His screaming stopped when the mind finally comprehended that the body was lying on the same bed as when he had closed his eyes. Sweat-soaked, tied down by the sheets that wrapped around him, Luke lay back, panting for breath. Unable to bear the silence echoing in his head, he began to mutter softly, as if afraid of awaking the Beast. But the voice, even as a whisper was too loud.

Luke gazed around the small room, waiting for the Beast to emerge and creep toward him, roused by the softly whispered words and drawn ever closer by the whistling breath. The walls were the same, as they should be, bluish in the moonlight, crowded with posters of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. In the shifting light, their two-dimensional figures appeared life-like and the eyes stared back at Luke's terrified face.

"Please, please, please . . ." Luke begged, burying his face into the cool dampness of the disarrayed pillows. His pleas became moans, then silence as he slept again.

A jangling riot woke him, and Luke flew from his bed to the wicker chair in the corner and collapsed. The alarm bounced on the night stand in time with its cacophony, the metallic clanging dull in the morning air. Warily, Luke stood, glanced around at the disheveled bed, the littered floor, and pushed damp hair away from his forehead. He faltered to the window, peered around the curtains, then pulled them back and threw open the window to stand in the early sunlight and drink in the morning breeze.

"Just dreams," he muttered to himself. Then again, louder, "Just dreams!" Luke screamed it to the sky.

His defiance carried him through the day, from the hurried breakfast to the equally hurried meetings at the office. People kept their distance throughout the day, looking away as Luke came near. Wild-eyed and unseeing, he skittered around corners and shied away from shadows. Finally, Jennifer approached him.

"Luke, you alright?"

"Huh?" He sprung back from his desk where he sat hunched over miscellaneous bills and invoices.

"Are you alright? You're really jumpy today, Luke, and you're staring at me as like I'm a ghost."

"I am? You are?"

"Luke --"

Jennifer's thought hung uncompleted in the fractured air, broken by Luke's strangled cry as he dove under the desk. Her brows knit together in concern, she walked around the desk. Underneath, Luke cowered, desperately grasping at nothingness to form a barricade.

"A dream," he whispered. "You're a dream, nothing but a dream. I'll wake up and you'll disappear and everything will be fine. I'll be in my home, in my bed, and this will be a fading memory of a nightmare. You are a dream. I will wake up. I will wake up! I will wake up! I will wake up!" Luke screamed as he crouched underneath his desk. Jennifer slowly backed away, her face a mask of fear and worry, as Luke's screams became louder and louder, while he beat hands and head against the confines of the desk.

A crowd gathered around the body, smashed unrecognizable on the sidewalk. They gasped involuntarily at the sight, and women hurried the children to the other side of the street, trying to make convincing stories to stop the barrage of questions: "What happened, Mommy?"

"Just happened, sir. I called you as soon as I got here, thought you might like to see this. Absolutely unreal. Please, folks, let us through! Charlie, get names, numbers, witnesses, anything!"

"Yes, sir!"

Even the police chief grimaced and turned away from the sight of the broken body surrounded with shards of blue and yellow glass. A seeping ooze stained the pavement scarlet.

"What story?" he asked breathlessly.

"Fourteenth, sir. He was an employee of RightBooks, the accounting firm."

"Do we have an I.D. yet?"

"Luke Scarp."

Another officer joined the chief and the other, Jennifer by his side. Tears made muddy tracks of mascara, cracking the powdered porcelain of her face.

"Sir, I think you better listen to this."

"I don't know what happened,'' Jennifer whispered, so softly, forcing the officers closer to hear her. "We went out a couple of times. He was just this normal kick-back guy, and today he was so different."

"Ma'am, did Luke ever use any chemical substances?"

"No, at least . . . well, I don't think so. He looked frightened this morning, wide-eyed, slinking along walls and stuff. I tried to talk to him, find out what was happening, but he seemed so unaware." She broke and sobbed, the various officers standing by, self-conscious and unwilling to intrude.

"And . . ." prompted the chief.

"Then his eyes popped open, really wide, and it's like he didn't see me anymore. He screamed and cursed at something, then crawled under his desk and cowered there. He babbled about a dream, about waking up, then came out almost calmly, walked to the hall, and ran toward the window. I yelled, I cried, I tried to get him to stop, but he didn't." Her voice quavered and cracked as she collapsed.

The officer guided Jennifer to a nearby squad car and helped her sit in the back. As he walked away, he heard her begin to whisper hoarsely.

"A dream, just a dream, I'll wake up and everything will be O.K. Just a dream, just a dream . . ."