His dream was often the same. It was like this:
Stenson came into the front room, and through the large picture window he could see an enormous, somewhat terrifying figure. It was a man, a plump giant with pink, greasy skin. He was standing unshod on the short sidewalk leading to the front door. He was facing directly at Stenson.
The man was easily seven feet tall or more, with meaty shoulders and sausage-size fingers. He was wearing a worn, stained open-necked shirt with laces at the collar. His head was nearly egg-shaped, with a sparse crown of reddened skin peaking above a ring of wiry blond hair.
His face was a study in dull expressions. It was dotted with sprigs of beard. Hanging below a bulbous nose was a large, open mouth and an untidy arrangement of teeth. In the center were black, beady eyes that gazed unerringly, but not exactly threateningly, through the window back at Stenson.
A few moments passed.
Stenson realized that neither he or the giant had moved an inch. He resolved to break the stalemate.
He glanced to his left. Initially, he had a mind to move in that direction, toward the door leading to the kitchen. There was a screen he could close, a back door he could walk out of. But something made him stop.
He noticed that, even though he was not looking at the giant in the window, it was clear that they were both looking at the same spot. Stenson switched his eyes back to the giant, and the giant’s eyes clicked back onto his. Stenson felt a chill.
A small crest of drool passed over the giant’s lips and down his gnarled chin. Before it got far, a leathery tongue slipped out from behind the teeth and wiped it away.
In his mind, Stenson now counted the number of steps to the front door. Then his eyes involuntarily glanced in that direction. Stenson grimaced and closed his eyes.
The giant’s eyes did, too.
The two were staring at each another again.
…He sat bolt upright. He was in bed.
At that instant, he would liked to have said that he had no idea where he was. People are always waking up, he had read, and not knowing where they were. But the eerie blue glow of the white carpet in nighttime, the dark trim of the wallpaper, the inky hues of the blankets, each of these were sufficient to orient him. He was in wife’s childhood bedroom in a lonely farmhouse.
She was sleeping inches away. He was wide awake.
He sighed and wiped his face with his right hand. His eyes drifted from the half-open blinds covering the window to a toy cradle across from the foot of the bed, the settled on the blank face of a doll. Two dolls, actually.
One had a big head, a pouting mouth and no eyes. The effect was disturbing. The doll’s face seemed to be frozen in indignation. The second doll was smaller. Its face was ravaged by decayed plastic and scuff marks. Arranged as they were, the dolls seemed like an omen. On the left hand, demonic possession; on the right, disease and despair.
He wiped his face again.
Outside he could hear the wind. Inside he could hear the furnace.
He looked out into the hall. The carpet glowed all the way to the bathroom. He could see the wall-hangings and…
…Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that the black-eyed doll was gone.
Again, he was dreaming.
Stenson was in an expansive living room, black with nighttime. It was quiet. On one wall was a large fireplace built from stone. The hearth had a ledge across the front of it, like a step in a great public building. There was firewood stacked on either side. Across from that was a broad, blank wall, framed by twin floor lamps.
In the middle of the room sprawled a cold, leather sectional couch. Pillows dotted its dark surface.
Stenson was standing there. It was dark. He waited to see if his eyes would adjust, but there was no moon. Ahead of him, a stereo receiver shone a indistinct green spotlight on the carpet in front of it. But the light did not reach far. Mostly his eyes played tricks on him with faint sparks of color.
He gingerly raised a foot and nudged it forward.
He took another step. He stopped and waited again.
The house was profoundly quiet. So quiet that the sheer serenity of it seemed to rush in his ears like surf.
Stenson was not alone. There were seven beings sleeping peacefully not far away. His wife, several in-laws and a Cairn terrier. Now and then, he believed he could hear a snore or sigh from behind a closed door. But quiet would quickly crash over him again.
He took another step and was jarred by the hard edge of a coffee table. Or an end table.
It wasn’t his house. He didn’t know what it was.
Come to think of it, he did not even know why he was awake. The kitchen, with its cold pitchers of water and juice, was behind him. The bathroom was down the hall, next to where he had been sleeping.
Why was he standing in the living room?
Stenson stood still, still hoping for some depth and clarity to sharpen the edges of the vague shapes that gathered around him. The couch he could recognize; it dominated the room. He knew there was a recliner in the corner. He knew there was a long glass coffee table, littered with home magazines and financial newspapers.
The rest of the room — where he had spent several of the previous afternoons — was a mystery to him.
He sighed. He raised his foot again — and at that moment two powerful hands gripped his elbows from behind.
His eyes widened. His heart lurched into a brisk beat. Hidden fingers tightened; he could not move.
Stenson tried to make himself talk. But he couldn’t. He found that he couldn’t see.
He couldn’t hear anything other than a low, mournful hooting noise. It was an elongated note, growing in strength, the sound of a cartoon owl. Stenson realized with a start that he was making the noise.
He sat bolt upright in bed, again.
He looked from the window to the blue-hued white carpet. And from there to the small toy cradle, and the lifeless eyes staring back at him.