Ever since we moved there I had been afraid. It wasn’t the house itself, you understand, but the feeling that something was coming there. I didn’t know what. Yes, as you say, this was probably an irrational fear — or at least I should have considered it such, having no logical reason for my apprehension. But nonetheless, as of moving to this house, I could feel this sense of presence, this unknown something, that I knew would be coming to kill us, sooner or later.
The strange thing was, none of the disturbing dreams or vague apprehensions that had been plaguing me were of violence — only of death. A subtle, but irresistible doom, like a soft embrace that slowly smothers you. And that made it all the more frightening, in a way. Violence can be fought, defended against. But this — would we even recognize it for what it was, before it was too late?
I know, this sounds mad. And perhaps no one who has not been haunted by such dreams and premonitions can understand how compelling they can be. Clara was the only one who seemed to understand at all, or take my fears seriously — no one else thought them anything but aimless anxiety. But Clara — she had not experienced the feelings herself, not exactly, but yet she said she felts a sense of something imminent — some strange force or current, readying itself to sweep over us, inexorable as the incoming tide.
The difference between us was that she did not necessarily believe it to be our deaths. Or perhaps, looking back, she did, and simply had a different view of what that meant. We have always been, Clara and I, two of a kind in some respects, yet very different in others. Both of us always one step apart from everyone else in our perceptions, and united by that, and yet, sometimes at odds with each other as well.
She tried harder than I did to convince them — I had learned the futility of trying to make the family listen to any of my less rational perceptions, once they had dismissed them. I had no desire to end my days in a sanatorium somewhere.
But Clara continued to speak of it, and grew increasingly agitated when her claims too were dismissed. At one point, when Mother refused to hear her vague predictions of some coming presence, and scolded her for making up stories, her eyes rolled back in her head and she fell to the ground in some kind of spasm, terrifying to behold. I rushed to her side, but nothing I could do could calm her, and Mother sent for the doctor. By the time he arrived, the seizure had passed, and she was slowly stirring. After hearing what happened, he made an examination, and eventually ascribed the spasm to hysteria, and left Mother with a nerve tonic to administer to her.
Not long after that she began walking in her sleep. It has always been a characteristic trait of our kind to have vivid dreams, but hers seemed to take on an unprecedented power. I watched her, sometimes, at night in the room we shared. She would be sleeping peacefully at first, then gradually begin tossing and turning, writhing in her sleep as though in pain, or perhaps intense pleasure. Then, on some nights, she would rise from her narrow bed, eyes open but apparently unseeing, mind somewhere far away. At first she would go to the window of our room, and as though guided by some unseen force, unlatch it and throw the window wide open, standing in front of it as the cold wind off the moor chilled the room, her long hair and nightgown blowing in the wind.
When I took her by the shoulders and guided her back to her bed, she never resisted, and after a few nights I stole out to Father’s workshop, took some nails and a hammer, and nailed the window shut. Thereafter, I saw her rise during her nightly dream-walks, and go to the window, and try in vain to open it, eventually either returning to her bed, or, sometimes, collapsing on the floor beneath the window and spending the rest of the night sleeping there.
My fears were eased for a time — well, my fears of Clara welcoming in the thing that brought our deaths, at least. My original fears, and the dreams which conveyed them, continued unabated. Did I, too, walk in my sleep, I wonder? Perhaps pacing the bounds of the house, making sure no window or door stood open? I will probably never know.
But then, one night, I awoke from a particularly vivid nightmare, with a start, and looked across the room to see Clara’s bed empty. Fearing the worst, I quickly donned my slippers and dressing-gown and rushed out into the hall. The chill of the air in the hallway, the faint sensation of wind upon my face, told me all that I needed to know. I ran down the hall to the stairs that led down to the front door of our house, knowing already what I would find, and there it was — the door standing wide open, and Clara nowhere to be seen.
At first, I slammed the door closed, and ran through the house, calling her. But there was no response — neither from Clara nor, though I failed to mark this at the time, from anyone else. Eventually I returned the front door, realizing now that she had left the house, and I would have to go outside and find her, despite my fears of the night outside and what it might contain.
I fastened my coat over my dressing-gown and nightdress, and stepped outside, closing the door behind me so that, I hoped, whatever Clara had gone to secretly welcome would not find its way within.
Outside, a mist lay across the moor, and I could see her nowhere. Patches of dense forest here and there, relieved by stretches of open moorland in between, could have hidden almost anything. I set out, calling to her periodically, but heard nothing but the wind in response. I don’t know how far I wandered before I found her, but eventually find her I did — emerging from a patch of forest, I glimpsed a pale form in a white nightdress, arms raised to the windswept sky, moving slowly as though in the steps of some elaborate dance. All around her, the mist moved like a living thing, and I thought I could see strange shapes in it, shapes that have haunted my dreams ever since.
I ran to her and seized her by the shoulders, shaking her in hopes of waking her up and persuading her to return home, but she was like a rag doll in my arms. I did at least succeed in interrupting her strange trance, and she collapsed in my arms in what appeared to be a state of ordinary sleep. But I was not strong enough to carry her home. I half-carried, half-dragged her as far as I could, until in my exhaustion I finally collapsed and we lay entangled at the foot of a tree, and there slept, my last thoughts before sleep took me being to wonder whether I had truly saved her, or only secured for us both a quiet finish, as the thing that moved in the mist took us both before reaching the house.
But eventually my eyes opened to the morning light, and I found us both alive, though cold and cramped from sleeping on the ground outside. I roused Clara and she followed me obediently, though she did not speak in response to any of my questions. We wandered through the woods and eventually found our way back to the house — only to find the door standing open, and strange people milling about — the doctor, police, and others I did not recognize. I knew, then, that whatever it had been had spared us, even though we had seen it in the mist, but that the rest of the family had not been so fortunate. I remember little after that, though I am told I fainted.
They said, afterwards, that it had been a problem with the furnace — that some sort of gas had been released from it, and filled the house. And that it had been only Clara’s sleepwalking, and my pursuit of her, that had saved us from the same fate that took the rest of our family. But I know what I saw, and what I dreamt before. I will never tell anyone — not the caretakers of this orphanage, nor whatever family adopts us, if any ever does. As I said earlier, I have no wish to spend the rest of my life in an asylum. It is bad enough that Clara has still not spoken since that night, and grows upset if separated from me. But I can soothe her, and when I am there she is at least quiet and tractable.
Perhaps, some day, a family in need will adopt us, despite Clara’s condition. And we will do our best to make a normal life, and never speak of what happened that night.
Unless, of course, the dreams begin again...
Based on two pieces of random text drawn from spam e-mails:
patches of dense forest relieved persuade by
to secure quiet
finish to us that though we had seen
As of this house was as you say (this was coming to kill us as for what a soft embrace (the spasm and walking in our kind when she secretly