After William abandoned my bed, night tormented me. First sleeplessness, then nightmare possessed me: a driver-less carriage, raced in dimming light or terrifying images whirled insanely. When day came, I was too exhausted to rise.
In a distant pharmacy, candles struggled against the oak interior and the fog pressing against the window. The chemist listened, his features changing in the flickering light. Eventually, he made me a draught.
“Follow the dosage closely,” he advised.
It didn’t work. So I doubled the amount and fell into a nightmare-filled sleep, waking past midnight. To my terror, through a faint miasma, I saw a man closing a bag at the foot of the bed. He went to draw breath but then saw me watching. Frowning, he sprang for the door and passed through without opening it.
Despite my fear and hampered by my nightgown I followed him. He passed through the closed front door as I reached the bottom stair. While I hesitated, the door opened, William came in and the clock struck one.
“Amelia!” he exclaimed.
“I thought I heard an intruder,” I answered, “Where have you been?”
“You’ve been dreaming,” he answered, bolting the door. “Go back to bed.”
The following evening I increased the dose. No nightmares but little sleep. Night after night the same.
It was unbearable. I took to walking the streets in William’s clothes.
Another world: gas light, unknown others, unknown business, smoke, dung, tobacco, alcohol, sweat. Painted women: unobserved, lolling; observed, enticing. If rejected, they slumped. If chosen, fear under painted smiles.
Then I saw my intruder again. Carrying his bag, he sprang up steps, disappeared through closed doors and reappeared, his bag lighter, his grin broader. He bounced past the tawdry women, past the slithering men. Visible only to me.
Then I caught him.
“Who are you?” I whispered.
“I am Nightmare,” he hissed. Something fell from his bag as he wrenched free. It rolled towards a tramp sleeping in a doorway and broke open, engulfing him in a glistening miasma. The tramp started to twitch and then screamed himself awake.
After that, I stayed at home.
Then last night I awoke with foreboding. I crept to my husband’s room and found him asleep. Nightmare stood at the foot of the bed, opening his bag and leering.
Once, William had loved me and I slept in his arms. I still loved him. I rushed at Nightmare and tried to shut the bag but he fought me. The bag burst open and its contents crashed down onto William, exploding as they struck him.
William sat up, his eyes opened wide. Whatever he saw made him flail and his mouth opened in a soundless scream before he fell back, horror still frozen on his lifeless face.
Nightmare threw his head back and smiling, breathed the miasma in. Then he disappeared.
The doctor says it was a stroke.
But all I can hear is Nightmare hissing as he left: “you did that” and know I will never sleep again.
Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission