It started out like any typical day in suburbia. Percolators perked, toasters toasted, garage doors opened to disgorge cars heading toward the freeway. Everything was beautifully ordinary, until the shadow started to push my cellar door; I had to use all my force to shut the door before it could enter. It looked like a skeleton, it was naked, white as a sheet and it had no eyes. It didn't utter a sound but simply tried to come into my life. I woke up in beads and saw Pat bending over me, a frightened look on her face. "You were moaning in your sleep," she said. "I had to wake you up, you had a bad dream." It was more then a dream, it was a nightmare and it happened the third time on a row. I was sweaty all over, shivering uncontrollably. It was two o'clock, exact on the dot, just as the other times. "What have you been dreaming about?" Pat asked, worried. I didn't tell her, I wouldn't take her out of her sleep for some stupid dream. "I think I've eaten too much chicken liver," I said. That explained a lot to her. She was used her greedy husband eating too much of everything. It began to show. She kissed me in a worried way. I had trouble getting asleep and stared to the window curtains that gently moved with the summer breeze. Outside it was quiet and peaceful. Inside, a monster was trying to get out. I woke up at seven with the cell phone tuning. Pat was having her daily shower and I heard the water splash. I looked at my phone screen. It was work all right. "Morning, Al." George's dark brown nicotine stained voice was on the other end. "Leave that girl of you alone and hurry up your sorry ass, we got a fire here." "Ok George, just let me have a moment first." "It can't wait, Al." "Right, you'll get to buy me a treat afterwards." He gargled and hung up. Pat came in, looking fresh and promising. "George's waiting for me, I'm sorry, darling." And I meant that. It was Saturday morning. The plant was only a block away. I did it on foot and arrived at 7.30. The fire at plant No. 5 had been controlled already and only some black burned spots showed where it had come out. Clouds of scorched rubber and plastic took away sight. I wasn't going nearer for the obvious air pollution. Besides, the whole place was stinking like hell. I met George on my way back to the offices. George was a kind sixty-two years old bear and once my drill sergeant and still good friend. "Hi Al, you missed the best part." "I see it was no big deal." "Just a small blaze, as usual. Why don't we go at Joe's for a cup of coffee? The big chieftains won't be here until noon." We crossed the street for Joe's café. "How's Pat?" George asked. I said she was all right. "That's great. You know, sometimes I worry about you two." Worry? Why should George worry about us? He had enough on his own mind to worry, for instance Mel's breast cancer. "Don't worry, George. We're fine as fine can be." We entered the café. Joe looked sleepy, but the coffee was percolating, spreading a great brewing smell. As we were seated, George went on. "I didn't mean to invade on your privacy, Al. It's just, well to be frank: Mel's having some kind of nightmare three nights in a row. About your wife being attacked by some monster. I know it sounds a bit crazy the way I tell you, but believe me pal, when she's starting to tell about it, it's hackles every time." My hair at the back of my neck became itchy, as I was aware George had just been telling my nightmare. "What do you mean by that?" I asked in a hoarse voice, trying to hide my confusion. George saw my reaction al right. "What's the matter, pal? Is there something you wanna share? Pat's okay?" "Nothing to worry about, George, it's only - ah well, I might just tell you about it." Joe arrived at our table with the coffee. Two big mugs of steaming black Italian boosters with lots of sugar. "You guys back from the fire? Someday you'll burn off my joint with all your chemicals." "Don't look sad, Joe, before that happens the plant will be shut down because of pollution laws." That was a typical George remark that made me smile. "Hope it will last till I retire," he grumbled as Joe walked away. He lit up his first cigarette of the day and inhaled with piggy eyes. It kept the bad plant air way, he used as his uitvlucht. "So?" I drank some of the coffee and leaned back. "Right. Three nights ago I had that nightmare about a kinda shadow creeping out of my cellar, but I managed to hold it back. It came back the other night and the night before. And now you're telling me Mel's got the same dream?" "It's creepy all right, but it's the truth. Maybe you should talk to her about it." I thought about it, and then decided we'd better have Pat involved. Women are better in such matters. "Listen, I've got an idea, why don't you two come over for diner tonight." "Ok, buddy. But first we'll have that drink I promised you." I listened with half an ear to George, chatting away about his roses, only to brood over the remarkable co-incidence. Maybe it was something in the air that caused to have freaky dreaming. That night Mel and George came by around nine. George had a bottle of great Scotch and Pat had cooked us a nice light calories meal consisted of lots of vegetables and several kinds of bread. "You won't turn me into a vegetarian," George grinned. "I like my steaks to be juicy." "Hold your horses, George," said Melanie. "It'll do you good, your blood pressure is way to high." "Now here us oldies talking," George said. He poured our glasses while I served the ladies with a cooled Chardonnay. We drank to each other's health. "So, are you getting ready for the great adventure, George?" Pat asked. I took a hump of oven baked bread and looked at George. He didn't seem much pleased with the idea of his retirement. "Yippee yadda yadda, I'm off to Arizona." It sounded like some cowboy song and we all laughed. We were a great bunch together, maybe because we all had our trauma's: Mel with her cancer, George and his lungs, Pat and I with our serious of miscarriages. After diner, the ladies were having a great conversation about breast surgery. We confined ourselves to drinking our whiskey. "Before we get drunk, wouldn't you tell us about your dream, buddy?" George finally said. They all glanced at me and I glanced at Mel. I saw a glimpse of a conspiring look. "What's that all about," Pat asked. "Am I the only one here with no secret?" She looked at Mel for help and Melanie started to tell about it. "It's creepy," she concluded, shivering. "It's the same dream, it's like being telepathic." To my surprise Pat, after careful consideration, proposed to have a medium session. A session? George woke up at the word. "I don't wanna call up some bogeys," he said in a protesting voice. "I don't believe in that bull." "It's just a way of getting in the mood for the paranormal," Pat explained mildly. "That sounds great," Mel looked excited about the idea. Well, it was something else then playing blackjack. "You said it happened at two o'clock? Why don't we settle for that time? It won't be that long." "Let's play cards," George said. "Like we always do. Afterwards you two lovebirds work it out with the ghosts." Mel threw a long, indignant look at him. "I agree with Pat," I hastily decided. "Anything's better than facing another nightmare. I'd rather stay awake tonight if we can't solve this thing." "Ok." George accepted his defeat. "In the meanwhile I'd like to play cards if you folks don't mind." George was getting sleepy round half past one, and we made strong coffee to keep us awake. Mel was winning as usual and enjoyed every minute of it. At a quarter to two, Pat decided it was time to set the scene. Cards were removed and lights were dimmed. I felt nauseating, having drunk too much coffee. "Now we must close the circle," Pat said in a low voice. "It's important we hold hands to protect us against the evil." I felt like an idiot, but somehow, as time approached, I got a feeling of warmth, holding Pat's small and George's big hand. At two o'clock it came up, just like in my dream. I heard it climb up with a shuffling gait and rattled the doorknob. Then it started to bang on the door. It was a frightening, evil sound. The lights went out. George let go of my hand and straightened up. "Is this a joke or what? Do you guys pull some tricks on us?" He looked at the women who looked back with pale faces. At the sight of it, they were as bewildered as we were. This was insane. That terrifying noise growing stronger at each bang, and four grown-ups looking scared as hell. Pat suddenly jumped up, grabbed our torch and ran into the hall. I followed her, swearing because I was acting like a chicken and leaving the initiative to my wife. We reached the hall at the same time. In the spotlight we saw the cellar door was open and from the dark gate a cold, smelling draft opstijgen. Pat crossed her arms, shivering and she moved closer to me. George and Mel vervoegden ons and we stared into the black mouth of our cellar. "Must be a coincidence," George growled. "You didn't shut that door. Man, what's that smell, it reminds me of something." "I don't know," I said. "Perhaps I didn't shut the door." I examined the lock at close range, but saw no trace of a break, in or out. The key stuck in the opposite wall plaster as if being driven with such power it literary was shot like a bullet. "Don't get upset, guys, we don't want to quarrel over an unlocked door. Fix that damned light to start with." George sounded like a general-major "The box is on the first floor," I said in a thin voice. The former owner had weird ideas about fuses and stuff. It meant we had to go up the stairs to the unknown. "I'll stay with Mel, you guys do what you have to do," Pat tactically added. So it was up to the other persuasion. "Ok," I firmly said. "I want something to hit with. Suppose it's a wild cat. I don't want to end up between its teeth." "Or a wild dog," said George. "You know, I've been attacked once by a jackal and -" "All right, George, let's have it another time." Melanie seemed troubled and I could understand why. We both had been experiencing nightmares that took place in our cellars. "Here." Pat extended me the cast iron Quaker poker bought during our honeymoon. It had a reassuring weight and a firm grip. Woe the creature that would come near my poker. "What about me," George protested. "You can't fight a jackal with bare hands. When I was being attacked, I -" "Take this George." Melanie had her pepper spray in hands. "That's women stuff," George protested. "It's meant for men," Melanie said. He took it. "Listen," Pat said. "I don't want to look stupid to you guys, but shouldn't you look upstairs first? It's obvious the creature of whatever caused the door to open, has fled the cellar and must be around somewhere." That had crossed my mind too, but the idea of searching the dark house didn't please me much. "Look darling, there's no shadow creature and nothing or nobody is hiding somewhere in the house. We don't know yet what caused the door to open, but it must have a perfect rational explanation." "Why can you be so sure," Melanie asked. I hoped she wouldn't be hysterical if something happened. "First thing first, I'll check the electricity and then we'll see about the cellar." I firmly said. The situation was getting on my nerves too and I saw that George wasn't keen either to play a hero at 0215 hours. I wanted to add some more tough stuff, when a tremendous bang upstairs made the ceiling shudder. Both women screamed and George let go of the spray. "Man, what was that? It sounds like your wardrobe came down." It sounded more like a huge body had landed on all fours in our bedroom. "Yep, buddy, I think we gotta go upstairs," George said. He held his spray like a hand grenade and looked much determined. "Call the police," Mel whispered. "Don't go up." That seemed a good idea, but on the other hand I didn't want to look like a softy with cat fears. I heard George coming after me and felt the women's eyes on my back. I had the poker in my hand, ready to knock down the first flying pig or a lost creature I would meet, but nothing happened and on the landing I led my breath go with a deep sigh. No horrifying creature waiting for me. Before I could say yahoo, a scream for downstairs went all along my spine. Down there someone got the shock of her life. I passed George who was slower to react and ran down to find Mel lying on the floor, her arms and legs spread like a crucifixion. I kneeled beside her and lifted her head gently. Her face was ashen but she breathed regularly. She opened her eyes. "The monster... it took Pat..." "Jesus." George sounded anxiously, breathing asthmatically from his run down. "She's upset. Pat's probably outside." I knew I didn't sound much convincing, but the idea of Pat in the cellar all by herself didn't like me much. "The monster took her down, into the cellar," Melanie went on. She was dead pale, but with a clear head and I could only decide I had to descend those stairs. George pushed something to my chest. "Take the spray." I didn't waste time, held my torch before me and started to descend. That terrible stench became stronger and suddenly I knew where it came from: it was the same smell from plant No. 5. It finally had reached us. It was getting colder now, almost to the freezing point. At the stair crook I stopped to stare at a dark, slimy sludge layer drifting silently across the concrete. I pointed my torch and --- Oh my God --- Pat --- THIS CAN"T BE POSSIBLE...
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