You toss and turn for what seems like forever. Finally all the noise and static in your head silences down and you fade into sleep. Everything is black. No sound, sight or scent. Floating. Full complete nothing… a pregnant emptiness. The deepest relaxation ever. You know you are flying, but there is no wind or sense of gravity’s pull to let you know direction. Not up or down. Not front or back. Slowly and gently there are brief caresses. First one brushes across your cheek. Another one moves softly along the nape of your neck. Your palms feel as if they are being kissed. A wetness slides across the backs of your knees. Hours later you feel a pressure right between your eyes. Sharp and unfriendly. Pushing harder, you struggle against the pressure holding you down. Skin cracks and the lock breaks open between your eyes. You realize now that what crushes into your head is the key. It stabs in like a drill bit, not spinning. It doesn’t stop. It will not stop. You scream and struggle but nothing moves when you tell it to. Your body is not responding to your commands. Trapped, a prisoner to the pain. There is nothing you can do but endure. The key rams further in, all the way to the wave-engraved hilt and stops. It turns counterclockwise spinning around slowly. One revolution…two revolutions…three revolutions…you feel your brain being twisted and mulched…four revolutions…you can’t scream anymore, the agony is so sharp…five revolutions…everything goes dark…six revolutions…you try to think of your family…
“Seven, Daddy, seven.” Jason’s voice jolts you awake. You leap out of bed fighting to slow your heart and catch your breath. The sheets and your nightclothes are completely soaked with sweat. “Seven, Daddy, seven.” Jason’s voice sounds far away. He stands in the doorway holding his hand out in the dark.
“Jason? Hey buddy, are you ok?” You shake your head to get out of the dream and start walking to your son. The clock on the night table reads 12:07.
“Seven, Daddy, seven.” Still reaching out in the darkness, he begins to back up into the hallway.
Emily stirs and sits up, “Auden? What’s going on?”
You keep walking towards Jason as he backs further away. “I don’t know. Jason’s sleepwalking, I think.”
“Seven, Daddy, seven.” Arm stretched out to nothing, he moves strangely backwards, floating. The image of the boy blurs in the light shining up from the bottom of the stairs.
“Hey Jason.” You clap your hands. “Wake up, pal.” Following him down the hallway, you notice he is getting closer to the stairs.
“What did he say?” Emily follows you into the hall.
“I think he’s saying ‘seven.’”
“I have no idea. But he won’t wake up.”
“Seven, Daddy, seven.” Jason turns just before the stairs and begins backing into his room. Your heartbeat slows down a little in relief.
“At least he won’t fall down the stairs,” you say as Emily runs past you into Jason’s room.
“Jason.” She grabs his arms and shakes him hard. “Wake up, honey.”
“Seven, Daddy, seven.” His eyes stare blankly with black unfocused pupils completely dilated.
Jason sits down on his bed with his eyes stretched open. Stiff as a board he lays back and pulls the covers up to his chin. Emily stands above him crying. Putting your arms around her from behind you can feel her shaking. You can’t blame her. You’re scared out of your shit too. You don’t even bother trying to comfort her.
“I’m going to throw up.” Emily pulls away and runs to the bathroom.
You head down the hall to help her and glance back at Jason. His head snaps hard to the right and he stares directly into your eyes.
“Seven, Daddy, seven. SEVEN DADDY SEVEN.SEVEN SEVEN SEVNSEVENSEVENSEVENSEVEN…”
You launch yourself at him, cradling him in your arms. “Jason. Wake up please. I’m right here.” You rock him back and forth. He feels cold. A stone.
You don’t want to. The very idea of doing it brings a stabbing pain in your stomach. Your hand reaches out, swings through the air and slaps him hard across the cheek. Immediate silence. Jason looks at you, stunned. He starts to sob, tears pouring down his face.
“Why did you hit me, Daddy?” He pushes you and recoils into the headboard. “Why did you hit me?”
Emily runs in the doorway and jumps over you to get to her child. “Shhhh, baby.” She reaches back to you with one hand and grabs your wrist. “You were having a really bad nightmare and Daddy was trying to help you.” She puts her hands on his face and looks right into his eyes. “Daddy and Mommy would never hurt you. You know that, right?”
“But he hit me in the face. I was asleep and he hit me in the face.” Bursting into uncontrollable sobs, Jason buries his face into his mother’s embrace. Feeling fear and shame beyond words, you get up from the bed. Rubbing your hands on the top of your head, you pace around the room.
“Fuck!” You slam your hand down on the top of the bookshelf, knocking the soccer-ball lamp and all of the books on the top shelf to the floor. “Just great.” You kneel down and start picking up the mess.
Jason’s words are muffled by Emily’s arms. “That’s another quarter for the swear jar, Daddy.” First a moment of quiet and then the three of you start laughing. It starts quietly and Jason looks from you to Emily and back again. When it lets loose, it’s breath-stealing, foot-stomping, rolling-around-on-the-bed, tension-relieving hysterics.
You sit on the floor as tears roll from your eyes. Eventually you catch enough breath to say, “How about a dollar for this one, big guy?” Which just starts Jason and Emily laughing all over again. You stand up and resume putting the books back on the shelf. You leave “1,001 Fairy Tales” for last just like Jason would.
When you finally put it on the shelf, it doesn’t hit the back and stop. It keeps going into the wall. Through the wall like it wasn’t there anymore. You pull the book back out and grab the soccer-ball lamp. Aiming it down closer, you try to take a better look. You see a dark crack where the back of the bookshelf should be. You turn to make sure Emily and Jason aren’t watching, and slowly reach your hand into the darkness. It feels moist and scratches your fingers like brittle branches on a dead tree after a cold snow thaw. It opens slightly, welcoming you inside. You feel it pulling you in deeper. Confused and frightened you’re screaming inside to stop and back away. Roaring to pull your hand back from the dark. Still, your hand slides deeper into the black. Farther than it should be able to. Your shoulder is pressed against the spines of the children’s books lining the top shelf. How can your hand still be moving further in? The branches dig deeper into your skin. Warm blood begins to flow down your forearm. Your panic finally takes hold and you are about to retract your hand when you feel it.
It’s cold and soft. It must be old, very old. You can feel the dust and something squishy like mold. You move your fingers a little to the side to get a good hold. There are no more brittle branches stabbing and scratching. You pull what looks like an ancient, dust-covered book off the shelf as if it were resting there next to “Goodnight Moon” the entire time. The blackened cover was probably expensive leather at one time. The faded string is still tied around the book keeping secrets locked inside. If you were to pull the knot out, the entire thing would disintegrate. You reach down for “1,001 Fairy Tales” to put it back on the shelf but it’s not on the floor. You look around for it and it’s already tucked away on the shelf exactly where Jason likes it.
Alex kimmell (the squirrel whisperer/twodoggarage/daddy not-so-much-bucks) is an accidental novelist, anti-rhyme-ologist, oxygen inhaler, carbon dioxide exhaler who often generates harmonious sounds with various instruments of different historical importance. his work has appeared on cool places around the 1’s and 0’s like Black Lantern Press, Front Row Lit, Dumb White Husband and The Wordcount Podcast. His novel “the Key to everything” and collection of short, horrific tales “A Chorus of Wolves” were released by Booktrope Publishing. come and join the neurosis at alexkimmell.com.