by Brian Ames

The first night Mary saw a shape in her bedroom she simply pulled the bedclothes up higher and peered at it from under the covers. The response of a child, really, who has no framework or conception of what to do. She lay next to Magnus, her husband, and felt anxiety crawl on her. The shape, discernible only as an anthropomorphic shadow in weak light cast from their radio clock, stood in the corner next to the armoire. It had assembled there sometime before she had awakened, and waited. It didn’t move, nor did it further resolve. The shape simply remained motionless, and that was the most unsettling thing about it.

As Mary perspired into the sheets, her mind raced with what to do next. Should she try to rouse Magnus? The shape–she assumed it was an intruder–would know immediately that it had been discovered. It might execute whatever grim purpose it had resolved for this night, this household. Yet to wait, in fear, under the covers, seemed ridiculous. She must do something.

But she did not, and the radio clock changed numbers as moments passed. She began to wonder whether the shadow was a trick of small light, an outline cast from streetlights and, somehow, oddly diffused and refocused through the draperies. The fact that it didn’t move, just hovered in the corner–that it took no action–was peculiar. And it didn’t disturb the cats, which slumbered at the foot of the bedspread, waking periodically to groom their own inky fur.

She had a moment’s notion to address the shade. She would speak, in only a few seconds. Yes, she would begin an interrogation. Who are you? What are you doing here? What are your plans? But she found her voice box frozen, dryness seizing it shut. It felt as arid and clutching as the muscles surrounding her stomach, where dread manifests itself as gripping, clenching cramps. Nausea colonized her, and she felt that she must rise, maybe vomit.

As she stared longer, it seemed as if the shape slowly developed unrefined facial characteristics. But then these proto-forms would slip into obscurity so quickly Mary wondered whether they were actually there or products of her stimulated imagination. The shadow was, in ways, like an unfinished, occluded painting. A still life in the corner of her room that remained without motion, without sentience and, after a long while, without point. It was meaningless, this diffusion there, Mary decided. Nothing.

Resolved, as though her denial had rendered it thus, Mary’s fears eased. She and the form coexisted as well as could be managed in the darkness. In the absence of explanation, this was fine, she thought. The shade would either act or not act. Morning light was only a matter of waiting, and this she could do now.

Magnus shifted in his sleep, drawing the throw off her. The sudden exposure caused her to gasp audibly, and her husband mumbled a low, indiscernible dream-sentence. The shape vanished.

Later, when light finally had bridged the long night, Mary poured coffee into mugs, adding a spot of Beefeaters’ to hers. Magnus joined her in the kitchenette, burned his tongue and lips on his first sip.

“Stiff brew, dear,” he said.

“Good morning to you, too,” Mary said.

She had wrapped herself in a robe on rising, stepped across the room from the mattress to inspect the abandoned corner. Nothing had stayed of the shape itself, nor did any evidence of its nocturnal presence remain. The corner of the room was undisturbed, floorboards and the corner of a carpet unremarkable.

“You look tired,” Magnus observed in the kitchenette from behind coffee steam.

“Trouble sleeping,” she said. It would not do to disclose the source of her insomnia at this point. Magnus was extraordinarily skeptical, an atheist–or at least vigorously agnostic–a disbeliever in anything he could not directly see or handle. That there might be some logical explanation for the intruder’s presence the previous night had evaporated with the shadow itself. This left Mary with only the unexplainable–which would be impossible for Magnus to deal with. Instead she pulled up a dining chair and hovered over her own coffee mug with dark sacks under her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Any reason?”

“Dreams.” She spoke almost in a whisper. “I dreamt oddly all night.”

“About any particular thing?”

“No–nothing I can clearly recall.”

And over the course of her day, after Magnus gripped his lunch bucket and exited for work, she determined that, yes, of course it had been a dream. About nothing, indeed, that she could clearly recall.

By the time Magnus returned, she had swept the house’s carpets, ran three loads of laundry and hung them to drying, fixed herself some lunch, watched the telly for a few moments, and prepared a lamb chop supper. Her day had been unremarkable in all respects, so that when they retired, she barely had a memory of something disturbing from the prior night. She settled into the bedclothes with the lamp on, thumbed through a copy of Punch while Magnus read from a war novel. After a while, she noticed he was softly snoring.

“Magnus, love,” she whispered. He stirred. “Magnus, put your book away. You’re sleeping.”

Her husband started from his doze, emplaced a bookmark. “Yes,” he agreed. “Sorry, I must have fallen off.” He removed his reading glasses, set them and the novel on his bedstand. She too abandoned her reading, snapping off the lamp after an glance at the corner of the room next to the armoire. Darkness settled upon them. She moved on the sheets until she was next to him and waited to fall asleep.

Later, she saw that the form was not masculine, as had impressed her the previous night. Or if it was manly, it was diminutive. She had wakened, again, for no apparent reason other than to scrutinize the intruding shadow, which had moved nearer from the corner toward where the door opened onto the hallway. Closer, as it was, she still could not make out any features. But of one thing she was convinced–this was not a burglar or rapist. If it were, it surely would have taken action last night. And it seemed benign at this point. The shape simply stood and, Mary assumed, stared down upon her.

Still, shock and fear returned. Her skin resumed its clamminess from the prior night, pinpricks of gooseflesh erupting along the surface of her limbs. She lay absolutely still, breathing shallowly. Her skin felt as if an anthill had emerged through the mattress, spilling its crawling contents across her body.

The shadow gained some resolution through closer proximity to the dim light of the radio clock. It seemed tainted by the deep red. She decided for sure, after straining in the dark for a while, that it was feminine. And then a horrific thought occurred to her–it, she, knew Mary was awake. She knew Mary was watching. This opened up an entirely unexpected problem in that, Mary feared, there would be some sort of expectation of interaction. Two beings could simply not coexist in this way without some manner of intercourse. As Mary waited, she became more and more convinced that she would break the stalemate, would address the intruder.

But how would it respond? With intelligence? Friendliness? Mary lay gripped by indecision. She thought it more likely their interaction would be characterized by some kind of malevolence. This thing was not an angel or guiding spirit, otherwise it surely would have disclosed, by now, its intent. No, this thing seemed baleful, morose, a lost thing. Sorrow or abandonment seemed to emanate from the shadow.

Mary’s mind raced and she felt a spasm in her colon. She heard the hammering of her own heartbeat against the pillow, temple pounding an admonition across fabric. The skin on the drums of her ears seemed to stretch and warp as the sound of her blood pumping became universe-filling. She must know what this creature is, what it intended, or soon she would be adrenaline-flooded. If nothing was resolved, and the damned thing just stood there, she might soon become incapacitated.

An instinct borne of rising panic mechanized her. She nudged Magnus with full purpose. He called out into the dark room. The form at the door instantly began to dissipate, so by the time he had rolled over and snapped on the lamp, there was only a vacuum where it had, only an instant before, stood.

“Christ, Mary,” Magnus said through the congestion of a deep sleep rudely terminated. “What is it?”

She sucked her explanation back before it escaped. At this hour of night, Magnus would be wholly unsympathetic. If seventeen years as his wife had taught Mary anything, it was that, roused, Magnus wasn’t a very appealing fellow for some time. He required a number of swallows of coffee and a bit of muscle stretching before he could scarcely draw two meaningful sentences together and form a thought.

“I had a bad dream, dear. That’s all.”

His command and the dousing of light came simultaneously: “Go back to sleep.” She lay in the dark and listened to his breath become even again. The shape did not reappear for as long as she waited, so that in spite of her insomniac fatigue and emotional imbalance, she slipped into sleep as well. Indeed, when the alarm pinged in the soft morning light, she was surprised, and barely recalled with any clarity at all the night’s transpiration. She only remembered that the shadow had now, somehow, twice visited on consecutive nights and that it seemed, after the two nights, to bear no harmful intent.

Nevertheless, over the course of the day Mary became resentful. How dare this being enter her life uninvited? What had she done to bring down upon herself this confusion and unease? It was unfair and made no sense. And this fact evolved, as she completed the day’s tasks, from a sense that equity was not being served into a fully profound anger, so that she was furious–slinging dishrags about the kitchenette and handling the pots roughly–by the time Magnus returned from the job site.

He sensed she was displeased, but in spite of indirect–then direct–queries, could not derive the source of her displeasure. A man suited, more than Magnus, to a hands-off approach to life could not be found anywhere. In accordance with this, he retired to the living room to watch the news. She must be in the early clutches of her pre-menstruals. This could explain almost anything, he thought, grinning at the telly. And this he could abide, seeing as how he thought of himself as an ugly man, and Mary as lovely–beyond lovely. How a nail-driving, smudge-potted bloke such as himself had scored her was beyond his ability to explain. It was enough for Magnus, he reminded himself, that so beautiful a woman had consented to spend her life as his companion. And he sensed that, in an overall sense, he made her happy.

Later, the warbling of the telephone burst the silence of their room. As Magnus fumbled with the handset, Mary saw the form at the foot of her bed disassemble. The caller was Rory, Magnus’s foreman, telling him to report to a different work site this morning. Mary looked at the clock–it read 4:10, an hour and five minutes before the alarm was due to chime. In her mind, she performed a momentary but painstaking recombination of the shape as it had stood, closer yet than the two previous nights. In the second after the telephone had wakened her spouse, before Magnus had lifted the receiver, the intruder had stood there over the twin lumps of their sleeping cats, astonishingly defined.

She had been nude, a woman, most definitely. Mary had seen the outline of her breasts, hair softly cascading over small shoulders onto their rise. The shape of her had been exquisite, goddess-like, with a flat stomach and carefully trimmed pubic furze at the locus of slim, milky thighs. She recognized the shape as her own–it was as if she beheld herself from a mirror in a darkened bathroom. She puzzled through this as Magnus concluded his conversation with Rory:

“Very well, then,” she heard her husband utter, “see you in a while.”

At this moment, as Magnus replaced the telephone in its cradle, she chose impulsively to disclose the reappearance of the intruder.

“Magnus,” she said. “I’ve been seeing something.”


“Something … there.” She pointed in the general direction of the armoire, the door, the foot-end of their bed. “A woman. She… she’s… coming in here. At night.”

“Mary,” he began, and searched through drowsiness to make some semblance of the meaning of all this. “Mary, dear, what are you talking about?”

She regretted her disclosure. The timbre of his response made her feel idiotic, and she was so tired. She became defensive.

“I don’t know what the hell she is, or what she’s doing…”

“Love,” he said, adopting a parental tone, “you’re dreaming, like the other night.”

“No, Magnus–I know dreaming from not dreaming, and this was not dreaming.”

He looked at her from his stack of pillows. She watched him struggle with her credibility, watched him think on it for a silent moment, watched his decision made and spread across his rough face, his brow, his thick, pursed lips. He suggested she make an appointment to see Dr. Coombs. It produced in her an instant infuriation, like a firework.

“I’ll not have you mock me,” she said. “I’m tired and wrecked, you stupid git. She’s coming in every night, and I haven’t said anything to you like I should have done from the beginning, but like I’m already regretting I have done just now.”

“Mary…” he said.

But the fusillade was too great. “Don’t be a bastard,” she said.

“Now Mary, sweetheart, don’t bust my milk…”

“Just shut it.” She turned from him and pulled up the covers. Magnus clicked the lamp off again, and they both fumed for an hour–Mary not even so much as glancing at the foot of the bed but recalling the woman’s eyes, her own, almond-flecked brown, but void–until the alarm insisted they rise.

During the ensuing day, Mary was unable to let go of the eyes. It seemed, to her recollection, that they had been depthless in a way that didn’t suggest deep cognizance but, rather, emptiness. She gazed at her own eyes constantly throughout the day, until doing so became a minor mania–to check her gaze every fifteen minutes or so, and see whether she could discern content therein. But she seemed unable to differentiate, looking at her own stare in the house’s various mirrors, what made a gaze meaningful and content-filled as opposed to blank.

She drank again to mask her confusion, so that by the time Magnus returned, Mary tottered on the edge of drunkenness. To his credit, Magnus sought emendation for his callous manners of that early morning, but she was disconsolate. Instead she almost violently heaped fish and chips on the plate in front of him, having failed to blot the oil from the fried fillets. Her spoon load of mashed peas slapped onto the ceramic like dropped shite. Nothing he could say could mitigate her glare, so after he tried and retried a few times, he simply fell silent, forking in his supper.

They fell into bed later.

“I’m sorry for this morning,” he said. She moved next to him, asked to be held. Then their nightshirts fell away and she placed him inside her for a good, long, delicious while.

She woke with the face of the intruder inches from hers. With wide-eyes, Mary silently begged her own consciousness to convince her she was dreaming. She squeezed shut her lids so tightly she felt their ducts fill and tears well up behind them. Against the back of her eyelids, the afterimage remained: her own face was recognizable, but it was spectrally pale, the white deriving from within the shape but discolored in the red of the radio clock. Please go away, please, she thought.

Mary lay on her side curled like a small girl. The face–her face–had been at mattress level, as if the being had risen from the bedside, perhaps from underneath the bed itself. She recalled all the tales intended to frighten children where monsters, ghosts, and banshees swell beneath the bedsprings and rise in the night. And then she realized that, indeed, she was frightening herself in indulging this line of thought. If she kept shut her eyes, the vision would go away. She was never surer of a thing.

So, of course, she was then compelled to look, to open her eyes and verify that the woman was no more complicated than a dream.

Her face stared at Mary, vapid gaze crossing the inches between them with no more meaning than blowing ash. The intruder’s face didn’t blink, betrayed no acknowledgment that Mary’s eyes were open or closed. Lines on its skin, crow’s feet at the corners of the eyes, furrows on the forehead appeared deep and canyon-like. The pupils were like bottomless holes. And the lips were void of color–they shared the same neutral tint as the rest of the woman’s features.

Mary shrunk from it, her skin again tingling with horripilation. She inched closer to Magnus on the sheets–her movement disturbed one of the cats lounging at her feet. It stretched and settled.

And the shape rose, the neck ascending above the sheets’ horizon, then the breastbone and swell and cleavage, and Mary thought she would see her own familiar breasts in only a second. But when the visitor stood, the stone shapes of gargoyles emanated from her bosom.

In place of her breasts were beasts.

Mary shrieked. The visitor stood next to the bed as Magnus started, the eyes of the beasts of her chest flashed and Mary knew, then, that this was the seat of sentience for this visitor. Screaming, she experienced an instant revelation, clutching her bedclothes–those beasts, forged at the place from whence a woman nurtures, were not benign.

The woman–viewed through the veil of Mary’s terror as nothing more than a host vessel for the fiendish breasts–vanished as Magnus pushed himself up and alert.

“God, Mary, for fucksake…”

“She…” Mary gasped through an immolation of fear, “she had monsters for tits.”


Mary could not recall an instance where she had sleepwalked since she was a child. Yet she was doing so, this night, in her own room, the one she shared with Magnus. She didn’t know where her nightclothes had got to, and thought it was strange that she understood she was, at this moment, walking in her sleep. She would have expected to be dreaming or unconscious, but she was not.

She approached the bed with its cats at the foot. They remained silent, a pair of dark dollops at the feet of two sleeping forms. Who is this in bed with my Magnus?

Yet where circumstances should have rendered her well beyond inquisitiveness, she was oddly calm. She rounded the mattress to her side, noted the glow of the radio clock spilling an arc of redness onto the white sheets.

She pulled the covers away from the woman who lay there. Mary’s breasts began to swell and undulate. She felt in them scratching and the sharp unsheathing of granite teeth. Something wants to get out.

She sat gently on the bedside, the mattress giving a small bit under the weight of her. She pulled her calves upward, scooting her bum toward the woman, placing her feet delicately under the covers, and then pulled the spread up and over her. She began to consume the woman, until she had made the woman a part of her, so that Mary lay alone next to her husband.

As she was finished, she moved on to Magnus. Her breasts fed upon him as well, until they were full and nourished and had resumed their daytime shape, and he was gone. Then she slept.

Later reprinted in Head Full of Games, 2004, from Pocol Press.

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