The Nightmarys

PRELUDE

THE MAYFAIR APARTMENTS—

NEW STARKHAM, MASSACHUSETTS

On a Tuesday afternoon in early March, Zilpha Kindred prepared to do the laundry, as she’d done almost every Tuesday afternoon for the past forty years. This week, though, the old machine in her apartment was broken, so she left her schnauzer mix—an inquisitive little dog named Hepzibah—and wheeled the laundry basket to the elevator.

Downstairs, when the doors opened, the basement was almost entirely unfamiliar to the elderly woman, and a wave of unease overcame her. The corridor was longer than she recalled. The light was dim. The pipes hung from the low ceiling, craning at wicked angles every which way. A bitter scent lingered in the air. She was suddenly afraid and briefly considered returning to her apartment to call the local laundry service. But she had been doing her own laundry forever. And really, what did she have to be afraid of?

Zilpha walked for what seemed like an eternity before turning toward the laundry room. Its flickering fluorescent light instantly made her dizzy. She wished then that she had followed her earlier instinct and turned around. But she figured the job would be quick, and then she could go back upstairs and carry on with her day. In the meantime, she’d brought an old paperback to keep her company.

She filled and started the washer, then sat and waited and read her book. The water cycled. After a few minutes, Zilpha heard a thumping noise inside the machine. It became a hard, constant banging, as if she had accidentally dropped a shoe in with the detergent. When she opened the lid, she found the basin filled with soapy water. Whatever was making the sound was hidden at the bottom. With a huff, she rolled up her sleeve and reached in, digging through the wet clothes. Finding nothing unusual, she closed the lid. Whirring, the machine started up again.

But before she sat down, the thumping noise returned. She thought it might just be the shifting weight of the load working itself out somehow. She listened for a few more seconds before opening the lid again.

To her surprise, a red froth had boiled at the water’s surface. Unlike the suds she’d seen earlier, there was a new substance, which reminded her of fat particles that rise to the top of a soup broth. Oily like meat. And worse, that bitter scent she encountered when the elevator door had opened was stronger now, as if coming from the red water. Her first instinct was that there was a problem with the machine or possibly the pipes. She decided to try another washer. Disgusted, she slowly reached into the basin to remove the pile of wet clothes.

But as Zilpha held the load, the laundry seemed to squirm like a fish. Alive. She shouted and dropped the pile back into the water, then stumbled away, her stomach in her throat.

Immediately, she tried to reason that she had imagined it. Briefly, she worried that Hepzibah had slipped inside the laundry bag upstairs, but then remembered kissing the dog goodbye at the apartment door. Zilpha could think of nothing, absolutely nothing, that might have provided a logical explanation for what she had just experienced, and so she reasoned that the sensation must have been in her head.

She eased her breathing, trying to calm her nerves. As she peered into the basin, where the clothes had sunk beneath the surface, her own dark reflection stared back from behind chunks of gristle. White globs of gore clung to her blank silhouette.

Then the lights flickered, and she could not bear another moment in that horrible basement.