Her gargled screams echoed down the narrow chamber. Her final words. She clawed at the walls of glass, reaching for some purchase. Blood in her mouth, a slow choking agony. She begged for each breath. For a chance to continue, to put it right. The poison had done its work. Now the creature need only wait. Her skin felt like fire.
Rings of muscle and tissue and sinew circled her body in a hideous ritual art form. Her body would complete the pattern, the circle required to end it all. It was a single reptilian eye made of flesh, bodies, and bone
With the sound of the heavy wooden door slamming shut above, the final vestige of light winked out. She collapsed to the dirt floor, closed her eyes and submitted. In total darkness, she could feel the wind on her face and hear tiny feet scrambling towards her as she took her finals breaths.
“That’s it? That’s the dream in its entirety?” asked Dr. Reynolds. His voice was deep and soft.
Amanda nodded and adjusted herself on the couch. She caught herself rubbing her left arm raw, the red hairs on her skin bristling with the touch.
“It’s several nights a week now Doc.”
“For how long?”
“It started July 4th… so, two months?”
Dr. Reynolds shifted in his chair. He was an aging man, skin loose on his thin form. His salt and pepper beard framed his face. On top of his head was a single tuft of hair, an island in a bald patch. He pushed his glasses up against his nose and scribbled something on his notepad.
“That is oddly specific Amanda.”
“Well, the neighbors were still setting off firecrackers when I woke up and…”
“Ah, I see. Did you consider that these dreams are another manifestation of your Post Traumatic Stress Order?”
She nodded and played with her shoulder-length red hair. “I don’t think it is Doctor. It feels like something different. Like a… a… warning or something.”
Dr. Reynolds smiled. Amanda always found something calming in that smile. He had something soft about him. It was the reason she had come to him for treatment, despite her problems with the VA.
“Consider though, this began on the 4th of July? You know how fireworks upset you.”
“I do doctor, but I don’t think it’s related to my… combat experience. I’m telling you, it’s something else. It feels different than other nightmares.”
“But, you say this is an enclosed space? A narrow passageway? Perhaps like the vehicle you were in when your convoy hit the IED?”
Amanda didn’t answer right away. Instead, she traced the patchwork of scars on the left side of her face. She thought of that terrible day. She was the only survivor. “I can’t explain it but, that just doesn’t feel right.”
Dr. Reynolds looked pensive for a moment and glanced at his watch. “Unfortunately, that’s all the time we have today Amanda. I want you to record these dreams every time you have them. Fill a notebook if you have to. Look for patterns between that and other dreams like it. See if you can find any common ground. Even if this isn’t related to your PTSD as you suggest, it could very well be pointing to something else you are overlooking in the waking world.”
“All right Doctor Reynolds. I’ll try.”
Amanda stood, using her cane to push up herself up. Doctor Reynolds also stood and reached out a hand to help.
“No, I’m fine. I can do it myself Doc.” Her voice was sharper then she liked.
Doctor Reynolds smiled again. “Of course you can Amanda, but there is no shame in asking for help once in a while.”
She grunted and held her balance. She wouldn’t need the cane for too much longer, her left leg was getting stronger, and the last surgery to remove the shrapnel had, in the words of her surgeon, been a complete success. He promised her that in a few months time, with the right PT, she wouldn’t even have a limp. Her reconstructive surgeon couldn’t say the same for her face. Mirrors were constant reminder.
“See you next week Doc?”
“I am on vacation the next two weeks if you recall.”
“Oh yeah, have fun. Bahamas right?”
“Yes. I will. When I come back, we will resume our conversation about this dream, but perhaps writing it down, it will go away on its own.
“All right Doc. See ya.”
Amanda walked out the door and headed for the bus.
But the dream didn’t go away. Every time she closed her eyes, it was there. For several more nights, she tossed and turned finally popping sleep aids to encourage dreamless sleep. For a few days that did the trick.
But then Amanda got a phone call that would change everything.
Days later, Amanda drove on the well-worn road to the edge of a clearing in Upstate Pennsylvania. As she emerged from the thick canopy of the large looming trees she came across the house, her uncle Charlie’s house. It was hers now. Uncle Charlie had recently passed away while on some humanitarian trip in Kenya.
There was nothing creepy or weird about the house. It was just a normal Victorian style home with a large library and endless dust. But, it was a mini-mansion. The ancient gray siding was peeling. Charlie’s lawyers said that he had not been there for well over a year. When the lawyers sent someone to inspect the property, the inspector found no sign of recent occupation.
She had visited the house a few times as a child and Uncle Charlie had always been kind to her, but, having no children of his own, and since Amanda’s parents had both passed away before her adventure in the army, she was his sole heir. Her memories of the place were warm and pleasant.
During her last visit, just before her teen years, Charlie was married. His wife was a painter, and even now, as she explored the long hallways, some of her paintings still hung on the walls. It seemed though, that all the paintings were just a little crooked, no matter how many times she adjusted them.
His wife had left one day, never to be heard from again. Charlie claimed she ran off with some hippy to live in a commune on the other side of the world, but Amanda wondered why there were still these large monuments to her memory marking the house. She figured that a man whose wife had walked out on him would want to take down every memory. But perhaps that was the reason he abandoned the house. Later, in the midst of all horror, she would wish the truth was so simple.
For Amanda, the timing couldn’t have been better. She was about to lose her apartment, and her disability checks wouldn’t cover a new place, so, here she was, in a new home several hours from her friends. In her younger days, before the army, she would have turned this into a place for parties, but now, she preferred the quiet. Though, as she surveyed all seven bedrooms, she suspected she wouldn’t enjoy that much quiet.
She chose one of the smaller bedrooms and set up shop. On the second morning of her stay, she called her friend Armin and invited him to come to stay for a while. He agreed and said he would be up at week’s end. Armin worked remotely so he could stay anywhere he liked as long as there was the internet. She called and arranged to have someone come out and connect the home into the 21st century as soon as possible.
Most of the clearing outside the house was long overgrown. The forest was reclaiming its territory, and she found signs of both deer and foxes when she hobbled along her short hikes. Each morning, after breakfast, she walked and stretched her leg, worked on tidying one of the dusty rooms and then spent the remainder of her day in the library.
At first glance, the library was your run of the mill wealthy man’s library, filled with many classics bound in leather and sometimes even signed by the author. But that was only the west side of the library. On the right side, in a sea of thousands of books, some so high she required the use of the wheeled ladder, she found many strange volumes. Among them titles like, The Secret Teachings of All Ages, The Archidoxes of Magic, The Picatrix, and the Voynich Manuscript. There were many more, and most of them contained bizarre images. Some claimed to cast spells and summon dark creatures.
Despite her skepticism, Amanda had always thought the occult was fascinating. As a teen, she spent some time reading books by men like Aleister Crowley and playing with Ouija boards with her friends. Nothing strange had ever happened, but she always wondered where the ideas came from. With the books on the east end of the library, her curiosity reignited. Now though, she was a firm atheist. After the shit she had seen and experienced in Afghanistan she discarded any remnants of her belief in some benevolent being.
On her fourth night, while munching on a piece of cold pizza from her trip to town, she polished off several books before the sun had set. Many of them were unreadable, in other languages or sometimes cryptic ciphers. So mostly she skimmed through, looking at the fascinating and sometimes creepy pictures. As the sun cast its final rays through the stained glass windows, something glimmered on one of the lower parts of the east shelf. It caught her eye, and she lifted herself with her cane. As she approached the shelf, she noticed a silver tassel hanging against the spine of a book. She brushed it aside. The spine in thin white letters read, Book of Soyga.
Amanda reached out to grab it, but it was stuck. She put aside her cane and with both hands pulled harder. At first, nothing happened. Then the top of the book came loose, and she almost lost her balance. The bottom stayed wedged in place. She let go, and the entire shelf moved, swinging open to reveal a passage.
For a moment all she could do was stare. Was this real? Cool air crept up from the passage. The smell that wafted into her nostrils was familiar, and though she couldn’t peg it, her body trembled. Ahead in the passage electric lights flickered on, she flinched.
Amanda considered the books that filled the shelf. Some of the titles were esoteric and harmless superstition, but others… she didn’t let herself think about it. Instead, she left the bookshelf open and hurried back up to her room on the second floor.
She rummaged through her bags and found the folder the lawyers had given her. Inside was a copy of the inspector’s notes as well as some of the information about the property. She rifled through the pages, looking for any sign of the strange passage in the library or any other hint that someone else had known of it. There was none.
She grabbed a flashlight from her bag, a massive black thing and a weapon in its own right. She considered bringing her gun but then chuckled to herself. It was just an old passageway, wasn’t it? And if the house was abandoned for the last year and not even the inspector had come across it, what could be down there?
She walked down to the library and for a few more moments stared at the entrance. A fluorescent light flickered in the passage ahead. Cobwebs filled the opening. She took a deep breath and then stepped forward. She found herself at the top of a spiral staircase. After about a hundred steps, the electric lights ended and ancient lanterns replaced them. Her flashlight was more than enough to light the way.
The air grew stale. A tomb. The ancient stone walls were rough to the touch. Cobwebs in the corners cast strange shadows as light passed over them. Then, she had the sense of being watched. Amanda flashed her light up and down the space, but the spiral staircase left little room for a watcher. It occurred to her that maybe she shouldn’t come down here alone. She paused on the stone steps and considered waiting for Armin to arrive in the morning. She looked back up and then down again. Nothing dangerous could wait ahead, could it? Maybe she would feel better if she had her gun? She chuckled to herself, she was behaving like a scared child.
She resumed her descent, her footfalls played tricks on her ears, and twice more she stopped to listen for a unique pair of footsteps, but there was only silence.
After many more steps she reached the bottom of the staircase, it exited out into a large open space. It was an enormous gathering hall, part man-made, part natural underground cavern. Stalactites hung from some parts of the ceiling. Folded chairs stacked neatly in the corners suggesting, for the first time, that perhaps many people knew of the secret passage. Massive pillars lined the room on either side of the hall. Pictographs covered nearly every inch of the eighteen pillars.
“Just what in the hell is this place?” she said aloud. Her voice echoed through the room. The sensation of a watcher peering around pillars or from some hidden hall returned, but as she cast the light around the room, there was no hint of movement. She walked through the open space with ease, realizing that she had left her cane leaning against the bookshelf. The pain in her leg was barely noticeable, even after the long descent. Perhaps it was her excitement, perhaps it was something else.
There was a raised platform at the end of the last two columns, a wooden stage for a speaker. Someone had pushed the podium on the side, but she could still see the outlines of where it had once stood. There, just behind the platform, was a small wooden door. An image of a person kneeling and offering something in their hands up to a large lizard-like beast was etched on the door. The beast had many tiny legs protruding from its underbelly and two long necks with dragon-like heads at the end. She had seen the image before, in one of the books perhaps or somewhere else?
She gazed around the room again then fixing her eyes on the door. Like the books on the eastern side of the library, it was bizarre and fascinating. A small voice in the back of her head cried out. It screamed at her to wait for Armin, but Amanda could not hear it. She was compelled to touch the carvings, to feel them under her fingers. At first, only the tips of her fingers probed feeling the carving in the wood; then, she pressed her palm against it. It pulsed at her touch. Was it breathing? The sensation alerted something in her. She withdrew her hand and took a step back, reaching up to touch the scars on her face, caressing them.
The door cracked open. The squeal of the hinges ricocheted off the high walls and amplified the sound. She stood and watched as the way forward opened again. It was another door, another choice, another step forward.
This time there was little hesitation. She had come this far already and wanted to see where this ended. She stepped forward and found herself descending a few more steps. This time it was a short descent. As she reached the bottom, her blood chilled. Her body was a coat of red hairs standing at attention atop tiny goose pimples. Good little soldiers.
The corridor, lined with glass widened a little. A floor of dirt softened her footfalls as she followed the passage. As she shined her light forward, she realized that the walls were not glass, but mirrors. Staring back at her, were endless copycats, and her scar was bright and visible in every single one, clones of her tragedy, reflections of remembrance.
With a horrible realization, Amanda knew where she was. She recognized the place of the pattern, the place where the broken bodies had formed the eye and the woman had laid down to die. The bodies were missing now, but how could she forget the place from her nightmare?