His bedroom door opened two minutes later, but there was still enough time to set things to rights.
“Son?” Henry Petrie asked softly. “Are you awake?”
“I guess so,” Mark answered sleepily.
“Did you have a bad dream?”
“I… think so. I don’t remember.”
“You called out in your sleep.”
“No, don’t be sorry.” He hesitated and then spoke from earlier memories of his son, a small child in a blue blanket-suit that had been much more trouble but infinitely more explicable. “Do you want a drink of water?”
“No thanks, Dad.”
Henry Petrie surveyed the room briefly, unable to understand the trembling feeling of dread he had wakened with, and which lingered still — a feeling of disaster averted by cold inches. Yes, everything seemed all right. The window was shut. Nothing was knocked over.
“Mark, is anything wrong?”
“Well… g’night then.”
“The door shut softly and his father’s slippered feet descended the stairs. Mark let himself go limp with relief and delayed reaction. An adult might have had hysterics at this point, as a slightly younger or older or child might also have done. But Mark felt the terror slip from him in almost imperceptible degrees, and the sensation reminded him of letting the wind dry you after you had been swimming on a cool day. And as the terror left, drowsiness began to come in its place.
Before drifting away entirely, he found himself reflecting — not for the first time — on the peculiarity of adults. They took laxatives, liquor, or sleeping pills to drive away their terrors so that sleep would come, and their terrors were tame and domestic: the job, the money, what the teacher will think if I can’t get Jennie nicer clothes, does my wife still love me, who are my friends. They were pallid compared to the fears every child lies cheek and jowl with in his dark bed, with no one to confess to in hopes of perfect understanding but another child. There is no group therapy or psychiatry or social services for the child who must cope with the thing under the bed or in the cellar every night, the thing which leers and capers and threatens just beyond the point where vision will reach. The same lonely battle must be fought night after night and the only cure is the eventual ossification of the imaginary faculties, and this is called adulthood.
In some shorter, simpler mental shorthand, these thoughts passed through his brain. The night before, Matt Burke had faced such a dark thing and been stricken by a heart seizure brought on by fright; tonight Mark Petrie had faced one, and ten minutes later lay in the lap of sleep, the plastic cross still clasped loosely in his right hand like a child’s rattle. Such is the difference between men and boys.