Usually what we witness verges on the normal. Drunken young men fighting, swaying about with outstretched knives, cursing randomly, Robbery, bashings. We back off to see such violence, but we can hardly be shocked or surprised any more, and we're never tempted to intervene: it's always far too cold, for a start! A single warm exhalation can coat the window pane with mist, transforming the most stomach-wrenching assault into a safely cryptic ballet for abstract blobs of light.
On some nights, though, when the shadows in the room are lightly wrong, when the familiar street looks like an abandoned film set, or a painting of itself strangley come to life, we are confronted by truly disturbing sights, oppressive apparitions which almost make us doubt we're awake, or, if awake, sane. I can't catalogue these visions, for most, mercifully, are blurred by morning, leaving only a vague uneasiness and a reluctance to be alone even in the brightest sunshine.
One image, though, has never faded. In the middle of the road was a giant human skull. How big was it? Big enough for a child, perhaps six or seven years old, to stand trapped between the jaws, bracing them apart with outstretched arms and legs, trembling with the effort but somehow, miraculously, keeping the massive teeth from closing in.
As we watched I felt, strange as it may sound, inspired, uplifted, filled with hope by the sight of that tiny figure holding out against the blind, brutal creature of evil. Wouldn't we all like to think of innocence as a tangible force to be reckoned with? Despite all evidence to the contrary.
Then the four huge, blunt teeth against which the child was straining began to reform, tapering to needle-fine points. A drop of blood fell from the back of each upraised hand. I cried out something, angry and horrified. But I didn't move.
A gash appeared in the back of the child's neck. Not a wound: a mouth, the child's new and special mouth, violently writhing stretched open ever wider by four sharp, slender fangs growing in perfect mimicry of the larger fangs impaling the child's palms and feet. The new mouth began to scream, at first a clumsy, choking sound, made without a tongue, but then a torn, bloody scrap of flesh appeared in place, the tongue of the old mouth uprooted and inverted, and the cries gave full voice to an intensity of suffering and fear that threatened to melt the glass of the window, sear away the walls of the room, and drag us into a pit of darkness where one final scream would echo forever.
When it was over, we climbed into bed and snuggled up together. I dreamt that I found a jigsaw puzzle, hidden in a dark, lost corner of the house. The pieces were in a plain cardboard box, unaccompanied by any illustration of what the assembled puzzle portrayed. Wendy laughed and told me not to waste my time, but I sat frowning over it for an hour every evening, until after many weeks only a handful of pieces remained unplaced.
Somehow, even then, I didn't know what the picture was, but as I lazily filled in the very last gap, I felt a sudden overpowering conviction that whatever the jigsaw showed, I did not want to see it.
I woke a little before dawn. I kissed Wendy very softly. She rearranged herself, pulled a face, but didn't wake. I was about to brush her forehead with one hand, which I knew would make her open her eyes and give me a sleepy smile, when it occurred to me that if she did, there might be small, fanged mouths behind her eyelids.
When I woke again it was half past seven, and she was already up. I hate that, I hate waking in an empty bed. She was reading the...