HELLO?

awoke at 4 AM to a rather unsettling nightmare and found myself drenched in sweat, even though I had kicked the blankets off of my bed, and my ceiling fan was twirling on its highest setting. I was so shaken by the dream that the adrenaline pulsing through my body had me on high alert, unable to fall back asleep, at least for a little while.

    I turned the bedside table lamp on and looked at the clock to confirm the time before surveying my room to make sure nothing was out of place, and that no boogeymen were hiding away. Everything seemed just as I remembered when falling asleep. Nothing that I could notice, at least.

    I recounted what had happened in my nightmare, hoping that it would relieve my mind knowing that it was only a dream, and allow me to fall back asleep without any trouble.

    I was in a cornfield, which wasn’t unusual considering that where I live there were hundreds of those fields all across the town. It was nighttime, and unusually dark compared to the actual nights out in the country where the light from the stars themselves provided enough to see where one was going. I had a flashlight on me, but I never saw it in my hand; just a beam of light everywhere I looked, like something out of a video game.

    As I pushed through the thick, tall stalks of corn that were a chore to maneuver through, even in a dream, I came upon an old farmhouse. I had recognized it immediately, because as a kid the school bus would always drive past it to and from school. The place had always been poorly maintained by some old geezer who all of the kids told urban legends about. The man was a murderer, demonic cults were performed there, some creature roamed the cornfield, the scarecrows walked at midnight; if you could think of a story about the place, it had already been concocted by the young kids who were bored, as living in the middle of nowhere would do that to someone.

    The house was a block of nighttime shadow. I shined my flashlight along the rotting front porch, the dusty, old windows, and even the familiar blue pickup truck I’d seen parked at the side, its paint faded by countless sunny afternoons.

    The front door was open. My dream voice in my head prompted me to enter the house, like it was some invitation. As any nightmare goes, my gut told me otherwise and continuously attempted to force me to leave, but instead I walked up the squeaky, wooden steps and across the porch floorboards that sagged beneath my weight.

    I walked inside of the dark, empty farmhouse. I looked to my left. The furniture was askew. An old television, still adorned with the wiry antlers of cable antennae, had laid lopsided along the living room floor. A blizzard of static fizzed from its screen.

    In front of me down a short hallway, I was only able to have a glimpse of the kitchen through the open doorway. I saw a freshly made meal for two, barely even touched, and glistening in the beam of my flashlight were shards of broken glass from cups of water carelessly knocked off the edge of the table. Or, swiped? Thrown? The house was obviously in disarray, as if a fit of rage was unleashed upon the home.

    The wooden stairs that lead to the second floor were smeared with blood, along the steps and descending the wall. Something injured had been dragged mercilessly down the staircase, and a handprint on the wall, starting at the top, became a streak of red paint the further down it went.

    At this point, I had started to realize that I was in a nightmare. I think. It all had seemed so real, but everything felt…off. Different. As if it almost wanted to be real, but it couldn’t quite get it right.

    My subconscious managed to tell me that the upstairs was not worthy of investigating. I instead directed my attention to the basement entrance in the hallway ahead of me, just before the kitchen and beneath the staircase. Something was in there, I just knew it.

    I had found myself opening the basement door. My flashlight beam slowly directed itself down the basement steps and into the pitch black, empty, dirty basement. I could feel another presence down there, but I remained planted at the top of the staircase.

    It was a wet sound, like water dripping but with more of a defined impact with the basement floor. Thicker than water. Sticky. Something grumbled within the dark depths, in another language that I had never heard before, but even if I had, the way that it groggily mumbled the words in a deep, beastly voice was incoherent within itself.

    “Hello?” I stupidly called out, my dream-self forgetting every horror movie that I’d ever seen.

    Whatever was in the basement ceased its mumbling, and I heard a hiss of sudden alertness, presumably the being redirecting its attention to my intrusion. Hello? it mimicked back, over and over again in a different inflection and pitch with each repetition of the word. It sounded like multiple people were down in the basement, each responding back with ‘hello?’ of varying sexes and ages. A middle-aged man with a gruff voice; an old woman with a soft, welcoming voice; a little boy who sounded scared; a young woman whose voice seemed a few pitches too deep, as if it were coming through a voice-altering program. The creature continued to find the right voice, repeating the same word, and it paused before finally returning with a flawless, “Hello?” in my voice.

    And then I remember seeing a mass of bright red, bleeding arms scratching at the floor of the basement, and the steps of the stairwell, stripped of skin to expose the pulsing veins and muscle of a dozen thrashing limbs. Faces frozen in agony and terror crept into the beam of my flashlight. Missing eyes and contorted screams. Everything was fused together as an undulating lump of meat. And they all continued to hiss, Hello?

    There was a break in the nightmare, but I was suddenly back in the cornfield running away from the farmhouse. The creature was behind me, releasing a shrill, monstrous cry of a hundred terrorized voices. The cornstalks were thickening, and the ground had become soft and swampy. The faster I tried to run, the harder it became as each desperate footstep became stuck in the goopy ground.

    I knew it was behind me, but I didn’t want to look back. I was growing tired, like I’d just run a marathon.

    The hundreds of distorted, almost demonic voices repeating Hello? grew louder as whatever was chasing me drew nearer and nearer. I was sure that I was just at the property line of the cornfield, my exhausted breath becoming taxing on my ability to run any further.

    I peeked over my shoulder. I had barely even made it a few feet from the farmhouse.

    A dozen meaty, burnt, and decaying hands exploded in screams from the dark, thick cornstalks surrounding me, all connected to one another and fused to a thing that wore a hundred deformed faces.

    The last thing I saw was the night, starless sky before I woke up.

    The dream had disturbed me to the point where I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to fall back asleep. Comfortably, at least.

    It was nearing 4:30 and I knew that I still had a few more hours before sunrise, but I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get any rest until then. I unhooked my phone from its charger and decided to distract myself with anything I could. After getting bored with the same news feed as usual, I opened up my photos app to look at the fun recent photos and videos that would help finally put my mind at ease.

    It was then that I noticed that there was a video on my phone I had no recollection of recording.

    The video started off as a black screen, much like the starless sky in my nightmare. I could hear the sound of crickets and cicadas in the night environment. Then, whoever was holding the phone, stirred. I couldn’t see, but it sounded like the phone was being picked up off of the ground. Crunching foliage indicated the camera operator moving, and it sounded as if they lazily dragged their heavy feet across the ground. A painful groan wheezed from whoever was holding the phone. The crickets stopped chirping shortly after.

    A light in the distances squeezed through…I looked closer at my phone screen and held it away from the glare of my bedside table lamp…what looked like plants? Stalks? The light in the distance was a streetlight attached to a telephone pole. A road.

    The camera pushed through the curtain of plant life and reached the edge where the foliage ended suddenly, and a ditch along an empty stretch of road appeared on screen. Whoever was holding the camera was at a height that matched someone crawling on their hands and knees. Slowly, they stood up, their joints emitting relieved, sticky cracks and pops.

    The camera operator hobbled slowly across the ditch and breathed deeply and heavily. They seemed injured. They stopped at the edge of the road and pointed the camera down one direction, and then turned and pointed it in the opposite direction. I listened closely, and it sounded as if the camera operator was sniffing the air, like an animal on the hunt. Light sniffing turned into deep snorts, and a little bit of grumbling that followed shortly after.

    My heart skipped a beat when the camera operator twisted the camera around and revealed the darkened, abandoned farmhouse from my nightmare. It was only for a couple of seconds before the camera pointed back at the road, but I knew immediately.

    For the next ten minutes, the operator lumbered down the dark road that had cornfields occupying both sides. Not once did I ever see who was behind the camera, and I only assumed that it was someone else, for I would’ve remembered recording a video as strange as this.

    The thick cornfields trickled away as the camera entered a small, residential area. My blood ran cold as I recognized the familiar area.

    More deep, heavy sniffing fizzed from my phone’s speakers, as if whoever held the camera had it right next to their face. They entered the small neighborhood, sniffing lightly along each property as they passed the dark, quiet houses of sleeping families. Then the camera stopped at one particular house.

    My house.

    The camera was fixed on the home for what seemed like an eternity, or at least my paranoia made it feel that way. I started to feel sick, and I wondered if I was still stuck in my nightmare and hadn’t actually woken up yet.

    The camera operator started to run to the house. Or, they limped? Hobbled? The person holding the camera couldn’t run properly, and with each sprint, it grunted and snorted like a pig searching for its meal in a puddle of mud.

    It reached the front door of my house, the porch light still bright and burning as I would keep it every night.

    The camera pointed downward as the operator walked up the steps. A thick leg covered in baggy pants and a heavy, black boot took the first step. And then the saggy-skinned leg of an elderly woman carried the camera operator…thing? up the second step, decorated with black-blue bruises and varicose veins.

    The camera fell downward and became level with the floor of the front porch. A woman’s hand crawled into view, her fingernails painted a blood red. Then another hand. A massive, hairy hand—that of a large man—clawed toward the front door and pulled the camera operator forward. A husky grunt wheezed from whatever was holding the camera. If it was even holding it, which by this point, I wasn’t even sure.

    This thing inched toward the front door, and the womanly hand grabbed the doorknob. It twisted it. The door cracked open.

    The hand of a small girl, or at least I think it was, vacated of skin, slowly pushed the door open, and it crawled into my home.

    This creature pulled itself across the floor with its three arms. Four. Seven. It grabbed the corners of the walls and the frames of the doorways, inching its way through the dark living area and into the hallway where my bedroom resided at the end. It quietly moaned a gurgling, wet cry as it pulled itself to its many legs and feet once it reached the open doorway to my room.

    I saw myself in my bed. The covers had been kicked off.

    The clock by my lamp glowed in the darkness of my room. 3:58 AM.

    The monster quietly stepped closer to where I slept. Closer. It sniffed and snorted and breathed heavily and deeply. Hands crept from the borders of the camera…no, the point of view of this monster. Dozens of hands. Dripping. Sticky. Coagulated. Missing skin; frilled muscle; fingers clawed and ready to snatch. The monster grumbled a garbled laugh.

    I stirred in my sleep, and the hands retreated cautiously. The creature whimpered impatiently as it slowly shuffled away from the bed and toward the back of my room where it engulfed itself in the darkness of my closet. Three blackened, charred arms gripped the closet door and gently pulled it shut, leaving only a sliver of an opening as it watched me through the crack.

    I saw myself wake up from what was probably a nightmare. I turned on the bedside table lamp, and the light made my skin glisten as I was drenched in sweat. By the time I looked at the clock, it had just changed to 4 AM.

    I watched myself sit up in bed, and then I started looking around the room. The moment my gaze met the crack of the open closet door, the thing in the video hunkered out of sight and into the dark depths of my closet.

    That’s when the recording ended.

    I looked up from my phone to see my closet door ajar by only a couple of inches. Was I still in the nightmare I had woken up from only moments earlier? I started to pull myself out of bed to investigate the closet, or to shut the door and convince myself that nothing was in there but only a bad dream. I stopped myself instead.

    I impulsively called out, “Hello?”

    Silence.

    I sighed in relief.

    Hello? My voice called back.