Young Adult -- Jenna WallaceI stood near the bed, eyeing my pillow like an enemy. I wanted to fall into bed and sink into oblivion, and yet I dreaded sleep. The fear that it could happen again, that I might wake up wandering somewhere in the house, or even worse, down in the field by the canal, kept me from closing my eyes.
Unable to force myself to lie down, I wandered over to the window and climbed onto the window seat. Although it was after ten, daylight lingered on the gardens and the flat green lawn surrounding Heraldsgreen House. The light was disorienting. In Virginia, it would have been dark by this time, but June nights in Scotland were so short. As I stared out into the fading day, a restless wind stirred the towering chestnuts and the leaves murmured with secrets, sending twitches of anxiety into the depths of my stomach.
Too tired to put off sleep anymore, I unfolded the massive wooden shutters across the window, struggling against hinges gummed up by centuries of paint. The fading daylight was reduced to strips of brightness around the edges, throwing the room into deep shadow.
The bed was cold, the sheets slightly clammy. The backlight from my laptop screen lit my room, which still looked wrong and unfinished. I stretched out, lying rigid with my hands clenched in tension, hating to give into exhaustion and leave myself vulnerable, exposed.
The darkness pressed against me. I lost count of how many times I dozed and woke in the night. I had that distant, awake-all-night feeling, though I must have slept at some point. After grabbing a t-shirt from the floor and draping it over my eyes to shut out the eerie nightlight glow from the laptop, I drifted.
The sound of screaming woke me from a deep, dreamless sleep. And then I realized I was the one making that terrible noise.
“Abby! What are you doing?” My father’s frantic voice somehow cut through my screams.
“What?” I cast around, trying to get my bearings. Squinting in the darkness, I made out the outlines of the living room. I stood next to the window by the fireplace, where bricks were stacked in sharp piles and the wind echoed down the chimney. Midnight blackness pressed against the rippled glass panes and the lawn beyond was a washed-out gray.
The dusty blue velvet curtains were bunched in my hands and crumpled at my feet. Above me, the heavy wooden curtain rod dangled from one screw, the rest ripped out of the wall. My shirt and face were gritty with plaster.
“Daddy?” I pleaded for an explanation in a raspy voice.
Dad stood in the half-light coming from the tall, bare window.
“I woke up because I heard screaming,” he said, his voice flattened by tension. “You weren’t in your room. I came down here and found you standing there by the fireplace. Then you just grabbed the curtains and ripped them out of the wall.”
“Why did I do that?” I asked, my throat so tight I had a hard time getting the words out.
“I don’t know.”
I couldn’t see his face very well in the dark. The tone of his voice told me he was scared, which scared me because Dad was the calm one in our family.
“Are you OK?” he asked.
I was most definitely not OK. I was cold and scared and I had just ripped my curtains down in my sleep.
I looked around the room, still and eerie in the moonlight. Shadows clung to every surface. Some unseen draft swirled dust and debris around my bare, icy toes. My jaw ached with the effort of stopping my teeth from chattering. Tears pricked at the corners of my eyes.
“Abby, are you OK?” Dad asked again, more sharply.
“Yeah.” I didn’t trust myself to say anything more.
“Were you dreaming?”
I had to think about that for a moment. “No, I don’t think so.”
Dropping the curtains to the floor, I brushed the plaster off my shirt and out of my hair. Dad came to me and blew some plaster out of my ear. My answering laugh was small and shaky. I breathed deeply, trying to get my heart to stop tripping in my chest.
“Let’s get a drink,” my father said, putting his hands on my shoulders and steering me through the massive oak door to the kitchen. He gently pushed me toward a chair and then took out some glasses. He joined me at the table, sliding a glass of water toward me, while his own glass contained a pale, amber-tinted liquid, telling me there was some whisky in his water.
“I really freaked you out, I guess,” I said, nodding at his drink, before cooling my raw throat with my own.
“Yeah, you could say that.”
“Out of five nights of sleepwalking, it’s only the first night of property damage, so I guess that’s something.”
Dad gave me one of his wry, lopsided smiles in response and took another big swig of his drink.
Last night, the sound of my father calling my name had awakened me. When I’d tried to get up from my place on the cold floor of the living room, I was so stiff Dad had to help me. The night before, he’d managed to catch me before I made it out of the bedroom. And the night before that, I had gotten to the kitchen door before waking up to my father’s concerned face. Each time, we’d gone back upstairs in silence, neither of us knowing what to say. Each morning, we’d laughed a little bit about it, made a few jokes. Now it wasn’t funny anymore.
Five nights of interrupted sleep. My head, heavy and leaden, sank to the table and I rolled my forehead on the cool wood.
“Do you think I’m going crazy?” I asked.
“No, of course not. Stress makes people do funny things. You’re in a new house, a new country, you miss Mom.”
“It’s a lot to handle all at once. If you are worried, we could make an appointment with a doctor.”
That was the last thing I needed, being poked, prodded, analyzed. I picked my head up and concentrated on looking unconcerned. “Not necessary. I must have been having a dream.”
“Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea,” he said thoughtfully.
“It’s just sleepwalking.”
“Well, there’s something else,” Dad said in a weird kind of voice that stopped me dead.
“You were talking in your sleep earlier.”
“What did I say?”
“It was truly bizarre,” Dad said. “I came in to check on you…”
“You still check on me? Dad, I’m seventeen.”
“Hard habit to break. Anyway, I came in and you were just mumbling. Then you stopped and a moment later, you started up again, speaking clearly. I could understand every word.”
“So what did I say?” I asked again. As far as I knew, I’d never talked in my sleep before, so I couldn’t imagine what I would have come out with.
“Does the name Giles Fielding mean anything to you?” Dad asked.
“Doesn’t sound familiar. Why?”
“You were talking about Giles Fielding. According to you, he’s the younger son and a painter. Is this a boyfriend I should know something about?”
“I’m sure I’d remember if it was. You know I only date musicians anyway.” I was trying for jokey, but the funny got lost in the strangeness of the moment. “What else did I say?”