Suddenly, his face was drenched in sweat and he leaped up abruptly, still half asleep. The jumble of French changed to a cry in English and he shouted in a hoarse voice I barely recognized as his “My breath, my breath!” Then he was completely awake and the expression on his face changed back into one I found familiar. He grabbed my hand on one of his and with the other reached under the pillow for the Bible.
“I dreamed,” he said. “I dreamed I was here, in this house, which was also not this house. It was a shelter of the most basic simplicity—some sticks and leaves leaned against a hollowed out tree in which I sought shelter from the storm. And also a small one-room cabin, which seemed also to be this house, but not quite. Imagine them all, superimposed on each other, as if you are seeing the past haunting through the present, like the underlying grain of wood through an old coat of paint. The scene kept changing, but still seemed the same. Once I was in a hastily dug open pit, with a crowd of angry faces around me. Another time, I felt myself confined to a coffin, able to see the mixed grief and relief on the faces of the mourners who gathered round me. And then again, I was confined to a bed, tended to by a constant vigilant crowd.
“So many of them looked like us, bore the unmistakable features of the Allen family. And all the while, I felt like I was choking, as if some presence, something I could not see but only feel, had spread throughout my body and was attempting to take over.”
I shuddered at the thought of that—my uncle in his ancient body struggling against forces that have had the better of much younger, more able-bodied men. But then, I thought, a dream is only a dream, and this one might well be the result of a man trying to process all of the information we had so lately learned.
As we talked, I found that I felt less ill-at-ease and soon I was yielding to yawns and so took my turn on the cot. My uncle seemed very much awake and he said he welcomed the chance to take his turn, even though the nightmare had awoken him far ahead of his allotted time.
I fell asleep quickly and my dreams were as nightmarish as my uncles. I dreamed I was confined and alone, bound and gagged. I felt trapped, as if I had been buried far beneath the earth and forgotten. I tried to scream, but, in the suffocating dark, it was useless. It was not a pleasant sleep and, for a second, I was not sorry for the echoing shriek which had flung me to a sharp and startled wakefulness.