Your great, great grandmother only lived to be sixty-three. On her deathbed, she told your great grandmother that she had been cursed by an old woman from the old country, cursed during a “picture show” back when silent films were black and white. This was back during a time when there was a cinema announcer reading off of cards, back when someone played the piano in the background during the film.
Your great, great grandmother had refused to give up her seat for the old woman, and the old woman had cursed her, uttering something terrible in the old tongue. Your great, great grandmother was twenty-three at the time, and she had sworn that ever since then, your family has been cursed to never get a good night’s rest. Your great, great grandmother certainly didn’t.
Your great, great grandmother got pregnant with your great grandmother the very next year. It wasn’t until your great grandmother turned twenty-three that she started showing the same symptoms as your great, great grandmother, that lack of a good night’s sleep.
Your great grandmother died at the age of fifty-eight, your grandmother died at the age of fifty-six, and your mother died last year at the age of forty-eight. Your uncle on your mother’s side died at the age of forty. In fact, everyone in your family on your mother’s side has died too early in life. Their deaths were all the same, all from the same general illness that has plagued the blood of your family ever since that fateful day when your great, great grandmother refused to give up her seat at the “picture show.”
But you don’t believe in that curse nonsense. You believe in genetics. Your family members died of natural causes, heart attacks and strokes, and you know those deaths were because of a genetic disorder, that lack of good sleep you seem to have inherited, not some curse.
Even so, ever since you turned twenty-three a month ago, your sleep has been pure crap. You wake up exhausted and shaking, and this isn’t doing you any favors for your employment. You need to get some rest just to function, so you want to see a specialist, but you don’t have insurance, so that isn’t happening.
Thankfully, there’s an experiment going on at the local university, a sleep study, so you decided to participate. Because of your unique syndrome, they let you in, even though a ton of people applied for this study.
You’ve already been paid two-hundred dollars in advance, and you’ll get a thousand once all is said and done. They want you to take a new sleep medication, one that’s supposed to help you remember your dreams. All you have to do is log your dream in a dream diary after you wake up.
You never remember your dreams, so this should be fun. The university has even promised to look into your unique sleep problem once the study has completed. They find you uniquely fascinating.
You took your first pill an hour before your noon nap, and then you laid down for sleep. You have to go to work tonight, but that’s okay. You usually try to catch a few Zs before having to go in, so this is a double boon for you. These pills might even allow you to get some great sleep…You never know.
You wonder what kind of strange dreams you’ll actually have, and that thought makes you smile as you close your eyes.
You wake up.
It’s night outside of your dingy little studio apartment on the third floor of this building. You can see nothing but black outside of the dirty windows you have yet to clean.
You check your phone. It reads 12:00 AM. You didn’t call in to work last night. You know you’re in trouble, but hopefully you can talk your way out of this one. Sure, it’s only a burger-joint job, but you still need the money. If it weren’t for your dad lending you a hand, you’d never even be able to afford this dirty little place.
You flip on the TV. Your flatscreen just has a black screen with the large white letters “INTERMISSION” printed across it. It’s the same for every streaming channel. None of them seem to be working.
You feel like something strange is going on. You groan as you crawl out of your small, twin-sized bed. It’s time to put some clothes on anyway, and you want to do a little investigating.
You scrape together some clothes, put on your shoes, and grab the bare necessities: keys, wallet, phone. You catch a glimpse of the TV as you walk to the door. It still states, “INTERMISSION.” You shake your head and leave your apartment.
The lights are flickering in the upstairs hallway. There are smears of blood across the dirty beige walls, and you can see bloody handprints here and there. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up as you look around for some psycho, some deranged killer, but you see nothing.
You step back into your apartment, lock the door, and dial 911. You receive a female voice that simply says, “We’re sorry, but the number you have dialed is in intermission. Please, hang up and wait for intermission to end.”
You hang up.
You go online on your phone. All of the ads that pop up simply read, “INTERMISSION.” You go to your favorite news site. You get a 404 error that states, “Page in Intermission.” You go to any website you can think of. You get more 404 errors that state, “Page in Intermission.” Feeling frustrated, you type in, “intermission definition.” The search simply comes up with, “What you are in.”
Now you know something is wrong, very wrong.
You head back to the door, unlock it, and open it just a crack. You look out into the hall, but you see nothing but an empty hallway, though the walls are still smeared with blood.
You check the time on your phone. It is 12:00 AM. It was midnight when you woke up. Something is very, very, very wrong here.
You carefully enter the hallway, and you quickly use your keys to lock the door. You can always run back here if necessary, but if you do, you certainly don’t want a nasty surprise waiting for you.
You creep down the hallway. You need to get to the stairs. There’s no way you’re taking the elevator in this situation.
You make your way down the hallway toward the stairwell. You hear a door unlock and then the creak of that door opening. You turn to look for the source of the sound, but you see none of the doors you’ve passed have been unlocked and opened. Your adrenaline spikes as you realize that it’s your door that was unlocked and opened.
You stare back at your door in horror as a withered grey hand with sharp black nails appears from out of your doorway. It scrapes its nails along the dirty beige wall right next to your door, leaving trails of white in the painted plaster.
You turn and run for the stairwell. You’re definitely not sticking around here.
You open the stairwell door and practically fall down the stairs in your haste. You feel like peeing yourself, but you hold it in. Whatever is going on is thoroughly in a realm outside of your understanding, but you at least know to get out of the building. That’s your number one priority right now.
You head down to the first floor and exit the stairwell.
You enter the first-floor hallway. The walls down here are also stained with smears of blood along with bloody handprints. The lights flicker overhead. You need to get out of here.
You exit the building and walk out into the summer heat. It’s night out, obviously, but the full moon shines down on the town from above, the moon shining down along with an untold number of twinkling stars. Normally, this would be a great night to take a walk around town, but right now, you’re too scared to even think about it. You need to get somewhere safe.
You walk along the sidewalk in the general direction of the police station, at least, where you think the police station is. Thankfully, you’ve never had a reason to head to the police station until now.
Everything is quiet around you as the streetlamps flicker overhead. You hear the opening of the apartment building door, and then that door shuts. You’ve made your way down the street, so you turn and look, but you see no one around, just empty parked cars with no signs of people or town life at all. You cannot see anyone around your apartment building.
Goosebumps crawl up your arms. You are steadily growing more and more fearful with each step. You can sense something following you. You know it.
You head to the edge of a four-way, but you don’t recognize the buildings around you. Unknown shops and a couple of bars are in this old part of town, but the signs on the buildings and windows simply say, “INTERMISSION.” You look up at the street sign in front of you, but the green signs on a post simply state that you are on the corner of “INTERMISSION” and “INTERMISSION.”
You hear slow but soft footsteps behind you. You turn to look, and you swear you can see a dark, hunched shape move behind a parked car twenty feet from you. You can feel panic rising within you now. You need to get out of here.
You cross the street, instinctively looking both ways for oncoming traffic, but that’s stupid in context. The town is dead silent…Not even bugs are chirping.
The unknown shops around you have blood and bloody handprints smeared across the glass of their windows. The parked cars around you are all empty. You can see blood and bloody handprints smeared across those windows and windshields as well.
You pass a black pole with a town clock mounted on top of it. A flickering streetlamp shines down upon the clockface, and you can make out the hands of the clock pointing straight up…It’s still midnight.
You do not know what to do. You know something is following you, but you have no idea where to go. You want to panic, but your rational, reasonable self will not allow you to.
You decide to throw a tantrum instead. You walk up to a plastic trashcan outside of a shop and kick it a few times, cussing away as you do. You would have felt better over this little tantrum, but you hear a short chuckle from the direction you came. It sounds like an old woman.
You keep moving.
The hairs on the back of your neck are standing on end. You know you are being followed. You can feel it. It’s not your imagination.
You walk down the street and head toward a lit building in the distance. The unknown buildings, bars, and shops around you are all dark inside, but the building ahead has lit windows and a lit door, so you head toward it.
You pull out your phone and call 911 again. You get a female operator’s voice that simply states, “We’re sorry, but the number you have dialed is in intermission. Please, hang up, and—”
You end the call and swear up a storm. Your mother would have smacked you across the mouth for what you just said, but at this point, you don’t care. You need to get out of this crazy place. This can’t be your town…It can’t be.
You head to the lit building up ahead. You make the mistake of turning around, and in the distance on the sidewalk just twenty feet away, you can see a hunched figure in black robes standing there.
“H…Hello?” you choke out.
The stranger in the distance chuckles. It sounds like that old woman’s voice you heard earlier, and it does not sound friendly.
This strange old woman reaches up with her left hand, and that hand is the grey and gnarled hand with the black nails you saw at your apartment door. She runs her nails across the blood-smeared window of a parked car, leaving trails of white, scratched glass behind.
You stumble as you turn to run, but you catch yourself with one hand before you can fall, your fingertips pushing off the sidewalk in order to right yourself. You run toward the building with the lit door and windows.
You make your way to the glass door of this new building and open that door, scrambling through the entrance to get inside this building. Much to your horror, you look around and recognize these beige walls…This is your apartment building.
The walls of your building are the dirty beige you hate so much. There is still blood smeared everywhere, still bloody handprints on the walls, and the word “INTERMISSION” is spelled out in large bloody letters here and there.
You know you exited this building and walked across town. There’s no way you should have come back to this cursed place. You walked down the street in a straight line. You never got turned around and circled back. You know that. You know that for a fact.
Your brain was frozen in studying this new conundrum, so you do not hear the door open behind you until it’s too late. You turn out of surprise, and there is the old woman standing right in front of you.
The top half of her face is hidden by a black hood, but the lower half of her face is a withered, wrinkled, and stark grey. Her black lips are parted slightly, and you can see jet-black teeth lining the red gums of her mouth.
She lets forth a sound that’s somewhere between a growl and a shout, a sort of “NYAGH!” sound, and then her left hand slashes at your face with those razor-sharp ebon nails at the ends of her gnarled grey fingertips.
You instinctively raise your right arm to protect your face. Her nails rake across your right hand, opening up the skin of your palm with ease. You turn and stumble as you catch yourself on the wall, and then you push off that wall in order to run, but not before those deadly nails rake across your back, leaving bloody slits in your shirt.
You leave a bloody handprint on the wall as you run toward the stairwell. There’s nowhere to go but up, because you don’t think you can get past this thing that attacked you in order to flee back out the building.
You hit the stairwell door and tug on the handle, but the door is stuck. You can’t open it for some reason. You pull hard, but the door will not budge…There is no lock on the stairwell door. You know that.
You turn as the old woman in black attacks again. Her nails rake across your left arm as you bring it up to protect your face. Blood wells up from the slashes across your left arm to match the blood dripping from your right palm and across your back.
You kick up with your right foot, but the old hag grabs your leg and slings you around like a toy. You bounce off of the wall on your right and roll across the short, dirty, orange carpet lining this old building. Your fear and adrenaline are off the scale.
You cry out as you are slashed across your legs, back, and buttocks before you can react. You turn over and raise your arms to protect your face, and you are mercilessly slashed across your arms and stomach.
You try to stand up, but you are picked up as gnarled grey hands grab you around the waist. You are tossed into the other wall, spinning in the air as you do, and your breath is temporarily knocked from your lungs as your back impacts that wall. You slide down the wall, leaving a smear of blood behind. You push up off of that wall, but black nails slash you across the left cheek.
She grabs you by your shirt and throws you backwards. You hit the stairwell door and slide down it. You quickly stand up, tug at the handle on the door, and it opens.
You can feel nails rake across your back again as you cross into the stairwell.
You stagger, stumble, and run up the apartment stairs. You are all panic now. You don’t know what to do, and your mind is locked in sheer terror. All you can think of is to get back to your apartment and lock the door behind you.
You’re bleeding everywhere now, and you’re beginning to feel lightheaded. You really need to lay down. You’re beginning to feel sleepy.
You make it to the third-floor stairwell door. You open the door and step out into the hallway…
You stop as you take a few steps into the hallway. The door behind you shuts.
The lights are still flickering overhead, the walls are still smeared with blood and bloody handprints, but the word “INTERMISSION” is written in blood all over the walls, over and over again, everywhere, but that’s not what roots you in place.
There are bodies everywhere.
You recognize yourself, yourself in different slashed clothes, the bodies of “you” strewn out all across the hallway in different places, in different positions, those bodies slashed and bloody with multiple wounds. There are at least thirty bodies in this hall, all of you…all of you.
You stumble forward through this minefield of corpses, this minefield of you.
The door behind you opens, but you’re feeling weak. Your mind begins to fog as you try to make it to your apartment door. You turn and raise your arms as black nails slash across both arms at the same time. You turn again, stumble, and catch the wall with your right hand, leaving another bloody smear across it.
You cry out as you are slashed across the back again, and you turn to face your attacker once more. You trip and fall over a body behind you. The back of your head hits the floor, and the sudden blow dazes you.
The old woman standing over you slashes you across your belly. She then picks you up by your waist and pitches you like trash. You fly over several bodies, corpses of you. You crawl in your own blood over one of your own dead bodies.
The pain you are feeling from everywhere is so intense that you can barely move. You are so lightheaded, you can barely think. You know you are going to die, but there is only one thing left on your mind at this moment, only one thing left that you can do.
There is a single clean spot on the wall right in front of you. You reach forward with your bloody right index finger and trace out, “INTERMISSION.”
Gnarled grey fingers pull back your head as black nails rake across your stretched, bare throat. A fountain of blood sprays from your gashed throat as darkness closes in around you.
You wake up to your alarm. You groan, reach for your phone, and swipe it to shut down the irritating sound. You pick up the phone and check the time. It reads 2:00 PM. Your nap was two hours long.
You pick yourself up out of bed and wipe the crust from your eyes. The nightmare you just had haunts you, and you don’t feel like going to work tonight. You don’t even want to write about your nightmare in your dream diary, but you probably will when you start feeling more like yourself.
You dial your boss to tell her you’re not coming in tonight, and she’s mad at you, but you tell her you’ll take Leon’s shift tomorrow night. She says she’ll call Leon and then call you back.
You get up and grab some coffee. You don’t want to go back to sleep. You’re afraid to.
Your boss calls you and says that Leon will take your shift today, but he wasn’t happy. That’s understandable, but you really need a day off to recuperate. You feel like you’ve been trampled by a rhino.
You sit around and do nothing productive all day. You watch TV, play games on your phone, and surf the net. You don’t really feel like existing right now.
You try to write about your nightmare in your dream diary, but the memory of it is too vivid, too fresh…too traumatizing.
You order out. You don’t really have the money to waste on fast food, but you spend it anyway. You order pizza. You pay the delivery boy, take your pizza and soda, and lock the door. You’re just going to vegetate tonight.
You flip through your list of shows on your TV and decide to watch a romcom. That’s the furthest thing you can think of from whatever nightmare it was that you had. You have to get motivated for work tomorrow night, but that doesn’t matter right now.
You eat your pizza and watch your show. You get about halfway through it before you get sleepy and your eyes begin to close. Your eyes snap open as you keep yourself from falling asleep. You’re still afraid to doze off.
You blink a couple of times as you realize your movie has stopped for some reason. You let out a low whine as you stare at the large white letters on your black TV screen.
Those big block letters simply spell out, “INTERMISSION.”
Intermission Copyright © 2022 Matthew L. Marlott