, “Maybe he’s slipping us LSD. Cool man.” Then he continued in a snotty tone, “So tell me, how you gonna find out if it’s really him?”

Hope looked up at Joel. “I’m gonna ask him,” she said.

“Oh, yeah, okay.”

“No, really.” She looked and sounded a little too resolute for Joel’s liking.

“You’re kidding.”

“No, I’m not.”

“So you’re gonna walk up to this kid and ask if he’s getting into your head?”

“Yup.”

Joel cracked an arrogant smile. “All right,” he said, lifting up his hands.

“You know what, Joel?” Hope said, looking up from her math work—Joel didn’t realize it, but Hope was using her mother’s that’s it tone—“You’ve had a couple of bad dreams, but you haven’t had the worst of it. You haven’t had the good dreams, too. You don’t know what it’s like to have dream after dream, night after night, so lifelike and believable that in real life when you open a door, you aren’t sure if something is going to leap out at you. And you don’t know what

it’s like to have your dead father returned to you and used as a weapon against you.” Her eyes filled with tears, but anger kept them from spilling, and although her voice was heavy, her words were biting, rapid, rabid. “So you know what, Joel, when you’ve had enough of these nightmares, then you can come back and tell me I’m crazy, okay? Till then, just shut up.” And as abruptly as she started her tirade, she ended it, returning to her homework.

Joel shifted in his seat. He tapped his fingers in the silence between them. Someone in the distance laughed and Joel ducked the sound as if it was a line drive at his head. He picked up his pencil and colored between the sky-blue lines of his notebook paper. “Well,” he said, trying not to sound too patronizing, “William wasn’t even in school today, maybe neither of us will have nightmares tonight.”

Continued in: Earworm: Part 54 — Best Dream Ever 

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Earworm: Part 52 — Contagion

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 51 — Ring Around the Rosy

By Monday, Hope had regained the spring in her step as day by day the memories of the nightmares wore off like the fading stench of a skunk’s spray. The memories were still there, but diluted, replaced with an understanding that soon they would pass entirely. She still felt worn, violated somehow, but she could at least now begin her day without feeling as if about to break into tears or jumping after seeing some phantom from the corner of her eye. After all, she slept through the third night in a row without the torment of corpses, Joel, or her father. Maybe she wouldn’t need to be wired in a lab after all. Hope walked into homeroom, spotting Joel sitting in his usual seat. Hope went to him with her new optimism. “Hey,” she said, “Guess what… what’s the matter with you?”

“I think your nightmares are contagious,” Joel said.

“What do you mean?” Hope said, sitting in her seat and turning to face him.

“I had the scariest dream of my life last night. Which is pretty bad, seeing as I had the scariest dreams possible the two nights before that.”

“About what?”

“Well, Friday I dreamt I got paralyzed in a football game. Which didn’t help my playing on Saturday. And then Saturday night I dreamt Guard and I were in a car crash. And last night…” Joel stared at his hands folded on the desk. “I dreamt you were a monster that killed people.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. And the worst thing was, when I woke up, it was like I woke into another dream. It was just as if I was in my room, for real.” He looked at Hope, then returned his gaze to his hands, saying, “and then you sprang from out of nowhere and attacked me.” Hope listened to Joel’s story as she looked out the back window at an autumn pewter sky. Then Joel said, “It felt like someone was stealing thoughts right outa my head.”

“What?” Hope returned her attention to Joel.

“Yeah,” Joel said to his folded hands. “It was the weirdest sensation.”

“Was William Knight in your dream?”

It’s you behind the nightmares.

“No,” Joel said. “But, hey, that kid’s name’s been stuck in my head all weekend. I probably have you to thank for that.”

“What?”

“I keep thinking about that kid and his bloody nose, having flashes of him staring up at me, holding his face, wondering why he hates me so much.”

“Are you serious, or are you teasing me?”

“No. I’m dead serious.”

“Isn’t that weird?”

“Which part?”

“How similar our dreams are,” Hope said, looking out at the cloud washed sky.

“It’s called the power of suggestion.” Joel said, stealing a quick look at her and saying, “So what kind of wonderful nightmares did you have last night?”

Hope watched as spurts of rain splashed across the windows. “Haven’t had any for the past three nights,” she said.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 53 — Resolution

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Earworm: Part 51 — Ring Around the Rosy

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 50 — The Locker Room

What the… Glenn Dey sat up, eyes adjusting to the dark. His perception puzzled together a recognizable landscape, the features of the room losing the distortion caused by the moonlight. Okay, there’s the dresser, the door of the closet, the enormous armoire given to Emily by her grandmother… And there was Emily lying beside him, fragile as an eggshell in the moonlight. Sweet, fragile Emily, like a rescued maiden in a fairytale. But there was something about a dream… Okay, think, what was that dream about? It was about Emily of course. It was about Emily and… He couldn’t remember. It was about Emily and what? Glenn surveyed the bedroom again. He looked like—at the risk of sounding obvious—a man awakened from a dream. But that concept was becoming smeared, the line separating dreams and reality fading. Lately, when he woke from sleep, he needed to focus on objects, landmarks, foot and finger holds, to pull himself to full consciousness. Because lately, his dreams felt more like real memories. So there’s the dresser, the closet, the armoire, and… He jerked as the boiler kicked on in the house’s basement, battling the frigid fingers of a late March cold snap. The boiler grumbling like something organic, the heartbeat of a living being, its blood trickling through the copper piping of the house. Lately the house, all the neighborhood’s houses, seemed like living things to Glenn, a block of sinister, ancient creatures watching people come and go with wise, silent judgment… The girl. That was it. The dream was about Emily and that girl next door. That hippie chick. What’s her name? Robin or something. Egret maybe? It’s a bird, I know that, it’s… Starling. Yeah, Starling, that little stoner bitch. And Gordon said to watch out for her friend, what was the little shit’s name… Kermit or something? Ernie, that’s it. I thought Emily was fooling around with that guy, but it’s really… Emily’s stirring interrupted his thoughts. Beside him, his wife whispered an exhaling coo as her body stretched and reached out of sleep. Would she have to climb out of her dreams using recognizable landmarks as anchor lines too?

Glenn dreamt about Emily and that girl next door. The images climbed back into his mind, as viable a memory as what he did at work that day. In the dream, Emily told Glenn she loved Starling and that she needed to go. Go where? Why would she leave him? The questions spun frantic in his mind. What was happening to him? He pinched the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyes shut. In the past few months, he’d dreamt everything from the absurd: being on a hunting trip, except Glenn and his friends were the game, being stalked by a group of inebriated stags dressed in bright orange parkas, walking upright, and drunkenly firing shotguns with hoofed hands. To the utterly realistic: Emily sitting Glenn down in their living room, she leaning forward, taking both his hands in hers, and explaining that she was in love with someone else, a woman, the girl next door, and that she needed to… Utterly realistic? How was that utterly realistic? Things were great between them. They’ve never been happier. They were a family. Not to mention Emily wasn’t a lesbian. Or was she? Of course not. It was a dream—Push it out of your head, will you?

Lately, Glenn recalled a dream he had while in grade school. It was a dream about his neighbor’s dog. Amber was the thing’s name. A harmless cocker spaniel that ran in excited circles. But one night, Glenn dreamt about little Amber mauling him with vicious barks and lunging bites. And that dream was enough trauma to cause Glenn’s despising of that stupid dog. Not an opportunity went by, when Glenn passed Amber in her fenced-in yard, that Glenn didn’t throw—a snowball, a stone, a wad of gum—something at that dog. Of course, by high school, Glenn grew out of this cruelty and he felt guilty about it in retrospect. He even helped Carl Henderson bury the dog after a car hit it. But the fact remained, that dream was enough of a catalyst for Glenn to abuse a poor, helpless, friendly dog. To this day, he never forgot a single detail about that dog. In fact, he could still describe it to a composite artist and create a virtual photograph of the thing. All because of that dream. Sure, in the dream Amber was bigger and fiercer, not even looking like a cocker spaniel at all, but after that dream, the dog achieved a new awareness in Glenn’s mind. That dog was not just something he came across in his day-to-day world. It was something more ingrained, like a chick imprinting its first image of its mother. That dog was somewhere deep in his mind, where dreams go when they’re done. In the receptacle of past memories. But lately, when he tried retrieving memories from that receptacle, the memories didn’t always come cleanly. Images of dreams clung to the images of real life like ticks burrowed into skin. But why dream about his wife having an affair with a woman?

Glenn tended to dispel all that dream analysis junk. To him, shrinks were quacks. What kind of job was it to fix someone’s mind like a mechanic tinkering with a carburetor? But still, Glenn certainly had his share of questions when it came to dreams. Amber a perfect example. And the dreams he’s been having lately warranted plenty of questioning. After all, he’s been having dreams about his wife wanting to leave him for… No-no-no. Will you knock it off?

This was all Gordon Webster’s fault. Gordon saying how he saw Emily hanging around last summer with all those stoners. Gordon drunk, draping his arm over Glenn’s shoulder, saying he wanted to tell Glenn something, even though it was none of Gordo’s business, but Glenn was one of his buds, and buds stick together. “Bros before hoes, man, that’s what I always say,” Gordo said, “But the fact is, I seen Emily last summer down the beach, hanging with a group of guys, and… you know Terrance McAlester? Well his little brother, Ernie, was all doe eyed toward Emily.” It was right there that Gordon planted the seeds of doubt. But Glenn tried to pass it off as nothing. He wasn’t a paranoid type of guy. He and Emily were married for God’s sake. He was sure it was harmless. Emily probably took William to the lake, and that stoner chick from next door strikes up a conversation and… Damn it. That girl from next door.

Emily opened her eyes and looked up at Glenn. A wry smile threatened to steal across her lips as she stretched her arms in a rather content way. “Hi,” she cooed.

“Hi.”

“Were you dreaming?” she said with another ghost of a smile and another stretch of her body.

“Uh-huh.” He studied her, studied the three, tiny moles below her left ear. Three moles gathered in a circular configuration like children playing Ring Around the Rosy. He noticed those moles in his dream. But, unlike the landmarks of reality he used to pull his way out of sleep, these landmarks were in his dream, and how could he get out if…

“About what?” she said.

“Huh?”

“What was the dream about?”

“Don’t know,” Glenn said.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 52 — Contagion

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Earworm: Part 50 — The Locker Room

EarwormContinued from:  Earworm: Part 49 — Dazed and Confused

Joel opened the exterior door and walked into the hallway leading to the locker room. The contrast of plunging from sunlight into the dim corridor momentarily robbing him of his eyesight. He blinked away dark blotches and ran his hand along the wall until the disorientation passed. Joel envisioned the volleyball firing down at William’s face, the memory surfacing in Joel’s mind again. It had been surfacing randomly in his mind since it happened. William’s head snapping back, blood pouring from beneath his fingers. Joel shook off the thought and ducked into the locker room. The room was empty. Joel calling, “Hello?”

No answer.

Joel walked to his locker, his cleats clacking on the concrete floor, echoing in breath-like drumbeats. Where was everyone? They did all leave practice together, didn’t they? Joel couldn’t remember. Like the forgotten punch line of a joke lost mid-delivery, any recollection of practice seemed to be escaping him. Joel took a deep breath, stopping at his locker. Still no memory of practice. He tried his locker’s door. It wouldn’t open, the handle rattling uselessly in his hand.

“What the hell?” Joel said to his stuck locker door. But his locker door was the least of his problems. Back to why he didn’t remember practice. Did he get hit too hard? Did the coach send him to the showers early? Joel didn’t think so. He remembered an uneasy dream about being paralyzed the other night, but he had no memory of taking a hit in practice. In fact, he didn’t remember being at practice at all. Was he turning into Hope, unable to tell the difference between real life and a dream? Joel stopped fighting the locker’s handle for a moment and placed his forehead against the locker’s door. He closed his eyes, searching for any memory of the past few hours. Nothing came. “Okay,” he whispered, “this is getting scary.” He rattled the locker’s handle again. The latch still jiggling uselessly in his fingers. He wiggled it so hard the entire locker’s door shook. Still nothing. Joel smacked the locker with the heel of his palm, the collision of flesh and metal reverberating throughout the room. Still, the locker didn’t open. But Guard’s locker, beside his, did swing open. Joel glanced into it.

Guard was crammed into the locker, his body twisted, arms at awkward angles—as if he’d been forced into the locker with a hydraulic press—his throat a bloody, ragged mess—as if someone jammed an explosive into his esophagus. Joel staggered back, almost toppling over one of the wooden benches running parallel to the lockers. This couldn’t be real. But it seemed as lifelike as anything he’d ever witnessed. And as his brain grasped for reality, all the lockers swung open, including Joel’s. Each member of Joel’s team was jammed into a locker, each boy’s eyes open and staring, each boy’s throat torn out. Every locker was filled, except for one. Joel’s locker was a coffin awaiting a patron.

“Oh God, Joel,” Hope screamed, running into the room. She jumped into his arms, burying her face in his chest.

“Hope,” Joel said, “What the hell happened?”

“It was horrible,” Hope sobbed, her voice muffled by Joel’s jersey.

“But what happened?” Joel said to Hope, “What are you doing here?”

“Looking for you,” she said, looking up at him. Her pupils glowed a green phosphorescence—the eyes of a nocturnal animal caught in a spotlight—her face a slick, oozing mass like melting wax. She grinned, revealing teeth shaped like tiny spades.

“Jesus.” Joel thrashed away from her, almost tripping over the bench again.

A soft groan came from Guard’s locker. Joel looked over to see Guard’s eyes darting around in panicky, spastic movements. “Joel,” Guard wheezed, “Help me.”

Hope—or rather the creature Hope had become—followed Joel’s terrified gaze to Guard. She smiled—sneered—with her blade teeth. “Whoops, I didn’t finish the job,” she said sheepishly. She bounded to Guard, grabbed his arms and yanked him from the locker. Guard screamed with high shrieks as Hope dug her shovel teeth into his throat, tearing at his flesh like a buzzard at a carcass. Tendrils of dark, red tissue hung from her mouth and she slurped them up as if finishing off spaghetti. Her dimpled grin washed across her face—her teeth stained red—and she dropped Guard to the floor. Her stare fixed onto Joel, her eyes glowing green. “How about a kiss, handsome?” she said, bounding toward him.

Joel sat up in his bed, breath laboring, stomach turning in disgusted knots. “Oh God,” he gagged. He turned on his light and looked around his room, feeling dizzy, as if his brains had liquefied and were pouring out of his ears. The world seemed askew—more than the intimidation of night daring him to go back to sleep, it seemed the whole world was out of place. He glanced around his bedroom. He saw clothes scattered across the floor, he saw his dresser, his desk, the shelves cluttered with trophies, and his posters of athletes on the walls. Including his prized poster of Tom Brady, the poster his father got signed by the QB at a charity auction. Brady was frozen mid-throw, his left arm cocked to unleash a fifty-yarder… Something wasn’t right. Brady wasn’t a southpaw. And with a siren-like screech, Hope leapt from the end of Joel’s bed. She pinned him down, her eyes glowing, her spade teeth bared to remove his throat.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 51 — Ring Around the Rosy

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The Old Stone Church

The Stone ChurchThe Stone Church has many mysteries surrounding in, including several about the Stone family—the caretakers that have watched over it for over a hundred years. But maybe all the mysteries aren’t merely the result of coincidence and bad luck. There may be an entity of true evil residing in the church.

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The Old Stone Church

Earworm: Part 49 — Dazed and Confused

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 48 — The Crypt

Bands of late afternoon light fell in blotched shapes on the carpeted floor. Neither Hope nor Joel—sitting in a booth in The Whale’s Tale—touched the food set in front of them. Joel stared at the table with the concentration of a chess master pondering a move. Hope watched him in much the same way. “You okay?” she said to him.

“Huh?” Joel looked up at her.

“You look a little dazed and confused,” Hope said, using an expression her stepfather sometimes dropped—she suspected it had something to do with an old rock song, but she was unsure what the name of it was.

“Uh… no, just thinking.”

“About?”

“Nothing,” he said.

“Doesn’t surprise me.” Hope grinned, but Joel’s deadpan expression told her the joke skimmed over his head. She changed her expression to one more serious. “You want to talk about it? Everything okay?”

“I don’t know.” He shrugged, picking up a fry from his plate and poking at the rest of his food.

“I don’t know, meaning yes?” Hope said. She tried to keep an inviting expression on her face, but she realized that Joel had probably had it with her recent neurosis. And now that she has had no bad dreams for two nights, and her nightmares were hidden beyond the horizon of her rearview mirror, she saw in hindsight just how strange she’d been acting. Joel had every right to say, You know what? You’re a nutcase, and I’m moving on. Hope fought the urge to blurt out the phrase Joel often uttered during uncomfortable silences, Are you gonna dump me?

“I don’t know, meaning I don’t know,” Joel said. He ate the fry and picked out another one to continue his food poking. “You’ve been kind of…” he shrugged, not looking at her when he spoke, “I don’t know.” He finished off the fry in his hand and picked up a new one.

“A bitch?” Hope said.

“No,” he said, as if the thought never entered his mind, but Hope knew better.

“Look,” she said, “I know I’ve been acting a bit off lately. I’ve just been feeling… weird with all these dreams. I haven’t been feeling well. I haven’t been sleeping well. But the last couple of nights, I haven’t had bad dreams. It felt good to finally sleep. I just wanted to get some rest. That’s why I didn’t go out the last couple of nights. It had nothing to do with you.”

“Maybe it’s because I haven’t been around that you haven’t had bad dreams,” Joel said. He tossed down his fry and took a sip of his Coke.

“No, it has nothing to do with you,” Hope said in a definite tone. Although, that thought did cross her mind a few times. After all, she hadn’t seen Joel for two days, and those two nights did happen to be nightmare-free.

“Yeah, well,” Joel said, shrugging again, “just because you’re having bad dreams, it doesn’t have to affect your life.”

“I know it sounds stupid,” Hope said, “but… You just can’t understand how real my dreams have been.” Joel, sitting in silence and staring at his food, raised his eyebrows in an, if you say so, expression. Hope said, “They really affected me. I mean, just the memories of them popped up at the weirdest times.”

Joel picked up another fry. “Well, you didn’t have to take it out on me.”

“I didn’t.”

“Well, I mean, I was trying to be all supportive and everything, and you start telling me you’re having nightmares about me.”

“But I was having nightmares about you.”

“Yeah, but… I don’t know, it just made me feel bad.”

“Sorry,” Hope said. “You asked me what was wrong, and… What did you want me to do, lie to you?”

“No, I just… I don’t know.”

“Next time I just won’t tell you.”

“Next time?”

“I can’t control my dreams, Joel,” Hope said. Joel didn’t respond. The quiet hung almost tangible between them. Hope, watching a waitress take another table’s order, said, “Is there something else the matter?”

Joel tossed the fry onto his plate and reached for his soda. “Just tired,” he said.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 50 — The Locker Room

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