IT WAS A NIGHT OF DISTURBED SLEEP, covers sweaty and forlorn, thrashed and piled atop one another haphazardly. There seemed to be something stirring, drawing Gerald from his slumber. Usually, he slept very well—like the dead as some would say, though he was quite reluctant of using such an analogy.
His eyes opened into darkness, not to the pitch of night, but of blindness. He could remember nights when he still had sight, and the fears that the dark seemed to display in every shadowed corner, silhouettes that would appear perfectly harmless in the morning light. Now, those fears seemed silly to him.
As he woke in the middle of the night, sweating and disturbed, it was the sounds—or lack thereof—that could bring those childhood fears of the dark back to him. Though it wasn’t the dark, per se, that brought fear into the mind of a blind man.
Gerald could tell by the utter silence that it was about three in the morning. The city was always quiet during those wee hours in the middle of the night, long after last call. The only sound was that of an occasional car driving by.
Yet, there was something awry, something he could sense, though he was uncertain of what was wrong. Perhaps an intruder, but he would have heard a noise by now, his hearing having been amplified in the years since the onslaught of his blindness. Then something caught his eyes, something shadowed and still, standing at the foot of his bed. How could that be?
“You can see me, blind man?” said a soft female voice.
Gerald was too shocked for words. How could a woman be standing at the foot of his bed? How was it that he could see her?
She’s no woman, thought Gerald. She’s a spirit.
“I can smell your fear, blind man . . . but you not need worry of me.”
“How?” Never before had one of them been able to talk so coherently. This woman was something of a spiritual miracle, or perhaps a demon. He wasn’t experienced with demons.
“You need not know how, blind man. I require your help.”
Gerald was very used to hearing the phrase “I need your help” from the living, but this woman—this shrouded figure standing before him—was no longer of the living, of that he was sure.
LIFE CAN BECOME SOMEWHAT OF A RITUAL, a routine that sneakily takes hold without notice, and before too long there seems to be no way to alleviate the monotony. For some, the simplistic ritual of everyday life is a means of stability and comfort. For others, it can act as a wedge that creates a divide—each monotonous ritual a swing of the mallet on that wedge, widening the divide and further separating what once was whole.
It had been that way for the past several years of their marriage—hell, for the whole five years of their marriage. When nine-thirty rolls around, Justine’s dressed in her scrubs. With a peck on the cheek, she’s off to the graveyard shift at the hospital.
Adam would smile, kiss her back, and tell her he’d see her in the morning before work. On those dreary mornings (he, foggy brained from sleep; she, worn out from work) they would have an hour together to eat. He would have breakfast, while she would have what served as dinner. It became a routine, a goddamned ritual. Yet, they were oblivious to the detrimental effects it was having on their relationship.
Adam thought about their predicament while sitting in his easy chair, sipping a beer and watching Sports Center. This was his little ritual every night. The one perk of not having his wife around was that he could watch whatever he damn well pleased on TV. Then there were the nights when he couldn’t stop thinking about what their lives had become. She was gone every night, while he sat at home alone, drinking into oblivion. He very much had begun to realize the throes of their daily routine. It was crazy.
It’s cryin’ time again.
Adam hated the thoughts that the beer brought on. His father had called drinking “cryin’ time”. Apparently, his old man had had a lot of “cryin’ time” in his life, too, for cirrhosis of the liver had taken him at fifty-six.
He took another swig, trying to focus on the hockey scores, but he couldn’t. His mind was troubling him more than usual, pestering him with thoughts of infidelity—his wife with Derek, that male nurse she worked with, her back against the wall of a storage closet, his hands groping at the landscape of her body. In Adam’s mind, Derek gives her a kiss, one the French would be proud of, a kiss a thousand times more passionate than the little peck she gave Adam before she left the house. Then, he unzips the front of her uniform, and . . .
Shut the hell up!
It was the beer again, talking, whispering jealous thoughts into Adam’s ear. It’s cryin’ time again.
“I should write a cheesy romance novel thinking up things like that,” Adam said aloud, addressing an empty room.
“I don’t know what the hell I’m thinking.”
He took his empty into the kitchen and exchanged it for a fresh beer. He cracked the top and took a hefty guzzle. It was getting late, but what would one more hurt?
Back in the comfy confines of his easy chair, Adam finally extinguished his ridiculous fears about his wife’s loyalties. What was he so scared of anyway? The hospital could be busy at night, especially the ER. She was probably getting an IV set up for someone who’d come down with a terrible sickness, or drawing someone’s blood, or . . .
Nothin’ to worry about, Adam thought as he swallowed the last drops of his final beer for the night. It was after midnight: past Adam’s bedtime. Tomorrow would be like every other day. How dull does that sound? He would wake up at six in the morning. Justine would walk in the door around six-thirty, exhausted from a night of dealing with everything from bloody bodies to crazy night owls and drunkards. They would have a meal together, and then he would be off to the shop to build custom cabinets.
Then, she would do whatever it is she did during the day.
“Don’t even think about it,” he scolded himself. “She sleeps during the day, does housework. That’s it. Don’t start in on the cheating shit.”
After brushing his teeth, he crawled into the lonesome bed. It was the lack of intimacy that was frying his brain with thoughts of infidelity, thoughts of Justine and Derek in the storage room at the hospital. For all he knew, she was having the same questionable feelings toward him. She may be at the hospital this very minute, racking her troubled mind over the awful thought of Adam at home, in bed with a mystery woman.
Yeah right. That’ll never happen.
It was the last thought Adam had before he retired to the land of dreams. He didn’t sleep the whole night through, though. There came a disturbance in the middle of the night, both strange and enticing. It was about three in the morning when Adam was awoken by the feeling of someone beneath the sheets with him.
At first, his eyes opened wide at the lump beneath the covers, wondering what was going on. Instinct told him to kick and push the intruder away, but after gathering his thoughts together (feeling the unseen bedmate pulling his boxers off) he realized the person meant no harm. That didn’t make what was happening any better, but likewise, Adam’s body failed to reject the caressing of soft hands beneath the sheets. His heart raced as she caressed and stroked him.
To him, it sure didn’t feel like it, but what did he know about crazed homosexuals? The hands were petite and soft, definitely a woman’s hands.
As his mind unglued from the epoxy of deep sleep, he realized what was going on. He felt ashamed for allowing some mysterious person to pleasure him, because at first he was willingly acknowledging the possibility that it was indeed a stranger. It wasn’t anyone unknown, though. The thoughts and feelings were something he was going to have to keep to himself.
It was Justine.
She had done this once before, after unexpectedly being allowed to leave the hospital early. That was several years ago (back when their bond had been still very tight, before that pesky wedge began splitting the seam), and it had scared the shit out of Adam. Though, it was a pleasant surprise.
He smiled and groaned, letting her know he was awake and enjoying her little surprise. It had been a long time since they’d been with one another sexually, maybe three months. He couldn’t have been happier.
And I was thinking she was hot for Derek.
As good as her mouth felt, he knew she wasn’t a big fan of giving oral sex.
“Honey, where are you? I can’t see . . . my eyes haven’t adjusted.”
There was no response.
“Where are you? Are you gonna try and sneak up on me again?”
Still no answer came. The night suddenly felt cold and dark, and just a little frightening. Had it been some lunatic, some mad-person getting their rocks off on giving unsuspecting strangers blowjobs in the middle of the night?
Oh my God!
He looked down at the boxers hanging around his ankles and pulled them up. If there was no one in the room, then how had his boxers been pulled down? He hadn’t pulled them down, he was sure of that. Besides, it felt so real. Disbelieving his own mind, Adam walked around the bed and looked under it for good measure. He found nothing.
It could have been a dream, but Adam didn’t believe it. He could separate a dream from the real thing, and what he had felt under those covers had been no dream. If it were a dream, when had he woken up? He had reached his hand out to his wife, and with his touch, the sheets had dropped over him as the shape disappeared. At no point had he felt as though he’d awakened from a dream. It was real, all of it.
I felt her hands on my flesh for crying out loud!
As he thought about it, he could pinpoint when he had woken up. He had awakened as he felt someone beneath the sheets pulling his boxers down. How could he not wake up? It was the kind of thing that didn’t happen every night.
It had to be real, he thought in disbelief. Hadn’t it?
Sitting on the bed, Adam knew sleep would be nonexistent for the rest of the night. If the experience had been merely a dream, that would have been one thing. However, he was adamant that what had happened, what he felt under those sheets, was real. Even as he thought about it, it seemed real, felt real. He knew the power of dreams and how life-like they could be, but never before was he convinced that a dream really happened.
The phone on the nightstand caught his eye. Perhaps he should call Justine, just to make sure.
I don’t need to call her. If that was her, she wouldn’t have snuck away like that. The gag would be over by now.
Against his own better judgment, he picked up the phone and dialed the number to the hospital. After several rings, the receptionist answered. “Kaiser Hospital, how may I direct your call?”
“May I speak to nurse Justine Kroger, please,” Adam said, disguising his voice to sound like that of an old decrepit man.
“Let me see.”
Oh God, she’s gonna’ tell me Justine went home early.
“Thank you.” His old man voice was about as authentic as Pamela Anderson’s breasts.
After what seemed like a small eternity, a voice he knew very well said, “This is Justine Kroger.”
Adam abruptly hung the phone up, as if she would know it was him based on the pattern of his breathing. He looked at the phone resting in its cradle as if it were something evil. In some part of his mind, he thought she actually was at home, playing some elaborate prank on him. It was the only logical explanation.
“If not her, then who?”
Suddenly, the house felt eerie. Gooseflesh created a bumpy landscape on his arms, as the feeling of being watched took hold of his worried mind. The room seemed to swell—every crack and corner a place that eyes could be watching from, eyes of the stranger who’d snuck into his bed.
But you enjoyed it!
He felt sick because it was the truth. For a moment there, before he thought it was his wife, he had been ready to go along no matter who it was. It seemed like some sort of fantasy, where a mysterious woman wakes him out of a sweet slumber for a night of unadulterated sex, and it had felt good.
Once again he felt ashamed of himself, the idea of some crazy intruder watching him now fading like an old Polaroid. It was a dream, he told himself, nothing but the makings of a teenage sex dream.
With that, Adam nestled back under the sheets and fell asleep, much quicker than he thought he would.
Praise for People of the Ethereal Realm:
"People of the Ethereal Realm is a wicked tale of possession and mayhem that is sure to unnerve the most seasoned horror fan! It's original, frightening, and very creepy! A ghost tale with razor sharp teeth! I loved it!"
--David Bernstein, author of Damaged Souls and Machines of the Dead
"Robert Essig's voice is a beautiful thing. He wields it like a handcrafted baseball bat, and People of the Ethereal Realm is Essig at his finest, with a story that hits hard but leaves pretty scars."
-- Craig Saunders, author of Deadlift and The Estate
"People of the Ethereal Realm starts off slow, allowing us to get comfortable with the characters, but then picks up so rapidly that you find yourself turning pages for hours. I finished this book in two sittings. Well done!"
-- Michael S. Gardner, author of Betrayal
People of the Ethereal Realm is available at Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.