I have never been a sucker for ghost stories. I’ve never believed in ghosts, and I don’t think—honestly, I do hope I’m right—I ever will. I also don’t believe in demons or angels. It’s all just a bit too far out of my imagination for me to think it is all true. Therefore stories of demon possession or seeing some angelic creature—it’s all bull to me. However, I have heard some that were unexplainable. Some stories that might leave you wondering. I know that some of the people that experienced these will spend the rest of their life searching for the answers to their questions, but all the same they’ll never find them. In fact, I’m one of them. Now, let’s get one thing straight. I don’t think it’s a matter of demon possession. I just can’t think of any logical explanation.
My brother has always been different. All those years ago when we were young children, there were quite a few tales to tell. Creepy tales. Tales that would send a chill down your spine. Now, things are a lot quieter. Every now and then, of course, you’ll get a call from his wife, saying that he thought he saw a man standing in the front yard with a pitchfork in his hand, staring into the windows, or that he woke up the family in the middle of the night whispering in languages he never even knew. The most recent was after she had seen something one day. Something really weird. She had gone into the kitchen to wash dishes, but right before she went through the door, she saw, or she thought she saw, out of the very corner of her eye, two slightly red, dull but sharp bumps in his hair. Then she looked back, and there was nothing. Just her husband sitting on the couch, watching the Dodgers game. Nevertheless, these strange occasions were very rare. Sometimes I would go more than a year without getting a call from them. My relationship with them wasn’t so great; I lived in California, and he lived in Nebraska, just about as far away as I wanted to be from him. All the calls from my sister-in-law were no more than panicky attempts to find out why these things were happening.
All I could tell her is that he was like this as a child, except it was worse. Then I would sense her feeling of relief and worry at the same time through the miles and miles of telephone wire.
- * *
We thought he was a normal baby, that nothing was wrong with him. There was only one morning, an average Sunday morning, when we noticed he had a very intent gaze, as if he saw something we didn’t. He would stare at it, full attention and concentration on whatever it was. Then he would come to, and we were left wondering what was running through his less-than-a-year-old mind.
And that was it, until he was three.
One night while we were sleeping, he started screaming and crying, waking us all up instantly. Our mother dashed into the room, followed by our father, flipping on all the lights. Don was screaming like a maniac, his eyes wide with terror. Our mother picked him up, trying to calm him down, nearly crying herself. A few minutes later, he was starting to settle down, though he was still sobbing uncontrollably. In between wild tears and gasps of breathe, he was saying something about claws. We could barely understand it. Though he was very smart for his age, he was only three years old; he didn’t know much English. He spoke more gibberish than anything. Yet we were able to decipher words we didn’t think he had ever heard before.
Half an hour later he was calm. My mother heated up a bowl of soup and we sat down at the dinner table to ask him again. He was still sniffling, but he could get what he was trying to say through to us. He had seen claws, dried up, grey and discolored, wrinkly claws snatching at him through the wooden bars of his crib. He said hoarsely that some of them were touching him, some of the yellow, cracked, inch-long nails were grazing over his skin and pajamas. Worst of all he couldn’t see where they were coming from. They seemed to be coming from under the bed, but he wasn’t sure. His eyes were wide open as he was telling us the story. Mother ran her fingers through his hair and told him it was just a bad dream. And then he whispered, in a low hushed voice that was barely audible, that it wasn’t a dream.
This definitely spooked us. We half believed what he said. We thought this was merely a bad dream. But this was still a serious nightmare, if that’s what it was. He couldn’t sleep for the next three days, and every morning he would tell us he saw a bump in the rug in our bedroom, as if something small was under it, moving towards the crib like in an old Tom and Jerry cartoon.
Nothing happened for the next few months. Then one day he was nowhere to be found. We searched the house until we found him standing in the middle of our room, sleeping. Just standing there. His eyes were shut and he was snoring, which was weird because he didn’t snore. Father gently slapped his cheek a few times, and he woke up. It took him a minute to realize where he was, but then he was wondering why we took him out of his crib. We looked at each other as if he had just slapped one of his parents. We told him we didn’t take him out of the crib, and he said he had gone to take a nap in his crib, and he just woke up right now.
- * *
Another three years passed and everything was the same. There would be some sort of nightmare every once in a while, or we would catch him doing something unusual. Like the time he asked us why we were carrying flaming pitchforks, or the time he stood during a cartoon and crossed over to the dining table, where he sat down and started laughing hysterically.
By this time our mother and father were scared of their own son. There was no reason he should be seeing claws and pitchforks, no reason at all why he should be randomly crying with laughter at the dinner table, when nothing funny had been said. We couldn’t afford to see a doctor, and our schedule was too tight to see someone else. We asked other family members, who had no idea what to say.
One time we were spending the night at our cousin’s house. It was a fun night, nothing out of the ordinary happened…until nighttime came, and it was late at night when we were asleep. There was only one extra bed, so Don and I had to share it. I was fast asleep, but when I felt something crawling through my hair I began to stir. I was already waking up, there was no going back to sleep; whatever was crawling through my hair had done its job. I started to open my eyes; my vision was blurry, so I rubbed my eyes and looked at the light up clock on the wall, which read12:00. I felt that crawling thing in my hair again, and I looked up. My brother was up on his left elbow, smiling down at me, his right index finger twisting a few strands of hair on my head. It was an odd smile, the kind you get when someone has told you a dirty joke. I was startled, and asked what he was doing, and why he was up at this time. He stopped playing with my hair.
“Your eyes are glowing red,” he whispered, still smiling.
I didn’t wake up. I didn’t fall asleep. I lay awake there all night, waiting for the nightmare to end, but it never did. I tried to close my eyes, and when I opened them back up in disappointment, Don was lying down, eyes shut. I whispered his name, two times, three times, and then threw one of my cousin’s old stuffed animals at him. He was fast asleep.
- * *
Every morning for the next four months, he told us he had had a nightmare the previous night. Each one was the same. And in the nightmare, he was crawling on the walls of our bedroom, looking at me, breathing heavily. He said he was perched up in the corner at times, and at others he was crawling around. Watching me. Just one more frightening story from him. First disembodied claws, then watching his brother sleep and telling him about his red eyes, now watching him from the walls. After a week, he looked as if he hadn’t slept at all. He was tired and had no energy. He just moped around the house barely talking, barely noticing anyone’s presence.
- * *
He told us once that his nightmares sometimes repeated, or continued from its ending point the previous night. Mother asked him if he had had a nightmare last night and he nodded. He said that he had a dream that he was drowning in a pool. Nobody was helping him. He said that the night before he dreamed that he was at a friend’s birthday party, and when he wasn’t looking someone pushed him into the pool, and nobody noticed. Then, as we were sitting there in horror, he whispered that he woke up, and the “Tom and Jerry carpet thingy” was back. It would race towards him under the rug and poke its head out and stare at him, but he couldn’t see it because it was dark. Just a little bump under the rug moving around.
He also described a dream in which a dozen or so people were on the front lawn in the dead of night. They were inching their way around in circles. And the same person would slowly start walking towards his window. This one happened three nights in a row, where he was staring out his bedroom window the entire time. I decided I would take a look myself. Enough things had happened that I reconsidered everything that we were experiencing. That night I stayed awake until I knew everyone was asleep. I slipped out of bed, grabbed a stick I had sharpened at both ends, and walked out of the front door and into the driveway. The only light was the dim light from the streetlights. It was, I admit, creepy. I walked around to the front lawn, and saw nothing. I stood there a moment, trying to picture what it was Don was imagining. And right before I turned to go back inside, my eyes caught something—a spot in the grass. I walked up to it, heart beating now, and realized it was a footprint. A footprint in the shape of a boot. I saw more. Different sizes, different shapes, going in no particular order, as if they were going in circles, here and there, everywhere. I glanced up to my bedroom window…and say my brother peering out. I dropped my sharpened stick in sudden terror, and took a few steps forward. I walked a few more steps, and a few more, until I realized it wasn’t him.
I dashed back into the house.
A few days later he was staring again. That unbreakable, unwavering gaze, that seemed like it would burn a solid hole through whatever it was his eyes were set on. I glanced back, looking at a picture frame on the wall. It was a family portrait, taken when I was five and Don was al-most one. There was nothing unusual about it. But right when I looked back at my brother, who was still staring, I saw something. I looked back at it; it was not there. But still, I saw something there. Something that has stuck with me most vividly all these years, though I only thought I saw it. Today it reminds me of when my sister-in-law calls me from Nebraska, that story of what she thought she saw. But this was different.
What I saw, or what I thought I saw, was each of our heads in the photo gone. They simply weren’t there, I don’t know why. But in the background there was a face, very faint, barely there at all. A smiling face. It almost looked like Don’s, but with two red stumps poking their dull points out of his messy hair.
- * *
Light bulbs exploded when Don was angry. Stuffed animals moved when you turned your back. TVs turned on on their own accord. Clocks ran backwards. If you glanced out the bathroom window, you could see that the pool water was thick and red, like blood—if you glanced back, it was water.
Don had dreams that our brains were wasp nests. Don had dreams that faces were in his windows. Don had dreams we were dead bodies standing in his closet.
When Don had dreams that everybody was nailed to a wooden cross, we took him to see a psychologist.
- * *
Nowadays things are quieter. My brother and I haven’t seen each other for twenty years. We both have families, and we are planning on getting together during the summer to try and start over. Every time I get a call from Nebraska, I get along just fine with Don and everyone else in his family. I ask Don’s wife about him and his behavior. She usually has some sort of story to tell, something small and rather insignificant, like him laughing for no reason. She’s a bit jumpy, I guess. And despite the fact that most of the calls I get from them are her attempts to seek advice from me, I do my best to hide the fact that I know it.
The last one of Don’s “episodes” (as we began to call them when we were in our twenties) before we separated, was when he was about fourteen years old, and I was eighteen. I had invited some of my buddies over to watch the World Series. Soon after they had come and the game began, Don walked out of the hallway and to the center of the living room, where he lied down, face down, in front of the entertainment center on which the TV sat.
Suddenly, Don flopped over like a fish out of water, sat upright, and yelled a full sentence in complete gibberish. Then he stopped, his eyes widened, and he muttered, “They’re coming.” He fell right back over, bouncing his head off the floor and making a sick smacking sound that made us cringe, and went right back to sleep. The four of us, who had been talking and laughing, were now quiet. One of my friends looked at me as if he was scared to death; the other two looked as if I was making silly faces that weren’t funny.An earthquake hit. An 8.9 on the Richter scale, they said many years later. The casualties would have been tremendous, but much of the city’s population had changed their schedules for the baseball game, preventing traffic on the highways that collapsed in the quake. We were lucky we hadn’t been killed; pieces of the roof had collapsed, all around. Don hadn’t even stirred, but nothing touched him. He lay there, still asleep, totally unaware of the earthquake, huge chunks of thick fallen wood forming a neat circle around him.