by K.T. McQueen
The grubby, dirty, scrubbiness of the desert spread out in all directions. Not the ‘sand-as-far-as-the eye-can-see’ kind. More like the pitted, dangerous, unyielding desert with poisonous creatures, spiked plants, and a wisp of smoke on the far horizon kind. Screaming ‘once the ocean was here’ in undulating waves from the depths of any shell you might pick up.
Walking along what once could have been a waterway, looking for somewhere to spend the night, we came upon a huge wooden ship keening gracefully to the side. A monstrous shadow against the evening gloom. The hole in the hull a maw of broken wooden teeth.
Glancing around, he let me lead the way into the dark. Footing difficult on the sloping, rotting wood. A blue glow ahead the only thing to aim for.
Wooden ladders led up to a trapdoor. And by mutual, silent, agreement I put my foot on the first rung. Rung after rung. Tap after tap, announcing our approach. Blue light flickering through cracks around the trapdoor.
I pushed as someone pulled and it opened to reveal a little girl in a white dress. A pretty smile on a ringlet framed face.
‘Quickly, you must be inside before dark.’
Slipping through the gap, I realised he hadn’t followed and looked back at his determined face.
‘If I go alone, if I run, I can get help.’ Already descending, sorrow and promise raging across his features.
‘You won’t make it.’ I called desperately. ‘It’s further than you think. We shouldn’t split up.’
‘I’ll be faster alone. I’ll bring help. You’ll be safe.’ His voice fading as he retreated and ran into the gathering gloom. I knew in my heart he would not make it but I respected his stubborn need to be the knight in shining armour, and knew it would be goodbye. I turned from the darkness infused with the scratching and scuffling of the ships rats.
The girl snapped the heavy black bolt in place, smiling.
It was a solid wooden room with one small round window. A worn oval rug in the centre. A rocking chair propelled back and forth by an elderly woman wearing layers upon layers against the cold. A blanket over her knees. Her grin a gap toothed match for the girl’s. A simple cap hiding hair I knew would be long and grey.
Sparsely furnished, the cramped kitchen area had a cast iron stove doing nothing to warm the room. Blue light emanated from a small TV set on legs. Everything on screen in shades of blue and the show nothing I recognised. Something old perhaps. Or new.
‘It’s good that you got inside.’ Said the old woman, rocking. ‘Gotta be inside before the rats come.’
I nodded, the ships rats were nothing compared to the creatures in the desert. I knew this like I knew the sun rose in the east and set in the west but couldn’t have told you what those creatures looked like.
The little girl sat on the rug, gestured to a second chair on the opposite side of the trapdoor and I sat. Watching strange images flicker across the screen, unable to look away.
Darkness filtered through the cracks. The flickering candle meant to chase it away seemed new, and I frowned trying to remember who’d lit it.
The trapdoor jiggled gently, as if someone pushed against the other side. The little girl reached forward, hand on my knee, and shook her head.
‘It’s not what you think.’ she told me. I said nothing, sitting back and resumed watching the flickering blue.
The old woman’s corner grew darker, shadowed, despite her proximity to the candle.
The girl sat, circled by toys, watching the television. A laugh not far from her lips.
The trapdoor rattled again. More insistent. More urgent. And I moved my feet back from it. Pulling the blanket up over my knees.
A squeaking and scraping turned our attention to the dark corners. The candle flickered, it’s orange warmth contained within the nightlight’s circumference.
‘They’ll be here soon.’ Said the little girl.
‘Who will?’ I asked, confused. But neither answered.
Tiny claws scraping on wood began beneath me. Snuffling. And I peered at the wooden boards. There was no way in, there couldn’t be. These two survived here. It seemed like their home. Their home in an old ship in the middle of the scrubby dirty desert.
The trapdoor shuddered and thumped. Jumping against the heavy bolt. And I gripped the arms of the chair and slid it backwards until I could go no further. The little girl frowned and then smiled reassuringly.
I was trying to feel reassured when a small white hand with long nails slid from under the trapdoors edge and felt around before being snatched back.
‘Did you see that?’ I whispered, pointing. ‘They’re going to get in.’
The little girl smiled. The old woman rocked. Unworried.
And then the black metal bolt twisted and came away at the plates.
A surge of white fur and long tails, red eyes and sharp claws, rippled through the ever widening opening. The blue light flickering over the heaving mass as the huge white rats poured into the room.
The little girl scuttled back out of the way.
The first rat sniffed the air, pleased with the scent it caught. And then they were on me. My legs in their frenzied grasp, tugging and pulling as their teeth pierced my flesh. Chewing on my feet, my calves, as I screamed and kicked. Incapable of giving up my grasp on the blanket. Shoving myself backwards into the wooden chair. The blue light flickered. The little girl smiled. The old woman rocked, her long tail curled around her feet.
They white zombie rats reached my knees and I screamed a scream that would wake the dead and found myself alone, in a pool of sweat. My legs tangled in the duvet.
I don’t usually work from nightmares. I remember them but I was once told as a kid not to write or draw your dreams. Giving that belief up has been hard and as I dream so vividly it seems like a strange resource to ignore.
This nightmare was from quite some time ago -years in fact- and yet, I remember it like a dreamt it last night.
What’s the worst nightmare you can remember having?
Horror and Fantasy Author – Also writing as K.T. McQueen. Love Western Horror, cowboy boots, my cactus Collin, & my Demon Cat.
Moths – I hate moths, the way they flutter at your face!