The Way Things Move

Back in college, my roommate returned worried. She’d been on the phone with her twin sister. Apparently, her sister had been woken up for a week by a dream. The same dream, more or less, every night.

“There’s an old woman in the basement. But she’s not moving right.”

Maybe, I think, the dream was so unsetting the first night that it wedged itself deep in her sister’s mind. Her brain just snagged on it.

“The old woman is pacing, sort of? So my sister’s standing on the basement stairs, looking across the room, watching. And the old woman goes back and forth along the far wall. But her feet aren’t walking. They’re kind of shuffling, almost.”

The sisters hadn’t felt particularly warm towards the unfinished basement before the dream: The ceiling hung a little too low. Loose wires made strange shadows. When they had to fetch laundry, they tended to dart back up the steps after.

“So, my sister, she says that the old woman mutters to herself as she goes. But the freakiest part is still the weird pacing. The old woman gets to one side, and she sort of hobbles around like a normal old person. But then she’s on the other side in just a few seconds.”

The movement, it seems, had stood out. Enough that it featured prominently in every retelling. Enough that it caught the attention of her sister’s dream-self, rooting her each night to that wooden basement step.

“And every time, there’s something that kind of gives the old woman away. Like my sister realizes there’s something wrong. Once, the feet weren’t on the floor. There was an inch of space between the floor and feet. Whatever it is, right when my sister gets it, that’s when the old woman notices her.”

The dream worked like the EKG of a heart attack: Up and down. Up and down. A jagged, tense heartbeat. Then the spike: the transformation of the dreamer—quite against her will—from observer to actor.

“The old woman knows that my sister’s there, and my sister knows that she knows. The old woman kind of slows down. She stops. And she tips her head towards the steps.”

I can’t help but love this moment. The moment when you’re taught how a monster moves before it moves against you. Before it even knows you’re there, to see its speed, its comfort with its own unnatural strength, the unsettling flexibility of its overlong fingers. To have to imagine, before remembering to run, how its limbs might contort and twist under your skin.

“The old woman flies across the room. She grabs my sister’s face.”

Closeness without consent. That’s a special kind of fear. In the dream, the sudden and unwelcome intimacy sparks repulsion, anger, and fear, all in such rapid succession that the three overload her senses. Became panic.

“The old woman hisses, right into her face,
There’s something down here.’
And then my sister wakes up.”

I asked my roommate a few days later about her sister.

The dream had stopped.

The old woman had gone to pace some other dim, rarely used room.

But both sisters thereafter were particularly averse to visiting the basement. They shared the same creeping concern that whatever “something” was “down there” had not left with her.

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