I first dreamed of starving dogs when I was ten years old. It was a traumatizing year for me but it was not the last. No… it would be far from the last. I lost my grandfather that year. He and I were closer than I was with my own parents. He lived about a fifteen minute bike ride from my home and I would always stop by to visit, just to listen to him tell stories. Grandfather always told the best stories from his time serving in the Navy. Whenever I would visit, he would crouch down until he was about eye level to me and say: “Nathan, do you wanna hear a story?” in a low tone. Some of his stories were funny. Some of his stories were sad. Sometimes, usually after he had a bit to drink, he would tell me stories about ancient beings, forgotten places, and my favorite: monsters. Whether these stories were real or not didn’t interest me. I just loved hearing them and Grandfather loved telling them.
Grandfather was a good man and was my best friend. He was a healthy man even at the age of seventy and it was a shock to the family when he died. And how he died. I took the loss harder than anyone in my family. I cried for weeks after his death. His death left a dark spot on my life and I could never forget the day of his death. After all, I was the one who found his body. I rode my bike out to his house to visit him as I did every Friday after school. The 15 minute bike ride to his house almost seemed to forebode what was about to happen. It was raining outside and the sky was darkened with grey clouds that loomed eerily overhead. I almost didn’t even go to his house that day because of the rain. To this day, I wonder if things would have gone differently if I had stayed home.
Yet, I decided to “man up” as Grandfather always said and ride to his house. After all, a little water couldn’t hurt… right? When I arrived at his house around 4pm, I immediately knew something was… off. His car was parked in the driveway, so I knew that he was home. Yet… all of the lights were off, despite the lack of sunshine. I remember thinking that perhaps he was taking a nap, but I had called him yesterday to tell him I was coming. You may be thinking that perhaps he forgot, he was old after all. But that wasn’t like Grandfather. He always prided himself in being a good host, no matter what the occasion was. Nevertheless, I shrugged it off and walked my bike to the front porch and left it there. I knocked on the front door and waited to be greeted by his warm embrace and welcoming smile. But it never came. I stood outside for five minutes before I tried the doorknob. The door was locked. I sighed and was about to go home when I remembered he kept a spare key under the welcome mat. I retrieved the key from its hiding place and unlocked the door, then put it back underneath the mat. I turned the doorknob and stepped inside, shutting the door behind me.
It was dark inside and I couldn’t hear anything outside of the hum of the refrigerator and the drops of rain hitting the roof of the house. The air was cold and unwelcoming, as if I was in a meat freezer instead of a house. Shivering, I felt around for the light switch I knew from previous visits was on my right. My hand finally found the switch and I flipped it on. The living room lit up and my memory of what happened next is fuzzy, but I will tell you the details I can remember. The room was a mess, papers strewn everywhere, lamps knocked over, etc. It was as if someone let loose a miniature tornado in his house. I remember staring at one of Grandfather’s bookshelves across the living room that had been tipped over. It was a massive thing, almost reaching the ceiling, made of heavy oak wood. Something large and unmoving laid beneath it. It took me a while to realize that it was a pair of legs sticking out beneath it. I knew who it was. I knew who it was and yet I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want to believe that my grandfather was dead. I don’t know how long I stood there staring at them but eventually I made my way over to the fallen bookshelf, stepping over broken glass and other junk on the floor.
I always chalked up what happened next to a mix of imagination and trauma, but now I am not so sure. I remember the door that led to Grandfather’s room was tight next to the bookcase. It was cracked open a bit and it was pitch black inside. As I stared at my Grandfather’s corpse, the door opened a bit in the corner of my eye. Not much, just a few inches, but enough for me to notice its movement. I turned my head to look at the door and stared into the darkness, terror rooting me in place.Then, one of Grandfather’s legs twitched and I let out a scream and ran out of the house and onto my bike. I don’t remember putting on a helmet. I don’t remember riding it at all. What happened next is what my mother told me later on. She had called Grandfather to make sure I made it there safely, but after a few rings, the phone would go to voicemail. This was odd because the number of rings varied each time she called, which meant someone was declining the calls. My mother, beginning to get worried, got into her car and started driving to Grandfather’s house. She was surprised to see me on the side of the road, walking in the bike lane. I was all dirty and had scrapes on my knees. I was no longer on my bike and I can’t remember what happened to it. It was never found. The rest of the day was a blur of phone calls and grieving. I was asked a bunch of questions by a policeman.The police later chalked it up to an accident, because there were no signs of foul play. They found alcohol in Grandfather’s body and figured he had a drunken tantrum, and managed to knock over the book shelf that killed him. I know the truth now, but back then, I believed it. Maybe because it was better than the alternative. I asked to sleep with my parents that night. They accepted and I took the spot in the middle of the bed, sandwiched in between them. That was the night I dreamt of starving dogs.
Later that night, I woke up to find myself lying on my back, outside, and staring up at the sky. The sky was veiled with grey clouds and the air hinted that it was going to rain.I got up and looked around. I had been lying on a road. The pavement was cracked and ruined, the yellow paint that once split the road into two faded with time. To either side of me were large buildings. They were rusted and falling apart, some were collapsed while others barely stood. All the windows looked to have been blown out. There were knocked over street lamps and debris littered everywhere. It looked like the aftermath of a nuclear explosion. A warm breeze floated by and rustled some of the debris on the ground. I thought I saw faces peek out from around the buildings out of the corner of my eyes, but when I would turn to look at them, they would be gone. It was dead silent with the exception of the wind. I called out a reluctant hello and was met with my own echo. I had no clue what was going on and my ten year old brain was confused and dazed. I knew it was a dream… yet it felt so real. I inspected my surroundings once more.
I didn’t notice it at first. I don’t know how I didn’t notice it. It was enormous. Looking straight ahead, I finally saw where the road led to. In the distance, there was a huge temple of some sort. It looked like the pyramids of ancient Egypt, except that it looked to be made of shiny black metal. It was surrounded by sand on either side and despite being about what I assume now was a mile away, it loomed over the city. I remembered the temple made me feel uneasy. Not scared of it, but I didn’t trust it. I didn’t know where I was but I knew where I didn’t want to be. And that was anywhere closer to that temple. Outside of the city and the temple, the rest of the terrain was just sand. I wanted to wake up. I wanted to go home. I started to cry but I stopped when I saw something out of the corner of my eye and I turned around to face it. The scream worked its way out of my throat before I could stop it.
In front of me was a dog. It had grey fur and was really, really malnourished. It was mostly bone and skin. It was sitting down, regarding me the way a vulture would regard a dying man. That is not what scared me though. Its eyes. Or rather, the lack of them. Where its eyes should have been were pits. Looking into those pits were like looking into the vacuum of space: lifeless, dark, and empty. Staring into the dog’s eyes started to make my head throb with pain. I stood frozen, unable to move.The dog just… stared at me, sitting on its hind legs. It regarded me, showing no signs of aggression. Yet, the dog scared me. I felt that its intentions were malevolent, that it wanted me to die. Yet, it did not attack me. Another movement, this time to my left. It was accompanied by the sound you get when you rub your hands slowly over the surface of a balloon. A door stood off to my left, on the side of the road. It was a simple, white door. A door that was not there before. I somehow knew that this is the way out of the horrible place I was in. I quickly flung myself at the door and turned the knob, falling into the other side and I thought I heard the dog whimper.
I woke up with a jolt, letting out a small scream. Both of my parents were immediately attentive, asking me what was wrong. After calming me down, I told them I had a nightmare. My parents assured me that I had nothing to worry about. They told me it was just a dream and that I was safe. Lies are easier to believe when you are a child. That year was a blur. I cried a lot over the death of my Grandfather. There was the funeral, but outside of that there was nothing out of the ordinary. Time passed on. I grew. Ten years of age slowly turned into eleven, then twelve. I tried to forget about my dream and with time, I almost succeeded. Almost. I didn’t dream about the temple or that city or that damn dog. Life was as normal as it could get. That all changed when I turned thirteen.
I was your average thirteen year old. I was in the sixth grade and just started to understand my feelings on girls and… other matters. I pretty much forgot about the dream. One Saturday, I brought my friend Kevin over to spend the night. Kevin and I were friends since fifth grade and bonded over our love for all things scary. When he came over, we decided to go ride our bikes in the woods by our house. Teenagers before us made bike trails in the woods and I never had the chance to ride them. I didn’t tell Kevin that the reason I never rode them by myself was because the woods unsettled me. I didn’t want him to tease me, since I prided myself in being fearless. Or at least pretending to be fearless. Ever since the incident with my Grandfather, I didn’t go into the woods. I used to use the woods as a shortcut to Grandfather’s house, but got spooked after his death. I didn’t want him to tease me. I let Kevin borrow one of my bikes and told my mom we were going to go ride bikes in the woods.
“Bring your phone and check in with me every hour. And be safe!“ My mother called from the kitchen as I left. I told her that we would and Kevin and I took off. The trails went deep in the woods. Kevin and I goofed off and explored the trails. We tried to spook each other with scary stories, but no such luck. Eventually we came to the edge of the trail which put us on the other side of the forest, where there was a long road lined with houses. This was close to Grandfather’s house. I hadn’t realized that we were heading this way until we were already there. I knew that after he died, my parents took ownership of the house. They told me they sold it a bit back. I was never allowed to go back because they didn’t want me to disturb the new owners. I was curious to see what had become of it, but I was also scared to go back.
“Hey man, you okay?” Kevin asked. I hadn’t realized that I was staring off into space.
“Yeah, I am, “ I replied. Kevin gave me a look.
“Dude, I have known you long enough to know when something is on your mind. What is it?” He said. I hesitated, then told him.
“We should totally check it out! I mean… if you want to, of course. I don’t want to bring back any bad memories or anything,” Kevin said, his enthusiasm showing.
I thought about it. It would be nice to see his house one last time. But… what if I get caught? Mom and Dad would be livid.After a few moments of hesitation, I decided. Curiosity won.
“Alright, let’s do it,” I agreed and began pedaling towards the house, Kevin following shortly behind. It took only a few minutes to reach his house. It looked the same on the outside as I last saw it, outside of the front lawn being overgrown and poorly taken care of. I was surprised the new owners didn’t do anything with it. I was more surprised to see that Grandfather’s green Sudan was still there. My parents said they sold it. It didn’t look sold. I hopped off my bike and walked up to the front door. Kevin asked what I was doing.
“I just want to see something,” I told him. He didn’t protest, he just followed me to the front door. I knocked on the door and was not surprised to get no response. I looked at the welcome mat that was still there. I lifted it and found the spare key that was still underneath.
“I thought your parents said they sold it?” Kevin said.
“Yeah, me too, “ I replied. Why would they lie to me about this? And why hadn’t they sold it? I unlocked the front door and stepped inside with Kevin right behind me. There were no lights on, but this time sunlight streamed in through the blinds, giving me enough light to see the light switch. I flicked it on, but none of the lights turned on. I guess the electricity got cut. I used my phone light instead. The room was just like it was the last time I saw it. Why hadn’t someone cleaned it up? Lamp tipped over, paper on the floors. The book case was still tipped over, but was missing the body that was once underneath it. Now that I was inside, there was one thing I had to see for myself. For a sort of closure, I guess. I made my way to the white door at the other end of the living room. It was open.
Stepping inside, I used my light to illuminate the room. Unlike the rest of the house, nothing was tipped over. There was no mess. Nothing was out of the ordinary, really. I inspected the room. No monsters or signs of people. The door must have been opened by a draft or something, scaring the ten year old me. I relaxed. I was about to leave the room when I noticed something on his desk that caught my eye. I inspected it with my phone light and I almost dropped my phone in shock. There was a drawing of a dog. The dog was deathly skinny, but that wasn’t the most disturbing part of the picture. Where the eyes should have been were instead replaced with two dark holes. The picture brought back a flood of memories. I remembered the city, the dog, and the temple. The memories were welcomed, but it was too late to stop them.
Why was this on his desk? Had his disappearance had something to do with my dream? I took my eyes off of the drawing and looked at the other contents of the desk. On the desk was a half drank glass of water and stacks of papers. There was a leather-bound notebook on the corner of the desk. I grabbed it and opened it up. It was Grandfather’s diary. I looked back into the living room, where Kevin was inspecting one of the paintings on the walls. I looked back down at the notebook and using my light, read the first entry.
March 22, 1973
This is our second week out on sea. The sky is grey and there is a slight drizzle of rain. The ocean is dark and somber, mirroring the moods of the crew.Our mission was to check on one of the Navy’s boats that had gone silent over a week ago. Despite the Navy’s attempts to contact the boat, no one had heard from a member of the crew in over a week. It is assumed that they are having technical difficulties. I don’t think that is the case and most of the crew members agree. Something is off about this mission. At first, most of the crew members were laughing and joking around, but as we got closer to where the ship last contacted, most of the members have become silent and tense, as if they are preparing for the worst. I feel it too. Something is wrong out here in the ocean. It feels… different. I can’t shake the feeling that we are not welcomed in this part of the ocean. We have spotted an island in the distance. They are going to check it out. I have about thirty minutes before arrival. I think about my wife and my two sons. I hope I make it back to them.
The entry ended there. I put the book in a backpack I had across my back for the bike ride. Kevin entered the room.
“Dude, your grandfather has the coolest -”
We both jumped at the sound of the wood floor creaking. It came from upstairs. Kevin slowly turned white. We weren’t alone. I met Kevin’s eyes, which were full of fear, and I slowly close Grandfather’s door, trying not to make too much noise. Something began descending the stairs. I shut the door and locked it, cringing at the loud click it made as I did so. Thud. Thud. Thud. Whoever was climbing down the stairs had now reached the bottom. I could hear them pause, as if they were listening for something. I searched the room, looking for a way out or at least a place to hide. My eyes fell upon the window. I tapped Kevin’s shoulder and pointed at the window. He nodded in acknowledgement. We crept to the window and tried to unlock it but the lock was sealed shut with age. Then, I heard a sound that made me jump.The doorknob to the room jiggled as someone one the other side tried to open it.
I started panicking. This couldn’t be happening. Another idea struck me. If this place was truly untouched since his death, then that must mean… I ran over to Grandfather’s nightstand and opened the drawer. I knew I would find it in there. A handgun rested laid inside of the drawer. I took the heavy revolver in my hand and cocked the hammer back. I pointed it at the door. Grandfather taught me how to shoot a long time ago, despite my parents protests. I never thought I would need to use it until now. I readied the gun as the person began trying to break into the door. The revolver was shaking in my head. Where was Kevin? The door started to give. One more kick and it would surely open. I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Something peeking in through the window. It was the dog, its soulless black eyes staring right at me. I almost dropped the gun. I blinked and it was gone. There was a loud crack as the door finally gave in and something big and human shaped stepped inside.
I pulled the trigger.
[end of part one]