My wife dreamed she saw a torn naked body — a hangman’s rope around the neck — curled into a fetal ball lying at the foot of our spiral staircase by our front door. Sara could not see whether the victim was her or me because of the pillowcase covering the victim’s head. Blood was everywhere. The viscous, clotting liquid seeped from the stab wounds of the ravaged body, soaked the carpet of the steps of our staircase and pooled on the hardwood floor in the vestibule.
A little gnome of a man named Charlie with a gap-tooth grin, greasy shoulder-length black hair, glimmering black eyes and black beard, pranced around the living room laughing, a spinning, twirling harlequin of death. As Charlie danced, two young women dressed in crimson tie-dye t-shirts scrawled “pigs” in blood on our refrigerator door in a kind of drug-fueled satanic rite. My wife, spooked by her sudden gift of clairvoyance, could not sleep for the rest of the week.
The next day Sara found white maggots that appeared from nowhere and wriggled on the red-tiled floor in the laundry room while she folded clothes. My older boy Jamie had played a Little League baseball game Thursday night and needed a clean uniform for the game on Saturday. When Sara flushed the foul creatures down the toilet, more appeared.
My parents took our two boys on the weekend so my wife could get some rest. The stress from work and home must have been too much for her and caused some kind of temporary neurosis. I was glad my parents lived nearby to help us.
Our two-story ranch style house overlooked the rest of the city. At two million dollars, it was our dream home. We could see downtown from the bank of large rectangular windows beneath the portico that fronted our hacienda.
We were a little isolated located at the top of the hill. Nothing happened out here in the land of spreading oak trees, swimming pools and verdant lawns. A high stone wall and wrought iron gate kept unwanted strangers away. I also kept a loaded pistol for protection in the safe in our master bedroom.
After dinner, I lit the logs in the fireplace like I did when we were first married. Our family portrait sat on the mantle above the fireplace, alongside my bowling trophies and my sons’ baseball trophies. All was quiet except for the crackling fire and wind occasionally sweeping down the chimney flue.
We drank some wine and sat by the hearth. Sara looked twenty again with her boyish face, slim graceful frame, and blond curly hair. I threw a fresh log on the fire, causing sparks to fly upward. I rearranged the burning faggots into place with an iron poker and then sat in my favorite armchair. Just as we had settled down, Sara screamed.
“What? What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Can’t you see him?
“It’s him. It’s him. The man I dreamed about. Charlie – he is in the flames.”
I looked. “I don’t see anything. Only flames.”
“Hold me, darling,” my wife begged. “Hold me tight.”
That night, Sara woke up screaming after she dreamed we were attacked by the cult followers of the little man Charlie in our home. We were tied up and stabbed to death. We stayed awake until morning.
The next morning I called my psychologist friend Bill. He was as perplexed as I was. He suggested we make an appointment when his office opened on Monday. Next, I called my administrative assistant secretary at my law office and told her I would be late. My wife and I saw Bill several times. After about a month, Sara was back to herself.
Then one weekend, I was alone cleaning the pool. Sara had taken the boys to a baseball trading card show. The doorbell rang. I opened the door. A diminutive scraggly man –- dressed in dungarees, an old denim jacket and a black t-shirt — with long dark hair down to his shoulders, a gap tooth and a black beard nervously paced on our front porch.
His face broke into a wide grin. “Hi. I’m Charlie,” he said.
Charlie seemed friendly enough – a little too friendly. As he smiled, he sized me up like a tiger stalking his prey. “What do you want?” I asked, trying to sound friendly.
“Nice house you have here,” he said trying to look inside the house. “I need a little bread man,” staring straight into my eyes. “I can do some odd jobs around here: wash your car, clean your pool, chop some wood.”
“No. I’m sorry. We have a gardener for that and a man who cleans our pool.”
“What about your cars?”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I have nothing for you.”
He smiled. “Your ol’ lady home?”
Now, I was getting a little annoyed. “Hey, I’m about to leave,” I said, looking at my watch.
“I dig man.”
“It was nice meeting you, Charlie.”
“Likewise,” he said. His face broke into a wide grin again, his gleaming brown eyes seeming to penetrate my soul, making me feel uncomfortable. What was it about him that scared me? He hated me and it chilled me to the bone.
He walked down the driveway – his black hair bobbing as he walked. He opened our iron gate and then was gone.
I poured myself a drink of whiskey. It was odd; my hands shook and my mouth ran dry as if stuffed with cotton balls.
I did not tell Sara that Charlie came to our house. Perhaps her dreams had made me paranoid. He seemed friendly and harmless enough. My imagination had gotten the better of me. For Christ’s sake, I am a lawyer. We rely on evidence; not prejudices, intuitions and superstitions. After some desultory conversation, Sara sent kids outside to play. Jamie and Tommy grabbed their baseball mitts and ran outside.
“He was here, wasn’t he?” she asked.
“Charlie – that strange man I dreamed about.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“He was here,” she said, raising her voice. Her alabaster face flushed red. “I know he was here. I can feel it.”
“I think you have been pushing yourself too hard.”
“Don’t give me that.”
“Give you what?”
“You think I am crazy. I’m not crazy,” she said in a high-pitched voice. “I know he was here. Goddamn it, Steve. Don’t patronize me. ”
“Sara, you need to calm down. You’re now making me paranoid.”
Sara grimaced then turned her back and walked away. The bedroom door slammed.
I went out to the front lawn to play catch with the boys.
“I don’t want to see Bill again,” Sara said. “I don’t need therapy. We need to get out of this house and find a new place.”
“You are the one who is unreasonable.”
“It was just a dream.”
“It is real I tell you,” she said. “And you know it.”
“Be rational.” I was now getting annoyed.
“We have children.”
“Yes. And they are in school. We cannot just uproot them.”
“We are all in danger.”
“We cannot just sell the house and move. We can get a dog. We can hire a security company if that makes you feel better. The kids can stay at my parents’ house on the weekend.”
“It’s not safe here.”
That night I had a dream. Charlie and his followers were stabbing me as my wife looked on, her hands tied behind her back and her mouth stuffed with a rag. Each stab sounded like a butcher cleaving meat. Each stab made Sara jump as if she was shocked with an electric current. Two young women with knives stood behind her. “What do you do with these piggies?” one of the women asked Charlie.
I woke up with a start. As I sat up, I heard my wife say in the dark “You were dreaming of him, weren’t you?”
“Yes,” I said.
“And he did come to the house the other day,” she said.
“I’m a lawyer.”
“He was here.”
“Yes, he was.”
“We need to move away from here now.”
Strange things occurred at our house. A Van Gough replica on our wall in our living room disappeared one morning. The next day, it reappeared on our wall where it had hung before. A pair of blacked rimmed glasses appeared on the kitchen table one morning that did not belong to us. The boys found a dead cardinal, with a string around its neck hung from the oak tree in our back yard. I removed the pistol from the safe and kept it in the nightstand by our bed.
I hired a security company that patrolled the neighborhood at night. We bought a dog – a large German shepherd we named Bruno. Sara, Jamie and Tommy stayed with my parents on the weekends.
One weekend, while my older brother Pete and his wife Brenda were visiting us, Charlie came again looking for work. He shuffled up to our door. Bruno growled and barked.
“Hey, man, remember me? Charlie.” He held out his hand and grinned with his gap-tooth mile, the corner of his eyes crinkling. His breath smelled like cigarettes. When he stretched out his hand I could see his blue skull and crossbones tattoo on his forearm.
“Yeah. Hi, Charlie.”
‘I just was in the neighborhood and I was wondering if you had any work that you needed done around here. Me and the girls could use some work.”
“Who is it?” Sara called from the living room.
“My girls. Is that you ol’ lady?”
“Listen, I have company over. This is a bad time.”
“Oh, I dig man. I can come again.”
“I don’t want you to come again,” I said. I could hear my voice crack. Show no fear. Criminals can sense your fear.
I stepped outside onto our brick porch, stretching to my full height of six-foot-two. I reached into my back pocket and pulled a twenty-dollar bill from my wallet.
“Here, take this,” I said.
He was smiling but his eyes burned with contempt.
“I asked for a job, not handouts, man,” he said, raising his voice. “I’m not panhandling.”
He took my twenty, spit on it and handed it back to me.
My brother Pete who is a cop in Los Angeles came to the porch. “Is there a problem here?” he asked looking at Charlie.
Charlie smiled ingratiatingly himself. “Nah, man. Me and my girls were just looking for a little work.”
“I suggest you move on,” Pete said.
After we returned to the living room and sat down, Pete shook his head.
“What is it?” Sara asked.
“Man, that guy is the spitting image of Charles Manson,” Pete said.
“Charles Manson?” Brenda exclaimed.
“The Charles Manson?” I said.
“Oh my God,” Sara said.
“Don’t worry about it,” Pete said. “Manson is dead and gone. He died a couple years ago in prison.”
“I’m really worried about this guy,” Sara said. “He is really creepy.”
“She’s been having nightmares about him,” I said.
“He does look like a dangerous fellow,” Pete said. “Probably a petty criminal – an ex-con.”
“I don’t think we will be seeing him anymore,” I said.
“I said we should move,” Sara said.
“We cannot let this little Charlie scare us into selling our house,” I said.
“Sounds like you are having premonitions,” Pete said to Sara.
“Premonitions?” I said. “You don’t believe in that supernatural stuff, do you?”
“Police have hired psychics to help them with cold cases for years,” Pete said. “I believe in what works.”
“I’ve seen it on TV,” Brenda said. “Ghosts, UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle. Scary stuff.”
“ESP, UFOs, witches” I said. “I believe in what I can see, hear, touch or smell. In Salem, they burned innocent people at the stake for being witches. We are a modern family living in the modern world.”
“Some things can’t be explained,” Pete said.
“Lots of cultures around the world believe in the supernatural,” Brenda said.
“We should move,” Sara said.
Both Sara and I continued to have nightmares. In my dream, a middle-aged couple dressed in our pajamas, their faces hidden in the shadows flashed knives at us. “Run,” the woman whispered.
I met Bill, my psychiatrist friend, for a therapy session for myself. Bill had a round face, and a round stomach. He scratched his chin with his fleshy fingers and looked at me, his eyes above his glasses. “What do these dreams mean?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” he replied. “But your subconscious is trying to tell you something.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your subconscious senses danger and is trying to warn your conscious mind.”
“You don’t believe in the paranormal do you?”
“The great psychiatrist Carl Jung seemed to think it was possible.”
I shrugged. “Well, the great astronomer Carl Sagan would beg to differ.”
“I am a psychiatrist – a doctor and man of science,” Bill said, removing his glasses. “But I am also a man of the arts. Brutus dreamed Julius Caesar told him he would meet his end at Phillipi. Hamlet said it best ‘There are things in heaven and earth that cannot be explained by your philosophy Horatio.’ ”
“Shakespeare also believed in witches,” I said. “and you know what happened at Salem.”
“There are things we know,” Bill said. “Then there are things we think we know. And then there are many things that we do not know.”
One day, Bruno our German shepherd was crying and throwing up blood. The veterinarian put Bruno to sleep. Someone fed him ground beef laced with steel shavings.
The painting again disappeared and reappeared. Our lawn furniture was smashed. We made a police report.
“We will beef our patrols in this area,” Sgt. McNeil told us. “We know this Charlie. We have had our eyes on him. He lives on the beach in a black school bus with a couple of young girls. We’ll pick him up for questioning. Let us know if anything else happens.”
A couple of weeks later we read in the newspaper that Sgt. McNeil was missing. We called the realtor and put our house up for sale.
“Mr. Cliff, I do not know what you can get on this house,” Marcel the realtor said. “Fall is a bad time to sell. School has already started. You will do a lot better if you wait for spring and summer.”
“I understand,” I said. “My wife does not feel safe here. We need to find something not so isolated.”
“I totally understand, especially given the history of this house.”
“Yeah, 50 years ago almost to this day.”
“I didn’t know this house had a history.”
“Why do you think you got this house so cheap?”
“Tell me what happened.”
“It was about a half year before the Manson murders. A middle-aged married couple were slain here right in this house.”
“Tell me more.”
“A relative found their bodies – in their pajamas stabbed to death with ropes around their necks,” he said. “The husband had a pillowcase over his head.”
I later researched the killings at the public library. They were macabre and ritualistic slayings. It was front-page news. They never found the killers.
I kept telling myself I need not panic. My dad had a dream that he would die too. That was 40 years ago. It is kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy – a rationalization. Charlie was young, in his thirties. Whoever the killers were, they would likely be long dead by now. The murders were fifty years ago. As for Charles Manson, he died in prison two years ago.
One night, I was alone in my house. Sara and the children were at my parents’ house for the weekend. My brother Pete was bringing up a new dog for us from Los Angeles. I was lying awake in the dark, admonishing myself for letting Sara’s paranoia get the best of me. I could hear the floorboards creaking downstairs.
I grabbed my pistol and a baseball bat from the nightstand. I put my cell phone in my robe pocket. Somebody was whispering downstairs. The floorboards creaked again.
I silently descended downstairs. When I flicked on the light, Charlie and two young women were in our living room. The young women quickly fled out the front door and shut the door behind them.
“What the hell are you doing here?” I shouted, pointing my gun at him.
Charlie ran for the door. When he grabbed the door handle, I hit his back with the baseball bat. He crumpled to the ground with his back to the door. I then hit his left cheek with the bat. He covered his head.
I raised my bat to strike him. He sprung upward and tackled me, causing me to fall backward. I held the bat in my right hand and the gun in my left. He struck me in the face.
The gun spilled from my hand and slid across the carpet. He ran for the gun. When he grabbed the gun with his right hand, I hit his arm with the bat. I could hear the bone break. He groaned and dropped the gun.
I kicked his face and he fell backward in a heap. I called 911. A squad car was at my house in 10 minutes. The police officers took Charlie away in handcuffs.
“Are you okay?” Sara said over the telephone.
“I’m fine,” I said.
“He’s fine,” Sara said to the boys on the other end of the telephone.
“Thank God, the police caught him.”
“It was really scary.”
“We’re coming home.”
“No, please stay at my parents’ house at least for a couple days.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I think it best.”
“I love you, honey.”
That night I dreamed again. The middle-aged couple again came to me. This time I could see their faces. They were again dressed in pajamas. Their faces were pale, drained of blood. Dark crescents underscored their eyes.
They tried to tell me something but no sound came from their mouths. Their eyes penetrated my very soul. They both had ropes around their necks and their pajamas were torn and bloody.
The woman pointed to the door. “Leave,” her mouth said.
“Go now,” the man mouthed.
“My cell phone started ringing.”
When I answered the phone, Sara was hysterical. “Get out the house. Leave mow. Charlie has escaped.”
“Did the police call you?”
“No. I just know. Get out of the house before it is too late!”
I put on a pair of slacks, shoes and socks and a sweatshirt. I put my cell phone in my jacket pocket. I grabbed my pistol and ran to the garage.
When I entered the garage, I could hear two male voices whispering outside. “We’ll kill him and then we’ll get the hell out of here,” one said.
In the darkness, I tripped over a rake, and it crashed to the cement.
“He’s in the garage!” the voice said.
I called 911. I told the dispatcher who I was and to send a unit over immediately. “There are at least two intruders on my property!”
The handle of the side door to the garage rattled. “Stand back!” Charlie shouted. An ax came crashing into the door.
I retreated into the house and locked the door.
The door to the house began to rattle and shake. Then the ax came crashing through that door. I hid in the dark behind the couch waiting for the men to enter, my handgun at the ready.
The sliding glass door to our backyard opened. I turned. A large young man with short brown hair and small mustache came into the living room. He began punching me in the face.
I fell backward and lay on my back. My head spun and ears rang as I fought to stay conscious.
My assailant – man with short hair and athletic build and a brown mustache – choked me as the ax thundered through what remained of the wood door. My assailant sat on my chest and then pulled out his pistol and shoved it into my mouth. His black eyes were wide and wild.
Charlie came inside, pushed his partner off me. Charlie stood over me. He raised his two-handed ax over his head, his eyes wild and hair falling into face.
The front door swung wide. Lights flooded the room. “Police! Freeze,” man’s voice blared.
“Drop your weapons,” shouted a woman’s voice. Sirens as more cars approached wailed ever louder. Tires screeched as more police cars stopped at our house.
Charlie’s dropped his ax and pulled a heavy steel knife from its sheath. His eyes were wide and crazy. White spittle foamed at the corners of his mouth, his thin lips pressed tight.
Shots rang out. Charlie and his friend vanished.
Mark Kodama is a trial attorney and former newspaper reporter who lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife and two sons. He is currently working on Las Vegas Tales, a work of philosophy, sugar-coated with meter and rhyme and told through stories. More than 150 of his short stories, poems and essays have been published in anthologies, including those published by Black Hare Press, Clarendon Publishing House, Eerie River Publishing, Escaped Ink Press and Devil’s Party Press. His stories and poems have appeared in Writers and Readers Magazine, the Academy of Hearts and Mind Magazine, Café Lit, Commuter Lit, Dastaan World Magazine, Dissident Voice, Jakob’s Horror Box, Indie’s Nest, Inner Circle Writers’ Group Magazine, Literary Yard, Magazine of History and Fiction, Mercurial Stories, Portland Metrozine, Potato Soup Journal, PPP Ezine, Spillwords, Tuck Magazine and World of Myths Magazine. His stories and poems appear in Ancients, Apocalypse, Blaze, Cadence, Unravel, Dragon Bone Soup, Enigma, Fox Hollow Stories, Glamour, Hate, Tall Tales and Short Stories, Gleam, Fireburst, Latin Anthology, Maelstrom, Pride, Tempest and What Sort of Fuckery Is This? “Land of the Pharaohs” won Story of the Month at World of Myths and “The Summer Camp” appears in Potato Soup Journal, Volume 1, Issue 1 (Best of).