“Nina!” he screamed. His flesh ripped under the pressure of the long talons grating across it.
His arms and legs were thrust forward, and then his body bent in half and disappeared, sucked into the hel that awaited him inside.
“Daddy!” I screamed into the darkness.
Hands held my outreached arms and I slapped them away. “No! NO! Daddy!” I wailed, trying to get away. I wasn’t strong enough.
“Nina, stop! It’s me!”
As reality sank in, I stopped fighting. Jared sat next to me in our bed, holding my wrists against his chest.
“Nina?” he said, leaning over to flip on the lamp.
My eyes squeezed shut, rejecting the light. Sweat soaked my cotton gown, and damp hair matted against my forehead. With trembling fingers, I wiped the wet strands from my face. It always took a few moments to calm myself, but it wasn’t fear this time. I was angry.
“They’re getting worse,” Jared said, concerned.
I had to clear my throat. “They’re so real,” I whispered. I could stil smell my father’s cologne, and the screeching stil rang in my ears. Returning to the same place almost every night to watch my father die felt like torture. Resentment replaced the fear, and that was a good thing; I felt better equipped to handle anger then the overwhelming helplessness that normal y woke me.
I licked the salt from my lips. “I’m okay.”
“That’s the third one this week. I don’t think you’re okay,” Jared said, his face tense. “Same one?”
Reluctant, I nodded. Jared worried obsessively each time he had to wake me from a nightmare. He was tormented by the screaming, the trembling, and the inability to stop it. He watched me for a moment before pul ing me onto his lap.
“Maybe you should talk to someone.”
“I don’t need a shrink, Jared. They’re just dreams,” I said, more to myself than to him.
He pul ed me with him, resting his back against the headboard. I worked to relax. My days without him the previous spring had been good practice when I didn’t want to bother him with my ridiculous human fears and feelings. But I struggled after the nightmares, even after months of perfecting my talent.
I tried to think of anything but the terrifying image of my father being torn to shreds, so that I could settle down and fal asleep. Jared’s feverish chest against my cheek was comforting, and I breathed in his amazing scent. Any other time I would have instantly felt at ease, but after the three- peat of the worst nightmare I’d ever had, it didn’t work.
“I’m going to take a shower,” I said, abruptly peeling off the blankets tucked around me.
“It’s three o’clock in the morning, Nina. You have to get up in three hours anyway for work. Why don’t you just try to sleep?”
I scooted to the edge of the bed, and planted my feet on the floor with my back to Jared. “Have you slept?” I asked him.
After a short pause, he let out an exasperated sigh. “Yes.”
“Then there’s no reason for me to go back to sleep. I don’t want to sleep, anyway. It’s the same thing every time I close my eyes.” I waited a moment, and when Jared failed to argue, I pushed myself off the bed and walked into the bathroom.
The pipes whined when I turned the shower knobs, and I stood in front of the sink waiting for the water to warm. The visions from my dream burst in short, loud scenes. The screeching, the sound of my father’s shoes running up the stairs; it wouldn’t stop. Closing my eyes, trying to focus, I rubbed my hands with my face and then looked in the mirror. My features had changed from when Jared and I first met. Spending much of the summer indoors while my leg healed had left my skin pale and lifeless, and I was sporting a matching pair of purple circles under my eyes.
Our near-death experience in the restaurant seemed like a lifetime away. Aside from the occasional news story about the police department’s finest meeting untimely ends in bizarre and unrelated accidents, our days went by as if Grahm, and Shax, and the book had never existed.
I let my nightgown drop to the floor, and then stepped into the shower, sighing as the stream of water poured over my face.
Jared walked in, and leaned against the sink, crossing his arms across his chest.
“Everything okay?” I asked.
Jared shifted uncomfortably. “It’s you I’m worried about.”
“The fal semester is getting ready to start. I have extra classes, and with my internship, it’s probably just stress.”
“I don’t understand it,” Jared said. “It’s been months since any of… them have come around. This is the least I’ve seen of them in my entire life, and yet you’re…,” Jared rubbed his neck. “It doesn’t make sense for you to be having these dreams now.”
“Jared, people have nightmares al the time without demons present. It doesn’t mean anything,” I said, scrubbing shampoo into my hair.
“That’s what you think.”
I rol ed my eyes. “Oh, c’mon. You’re blowing this out of proportion. If I promise to quit having the dreams, wil you promise to quit freaking out about them?”
“You’l promise to quit having the dreams,” Jared repeated, his voice thick with sarcasm.
I poked my soapy head from the shower curtain, lather dripping down my face. “Okay, I can’t promise, but you’re giving me a complex. Unless you know something I don’t, they’re just dreams.”
Jared smiled, and wiped the line of soap from my forehead, promptly kissing my lips. “Okay. They’re just dreams.”
I nodded in approval, and then closed the curtain. “I have to stop by the office today, do you mind?” I asked, knowing he would.
“You mean more than any other day?”
Escorting me to Titan Mercantile was just another day at work for Jared, but as often as I asked him to come in, it had become an inside joke between us. Every day I asked, and every day he politely declined. For years the hal s of Titan Mercantile were walked by Jared’s father Gabe.
Jared didn’t talk about it, but I assumed his refusal to go in had to do with unresolved feelings concerning his father.
The hours before dawn crept by slowly, and after my shower, Jared and I spent the remaining moments of twilight at the breakfast table. When the morning sun final y poked through the blinds, I smiled at the glowing light painting rectangles against the wal s. I had spent hours staring at those wal s, waiting for my leg to heal. Beth visited infrequently, busy decorating her new apartment, Kim had taken her summer vacation on the road, and Claire was relentlessly eliminating any threat to us. Jared spent much of his time warding off loneliness, and keeping me entertained. We had grown closer, and life had been more normal than ever. The only reminder of the night I almost died was the scar on my thigh.