Mrs. Jenny Locke often wondered how it began. When she lay shivering in bed, feeling the deep shadows of night roll over her, her mind replayed scenes of recent and long ago years, tumbling in an endless cycle. Perhaps the new horror had started with the dream. Perhaps not. All she knew was that the dream marked the time when she realized that even after twenty-two years, the Shadow Men weren't going to leave her or her family alone.
The dream started with her walking through a cool gray mist, a sign that she was having one of those dreams. The dreams she had promised a dying Julian she would have and allow him to share with her.
But it had been at least fifteen years since she'd had one, and therefore she was surprised to find herself having another at the age of thirty-nine. Usually in the dreams she walked through the mist until a bright flash of light came and brought her to a beautiful place, sometimes a meadow with a rainbow of wildflowers or a peaceful deserted island in the middle of a clear aquamarine sea. Once, they had even stood on top of Mount Rushmore.
Always, Jenny walked around whatever place Julian had chosen in silent wonder, marveling yet again at the splendor of the world even in illusion, and then suddenly he would be standing before her, more beautiful in dreams than she remembered him being in life. He'd reach for her hand and they'd find a quiet place to sit and talk.
Actually, Jenny was the one who talked, and she'd talk for what seemed like hours about her life, politics, the weather, and every other bit of miscellaneous information that she wanted to share. Julian would sit and gaze into her eyes as he listened. He never spoke. Simply seeing her and hearing her voice was enough.
Whenever she ran out of things to babble about, Julian would smile one of his beautiful smiles, only now with more gentleness than cunning, and lean over to kiss her left cheek. Always her left, never the right, as if he was afraid of the side that belonged to Tom. The side that ached when he was away for long periods of time, even now after they'd been married for so long.
After the tiny kiss, the beautiful scenery would fade and Jenny woke thinking about him. She never went to bed hoping to see him, but after having such a dream, she was always glad that she had.
The dreams had come less frequently over the years before stopping altogether in her mid-twenties. Maybe Julian had gotten tired of hearing how successful Tom was as CEO of Locke Sports, the small sporting goods store he'd started that now was a chain with stores in California, Nevada and Arizona, or how long it was taking to potty train their daughter, Charity. Anyway, Julian had stopped visiting her and he'd been pushed to the back of her mind because of the pressures of life.
Now, thirty-nine year old Jenny was glad she was dreaming again. She had so much to tell Julian, such as how she'd recently caught Tom with the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated, the issue she threw away every year. This time he'd gone diving through the trash for it, and after a fight, she'd searched his drawers, expecting to find forbidden back issues of Playboy. He was clean as far as that went, but she did find a red ladies wig which concerned her, but she knew well enough to put it back and ignore it. Whatever Tom did with the wig was none of her business, and honestly, she really didn't want to know.
Jenny also wanted to tell Julian about their daughter Charity, now a fully potty-trained and a moody sixteen year old who insisted on rebelling against everything life threw at her. Jenny frowned upon this, constantly reminding her that she was never so insolent as a teenager. She'd decided long ago that Charity's bad qualities came from Tom's side of the family. Charity looked very much like her mother, except for her rich chocolate hair that came from her father. Other than that, Jenny at sixteen and Charity now could be twins.
Jenny was ready to tell Julian this and more. She looked around expectantly... where was he? She had never wandered through the mist this long. Although time was relative in dreams, she had a great sense of minutes passing and still being alone.
Then an amazing thing happened. Jenny's mind separated from her body and she watched herself move forward through the mists, a spectator to the action. Jenny gaped at her figure in surprise. This had never happened before. She couldn't help wondering what Julian had planned, but she wasn't worried. Only curious.
She should have worried. She should have felt the wrongness of the situation.
But no, she watched herself with a happy sort of expectation, no suspicion in her mind. She was anxious to see Julian, something that had rarely happened before. It had been such a long time, and crazy enough, she had missed him. She missed him – she missed the way he would take her hand and listen with more attention than anyone ever had, the way he'd look at her with his striking blue eyes that made her feel no other woman had existed since the beginning of time. Even dead he made her feel special, chosen.
Suddenly, he was there, floating in the gray mist several feet from her body. As usual, he was a shock to her senses. There was nothing human about his looks, about that hair white as winter frost, falling seductively into his eyes. About that pale skin and long, dark eyelashes, and especially those eyes of an indescribable blue that caught her breath more than the rest of him.
Julian opened his mouth. He was speaking to her... well, not to her exactly, but to her body. She saw herself answer and whatever she said made Julian's brilliant eyes shine with a light she hadn't seen since the old days. Jenny wanted to call to him and ask what they were saying, but found she couldn't. The dream was like watching an old silent movie, except that it was in color and there were no subtitles or eerie orchestral music accompanying the scene.
When Julian leaned forward and kissed her cheek, Jenny felt no alarm. He'd always done that in her dreams. It wasn't until she realized that he'd kissed her right cheek, the side that belonged to Tom, that she became concerned. He'd done it deliberately, for he smiled when he pulled back. It was the smile that gave Jenny chills more than the actual kiss, for it was his old mocking smile, not the one of gentle compassion she had become accustomed to.
Something happened then that Jenny couldn't believe. Julian never touched her, never said a word, but Jenny's arms encircled his neck and pulled him close. With her own free will. Jenny was uneasy as she watched, but swallowed her fears quickly. What was wrong with a hug?
Nothing. Nothing at all, and she would have been perfectly fine if the hug had stayed a hug, but the two figures before her started kissing. Jenny did a double take. A triple take, but it didn't matter how many times she looked or cried out, because they were kissing passionately like lovers separated for years and there was nothing she could do about it.
This isn't right, Jenny thought frantically. I love Tom. But as she watched, the memory of Julian's kisses came back to her – kisses that made her whole body feel alive in a way Tom had never been able to match. Even so, she knew she would never submit again, so this had to be an image Julian was showing her. What Julian wanted to happen.
Forget it, Jenny thought nastily and tried to wake up, but nothing happened, as if Julian had a more powerful hold over her dreams than she'd thought. There was nothing to do but watch Julian and the woman who looked like her kiss. She snorted. It was ridiculous watching herself, a woman pushing forty, kissing a boy who looked no older than twenty.
At first, Jenny was so caught up in her disgust that she didn't notice something amazing was happening, and when she realized she had difficulty breathing. She watched her body grow younger and younger until she was sixteen again, the age she'd been when she had first tasted Julian's intoxicating kisses.
If only the reverse aging had been the end of it. But now her hair color was changing, darkening, until Jenny realized that it wasn't her kissing Julian after all. It was Charity. Charity was kissing Julian.
Get your hands off my daughter! Jenny tried to yell. She wished she could run and pull the two apart, but a mind has no legs to move with so she was frozen. The two kept kissing, bound together by a mysterious force. As far as Jenny knew, her daughter had never kissed anyone (that's what all mothers hoped), but it looked like the girl knew exactly what she was doing. She giggled as she pulled away, and looked into his eyes with delighted mischief before diving back for more.
The scene changed suddenly as a dark storm cloud shadowed the passionate embrace. It wasn't kissing anymore; Charity was struggling in Julian's grasp as he sucked life from her with his mouth, and all the while, Julian grew stronger, more powerful, making Charity little more than a tiny brown field mouse in the jaws of a tiger.
No! Jenny wanted to scream, feeling terror wash over her. Leave her alone! Take me instead... Julian! But Julian paid no attention, and she wildly wondered if he knew she was witnessing this.
All life left Charity's body and she slumped against him, still and pale. Julian did not appear concerned with the fact that she lay in his arms, either unconscious or dead. He gazed down at her fondly, and traced her jaw line with his fingertips. Triumph flickered across his face. He was pleased.
Jenny screamed then, a real verbal scream which was the only sound she'd heard during the dream. Julian whipped his head her way and when she saw him full on, Jenny felt shock squeeze her chest like a vice.
For Julian's eyes, once an intense electric blue, were now golden like the eyes of a hawk, or a cat. They were the eyes of a predator. And they were fixed on her.
Jenny screamed again, and didn't stop until she jerked awake in her own safe bed, shivering. Quickly, she sat up and pulled the quilt around her shoulders, shaking and crying quietly so as not to wake her husband. It was a terrible effort to calm down, and she had to remind herself that it was only a dream. A nightmare from the depths of her imagination.
For Julian was dead and trapped in a mysterious world of dreams. He couldn't hurt her any more than he could hurt her daughter. And she half-believed that even if he could, he wouldn't since he'd been so kind to her. Jenny forced herself to stop shaking. There was no way Julian could harm her or her daughter ever again.
Or so she hoped.