The stuff of nightmare is their plain bread. They butter it with pain. They set their clocks by deathwatch beetles, and thrive the centuries. They were the men with the leather-ribbon whips who sweated up the Pyramids seasoning it with other people's salt and other people's cracked hearts. They coursed Europe on the White Horses of the Plague. They whispered to Caesar that he was mortal, then sold daggers at half-price in the grand March sale. Some must have been lazing clowns, foot props for emperors, princes, and epileptic popes. Then out on the road, Gypsies in time, their populations grew as the world grew, spread, and there was more delicious variety of pain to thrive on. The train put wheels under them and here they run down the log road out of the Gothic and baroque; look at their wagons and coaches, the carving like medieval shrines, all of it stuff once drawn by horses, mules, or, maybe, men.
Real terror is a crippling experience. You sweat so much that your skin goes all wrinkly like when you've been in the bath all afternoon. And then the scent of your sweat changes. It smells like cat pee, no doubt from the adrenalin. However hard you wash, it won't come off. It smothers you, as your muscles become frozen with acid and your mind paralysed by despair.
A few other couples joined us on the dance floor and we lost ourselves among them. I'd never been able to figure out exactly what was involved in slow dancing, so I contented myself, as I had since high school, with gripping my partner to me, letting out awkward breaths against her ear, and tipping from foot to foot like someone waiting for a bus. I could feel the sweat cooling on her forearms and smell a trace of apples in her hair.