An excerpt from Twilight Time
Rachel did not see it coming.
She should have when Peter’s sleep pattern veered into restless tosses, twitches, and wild thrashing. That should have jangled an alarm. At such times she would awake with a dread of encountering something potentially volatile and unpredictable, like a fist flailing against skin and bone.
But since portent was intangible and the dreaded had dropped off the radar screen, she’d managed, until this morning, to ignore it. Denial and repression dug in. At the same time, Peter’s tiny memory lapses had also dug in. But she’d managed so far to kick it all aside as messy clutter strewn across her path.
Besides, Peter had experienced some good nights, when he slept peacefully beside her while nightmare demons slinked off to torment some other inopportune soul.
Her husband had, all his life, been prone to sleep walking and acting out his dreams. His mother, before her poor mind wandered off into the shadowy unknown, told Rachel how, one night during his teens, Peter leaped through a window, providentially open at the time, and crashed atop the screen on the ground. In his dream, he’d been pursued by evil forces. Fortunately, he wasn’t seriously wounded, except for his blasted pride.
In his younger days’ search for validation, Peter’s modesty—most of the time—played peek-a-boo. At times, it disappeared behind fiery temperamental outbursts and at others colored Peter the most giving, nurturing guy ever created. And it was maddening. But at the same time it added to his romantic mystique. Rachel was hopelessly in love with the man.
Decades earlier, a week into their marriage, she awoke one night blinking against blinding light with Peter moving briskly about like a man on a mission. He’d switched on every lamp and overhead bulb in the house.
“What’s—what are you doing?” Rachel rasped, propped up on elbows, squinting and bewildered. Fully dressed, down to socks and shoes, Peter shot her an icy glance, never breaking his determined stride, and she wondered if something major had transpired during her slumber. For several moments he continued to hasten about, busy as a behind-schedule construction foreman doing a punch list. Seemingly satisfied with what he had accomplished, he headed vigorously for the front door.
“Peter?” Bafflement husked her voice.
He halted and pivoted to peer at her with a fierce predatory expression on his face.
“What?” he snapped, clearly agitated at her intrusion.
“Where are you going?”
He scowled even deeper. “I’m going to see Rachel,” he enunciated, as in, what a stupid question.
Rachel’s head reeled with the reality of her dashing groom’s detour off the beaten romance path. Still scowling, he walked over to the bed and reached to the bedside table for his car keys and only then did his face change. Something in his eyes flickered, cleared—and in one movement, he collapsed onto the bed where he lay silently for long moments before he spoke.
“I was dreaming that I was going to see you,” he murmured feebly, raised forearm covering his face.
“I know.” She reached over and switched off the lamp and scrooched back against him to spoon, their usual sleeping position that would remain so for the coming decades. Her love was such that his humiliation was hers and so the incident lay dormant until years later when they could laugh over it. That marked the beginning of dozens of nocturnal goings-on, during which she learned to gently wake Peter and, if he was afoot, lead him back to bed.
This behavior had gradually, until recently, ebbed and floated into misty corners of the past. But in recent months, coinciding with Peter’s short-term memory lapses, the nighttime incidences began to reoccur, with his dreams growing increasingly confrontational and combative. A few times, Rachel received feeble jabs and misguided punches before rolling deftly away to safety. She’d learned to awaken him when he began to utter garbled speech and his hands and feet started to twitch and flail about, escaping before she became the target in his “fights.”
So this morning she awoke around four a.m., restless to resume editing her latest novel before sending the first draft to her publisher. This, she did on occasion when not sleeping well. No use in wasting time, she figured. She crept from their upper-level bed, took a warm bath downstairs, so as not to disturb Peter with the noisy upstairs shower, applied makeup, and went to her ground-level computer. The morning primping ritual not only invigorated her and got her going, but it made her feel prepared for whatever the day offered up.
Rachel spent about an hour and a half editing a passage from the book about an amusing Halloween incident involving a shotgun-toting hero investigating next door’s empty house. A suspicious character appeared to be sitting on the back steps. The hero discovered the “intruder” to be a human-shaped shadow cast over the doorsteps. Then when the police arrived a short while later, in response to another neighbor’s report of seeing a gun-toting prowler, they all realized that the culprit was the story’s hero. All ended well. She finished editing the passage and then realized she was still sleepy.
Yawning and lethargic, she retraced her steps upstairs and found Peter still sawing logs. She crawled in and spooned back against him for more z’s.
Rachel immediately drifted off to sleep.
“Hey! Hey!” Peter’s voice jerked her awake. It was still dusky outside. Just enough light filtered through blinds to bring the furniture into a blur. His arms tightened around her midriff like a conveyer-belt vise. It tautened in rhythm to his garbled, angry utterances. Alarm sluiced through her. She struggled to free herself as Peter’s rising incoherent speech pierced the morning’s stillness and his arms squeezed tighter and tighter . . .
Rachel’s ribs throbbed and her breath grew short.
“Peter!” she cried, desperate and frightened, clawing to wrest his arms loose, which only incited him more. “Please, Peter. Let me go.” She pleaded in a voice unfamiliar to her ears, one fraught and horrified.
He laughed; a harsh, ugly burst of sound, and prepared his heft for action, shifting just enough that Rachel slithered free of his arms and poised to roll from the bed onto her feet. He seized her upper arm, large fingers digging into soft tissue.
“Peter!” she screamed. The claws tightened painfully. “Peter! You’re hurting me!” She burst into tears, wailing like a child.
Again, that angry huff of laughter. “I’ll show you what hurt is,” he snarled and as he drew back to hit her, an adrenaline-flight surge burst her up and onto her feet. She bolted for the door, sobbing hysterically.
Rachel never dreamed that she could move so fast. She didn’t look back as she snatched open the door to the stair’s landing.
All she could think was escape! In Peter’s warpath dream, she was the enemy and she’d not been able to wake him! The implication twisted and roiled her insides.
With trembling hands she opened the stairwell door, stepped down onto the top step, and turned to quickly jerk the door closed behind her. Demons nipped at her heels.
She yanked hard to shut the door. Her hand slipped from the door knob.
Loss of balance descended in slow motion horror.
Her mind scrambled with thoughts as she toppled: No, no! Not like this! This can’t be happening!
In the next moment, she was free falling backward down fourteen steep steps.
And Rachel knew as she twisted and hurtled through space.
She was dead.