where the bad kids go
The first night that I slept in my mother’s bed, I tossed and turned to a terrible nightmare of darkness. I couldn’t see anything, but I heard voices, hundreds of them. They muffled screams as if they had no mouth at all. I snapped awake, covered in a thin layer of sweat.
I must’ve still been dreaming when I sat up and noticed my mother hidden in the shadows of the dark bedroom, which was only lit by the dim shine of the moon covered behind dark clouds. I couldn’t see her face, but I knew it was her. I recognized her thin build and the cobweb of hair that sat atop her head, which hung downward and almost sad.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
Her voice trailed in an autonomous tone, There’s something in the house with us. She sounded exhausted, and her voice buzzed with static. She slowly raised her bony arm from the shadows and pointed at the bedroom door with a skeletal finger.
“Where?” I was terrified, unsure if it was because of my mother, or what she had said.
She didn’t respond. She continued to point at the bedroom door that was slightly ajar and revealed nothing but black beyond it.
I stood up out of bed and cautiously walked to the bedroom door. I kept my eyes on my mother the entire time, who remained in the same stance hidden within the shadows.
The hallway stretched further than usual. It twisted and warped as I glided down the dark tunnel and it took hours to finally reach the end. I stood in front of my closed bedroom door and stared at it for eternity, stuck in a limbo. From the other side of the door, I could hear a rhythmic tapping. Someone was inside.
I twisted the doorknob with a sweaty palm and pushed the door all the way open. It bounced against the door spring and the reverberations made my eardrums flutter. I temporarily went deaf as a piercing ring cascaded through my head. The ring turned into a hum, and then a buzzing. The tapping continued and blended in with the buzzing as they spiraled inside of my skull.
In the corner of the room, sitting at my desk, was a figure, bathed in darkness. At first glance, I thought it was a man. He stared at my school picture while he tapped his fingers on my desk, from thumb to pinky like someone who waits impatiently. His abnormally long fingers were almost skeletal, and clawed fingernails jutted from the tips.
I took one step into the bedroom and was overcome with pure dread that stopped me in my tracks. My feet became glued to the carpet, and for a moment I believed I was going to have the same nightmare again, and that the floor would open up and swallow me in.
The man suddenly stopped tapping the desk and lifted his gaze from my school photo to the wall in front of him. He seemed alert, like he knew that someone else had invaded his privacy.
He began to stand.
The buzzing grew louder. It sounded like a swarm of flies.
His claws carved grooves into the surface of the desk which emitted screams of torture, and his knee joints popped as he stood to his feet. I realized that the thing at my desk was not a human being.
It grew taller the more it pulled itself from the chair. Its long, lanky arms hung by its side as its bald head nearly touched the ceiling, and it exhaled a dry sigh like the act of standing was a painful chore. The thing was a mass of shadow as if that was where it had appeared from.
It twisted its body to turn and face me.
I snapped awake and found myself standing in the same spot in my bedroom. The desk was unoccupied, and no creature stood in the corner smeared of shadow. The room was empty and silent. The entire house was quiet.
For a second I believed I was still stuck to the floor, but when I lifted my foot to take another step into the bedroom, I was washed over with relief. It was just a nightmare that I managed to sleepwalk my way through. In order to further convince myself that it was nothing more than a dream, I walked back down the hallway into the master bedroom and checked the corner for my mother. As I expected, she wasn’t there.
I fell back into the bed, overcome with a sudden drain of energy. I breathed heavily as sleep took over my body, and finally my thoughts. I was on the verge of deep sleep, about to fall over the edge of a cliff and into an ocean of dreams, when I heard something shuffling inside of the bedroom.
I opened my eyes but remained still, in fear that whatever was in my room would realize that I was awake. The shuffling continued, and then stopped. A moment of silence passed before the sound of something being dragged reverberated off the walls and surrounded my stiff body.
It’s a dream, I convinced myself. But I knew I was awake. I knew what I was hearing was real. And it was inside of my room.
I listened to something rummage through a box, the dull hiss of something that rubbed against cardboard. I didn’t have a box in the bedroom. The sound was coming from somewhere else.
I sat up and listened more intently. I followed the sound from the dark, walk-in closet that I stupidly left partly open, even though I didn’t remember it, and it slithered from across the room and over at the bottom corner of the bathroom doorway. The sound was coming from the floor vent grate sunken in the carpet.
The sound was coming from the basement. Of fucking course.
I pulled myself out of bed and ignored the nightmare I had had only minutes before. Even though I was shaken by the images that stuck in my mind, I gathered the courage to carry myself to the bedroom door.
I braved myself as I inched down the hallway toward the basement door. I had left a flashlight on the upstairs platform for whenever I needed to force myself down into the basement. I turned it on and pointed the hazy beam at the bottom of the staircase. The sounds of rummaging had ceased. For a moment, I almost decided to turn around and head back to bed, but I was absolutely sure that something was moving around down there. I would never be able to sleep with the thought of some stranger inside of the house, or a burglar, or a murderer. I even believed for a moment that it was the ghost of my mother walking around forever and ever. The thought of the not-so-repressed memory popped in my head and I quickly dismissed it. There was nothing like that down there. It’s not real.
I stepped cautiously down each step to avoid the wooden planks from shrieking beneath my feet. My heart attempted to burst from my chest with each descending step, and the flashlight threatened to fall from my sweaty grasp. I silently cursed myself that I should’ve called the cops first, or even grabbed some sort of weapon. Who would have the need to break into this house? Who did my mother know? When I reached the bottom, I pulled the light bulb’s drawstring with a shaky hand, and the basement basked in an unimpressive glow. Two boxes were pulled away from the rest and their wings were opened up. Articles of clothing were strewn around the base of one of the boxes, and the other box looked as if it had just been opened before the intruder was alerted by my investigation.
I cautiously walked up to the newly opened box and looked inside. A Bible sat atop other books and movies that had been packed away. I picked it up and felt a bulge of something within the pages. Inside was a wad of paper, stuffed in the first letter of Peter. I set the Bible back in the box and started to scan the basement with my flashlight; starting from the right where the furthest corner was, across the charred crawlspace entrance, and to the darkest corner of more boxes that hid away beneath the staircase.
A blur of white jumped out from behind the boxes, remained unseen while in the shadows. It was a man. An actual human being this time, dressed in a ratty, white V-neck and baggy jeans that were polka dotted with paint stains. He held a four-inch switchblade in his right hand. A date was tattooed in black ink on the underside of his wrist: 6 – 27 – 2005
“Who the fuck are you?” He belched out in a voice that sounded much older than he looked. I jumped back a step with my hands up. The flashlight clacked! on the floor, but was tough enough to endure the fall, and the stranger fell into heavy shadow. “Huh?” He stepped forward and held the knife up higher.
“I called the cops,” I said in a shaking voice. I was almost pressed up against the wall.
“Bullshit,” he responded.
“They'll be here any minute.” I tried my best to sound confident, but my shaking knees made my voice quiver. My heart thumped like a drum in my rib cage, and I was certain I was going to have a panic attack.
“I could gut you before they showed up. Answer the fucking question.”
My throat seized closed, but I managed to croak, “I’m just here to clean up my mom’s house! I swear!”
The man shone his small flashlight in my face, and I held a hand up to my eyes. He lowered his knife slightly and took another step forward, this time cautiously.
“Jesse?” The man asked. I lowered my hand as he lowered his flashlight. “Jesse Lambert?”
I slowly crouched down to pick up my flashlight, fingering for the handle while I kept my eyes on this man. “Who are you?”
“Holy shit…I thought you looked like her…”
“Who are you?” I asked again, sternly, but overlaid with fear.
The man breathed out a chuckle and shook his head. “I never thought I’d see you again for the rest of my life. Believe it or not, I’m your dad.”
I stared at him in disbelief. I stood up and the beam of my flashlight crept up toward his head. The balding man had a wrinkled, tired face covered with unmaintained scruff, which converged with the chest hair that sprouted from beneath his V-neck. A worn scar connected the left corner of his mouth to his ear. If this man really was my father, he looked nothing like I had imagined through my years as a kid and teenager whenever I wondered where my dad was after he’d been released from prison. I’d never been interested in finding him or even looking his name up on the Internet just to put a face to the name. I managed to stutter, “And how in the hell am I supposed to believe you?”
“Your mother was Helen Lambert. Blonde hair, green eyes, talked to herself a lot, went batshit crazy. Ring a bell?”
I gulped. “Trent? My dad?”
“You’re goddamn right,” he retorted. “Happy family reunion, eh?”
“Can I ask what the fuck you’re doing here?”
He hesitated and looked at the disturbed boxes next to him. He strolled over to the one that had just been opened. “Taking back what’s mine from that bitch you called your mother.” He resumed his digging through whatever junk that had been packed away.
“You do realize she’s dead,” I stated.
“No shit, Sherlock. Why else do you think I’m here? Her restraining order is expired, just like her cold, rotting corpse.”
“You got lucky with that restraining order. The trauma from when you attacked her turned her into a drunken psycho and I was the one who suffered the consequences.”
Trent had quit rummaging through the box and rested one hand on the edge while he shone his flashlight in my face. I squinted but didn’t look away.
“You think I attacked her?” He asked in a condescending tone.
“That’s what she told me.”
“Your mother is fucking liar,” he snorted. “If you’d even call that thing your ‘mother.’”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Come on, man. I’m sure you saw it as a kid,” he said. I lied and shook my head, and he sighed and sat on a smaller box nearby. “She became a different person after you were born. She lost it.”
“She probably suffered from postpartum psychosis,” I said. He shook his head.
“She had…something inside of her. And the alcohol fueled whatever it was. She drank because of something else and not to just get plastered to kill any ‘pain’ she might’ve had, ya know? Trust me, I’m an alcoholic myself…or I was…”
“I can smell the gin beneath your breath,” I said through gritted teeth. Trent turned his head away, ashamed. He took a step back and for a few minutes avoided eye contact with me. “What’s the tattoo on your wrist?”
Trent looked down and examined the date needled into his skin. He sighed and said, “It’s the date that I swore to sobriety. I got it shortly after I left prison.”
“Congratulations. You’re doing such a great job,” I said sarcastically.
“What made you break?”
“After prison, I drank so much I almost died of alcohol poisoning. Haven’t had a lick until ’14, and then I fell back into it. We all do sometimes, don’t we?
“Like I was sayin’, there was something inside of her that wasn’t her. There were a lot of times where I walked past our room and I could hear her talking to herself, and when I checked on her, she would be sitting on the bed and talking to the wall. Sometimes I’d find her standing in the middle of the kitchen with a glass of straight-up vodka like she was having a drink date with herself, or with someone that wasn’t there.”
“What kind of things did she say?”
“Hell if I know,” he said. “She always spoke in this low voice. It sounded kind of different, ya know? Like it was her voice, but at the same time it wasn’t. Back and forth, she would use her normal voice, and then switch to that other one.”
I wasn’t sure if I should’ve mentioned that I had seen the same thing as a kid, but I decided to keep to myself. I wanted to hear what he had to say.
“When she became pregnant with you, we argued daily about how I wanted to get rid of it, no offense, and how she said that God wouldn’t allow that, how it was murder.” Trent chuckled. “That’s funny, she didn’t want to murder you, and then she ended up trying anyway.”
“Just keep going,” I said, irritated. “She was religious?”
“Sorry. She never mentioned religion while we dated, but when she became pregnant with you it’s like she’d seen the light, ya know? She wanted to keep it…you. Her and I always talked about how neither of us wanted kids. Then when she got knocked up, those women hormones got her excited about having one.
“We fought and fought, throughout the days and through the nights. Especially the nights. While she was drunk off her ass in the kitchen, I’d be the one who had to take care of your dirty diapers and feed you her breast milk after the pump sucked it from her titties because she didn’t want to hold you, from that ‘postpartum’ shit you think it was. She called me names, and called you names. One night she even said that she’d ‘cut your throat if you cried one more time.’
“Then the night that ‘I attacked her,’” he continued sarcastically as he made quotes with his fingers, “was when I saw the evil that was inside her. She attacked me, in some kind of…rage, or hormone overload, or somethin’, I don’t know what. Before it happened, I passed out after we had another drunken argument, and when I woke up, I saw her standing over me with a knife in her hand.” He paused. “Sound familiar?”
“She said, ‘I’m going to kill you. And then I’ll kill Jesse. And then I’ll kill your fucking whore of a wife.’ I swear to you on her God damned grave, when she said that, it was not her, and it was definitely not her voice. Then she jumped on me and just started…slashing into the air. I was lucky that I didn’t get cut. That shit hurts, man. But I’m no wife-beater, Jesse. I grabbed her hand that had the knife and managed to knock it from her grasp. She grabbed a pillow and shoved it on my face. She was strong, so it took me a minute to finally push her off of me but I remember that while she held the pillow to my face, it felt like there were two people on top of me like someone else was helping her out.”
“She was drunk,” I suggested. “The cops would’ve known right away it wasn’t you who attacked her.”
“That’s the thing! She didn’t have a lick of alcohol that day!” Trent was excited now, pacing back and forth across the dirty basement floor. “When I managed to knock her off of me, I turned on the lights and saw her on the bed, on her back and convulsing or something. I swear I saw the mattress around her sunken in like something was on top of her. She was squirming around and wheezing like she couldn’t breathe—”
“And you didn’t help her?”
“What would you expect me to do, huh? I was scared shitless, Jesse. I’ve never seen anything like it before. And her laugh…it was like a witch or a hyena or something. She sat up and just started laughing at me, and I saw the bruises around her neck that looked like hands. I heard the sirens and realized that she planned the whole thing, to make it look like I had tried killing her. I reeked of alcohol, and I knew that the cops would bust me right away. Her prints were on the knife and I’ll bet my life that she was going to tell the cops that she tried using it in self defense. I barely ever talked to her since that night except for when it concerned any legal issues. The woman I was dating was different than the woman I ran away from.”
“When I escaped through the bedroom window,” he continued, “I looked back at her one more time, just to make sure that I wasn’t going crazy or that maybe I had been sleepwalking. I saw something in there with her, Jesse. It was in the closet. I don’t know what it was but I’ve never forgotten what it looks like.” He looked up at me and I saw tears in his eyes. “You’ve seen it too, haven’t you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I was shaking by now.
Trent opened his mouth to say something when a noise behind him caught his attention. Mine too. Something beneath the staircase had pushed against one of the boxes and slid it across the floor. He spun around and stared into the dark corner underneath the stairs. He held the knife up in a shaking hand.
“I…I see it…” He whispered.
“See what?” My voice had become low with his.
“There it is. Under the stairs. Do you see it?” I slowly pointed my flashlight toward the darkness, but Trent hissed, “Don’t shine your light on it!”
We both stared in the black hole beneath the stairs. My neck twitched as my body was shot with a sudden terror. I couldn’t see anything in the shadows, but I could feel it. Trent could too.
“It’s not real,” he whispered to himself. “It’s not real. It’s not real. It’s not real.” He backed away from the dark space as he repeated in a shaken and weakening hushed tone, “It’s not real. It’s not real. It’s not real.”
I watched Trent sidestep his way to the foot of the staircase with his eyes glued to the darkness and the knife stretched out in a shaking, sweating palm.
“Oh my God.”
When he reached the first step, he turned to me and sputtered, “I’d get the fuck outta here if I were you.”
He ran up the stairs two steps at a time. I heard him stomp through the living room and out the front door that slammed shut. He left me in the basement, alone, with the thing I couldn’t see.
I stared into the shadows that looked like they were growing and consuming the basement, and I managed to get my legs working enough to stiffly walk me to the foot of the stairs. I stared through the black spaces between each step, so easy for something to grab my foot as I ascended back to safety. Like father, like son, I ran up the stairs two steps at a time without turning the bulb off.
I didn’t want to be left in the dark with The Thing.