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She was in the darkness somewhere, moving slowly toward him. Though he couldn’t see her—he never saw her, never until the last minute—he could feel her coming. It was almost as if he could smell her, but that wasn’t it either, for the smell—the strange musky odor that filled his nostrils—was his own fear, not the scent of her.
He wanted to hide from her, but knew that he couldn’t. He’d tried that before and it had never worked. And yet now, as he felt her presence creeping ever closer, he tried to remember why he’d never been able to hide.
Nothing came into his mind. No memories; no images. Just the certain knowledge that he’d tried to hide before, and failed.
But maybe this time …
He tried to think, tried to remember where he was. But again there was no memory, no feeling of place. Only the blackness curling around him, making him want to shrink into himself and disappear.
Suddenly a streak of light cut through the darkness, and he shaded his eyes with a hand, trying to shield himself from the stabbing glare. Then, through the blinding light, he saw the angry visage, the woman’s hate-twisted face as she stared down at him.
The door was pulled wider, and the light surrounded him, washing away the shadows that had failed to hide him. The woman stood before him, and though she didn’t speak, his hands dropped away from his face and he looked directly up at her.
“Why are you here?” he heard her demand. “You know I don’t want you here!”
He tried to think, tried to remember where he was. He looked around furtively, hoping the woman wouldn’t see his eyes flickering about as if he might be searching for a means to escape.
The room around him looked strange—unfinished—the rough wood of its framing exposed under the tattered remains of crumbling tarpaper. He’d been in this place before—he knew that now. Still, he didn’t know where the room was, or what it might be.
But he knew the woman was angry with him again, and in the deepest recesses of his mind, he knew what was going to happen next.
The woman was going to kill him.
He wanted to cry out for help, but when he opened his mouth, no scream emerged. His throat constricted, cutting off his breath, and he knew if he couldn’t fight the panic growing within him, he would strangle on his own fear.
The woman took a step toward him, and he cowered, huddling back against the wall. A slick sheen of icy sweat chilled his back, then he felt cold droplets creeping down his arms. A shiver passed over him, and a small whimper escaped his lips.
Maybe his sister would come and rescue him. But she was gone—something had happened to her, and he was alone now. Alone with his mother. He looked fearfully up.
She seemed to tower above him, her skirt held back as if she were afraid it might brush against him and be soiled. Her hands were hidden in the folds of the skirt, but he knew what they held.
The axe. The axe she would kill him with.
He could see it then—its curved blades glinting in the light from the doorway, its long wooden handle clutched in his mother’s hands. She wasn’t speaking to him now, only staring at him. But she didn’t need to speak, for he knew what she wanted, knew what she’d always wanted.
“Love me,” he whispered, his voice so tremulous that he could hear the words wither away as quickly as they left his lips. “Please love me.…”
His mother didn’t hear. She never heard, no matter how many times he begged her, no matter how often he tried to tell her he was sorry for what he’d done. He would apologize for anything—he knew that. If only she would hear him, he’d tell her whatever she wanted to hear. But even as he tried once more, he knew she wasn’t hearing, didn’t want to hear.
She only wanted to be rid of him.
The axe began to move now, rising above him, quivering slightly, as if the blade itself could anticipate the splitting of his skull, the crushing of his bones as they gave way beneath the weapon’s weight. He could see the steel begin its slow descent, and time seemed to stand still.
He had to do something—had to move away, had to ward off the blow. He tried to raise his arms, but even the air around him seemed thick and unyielding now, and the blade was moving much faster than he was.
Then the axe crashed into his skull, and suddenly nothing made sense anymore. Everything had turned upside down.
It was his mother who cowered on the floor, gazing fearfully up at him as he brought the blade slashing down upon her.
It was he who felt the small jar of resistance as the axe struck her skull, then moved on, splitting her head like a melon. A haze of red rose up before him, and he felt fragments of her brains splatter against his face.
He opened his mouth and, finally, screamed—
He was sitting straight up in bed, the sheets tangled around him, his body clammy with the same icy sweat he’d felt in the dream. Before him the image of his mother’s shattered skull still hung in the darkness, then was washed away as the room filled with light.
“Kevin?” he heard his wife ask, then felt her hand on his arm. “Kevin, what is it? Are you all right?”
Kevin Devereaux shook off the last vestiges of the dream and got out of bed. Though the mid-July night was hot, he was shivering. He wrapped himself in a robe before he answered Anne, his voice hoarse. “It was a dream. I thought my mother was trying to kill me, but in the end, I killed her.” He turned to face her. “I killed her,” he repeated, his voice echoing oddly. “I killed my mother.”
“But it was only a dream,” Anne replied. She reached over and fluffed up his crumpled pillow, then tugged the sheets straight. “Come back to bed and forget it. We all have strange dreams, but they don’t mean anything. Besides,” she added, “the way you feel about your mother, I’m amazed you don’t have that dream every night.”
Kevin tried to force a smile he didn’t feel. “I did, for a while,” he said. “When I was a kid I used to wake up with it all the time. They finally had to give me a private room at school, because my roommate said I screamed so loud he couldn’t sleep. But I haven’t had it since I was sixteen or seventeen. I thought it was over with.”
Anne patted the spot next to her on the bed. “Now, come on. Whatever brought it on, it’s all over with now, and you’ve got to get some sleep.”
But Kevin only shook his head and knotted the belt of the robe around his waist. “It was different this time,” he said. “When I was little I always dreamed Mother was trying to kill me, and I always woke up just before it happened. But this time it all changed. This time, right at the end, I was killing her, and I didn’t wake up until she was dead.”
Anne’s eyes met his, and the smile that had been playing tentatively at the corners of her mouth disappeared. “You’re serious, aren’t you?” she asked. “You really think it means something.”
Kevin spread his hands helplessly. “I wish I knew,” he said. “I just have this feeling that maybe something’s happened to her.” He glanced at the clock, wondering if he ought to call his sister, then dismissed the idea. At three-thirty in the morning all he would do was give her a good scare.
But he knew he couldn’t go back to sleep. Not yet.
Not until he had thought about the dream, thought about what it might mean, figured out why, after all these years, it had come back to him. He leaned down and brushed Anne’s lips with his. “Go back to sleep, honey. I’m going to go down and raid the refrigerator.”
Anne gazed at him for a moment, her eyes reflecting her concern. “If you’re going to sit down there and brood, you’d tell me, wouldn’t you?”
Kevin chuckled in spite of himself, and kissed her again. “All right, so maybe I’m going to brood a little bit. I’m forty years old, and I have a right to brood, don’t I? Now go back to sleep, and don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”
He switched off the lamp on Anne’s bed table, slipped out the door and moved silently down the hall past his children’s rooms, then down the stairs. But instead of going to the kitchen, he went into the living room and settled himself into his favorite chair—a big leather wing chair just like the one in the library, when he was growing up.
Just like the one his mother had never let him sit in.
But he was forty years old now, and his mother was nearly eighty, and he should have forgotten about that chair—and everything else—a long time ago.
And he thought he had, until tonight.
Now he realized that he hadn’t forgotten anything, and that the dream had, indeed, meant something.
It meant that he still hated his mother as much as he ever had. He still wished she were dead.