NEATH: The Story of a Haunting
by R. Scott Bolton



Later that evening, Lisa Callahan was dreaming again.

She dreamed that she was floating down the hallway of her home just the way you do in dreams. The way Gumby and Pokey moved in those stop-motion animation programs. The way those smolderingly seductive vampires walked in the movies. Just gliding forward as though you were on a rail, your legs pressed together and still.

Lisa glided past Luke’s room and paused a moment to look in. Luke was on the computer (of course) playing one of those alternate universe games where you ran around as a little pixelated character and interacted with other people running around as pixelated characters. Luke looked up and gave his mom a brief smile. She returned the favor with one of her own, the warmth of a mother’s love shining behind it, and then floated down the hallway to Keely’s room.

Keely was on the floor talking with her Monster High dolls, apparently preparing for an imaginary tea party. The dolls all sat in a semi-circle facing Keely, their painted eyes staring up at her with plastic adoration. Keely passed a tiny empty cup to the first doll (Lisa remembered the doll’s name: Abbey Bominable) and then held up a finger. One lump or two?

Lisa watched her daughter drop invisible sugar cubes into Abbey’s teacup (apparently, she had asked for two) and was hit by a brief wave of nostalgia. She remembered tea parties with her own dolls from too many years ago. Different dolls, of course, from a different era, but the tea parties were the same.

Keely looked up at her mother at that moment and gave her a carbon copy of the loving smile Luke had delivered only moments before. Lisa smiled back, again with that glow of motherly love, and then glided down the hallway toward the end of the hall, where the door to the bedroom she shared with Kyle yawned open, its black mouth yielding no secrets as to what waited inside. Lisa slid to the door and pushed it open gently. Like magic, the lights inside went on and she could see.

The room was a mess. Laundry from every family member was strewn across the floor in what to the casual observer would look like random piles. Lisa thought she was probably the only person in the world who could identify the four individual piles there: One for Keely’s clothes, one for Luke’s clothes, one for her husband’s and one for her own.

The bed was rumpled and unmade and, as Lisa glided closer, she saw why. Kyle was tucked into his side of the bed, the blankets pulled up to his neck, his face the loose-skinned mask of someone deep asleep. A glittery shellac trail of saliva oozed out of the corner of his mouth and formed a dark dime on the pillow below. Lisa felt another burst of love, but this time for an adult companion, her best friend and her longtime lover. She sighed deeply and glided closer to the bed.

She couldn’t say why, but she suddenly felt exhausted. It didn’t make any sense, especially with Keely still up and playing with her dolls. Lisa never went to bed before Keely, not even when she was sick, but now she wanted nothing more than to climb into bed beside Kyle, spoon into his human warmth and sleep there until morning. She reached down and pulled back the covers, which came away so lightly they seemed to be made of air, and she gave a little yip of terror as she found the bed filled to spilling with seething bed bugs.

There were hundreds of them, thousands even. They crawled over each other in a hideous mass, their sheer quantity giving them the look of a massive writhing scab. A wall of them adhered to Kyle’s naked back, each swelling to fullness with the man’s life blood and then dropping off so that another could take its place. Tiny legs squirmed everywhere, like a million electrocuted worms.

Lisa wanted to drop the covers and run but found herself frozen in place. Even as the bugs arched up and over the underside of the blanket, racing for the edge and toward Lisa’s exposed hand, she found she could do nothing but stand and stare in horror. There was a scream trapped in the back of her throat but her windpipe had constricted to a pinpoint so she could neither breathe nor make any sound.

But when the first bug touched her hand, the spell was broken. Lisa threw down the blankets and spun in a dizzying 180, gliding out of the room as if on a greased rail and racing down the hallway at high speed. She moved so fast that there was no way she could look into the children’s rooms as she zipped by … but she did … only to find her ten-year-old daughter still playing with her Monster High dolls despite the fact she was coated by a skin of wriggling bed bugs. Only to find her son casting a digital spell on another digital player, perfectly comfortable in his M&M shell of writhing, hungry bed bugs.

Then Lisa was past them, gliding fluidly at speed to the other end of the hallway where the door to the kitchen was supposed to be …but wasn’t. Instead, the hallway came to an abrupt dead end. Lisa scrabbled along the wall where the door should have been but wasn’t. It was gone! There was no trace of it! The only way out was to go back the way she came. She did another 180-degree turn and felt her heart catch in her throat as she saw that the hallway was filling with bed bugs. They were pouring out of the master bedroom door like a dirty brown river, filling the hallway like that scene from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, when the elevator doors opened and a tsunami of blood flooded out until the lobby was painted with gore.

The bugs poured down the hallway at her, rolling and roiling as though they were one animal instead of thousands and, although she knew it was impossible, she swore she could hear the gnashing of their terrible tiny teeth.

Lisa spun on her dream-lubricated axis and beat her fists on the wall where the kitchen door should have been. She felt her knuckles bruise, then split. Slim ribbons of blood spattered the wall in front of her and she knew in her heart that the bed bugs, those apple-seed-sized vampires, would sense the blood and come even faster.

And then, abruptly, the wall was gone. The kitchen entrance gaped open, and Lisa fell through, her arms flailing. She braced herself for a jarring impact with the hard kitchen tile and was stunned when she felt grass beneath her, warm from the midday sun. She found herself spread out, face-up, on the front lawn, her limbs twisted beneath her at impossible angles. Strangely, impossibly, she felt no pain.

She pushed herself up on her elbows and stared fearfully back at the house, expecting a boiling sea of bed bugs to be pouring down upon her, scrabbling across her with their spindly legs, gnawing at her with their flesh-boring mandibles.

But all she saw was her house, the house she had fallen in love with the moment she laid eyes on it, all those years ago. The house she now shared with her husband, their son and their daughter. Her family. The house she called home. It looked peaceful and calm from where she sat on the lush green lawn. Serene, in fact. Exactly how a home should feel.

But inside, she knew, inside there was evil.



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