Jamie and Rachel arrived home on a quiet Sunday morning. I had hung a huge welcome banner on the front porch and lined the steps to the second floor with roses.
“You’re so crazy, Peter,” Jamie said to me, “but I love it.”
In the weeks that followed, we focused much of our attention and energy on our daughter. Her presence in our lives made the bond between Jamie and me even stronger.
It was exactly twenty-two days after her return from the hospital that Jamie had the first dream. As we lay in bed, Jamie curled her body next to me. I wrapped my arms around her. Within minutes, we both fell asleep.
A doorway unlocked for Jamie as crisp mountain air scented with jasmine enveloped her. A brisk wind skipped across green fields, encircling stony ridges and granite peaks that loomed like tall skyscrapers against the sky.
Walking sprightly, her stride firm and strong, Jamie approached a plateau. In an Indian-style pouch, she carried Rachel comfortably across her chest. She took off the sling and laid the baby on top of the blanket on the ground. Suddenly a dense cloud enshrouded the entire mountain. She bent down to pick up Rachel and her body went limp. Her daughter had disappeared.
With a whoosh she experienced herself drawn out of her body and propelled airborne to an uncharted location above the mountain. Portions of the fog cleared to give her an unobstructed view. She watched herself run, frantic and alone, through the fields amid towering stone monuments. Perched on the opposite side of the peak, her daughter sat motionless, bewildered though not distressed.
As Jamie surveyed the scene, her awareness took in a large, black and white spotted horse standing on a crest near the summit. Jamie glared at the animal as it turned its head skyward to confront her. She stared at its watch-eye, a blue iris floating in a sea of white contrasting dramatically with the other brown one.
Both she and the animal were frozen within each other’s vision, then the horse bolted, plunging down the hillside. Her viewpoint shifted as she felt her consciousness slam back into her body. Now, as she gaped up the mountainside, the charging horse moved directly toward her child. Pieces of limestone exploded into the air as the crushing hooves thundered down the mountain. A white, foamy lather glistened on the chest of the animal. Jamie stood still as he galloped toward Rachel. A hot wind rushed past her face as his fury now closed the gap to within inches of a deadly collision with her baby.
Jamie awoke, leaping off the bed. She tried to blot the horse from her mind, but its strange eyes and foaming mouth would continue to haunt her. I didn’t realize then that from that moment forward our lives would never be the same.
Holding the baby over her shoulder, Terry cleared the dishwasher despite Jamie’s insistence that she need not do anything beyond helping with Rachel. But Terry wanted to give more. Her friendship with Jamie had led to the current barter arrangement that included room and board. She had moved in and fallen in love with the baby immediately.
Terry ascended the stairs and went directly to the nursery. After placing the baby on her stomach in the crib, she massaged her back. Rachel curled her legs under her body and drifted into a deep sleep within seconds.
Terry went back downstairs into the master bedroom, where she turned on the television. Using the remote, she switched through the stations three times with little interest, finally settling for an old Ingrid Bergman film. An hour passed. The drone of the TV drowned out most noises, but then some rustling in the house distracted her. She checked the clock. Too early, she mused, but nevertheless she slid off the bed and marched into the hallway.
“Jamie? Is that you?” Silence. She moved through the living room and entered the kitchen. Nobody there. “Peter, Jamie?” No answer.
Terry returned to her movie. The action had shifted to the interior of an airplane. She frowned, having missed a critical segment that left a gap in the story line. Again she sensed activity in the house. She called, “Jamie? Peter?” Still no answer. Her body went rigid. Someone was standing at the door to the room. She knew it. With a snap of her head, she faced the door. No one was there. Currents of air churned in the room.
A cold chill washed through her body. Terry saw a yellowish mist enter the room. It moved in a low zigzag pattern: a luminous body of energy, almost three feet wide by four feet in height. Each turn brought it closer to the bed. Its path appeared calculated.
She tiptoed toward the door, planning each step. As she crossed the path of the intruder, a warm, distinct breeze engulfed her. She flung herself through the door, slamming it behind her. Terry darted upstairs into Rachel’s room, threw the blanket over the child, swooped her up into her arms and sprinted downstairs into the kitchen. She stopped with her back against the wall. Her mind raced. Her chest heaved up and down. Shifting the sleeping baby into one arm, she dialed Jamie’s friend, Cleo.
“Cleo, it’s Terry. Help me, please. I’m alone with Rachel. There’s something here…in the house.”
Jamie had just finished rolling on the rug in the living room with Rachel, alternately tickling and stroking her. The bathroom door opened and Robin joined the duo in the living room.
“Jamie, I’ve been thinking about what you said about having that same dream again last night. It seems to me, dreaming something many times doesn’t make it any more valid than dreaming it only once.”
“I know, Robin. Sometimes I think if I could be more at ease inside when they occur, maybe they’d just disappear.”
“Yeah,” Robin agreed. “I’d be for that.”
Alone in the kitchen, Terry closed her art history book. Robin’s voice distracted her. She slouched back in the chair, scanned the room, then peered through the scalloped curtains. The sun, hanging low on the horizon, splashed into the kitchen. Terry squinted, readjusting her vision. Toward the rear of the property, a small rise obscured a low plateau, which had never been cultivated. A rope hammock, strapped to hundred-year-old oak trees, showed the only intrusion of the human hand.
Half mesmerized, she stared into the gentle rocking motion of a figure in the cord cradle. She noticed the strain the body put on the rope. “You’re getting heavier, Peter,” she mumbled aloud. Rising to her feet slowly, she went outside. As she stepped down the hill, she glanced toward the occupied hammock, smiling to herself.
At the top of the small rise, Terry stopped abruptly. The hammock, radiating the sun’s yellow rays, was empty. The indentation from its recent occupant remained. Her thoughts fired like small explosions. She turned and walked rapidly toward the house. Jumping up the stairs two at a time, Terry vaulted past the kitchen door, slamming it behind her. Several minutes passed before she strolled into the living room, jittery yet trying to appear casual.
“Is anything wrong?” Jamie asked.
“No…well, I don’t know. Where’s Peter?”
“He went out about an hour ago. He should be back soon.”
Terry began to tremble. Jamie placed Rachel in the playpen and steadied Terry by the shoulders.
“What’s the matter?” Jamie solicited. Terry told of her experience in the yard.
Jamie stroked Terry’s arm soothingly. “Come,” she said, leading her back to the kitchen. “You’ve heard the stories about people in deserts who see…” The words faded. She, too, saw the figure swinging gently in the hammock.
Terry turned away.
Robin peered through the window and stared impatiently at an empty hammock gliding in the wind. “What’s going on?” she asked, genuinely confused.
After scrutinizing the figure, Jamie faced Robin. “Rob, don’t you see someone in the hammock?”
“No. Of course not,” she replied.
“Look again,” Jamie instructed.
“Nope. Zero. The hammock is quite definitely empty.”
Jamie told Robin that both she and Terry saw a man in the hammock. Robin’s half-laugh increased the tension in the room.
“I’ll be right back,” Jamie announced. She checked the garage for the car. It was gone. Back in the kitchen, she peered out the window. “Terry, the shape in the hammock looks more like Luke than Peter.”
“I kept thinking he looked awfully heavy,” Terry recalled. “Let’s call the police.”
“No. No. It might be Claude from next door. Come on, we’ll go together and greet our guest.” Terry shook her head. “Okay, then I’ll go without you.”
“Wait,” Terry snapped. “I’ll go.”
They inched down the incline. From this distance, the figure appeared more visible, although still indistinct. They hesitated to move forward knowing they would lose sight of the hammock as they descended into the small hollow in the yard.
The two women walked quickly across the depression in the yard. When they walked up the other side, they stopped short. The hammock was empty, yet the ropes remained molded to the now-absent form.
“I’m sorry. I can’t stay out here,” Terry said, turning around.
“No one’s here,” Jamie argued weakly. “There’s nothing to be frightened about.”
“I’m sorry.” Terry ran for the house.
Jamie jumped with a small yelp when a squirrel scurried across her path. She walked toward the hammock. Touching the sun-drenched cords, she felt an unexpected warmth. Suddenly she spun around, sensing somebody behind her. There was no one there, although she felt the presence of someone or something.
Inside the kitchen, Robin sat stiffly at the table, sipping tea. Terry stared out the window like a marble statue. Her eyes focused on the hammock.
“Did he say anything?” Terry questioned Jamie as she entered the kitchen.
“Did who say anything?”
Exasperated, Robin chimed in, “What is going on here?”
Terry faced Jamie. “Who was it?”
“You were out there with me,” Jamie insisted. “No one was in the hammock.”
Terry gasped, sinking into a chair. “Jamie, when you were there, I saw the man on the hammock next to you. How could you not have seen him?”
Jamie whipped around to the window and caught the now familiar image of the man in the hammock.
“Was he there all the time? Terry, for God’s sake, tell me…was he there all the time?”
“Yes. All the time.”
Possessed by a flood of energy and anger, Jamie charged across the kitchen and out the door. Leaping into the hollow behind the house, she tripped, tumbling over a small rock. She scrambled to her feet; her fingers dug into the soft grass as she pulled herself up the incline. On reaching the top of the small rise, she confronted the empty hammock from a distance of about ten feet. She turned and searched for Terry in the window. Her house guest nodded a silent yes; she could still see the man from the kitchen. Yet when Jamie spun around, the hammock remained empty.
“Luke, is it you?” she whispered, taking her first stop forward.
Terry watched from the window, wide-eyed. She couldn’t believe Jamie’s persistence. She screamed as her friend climbed into the occupied hammock. Robin stared ogle-eyed at Terry, then gawked at a very commonplace scene outside. Nothing made sense. She grabbed her pocketbook and fled.
Terry hyperventilated. Cupping her hands over her mouth helped her to regain control over her breathing. “Jamie!” she called out the window. “Jamie, please come back in. Jamie! Answer me! Will you please come back? Jamie, can’t you hear me?”
No one answered the call. A bird chirped loudly. Leaves fluttered. And the hammock, with its two reclining figures, swayed in the gentle breeze.
“Can we talk?” Terry asked somberly. It had been three hours since Jamie had returned from the backyard and continued her chores as if nothing had happened.
“Sure,” Jamie answered. She noticed Terry’s dress, rather formal for an evening at home.
“Going out tonight?”
“Well, that’s what I want to talk to you about.”
“Shoot,” Jamie said playfully.
“You’re what?” Jerking her head, she gaped at Terry, who turned away, unwilling to look into her eyes.
“I really am leaving.”
No words came. A soft sobbing filled the room. Jamie embraced Terry. “Hey…c’mon, we’ll work it out.”
“Rach is like my own baby; I don’t want to leave.”
“Then it’s settled…you don’t leave.”
Terry pulled away. “It’s just all the strangeness in this house. And today…my God!”
“What about today?”
“Jamie, you–you climbed into the hammock with him.”
“Don’t be silly. No one was in the hammock. I just felt tired and wanted to rest for a few minutes. That’s all really.”
Terry shook her head. “What about your mother? Doesn’t that confirm it?”
A long period of silence followed the question. “Jamie, maybe it’s about time you really looked at it. You know, you just have this ‘premonition’ about your mom getting breast cancer…and bang, within the week, she has breast cancer.” Scared to even ask the question, Jamie pushed the words out. “Are you saying my thoughts did it?”
“I don’t know what to think. Don’t you see how much you’ve changed?” A deadly silence followed. “Suppose your next premonition is about me. Then what? Does that make it my turn?”
Jamie couldn’t reply. The question of whether her premonitions heralded coming events or in fact caused them had crossed her mind several times. If Terry’s suspicions had any validity, then what about her own dreams…what about Rachel?
“Yes,” she answered, distracted from her inner dialogue.
“I’m really scared.” She paused. “I can’t stay here any more, not even for Rachel. The thing with your mother just…You do understand, don’t you?” “What?” she asked, her voice flat and distant, her eyes staring.
Frightened, Terry moved toward the door. Jamie sighed, giving in to the inevitability of what was unfolding. “I’ll…I’ll miss you very much.” She wanted to hug Terry, but the other woman left the house abruptly, leaving her very much alone.
A series of man-made lakes and pools tumbled down the hillside in the park near our home. Known locally as the Duck Pond Park, this planned oasis amid the hustle had become one of my favorite retreats. I scanned the landscape lazily as I sat alone in the center of a large field.
Then, without warning, a huge, three-dimensional image ripped in front of me like an explosion. For several seconds it obliterated the park. I saw only Rachel’s face. It flashed before me like a frozen phantom. Her eyes bulged open in terror. Her face appeared so frightened, so real. Adrenaline spewed into my bloodstream as the muscles in the back of my neck snapped tight. A coolness rippled through my arms and legs. I tried to control the reactions of my body but couldn’t. My breathing became shallow and rapid. I dug my fingers into the earth beside me, trying instinctively to ground myself. I squeezed my eyelids tightly together. Although the full image of my daughter disappeared, the outline of her face still registered in my vision like the fading imprint of a sunspot.
I rubbed my eyes with the palms of my hands. What the hell was that? The question made me dizzy. Ignore it, I told myself. Then as if a bullet had slammed into my brain, I grabbed my head when a loud cry suddenly hammered in my ears. Jamie screamed my name in the vast arena just behind my eyes. My body went cold.
Trying to contain my burgeoning hysteria, I searched the park for my wife quickly, hoping my ears, not my thoughts had carried her voice. But I couldn’t find her amid the meadows and the people surrounding me. The drone of chatter and the sparkle of laughter heightened my anxiety. The panic level rose so quickly that I couldn’t remain seated. I sucked in a long, deep breath and bolted from the ground. Get home. Now. Come on, move! My legs carried me in a dead run up the side of the hill toward my car. My tingling hands fumbled with the shiny silver keys. I moved outside of every standard frame of reference. Nothing seemed familiar, not even my own body. Sliding into the front seat, I realized I had lost my agility. With great effort, I inserted the key into the ignition slot and turned it. The starter whined over and over again without making contact. Let it rest. Easy. Turn it and start it again. “C’mon, car, turn over. Please start!”
Rachel’s face rose out of the fog again and danced before me. Her beautiful, dark, inviting eyes were glazed and frozen…intense yet almost lifeless. Her lips were discolored. Her mouth stretched open as if she had been trying desperately to say something.
“Rachel,” I screamed, trying to catch her with my voice. Immediately she disappeared, leaving me alone and dizzy in the dampness of my body. I could feel myself losing control.
Again I closed my eyes. In the blackness, her face reappeared. For a second I peered intently into her eyes, feeling myself being pulled. I thought about Luke, and about Jamie’s terrible dream.
I’ve got to get out of here. I jumped from the car. Seven blocks. If I ran I could be home in a couple of minutes. Throwing myself toward the sidewalk, I lunged forward, frantic and charging like a stampeding animal.
Jumping from the curb between two parked vehicles, I collided with a slowly moving car. Flesh against metal. The thud of my body hitting the fender had a hollow ring. Brakes locked. Tires screeched to a halt. Breaking the impact with my hands threw me off balance. Tumbling over twice, I paused for a moment, dazed. As people rushed from their cars, I climbed to my feet. Pushing them aside, I forced myself to keep going. Soon my body carried me into a full run again, though my hands and elbow ached from the collision. In the distance a man yelled in my direction as car horns receded into the background.
One foot in front of the other. Stay focused! A pain developed in my right side, but I numbed it by diverting my attention to the staccato beat of my shoes slapping the pavement. Three more blocks. Two more blocks. After jumping a hedge, I turned finally into my street, barely able to contain an urgent need to scream as my house came into view.
After racing across the lawn, I jumped five stairs, then shouldered my way past the front door. As I charged into the hallway, Jamie came running down the stairs. She held the baby in front of her like a porcelain doll. Rachel’s eyes swelled out of their sockets. Her mouth opened as if calling for help. Her arms extended fully in front of her as if grabbing for air.
“She’s not breathing,” Jamie said in a deadly quiet and controlled voice.