We recently went up to Michigan to a lake house, along with half of Ohio, and we went with our friends. Each afternoon, the two 10 year-olds and the 6 year-old and the 5 year-old and me and the other mom would go up the stairs to the hot tub that sat in a little hut overlooking the lake. It was as dreamy as it sounds and we would loll around there in the foam with the chlorine fumes stinging our eyes and somehow, we got into a thing of telling stories. Or rather, the 10 year-olds would ask for stories and the moms would tell them and the little kids would listen with their eyes getting big.
We told some good ones, including the one about Great-Great-Grandpa Jack Roth running away from his abusive father in Cleveland at the age of 12 and hitchhiking to the mining town of Crested Butte, Colorado, where he got a job driving a dynamite wagon. The mules spooked one day and ran and Jack was afraid the wagon would tip over and blow up if he tried to turn them. So he drove them, running at top-speed, pulling a buckboard full of dynamite, through the center of Crested Butte. (They eventually got tired and stopped and the wagon did not blow up. Jack also contracted syphilis during this period of his life, but we left that part out of the story.)
And my friend, who is a doctor and felt unnecessarily self-conscious about her abilities as a storyteller, told what wound up being one of the scariest stories I’ve heard in my life. It was about a recurring nightmare she had when she was four or five, during a period when her family was looking for a new house to buy.
In her dream, she would go into the basement of a new house with her father. Sitting in the basement room was an old woman with short gray hair. Behind the old woman, the basement wall was filled with undulating caterpillars. The caterpillars were all half blue, and half red. Then my friend saw that the old woman too had one eye that was red, and one eye that was blue. The father told my friend that she had to stay in the basement with the old woman. As he spoke, he turned around. And he had one eye that was red. And one eye that was blue.
That was where the dream ended. I found it so chilling that even as a 39 year-old sitting in a hot tub at 4:00 in the afternoon, I got shivers. “The only thing better,” I said to my friend, “is if then, you looked in a mirror on the wall. And you had one eye that was red. And one eye that was blue.”
What was it that was so frightening about the dream? Something about the split colors. Something about the unnaturalness of the eyes. Something about the father being sort of infected with this unnaturalness. Definitely something about your parents changing, about your parents somehow not being trustworthy. As a child, if there’s anything more scary than that, I don’t know what it is.
Oh, that was a good story. And now I’ve given it to you.