When I went to bed that night, disconcerting thoughts and concerns had led to what seemed a foreboding nightmare.
Though the light was off, my room remained lit in the dream as I slept. Opening my bleary eyes, I noticed water stains on the ceiling. They were ugly stains—the color of urine—and I thought I should see if they were wet, indicating a leak somewhere. A ladder was there for my convenience. As I scaled its rungs, I heard the distant voice of a woman calling my name. I didn’t recognize the voice, but it echoed like we were in a cave. She called again. Her tone seemed neutral, and yet reeked of deception. Disregarding her, I continued my climb, reaching the second highest rung. The water stains I had observed were now splashes of blood. As I turned slightly to climb down, the ceiling began to crack. My heart pounded, and I stumbled, attempting to decline. An unsightly hand reached through the crack and grabbed me. Hard as I tried, I couldn’t shake its tenacious grip on my arm. I told myself it was over. It seemed evident that I’d lost whatever battle this was.
Awake now, I tried to sort out what the dream meant. In my interpretation, confusion prevailed as to what was real and what wasn’t. When the world around me was light, it appeared dark. It was light when I sought to fade into darkness. Something had tarnished me—something ugly. I bled anguish. People reached out, offering the nurturing I craved, but then yanked it away. Locked in this unyielding fear, there was a sense that no one could intervene, and that no one ever would. I felt defeated in my struggle to rise from despair, thwarted at every turn. In that frightful moment of my nightmare, I was alone, same as I felt these days while fully awake.
I managed to drift off to sleep again, only to awaken once more to the sound of Robbie’s voice.
“I killed the baby,” he was saying. “It happened so fast.”
Oh, my dear Robbie … it had only been a few years since that night he’d woke me up, insisting there were naked people climbing all over the walls in his room. He said they were beckoning him.
Joey had lived here at the time and had rushed into Robbie’s room.
“Robbie’s having a bad dream,” I told him.
“It’s not a dream!” Robbie swore to it.
“You think they’re real, but they’re not. Look, you’re gonna wake everyone up.”
“Maybe we should wake everyone up,” Joey said.
“They’re still there,” Robbie maintained.
Joey told him no one was there, but he didn’t believe it, so I offered to lie beside him and talk to him until he fell asleep. We were up most of the night. Joey came in several times to check on us. In the morning, I glimpsed Robbie’s face as he slept. It was the face of pure innocence, as though none of it had ever happened, and as if everything bad had faded with the darkness.
I hurried to his room now, aware that his chatter about killing a baby was not part of my nightmare or any past recollection. His mattress was smoldering, and when I flipped on the light, he was standing there as if in a trance.
“I thought I killed the baby,” he said.
I raced to get a bucket and fill it with water. “Help me,” I beseeched him as I dumped the contents of the bucket onto the mattress. I made several trips back and forth before he snapped out of it and began to assist me.
“What happened?” I asked. “Were you smoking in bed?”
I urged him to help me get the scorched mattress down the stairs and out of the house. How I thought we would manage the situation without my father’s help, I’ll never know, but I feared that man’s wrath.
He came out of his room, my mother trailing, holding her robe closed.
“I smell smoke!” my father bellowed.
I thought of the “fee-fi-fo-fum” giant in “Jack and the Beanstalk” who smelled the Englishman’s blood.
After I explained, my father took charge, dragging the mattress to the woodlot.
“I’ll deal with that thing in the morning,” he said upon his return. He yelled at Robbie. “Where the hell would you get the crazy idea to smoke in bed? Did you ever see anyone here do such a stupid thing? Do you think I’m buying you a new mattress?”
“It’s okay,” Robbie said. “I’m leaving for Florida Sunday.”
“You can go right now and go burn down the whole goddamn state of Florida, for all I care. Robert, you’re eighteen years old. If you don’t know better by now, when will you?”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “When I get a job in Florida, I’ll send you money for the mattress. I can sleep on the couch tonight.”
“No, you will not!” my father shouted. “Go stay at a hotel or sleep in the street or go sleep outside on the mattress you ruined!”
“Come on, it was an accident,” my mother pleaded.
My dad shifted his gaze to her. “And how’s he supposed to learn?” He looked at Robbie again. “All right then, give me the cigarettes and go sleep in the basement. There’s an old sleeping bag in one of the closets there.”
“Are you serious?” Robbie asked. “What is the point of that? That makes no sense.”
I gave him a gentle push toward the curved, carpeted stairway. “I’ll help him find the sleeping bag,” I said.
I had always dreaded going down to that basement alone, and I surely wouldn’t have slept there. Most of the rooms in our house had a refined, almost imperial, look with their dark-paneled walls, vaulted ceilings, and crown moldings. The basement door seemed to bar us from a contrasting world.
The switch at the top of the stairs cast only a dim light upon the stairwell. When I was alone, I’d descend with a frantic urgency to pull the switch near the bottom of the stairs. It would cast only another dim light.
“Don’t worry, I’ll stay with you until we think of something,” I said as we descended.
Robbie clenched his teeth.“He’s out of his fucking mind.”
“You’re lucky,” I told him. “He had his explosion before you got here.” I shivered, as it was cold down there, always, despite the paneled walls. An antique marble fireplace that had all the elaborate gilding my mother loved was the first thing we saw, but it was fake and purely for ambiance.
Robbie’s curious eyes widened. “What are you talking about, Dan? What did he explode about?”
“He got mad at Joey for cutting an apple. He thought he was going to cut the tablecloth, and he went nuts.”
“Yeah, it’s probably why you’re still alive.”
Robbie laughed. “You think he would kill me?”
“I don’t know.” I told him the rest of the story, and he agreed with Joey that my father wouldn’t likely kill anyone.
He evidently had a bigger concern. “Does he really think I’m gonna sleep in this dungeon?”
With its many ominous doors, it did look like a dungeon. “Yeah, I always feel like someone’s watching me here.”
I glanced at the long extension table. My father once told us that my grandfather liked to sit there alone in the dark, drinking wine from a goblet, smoking, and making weird whistling noises. My grandmother maintained he still did.
In old home movies and photographs, my grandfather was a silver-haired, clean-shaven image of my father with a broader face, deeper lines, and wrinkles. Joey told me he’d been a dockworker in Brooklyn who’d had a bunch of mob friends in New York. Joey always believed he’d gotten involved in some of their shady dealings, come into some money, and then bought the house in Glastonbury. He died weeks before I was born.
“Grandma hears footsteps when she’s down here,” Robbie said now, “and they don’t come from upstairs. She thinks they’re Grandpa’s footsteps. She hears floors creaking when she’s alone in the house, and all this rapping and banging. She says she hears music, too, and Grandpa calling her.”
“I think she just misses him.”
“Are you kidding? Who would miss that monster?”
“Shush!” I hushed him.
“Why? Do you think he’ll hear?” He laughed.
“How come it’s not happening while we’re down here?”
He shrugged. “Maybe he’s waiting until you’re all by yourself like he waits for Grandma to be by herself. I heard he was really mean. He abused Grandma. He was always yelling at her, making fun of her, calling her names. The old geezer was even locked up in Cedarcrest for a while.”
I shook my head. I had never been sure what the deal was with Cedarcrest. It was in Newington, an old place in the woods left in ruins. Robbie insisted it was an insane asylum. I read that it had been a psychiatric facility, but not until years after my grandfather died. My father told us it was initially a sanatorium for treating patients with tuberculosis and other incurable illnesses.
“Remember the spookhouse events we held in this creepy cellar?” Robbie asked.
“Yeah, the ones we’d set up down here with no adult permission or supervision.”
“I was always hoping that ghoulish fiend would make an appearance.”
“Oh yeah, I bet you were.” I rolled my eyes.
It was odd, since we’d had parties down here for the first several years of my life. There was a paneled bar across from the table that had seemed alive with guests on the New Year’s Eves of my early childhood. Left dark now, it looked like an abandoned old relic.
Robbie wandered into the small basement kitchen now, and I followed. He sat on top of the retro dining table, and though there were three folding chairs around it, I sat in the spindle rocking chair with the puffy back cushion and held one of its fringe throw pillows in my arms as I rocked. It reminded me of Robbie’s bizarre childhood game, where one person would sit in the chair, and another would get behind the chair and rock it, singing “Rock-a-bye Baby,” drawing the chair farther back until he or she let it drop to the floor. I suppose, if there had been a bed of nails somewhere, we’d have been on it.
Uncle Dom had walked in on us one afternoon. He was on his way to the wine cellar to take home a bottle of wine. Robbie had let go of the chair in that instant, and I plummeted to the wood floor.
“Whoa!” Uncle Dom had hollered. “What the hell’s the matter with you?” He was looking at Robbie, and then shifted his gaze to me, clearly disconcerted. “Are you okay?”
His genuine concern had melted me. He didn’t have my father’s screen idol looks, but he was this old world gent with cheerful brown eyes and a sweet, handsome face. Despite a few gray hairs, he hadn’t changed much over the years.
“I’m okay,” I’d assured him. “It didn’t hurt.”
The entrance to the wine cellar was a few feet away, and he had gone in there. It was a separate room, where rows of jugs filled with wine lined the stone walls. There was a pull light for the front section, but all you could see beyond the barrels was darkness. My dad made the wine in that cellar with Uncle Dom, but when they were around, the place was somehow cheery.
“Good thing you didn’t crack your skull,” Uncle Dom had said when he came back with his wine. He looked at Robbie. “Don’t do that anymore! I’m going to talk to your father, and you’re gonna get it.” He motioned a spanking with his hand. “This is not the way for kids to play. Let’s go upstairs.”
My parents had given us a stern lecture, mostly directed at Robbie.
I never knew whether to feel happy or sad about these memories. I recalled them with giddy delight and underlying disbelief.
I reminded Robbie of the game now.
“How would you know if I’m responsible for anything that happens in this house of horrors?” he asked.
“Are you gonna tell me it’s Grandpa?”
“I saw Mommy walking around just before I went to bed tonight.”
“She did not start that fire.”
“I’m not saying she did, but I never told you this. It started a couple of years ago. She came in my room and asked for a lock of my hair. Then she told me to put these coins under my pillow.”
“Uh … yeah?”
“You say that so casually, like you’re not even shocked.”
“I read a little about it.”
“She goes to see a psychic, Dan. She told me not to tell anyone about it. She asked the psychic for help straightening me out.”
“She’s desperate to help you and is getting taken for her money.”
“She’s also desperate to save her marriage.”
I knew what he was talking about, since Robbie and I had listened with cups to the wall whenever my parents fought.
“You were there,” I’d heard my mother say to my dad. “I hired a detective to follow you. Your car was there. He saw everything.”
“Look who’s talking,” my father had replied.
“You’re a liar,” she’d shot back. “There’s never been anyone.”
“No, I’m not a liar. Someone saw you come out of a car a block away.”
“Who saw me?”
“I’m not gonna say.”
“Because you’re making it up.”
“I’m not making it up. This has been going on for years. You want this guy or you want me? You better decide.”
She’d begun to cry. “If you’re going to make up stories and not believe what I say, I might as well get a divorce.”
I could hear a breaking down in his voice as well. “If you want a divorce, we’ll get a divorce.”
“She said the psychic doesn’t charge her anything,” Robbie continued. “She can make a donation if she wants, but it’s all free. Don’t tell her I told you.”
“I won’t, but I have to get upstairs before they come down here looking for me.”
“Fuck this,” he said. “I’m not staying here.”
“Why don’t you go to Joey’s?”
“And drive all the way to New Haven? I don’t want to do that. I have a friend I can call. Let’s go up, and I’ll get some of the things I need. I can come back for the rest.”
My father had gone to bed. My mother asked Robbie questions about where he would go, what he would do, and he assured her he would be fine.
He did come back the next day to say goodbye to my parents. They were kind to him. My father wanted to feed him, advise him, help him. My mother had tears.
I walked him to the door and cried when I hugged him. “You know, I’m really going to miss you.”
“I’ll miss you, too, Dan,” he said, “but this is the best thing for me. I don’t feel safe in this house. I never did.”
“I understand.” I kind of did, and I kind of didn’t. I found the house strangely soothing despite many moments of fear.
He said he would see us at Christmas.
Deadly Veils Book One: Shattering Truths was originally published as Deadly Veils: Book One: Provenance of Bondage copyright © October 2015 by Kyrian Lyndon. The revised edition, Deadly Veils: Book One: Shattering Truths was published in December 2016. Cover design by KH Koehler Design.