The television in Marguerite’s living room had been switched on, but neither she nor Connor paid any attention to it. A vintage black & white horror film from the 1930’s flickered unwatched across the screen as Marguerite, dressed in a terrycloth bathrobe and with deep rings under her eyes, paced back and forth across the carpet. Connor, holding an unopened can of beer in his hand, sat on the edge of the sofa and watched helplessly. It frightened him to see how badly Marguerite’s condition had deteriorated in just the past few days.
“I’m still having the same horrible dreams as before,” announced Marguerite, “even though I’m not part of the experiment anymore and don’t have those metal discs attached to my head when I go to bed. Everything is just the same as it was. I’m afraid now to fall asleep. I don’t dare to close my eyes. I’m sure those awful creatures are only waiting for that to happen. That will give them their chance.” On the television beside her, a vampire dressed in a long opera cape stepped from a closet and advanced on a young blonde woman who stared at him transfixed.
Connor heard the fear in Marguerite’s voice and wished he were able to do more to console her. He searched his mind for some comforting formula but in the end could think of nothing useful to say. “I only found out myself last night that the metal discs and the electric shocks are no longer needed to induce lucid dreaming, at least not for us.”
“Why not? I thought it was the electricity that caused the dreams to be so vivid in the first place.”
“Maybe at first it was, but now apparently not. I can’t tell you why that is though. Perhaps once we’ve learned to dream lucidly it becomes a skill that we’re able to practice on our own without the need of any outside help and without even willing ourselves to do it.”
“There’s got to be more to it than that.” Marguerite’s voice was emphatic. “It’s those creatures that follow me when I’m asleep that are causing this to happen. I’m certain of it. Now that they’ve found a way to manifest themselves they’re not willing to disappear. They want to stay inside my head and continue torturing me.”
For the first time, it occurred to Connor to wonder if his lover might not actually be suffering a mental breakdown. The thought of psychosis in someone so close to him was terrifying. “Please, stop thinking like that,” he begged. “Those horrible things you imagine aren’t real. They only exist in your mind, nowhere else.”
“Are you really sure of that?” Marguerite was desperate. It was pathetically obvious she badly wanted to believe what Connor was telling her, but at the same time she could not help showing how deeply she doubted the truth of it. It was there in every word she said.
“Yes, of course I’m sure,” Connor lied. “How could these creatures exist independently of you? Where are they now if they’re real?”
“Perhaps they come from another dimension, some parallel universe.”
“Oh, come on, Marguerite. You’ve been reading too much science fiction. You know as well as I do that such things aren’t possible.” Connor did his best to keep his own reservations to himself.
“It’s easy for you to say. You’re not the one having these problems. You’ve been sitting here all afternoon telling me about some dream you had where you went time traveling back to the East Village in the days of the hippies.” Marguerite said the last words as derisively as if she were making an accusation.
“Counterculture would be a more accurate description,” Connor corrected her.
“Oh, will you please stop it!” Marguerite lashed out. “I’m being stalked by some malevolent force and you’re out enjoying a rock & roll concert.”
“It does sound pretty silly when you put it that way.”
“Does it?” For the first time, Marguerite seemed to be hearing him.
Connor pressed his point. “Yes, it does. Just listen to yourself. I understand you’re badly frightened, but you have to keep some sense of perspective, don’t you think?”
Marguerite all at once gave in and sat down limply on the couch beside him. Without even thinking about what she was doing, she took the beer from his hand and popped it open. “Eww,” she said after she had tasted it, “this is warm.”
“Would you like a cold one? I’ll get you one from the fridge.”
Marguerite shook her head. “No, it is not important.” She hesitated. “There is something I want to tell you that I’ve never let anyone else know about.”
Connor sat back and waited silently for her to continue. He had no idea what was coming but was sure it was bound to be unpleasant.
“When I was very young, only about twelve years old,” Marguerite began, “I was molested by my uncle. He was an airline pilot who often had stopovers in Zurich where my family was then living. My parents would welcome him and invite him to stay at our home. Since he was my mother’s brother, she trusted him completely and had no problem leaving us alone together while she went shopping. That was when he would touch me.”
“My God, that’s horrible.” Connor was too shocked to know what else to say.
“Yes,” said Marguerite, “but what was even more horrible was that I enjoyed it so much. I knew even then that it was wrong, but I didn’t want my uncle to stop.” She covered her eyes with her hand. “You see, he was a very handsome man and the first adult who paid any attention to me. And I was so lonely, an only child with no other companions.”
“You shouldn’t feel guilty about any of this when it was you who were the victim. You were too young to understand what was happening.”
“Perhaps. But even now, when I think about it, I still feel a thrill as I remember his kisses. I loved the touch of his hands as they caressed my body and probed inside me.” Marguerite stole a glance at Connor to better gauge his reaction. “Doesn’t it disgust you to hear me tell you this? In my heart I know I am no better than a whore.”
“Did you ever tell Dr. Reicha about this?” Connor asked.
“No, never. I’m sure he would not have let me in the project to begin with if he’d known I had this on my conscience.”
Connor took Marguerite’s hand. “There are some very good therapists who could help you work through this.”
“It is too late for that. It was my lust for the forbidden that opened the door in the first place to these creatures who want so badly to hurt me. They know what I did, and now they are preparing to punish me for it.”
“That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,” exclaimed Connor. “You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s your uncle who should be in jail for the rest of his life. He’s the one who’s the pervert, not you.”
“Oh, he has already paid for what he did. Exactly a year after he and I were first together, his plane crashed on a mountaintop as he was once more traveling to my city. He’d sent a postcard the week before telling me how much he was looking forward to seeing me again. No one ever discovered what caused the crash. Everyone on board died.”
“He deserved worse than he got if you ask me.”
“Now it is my turn,” sighed Marguerite in resignation. “That is the reason they are coming for me.”
“No one is coming for you. Can’t you see that the only one who is punishing you is yourself? You’re so filled with guilt for something that wasn’t even your fault that you’ve invented these creatures who you imagine are all set to carry you off to hell.”
Marguerite began to cry. “Oh, if only I could believe you,” she said.
Connor held her tight. “Inside, you’re still a child in pain.”