When dark memories visit the recesses of our subconscious


I always wake to three hallowing knocks that reverberate from the back of my skull through my teeth. That’s how I know it’s coming. The bitter metallic taste of adrenaline coats my tongue. Hot panic has its claws in my chest and sweat dews my forehead. Suspense and dread course through my veins and it takes all my strength to choose survival over succumbing to the debilitating fear. My ears twitch like a dog toward every noise and my breath comes hot against the hand that I pressed to my mouth to keep myself quiet. I need to slow my breathing…one breath in, hold, one breath out. I remove my hand from my mouth so I can ease myself out of bed and carefully place my feet onto the floor so as not to make a sound. I half-crouch and feel my way to the bedroom door, and slowly turn the knob. I know when to stop opening it to avoid the creak and I start making my way down the foreboding hallway. The floorboards give in pain as my weight shifts from one foot to the other, not quite walking, just easing my way forward. I feel another rush of dread drop into the pit of my stomach when I reach the stairs – they’re the hardest part. The old wood of the house moans with the weight of my fear and no matter how hard I try they always creak. I’ve learned the hard way that I have to do these quickly – it wakes and finds me with the sound of these godforsaken stairs. I stay in a low crouch, my legs on fire with the effort, as I place one foot on each stair using the handrail to guide myself down and take, albeit minimal, weight off the unforgiving wood.

I reach the landing where a tall and narrow window looks over the quiet night. I can feel the cold seeping through the glass – it threatens to burrow under my skin as goosebumps breakout over my arms and the back of my neck. There are no sounds – no crickets, owls, nor wind – spite for my barely controlled breath and my toes easing toward the remaining stairs. In the deafening quiet, I hear it… a low growl emanating from above me. It’s a guttural choking sound that makes me imagine that its breath smells like rotting corpses mixed with bile and fresh, oozing, metallic blood. Even though I’ve heard it before, the terror seeps out of my skin as a cold fat droplet rolls from the back of my head, down my spine, and absorbs into the cotton of my tattered gray sweatpants.

I can make it, there are only a few more steps to the first floor and exactly twenty long strides to the front door and out into the cold night. Suddenly, the clouds part and exposed moon rays illuminate the remainder of my path…but it also casts a menacing shadow of my predator up the walls. I am mesmerized, I am captivated with utter terror, I can’t move. An oversized hand reaches out and it begins to drag an exceptionally long claw down the bannister as it moves toward me. The screeching noise pulls me out of my trance, and I surge to the bottom of the stairs nearly tripping over myself. I can hear it fast on my heels when I reach the door, and I’m fumbling with the lock in my panic. I throw open the door and a blast of cold fall air envelops me. Then everything goes black.

I wake to the sound of my name, but it sounds like it’s coming from underwater. Then I feel wetness on my face, my arms, and my feet. I open my eyes and see that I’m in the dew-strewn grass of the front yard. The air is so cold that it immediately chills the liquid on my body – a combination of sweat and dew. I start to shiver violently, and I am helped upright.

“Sadie”, a familiar voice reaches my ears. I turn toward it, and see my brothers face. “Let’s get you back inside”. He half drags me back through the front door while I slump against him and he sits me down at the head of the kitchen table. I’m still vibrating with cold, so he drapes a knitted throw blanket over my shoulders. He starts puttering around in the kitchen while I stare off into space with a vacant expression. I barely notice when he sets a steaming mug in front of me and slides into the chair beside me.

“I found you outside again” he states. He pauses a moment and, more desperately this time, adds, “this is the third time”. I don’t respond because he isn’t saying anything I don’t already know.

“Sadie, what is going on? I want to help you, but you won’t talk to anyone, not since you got back.”

In a voice barely above a whisper I reply, “I keep going back there, Jack. He’s coming after me and I barely get away.”

“Back where? You mean Alex?”

“Every night I am back in that house and he’s coming for me. Except it’s not him…it’s…uglier…it’s demonic and predatory.” I pause long enough to register the look of horror starting to bruise Jack’s face.

“The doctors say it’s my brain trying to make sense of it all by making him look like a monster. Because he is…he just didn’t look like one when it was all happening”, I explain.

“God Sadie what the hell did he do to you?”

I reach for my mug that has now cooled enough for me to safely drink, my hand trembling, and take a sip. It’s chamomile with lavender honey – my back-to-sleep remedy. I can’t answer that question, not again, and I especially can’t tell my brother. He already bares enough guilt, even though he shouldn’t, because he set me up with Alex. He feels responsible for my undoing. The police know that he hurt me, and the doctors know that I am shattered, but no one but Alex and I know the details. I go back to that dark place in my memory every night since I got away…every night at 3am. I look at the digital clock on the stove and it reads: 3:07 AM. A shudder runs through me, and I can feel my eyes start to glass over. I so desperately want to go back to that forgotten place of vacancy and be catatonic like when they found me.

Jack sighs. “The doctors said you were doing better, but it’s still happening.” I can’t look at him, but he still continues, more frustrated this time, “You’re having this dream or nightmare or sleepwalking, night terror, episode, I don’t know whatever it is, every night!”

“Hey,” I tease, “just be happy I’m not waking up screaming anymore.” I was in a whitewashed horror story of a psychiatric building for weeks after my escape, and I’d wake up so petrified that they’d have to sedate me. They finally released me to my brother, my only family left, when I no longer screamed. He shoots me a glance that says, “you seriously can’t be joking about this right now”, and I shrug.

“I am doing better,” I reassure, “I don’t live afraid anymore. I just sleep afraid.”

A pained look crosses his face but then it softens to sympathy and sorrow. He pulls me into a hug, and I let myself melt into his broad chest. He smells like cedar and eucalyptus, like sleep and slight man-musk. He smells like home. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel safe in any man’s arms ever again, other than those of my own flesh and blood. I let his warmth settle me and I start to feel my eyelids drag. I feel like I spent every last ounce of energy my body could give. When my breaths fall more evenly, Jack releases me.

“I have work in the morning, so I need to try to get a few more hours of sleep. Are you going to be okay?”.

I nod and reply, “Yes, I’m going stay on the couch, though”. I finish the remaining tea in my mug and walk it to the sink. I can feel Jack’s worried eyes on me, so I turn to face him. I almost laugh, but don’t because of the circumstances, because he looks like a sad golden retriever with his disheveled, shaggy, sandy locks and drooping puppy eyes.

“Thank you, Jack”.

He gives me a small smile and starts toward the stairs, then turns back and says, “Don’t go out that door again. Apparently, I need to child-proof it tomorrow”.

This makes us both laugh, and I throw a dish towel in his direction. Without another word, he heads upstairs, and I sink into the couch with my knit blanket. I let soothing, happy memories of Jack and I as kids float freely through my mind as I slowly drift back to sleep, even though I know tomorrow night we’ll be doing this all over again. Well, at least I won’t end up on the lawn again once Jack kiddie proofs the house. Things really are getting better. Maybe one day I wont sleep afraid anymore.

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