The dreams started on the last day of September. At first, he couldn’t remember them on waking. Panting and covered in sweat, he knew only that something unnatural, something awful had come to him, its face rotted and its hands clutching. Without deviation, he would snap on the bedside light and sit until dawn, his knees drawn up to his chest and his heart racing. By mid-afternoon, he always forgot his terror.
The leaves were changing in D.C., and he couldn’t help but marvel at their beauty. Walking down G Street to the Delicatessen where he ate lunch every day, he almost felt like a child again, agog at the magic of the world.
After lunch, he would walk to the library on Andover Street, a big, boxy building dating back to the 1920s, its stone steps wide and flanked by grinning gargoyles. The statues had never bothered him before, but since the first dream, he passed them with a note of apprehension, his neck tingling as if in expectation of a blow…or a cold hand grabbing.
In the dimly lit chamber, he would select a book and pass several hours in one of the leather chairs scattered among the overcrowded shelves. Most days, he chose a work on Russia, specifically the Soviet period. None of them mentioned him or things he had done, and he was grateful.
Nevertheless, he worried at least twice a day that a knock would come at his door, that an agent would put him in handcuffs for what he’d done for the KGB. The Soviet archives were public knowledge, surely they must know he was an agent. Of course, that didn’t mean they knew of the torture. The government certainly wouldn’t record those facts. Would they?
At dinnertime, he would leave the library and walk six blocks to a steakhouse that served the best shrimp in the city. He ate slowly, languidly, and left at dusk. Presently, the journey was chilly, the wind biting his exposed face. Halloween decorations dotted the windows and doors of ancient row houses along the streets.
At home, he would drink and go to sleep. Since the dreams started, he’d taken to drinking enough to get him drunk, which wasn’t as much as it used to be.
Still, the dreams came.
On October 11, he woke from the first one he could clearly recall.
In it, he was sitting in bed with the lights off, the only illumination coming from a cold shaft of moonlight falling through the window. He was frightened, of what he couldn’t say, and knew, knew that the lamp beside his bed wouldn’t work, no matter how many times he tried the switch.
Suddenly, a noise echoed through the midnight quiet, a thumping on the ground floor.
His heart sputtered.
It came again, closer this time, at the foot of the stairs.
When he woke, sitting upright, he was screaming.
The dream came the next night. Everything was as it had been before, except the thumping was louder, and came closer. This time it was on the stairs when he woke.
Before long, the daylight offered little reprieve. Trembling and afraid, he would go through the motions of life. The deli. The library. The steakhouse. At dusk he would walk through the twilight streets, nervously imagining things lurking in the shadows, crouched behind trashcans and in alleys, watching with malign intent.
The dreams changed around October 20…or rather, they became longer. He was in the torture chamber below the KGB building in Moscow, the walls bare, water-splotched concrete, the lights low and ominous. Shadows surrounded him.
In the middle of the room was a man in a chair. A boy, actually. He remembered him well. His father was a radical, tried to assassinate comrade Brezhnev in 1978 and then fled to America. The boy, whose name he couldn’t quite recall, was sixteen when they took him from his home in the dead of night. December 1978.
The leadership was convinced that the boy knew something, or had been involved in something.
And it fell to him to extract the information.
In the dream, he tortured the boy, burning his arms and chest with hot irons, cutting his nipples with knives, ripping his fingernails out with rusty pillars. The boy had screamed and cried and begged, calling for his mother, for his father, for his baby sister before dying. In the dream, however, he simply watched his tormentor, his face stoic and unchanging.
Even in the shadowy corridors of sleep, he knew this wasn’t right, that it wasn’t natural.
The next night, the dream was the same. Only instead of the boy it was a woman, one of the very first people he ever tortured. 1962, he thought it was.
What made this dream so horrifying was that he knew she was dead, that she was sitting before him, watching with dark eyes, long after she was put in the ground.
You shouldn’t be here, he thought.
He wanted to run, to get away, but some force dragged him to her, planted him in the chair beside her, and set his hands to work. He closed his eyes, but he could see through his eyelids.
In real life the woman had prayed to God.
Now, she spoke in Latin, her voice deep and demonic, and though he couldn’t understand her words, he knew that she was praying not to God but to Satan, and that Satan, unlike God, takes care of his own.
On October 25, he went to the liquor store and bought seven bottles of Canadian Mist whiskey. He didn’t go to the deli, or to the library.
The dreams still came.
And again they changed.
He was in bed. In the dark.
And there were footsteps in the hall.
Each night they came closer.
On Halloween, the moaning began, long, low, and hollow, echoing through the night.
On November 1, the doorknob rattled.
On the second, the door swung open, its hinges shrieking.
On the third, they filed into his room, their faces dead and pale and their eyes gaping black. They moved with the fluidity of phantoms, their fingers hooked, nails sharp. He screamed, cried, remembered countless raids in the dead of night, when it was he coming into someone’s room.
Instead of taking him, they gathered around the bed and watched, staring down at him with dead disinterest.
He called to God.
The next night, they moved, reaching out, a dozen hands coming over him, consuming him, cold.
He died of a heart attack, the coroner said.
But maybe…maybe he was taken in the dead of night.
Joseph Rubas is the author of over 200 short stories, several novels, a nonfiction book, and countless other pieces. He currently resides in Florida with his family.
Image by Jeffrey