Nightmares at grandma’s
It wasn’t the dark that has scared me in the past but having just enough light that I could see what occupied the dark. My nightmares were plagued by a still, dark shadow hovering over me. It doesn’t matter that the event that triggered my sleepless nights was decades ago. It remained, pure and inescapable.
My story began, like so many others, with my childhood. Visits to my grandparents specifically. On my visits I would be free to roam the house. My grandparents were the sweetest people. An inseparable pair, I could hardly remember a time where they were more than a foot apart. My grandmother was a nurse before she retired, which I always suspected triggered her hypochondriac behavior, such as wearing a medical mask all the time as she got older. My grandfather was an entertainer. To be more specific he was a ventriloquist. He had hundreds of dummies in one room of the house he called the show room and they scared the hell out of me.
They ranged in condition from brand new to an ancient. His pride, and my least favorite, was an antique dummy named Dusty. The name was fitting as he was the oldest and most decrepit looking of the bunch. Somehow, my grandfather always managed to make me laugh regardless of which dummy he used. Dusty had a faded brown, striped suit, with a tattered white shirt and frayed red bowtie. His paint was long gone except some flakes of black where his “hair” was supposed to be. He was dried out like fire wood and was maybe 3 feet tall. Whenever grandpa put on one of these shows he carefully helped grandma into her recliner where her eyes remained trained on grandpa the entire time. I always thought this was sweet, how kindly she watched over these little shows grandpa did for me.
Daytime at grandma’s was wonderful. I never had an issue with them keeping up with me, they kept me plenty entertained or let me busy myself with the knick-knacks around the house. Nighttime however, was a waking nightmare. The house had 4 rooms, each very far from each other. The house design was strange in fact. I had to go down A U-shaped hallway to get to each of these rooms and the end of the hallway was a dead end with the showroom nearby the last room. I stayed in this room, which was great for me because I would be far enough away from my grandpa to never hear any snoring.
The room even had a sky light! this was great because I could see everything even at night, but it wouldn’t be so bright that I couldn’t sleep. I could clearly see around me if the moonlight was shining through the panes. Like any other in this house, this room was filled with knickknacks and photos. Each statuette and figurine creating my own personal shadow puppets performance each night. It was soothing. I would watch as these shadow figures danced in time with the movement of the moon. The shadows were always the same, until the incidents started. But I’ll get to that.
Another part of visiting grandma’s was the stories. Grandpa would tell me all sorts of stories. The bleaker stories were few and far between but the way he told those stories make them the most memorable. He always told them around Halloween and always told the story more like recounting a tragic memory than sharing a spooky story around a campfire. This always stuck out to me because I just thought that my grandfather was a legendary story teller. One such story really stuck with me and mirrored the horrific dreams that would follow me into my adulthood. A shadow against the wall, footsteps, panic, and a revelation to reshape my perspective.
He always told the story holding Dusty and alternated between his natural soft grandfatherly voice and a slightly higher raspy voice that reminded me of the Crypt Keeper from “Tales from The Crypt”. The story went like this:
“Dusty was my first dummy, this little guy was at an antique shop. This antique shop was new, and I had to just take a look, you can see how much your grandmother and I like collecting junk” He would wink whenever he mentioned their hoarding and leave me giggling.
“Anyways, this place was different because a lot of the antiques were gorgeous wood pieces, grandfather clocks, tables, chairs, statues, decorations, and the like. I was digging through these treasures to notice this little guy right here, very out of place” He lifted Dusty to emphasize.
“Compared to all the items in the store, this guy was a wreck”
Dusty “Your no prize yourself you old coot”
“Calm down Dusty. As I was saying, I found this little guy sitting on a table waaay in the back of the store. It felt like someone was purposely trying to tuck him away. I was already in love with ventriloquism at the time so I had to have him, my first dummy. I mentioned he looked out of place, I’ll explain why. You can see how he looks, peeling paint, aged, drying, crumbling wood, clothes partially sun-bleached and frayed. The only thing in tact were his peepers”
Dusty: “You’re falling apart faster than me old man, shouldn’t you be coffin shopping?”
“Listen here you little shit”
I lost it here, swearing was a huge faux pas at granny’s and would always lead to my grandma gasping “Reggie” from her chair and scolding him while me and grandpa laughed. Once we all settled down he would continue.
“His eyes were piercing, so hyper realistic, the detail and intricacies in the craftsmanship were breath taking, I don’t think I could tell them apart from real eyeballs. At the counter the cashier looked unsettled and asked me multiple times if I really wanted him. I assured him yes again and again, eventually he said that he would feel guilty charging me and told me to just take it. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth I took him. But on the way out the door with a shaky voice he made sure to mention”
“You be careful ya hear? Keep an eye on that one”
“What a peculiar thing to say, I thought nothing more of it and took Dusty home. That very night Strange things started happening. Footsteps in the house, even when I was alone. Things were moved whenever I got home, which of course I got in trouble for moving. One thing that bothered me especially is eventually I either got more dummies as gifts or boutht them myself. I often found these dummies moved away from Dusty, like he needed his own personal space. This was reinforced when I moved out on my own and had my own place. I set up a camcorder outside the room that you know as the show room with the door open. When I would watch the tape the next day it always started with the door closing on it’s own. This was fine because air conditioners can cause that to happen. But it happened every single time for weeks, that’s when something else started to happen”
Dusty: “Well you invaded my privacy, so I thought I’d invade yours”
“That’s right. Whenever your grandmother and I slept we always left the bedroom door open. We would always have a little light coming in from the hallway because we had little lights in the hallway so your grandmother and I wouldn’t fall over something if we needed to get up at night and didn’t want to turn on all the lights and wake each other up. That night something new happened, I heard clicking footsteps and woke up to see a long dark silhouette projected across the wall. I shot up and saw Dusty standing there in the hallway. I got up and instead of ignoring him like they do in the movies, I put him in the wood chipper first thing in the morning.”
Dusty: “That left me with a chip on my shoulder. But an eye for an eye though huh?” he laughed that unsettling laugh.
At this point of the story my grandfather looked sorrowful, and my grandmother was dead silent.
“Yes Dusty, and I’m still very sorry”
I already didn’t like Dusty but how my granddad acted when telling this story put me on edge and instilled me with a burning hatred for Dusty.
“Well another night the same thing happened. I woke up to the same silhouette stretching across my wall. This time when I got out of bed I woke your grandmother. She started screaming when she saw Dusty and had a heart attack” He paused for a long moment before continuing
“The next night I heard the footsteps grow closer, the silhouette slowly climbed my wall, bit kept growing, Dusty came into the room. I got ready for the worst as I heard the steps click closer and closer, one at a time, nice and slow. I closed me eyes tight and hoped for the best, and that’s when”
Dusty: “I GOTCHA, HAHAHAHAHA”
My grandfather lightened up again and laughed and I laughed too.
“Don’t be so worried kiddo, it’s just a scary story, me and your gram gram are fine” He gave me a gentle smile and pat my head.
One detail in the story bothered me enough to ask my grandfather about it.
“But grandpa, Dusty’s eyes look really fake and plastic, the other dummies eyes look way more realistic”
My grandfather paused for a long time before responding in a hurried way
“The paint must have chipped off” and laughed uncomfortably
I had no reason to not believe him, so I gave him and my grandma a hug and a kiss and went on my way to play in the house.
The day passed like any other, but the night was filled with nightmares and a fitful sleep. My dreams were accompanied by footsteps, Dusty’s laughter, and a long thin silhouette overshadowing the puppet show I learned to love, more footsteps and I opened my eyes to see Dusty standing by my bed, staring into my eyes with his, somehow familiar, hyper realistic eyes that my grandfather described and jumped at me. I shot straight up out of a fitful sleep to look around anxiously. My breathing was rapid, and I was soaked in a cold sweat so thoroughly that I had to peel the bedsheets from my legs, the crisp night air prickling my skin. My heightened state of awareness absorbing everything my senses had to feed it. All this effort into mapping my surroundings led to the discovery of … nothing.
The shadows on the wall were the same as ever, moonlight breaking through the skylight and the hallway light trickling in the doorway. No footsteps, no dummy in the hallway, no laughs, nothing was wrong. But the nightmares would happen again and again. These nightmares would recur only when I stayed with my grandparents at first and it was always the same. Footsteps, shadows, and that piercing stare before I shot awake.
I hated Dusty so much. I dreamed day and night about actually destroying him. I hated looking at him. Eventually I asked my grandfather to stop using Dusty for stories. It was about this time that my grandma started showing more signs of being sick. The house started having an odd smell and her color was off. My parents assumed cancer and sat me down to have a talk about what exactly that meant. I was discouraged from talking about the “Old people smell” and be polite. Despite the nightmares, I wanted to spend more time with my grandparents, they wouldn’t be around forever, and besides, nothing actually happened to me, so it would be selfish for me to stay away because I lost a little sleep.
It was on my return that I decided to do something about Dusty. My grandparents moved around less than they used to so, my plan would be very easy to execute. My grandfather still had the woodchipper but, that would be too loud. I couldn’t use most of the tools for this same reason, but the fireplace was big enough to stuff that old dried out dummy, and being a kid, I knew dry wood burned really well. I would ask my grandfather to start a fire before bed, feigning cold, and sneak in to grab Dusty while he was asleep. Then I could incinerate that monument that my nightmares were built upon.
My anticipation for nightfall made each hour crawl by. I could recall a similar feeling like waiting for the last 10 minutes of a class to end, and later, watching the second-hand crawl by painfully slow in the last hour of work. The sun fell beneath the horizon and the moon took its place. The red light replaced by a pale white blue hue. It was time to face Dusty.
My trepidation was palpable. I could feel the tension in the air with every step I took towards the dummy room. Every creak, breeze, and click stopped me for a moment to look around. The long hallway lit with randomly placed lights created shadows and pockets of darkness at sporadic intervals. My shadow danced with other silhouettes as I passed each light, and finally, I stood before the door. At this moment the door felt bigger than it ever had before. I could see each and every detail of the door, the bronze designed doorknob, the bronze plate that read “theatre”, the door painted a showman’s red, its age showing itself through cracks and old paint. I placed my hand on the knob, held it there for a few moments as I steadied myself, and turned.
As the door opened the dim yellow light from the hallway illuminated the hundreds of dolls, each pair of eyes reflecting the light, similar to how eyes can look in a photo where the flash was on. The more I opened the door, the more the eyes inside shined at me, except one anticipated pair, Dusty’s. Unlike the rest, his eyes did not shine back at me. As I neared, I remembered the reason for this distinction. His eyes were plastic, not glass like the rest. I reached out slowly, carefully, inching towards Dusty, placing a hand under each arm and picking him up. He was surprisingly light, he didn’t talk, he didn’t move, nothing. He was about as heavy as porous driftwood, like picking up a slab of Styrofoam. I walked him right over to the fireplace and threw him in. Again, no vocalizations, no movement, just a speedy immolation. The only remotely scary thing was watching the white plastic eyes melt down his face. This was the first night for a long time I didn’t have any nightmares at grandma’s.
The next day was quiet, my grandparents and I went through the day like normal, until showtime. I could tell as grandpa passed the spot where Dusty once sat that he knew he was missing. He paused for a moment with his lips tightening before moving further and taking possession of another dummy, Shelly, my favorite. Shelly was a human like turtle doll, he wore butler’s clothing and had a captivating English accent and would chastise me for any improper word use which would make me giggle. He did his show like normal for me without mentioning anything about Dusty, and the rest of our day went on as normal. Nightfall arrived, and I prepared for bed, watching the silhouettes dance on my wall until I fell into a relieved and relaxing sleep.
That was until I heard soft clicking down the hallway, a tempo suggesting footsteps. Gradually the clicking echoed and loudened. The clicks continued to grow louder until they stopped. Right outside my room. My eyes shot open in response to the silence and panic set in as I observed a long dark silhouette standing out among the familiar shadows. After this night, my nightmares would return with a vengeance, and throughout most of my life, here to stay.
My experiences at grandma’s involving Dusty left a mark on me, even after everything was over. Sleep came and went, as did my days. Never knowing what waited for me while casting its shadow on my walls left me permanently tense. I was like a wooden support beam supporting way more weight than intended. I was bending under the stress, my confidence splintering, my resolve weakening flake by flake, on the verge of collapse. But, Humans have strange ways of adapting to constant stress. Falling apart, gambling, fighting, drinking, self-harm, lashing out, you know, methods that evolutionarily should pose a great disadvantage.
I became, for lack of a better word, a bastard. My sleepless nights brought on by a shadowy intruder left me in a constant state of fatigue and irritation. I kept the events to myself, but my grandfather could clearly tell something was wrong, but with my grandmother being as sick as she was, left me to my own devices. Constant argument’s over entirely insignificant matters started to take a toll on my grandfather. The once smiling, joyous man became a product of my bad attitude. I could tell he was depressed, he was trying his hardest to make my stays with him pleasant, but my attitude left him with little reason to hope.
After some time, I decided to take a break from my visits to grandma’s. My parents noticed the change in me as well, I was jumpy, nervous all the time, exhausted, and I started a habit at a much younger age than most, coffee. Coffee became my fuel. Every morning, sugar cream, and the dark nectar that would keep me going through the day. The adverse effect of coffee for me was the insane boost in anxiety. Where I was already a nervous wreck at nightfall, if I had coffee that day, my fear would be explosive. It got to the point that I would not sleep at night without my room being pitch black. Blackout curtains, duct tape on the cracks of my bedroom door. Even going as far to unscrew the hallway light outside of my room at night. If my room was not entirely devoid of light I would have panic attacks. Eventually I had to come clean with my parents and tell them about my nightmares and that damn dummy.
Burning Dusty was the starter pistol to the horror sequence that would plague me for decades. The shadow that fell over me the night after I destroyed dusty was the first event. Like my grandfather’s story where he heard footsteps and saw a shadow cast from his doorway, across his wall, A shadow too fell over me in the middle of the night. The parallel in the emotion my grandfather expressed when telling the story and what I felt was uncanny. I heard footsteps, I saw a shadow, and I locked up. I kept my eyes wide open, you see, in my dreams when I closed my eyes and heard additional clicking and opened my eyes, that’s when Dusty would spring at me. My logic was that if I kept my eyes peeled I would see them coming and I would maybe have some time to react.
Whatever was making the shadow was dead quiet. No more noises were made for the at least hour that it was there in my doorway. I kept my eyes locked on the shadow for any signs of movement, but none occurred. I kept my breathing steady and just looked at the shadow. I know silhouettes can be larger than what produces them but the shape for this didn’t remind me of Dusty in the least. It looked much bigger, rounded shoulders, and what looked like hair. I gained enough confidence to get up and look towards my doorway to see my door creek closed just enough to put whatever it was out of sight but enough that the light would still shine in. I heard more footsteps as the door opened again to reveal an empty hallway. I ran up and shut the door and sat with my back against it until morning.
I must have fallen asleep at some point because I woke to the sound of my grandpa knocking on my door.
“You alright in there kiddo?”
I opened the door and rubbed the crust out my eyes
“Yes pop pop.”
“Whoah kiddo you look rough did you get any sleep?”
“Not a lot, I’m hungry though”
He looked concerned for a minute after. He looked like he remember something but then just smiled at me and put his hand on my shoulder
“Of course, we’ll have whatever you want”
I expected him to talk to me at some point about Dusty, he never did. Most of the day was spent sitting on a bench facing an open grassy field in my grandparent’s back yard. I couldn’t focus on anything and being in the wide open brought me a feeling of security that I lost over my stays here. Before I knew it, sunset was upon me. I meandered inside and watched TV until my grandpa sent me to bed. The worst part about the following events was the inconsistency. It’s easy to prepare for a jump scare if you know it’s coming, your body acclimates to the consistency of the external stressor and adjusts accordingly. When unpredictability is involved in a stressor and you never know what’s coming or what to expect, anxiety fully takes hold and the fear is much more potent.
On the nights when the silhouette, it was more of the same. Night after night it would just stand in my doorway but no further. I began closing the bedroom door in a feeble attempt to keep Dusty out. This phenomenon has always perplexed me. If monsters truly exist, what in the world makes people think doors and blankets are enough to protect you from them? Anyways, I employed a cliché method to “Keep out the monster” and closed my door. One of these night’s I heard footsteps approach and then stop at my door. I tensed up and pushed up on the palms of my hands to sit up. The door creaked open and it took a moment for my eyes to focus but when I did I breathes a sigh of relief. It was my grandma.
“You okay grandma?”
“Can you hear me?”
Not a sound, I became uneasy and looked over my grandmother. She didn’t move, her head was slightly drooped down. You know how when someone is standing in one spot they tend to sway just a little bit? It wasn’t anything like that, she was statuesque. From where I was I couldn’t see her breathe or move. My unease grew with every moment.
I shook a little and begged “Grandma you’re scaring me, say something”
But again, no words, no noise, no movement. A scream lodged in the back of my throat that I couldn’t get out. I imagined once I screamed my grandmother would move at with arms outstretched at super natural speed and it would be over for me. I did all I could and pulled my blanket up to my nose and stared. The door creaked closed and I swear to you she still didn’t move, it looked like it closed on its own, and slowly, firmly clicked shut. I ran up and propped the desk chair against the doorknob and wrapped myself with my blanket and laid with my back against the door until morning.
That was it for me and I decided I didn’t want to come over anymore. I was so tired and on edge all the time that I was inconsolable and an absolute menace. In hopes that I could be remembered for the times before my nasty attitude I decided to not visit anymore. The nightmares however, did not relent. Even back home I started having awful dreams of my grandma hunting me. I felt awful. This poor, sick, withering woman having her grandson think of her as a monster. It is because of this that after a few months I decided to go back.
My nightmares started infiltrating my days and leaving me with very little focus. My thought was that if I went back, confronted my grandmother or told my grandfather I could put an end to the nightmares. Every night I dreamed of waking up in my grandma’s house with the door creaking open with my grandmother fixing me with a penetrating stare and floating at me, arms outstretched at a frightening speed. This would replay each time I fell asleep.
Grandma was not doing well. It was obvious through her pallor and smell. She addressed me from time to time but not with the same energy she used to. There was a fatigue behind it. A loss of the caring that she once carried in her voice. The best way I could describe it was that she was giving up, I took this to mean that the illness was winning. This increased the urgency in my mending my view of my grandmother and putting my trauma to rest. Unfortunately, as I said, she was so exhausted all time, and the talks were usually very short.
“Grandma can I talk to you”
My grandfather coughed and looked over, his face a portrait of worry and concern. He would often ask me to let her rest, but his lips became thin and he sat down next to grandma. I guess her breathing was weak, because of her blankets I could barely tell she was breathing at all. But a soft, weak voice penetrated the silence.
“Grandma, I’ve been having these nightmares, and I need to tell you about it”
I went to sit on my grandma’s lap but my grandfather stopped me with a shake of his head. It was a clear “Don’t break your grandmother” look. So, I sat at her feet. Looking her over I notices how thin her hands were, they were almost skeletal. I sighed and continued.
“I don’t want you to think I don’t love you, so I wanted to tell you. The reason I have been so tired and mean are my nightmares. The story that grandpa told me about Dusty was giving me nightmares and I would dream about the story every night. I know it’s dumb, but It was identical to the way grandpa told the story, and the eyes, were really scary and I woke up every night.”
My grandpa interrupted “Wait, is that why Dusty went missing? You got rid of him? If my story is what inspired your fear wouldn’t logic reason that you should NOT get rid of him to stay safe?” he sounded disappointed, but it was tempered by acclimation to years of previous disappointments.
I dropped my head downward and sighed “I’m sorry grandpa. And you’re right it got much worse afterwards anyways”
He sounded upset now “Why would you do that? how did you get rid of him?”
A soft “Shhhh” came from my grandmother stopping my grandfather cold.
“Finish the story honey”
I kept my head down and continued, “After the nightmares I was mad that they only happened while I was here, and I figured it was Dusty’s fault. I put him in the fireplace grandpa I’m sorry.”
My grandfather shook his head at me, sighed, and frowned slightly but let me continue.
“Everything was great for a little bit. But that’s when… well I assume it was a nightmare but, that’s when I saw a shadow across my wall just like in my dreams. I eventually looked in the doorway and it was you just standing there, grandma. I tried to talk to you, but you didn’t say anything”
Grandpa coughed again and asked “Wait what? Kiddo it had to be a nightmare she can’t get around without me anymore”
“I know, I know. That’s why I think it’s nightmares, anyways, that kept happening and that’s why I didn’t come around for a while… sorry”
My grandmother’s soft voice came out like a forced gasp of air “It’s okay honey, I never liked that doll”
“Neither one of you appreciate art” My grandfather said, trying to get a laugh out of us. We did, and I prepared for nightfall.
Something the incidents emphasized was inconsistency. I could not plan for the night time visits, that night proved to be more of the same. I was ready, but nothing happened It would be 3 days that would pass before the final incident stormed its way into my life.
That night was accompanied by thunderstorms. Rain tapped on all the windows and skylights. My room randomly illuminated by the nearby lightning strikes, the shadows dancing more violently than usual. I was (and am) one of those people that are lulled to sleep by storms, the problem with the storm this night was the noise. Because of how loud the storm was I didn’t hear the footsteps that night. However, When I awoke I saw the familiar shadow hanging over me. I rubbed me eyes and looked to the doorway and something was wrong. The power must have gone out because all I could see was a silhouette in the doorway, the hallway lighting was out. The only brief glimpses I could glean was from the moon scantly breaking through the clouds and the lightning.
My gaze was firmly fixed on the door. My thoughts were disrupted by the lightning strike illuminating my grandmother’s new position right next to me. If I screamed no one heard me, the lightning was so close that the thunderclap muted me. This all happened in the matter of a few seconds, but I remember every detail. Illuminated, I could see my grandmother clearly for a second. As always, she wore her surgical mask, so I could see no expression, but those eyes. They tore into me, they were the eyes I had been dreaming about since the nightmares began with dusty. I jumped out of bed and pushed my grandmother out of the way and ran out of the house.
The pouring rain didn’t stop me, I kept running. I ran, and I ran, my feet bleeding I fell forward and scraped my soft palms against the cold, hard, wet ground. I wiped the blood onto my pajama bottoms and looked back at the house and kept running. Looking at me with regret was my grandfather. I turned and kept running until a police officer saw me and collected me. Looking back at me every so often in his rear-view mirror with his sad concerned eyes, he said his name was officer Blake. He let me call my parents who came to get me, eventually. While waiting in the car I heard sirens approaching. Two squad cars tore in front of the house and a cop scrambled from each car drawing their weapons.
They urgently entered the house, a case of life and death perhaps? Moments later, my grandfather was being escorted into the back of one of the new vehicles, emotionless. More questions than answers were now scrambling through my mind. An ambulance pulled up, lights and sirens like the rest. Two women in dark blue jackets ran into the house through the rain with a gurney. This is when my parents arrived to take me away.
What I was told is that My grandfather would be gone for a long time, and my grandmother passed away. Grandpa stayed in jail for a few years before being moved to a mental health center. My family held a closed casket funeral for my grandmother, and everyone moved on. Everyone that is, but me. I was never able to find out what happened that night and my parents made sure to throw away any newspapers that talked about my grandpa. It would be 20 years before I could close the chapter on these events in my life.
My grandfather’s arrest left me with a lot of questions. Me more so than my parents. Their decision to keep me in the dark left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I lived with my grandparents most of my childhood and felt I should have been the first person to know what the hell happened. My mother and father did their damnedest to keep my eyes off the news, newspapers, anything that would give me a hint of what happened. This only made me think the absolute worst possible scenarios, all the dummies had skulls from real people, my grandfather was getting ready to kill me and grandma, or maybe he was about to kill himself when the police entered. The truth was somehow worse.
I set out to find out what happened that night with all the resources now at my disposable after two decades of technological advancement. You may be asking “News is everywhere, how could you have avoided it?”. Well the events happened in a time before social media and smart phones were a thing. These were the times of Net-Scape and dialup. The internet was a such a burden to use that most kids would rather be outside. Weird, I know. My point is that information wasn’t as easy to come by as it is now. As a 30-year-old man I suddenly felt the urge research that dark chapter of my life and try to bring myself some closure.
The reason I needed closure you see is that the nightmares never stopped. They were random like whenever I stayed at grandma’s but no matter where I went those haunting images would follow. There was only one change, and the change was significant. In all of my nightmares, my grandmother’s eyes were missing, gaping sockets fixed on me, two abysses within the confines of her skull. It was time. I sat in front of my computer, typed my grandfather’s name into a search engine, and hovered over the search button for a few moments before that fateful click.
A list populated results that, while not surprising, gave me pause. The first three links were titled:
-Lewis ventriloquist homicide
-Reginald Lewis’ grisly hobby
-Retired entertainer and his disturbing secret
I clicked the first link as it seemed to get straight to the point. I’ll spare you the word for word and summarize. What this article could tell me is that it is assumed that my grandfather was responsible for my grandmother’s death and afterwards kept her body. He used chemicals and waxes and anything he could find to keep her “fresh”. By the night of the storm she had been dead for 10 months. 10 months? That made no sense to me, she still talked to me... My mind played a reel to reel of every dummy show my grandfather ever performed for me. All the voices he did, men, women, young, old, accents, my grandfather could do it all. But there was no way he could have kept up that ruse so perfectly for so long without anyone noticing. This had to be a mistake. The only way to make sure was to try to contact the police department for my home town 300 miles away.
I remembered the name of the officer that found me in the rain and kept his business card all this time. I found it in decent condition in the back of my yearbook, where I stored it so long ago. Surprisingly he was still at the department. I asked if he would be able to humor me and tell me what had happened that night:
“Shit, you sure you want to know, I’ve been on the force-”
“20 years” I interrupted with a flat tone
“I remember you told me that it was your first week when you found me.”
“That’s right… Wait a second that kid was you? Holy hell… You sure? Because, what I was saying was that case stayed with me and I’ve been an officer a long time, I’ve seen some shit but nothing like that in a small town like this”
“I’d really like to know, it might help me put some demons to rest”
“Can you come to the station? I can sit with you and go over the file with you if you need. Sorry no one ever told you.”
I flipped through my calendar in my phone and then checked my bank balance. I had enough money and I had a weekend off.
“I can come this weekend if you have time for me”
“you bet, jot down my cell in case”
We exchanged numbers, I bought my plane tickets, arranged to stay with my parents for the weekend, and packed my bags. The former patrolman, now police chief awaited me at the station. He carried the same kind but sad eyes that I remembered that night so long ago. We exchanged pleasantries and he escorted me to his office. His office was a well designed 20x20 room with a deep oak desk. Wall to wall red carpet looked hyper real, just like the wood paneling on the walls, a comfortable environment, but that little folder projected an aura that made me shiver. Awaiting me on the desk was a tan folder.
“You ready Daniel?”
I looked over the folder one last time before sitting down across from Blake.
“Yeah let’s do it”
He opened the folder and laid out the photos and case reports
“When I went inside to check on your grandparents like you asked, you kept asking to check if they were okay. When I went inside I found your grandfather holding your grandmother on the ground.”
He slid a photo over to me. It was a picture of my grandmother’s body, but the head was missing. The body, no longer hidden by the blanket I could truly see how withered she was. It was like looking at a skeleton with human skin pulled over it like stockings, just like I remembered her fingers. The muscles were gone. The skin was discolored various shades of purple and green splotching areas in no particular pattern. All the veins were plainly visible, and it looked like if you tried to move her, her bones would crumble like so many Fabergé eggs.
“Your grandfather looked nonplussed. It was almost like he wasn’t even there. He didn’t say anything.”
“Where was her head?”
“It was in the bedroom we were later able to confirm that you stayed in. gently set on the pillow. Now let me warn you, this is a little disturbing.” He slid another photo to me
Similar to the body the head looked like skin and bones. Gone was the medical mask that covered her face for so long, and now I could see. I could see what my grandfather had done. I could confirm my suspicions. I could have all the information I needed for when I went to see my grandfather. Her lips were dried out and receded, her teeth and discolored gums showing. Her teeth appeared cleched. Like in my dreams here eyes were missing, just empty sockets asserted their presence front and center in the photo. I thought that with everything that would have happened up to this point, I thought that with all the nightmares I have suffered letting me know her eyes were missing, I thought that seeing my grandmother’s body would be the things that would disturb me the most about all of this. It was not.
“You see the two lines cut into her face down either side of her chin on her lower jaw? We feel but have never been able to get your grandfather to admit, that your grandfather killed your grandmother and then did his best to make her into his very own ventriloquist dummy. This might be why you or your parents never knew she was dead until that night. Did you need a second?”
“No, what happened to her eyes?”
“We don’t know, and your grandfather hasn’t spoken a single word since his arrest. We collected some glass eyes we found on scene. Your grandfather didn’t defend himself at trial, he has said nothing all these years. When you visited, did you ever feel something was off with your grandmother?”
“The problem was I was a kid. I asked about the smell in the house and my mom said it was just old people smell. What’s worse is the voice was exactly like I always remembered it. I could not tell a difference at all. So for 10 months you think he used her as a dummy?”
“We do, do you have any other questions Daniel?”
“Actually, I just have one, where is my grandfather at now?”
“Trinity mental wellness center, don’t hold out hope for him talking to you”
“Did you confiscate any of the dummies from the house?”
“We did not, but my understanding is that the house has been unoccupied ever since. You can try the house, if you have a key”
“I have one. Thank you for everything”
“Sorry about everything that’s happened to you Daniel, if you need anything while you’re in town just call.”
I left and headed towards the home that birthed my nightmares. I felt as though my story was circling back to where everything began. The first abnormality I took in was how clean everything was on the outside after all this time, the grass was cut, bushes trimmed, house paneling clean. My parents much have been caring for this place all this time. I walked up to the door and tried my key, it worked. Seconds later I re-entered the home of my nightmares. The inside was just as clean as the outside. I walked through the familiar structure up to the infamous red door, the show room awaited me. Waiting inside was an army of Dummies, frozen in time, untouched by human hands for decades. This was the only room that had gathered dust in all this time. I could understand after what happened why my relatives or whoever was watching over the place would avoid this room. I didn’t have time for nostalgia, I wanted to see my grandfather. I walked over and picked up a dear, kind faced turtle butler and smiled.
Trinity was nothing like I expected. It looked like a mansion that belonged on a Georgia plantation. White paint on every inch, even the metal railings. It was a distinct contrast from the bright green foliage and grass surrounding me. I was greeted by a Nurse at the front desk. He looked me over and smile before asking:
“How could I help you?”
“I’m here to see my grandfather”
“His name sir?”
He paused for a second and did a double take before he could put words to his confusion.
“He’s never had any visitors. I’m sorry for my reaction. He’s been catatonic since being admitted, you’re certainly welcome to sit with him.” He rose from his chair and walked me down the long sterile hallways lit with bright white fluorescent lights. As I passed room after room I was subject to witnessing specimens of mankind that had far passed their breaking points. Chewing on the bars to their room hard enough to hear and see their teeth cracking apart, staff running in to stop him, more patience rocking back and forth talking gibberish at a rushed clip, screaming, pounding on doors, crying, and as I reached my grandfather’s room, silence.
Entering My grandfather’s room in Trinity still haunts me. The meeting was soul crushing. The sight of the man who brought me so much joy, withering away in front of my eyes. His head limp and facing the ground. Even as I sat next to him with my backpack slung over my shoulder and my hand resting on his shoulder, he didn’t move. His breathing was shallow, he was hooked up to an oxygen supply, an IV stuck in his arms, and it looked like he had a food tube protruding from his abdomen. He looked emaciated. His skin was as pale as I remembered my grandmother’s being, before the smell. The nurse left the room and it was me and my grandfather alone for the first time in 20 years.
It was time, I set my backpack down and pulled out Shelly, only then did I notice a change in my grandfather’s breathing. I gently pulled the oxygen mask from his face, sat Shelly on his lap, and put my grandfather’s hand on the mechanisms to play the dummy however he wanted. And in that darling English accent I had loved so much as a child, he spoke.
“Daniel, it is so nice to see you”
“It’s nice to see you too Shelly. I missed you”
“I missed you too Daniel, what brings you into my company today”
“I wanted to know if you would be able to answer some questions for me, or even tell me a story about something in particular.”
“I need to know about Dusty, I need to know about grandma, I need to know what happened. That night I ran from the house, you saw me… I mean grandpa saw me leave and looked empty. What happened?”
Shelly seemed to pause for a moment, look around with his little green head, blinked a few times and moved like he was taking a deep breath. My grandfather was still able to breathe life into his dolls.
“I can tell you what I know, but I’ll have questions for you after. Fair?”
“Fair, start with dusty please.”
“Your pop pop here left out a lot of information from the story he told you. You remember the story he told you about dusty before you had the nightmares?”
“Of course, I can’t forget”
“Let me tell you the story as I know it. The old man here was truthful about the antique store, a significant detail he failed to include was that it seemingly popped up overnight. He just thought he was careless and failed to notice the construction but became further suspicious after he tried to return dusty a week later and found an empty lot. It’s possible it was a mobile building with paneling to look stationary, but it wasn’t a significant detail at the time.”
“He tried to return Dusty? Why?”
“The night he brought Dusty home he began having nightmares. They were different than what you have described, though. Dusty actively spoke to him in his dreams. He told him to hurt his parents whenever they made a comment about Dusty. He said horrible things about his friends, and then things in the house started to randomly move around when no one was home. Your grandfather, of course, was blamed for everything and received a few wallops in kind. He knew it was Dusty’s fault and wanted to get rid of him already. When he noticed the store had disappeared he simply threw Dusty in the alley. But the nightmares remained. But now, Dusty warned that he himself would do something if your grandfather did not recover him.”
“Hold on Shelly, sorry, if he hated his first dummy so early on why did he go on to get so many and become such a talented ventriloquist”
“I’m getting there chum, be patient. Soon after your grandpa abandoned Dusty, his mother died of a heart attack. Believing that this was because of Dusty, he ran to the alley and found Dusty underneath a pile of rubbish. Dusty was recovered and taken back home. The nightmares were different now. Dusty was now telling your grandfather that he needed a dummy, a female one but would not explain why. Once he was able to get his first new doll, Dusty instructed him to try a “new voice” for his father the next day and do a show. When he sat with his father with the new dummy and began to throw his voice, he and his father remained silent for moments. The voice that was thrown from the doll was identical to his late mother. His father was touched by the tribute and was astounded by the talent his young boy possessed and promised to help him expand his collection if he wanted to be an entertainer.”
“Does that mean that…”
“Yes. Each and every dummy in that room, and each and every voice your grandfather performed for you, was the voice of a person whos life had ended much too soon at the hands of Dusty. The collection grew as did your grandfather’s reputation for being an incredible ventriloquist. The man of a million voices he was branded. But behind the scenes he was falling apart. His guilt weighed heavily on him. However, knowing what Dusty was capable of, he complied with the life that was chosen for him.”
Moments passed before I was able to speak up, it made sense, but there was absolutely no way this story could have been true. A showman to the end I supposed but I was still left with the question of my grandmother.
“What happened with my grandmother? She acted so strange up until that night I ran away. I have always assumed them to be nightmares, but the memories feel too real. Too tangible. I can remember feelings, sounds, the cold rain against my skin. What did my grandpa do?”
“He held on for too long. I’ll explain. The story he told you where Dusty gave your grandmother a heart attack was true. She passed away, but your grandfather felt he knew better than to take her to the hospital. She was gone, and they would not be able to resuscitate her. The only way to keep her and preserve her memory was to make her his newest doll. He preserved her the best he could, talked for her whenever the family was around, took care of her decay every day so no one would notice. The necessity for wax and other materials eventually became apparent. Your grandmother was dead the entire time you complained of your nightmares.”
A madman. I was talking to what remained of a madman. Dusty was an excuse for his refusal to let my grandmother be put to rest. His selfish decision leading to… but wait… my grandmother was by herself the nights she came onto my room. During the day and whenever my grandmother spoke, my grandfather was right beside her. She was alone those nights. She was alone. My skin began to crawl, and I fell out of my chair and crawled backwards out of the room not removing my eyes from either the dummy or my grandfather.
“Ah yes, it appears that you know what my question is. But I’ll circle back to that. If you know anything about how a body decays, the soft tissues and eyes go first. Your grandfather couldn’t have anyone suspecting anything, so he had an ingenious idea. He would place Dusty’s hyper real eye-balls into the awaiting empty sockets in the skull of your grandmother. The ruse worked until the night you ran out. That leads me to tell you one last thing and ask you one sole question.”
I reached the door but stopped as my hand closed around the ice-cold doorknob.
“She was alone, if she was dead how was she alone?”
“That answers my question at least, and honestly I don’t know. This why I feel the need to tell you one last thing. When Dusty was destroyed after your grandfather had had enough of the guilt, only the eyes survived. Dusty did not re-appear on his own. Your grandfather found a similar dummy as a receptacle for the eyes. Dusty has never been seen moving on his own. So how would your grandmother be able to stand above you on her own? Your grandfather never took her out of the living room out of fear of her falling apart near the end. If you indeed laid eyes upon your grandmother moving around on her own, you are in grave danger and the only way to save yourself is to do what Dusty says. His eyes are in the evidence gathered the night of the storm, at the police station last I knew. Get them back, and give them a vessel, before you lose everyone you love. Go now.”
I shot out of the room and sprinted down the hallway and ran outside. I ran to my car and drove as far away as possible. I didn’t know what to do anymore. I pulled my car to the shoulder of the road and placed my face to the steering wheel and cried.
I must have fallen asleep because my nightmares returned with a vengeance. Dusty was not alone this time, his company was that what looked to be hundreds of people, heads hanging down, arms dropped at their sides, and two distinct lines that starting at the end of their lips and ending just below the chin. Dusty’s voice Echoed all around me.
“You messed up you little shit. You don’t think I can find a way to get to you after what you did to me. Maybe I should have my own barbecue” That hideous laughter surrounded me.
“What do you want from me?! Haven’t you taken enough?!”
“Oh please, when you’ve been around as long as I have you tend to get bored. Don’t take it personally. You need to get my eyes and give me a vessel. If you don’t I promise you will deeply regret it. And put some stank on it.”
“I’m losing my fucking mind”
“Honey, Please do what he says, I can’t lose you to this monster.” My grandmothers soft voice came from behind Dusty and pushed him to the side.
“Hey what’s the big idea” Dusty complained
“Shut your mouth you wretched little thing, you only took my soul, not my will”
“Well I never” he dusted off his tattered suit.
“I don’t know what he is honey, but he’s better contained in a vessel, I could see everything this bastard did to you and I am so sorry, I hope that I’m not what gives you nightmares the rest of your life. Give him a vessel but make it a prison somehow.”
I felt a tear crawl down my face before my grandmother reached out and used her thumb to wipe it away.
“You’re a smart boy, I love you, you can do this.”
I woke up to the police chief tapping on my window.
“You alright in there Daniel? You haven’t been drinking and driving have ya?”
I rolled down the window and wiped away my tears.
“No, no. I’m okay, I went to visit my grandfather. Got him to talk, I don’t know if he still will when you get there but he has what he needs to have a conversation I think. He didn’t kill her.” I then told him most of what my grandfather told me through Shelly.
“Well I’ll be damned. Thanks for the heads up, if you ever need anything”
“Actually I have one request.”
In the evidence locker of the police station Blake handed me a box with an arbitrary case number and “Lewis” written on the side in deep black permanent marker. I gripped the handles of the dry moldy smelling box and sat it on a nearby desk and began to dig through the bags within. Mostly photos, random items from the home, and then near the bottom of the box, a pair of glass hyper realistic eyes looking up at me. I reached for the bag and carefully picked it up by the corners of the bag as to not touch the eyes. I was having a strange enough day already and didn’t need “Being possessed by some kind of supernatural sadist” being added to the list. I handled the bag by my fingertips, my mannerisms reminiscent of someone trying to carry a wet moldy food item from the fridge to the trash.
I tucked the eyes into my backpack and headed home.
Clasping my hands around a tumbler of whiskey I sat hunched over in my dining room, elbows firmly pressed into my thighs with my legs bouncing. Brainstorming some ideas on how to contain or destroy these things. I could get another dummy perhaps? Lock it in some kind of safe? Everything I thought of didn’t cover the fact that… well if this was all truly supernatural, I wasn’t addressing Dusty’s ability to get into my head. So now what?
My dilemma led me to countless attempts to destroy the eyes. I tried smashing one with a hammer but instead of cracking like you would expect from a glass eye it shot out from under the hammer and almost hit me in the face. I tried popping one with a wrench, but the wrench gave before the eye. I even tried melting one with a torch, they didn’t even glow hot, and were cool to the touch. I was firmly believing that I was dealing with something paranormal now. I even backed my car over one. Not. One. Scratch.
This left me with no ideas. There I sat with a pair of indestructible eyes that projected nightmares into my mind, and furthermore, based on my grandfather’s story, can kill people, take their souls, and lay claim to their voice. If all of this was true, I was sure that that could not be all. If my grandmother was dead when she stood over me and my grandfather says he had nothing to do with it, what else could he do. How could I control Dusty? I would sleep on it. This time, I knew Dusty would be waiting for me.
“You’re pissing me off boy, Give me a vessel. You thought your nightmares up to this point have been bad, I’m going to melt your mind if you don’t hurry up. You thought I was in your head before”
“What are you talking about?” he sounded dumbfounded
“I got it now. Thank you so much. I can’t destroy you, you’ll get your vessel. No worries.”
He started and continued to berate me in my nightmares, I closed my eyes and tried my best to ignore him until I awoke. In my head, he was right, he had been in my head for decades. He had never left, eye’s or not he had been firmly controlling my dreams. I got ready for what I was going to do. I downed half a bottle of whisky grabbed the eyes and sat them in front of me. I stared, and they stared back.
I clenched my teeth and pushed my thumb under my left eye and began to push. My eye burned as I felt my thumb slide up under my eyeball towards the back of my eye socket. The whiskey didn’t dull the pain as much as I had hoped, I felt my thumb stop behind the eye and gritted my teeth harder as I curled my thumb against the back of my eye and yanked my hand away from my face, tearing the eye out of the socket. I screamed through gritted teeth for a minute and pushed my palm against my eye I felt hot blood run down my cheek and the fiery pain shoot through my whole body.
I felt something in my mind, Dusty knew what I was going to do, and he started screaming in my mind not to do it. I smiled as I held one of Dusty’s eyes in my hand to great protest. I raised the eye to my eye socket and pushed it in to Dusty’s screaming protest. So much information flooded into my head, centuries of memories from thousands of stolen souls. The pain of my eye dissipating each second, I inhaled like I was taking my last breath, and let the energy flow through me. It was incredible. But how could I hate Dusty now, knowing everything I know. I get it now.
(Grandfather’s voice) My grandfather made some questionable decisions. (Police Chief’s voice) Centuries of knowledge have let me know how significant each event leading to this had been. (Grandmother’s voice) Dusty is now an open book to me and an excellent tool, he’s not thrilled about it but what can you do? (Shelly’s voice) I truly understand what it means to be an entertainer, and I will use my newly acquired talents to create a new legacy. (Mother’s voice) To capture the attention of an audience and to be immortalized through their memories of each performance. (Father’s voice) I have collected a few more voices for my arsenal to… expand my horizons. (All voices including Dusty’s and my own) But tearing out my own eye has given me sight, I have imprisoned the beast within myself and now, I can see.