I couldn’t say what woke me first – the first blush of dawn bleeding through the open windowpane or the insidious cold seeping up from the kitchen floor below me. I was still sweating, pinned on my back in only my nightgown, and my knees were splayed open – just as he had left me. I pressed my hands into the tiles, letting the comforting iciness creep into my palms and I lay half awake, glad to back amongst the familiar geometric constraints of the kitchen and the crumbs and the dust that could never be satisfactorily swept. Here, if only for a brief moment, I was safe.
I could hear movement throughout the house: my mother had already risen, early for a Tuesday. I could hear her shuffling about as subtle as a wounded elephant and I knew she’d already been to my room to check on me.
I was still shaken, disturbed and exhausted and aching from the nocturnal visions that had tormented me constantly since my Charlie was taken so suddenly. The corporeal reassurance of the floor made me disinclined to move; it wasn’t long before I felt my mother’s presence in the doorway.
“Agatha! Get up off the floor this instant, vulgar girl!” My mother had little patience for sleepwalking or psychic disturbances of any kind. In fact, she was a woman of little patience at all: whilst her perfunctory and practical manner had been the only thing that had saved me when the news came to the village that Charlie’s boat had been lost in the harbour, she had since turned unsympathetic and cruel.
I didn’t look at her, but kept my gaze to the thin sheen of grime under the stove. “And go wash yourself! You smell ever so frightful,” she added and I could tell her thick arms were crossed in front of her wide chest. “Go on, now! Move! And you can help your father in the shop today, I’ve had enough of the sight of you, horrid creature! Lying on the floor and wandering in the darkness isn’t going to bring him back – look at little Ginny Langridge down at number 42! She lost two husbands during the war and she’s younger than you and you don’t see her moping around!”
I could still feel the ghost of his weight on my chest, holding me fast to the floor but I managed to lift myself to a sitting position. My mother slammed her heel down, the sound jolting me like a slap.
If he appeared every night then perhaps I would have semblance of stability, something reliable I could steel myself for but the dreams were never constant. Only the presence of Dr. Stanhope and his syringe gave me some warning but even in the sedative-induce haze it was not certain. To remain awake was no option: at the first signs of restlessness my mother would call the doctor and I would be unwillingly drawn into the dark world of sleep once more.
The dreams all start the same: I am pulled from my bed and my room dissolves around me in a haze of fog and the darkest of light. The only hue is a dark, dark green. I am driven forward in bare feet over moss and over mud, through reeds and swampland filled with an eerie glow and he appears, emerging through the mist on a nest of legs like tree roots and that move like spiders’. His chest is bare and his beard is long and green and his arms are strong and peppered with tiny, curling tendrils. I want to run, but still I am drawn forward.
He grabs me, carrying me off on his spindly root-legs and the tendrils from his arms spring forward and wrap around my body like rope. We cross the river and then he stops, and he lays me down in the mud. He is not gentle like my Charlie was; he whispers to me, tries to reassure me but his hands are rough and his kisses are violent. More vines coil out from his skin, inching under my nightgown, over my bare flesh, and inside . . .
It had been six months since my wedding when the vomiting started. Four months since the black waters took my husband’s life and the nightmares began. It didn’t take my mother long to work out what was the matter as I hunched over the basin in the bathroom after breakfast. She stood in the hallway, not lifting a finger to help and berating me as if my plight was my own, wilful doing.
“You disgust me! How a child of mine could end up in such a state I shall never know!” I closed my eyes and tried to block out the words but for all the pain and wretchedness I felt she still broke through. “So who is it then, Agatha? Who did you let put you such a state? Was it Roger Laidley from down the road?” No, Mother, I wanted to say but the words were caught in my burning throat. “I bet you it was that young Roger Laidley. I’ve seen the way he looks at you through the window of the shop. Always had eyes for you, that one – never thought you had eyes for him! And after losing such a good a lad as you had too . . . ! You are the pit of shame in my heart, Agatha Hadfield!”
“It’s Bowman, Mother!” I cried, my dear Charlie’s name bringing forth a fresh set of tears. “Not Hadfield – Bowman!”
“I shouldn’t think you’re fit to keep his name, not in the state you’re in . . .”
Whilst there was no sympathy to be had from my mother, my father only regarded me with sad eyes and a mournful silence. His discovery of a man’s shoe outside the kitchen window lead him to believe that I was attacked, that an intruder had taken advantage of my morphine-addled state but my mother would hear none of it. I was forever the guilty party in her mind, and although both were wrong I could hardly tell them the truth. And as my stomach started to swell and I became so ill as to be bed-ridden the dreams still would not let me rest.
This was written for a competition on another website; the theme was “Fever Dream”. I’m hoping to expand this out as I have a whole story connected to this, but this is just the opening.