"The Black River Valley runs through the center of Pecan Groves, Texas. Lately, it floats."

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Jim Stevenson sat bolt upright in bed, gasping for breath with deep, panicked whoops. His motioned disturbed his wife, Karen, from her slumber, also. As always when this happened, she pounded on his back and demanded to know if he was alright in a terrified, anxious voice.

Once he caught his breath, Jim nodded and angrily waved her painful thumping away. "Yes," he choked, "I'm okay. It happened again. That's all."

"Again," she asked? "This is the third time in as many months."

"I know that," he snapped!

"Jim, I'm concerned. You should go to the doctor."

"I've been. They never help me."

"Maybe you should go to another kind of doctor," she prodded softly.

He stiffened. He spun his sitting position atop the bed to let his legs dangle over the edge. "You mean I should see a psychiatrist or a psychologist."

"If you think it might help." Karen bit her lip. This particular conversation always set him off, but she felt compelled to try, nevertheless. "I would support you, no matter what might happen."

"What do you think will happen," he demanded crossly?

"Nothing, Jim. I worry, though. You know how I worry."

He sighed leadenly, relenting. "I know. It's okay, baby. I'm okay. Go back to sleep."

"Really? You're going to be alright?"

"Really. Nothing to fear. Nothing to worry about. Go back to sleep. I'm going to sit up for a while, maybe have a glass of water or something. Maybe watch some TV."

"Okay, Jim. Just remember… I'm here, if you need me."

"I know, darling, thank you. It means so much." Jim rose, slipped into a pair of shorts and a faded t-shirt, and then he left their bedroom for the living room, where he propped himself into a recliner to wile away the early hours of the day, waiting for the merciful Sun to rise and drive away the demons of the night.

Jim could not tell his wife, he could never confide in anyone, the true horror of his night terrors. He could never describe the monstrosities that stalked his nightmares, in part because nobody else could ever understand, and in part because he scarcely understood them, himself. Though his heart yet raced and his pulse yet throbbed, the visions had already faded into the mists of unconsciousness. He knew he felt the deepest, most mortal sorts of fear, but he could not say why. He could never say why.

"What the hell," he wondered in an exasperated whisper? "What the hell is wrong with me?"

He thought perhaps he should visit a head-doctor, just to be sure they could indeed do nothing to save him. He thought he might feel better after talking to someone else about this terrible problem. Then again, he felt more fear at the thought of healing than he felt at the thought of awakening this way every night for the rest of his life. After all, the unknown, unspoken demons that plagued his dreams faded in time, while the truth that psychological counseling might reveal he feared would never go away.

In the dark, he lay there reclined in his easy chair, licking beads of perspiration from his upper lip, and he struggled to conjure happier thoughts and brighter visions. He tried to remember every joke he had ever heard, and he tried to smile at their empty punch-lines, never mind their tired familiarity borne from so many nights spent recovering from slumber's horrors. As he lay there, he heard a familiar rattle at his back door.

It was the sound of tiny paws scratching, scratching, scratching at the bottom of the door, begging entry. As he had almost crept to the verge of sleep again, Jim cursed softly and wished the noise away. For a time, it complied.

Then it returned, more desperate than before. Grumbling, he kicked the recliner forward and locked it into place, cursing his little Yorkshire terrier, whom his wife had named, of all things, 'Bob'. "Bob, god-damn-it," he spat, stalking across the living room to turn the doorknob, "how the hell did you get out?"

With a forceful yank, he pulled the door open and the heavy, dank night air collapsed through the doorway, rocking him backward. The summers in Pecan Groves, Texas roasted scarcely cooler than the days. Sweat immediately burst from every pore, while the cool drafts of the home's overworked air-conditioner ebbed past his feet.

"Bob," he called softly! "Bob! Get in here, pronto!"

Jim stepped through the door and stood on the back patio, his head turning, neck craning, and his eyes bulging to see through the night. He called repeatedly for the dog, before he heard a familiar whine behind him. When he turned, he found Bob standing sleepily in the middle of the living room, apparently drawn fresh from his own comfortable pallet by the front door. "Bob?" asked the man foolishly, knowing Bob could not speak. "How the hell do you get inside again?"

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