Perchance: Part VI is the sixth chapter in the ongoing Perchance serial, where nightmares and night mares plague the Wood family across many realms. Click here for the previous chapter.
Carol Wood found herself in the midst of a living nightmare. Her son, Joseph, had been gone for two days, disappearing without a single trace. He had left no note explaining his departure. There was no sign of forced entry, but this was to be expected in light of his missing clothes, indicating that her son had left the house of his own accord.
Family, friends, and the police all tried to ensure her that Joe was an adult, a junior in college, perfectly capable of taking care of himself. All that she needed to do was be patient. Nevertheless, as the hours verged further upon three days, Carol noticed that her husband kept stepping out for a cigarette hourly, at exactly half past the hour.
Their son was missing.
Three days became a week, filled with tedious daily rituals that offered no comfort and held tremendous meaning. Carol and Bob, taking time off from their jobs, took turns sitting at the window of the front living room, watching the cars pass through their street even into the late hours of the night. Four times already, news vans had driven up outside of their house, asking for an interview. They only agreed to them in the hope that publicity might help them find their son more quickly.
Carol had gone upstairs, as she often did in the early afternoon, to check Joe’s room. She had already searched his desk and every drawer for some clue of where he might have gone, but not even the police had had any luck. Now, she just went upstairs to pretend that he might be there and that she needed to simply wake him up from a week’s worth of oversleeping.
As usual, the sheets were tossed to the edge of the bed. The closet doors stood ajar. His bookshelf was caked in a thin layer of dust. However, strangely enough, the window was open. As Carol walked to the other side of the room to close it, the old floorboards cracked and clicked hollowly. She reached out, when she heard her husband call from downstairs, “babe, come look at this!”
She left her hand suspended in mid-air. “One sec, honey.”
“Carol,” he called louder, “Carol, I’m sure of it. He’s back.”
She left the window open, rushing down the stairs. As she hurried, she heard her husband add, purposefully lowering his voice, “the man, the one I told you about, is back. He’s watching the house.”
Behind Carol, a withered hand reached into Joe’s bedroom window, sliding the glass pane further up.
Joe saw the figure advancing, a different being than the one from the night of the orb. The crossed shadows of the window panes weaved across the creature’s compact form, as parts of it faded in and out of view. Its eyes flashed and shone with the orange hue of a flickering street lamp. Torn to tatters, a faded, yellow dress fell loosely around its arms. Splattered down the front, Joe could just make out blackened stains. Its bristling jaw hung open like a broken puppet’s. His eyes failed to focus around the reptilian monstrosity, its pointed ears giving way to a narrow mohawk of thorny ridges.
He tried to scream, but no words escaped his throat. He felt as though he were suffocating, gulping down sand. The more he called out, the more his breath left him, until he collapsed to the ground. This was not happening, he tried to convince himself. He attempted to crawl away, moving towards a far corner of the room. The creature followed him, keeping pace as he dragged himself along the uneven planks.
He had almost made it to the corner when he heard a cracking beneath him. His hand fell on a narrow, crooked plank, he felt a budge, and the floor gave way beneath him, a chasm grabbing him and pulling him down through.
Joe fell, surrounded by literal walls of darkness and, at four corners, four wooden, square beams that continued vertically into the abyss. Eventually, he doubted he was falling at all. He could not tell if he was falling head first or feet first, or if he was, in fact, being lifted by some invisible current.
When he finally hit the ground, Joe found himself back inside his bedroom, sprawled onto the bed with his face in his pillow. He slid over the edge of the sheets, frantically looking upward, but where the chute should have been was only the ever-spinning fan and the bumpy texture of the painted ceiling. He kneaded at his eyes. It was daytime. Nevertheless, it was not morning, but the gloom of a late-afternoon summer day. The sky faded and ran grey before it burnt in sunset hues.
Joe stood up, looking around the room. Everything was the same as he remembered when he left it. Had he left it? Was it all just a dream, that then became a nightmare? He thought of Sandra, and how he would miss her. “I know who I am,” he said, clenching his fist and closing his eyes. “I know who I am.”
His door was closed. He reached for the handle. It felt cold in his grasp, icy, and his firm grip seemed to squeeze it, squishing it, bending it. It began to wrap around his hand. Joe let go, snapping his hand back. He blinked. The handle was solid. Everything was normal, perfectly ordinary and regular. He reached for it again. The door swung inwards, revealing an entirely unexpected sight.
It was the second floor of his grandparents’ house, a central atrium lined with floral-patterned wallpaper broken up by a bathroom, a guest room, and an obscured staircase. Across the way, past the bathroom, Joe spotted a human foot hanging over the edge of the guest bed. It remained motionless. He heard nothing, no snoring, no breathing, no birds chirping, no cars going by, not even the fan motors seemed audible. He moved forward, slowly, fretfully. He reached for the nearest object he could, a painting from off the wall.
The foot looked pale, almost blue. Joe continued moving towards it ever so slowly. He kept stopping. Rarely, he would take a step back. He could not bring himself to say anything. The noiselessness of the place seemed to forbid it.
He came closer. He was about to pass the alcove which concealed the staircase, shadowed in the grey evening. Something caught his eye. It did not move but only became visible as he moved. It was a thin sliver of some incomplete form, a pointed ear and the moist edge of a neck and a grey arm; someone or something was standing in the stairwell.
Joe backtracked quickly into his room, but as he stepped further back, the small section of whatever he had seen moved to remain in his perspective, sliding from behind the edge of the staircase. His view of it advanced no further, nor diminished in any way, a constant of his viewpoint. Joe realized, in his haste to retreat into the room and with both hands occupied by the defense of the picture frame, that he had failed to close the door. He stepped forward.
As he did, seemingly without moving at all, more of the creature came into view, matching his perspective. He saw its left, bulbous eye. He knew what it was. He took another step for the door. The creature peeked its grey, mohawked head around the corner. It smiled, the grin of an unfleshed skeleton. As Joe’s hand fell upon the handle, it rushed towards him. He threw the door closed, its hinges screaming, and locked the door. The moment the creature went out of view, he heard no sound from the other side. Now, he had to figure out a way to escape.
Joe proceeded to the window, seeing nothing outside on the roof. He opened it, popped out the screen, and immediately climbed outside. A few roof tiles slid off beneath his feet. He quickly made his way around the house, which, from the outside, looked like his childhood home from Pennsylvania. He sprung off the roof, tripping over onto the ground. His knees hurt, but he was able to get to his feet.
Looking to his left and to his right, deciding which way to run around to the front of the house and into the street, Joe saw nothing. He chose the right, and, turning in that direction, followed the corner, but, as he came nearer, the same sliver of the pointed ear came into view. He ran backward, facing the oncoming monstrosity, and made his way for the other side of the house. Again, the edge of the being greeted him, as he reacted just in time, backing away before he could see more.
Settling in the middle, where he had jumped down from in the first place, Joe tried to come up with some way to get around the house. He could either slip by one of the two creatures or seek some other route. But there was no other route! Catching his breath, Joe readied himself to sprint by whatever awaited him. There was no other way.
He advanced slowly to the left side of the house, trembling with adrenaline as he went. On either side, the creatures had remained in the same position, waiting for him, perhaps even taunting him. Finally, he sprinted for the side yard, building up his speed until, coming around the corner, the creature emerged with the same, unpeeled grin, its sharp, bare teeth shining in the cold daylight. It charged at him. Joe could not get by. He turned around, retreating into the yard, the creature following. As he struggled to keep ahead of it, he noticed that, at the other end, no sign of any other creature could be seen. He ran for the right side and, finding it empty, sprinted with all his might for the end, the creature galloping on hands and feet, snapping its jaws at him.
Entering the street, Joe had no time to consider which way to go. He simply ran, feeling the breath of the creature on his calves, as each leg flung out behind him with each terrified bound.
Suddenly, turning another corner in the street, lined with the suburban nightmare of vacant house after vacant house, Joe perceived a disturbance in the monotony. At the other end, a block away, the Lodging nestled itself comfortably behind a tranquil backyard and a freshly-painted porch. In the distance, he saw the door open, and the image of Mo beckoned him inside. Joe ran more quickly. He snuck a glance behind him. The hungry, bulbous eyes had quickened their pace to match his. He screamed.
His scream echoed through the neighborhood, reverberating off of the garage doors and the picket fences. The sounds hollowed, lengthened, deepened, until the ground beneath Joe’s feet began to shake. The world began to turn, and Joe felt his pace quicken as the flat road declined and stretched to a lower angle. The world continued to turn. Joe found it harder to keep his feet on the ground without tumbling forward. Eventually, his feet gained a foothold on nothing at all. The world turned perpendicular. He was falling towards the open door of the Lodging, which, as he fell closer, opened into nothing but darkness. Mo was gone. He looked up. The creature used its claws to hold itself tightly against the wall, preventing itself from falling. Joe looked back down. He was on the porch, through the door, in the Lodging. Beneath him, the bed caught his fall.
The room turned around him, as the world turned itself upright once again. Joe panted on the bed, completely out of breath. It was nighttime, once again. Mo stood beside him, holding her machete up towards the ceiling, but keeping her eyes firmly on the door. “What,” Joe managed between breaths, “in the world was that thing?”
For a few moments, she did not respond. She walked over to the door, machete still in hand, and slammed it shut. She held a finger to her mouth. She moved around the full circumference of the room, and Joe watched her with terrified interest. Finally, approaching his bed, she returned her machete to the leather belt at her side. “That, my dear Joe, was a nightmare. Or, more accurately, a night mare.”
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