When I met Emily, the thing that amazed me the most was how easily the pieces fit together. She was beautiful, to say the least, but her beauty wasn’t the only detail that drew my attention at first. It is a cliché, and one of the worst… But when I saw her; it was as if everything as if every gear, lever and switch in my brain clicked into place. This is where you are supposed to be. This was always the plan from the beginning. Every free-falling memory of lost loves and foiled plans fell out through the seams like the recycled garbage they truly were.
When I met her, I was not exactly the put together human I consider myself to be today. Some might have even called me a vapid, wasteland of a twenty-four year old caught somewhere between a stoned stupor and a stacking history and likelihood of manic depression. But one night of confidence at a bar in my local town changed that – one fateful call through the crowd to a girl I had never met transcended me into the person I thankfully am right now.
So when I tell you I love her, it’s not a love that can be surmised by one thought or a fleeting feeling – like the way she looks when she steals my pillow in the middle of the night, or how she falls asleep during all of her favorite movies. It’s a voice that beats down through my bones to the very core of me and says that I have my path. That sensation is what drives every one of my thoughts and actions.
Last year I asked her to move in with me to my tiny, depressing one bedroom apartment walk-up. She said yes. Five months ago, after a dinner at the place of our first date and a walk to a waterside park, I asked her to marry me, and she said yes.
I felt like nothing in my life could ever be more perfect.
That is, until she told me about the reoccurring nightmares.
Everyone has them, I suppose. When I was a little kid, my brain’s ranking favorite was the one where I would be out in the garden pulling weeds with my grandmother, only to find out that underneath the weed was the monster in whatever R.L. Stine book I had read that week. Sometimes the monster would go for me, or knock my poor arthritic grandmother onto her back and attack her still. As an adult, I often dream that my father never died, and that he only lives in a cabin somewhere in the woods not far from here. He tells me that his death was a sham (though I watched it happen) and he must stay there in hiding. I go to that cabin sometimes, and talk to him. The brain has a strange way of working through grief. I read it was best to just go with it.
So naturally, when Emily told me that a man visited her in her dreams, I was, at least at first, pretty understanding.
You see, Emily has had this dream since she was a child. When she lived at home, her bedroom was on the first floor, adjacent to an easily accessible path that led to the back door of the home. Often she would be forced to have the blinds closed because her brother’s friends or her dad would be outside in the backyard and could easily see into her bedroom.
Each time, the dream begins the exact same way. She is in her bed where she fell asleep and is awakened by a voice at the screen door beside her. The curtains are open, and she can see there is a man, wearing a single colored outfit with a short cropped beard. She rolls over casually, closer to the man, because she is not afraid. His face is right up against hers, through the glass, and he whispers.
“What does he say?” I ask, every time she recounts the dream to me.
“I don’t know,” she’d reply, burying her head in my arms in embarrassment. “It’s stupid, it’s just a dream. The weird thing is just… that I only have it when I’m at home, not here in the apartment.”
Emily had tried writing down the details in the past, and her notes are always the same. She wakes up, rolls over, and is face to face with the man. She can see into his cold blue eyes, but she can never remember what he says.
No big deal, right? Just a dream. Just a dream.
Last week, we moved into our dream home. It was a fixer-upper for sure, but it was in our hometown on a short little cul-de-sac that was tucked away into suburbia. It hasn’t been the easiest transition, but the dream of a white picket fence is still on the horizon. We have had contractors in and out for the past few days and each of us has had to be take off of work for the construction. As for sleeping options, we really only had two choices. The basement or the ‘first’ floor.
We settled on the first floor, taking over the master bedroom and making it ours in hours. Emily hung up her artwork, while I set about finding space for my clothes and my laptop, the only necessities required in my not-so-Spartan life. The first few nights, we slept like babies after days worth of work. That is, up until Wednesday night.
It started off even more normal than the others. We had finished with the contractors in the early afternoon and spent most of the day and night burning through old movies in our now combined collection. When Em was conked out at 10:00, I smiled to myself and let her sleep for another hour before I carried her off to bed at 11:00. I was pretty beat, even with a light schedule, and fell asleep beside her soon after.
The first time I woke up was not very unusual. I have been coughing a lot this time of year, a problem my doctor has chalked up to allergies. Because of this, I got up and chugged a bottle of water. The cable box clock read 12:30 in fine white print. I stumbled off back to bed after tripping over my cat, who yelped defiantly in response. Clearly trying to coax some food out of his injuries.
The second time I woke up was not because of my allergies.
I was dazed, and briefly considered the fact that I might still be dreaming. But the clock read 4:00 A.M on the dor, and I realized I was sitting in my bed, right next to the window in my normal spot. I was turned towards Emily, and it seemed she was awake too. Her eyes were open, only… I couldn’t see her pupils. I whispered ‘Bugs’ to her, my nickname for her sassy attitude, but she replied only in a muttered monotone.
“The fork in the road will yield a mad hatter dressed in white,” she said quietly.
She sounded are clear as she could be, but I considered the possibility I was still dazed. I tried to move my legs, but found that to be impossible. I turned my head ever so slightly to the right, an effort that felt like moving a dozen boulders, and looked out the window beside me.
Standing there, just behind the open window pane, was a man dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit. His face was stone serious, with blue eyes that cut through the glass and locked on like a missile. He had a close cropped beard, as Emily had described, with a darkened birthmark on his neck shaped like spilled coffee soaked into his pale ash skin. He seemed surprised to see me, at first. But he regained his confidence with a snicker and quickly turned and walked away. I tried to scream as he did, but my voice was bottled up in my throat like the worst sneeze imaginable. I soon found it hard to breathe.
It was only after I took my eyes off the clownish man in the orange jumpsuit, who was now walking into the woods behind my house, that I felt my airs inflate like a balloon. I turned over to Emily and shook her. Her eyes were now closed and she was sleeping – like nothing had happened.
“Why did he leave?” she said through a groggily.
“What do you mean why did he leave?! What do you mean!” I screamed, losing my cool at this point.
She rubbed her eyes on looked at me. “What happened hun?”
“You said, ‘Why did he leave?’” I said patiently. “Why?”
“I did?” She said, still half asleep.
I stared at her, dumbfounded as she stood up and walked to the bathroom down the hall. “I had that dream again. The one about the guy visiting me. You were there.”
Yesterday morning, we argued for hours about what happened vs what existed in our imagination. We researched the concept of shared hallucinations, which are extremely rare for healthy individuals. We have even heard about sleep paralysis. While it seemed a possible explanation for some of the story, I can’t seem to accept it. Last night, Emily slept peacefully without any visits. But I haven’t slept since.
As I get ready to attempt to rest tonight, with Emily already fast asleep in the bed beside me, I can’t help but wonder. What do I do if he comes back?