Jobi finished washing her ears and settled herself around my feet.
“It’s about time, cat. You didn’t look that dirty. Now could you start warming up my feet like you’re supposed to do?”
She purred in response, blinked twice and put her head down on my shin. By the time I finished reading the next page of the novel, she stopped purring. I glanced down at her while turning the page. Her grey side moved quietly in and out, and one white paw hooked around her nose. I hoped the person who abandoned her as a kitten never slept this peacefully.
I took a sip of coffee and realized it was lukewarm, but I was too comfortable to bother reheating it. Besides, Jobi would never forgive me for disturbing her. I put the book and coffee down on the windowsill that ran around the couch. The window seat is what attracted me to this apartment – it curved in a half circle, surrounded by windows that overlooked the shore. It was the perfect space to sit and brainstorm ideas for a book. It was also a great place to relax after a rough day of waitressing. I settled back in the cushions and watched the ocean.
I must’ve drifted off to sleep, because I heard the radio announcer say it was five o’clock. Jobi had settled down around four. I tried to move, but my body wouldn’t obey. I could feel my hand picking at the comforter, but it wouldn’t budge. I forced my eyes open a crack and saw a ghostly hand grabbing at the blanket. There was a bulge underneath where my hand was. I realized I must be having a kind of out-of-body experience. I’d read about them in a parapsychology book. I decided I’d try to fall asleep again, so I could pull myself together, but then I heard my front door open. My friend Beth had a key to my apartment: I hoped it was her, so she’d come in and pull me back to reality.
Instead, I saw a black figure with blonde hair moving towards the couch. I could only see it from the corner of my eye, but I could tell it wasn’t Beth. I somehow knew that if the figure touched me, I’d die. A hand appeared next to my face and moved down as a voice hissed, “Just keep sleeping my dear – you’ll be sleeping for a long, long, time.” I tried to scream, but my body stayed immobile. Mentally I pulled myself deeper and deeper into the cushions, away from the hand. It worked for a minute, but the hand passed through my physical body and came closer to my dream body. When I sensed it was about to touch me, I screamed, “NO!” and woke up. Jobi was up against the window, back arched, hissing at the empty air next to the couch.
The sky was still bright, and I was glad it was July – the sun didn’t set until late. I coaxed Jobi down from the window, more to comfort me than soothe her. I hadn’t had a dream that vivid for years. I couldn’t tell who was more upset – me or the cat.
The figure was familiar – he or she appeared in many of my nightmares. I started calling it “Darkshadows” after a t.v. show that scared me when I was a kid. But Darkshadows had never seemed so sinister; it was just a character who’d show up in a dream whenever I needed a scary person.
Jobi jumped up on my shoulder and started licking my ear. I wondered if a family of birds had adopted her when she was abandoned. She liked perching like a parrot and I’d never seen her attack anything with feathers. I stood up carefully and, with her balancing against my head, went over to my desk to get my journal.
“This dream definitely needs to be written down,” I said to Jobi. “Feel free to interrupt if I forget something.”
I’ve had vivid dreams off and on all my life. My roommate in college, Ellen, had joked about my strange dreams; every morning, she’d say, “Well Robin, what bizarre world did you visit last night?” She never understood how real they were to me. She tried to convince me I could say, “This is just a dream” and wake up in the middle of it if I just conditioned myself.
I didn’t want to. For one thing, I wanted to be a writer and some of the dreams were a great source of material. Also, they were better than real life sometimes – stressful weeks, I’d dream of going to the shore, or being a dolphin or seagull. Ellen, always the Psychology major, said they were just fantasies of escape and everyone had them. But I couldn’t believe that everyone woke up the next morning with sore arms from flying all night.
I finished writing down my dream and thumbed through my other journal entries. I hadn’t had any of my dreams in a while. Most nights, I was too tired from work to dream even normal dreams. The last one was a month ago, when I dreamt I had dinner at my grandparent’s house. My grandparents had died about 10 years ago, but their house appeared in my dreams many times. It was a safe place – I’d dream about it when I felt vulnerable.
“Ouch, I’m beginning to think like Ellen,” I groaned to Jobi, who slept on my shoulder. I closed my journal, resolving not to think about the nightmare. I had to be at the restaurant at 7pm, so I didn’t have much time to dwell on it anyway.
That night, Darkshadows visited again. This time, I was lying on my back in bed, and felt a weight on my stomach. I thought it was the cat, and tried to push her off, but I couldn’t move. I was difficult to breathe, and I tried to tell her to get off, but my mouth wouldn’t work. I got scared and tried to open my eyes.
I heard a voice, neither male of female, say,”I’m so comfortable here – I don’t want to leave.”
I tried to tell the voice that if it didn’t move, I’d die, but the more I tried to talk, the more pressure I felt on my diaphragm. I finally pushed myself up in bed, and felt the pressure release as I woke.
“Why are you doing this to me?” I whispered at the darkness. For the first time, I regretted my decision to live alone. I turned on all the lights in the apartment, and flipped the t.v. on while I wrote in my journal. As tired as I was, I couldn’t bring myself to go back to bed, so I curled up on the couch with a blanket. I dozed a little during a “Star Search” rerun, but Jobi jumped in my lap and woke me up.
The sun came up a few hours later, and the warmth lulled me to sleep. Darkshadows didn’t appear, but I had one of my dreams. I dreamt I walked across a bridge – it was high off the water and made out of a lightweight green material – so light that the strong wind made it sway. Even though I’m afraid of heights, I wasn’t scared. The wind created waves that reached the height of the bridge. I looked over the edge and saw a whale traveling as fast as I walked. The waves were carrying him up to the bridge and dropping him back down in the water. One wave left him suspended in the air next to me and I reached out to touch his snout. It felt cool and smooth. We stared at each other for a moment, then he dove back into the water. I almost jumped off the bridge to follow him, but decided to wait until another time. When I woke up, the blanket under my right hand felt damp.
Jobi was curled up on the arm of the couch, watching me. “Do you think that whale would tell me why Darkshadows is being so nasty?” She blinked once and yawned. I pulled her off the arm into my lap, and scratched behind her ears. “That’s what I like about you, cat – you wouldn’t call me crazy even if you could talk.”
I called my mother at eight, knowing she’d be awake, and invited myself over for coffee. I needed a good dose of reality to clear my head.
“I think you’re pushing yourself too hard,” my mother said as she heated up some coffee cake. “Teaching during the winter, waitressing in the summer, and always trying to write another book – what you need is a real vacation.”
“But Mom, I need my jobs, and I can’t take a vacation from writing.”
“Why not? You already have one book out – who needs two?” The book she meant was a biography of a local rock group. I dated the drummer and agreed to write it. When they hit the charts, I sent it off to be published. The royalty checks weren’t huge, but they were a nice addition to my income – at least, as long as the “Gruesome Foursome” remained popular.
“That’s not a real book mom. At least I don’t consider it one.”
“Well, until you write a ‘real’ one, it’s good enough for thousands of girls who still buy it. Do you still hear from that drummer?”
“No.” I cringed, knowing what this was leading to.
“Greg asked about you the other day.”
“That’s nice – I really should get going, mom – thanks for the coffee.“ I jokingly grabbed my coat and headed for the door.
“You’re not funny. I don’t know why you don’t give him a chance.”
“I did, and it just didn’t work out. Now, this time I’m serious – I have to go.” I kissed her on the top of her head on my way out. “I’ll call you soon.”
Darkshadows left me alone that night. I woke up around three and wondered if I’d see the whale. I stared out my bedroom window and tried to picture him. When I feel asleep again, I found myself on the bridge.
I saw the whale swimming by, and I dove off into the water. We swam out to a cove, and I climbed up on a rock. He swam around it a few times before he spoke.
“So, you wanted to talk to me?” His voice was musical, not guttural as I expected. It sounded like a talking flute.
“I’m not sure you can help, but I thought it was worth a try.” I explained about Darkshadows as he swam in lazy circles. “Why has it turned so mean?’
“Did you ever wish you could stay in your dreams forever?”
I nodded my head, not sure of the connection.
“Darkshadows is afraid you may find a way. If you do, it loses its power.”
“But why is it trying to kill me – if I’m dead, it would lose its power too, wouldn’t it?”
“It’s trying to scare you out of your dreams – if you’re afraid, you won’t find the gateway between the two worlds. But if you die, it will be free to enter someone else’s dreams.”
“How will I know when I find the gateway?”
“It’s a place where dreams and reality overlap. You’ll know it when the time is right.”
I thanked him and swam back to the bridge. I treaded water, trying to think of a way to get back up. Before I could figure it out, I woke up.
The next few days were relatively dream free. I’d almost forgotten about what the whale said. Then Darkshadows reappeared.
I’d been rereading the book I wrote about the band, and fell asleep in my chair. Darkshadows came up behind me and wrapped its hands around my throat. I tried to forget about my physical body so my dream body could fight it. I held onto the book tightly in my mind and swung my arm back. It worked for a minute – Darkshadows backed off. I knew it would come after me again, so I ran out of my apartment, trying to think of a place where I could escape.
I ran past a policeman and tried to explain to him what was happening. I tugged on his sleeve, trying to get his attention, but he turned and looked through me as if I wasn’t there. I could feel Darkshadows getting closer, so I gave up and kept running.
I decided I’d try to go over to my grandparent’s house, even though it was miles away. I closed my eyes and willed myself there. When I opened my eyes, I was standing on their porch.
I walked in, feeling safe. The house was dark, but I found my way to the telephone chair in the hallway, and sat down to catch my breath. I realized I still had my book in my hand, and put it down on the stand while I leaned back to rest and think about what I should do next.
I woke up in the chair in my apartment, but the book was nowhere to be found. I searched all over, thinking I may have been sleepwalking, but I couldn’t find it anywhere.
On a whim, I drove out to my grandparent’s house. I didn’t know the Patersons who lived there, but I knocked on the door and asked if I could use their phone. I explained that my father grew up in the house, and Mrs. Paterson gladly let me in. I found the book on the stand where I left it, and slipped it into my purse.
I noticed the packing crates, and asked if they had just moved in.
“Oh, no – just the opposite. We have to move back to Pennsylvania. George’s company is transferring him,” said Mrs. Patterson. “We still haven’t found a buyer yet, but we got the notice a few days ago, and they said they needed him to come as soon as possible.”
“Maybe your dad would be interested?” Mr Patterson said hopefully.
“Actually, I’m interested. I’ve been looking for a house for a while, and now I have enough to invest in one.”
The Patersons were delighted, and gave me their realtor’s contact information. I left, knowing I was heading in the right direction. “Poor Darkshadows – I bet it didn’t know it would push me right to the gateway,” I mused on the way home.
My parents said I was crazy to waste my royalty checks on the house. My mother was especially upset, because it was on the edge of town and she had visions of robbers and rapists.
“Why don’t you find a place closer to home?” My mother asked.
“I thought you were happy with your apartment?” My father countered.
I told them I knew what I was doing and moved in two weeks later.
With my spare cash, I tried to refurnish the house the way it was when I was little. I called my parents to tell them, but they sounded so upset I had to tell them I was kidding.
“Don’t worry – as soon as it’s done, you can come out and see it. I guarantee you’ll like it.” They didn’t sound convinced.
After a week in the house without any dreams, I got worried. Maybe I was on the wrong track after all. I went back to talk to the whale.
“You’re too tired – you should quit that waitressing job,” he sang.
“But I couldn’t find anything around here, and the money’s too good to pass up.”
“It’s distracting – if you want to find the gateway, you have to get rid of all the distractions in your life. Soon you won’t need the money anyway.”
I quit my job and spent my time trying to sleep so I could explore the house with my dream body. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t seem to get myself there – I had some ordinary dreams, but that was it. Then one afternoon, as I was dozing off, I felt strange and realized I was floating a few inches above my body. Just as I started floating towards the door, I felt myself being yanked back into my body, and I opened my eyes to see Jobi had jumped on the bed, and was purring away while kneading the blanket next to me.
“Damn you cat,” I snapped. “Looks like you’ve got to go too, since you can’t behave yourself.”
I put an ad in the paper the next day. I told the woman who called that I’d be moving soon and couldn’t take pets with me. When she left with Jobi, I felt more alone that I ever had in my entire life, but I cheered myself up with the thought that I could visit her in her cat dreams.
Darkshadows hadn’t shown up at the house yet. I thought it was proof that the house was a safe place. Then one afternoon as I tried to doze on the couch, I saw it looking in the window at me. Suddenly I got scared – it seemed stronger than before and I felt certain it would make a desperate attempt to get in. I went around the house, locking all the windows and doors, and pulling the shades so it couldn’t watch. I was drawing the last shade when I noticed my body lying on the couch.
Excitedly, I wandered through the house, trying to sense where the gateway was. I knew I was close because the smell of saltwater filled the air, and the house was miles from the ocean. When I got upstairs, I heard the sound of breaking glass on the first floor. I knew Darkshadows was coming to stop me.
I looked around on the second floor, trying to find a place to hide. I noticed a door in the ceiling that led up to the attic. I’d never been allowed up there as a child, so I decided to check it out. I pulled over the ladder from the hall closet, and climbed up.
The entire attic was pitch black. I found my way over to the windows by the light from the door. I opened a window, hoping to let in the afternoon soon, but it was black out. I panicked for a minute, not understanding what was happening.
I heard Darkshadows moving around on the second floor, trying to find me.
“Great job, MacGregor – you’re really thinking clearly. Now that you’ve got yourself trapped, what are you going to do next?”
As I stood by the window, trying to think of a way out, I smelled salt water. I leaned out the window and stared through the blackness – I thought I could see water moving down near the ground. I listened for a minute and though I heard waves.
“This must be it – Darkshadows did it again. Now all I have to do is go through it.”
I took a deep breath and climbed out on the window ledge. My fear of heights hit me full force – gateway or no gateway, I didn’t think I’d be able to jump. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I might be making a mistake – maybe it really was night and I’d just lost track of time, and was imagining the whole thing.
“Pretend you’re jumping off the bridge to see the whale,” I argued with myself. But the window felt too solid under my hands to let me pretend.
Darkshadows came running up the ladder into the attic, and solved my dilemma.
I jumped off the ledge into the black.
“Robin, honey, are you home? It’s Dad. We’ve been trying to call you, and you’re not answering your phone.”
John pushed open the unlocked front door, and went inside. As he walked through the house, he shook his head in disbelief. It was completely empty.
“She wouldn’t move again without telling us,” he muttered as he moved through the barren rooms. “Maybe she couldn’t afford to buy anything, and didn’t want to ask for help. That would be so like her.”
He called again for Robin. All he got in reply was a weak echo.
In the living room, he finally found a piece of furniture. The couch was pushed back against the wall, next to the windows. A small puddle had formed underneath it.
John sniffed, and realized the couch was drenched with saltwater.