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It was Just a Dream by Al Norris

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It wasn’t a bad house. Fact is, the house was only a few years old, in a nice middle-class neighborhood. Three bedrooms on the main floor and two bedrooms in the basement, along with a playroom. All in all, not bad for Mom, three sisters, two baby brothers and myself.


My brothers shared one room downstairs and I had the other. This was the first time I had my own bedroom, since Dad died, eight years ago. At 14, I thought it was about time! This was also the time when the weird dreams started.


It wasn’t much at first. Just a disturbing dream which I couldn’t quite remember. You know the type. You wake up, heart beating fast. Sweating a bit. Looking around, listening for... Whatever it was that woke you up! But you don’t hear anything. So, after few minutes, you lay back down and go back to sleep.


This went on, for several weeks. Every couple or three nights, ″The Dream″, as I came to call it, woke me up.


Now that school had started, it was getting to be more than an annoyance. I had a lot of homework that kept me up until late, then I had to be up early to fix breakfast and lunches for my brothers and sisters. Mom went to work at 5:00 am and didn’t get home until after 6:00 pm. Being the oldest, it sorta fell on me to get this part done, and to see that dinner was ready. My sisters were in charge of keeping the house (sorta) clean. My brothers always grumbled (who wouldn’t), ′cause they had all the dishes to do.


September was almost done. The trees were turning. Fall was here and soon enough, winter would be here. The air had a chill to it, on these clear nights. From my bed, there was one of those porthole-like windows. You could see out to the street, and if you stood closer to the window, you could see the streetlight. My bed was over on the side, kinda next to my door, where the light didn’t shine in my eyes, but I could still see out.


We didn’t have a lot of pollution back then, so even with the streetlight, you could see an awful lot of stars. I enjoyed looking at them. Helped to relax me and I often fell asleep watching the sky, outside.


Tonight, my brothers were being the little terrors that they could sometimes be. They were running around the basement, into my room and through our shared closet, back into their own room. After a bit, I had to tackle them and hustle them off to bed. My schoolwork finished, I was ready for bed and it way past their own bedtime.


We all giggled at each other, as I finally tucked them in and told them, ″Good night.″


No sooner than I had lain down, the little buggers were up and running again.  Before I could get out of bed, Mom hollered down, ″Charles? Ollie? Get your little fannies into bed, right this instant!″ I heard the normal grumbling from those two, but they settled down and went to bed.


I got up anyway, to lock both my closet door and my bedroom door, just to keep the two urchins out of my room. Returning to bed, I closed my eyes and just before drifting off to sleep, I vaguely remember the heater kicking on. Those old forced-air furnaces had several mechanical relays that clicked, rather loudly, then the ″whoosh″ of the gas being ignited and finally, the fan relay clicking on and the fan motor starting up. Over time, you kinda get used to all of the noises and it just becomes a background event.


* * *


I opened my eyes. Something woke me up. I sat up in bed and listened. Everything was still and quiet.


It was then that I heard a relay being clicked on (or off)... But after a moment, there was no ″whoosh″ of the gas being ignited. Nor had the fan been running (those old fans were a lot louder than what they have today), so it couldn’t have just clicked off.


As I said, you get used to the sounds of what is normal. When it is abnormal, that gets your attention. The heater was not functioning normally, and it was this that woke me up, I reasoned. So I got out of bed, unlocked and opened my door and walked over to the heater. I don’t know what I was expecting to find, but I had to see if it was something that needed to be fixed.


The duct-walls were still warm, fan off, gas off, and it seemed to be normal. It must have just shut off, but I didn’t remember the blower going off, after hearing the click of the relay. No smell of gas, so I figured everything was all right. Shrugging, I walked back to my room, closed the door, then snuggled back down in my bed.


Just as I started to drift back to sleep, I could hear footsteps in the outer room (back then, except for tennis shoes, most everyone wore hard-soled shoes. They make noise when walking on a concrete slab). OK. This is weird. Who would be walking down here in the middle of the night? Had to be either one, (or both) of my brothers, or my Mom. I looked over at my clock and could barely read it (we didn’t have lighted dials for cheap electric clocks); it said 2:15.


I got back out of bed and opened the door to see who was out there and why they were walking around the basement at this time of night.


No one was there.




So I looked in on my brothers. They were fast asleep. No faking on their part. So I went upstairs and checked out the rest of the house. My sisters were all asleep, Mom’s door was shut and her lights were out. I must just be hearing things, I thought to myself.


Shrugging, again, I went back down to my room and my bed.


I hadn’t quite gotten comfortable enough to fall back asleep, when I heard the clicking of relays. I waited to hear the ″whoosh″ of the gas being ignited. Instead, after a couple of seconds, there were footsteps. Only this time, they were moving towards my door. Now, this was getting creepy.


Since my door was essentially next to the head of my single bed, I reached over and silently locked it. The sounds of the footsteps stopped. Another click of relays – not the sound I was expecting. And another footstep was heard.


OK. At this point, I figured I had to be hearing things. But I was afraid of what it might be, if I was wrong. No one wants to confront a prowler by themselves, right? My rifles were upstairs in my mom's closet. All I had was a baseball bat.


The footsteps stopped, right outside my door!


OK. I admit it. I am now flat-out scared.


I cautiously looked over at my door, when I heard the doorknob jiggle. Now, you have to understand, that back in those days, if an interior door (and even most exterior doors) was locked, the inside knob would not turn, until it was unlocked. My door was locked... Yet I watched as it slowly turned anyway, as if the person on the other side was casually entering my room.


I sat up in my bed, grabbed my baseball bat and scooted to the far end of the bed, as I watched the door very slowly being pushed open.


When the door had opened enough to see what might be on the other side, I saw nothing. Nothing, as in no ambient light from the rest of the basement. No hand or fingers on the outside knob... Hell, I couldn’t even see the other side of the door, let alone the knob, and the door was now just about a foot opened. What I did see was an impenetrable blackness that edged along the confines of the door and the doorjamb, like it was something physical that absorbed all light.


Just as the door quit moving, I could see that this ′blackness′ sort of oozed and bubbled out from the opening, and literally flowed into my room. I watched as it (the blackness) flowed across my floor, obliterating everything in its path. As it hit the junction between the floor and walls, it climbed upwards. I looked back over to the outside wall, just in time to see the dark stuff begin to fill the window seal. The streetlamp outside darkened and then faded to nothingness.


I felt cold hit my legs and knees, and watched as the stuff began covering my body. This wasn’t just any kind of cold. It was a bitter cold, like the kind you might feel if you stepped out of a warm house into a minus twenty degree wind.


As the blackness engulfed my head, I realized I had been holding my breath. I desperately need to let it out and draw in another breath. I was scared-to-death to do this, as I didn’t know what might happen if I breathed in this stuff and it was real, not the over-imagination of a young kid who loved reading Sci-Fi and Fantasy.


I was a swimmer. I surfed (when we lived in California). I could hold my breath a long, long time. But not forever. Finally, I exhaled and began to draw a breath in. I could feel my lungs freeze in mid breath and I could feel my heart cease its already hard and rapid beat. By this time, not only had the stuff reached my eyes, which now could see nothing whatsoever, but I could feel myself begin to blackout...


* * *


Suddenly, I was awake. I was down in the basement playroom. My sisters were playing with their dolls and my brothers were horsing around, playing soldier or something like that. I seemed to be sitting at a small desk, doing my homework, watching my brothers and sisters, when I heard the clicking of the relays on the heater go off. The relays sounded different, somehow.


Suddenly, a burst of deafening noise, an almost blinding flash of reddish light, the feeling of heat that was so painful, enveloped the entire basement. I could feel my body being thrown the entire length of the basement, as it was being burned to a crisp. I watched helplessly, as I saw and heard my brothers and sisters scream, as they were also thrown and burnt... In those brief few moments, I heard an unholy laugh, above it all... Then the blackness enveloped me again.


Again, I awoke and opened my eyes. But this time it was different. Everything was white. Not any kind of blinding white. Just as if a bunch of lamps were lit, but hidden from direct sight. My entire surroundings were bathed in this comfortable glow. That was all there was, yet, it was in a word, peaceful.


″Richard,″ said a voice from behind me. I turned and saw my father. Smiling that wonderful smile I used to remember.


Um, this is not right, I thought. Dad has been dead for many years. He wasn’t all disfigured, as he looked from the funeral. Dad had died in a mine that he and his brother owned, when a part of the ceiling caved in, on top of him. Humans don’t look good when a 10-ton boulder squishes them. Not a whole lot the morticians could do, but my mom and grandparents insisted on an open casket funeral. Worse, they insisted that I, being the oldest, had to view him in the casket. I’m sure their thinking was that this would bring some kind of finality to me, closing the door to this segment of my life. All I really remember was that that thing in the casket, couldn’t be my Dad. He never looked like that. Yet here he was, looking just like he did when I last saw him, just before he went to set charges that fateful day. ″Um, Dad?″ What are you doing here? Where is this? What happened to me?″


″I can’t tell you, Richard. It wasn’t supposed to have happened this way... You’re not supposed to be here...″ My dad began to explain, when he stopped and looked like he was listening to someone else. He nodded his head, at whatever it was that he heard. His smile, which had disappeared, returned.


″Richard? Listen to me. You are asleep. This is nothing more than a dream.″


″But Dad,″ I wailed, ″what about the explosion? And that black evil stuff, before that?″


″It was all a dream, Richard. Now close your eyes and when you wake up, it will all have been a dream...″ Dad said. His voice was sounding further and further away. Even his features were fading out. The whiteness was dimming. Everything was going black, again.


* * *


My eyes popped open, as I suddenly sat up in bed. I was drenched in sweat. My bed was damp from all of the sweat that had poured off of my body. I flipped on the light and looked at my door. It was closed and still locked.


I’ve had nightmares before, but I’ve never been able to really recall what they were about, other than whatever it was, was terrifying. Now however, I remembered with crystal clarity everything that had happened.


This was no nightmare. Everything that I remember had actually happened. Of that, I was sure.


Without thinking, I left my bed, opened my door and went upstairs to my mom’s room. I could tell she was awake, as some light seeped under the door, out into the hallway. Not knowing exactly what I was going to say, I walked to her door and softly knocked, just in case she really was asleep. I heard a soft, yet hoarse voice telling me to come in.


I opened the door, and mom was in her bed, hugging one of her pillows to herself. She was as white as a sheet... Literally, as if she had seen a ghost.


I looked at her and asked, ″Mom? What’s wrong? What are you doing awake?″


Without even looking at me, she replied, ″I’ve been smelling death in this house.″ I glanced over at her bedside clock. The time read 4:30 in the morning.


I then told her the only thing that I could think of, that she would understand, ″Yeah Mom. So have I. That’s why I came up here. I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming or not.″


* * *


It took Mom all of three days to find another rental, get us all packed up and moved.


The ″new″ house wasn’t as nice as the other one, and I had to share a room with my brothers again. But for some reason, it just felt safer.


Pretty quickly, what with the move and school, it was Halloween. Even though I no longer dressed-up in costume, I still took my younger sisters and brothers out, so they could ″Trick-or-Treat″ their way to a stomach ache (lol! Remembering I used to do the exact same thing).


So here I was, escorting my family around our new neighborhood. We were on the inbound circuit, heading back to home. It was about eight o’clock and things were still hopping, but were starting to wind down, when there was this huge fireball to our north, followed closely by a huge BOOOOMM!


It wasn’t very far away, and oddly enough, somewhere close to where we had lived a short month ago. See, we had only moved about eight blocks away. So naturally, I herded kids home, as fast as I could. Mom told Ann, the oldest sister, a year younger than me, to stay and watch the kids. She and I hopped into the car and drove over to the old neighborhood.


When we got there, we saw firetrucks, police and ambulances already at the scene.


Yes. It was our old house. There was mostly nothing left of it. Another family had moved in and the neighbors were shaking their heads. No one had escaped the explosion. Mom and I just exchanged looks.


The next morning’s Salt Lake Deseret News told the sad tale of an entire family dying in what appeared to be a gas explosion, due to a faulty valve on the forced-air furnace.



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