When they first overcame me, I would lie still in the darkness, a thin sheen of sweat cool on my brow, my breath short, chest heavy. Later, in the daytime hours I'd convince myself with the surety of routine and reality that I must certainly have been dreaming. Then I'd tell myself it was time I saw a doctor regarding these nightmares; and then I'd think, well, maybe next time. For by then the details will have become vague, and the stomach-clenching fear a symptom, not a feeling.

But in that moment when the night hovers thick and silent, and I am again a child curled beneath the blankets, eyes shut tight against whatever creature may be lurking out there, the fear is very real to me, as are the dreams.

Lately these dream states have taken to summoning me at will, not only in the night, but sometimes during the day. It isn't like hallucinations with dancing purple penguins or such nonsense; nor is it like a psychic's movie-flash of precognition. It's just that everything seems to take on a glow and become almost surreal - colours too brilliant, lines too sharp. And then a voice whispers seductively from behind, "Do you see him? Now? Do you see him?" and then laughs and the world fades back to its usual dullness.

The first time that happened I stood rooted in terror, not daring to turn around. The second, quivering, I stumbled to a bench and sat, laying my head in my gibbering hands. The last time I simply got angry, though I still didn't turn around and confront the voice that taunted me. The terrible thing is, I think I know that voice.

One night recently a woman with long russet hair, dressed in a white linen nightgown rocked gently in a rocking chair on an old wooden porch. I'm certain she is crying, yet she doesn't make a sound. The only sound I hear is the whisper of the fabric as it brushes against itself and the slow creak of wood on wood. A harvest mood bald-facedly keeps her form in silhouette and lights the white fabric of her gown to a cold shimmer, her head is haloed by wisps of hair shining gold. I don't know who she is, nor do I want to. There is something achingly forlorn about this scene - she has lost something more dear than life itself perhaps. If she made a noise of some sort, crying out in pain I would go to her and try to soothe her. But this silence says to me: stay away. As I awaken, the voice speaks, "Do you see him? Now? Have you seen him?" And I whisper, "No'; the voice laughs and I am left to ponder the image that is still so very real to me.

The clock burned 3:15 a.m.; I watched for a while as the numbers silently ticked off what remained of the hour. Realizing that in all probability I wouldn't be sleeping again tonight I lit a cigarette and retreated to my easy chair in the living room and smoked it in the dark, its burning end glowing red. I decided then and there to find out exactly why these dreams, if that indeed is what they are, are plaguing me both in my sleep and in my waking hours.

I am not easily given to flights of fancy as I wasn't blessed with any real imagination. I have lived my life in a linear fashion, progressing methodically and with planning one day after another. My mother used to call me a fuss-budget, after Lucy in the Snoopy comics. It's not that I'm all that meticulous, it's just that I don't like surprises. And that is why I find my present situation so particularly annoying. After all, I have lived my forty-seven years simply, alone, with no one and nothing to disrupt my orderly life.

In this predawn hush I am forced to face myself; I can hold no illusions when there is only me and the night. So, I say to the walls as I stub out the old cigarette and light a new one, when did this all start?

Initially I remember back about four years ago when I was awakened by what I thought was a man shouting. But when I opened my eyes, there was only darkness and silence. Perhaps that was the beginning. The dreams themselves though; surely I must have had bad dreams as a youth. That being the case, what were they?

A part of me wanted to answer, all of my childhood was the nightmare you idiot, but I'd be wrong to think that. There were verifiably good times like the Christmas I was five and I opened up my present (wrapped in gift wrap of silver, no crease that didn't belong, my tiny eager hands plunged into the depths of the box to find...I remember bitter tears and my father laughing as my mother called out from the kitchen, "Now Henry, don't torment the child" because he never did wrap my gift and what it was, what was it? It wasn't.) so maybe that wasn't a good example, but my life wasn't always like that.

Oh yes. I used to have a recurring nightmare of cats and mice, like on the cartoons, only in my dreams the frustrated felines were triumphant and the rodents were only smears of blacking blood on linoleum floors and on shiny pointy kitty-cat teeth. "Yes, Gigi, I remember it well!" I sing in mock french accent, for no particular reason, to the empty living room.

I have to admit (for isn't honesty the only thing that can happen at 4:00 a.m. by yourself?) that most of my fears and my deepest suspicions I have conjured up for myself in my loneliness. I have lived alone since the day I left home, disdaining the company of others even in my occupation. But for all that, when one's attentions are focused solely on oneself, the littlest things can become matters of horrendous proportions: that little flat mole suddenly wears the guise of incipient cancer - you can feel it coursing through your body, cell by minuscule cell...

I worry too much.

I have had dreams where dozens, no hundreds, of hands are grasping for me; clinging, clawing, clammy hands, male, female, children's hands, birds' claws, rodent paws, all of them reaching to grab me.
I dislike being touched. I haven't seen a doctor since the last physical examination involved an internal exam. That was thirty years ago. I am afraid of illness, in case I may need to see a doctor. They have these horribly cold hands.

Late at night when I have a fever or such thing I wonder what I would do were I to become desperately ill. I have visions of crawling to the telephone, straining upwards to reach it, calling for help and dying while the ambulance attendants try to break down the door because of course it is locked, and of course I couldn't open it.

All of those dreams make sense.

Wait! Did you hear it? I can feel my heart speeding up, speeding up, running in my chest. Did somebody say something? Yes. There it is again. That voice. It's quieter now than before. In fact, I can barely hear it. It sounds as though it were coming from outside. Well, enough is enough. If there is cause to be hearing someone calling in the predawn hours, then let me find him. If not, then I should ascertain this, and go to a doctor first thing, even if they do have cold hands. It is not my nether regions he will be concerned with this time surely.

I crush out my cigarette, walk lightly to the balcony door, for what if there is someone out there? What if there is someone stalking me, haunting me, trying to drive me insane? Slowly I bend down to remove the broom section blocking the door for security. That done, I hold it in my right hand for protection, and peer from behind the curtain, making sure there is no one on the balcony. It's empty. But the voice is still out there.

I cough out a nervous laugh. It's probably a drunken neighbour after all, and here I am, scared beyond belief.

November chill greets me as I slide open the glass door, screen door, and then I step out barefooted on the concrete. The moon is a veiled bride and a slight breeze rattles bare tree twigs against each other on the trees just beneath the balcony. There is no one out here.

Except for me. And the voice, whispering now in a stage whisper, but its words are still unclear. I turn in the direction I think the voice comes from, but there is no one. Now do you see him? Now? Now do you see him?

"Enough!" I yell to the taunting utterer, "Show yourself! I demand to see you!" But it only laughs.

A light goes on in the apartment two floors down and one over from mine.

My feet are numb now from the cold. If I concentrate I can see a slim band of roseate glow on the horizon. Daylight means nothing to the annoying thing and so it brings me no comfort. A part of me says, go inside. Warm yourself. Go back to bed. You're tired.
Perhaps I should. And without question I will see a doctor as soon as I can. What sane persons stands on a balcony at 5-something in the morning, looking for imaginary people?

My bed is warm, the bedroom still dark, so I cuddle up in the blankets and drift off to sleep, my feet aching as they defrost.

- - -
There is laughter coming from the livingroom. Sara Elizabeth Connors is sound asleep. For the rest of her slumber she won't dream. Not this time. And he has made sure that she sleeps so soundly she cannot hear him.

A woman weeps softly. "Oh, for god's sake, show yourself woman. You've lost." He says out loud.

At first there is a single pinpoint of light, then it grows bigger, spiralling in on itself as it pushes outward, upward, down. At last a woman, dressed only in a long white nightgown stands before him, white before black for she is light and he shadow, her long red hair streaming down her shoulders, down to her waist.

"I tried to warn her," she mutters.

"Yes. Well she's mine now, as are you. You won't be alone anymore."

"Yes." She sighs. "But it is so very cold here."

"I can warm you. Let me show you how." He waves her towards him, as leads her to the bedroom.

Sara Elizabeth, deep in slumber, never knew what happened. She was simply warm one minute, cold and dead the next. It was as though death reached out its hands and placed them on her, stealing her breath and her warmth. The autopsy read, cause of death unknown.

- - -

Prologue: When Sara Elizabeth was a young girl, she lay awake nights as her parents argued drunkenly downstairs, and the grandfather clock outside her door tick-tocked menacingly. For some time she tried praying that she would be taken from this life, to no avail so she stopped praying.

Once she tried a Ouija board, to see if anyone would speak to her. All she got was gibberish and then she felt a chill so she put it away, then gave it back to the friend who had loaned it to her.

What she didn't realize was that there are sometimes spirits who are lonely too, spirits who don't like where they are. The difference is, they have all of time to find a friend. And all of time to play with them.

Two women rock on an old wooden porch, neither one says anything. They are dressed in their nightclothes, bathed in moonlight, rocking and waiting, for someday the courier will bring them friend. Someone to warm their hearts.

Perhaps you have seen them, rocking and waiting, and rocking and waiting. For whom?

C.M. Harris Davies, 1991