Robert starts himself awake, breathing in the cold night air, his face awash with dew. He shivers in his thin black trousers, rolls over off the crushed flowers and wet grass, and sits up, facing the gravestone. It’s happened again.
This is the fourth night this month that he’s woken up in the graveyard, each time next to a different gravestone, but always with that same interrupted dream of something moving towards him through the forest, trying to be quiet as it stalks him between the trees, but he can hear the rustle and crack of branches or dry, dead leaves and with every step whatever it is is closer, and closer, and closer…
What wakes him up is not the footsteps of the invisible beast gaining on him through the woodland, not its hot, rotting-meat breath or the dry crackling of snapping twigs. What wakes him up is the voice. Always a woman’s voice, and always saying one name in a stage-whisper right in his ear.
Robert blinks his eyes now and tries to recall the name from his dream, and in so doing, looks at the gravestone.
HERE LIES VERITY COLLIER, the stonework reads. A grim smile unnaturally twists Robert’s lips as he mouths the words he can read. His breath steams the night air.
Verity Collier, he thinks. Who were you?
And he knows, now, that hers was the name whispered by a dream-ghost in his ear before he woke. He knows that because it’s what happened the other three times he’s woken up here. Each time, the name on the gravestone was the same as in his dream.
Robert shivers, and heads for home.
Once home, and showered and warm, Robert gets out his little notebook. In it, he’s been capturing how the dream progresses and what name the woman’s voice whispers to him before he wakes.
Something’s following me and in my head I know it’s a dream but I’m moving too slowly to be able to get away from it and I’m somehow in a forest and I can track the thing’s movements by listening to the branches it snaps but it’s getting closer and I can’t find a way out of its path and that’s when she whispers MARTHA WILCOX right in my ear and I wake up in the graveyard right by Martha Wilcox’s grave
The dream remains pretty much the same each time, but the names change. And each time, the gravestone next to which he wakes bears that name.
Robert clicks on his ballpoint pen and writes today’s date and the name.
A knock at his front door startles him, and he pads down the stairs to answer.
Palms sweating now, because the young gentleman on his doorstep - no, peering past him Robert realises there are several young gentlemen on his doorstep - is wearing a police officer’s uniform and holding a piece of paper which bears Robert’s own name.
Robert breaks down and confesses to it all. How, over the last month, he killed each of the women in the forest a mile from his house and buried them in the abandoned graveyard on the outskirts of town, probably on the sites of old burials. How he carefully, lovingly fashioned gravestones for each of his victims in the workshop at the bottom of his garden and sneaked back to the graveyard in the dead of night, erecting each stone above the place where he’d buried them before falling asleep where he stood. How each and every one of them deserved it, wearing those high heels and short skirts, those red-lipstick, fuck-me smiles and then shutting him down when he tried to make a move. Hell, it’d be enough to drive any man crazy.
As the cuffs ratchet into place around his wrists, Robert smiles. An hysterical giggle escapes his lips.
‘Enough to drive any man crazy. Wouldn’t you agree, Officer?’
Inspired by Deftones’ cover of ‘If Only Tonight We Could Sleep’, by The Cure.