It came with little surprise to Dom that Oma was up and walking the house in the middle of the night. The nursing staff at Immaculate warned him that it might happen. Miranda, the placement student, told him that it was common for the elderly to sleepwalk.
Dom crept out of bed and crossed the room. He grappled with the dark like a blindfolded birthday boy pinning the tail on the donkey, fondling the air until his hands hit the wall and slid over to the doorknob. He inched the door open. A thread of pale light crawled up the floor, onto the bed, across Lily’s face. She stirred.
“Where are you going?”
“Shhh. Go back to bed.”
“Dom, it’s five forty-two.”
“It’s okay. I just need to use the washroom. Go back to sleep.”
She rolled out of the light, and Dom closed the door. The last thing he needed was for Lily to hear her grandmother shuffling about the house. He pressed an ear to the door and waited for his wife’s snores to gain momentum.
They had set Oma a room in the den at the end of the hall, and the door stood wide open. With the help of a nightlight, Dom steered himself through the dark. Again, the shuffling.
Shhhftt, shhhftt, shhhftt.
The dining room. How the hell did she make it so far?If she keeps this up, I’ll have to baby-proof the place, gate the stairs to the basement. Then again, itwouldn’t be the worst thing to happen, her taking a spill; the old stick never liked me anyway.
He saw his breath in the kitchen. A frost-white burn coated the window above the sink, January’s relentless kiss seeping through the glass. He rubbed his hands over his forearms and up under the sleeves of his bed shirt. One room over, the shuffling stopped.
The dining area was void of microwave and stove-clock radiance and was much shadier. In the darkness, Dom could make out the old woman’s shallow profile as she stood at the wooden hutch across the room—her hutch—the only piece of furniture that survived the fire at Immaculate. Her hands were buried in a drawer at her waist. Dom fingered the light switch but stopped himself from flicking it. It could have been an old article he had read, but it felt more like one of those precautionary instincts programmed into one’s being. Don’twake a sleepwalker.
Oma’s silver hair shrouded her face and hung past her shoulders. It lifted and fell in feathery wisps as she worked her arms in the drawer.
Pop. It sounded like a dislocated shoulder sliding back into place.
Pop. Another item snapped, nunchucks hanging off her fingers.
Pop. Not nunchucks. Broken candlesticks.
Stepping toward her, Dom stubbed his toe on the dining room table, and a shrill squeak disrupted the silence.
Christ. He held his breath. Might as well turn on the lights and hit the stereo while you’re at it.
Oma jerked her head toward him—her eyes still closed—before turning back to her work. Dom exhaled a long breath. He crossed the room to the disoriented woman and gently took her forearm below the hem of her gown sleeve, cream-white and paisley patterned with her own needlework. Her skin was tightly stretched, hot.
“This way, Oma,” he said. Delicately, he rotated her toward the kitchen. She continued to snap the ghosts of candlesticks—her hands coated with the greasy sheen of wax flakes—balling her fists and repeatedly making a breaking gesture. Trailing behind, he let her work her way back on her own, his hands on either side of her shoulders as she dragged her feet forward.
Oma froze outside the kitchen, so suddenly that Dom nearly rear-ended her. The silence in the house was heavy; even Lily’s snores, which could typically be heard from any corner of their bungalow, were stifled. The stillness clamped itself over Dom’s torso like a lead vest, and a deep pity thickened in his stomach.
She must be having a bad dream. The fire. In the morning, I’ll take the rest of the candles to the garage. Get them out of sight.
He pitied himself, too, though; aiding his wife’s frail, sleepwalking grandmother was the most honest thing he had done for Lily since their intimacy crawled into a dead zone. Standing outside the kitchen in the solitude of the chilly dark, where the silver-black appliances and obsidian countertops were cold and customary, he imagined Miranda, and a lustful warmth smoothed his gooseflesh. Her sunburst skin. The pear-shaped birthmark above her pelvic line. The scent of rosewood incense threaded into the fibres of her bedsheets.
Dom’s nerves shot to the ceiling—Miranda evaporating like smoke in still air—as Oma burst into a severe coughing fit. Her upper body heaved as she spun to face him, milky eyes blazing, mouth a toothless hole. She turned and sped across the living room with alarming speed.
Dom raced over as she struggled with the doorknob, pounded and scratched at the front door. His heart banged in his throat, enough to shake his vision and wet his palms. Oma doubled over and expelled air from her lungs in great, coarse gusts.
Then, as quickly as the fit started, it ended. Oma lifted her head, her hands fell to her sides, and she rested her forehead on the door. Save for her deep breathing, the house was silent again. Dom, with his heart still galloping, found his legs and took the old woman’s arm.
He prayed Lily slept through the noise.
Chris Campeau is a writer of short fiction and creative nonfiction. His work has appeared in publications such as Deadman’s Tome, Polar Borealis, and The Furious Gazelle Magazine, and his first children’s book, The Vampire Who Had No Fangs, is available via Amazon. He studied writing in Ottawa, Canada, where he lives with his wife and two cats and works as a B2B copywriter. Creepshow 2 on VHS is his most prized possession.
Featured Image (c) Poltergeist.