IN THE NIGHTMARE there are two of me—Lacy as I am now, and Lacy at twelve—the day my mother went insane.
I can hear and feel everything my twelve-year-old self does, because this nightmare is a memory, a seed of madness planted in fertile soil. I want to tell her, Don’t listen, Lacy! There’s no such thing as demons. But she can’t hear me. How could she? I don’t exist yet.
MY TWELVE YEAR-OLD self is hiding in the closet, even though I know it’s the worst place to hide. Murderers, vampires, zombies, rapists—they always look in the closet first. I scrabble backwards over rows of shoes and push myself behind Mom’s long dresses, press my back against the cold plaster wall.
A blue silk evening gown sways in front of my face like a ghost. Is someone moving the dress? I listen. It’s only my breath—messy, scared breathing—causing the fabric to ripple. I try to slow down, think it through, like Dad always says to do.
Mom has to be wrong. Every other grown up—Dad, Aunt Dorothy, my teachers—swears there is no such thing. There’s no such thing. There’s no such ….
I pinch myself, hard, to keep from falling back on hope. Hope is your greatest enemy, Legacy. How many times has she told me this? Hope will get you dead.
Somewhere in the house, something crashes, then shatters. I hear a man laugh. Then a scream and a howl like an animal killing or being eaten.
I hold my breath and feel a hot liquid spread between my legs. It leaches upward toward the pockets of my shorts. I’ve wet myself, something that hasn’t happened since first grade.
Another crash and a dull thud.
“Fucking bitch!” Is that his voice? I’ve never heard him swear before. And then he says something else I can’t understand. I think I hear him saying my name.
Vomit rises in my throat and sticks there. I touch the white rose necklace I wear for good luck, but nothing changes. Another crash. I open my eyes to look for a weapon. Only shoes, dresses and plastic coat hangers. I grab a black patent leather shoe with a stiletto heal. Stab him in the kidneys. Stab him in the heart.
“FOR YOUR OWN protection,” Katherine always said. As an adult, it’s hard for me to think of her as Mom. Even though I know she believes in the sanctity of a person’s full name, in my mind I call her Kat. Crazy Kat.
When I was eleven, Kat’s older sister Dorothy brought home a new husband she’d met and married on a cruise. Uncle John. When Kat saw him, she fainted. I’d never seen her so pale or so scared. When she woke up, she screamed at John to get out of our house. Screamed at Dorothy, too.
The next day, she made a full-sized diagram of the human body and put giant red Xs on all the major organs. In the attic, she started teaching me how to use a knife. She made me practice killing on sacks filled with meat and bone, so it would be hard, like in real life. Stab and twist. She said it had to be our secret.
I heard about the demon stalking our family the way some kids get to hear bedtime stories. About how handsome and charming he was the first few months after he married her mother. How he called her his “blossom.” Bought her dresses and jewelry. Took lots of pictures of her, too. Then she said he started coming in when she was in the bathroom. He asked to take pictures of her naked. “It’s natural,” he said. “Don’t be a prude. Don’t be a bitch.”
I remember staring in horror as Kat told me in lurid detail just where all that was going—if she had let it.
Kat said she told her mother every time her stepfather made a move. Her mother would promise to put an end to it, but the next thing Kat knew, Gram would be making dinner or laughing at some joke he had made. Like she didn’t remember.
I heard about how the demon started to torture Kat and her brother Mac, who was seven at the time. He held an open flame to Mac’s feet, “to make him a man.” When Mac cried, John locked him in the basement with the centipedes and spiders. When Kat protested, he threw her down the basement stairs to be with her brother. They survived on rusty water from the utility sink. Three days until their mother got back from wherever she’d gone off to.
I heard how the demon plucked out Kat’s hair, strand by strand, while she slept. When she woke, he would stand above her, burning one hair at a time with his zippo lighter, like the hairs were fuses and he was the dynamite, moving closer with each one, until she gagged at the stench.
I heard about the day he started to sew Mac’s mouth shut to keep him from “lying.” Stabbed a needle through Mac’s lip as he screamed. Kat had to let the demon take naked pictures of her to get him to stop hurting her brother. “And that was the last straw,” she said.
I remember visualizing an actual piece of straw, floating away in the sky. I still see it, gold against blue, every time someone uses that expression. The last straw.
Kat drugged the demon with two bottles of Benadryl crushed up and baked into a chocolate cake. It should have killed him, or at least knocked him out, but it only slowed his reaction time, she said. Then she and Mac stabbed him until they thought he was dead.
“He came back, but I’m going to kill him this time, Legacy. I’ll never let him have you. But if anything ever happens to me, you have to be ready to fight. You have to hit all of the major organs. Stab and twist.”
She was powerful, my mother. A tawny-skinned Amazon who knew how to use a knife like a Navy SEAL. She could stab all of the major organs in the dummy’s body faster than I could follow with my eyes. Every night, I cried myself to sleep, terrified that something would happen to Kat. Terrified the demon would come after me.
Kat became increasingly erratic: affectionate one minute, short tempered the next. Spouting tidbits of demonology whenever we were alone. She insisted on dropping me off and picking me up at school every day. But even as her paranoia infected my life like a low-grade fever, my faith in her started to ebb.
By the time I turned twelve, I’d stopped crying because I was afraid of the demon, and started crying because mother was not normal. It’s not exactly like you can have a friend over after school to stab some rotten meat in a bag.
Dad and Dorothy said my mother had anxiety. That’s why she took medication—Xanax, I learned later, and plenty of it. They didn’t know yet about our sessions in the attic. They didn’t know the stories about demons. They didn’t know anything.
IN THE NIGHTMARE I push heel of the stiletto into the skin on my left forearm hard. The heel makes red horseshoe welts up and down my arms.
If Mom dies, it will be my fault. I list my mistakes in my head, each one like a paper cut: I spied on Mom when she went into the woods and buried the necklace of white roses. I dug the necklace up and wore it hidden under my clothes. I threw away the protective amulets she gave me and told her I lost them. I didn’t listen during practice. I threatened to tell Dad and Dorothy. Worst mistake: I liked him. Uncle John.
“You have to trust me. Legacy, baby, I’m going to protect you. Trust me.” But I didn’t see why I should learn to fight. I wanted to read and watch TV. I wanted to be able to ride my bike or play with my friends. I didn’t want to lie to Dad about what we were doing in the attic.
And today she said he was coming, that this was what all the practice was for. But I didn’t go to the secret door in the pantry like she always said to. I didn’t use the trapdoor to the crawlspace and run hide in the woods. I went to her bedroom because it was closer, and I was tired of this game.
Now the house is quiet, but I can’t move. I press the heel of the stiletto into my thigh making welts in the pattern of an X. I’m sorry, Mom. I’m sorry. I didn’t believe you. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. The dresses flutter like dry fingers across my face. I bite my lip hard enough to draw blood. I’ve killed my own mother by not listening.
Footsteps in the distance—footsteps that falter and seek. Just like in all the movies. The bedroom door opens. I clench my teeth and will my eyes to stay open, but then clamp them shut at the last minute. I raise the shoe in the air and visualize Xs.
The closet door flies open.
Even though my eyes are shut, somehow I know it’s her. But her smell has changed. Frankincense covered with a salty, hot, coppery smell. I feel her arms wrap around me.
“Legacy!” Her hands fumble at my neck. Sticky. She yanks off the forbidden necklace of tiny white roses—the necklace he gave me.
I open my eyes. Her hair is matted: eyes red, face red. She flings my necklace away and I hear it hit the dresser so hard all the roses scatter. She wraps her arms around me so tight they cut off my breath. Her arms are slicked in something brown and putrid. Prehistoric, rotting.
“Let me go!” I scream. “Let me go!”
She pulls me onto her lap and rocks. “You’re safe. I did a lot more damage this time. He won’t be in any shape to hurt anyone for a long time.” I twist and kick, but she keeps rocking like I’m a baby. “Shhh.”
In the distance, sirens wail.
When I give up fighting, she lets me out of her arms. I scoot out of reach, but I can’t look away from her. I see hope—that dangerous thing—flickering in her bloodshot green eyes.
“Legacy? Do you hear me?” She reaches out, but I back further away.
She shakes her head. She doesn’t understand. As the sirens draw closer, she lunges, sweeps me up again. She’s so strong, I can’t resist. She buries her bloody face in my hair. “It’s over, Legacy. It’s over.”
THE NIGHTMARE ALWAYS ends there. It never continues to the aftermath—the trial, the TV trucks. My friends’ faces at school—blank or sorry or scared. The end result always the same—gone. Dad with lawyers, or working long hours to pay for lawyers—gone. Dorothy at the hospital with John, for months and months—gone.
I want to give my younger self reassurance. You’re going to be okay, Lacy. You’re going to get through this.
Lying here now, I wonder if that’s true, that she will be okay. Up until last year, I would have said so. Then it all went sideways.
FOR THE RECORD, despite everything, I still don’t believe in demons. None of what I’m about tell you resembles that kind of goofy hocus pocus. There are no supernatural beasts flying through the air, no otherworldly lords of evil sending minions from beyond, or turning humans into vomit-spewing puppets.
I’m not saying these things don’t exist. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that what I know is a thimbleful compared to the tsunami of shit I haven’t a clue about. I’m just saying that there is something here with us. Not demons—something worse—hidden in plain sight.
It’s obvious once you know what to look for–if you can stand to look. But that’s just it. People see what they want to see, and deny the rest. They shove it away in some dark place and hope it will stay there.
Maybe you’ll read this account, taken from my journals and fictionalized by Cricktor and Parks, as the paranoid delusions of an unstable young woman. I wouldn’t blame you. Up until last year, I would have thought the same.
But I know there are plenty of other people who’ve seen what I’ve seen. Maybe, like me, you ignored it as long as you could. Ignored it until your life started catching fire—dry shard by dry shard. Until the people you loved started dying off faster than they should. Until you started to suspect that what we call consensual reality is as substantial as fog. Maybe, like me, you thought you were losing your mind.
If so, this story is for you. I hope it helps you in some small way. If nothing else, know that you aren’t alone. Kat thought you could kill them with knives. Twice she tried. Twice she failed. And she was a better fighter than I could ever hope to be.
I believe the only way to fight is to stare at the truth until the fog burns out of your mind. Until you can see what’s been there all along.
This is my story. This is my knife.