Think back to when you were a child. You probably had some silly little thing that you were afraid of, some ridiculous, imaginary, bogeyman that haunted your nightmares when you were little. But you grew out of it, and soon enough, you didn’t even need the nightlight to chase away the monsters anymore. Except, sometimes, that bogeyman isn’t entirely imaginary.
I know mine wasn’t.
It all started when I was about four or five. My parents and I lived in this dingy little old house in a small town, and I didn’t really have many friends in the area. So naturally, I spent most of my free time exploring my house and playing little make-believe games all by myself. There was one part of the house I refused to go in, though: the basement. For whatever reason, I was convinced that there was some... thing... living down there, and that it would get me if I went down there.
I wasn’t as wrong as you’d think.
Before I go any further, though, I should say that I was a bit of a coward as a kid, so nightmares were a fairly regular occurrence. But most of the time, I could tell that I was dreaming, so I didn't make much of them. These dreams that I’m going to tell you about were different, though; they felt absolutely real, and given what happened, they very well might have been.
Like I said, I was just a little tyke when I first started dreaming about the old man. I still remember every little detail, even today. Especially today, in fact. But I digress. I remember in the dream, it was a beautiful summer day, and I was out and about, riding my bike in the driveway and generally not having a care in the world. My parents were sitting at the top of the steps watching me, and as far as I cared, everything was perfect as can be.
Suddenly, I felt an icy wind blow over me, and my bike just sort of locked up. I began rolling slowly backwards along the driveway, and, unable to slow the bike down, or even dismount it, I began looking around in a panic, trying to see what was going on, and it was then that I saw the old man for the first time.
He was dressed sharply, rather like an old-fashioned undertaker, the implications of which escaped me at the time. He was tall and gaunt, seeming to be nothing more than skin and bones, in a disturbingly literal sense, and his pale, sunken face, with its grim scowl and hooked nose lending it an odd, vulture-like quality, was framed by a thinning mane of wiry grey hair. But his eyes were by far the worst thing about him. At the age of five, I was unable to articulate exactly what I saw when I looked into the cold, dead eyes of what we came to call “the dream man.” Even as a grown man, I still can’t; what I saw was simply too alien, too inhuman, too utterly incomprehensibly other for any man to put into words.
I didn’t waste any time as soon as I saw that horrible thing. I tried to run, but I still couldn’t even get off of my bicycle. I turned to scream for my parents, only to find that they were no longer there; not that they could have done anything anyway, as the old man was upon me, with his wild hair and those horrible, horrible eyes. I felt a freezing numbness as his long, bony fingers grasped my arm, his dirty, claw-like nails digging into my flesh.
I remember how the old man leaned in close, his cracked, virtually nonexistent lips parted to reveal rotting, crooked teeth, and I remember the one word he whispered to me as he held me in his grasp.
The next thing I knew, I was being shaken awake by my parents, as I had actually been screaming in my sleep. I told them about what had happened, and they told me it was just a nightmare, and I believed them.
Every so often I would have nightmares about the man, but since they were only dreams, my parents didn’t think much of them.
That is, until I started sleepwalking.
As bad as my first encounter with this somnambulant wraith was, the worst had yet to come. The dream was always, the same, with extremely slight variations; it always started off with me in my room, playing, when I would suddenly get a sense of... wrongness, about my surroundings. I would go off to find my parents, but no matter where I looked, I couldn’t find them. When I would go to the pantry, where the door to the basement was, I would hear someone calling me, and I would turn to see a door that shouldn’t have been there. As I took a step towards it, the door would swing open, and there would be the old man, beckoning me, his teeth bared in a malicious sneer. I could do nothing but march towards him, screaming silently in my mind, as my limbs jerkily dragged me along against my will. Usually, it was at this point I would be woken up by my parents; somehow, I would sleepwalk all the way to the cellar door, and begin to head downstairs. Usually, they caught me before I started to go down the stairs. In fact, they almost always did. But not always.
Once, the old man managed to get me down to the basement.
That’s the only nightmare about the dream man that I don’t entirely remember. I just remember that I was in the basement with him, and he gripped my leg in his icy, dead grip, a vile grin splitting his face. All I remember after that is excruciating pain, before I woke up... and continued to be in agony. Apparently, while sleepwalking, I had tumbled down the stairs into the basement, breaking my leg in the process. There were still scratches on my leg from where his filthy cracked nails had dug into the flesh, but my parents were convinced that the cat must have clawed me as I slept.
After I got out of the hospital, my parents took me to see a psychologist, who claimed that the nightmares and sleepwalking were likely stress-induced, stating that my parents constant arguing was probably to blame, but just in case I was prescribed a medication to help me sleep. Naturally, after what happened, sleep was the last thing I wanted to do, and being a stupid little kid, I tried to stay awake forever.
Obviously, this didn’t work, but strangely enough, the nightmares sort of subsided. I mean, sure, the old man would regularly show up in my dream, terrifying me into consciousness, but he never forced me down to the basement again.
So time passed, like it tends to do, and in the blink of an eye, I was in the third grade, and had even managed to make a friend: Mike. Mike and I were more like brothers than anything else; we were two of a kind, and we were inseparable. Of course, as alike as we were, we had one major difference: Mike was completely fearless, whereas I was absolutely terrified of two specific things: the dream man, and the basement I had come to associate with him, if that thing even counts as a “him.”
One day, our parents relented, and allowed Mike to spend the weekend with us. Oh we had loads of fun- we played video games, we told spooky stories, and we snuck into my dad’s secret horror-movie stash. But eventually, after all the spooky stuff we had seen and done, Mike suggested that we up the ante: we were going to go down to the basement to confront my fears. I begged Mike, I pleaded him not to make me go down there, but he saw it as his duty as my best friend to break me of my fear, and when Mike got an idea in his head, there was no dissuading him of it.
How I wish what happened next had only been a nightmare.
So, just after midnight, as Saturday became Sunday, we crept down the stairs into the basement, armed with flashlights, and in my case, a wiffle bat. We spent about half an hour down there, looking in every corner for the aged ghoul who had haunted my dreams for so long, with no success. Eventually, we gave up and headed back upstairs.
That’s when everything went to hell.
Standing there, in the doorway, was the old man, every bit as horrifying as he had been in my dreams. In one swift motion, he clamped his bony, gnarled hands around my shoulders, and with a strength belying his withered frame, lifted me up to his face so those nightmarish eyes of his filled my vision. I heard one of us scream, and I didn’t know if it was me or Mike that was screaming.
I don’t remember what happened after that, as the next thing I knew, I was coming to on the cold hard floor, and Mike was huddled in the corner shuddering, wide-eyed and pale, clutching the bat to his chest. For some time afterwards, I continuously asked him what happened, but he always refused to tell me. As time passed, we grew distant, as friends often do, and as Mike became more and more withdrawn, I always blamed myself. Whatever had happened to us in that basement had changed him, and it was all my fault.
Eventually, I stopped dreaming about the old man, and I managed to put the whole ordeal behind me. I went to college, met a great girl. We’ve been married for ten years now, and everything is pretty great.
Like I said, I had managed to move on, and had almost managed to forget about the dream man. Until this morning, that is. At breakfast, my son told my wife and I about a bad dream he’d had last night.
A dream about an old man in the basement.
An old man with cold hands and terrifying eyes.