Waking Nightmare


Charles Bins, Brunswick Forest

Jeremy Fischer tried the backdoor to the farmhouse. To our surprise, it opened. My younger brother, Will, and I were new in town, and we looked up to Jeremy. At 17, he was three years older than me. Jeremy was adopted, an only child, imaginative and intense. Plus, he always knew things we didn’t. We weren’t sure why Jeremy liked us, but we liked his style and followed his cordovan boots into adventure. 

We were glad to move out of the sun, but the dim kitchen trapped the heat. The lights didn’t work. Our eyes were drawn to particles dancing in a shaft of sunlight. (Funny how you don’t notice the dust surrounding you.) As our eyes adjusted, floorboards peaked through the linoleum. Gazing up, cobwebs came to life; a black widow watched and waited.

We opened all the cabinets, finding ceramic plates and glasses; in the refrigerator, nothing but foggy jars and black yogurt. On the door hung a bank calendar, August 1961–exactly 7 years ago. It entranced Jeremy. Eyes wide, he told us about a runaway teen named Jimmy Rhodes who disappeared in  May of ’61. “Some say he became a drifter. Others say he must’ve stopped somewhere or was kidnapped.” 

Will and I shuddered, then quickly shuffled into the den. Jeremy patted the frayed couch which  gave off a cloud of dust and a lingering odor. In the bedroom, a mattress sagged inside a broken frame. As we tiptoed upstairs, a diving pigeon brushed my cheek. 

The master bedroom featured a hole in the ceiling, a cracked mirror and a white-spattered quilt. across the bed. At the desk, a typewriter beckoned. Jeremy pulled the sheet and read aloud:

Dear Sylvia,
Why did you leave? Or is that the question you want me to answer? Bad farms make bad marriages. But did we always have to argue until somebody bled? Seven bad years wasn’t my fault–just one too many for you. You could never forget or forgive when we was short. Did you forget we both wanted a son? I never blamed you, so why couldn’t you accept when our fortune arrived? 

Jeremy noticed it wasn’t signed. He paused to ponder. “The husband must’ve given up when the banks foreclosed. But what was their fortune that Sylvia couldn’t accept? Did he rob a bank, or did an unfortunate teen step into a hurricane here?”

In the basement, dust layered everything; mildew hung in the air. Jeremy wondered if Jimmy Rhodes’ spirit might also be hanging there. We were drawn to a workbench with old tools. Next to it stood a tarnished tablesaw with rough-cut blade. Jeremy thought he noticed dark red on the teeth. Will and I leaned in and confirmed the smears. 

We scrambled upstairs and out the back. When Will and I started to run, Jeremy called, “Stop.” We didn’t want to attract attention, so we walked in silence. After a while, Jeremy said we really didn’t know what happened there. If we called the police, we’d get in trouble for trespassing, or worse. He made us swear never to tell another soul. 

The thought of that whirring sawblade plagued our sleep for years. Was there really a Jimmy Rhodes? Turns out that was true. As for the rest, we got shined. Jeremy Fischer got a full scholarship and became a professor of literature at UNC. Last year, he published a mystery novel, Waking Nightmare.