Finding Dr. Lasker’s listing in the on-line college catalog worked better than a sleeping pill. Shelly slept through Lisa stumbling into the room, cursing at Shelly’s sneakers in the narrow path between their beds, and falling onto her bed on the other side of the cramped room after a bit too much to drink, but at least for once alone. She also slept through Lisa’s snoring and sleep- talking. Shelly did not know it was the sleep-talking and recurring nightmares that were the reason Lisa always tried to go to bed late and as often as possible with a bed-mate. It was also why she’d been an undergraduate, and now grad psych major.
Lisa had been a sleep-talker since childhood and alarmed her parents when they learned she not only talked in her sleep, but sometimes walked in her sleep. Several times her parents found her in the large pantry of their kitchen staring at the rear wall of the closet lined with wooden shelves. On one occasion they heard scratching noises in the kitchen closet and were shocked to see Lisa’s nails had almost broken off from scratching the back wall. It was then they discovered the hidden panel that when pulled open revealed a staircase leading to a small concealed room at the top of the house. The hand-drawn plans for the house constructed in the early eighteen hundreds, and the leather-bound records they had found in the basement offered no evidence the room existed.
When Lisa was five, she revealed to her parents that she had heard low moaning sounds emanating from somewhere above her room almost every night in that house. Nobody believed her, so she stopped telling them after a while. She never told anyone else either. She had hoped that getting away to college would end the moaning and the nightmares, but it hadn’t. That small room and the eerie noises seemed to be imprinted in her brain, emerging in her dreams unless she drank herself to sleep or exhausted herself with sex. She had read in one of her courses that dreams have sexual roots and was doing everything she could to sexually uproot her dreams.
In her application for a roommate, Lisa asked for someone who did not smoke and who was not noisy after ten p.m. The last requirement was forced on her by her parents who hoped sending her away to college would “straighten her out” and turn her into a ‘studier’. Lisa, afraid of her nightmares and her sleep-walking, refused to go to sleep until, all partied-out, she was convinced she wouldn’t be able to dream. It seemed a good plan and had worked fairly well until tonight. Something was causing her to talk in her sleep again. Something was making her cry
into her pillow. She hadn’t done that in a long time. She had never dreamt about Shelly before either. The truth was, she didn’t like her room-mate much, maybe because she didn’t go partying with her? So why was Shelly in her dream tonight?
Why did she see Shelly slowly undressing some unidentifiable man who seemed frozen as she touched and kissed him for what seemed like hours and then dropped down on her knees before his open jeans. She’d never seen Shelly with a man in the three weeks they had been on campus together and couldn’t imagine Shelly servicing any man with her lips as she was doing in the dream. Lisa felt her own excitement building as she watched Shelly’s head, her hair bouncing off her shoulders, as the man stood gazing down at her hidden by some kind of mist. And then everything changed. The man who had been a stone-like statue lowered his hands and placed
them around Shelly’s neck. I didn’t know she was into that, Lisa thought as the man began to slowly grip tightly with his fingers. The harder he squeezed, the more Lisa felt as if her own breath was being stopped.
Shelly would have been alarmed if she’d been awake to hear Lisa moaning her name. She slept through it all and woke up at six-thirty as usual. The sun was peeking through the venetian blinds. Nobody ever dusted them, and the cheap plastic was like a dust magnet. She was about to bend down for her sneakers, eager to head for the park and take a morning jog, when suddenly she remembered what happened at the park yesterday. She sat on the edge of the bed, paralyzed. Had he been real? Was any of it real?
“No,” Lisa cried out in her sleep, feeling the fingers clamping down too tight. “What now,” Shelly thought, thinking of waking her air-head roomie.
“No. Shelly, please no? Don’t go there?”
Shelly jumped. Was Lisa calling my name? What’s going on, she thought as she looked at Lisa wrapped in her blanket, still wearing the clothes from last night. Should I wake her, she wondered. She leaned closer and smelled alcohol on Lisa’s breath. Idiot, Shelly thought as she decided to leave Lisa exactly where she was since now the drunken roomie was just snoring. If she misses her classes again it will be her own fault. I’m not going to fight with her again. That’s for sure.
Shelly picked up her robe and flip flops and her little plastic bucket of soap, shampoo and conditioner. She listened at Lisa’s breathing again. No more moaning. I must have not heard right, she thought and headed for the shower room. Before she left the dorm room she locked the
door. She almost never did that until she left for classes, but something about this morning was different and locking the room had been instinctive, automatic.
The shower room was still deserted. Most of the girls who shared the showers were still asleep. Shelly flicked the wall switch turning on the overhead fluorescent lights and searched for a stall that looked cleaner than the others, less slimy. She hated to think what went on in these disgusting stalls when nobody was looking. She found a hook to hang her bucket. The pipes and faucet had corrosion bumps on their chrome surfaces, but at least this early the water would still be hot. Later in the morning, with so many girls and guys taking showers throughout the building, the water cooled quickly, the heating system being almost as old as the dorms, some of which had been built nearly fifty years earlier when the school had been a girl’s reformatory and experimental penal farm, complete with corn fields and a pig slaughter house. It was a past well buried by the founding trustees of the college, now a state university.
Shelly slipped off her robe and yesterday’s panties and dropped them to the floor. She lifted her tee shirt over her head and turned on the water. At first it was cold, but then it became too hot. Typical, she thought as she leaned in to adjust the two faucet handles that always seemed to be working against each other. A person could get badly scalded with this crappy system, she thought, as finally the water seemed to be beating down steadily, if not powerfully, at a decent temperature.
Careful not to slip on the soap residue on the tiled floor of the stall, she stepped into the spray. It felt good, the stinging droplets hitting her soft skin. She let the water wet her hair and then drip down her body. To save time, she applied shampoo first. She watched the shampoo foam through her shoulder-length honey-toned tresses and trail down her front. The pressure of
the shower was good this early in the morning. The water was relaxing her as it cascaded down her back. She felt as if her worries were fading. I’m naked in a waterfall, she mused, hoping nobody else would come and the pressure would drop or the temperature slide to freezing cold. Maybe I won’t bother going to see that professor after all, she thought as she let the shower spray down her ever more relaxed body. “I must be crazy,” she laughed, “Ghosts? Impossible.”
The gentle spray of the water reminded her of her last night with Jeff, when he had joined her in the shower after they had made love in her bedroom. Her mother had been out working so she and Jeff had played hooky from classes to be able to use a real bed and not the back seat of a car or a rental for an hour in a motel. It was when she thought he was going to marry her, before he told her he was going to film school in California. She remembered how he had looked at her, his eyes seeming to pick out her flesh from the soapy water streaming down over her hair, shoulders and breasts. Just before he kissed her and they made love in the shower, he had whispered, “You are so beautiful,” and she had believed him.
Shelly reached for the faucet and gave it a hard twist. Soap stinging her eyes, she used the towel gently on her face and then her body. “No more men for a while,” she told herself.
When Shelly finished patting down, she wrapped the towel around her torso and prepared to step out of the stall. Instantly she felt a chill race through her. On the tiled wall of the shower, written in streaks of white soap, were six shaky letters,
When Shelly looked down, she saw an almost used up bar of white soap in her hand, one end crushed.
Shelly dropped the soap. Did I write that? How did that get there? Her legs felt rubbery.
She was unable to move, staring at the name, unable to grasp what it was doing there.
When she finally felt steadier, she took her wash cloth and wiped the words from the tiles, then aimed the shower head at the wall and watched the soap scum drip down to the tiled floor and the tarnished drain.
When she looked at the wall again, the word was still there, its outline barely showing against the dull tiles, but still clearly there -- the name of the chairman of the Parapsychology Department.