Monday, October 22, 2007

The House on Orchard Street

The dream began with waking up. There had been a sound. Not a loud sound but one of those you cannot identify. But you one you are positive you should not have heard. One that makes you sit bolt upright in bed and strain to hear it again.

I placed a hand on the body beside me to wake him. Strange noises require verification. But the surface under my hand was not warm or comforting. The skin was cool and damp and sticky. I pivoted and rose to my knees to get a better look in the moonlight washed room. Instead of Dwight there was a woman in my bed.

Her chest oozed a dark liquid from countless darker slits. And the air tasted of copper and smelled like the horse barn after the mare had foaled. Slowly on hands and knees I began backing off the bed. Straightened a leg out when I reached the edge and eased my body erect. The second foot met with something soft and yielding. Squishy.

I looked down and saw a younger version of the body in bed. This one clad in a pink flannel nightgown pushed up above her hips. The pale exposed legs and hips were a sharp contrast to the crimson rug beneath her. I bent to touch her hair matted with blood. It was then I began to scream. I was getting better. The first time I had started screaming when I touched the blood soaked shoulder.

“Hey, baby,” Dwight said, hugging me tight to him. “Wake up now.”

By the time I had totally come awake we were in the brightly lit kitchen. Vicki, the owner of the house stood at the archway to the living room. Her face full of terror.

“It was just a nightmare,” my boyfriend explained to both her and me. I pulled away from him and looked at my hands, then my bare feet. No blood. But something inside of me expect to find it. I was not entirely sure Dwight was right in his assessment.

“Hey, four in the morning is not too early for breakfast,” Vicki pronounced with artificial cheerfulness. As she walked to the refrigerator she looked nervously over her shoulder toward the bedroom Dwight and I occupied.

“Hell, breakfast is late,” he said.

We were the night crew of Grand Junction, Colorado. Dwight played drums in a country western band, Vicki was a cocktail waitress in the same lounge where Dwight’s band played from time to time and I tended bar. Four in the morning commonly saw us at the all night dinner finishing up breakfast before heading home. But Sunday had been our collective day off. The band was leaving for an extended road tour and the farewell party had begun early and ended early when we ran out of booze

It was 1979. Not the best of years. I was running from repressed memories, myself, and my parents’ opinions about what I should be doing with my life. Junction was a perfect place to get lost. It was in the middle of an oil shale boom and money, booze, speed and cocaine were all too easy to come by. None of that has anything to do with my recurring dream unless you subscribe to the theory that people on the edge are more available to the other side.

The next time I had the dream Vicki and I were alone in the house on Orchard Street. Dwight was in Cheyenne or Casper or Laramie. I kept losing track. If this was Tuesday it had to be Casper. But I was not sure it was Tuesday. Another band was playing at The Crossroads. Vicki and I got home early for night people.

Once again it was the sound that woke me up. I was getting closer to identifying it. A thwack then a sucking sound. Repeated. The body beside me was no less bloody, but it was warmer as if I was getting closer to the actual event.

I had mastered the technique of stepping around the body on the floor. No screams. At least not until I tripped over the dead dog in the hall. That was the night I knew one thing for sure; Vicki was terrified of her house. She would not enter the kitchen even though I knelt on the floor screaming. No one to hold me and wake me up. I got used to that. Every time I had the dream there were more details, more bodies it seemed. I had begun keeping notes when my hand would stop shaking enough to allow me to hold a pen. Even stopped mentioning the dream to Dwight when he would call from Fargo, or Minot, or Boise.

There was no question, from before I moved in, the house was haunted. Only my term then was occupied. Vicki had invited me over in the day time for a tour of her haunted house on Orchard Street. There was this old couple whose voices rose from the basement when the house was quiet. And a cold dark corner where the old cistern was. She thought there was a body there. Vicki talked of Indian burial grounds out behind the horse barn and the old hand dug well.

“You should fill that in.”

There were a lot of things she should do with the house and her life. She was getting a messy divorce, fighting for custody of her pyromaniac son, and drunk too much in my humble opinion. But I agreed with her on the voices in the basement. I would hear them just before I fell asleep on those nights when I did not have the dream. I decided they were guardians and would listen for their voices after the lights went out.

The old couple was silent that last night in the house. I was alone. Vicki had gone to the hotel with the bass player in the current band playing at the club. Dwight was in Sioux City or Omaha.

I walked through what I had begun to call my role in this macabre play until I reached the kitchen and the two dead boys with their throats cut. I thought I felt someone staring at me. I looked up to see this man with a large butcher knife in his hand. The blood dripped off the tip.

I turned and ran back to the bedroom, swept my car keys off the chair, and climbed out the bedroom window. The was cold on my bare feet hurt. Fortunately, I had been sleeping in my clothes. I tried to orient myself in the total dark before heading across the pasture toward the horse barn. Somewhere between me and my car was the old hand dug well with the rotting wooden cover. But where? Suddenly the moon peaked out behind a cloud and I saw the wooden planks just steps before me. I took a leap and gasped with relief when my feet hit solid ground. I sprinted toward the car as a splintering noise rose behind me followed by a primal scream.

"Get me out of here you bitch."

I pulled open the Pinto’s door and looked behind to see a figure drenched in the white moonlight stomping on something at the edge of the well. I fell into the seat and prayed the car would start without a problem. It did. I drove to the all night dinner and ignored the no shirt, no shoes, no service sign. The waitress wordlessly brought coffee and vanished in the empty spaces.

A quick look at my reflection in the dark window glass affirmed I was not looking my best. I had that faraway stare of an addict or alcoholic or . . .

“Someone has just seen a ghost?” Roger said as he sat down in the booth, across from me. He was a deputy sheriff. Bartenders always know the law on a first name basis.

“No, just this horrid dream I cannot seem to stop having.” I attempted to lift the coffee mug without shaking. “Anyone every killed at Vicki’s house?”

“Why do you ask?”

I am a visual person and at that moment I didn’t really know if I could explain myself without breaking down into tears. I felt as if I had just escaped with my life but was not sure from what. It all seemed so much more real than any dream I had ever had. Including the one of the rattlesnakes when I was seven. So I opened up a napkin and got out my pen and began sketching the layout of Vicki’s house and putting in crime scene type outlines of the positions of all the bodies. Roger grew oppressively quiet as I sketched. Finished I turned it around and slid it across the table to him.

“Don’t go home,” he said as he folded it up without further examination and stood.

“Where’s Vicki?”

“Out for the night. Probably the Best Western.” It was where all the bands passing though town stayed. No further explanation required. It was the 70's.

A couple hours later dawn was coming up and turning the Gunnison River red. The shakes had been replaced by a profound fatigue but I didn’t know if I ever wanted to sleep again. To that end I had scored some speed from one of the Interstate truckers that always stopped in at the diner. I had just pocketed my stash when Roger re-entered. I got up and followed him to his squad car.

“I took the liberty of packing your stuff. Open your trunk”

I obeyed and he transferred the few suitcases and a couple boxes to the Pinto. The air was cold. I extracted one of the jackets in the boxes and a pair of shoes.

“FYI about 15 years ago we found the body of a woman and three of her kids. We never found the oldest girl or who had brutally murdered them.

“It was her boyfriend. He fell into the old well back by the barn.”

“Where can we reach you?” he asked, accepting my information as if I were a witness to the crime. And on some level I was.

“Don’t know, but when I get there I will call and let you know.” I closed the trunk and walked to the driver side door and got in. The speed and all the coffee was doing its trick. My skin itched. It was time to move. Roger closed my door.

“Oh, and Rog. Check the old cistern in the basement. I think you will find more bodies there. Not connected to this I think. The previous owners maybe. Vicki said the disappeared before the hippies moved in and made it a commune.”

I started the car and began driving away from Grand Junction. I drove all that day. Over the continental divide, through the sprawling city of Denver and into the plains of Kansas where I could see for hundreds of miles in all directions. I stopped at a Motel 6 and slept the sleep of the dead. No dreams. The next day I headed into Kansas City and called my folks.

I finally heard from Vicki a couple months after my departure. Her son had burnt down the house and she was fighting for a settlement from the insurance company. Roger contacted me to say they had found the murderer’s body in the well and the two skeletons in the cistern in the basement

Dwight continued for a while to call from Des Moines or Provo or Colby. I met him once in Minot for a weekend. A couple weeks later, Bobby, the lead singer in the band, called to tell me Dwight had died of a drug overdose. I never got the name of the town. Wherever it was he died, it was too close to the edge, and I had decided to stay as far away from the edges of life as possible.

Note: The above story is largely true. I have taken a couple liberties with names and condensed the time line just a bit to make the story march. I lived in the house on Orchard Street for about six months. The dream was my reason for moving out in the middle of the night.