Dylan sat straight up, bolt-like and drenched in sweat. The room dark and his bearings lost. As his eyes adjusted to the faint moonlight barely casting edges to the shapes of the room, he first recognized the soft curves of his wife, half under the covers and half exposed to the air. Then the dresser came into view, then the night stand to his left with the lamp he was now reaching to turn on. As he turned the light on, his wife stirred then slowly turned over to face him. Still groggy and unsure of the reason to be woken up, she was about to lay into him a good verbal lashing when she noticed the sweat that made his face glisten in the light and the ashen tone his skin had taken, as if he had seen a ghost.

“What’s wrong, Dylan? Are you ok?”

He stared ahead blankly for a moment, catching his breath, then as if snapping out of a thought, turned to his wife; sweat still dripping down his face from his forehead. Small wet beads leaving thin newly glistening trails as they came down, over his chin, down his neck.

“You were there. And Gloria and Arch. And Rebecca and Steve. And a few couples I have no idea who they were.”

She casts him a puzzled look, mixed with a trace of concern. It’s been a long while since he’s waken like this from a nightmare. At one time, way back at the start of their marriage he suffered a long spell of nearly nightly dreams that once explained to her could only be described as the kind of nightmares other nightmares are made of. That’s how she used to talk about them, at least.

He didn’t like to talk about them at all, really. And he tried not to, which eventually seemed to work as at first their frequency lessened and then their memories began to fade. Now they’re just this long ago period of his life that is rarely more than a footnote tossed in with other conversations.

Dylan continues. “Arch had invited us over for a dinner party to celebrate Gloria having become pregnant.”

“Like Gloria would ever let herself get pregnant.” his wife interrupts with an angry huff. They have been trying to have a baby for over a year and his wife always fumed when they were alone about how Gloria’s attitude was akin to throwing away an opportunity that not everyone was fortunate enough to have. Gloria even seemed to get off on the reaction his wife just couldn’t hide, no matter how hard she tried, when she pushed that particular button.

“That’s not the point. Just let me finish.” he demands; a pain of urgency to get it all out comes out in his voice that doesn’t do anything to alleviate her worry that his nightmares are back again. “So, we’re driving out to their house, which for some reason is out in the middle of nowhere, past all these corn fields. And as we’re driving down this road, I see someone up the road a ways, in the headlights. I mention it to you and I slow down. As we get closer, they’re now standing on the side of the road and as the car rolls passed them, we see that their eyes are solid black, like marbles as black as the night. It freaks me out and I hit the gas to get out of there. I look back and they’re gone.”

“Where did they go?” she inquires, hoping the interruption will keep him on a slower pace so he won’t work himself up too bad and go into a panic attack. He’s had those before, too. And those scared her even more than the nightmares. She’d take the nightmares before the panic attacks any day of the week and four times on Sunday, as he liked to say.

“I don’t know. I looked in the rear view mirror and they were just gone.” He pauses to regain his spot in the train of thought.

“We arrived at their house and go inside. The women are all in the living room, and I make my way to the kitchen where the Arch and the other guys are. Steve hands me a beer and I’m just listening to random conversations about football, not really paying any attention. When the conversation came around to asking how we were doing, I take the opportunity to relate the story about what we had witnessed on our way over. The guys all just looked at me like I was crazy. I thought I probably was too. I mean, that was just insane. But you saw it too, so I couldn’t be crazy or we both were. You saw it too.”

He licks his lips, trying to whet them and end the dry mouth feeling. After a few seconds he asks his wife if she would bring him some water. He sits in the bed, drops his head in his hands and wipes his face and forehead dry. He’s exhausted but has to finish telling his wife about the nightmare in order to exorcize the images from his mind. He doesn’t want them to linger, and maybe if he can get them out quick enough, they won’t dig in and make themselves at home.

She returns to the bedroom, glass of water in hand, and sits back down on the bed next to him, hands him the water. He promptly sucks the whole glass dry, wipes his lips with the back of his hand, and sets the empty glass on the night stand. Time to search back through the story for where he left off, but he thanks her for the water before continuing.

“So, as we’re standing there in the kitchen, I see something off in the distance. Way down at the back of their property. There are trees on three sides of this huge back yard that must go back two or three acres. And way down at the end, coming out of the trees in to the yard, is what looks like a person. Steve flips on the back porch light, but it doesn’t help much. The night isn’t dark enough for it to light much up, but is still just dark enough that we can only make out a shape of what looks like a person moving up the yard coming for the house.

Arch picks up a baseball bat that was leaning up against the wall behind the fridge, next to the slider that goes out to the back yard.”

His wife jumps in again. “Why would he have a baseball bat in the kitchen?”

Dylan retorts “How the fuck should I know? It was just there. It’s a dream. Please, just let me get back to it.” He gathers he thoughts again, then continues. “So, like I was saying… Arch grabs this baseball bat and opens the slider so we can go outside and find out what the hell is going on. There’s five of us out there, walking down this slight hill in the yard, down towards the back tree line. The figure is still making its way up to us, but kind of slow. And kind of injured, it looks like. Like, stumbling a little, or shuffling, but not walking normal or straight.

“I tell Arch to stop and wait to see if they would keep coming. Let them come to us so we can be ready.”

“Ready for what?” His wife seems intrigued by the story, but Dylan just wishes she would let him keep going without having to answer a question at every plot point.

“Anything. Whatever. No point just rushing in, you know? So, this person starts to get close enough for us to be able to see features and clothing color in the fading light. They’re all dirty, and their pants and shirt are all torn up. We can see long, wide tears in the shirt that are darker than the rest of the shirt, and we can see it flapping over. They’re left leg seems to be broken or something. They half walk on it and half drag it behind them. I tell Arch to get ready with the bat. The figure gets close enough to use, within fifteen feet or so and I freak out because their eyes are all solid black, just like the one we saw on the way to their house. But this one was also covered in blood and dirt, its lower jaw twisted at a grotesque, unnatural angle.

“Arch lets out a gasp and Steve yells at him to whack it with the bat, so he takes a long hard swing, hitting this… thing… in the side of the head. The bat connects and just lets out this sickening, wet thud. This… thing… stumbles to the side a little, but doesn’t go down. It just keeps coming. I start to take off back towards the house when one of the guys I don’t know says he sees more coming from the back tree line. I stop and we all look down towards there and there must be ten or fifteen more coming up the yard.”

His wife carries a look on her face of solemn enthrallment. She’s nearly hanging on every word, but reserved and withholding judgment. She thinks to herself that at least this sounds more like a campy dream than an out and out nightmare, like from the past. This thought eases her worry a little. There’s also compassion in her eyes. At least this time, it’s kind of entertaining.

“We all run back up to the house and turn around as we reach the slider. The first one we hit is lost in a crowd that has now also filled in from the two side tree lines. Where the fuck can these all be coming from? Jesus Christ.

“So we go back in side and quickly close the slider. We turn around to go tell the women to get ready to hide when we hear laughter coming from the living room.”

“They’re laughing?” she questions.

“Yes, and so are you, remember? You’re in there, too. And you’re laughing right along with them all. But it’s not just you and Gloria and Rebecca and the other two women I don’t know, but there are some of the… things… we saw outside coming up the yard towards the house.”

“They got in the house?” An inquisitive, playful look on her face now.

“Yes, I don’t know how, but they did.” He thinks on this one a bit, trying to recall if there was anything else he’s forgotten, but no, the timeline of events is firmly in place and nothing is out of order. He continues. “There was this one woman, who was sitting in a high back chair, opposite the fireplace and she’s dressed like she’s going to work. One of those suits for women. Her hair all done up kind of like Dixie Carter back in the Designing Women days. She says something to the rest of you in the room and everyone goes silent. Then she turns to us and says we should be nice. It will make it all the more easier for the transition if we just accepted it and played nice.”

“What’s this transition?” His wife is leaning slightly forward, on her outstretched hands, elbows locked.

“Just hold on. I’m getting to it.”

He asks her for another glass of water, and this time when she collects the glass, she doesn’t return to the kitchen but just walks over to the sink at the far end of the room, opposite a claw foot tub that stands out on its own, and refills it. Only the toilet is in an enclosed room, the sink and the tub open to the bedroom.

He drinks only about half of the glass of water this time. His thirst fairly quenched from the last round. Mostly he just needed to replenish the moisture dissipated from the ramping pace as he retells the story and the panic seeps back in, like he was back in the dream itself.

“The women tells us, me, Arch, Steve, and the other two guys, that our wives are now part of something bigger and more important and that we won’t be allowed to stand in their way of evolving.

“I’m thinking to myself, when the fuck did she have the chance to turn you all into whatever it was you now were; like Stepford Wives, or some shit. I try to speak up, interrupting her, when one of the… things… standing between us in the five of six feet we’re apart slaps me so hard my face stings. Steve lunges forward to attack her but another one of the… things… plunges a knife into his stomach. He falls to the ground crying, and there’s blood pouring out everywhere.

“The woman just chuckles and tells us that the same thing can happen to the rest of us, if we really want, but she’d rather it not be that messy. We should just accept our fate and go along for the ride. It won’t be that bad, really, she says. Like it’s really in our best interest just to go along, and not kill every last one of these fucking… things. After looking down at Steve for awhile I start to agree. At least to myself, not out loud. But I’m seriously starting to freak out. Not that I wasn’t already, but you know.”

His wife nods in agreement. “So what did you guys do?”

“I don’t know. I looked back up and all of your eyes were solid black, like the others before. That’s when I woke up.” He leans back against the headboard and rubs his eyes for a few moments. “It felt so… real.”

“They always do, you know. Don’t they?” She slides her legs back under the covers. “Are you ok now? Ready to go back to sleep?”

Dylan gets out of bed and goes to the medicine cabinet; a small single door type that they’ve mounted on the wall above the sink. He takes out a bottle of sleeping pills, opens it and shakes two out onto his palm. “I will be after these kick in.”

He washes the pills down with the other half of the glass of water then angles his head up to look in the mirror. Panic like ice pouring into his veins from head to toe takes over. His mind pulls at reality as fear turns into something else entirely; something dark; something dreadful.

The Dylan staring back at him, eyes like marbles, solid and as black as the night has other plans.