It was midnight when Billy's nightmare came. Sarah knew this from the position of the moon outside the bedroom window, shining a dull ivory light through hastening clouds. Instantly awake, she slipped from her bed and moved silently through the familiar darkness to her parent's room. She hesitated at the foot of their bed, fearing what was to come... and then Billy's nightmare got far worse, and she was shaking her mother's shoulder and whispering urgently in her ear. "Mom... please..."|
Eyes blurry from sleep, Alice Walker mumbled something barely coherent, struggled mightily, and sat up. The mumble was attempted again, "Yes dear, what is it?"
Sarah swallowed once, a big swallow, and told herself she would not cry. "Oh mom, it's awful, it's Billy, he's having a terrible nightmare, please come, hurry!"
"What do you mean?" her mother asked slowly, straining her ears... but the house lay cloaked in silence, touched only by the rushing wind outside. Billy's room was adjacent to their own, by rights she should hear him -- by rights he should have come. "Where is he?"
"I told you, he's having a nightmare, you have to come!"
A deeper, baritone mumble arose from the other side of the bed, and her father rolled over with a sigh. "Sarah," he said, and she could feel his smile through the darkness, "I think someone had a nightmare, and it wasn't Billy. You're just getting too mature for this sort of visit, so you blamed it on someone else..."
"No!" Suddenly she realized she would cry, very soon. She stomped her foot, an entirely futile gesture. "Why won't you believe me, he's really in trouble!"
"Want me to take her, Tom?" Alice asked drowsily.
"No, think it's my turn," said Tom, and there was two soft thuds as his bare feet hit the floor.
"C'mon, luv... Let's go check on Billy, then it's back to bed." She fumbled through the darkness for his hand, and, finding it, allowed herself a sniffle of relief before practically yanking him off his feet. Together they tiptoed through the darkness to Billy's room. Half an eternity later, they were standing beside his bed. Lying upon it was little Billy, looking all the world like a 7 year old cherub. Golden curls spilled haphazardly around his peaceful face, drifting occasionally as his breath caught them.
"See?" Her father's whisper tickled her ear. "He's sound asleep, as should be you! Come..." and he was pulling her away. Sarah opened and closed her mouth, carefully, twice. It wasn't supposed to happen like this, something was wrong... but wakefulness and logic were stealing the thought from her, and she let herself be piloted outside the room.
Back in the hallway, her father continued, "How could you even hear Billy in the first place? Your room's at the opposite end of the house... if he needs help, he just calls us, you know that. Here we go. See how far it is to your room?"
He was treating her like a little child, and yet she couldn't find the words to counter him. It all made too much sense, and she was suddenly so tired, and her room was indeed far, and her bed felt soft as her father tucked her in...
And then Billy woke up screaming.