Two years ago I started having dreams about a house.
It was a house I’ve never been to, a house I have never seen. By now though, I can describe the thing as if it were my own home. I know the details, I know its dimensions. Hell, I could build the thing if I had the money and motivation to do so.
It always goes like this; I move past wooden doors that branch off from the long corridor that I am slowly gliding down. Sun-bleached paintings, turning figures into ghosts framed in gold. Russet-coloured wallpaper embossed with Fleur-de-Lys meets dark panelled wainscoting that runs the length of the wall.
Golden coat hooks gleam in the bulb light. An elegant walnut table by a large front door, which is adorned with so many locks. On the table is a slender, fluted glass vase filled with purple flowers whose petals litter the wood below; lilac or lavender. An umbrella stand with one black umbrella handle poking from it.
A subtle shade of pale green plays inside the room cast by the daylight passing through the leaves that cover the large windows. The shadows of the vines cast crooked fingers onto an old, but expensive-looking rug. Motes of dust flare in the raw shards of light, caught in the space between the floor and the ceiling.
In the dream I think I am a kid, or I am just really small. I’ve been told it could be a metaphor for a feeling of powerlessness, or maybe something like a desire to abdicate from my adult responsibilities.
Music starts playing from an antique record player; it fills the absence of movement and tracks the passing of time. After an acoustic guitar introduction, a warm melodious voice starts to sing, “We three, we’re all alone, Living in a memory, my echo, my shadow, and me.” There is a warm rustle of static running under it all.
There’s this delicate white tea set laid out over a red and gold trimmed tablecloth. The cups look like bones poking from an open wound. The cups have tiny, intricate grey veins running through them as if they have been smashed and carefully glued back together again.
Three places have been set, but I never see the third person. I slide over to the table and then an old guy sits opposite me. He looks like he’s in his late sixties or thereabouts. His hands shake as he pours tea into all three of the cups from an ornate china teapot. The cup clinks against the saucer as he places mine down in front of me. I notice liver spots dusting the aged skin on the back of his hand.
The whites of his eyes are as yellow as his smile. “Drink up, drink up,” he says flashing those teeth at me. The voices in the background sing, What good is the moonlight, the silvery moonlight?
That’s about all I remember. I normally wake up shortly afterwards with a pain in my chest from my heart hammering, white and red spots dancing in my eyes, and I’m drenched in sweat.
I’ve been told to write it all down because it might help. Doctors and psychologists and psychiatrists have all worked on my case. I’ve been filmed sleeping and I’ve watched myself dreaming, knowing what is happening and when, but I’ve never been given an answer.
I close my eyes and I can see the teeth, the lines in the old man’s face. His pupils are rheumy and blue, like a sapphire trapped in ice. There’s greenish-white gunk congealed at the corners of his eyes. White nostril hairs poke out and recede as he talks, which makes the tip of his bulbous nose pull back, like the twitch of a nervous rabbit. There’s no ruby map of gin blossoms around his nostrils though. His hair is receding, and what remains is slicked back, and white. He is the epitome of regular, normal old man. There’s nothing there in his face or movement that will tell me who he is, and I know I’ve never met this guy before, but I cannot help but feel that this is someone I have intimate knowledge of.
In my dream he is wearing a black robe, cinched at the waist with a black, shimmering silk belt. His shoulders are dappled in a cosmos of dandruff.
What good is the moonlight, the silvery moonlight?
I awake from the dream again. My wife stirs and mumbles. A caring but tired hand is placed across my belly and then her light snoring begins again. Outside, a car passes, and a square of pink morning light creeps across the ceiling.
I get up quietly and shower, letting the images in the dream flow down the drain with the water. I can still taste the tea, which is bitter and metallic. The ghost of the taste is still there after I brush my teeth.
I get dressed and sit in my kitchen with a trashy crime thriller in my hands, waiting until my wife gets up. After a couple of chapters and bad character development, she pads across the room with wild hair and pouchy eyes, and hugs me. I squeeze her forearm and she kisses me on the neck.
“Anything different this time?” she asks and drags a chair out from under the table to sit opposite me. There never is anything different, but her asking me is part of our morning ritual.
I stop mid-crunch of cereal. “Nope. Same thing.” Milk drips from my beard onto the table top.
“Thanks for not waking me up this time though,” she says, rubbing the sleep from her eyes and starting in on her own cereal.
She’s not really one for morning conversation; she’s monosyllabic until she’s got some coffee inside her.
At 7.30, I kiss my wife goodbye and step outside. Wind is rustling the trees and a few people pass in front of my house. My house is nothing like that house. Pieces of the dream come back to me throughout the drive to work. Some things set me off, like the mottled grey light of the sun punching through heavy cloud. I see the window of the house again. I can never make out the view beyond the glass, just that light. Apparently it doesn’t mean anything, but then why do I feel is it so important for me to remember it? The first psychiatrist I saw told me about the palace of the mind; a mental routine for remembering stuff. He told me to list out all of the things I saw in the house and try and associate them memories. He wouldn’t give up on that dumb theory, and I stopped seeing him after the fourth session.
It feels like a normal sort of day. I’ve been working on the same building project for the last month. My client, a fusty old German guy by the name of Jonas, decided that half-way through the build he wanted to start playing around with the design of his new home, which required the moving of several load-bearing walls. I’m not usually an on-site kind of architect, but Jonas insisted that I be on hand throughout the build, because I have a better relationship with the brick monkeys, as he so charmingly put it.
He’s a large man, poured rather unflatteringly into a pair of long yellow waders held up by brightly-coloured braces. He has little hair on top, but a large white beard that rolls down from his bulbous cheeks like mountain mist, tapering to a fine point. He threads the end of it through his fat fingers when he is considering anything of importance.
I chat with him for most of the morning, stifling yawns and redistributing my weight from one tired leg to the other as Jonas goes on about changing the size of the front room yet again. He drones on in heavily-accented English that he has just received the good news that his wife’s sister is about to be a grandmother for the third time, and that maybe if they extended the living room by another few feet, they would want to come and stay with them, even though they don’t really like England, because they love Nuremberg so, with its pointed skyline and beautiful vista’s painted in reds and greens and oranges, and oh, I simply must go…
I nod my way through this and note down the changes on my blueprints. I tell him that I will do my best in changing the fundamental design of his home, even though the foundations and floor have already been laid.
He seems pleased with that. He thanks me and I walk back to my car.
I drive a few streets and pull up outside a coffee place. I get out and walk across the road. I have a strange feeling of remembering something half forgotten, like the fading memories of a dream upon waking. My hands start to anxiety tingle and my fingers flex instinctively to get the blood flowing again. Droplets of cold sweat bud and creep down my spine. I blow out a long breath and pull in a slow controlled one to fight the sudden constriction in my chest.
I stop outside the shop and pretend to read the sign whilst I gather myself. It’s been a while since I’ve had a full-on panic attack, and this one comes out of nowhere. The only exterior sign is a sudden movement of my hand to my chest. I blow out another long breath and concentrate all of my thoughts into avoiding it from escalating. I am in control, I AM in control, I tell myself, angry at the fact that my body is not really under my control. I am suddenly very hot, but it passes and I am left to reel in its disorientating wake.
After an attack, I tend to feel complete sensory overload, and the coffee place seems too noisy with the sounds of talking, chattering, chewing, and slurping. A barista hammers out the dregs of coffee from part of the vast Rube Goldberg type contraption that steams noisily at seemingly random intervals, and each hard, metallic bang sends a fresh ache through my head. I finally get to the counter and order a latte. I pretend to look at my phone to avoid unnecessary conversation with anyone else in the queue.
I take my coffee and walk for a few minutes to a less busy part of the street. I stop and sit outside on someone’s wall. I enjoy the sharp wind racing down the street, turning old people’s umbrellas inside out. It’s a busy weekday lunch-time and beleaguered-looking office workers line up outside what is probably the best sandwich shop around. They laugh and chat to each other in couples or trios.
I look around at the buildings and discern their influence in the lines. Victorian, Edwardian post-war pre-fab. That’s what I love about England, and London in particular; all of the jumbled architectural styles stuck on top and squeezing in and around each other. In a mile you’ll have Gothic churches existing in the shadow of modern towers of angled glass, flanked on all sides by traditional black and white Tudor and Jacobian houses or grandiose Georgian buildings converted into pubs. You only have to look up to see immaculately detailed ledges, or the particular curve of a window. With the right set of eyes, the ghosts of history reveal themselves.
That is the beauty of architecture; you can absolutely understand a town or city’s story by the buildings that it’s comprised of. I look down the street and see a post-war prefab squeezed in-between a pub and converted shop. I can see that it was most likely a replacement for one that had been destroyed in the war.
I don’t really feel like driving just yet, so I walk through the small town centre, and out the other side. The residential buildings and petrol stations slowly thin and become less crammed, leaving the houses to fill out again. I’m reminded of goldfish, the way they grow only to a size proportionate to their surroundings. The roads are flanked by willow and ash trees that form a canopy, their branches mingling and threading. The sun is dappling the old cracked tarmac, and I notice a couple of squirrels dancing across the branches.
It’s the fence that draws my attention first. A huge, metal thing about ten feet tall, painted black and topped with spikes and coiled wire; it looks more like a prison camp than a home. Then I notice the stairs leading up to the front door are flanked by large green bushes. Ivy climbs the wall on the right of the building, spreading like a map of veins across the painted skin of the house, and partially covering the front window.
The door is a big heavy oak thing that is also painted black, two cut-square windows of frosted glass pressed into its frame. I can see it’s fitted with three heavy duty sash locks.
I flashback to my dreams and remember slashes of light through three keyholes.
It can’t be. I have never been here. I came here by chance. I wasn’t thinking about it. How did I even get here?
I walk over to the fence so I can peer through, and try to get a look at the house’s interior, even though I am sure I know them already. The street is quiet, and there is no movement inside the house. I pull on the gate and it doesn’t budge, so I trace the perimeter of the grounds, looking for another way in. I go to the street behind the house, where it rises up behind a more modest Victorian building.
I can’t just leave. I need to get closer, so I sneak round into the back garden of the Victorian house. There’s a stained, wooden fence at the back, leaning against the spiked fence of the other house. They have a tall shed too, with a roof that looks like it will take my weight. With my heart in my mouth, I climb up onto the roof.
I get a view of the back garden of the house and see it is overgrown with weeds and wild flowers. There is a single tall tree. It is non-descript, no features, perfectly normal. But something isn’t right; my gut is twisting with a feeling in-between needing to shit and needing to vomit. My hands are shaking.
It’s not enough to just find the house; I need to go inside.
“What good is the moonlight?” a voice sings in my head. “Drink up, drink up,” replies the imaginary voice of the old man. It is a voice laced with intention.
I vault up and carefully put my weight onto the metal bar running across the top of fence. I swing my leg over, and it feels like my life as a cat burglar has gotten off to a great start until I realise my trousers have been snagged by the wire, and I am about to fall about ten feet. It also dawns on me that I haven’t considered any kind of exit strategy. Driven like the fool I am, like a moth to a burning flame.
I half-jump, half-fall, and land in a dense bush. I look up to see that half my trouser leg has been kept by the fence as some kind of memento. It flaps in the wind like a particularly well-tailored flag.
My leg hasn’t escaped unharmed. Thin lines of blood begin to well up from cuts and scrapes on my skin, like a slowly developing photo of a wound. It stings and I worry about tetanus, but other than that I’m still mostly in one piece.
I feel that strange tidal pull again, like a vibration in my bones. I know the details of this garden. Something half glimpsed, it’s so frustrating to feel like I am constantly on the verge of something.
There is a few feet of paved path under the growth of sickly looking grass, and I follow it toward the large back door. I peer through the dusty window and see a kitchen in disrepair. Yellowing papers lay scattered across the dust-covered counter top. Something gleams and catches my eye from the hallway beyond the open kitchen door; golden coat hooks.
A cold wave of panic washes over me and, unexpectedly, something else; hope. Hope that there will be answers behind that door; some kind of truth that will quench the dreams.
A bird startles in the branches of the tall tree as I pick up a rock the size of my fist and throw it through the window. The sound seems amplified by the crime and I wince, expecting the sound of shattering to be quickly followed by sirens. I wait for a few moments but nothing comes.
I reach an arm through the hole, slip the lock off, then lift the window up. Shards fall from the old frame like rotten teeth and break on the hard ground. Stagnant air blows through the breach. I squeeze through the window, and into the house.
This is the place; I can feel a strong sense of deja-vu running through every fibre of my body. An involuntary impulse forces me forward into the hallway.
It is the hallway, except it’s also not. The dimensions are the same; the positioning of the door is the same. The items within are not. This place is derelict, bereft of the vivid details that colour my dream. This is more like a rough sketch of the place. It shouldn’t be this way round. The wainscoting meets the wallpaper, but the wallpaper is wrong; it is grey and is falling away in orange-rind curls. I walk the creaky wooden floor to the living room, expecting to see myself sat down and an old man pouring me tea as he slowly moves his head to the music. But there is no-one, just an upturned table lying on its side on the bare floorboards.
I don’t get it.
Hope and revelation turns to bright red anger.
“Hello?” I shout to the empty rooms, but there is no reply. Frustrated, I kick the table and it screams across the boards.
In my head, a whistling starts to rise in pitch and I think it’s anger or anxiety. I blow out some air through pursed lips. Count to ten.
I close my eyes and see an old man’s yellow teeth.
I stand at the place where he passes me tea in his quaking hands. I cannot see myself sat there. The whistling continues to get louder and I waggle a finger in my ear. I think tinnitus, brain cancer, or something worse.
I pull the thick curtains away from the window, and light streams into the room, pale green as the sun shines through the leaves covering the window. I take a step back; This is the house, I know it. My fingers begin to tremble.
I take the stairs up and they creak and protest as I climb them. In my dream, I have not been upstairs, and yet I know what I will find. Three doors; two bedrooms and a bathroom. A metal-handled hair brush set in front of an ornate mirror on top of a marble sink.
I reach the landing and, sure enough, there are three doors. How could I have known that? I push the first door open and find a bathroom. I know this room, although I have no memory of it, nor have I explored it in my dreams. It feels like I am remembering some past life. It reminds me of a documentary I saw once of child who could recall a past life.
How long has this house stood here? Long enough for me to have died and lived again for thirty-four years. But in that case, why did I only start to remember things two years ago? Was I the old man? Yellow eyes. Was I dying of kidney failure or something?
I close the door and open the next two. One of the bedrooms is unfurnished and bare. No memories there.
When I look into the second bedroom, the whistle in my head suddenly becomes a roar. Under plastic sheets, as if preserved in ice, is a queen-size bed, the frame made from thick, dark wood. There’s also a dresser with a large mirror, bookshelves, and an ornate looking writing table.
I pull the plastic sheeting away from the bed, and stand in the centre of the room. It’s as eerily familiar to me as the rest of the house. The air in here is thrumming with some kind of energy. The dust seems to shimmer somehow. I pull the curtains back and the room almost seems to come to life; it’s like this room has soaked up all the colour of the rest of the house. The style fits my dream perfectly.
My teeth start chattering for some reason.
I sit on the plastic wrapped mattress and try to pull together my feelings. I want to phone my wife, but what do I tell her?
“Honey, I just broke into this old house and it’s totally the house from my dream, and I think I might have been the old man who died here.”
I look around the room. The books on the shelf are old and dusty; classics like Alice in Wonderland and Moby Dick. I pick up a couple and idly flip through the pages, looking at the detailed and gorgeous lithographs in some of them. I carefully slide them back and move on to the dresser. I flip the mirror over, wincing as the rusty mechanism squeals.
I look back at myself. I look wired; my eyes are ringed blue-purple from lack of sleep and my cheeks look more hollow than I remember them ever being. Despite the horrifying noise, I spin the mirror back and start to go through the drawers; there’s nothing apart from musty smelling paper.
I sit at the writing desk and carefully pull the drawers open one by one, and one by one they disappoint. It’s all junk; more blank paper, pens, a ruler, and an old heavy set of scissors. I pull the drawer directly under the desktop and it doesn’t budge. I pull harder and it still doesn’t budge. The roar in my ears turns now into an oceanic rumble. The shadows of veins pulse in the periphery of my vision.
I kick at the locked drawer until the whole thing falls over. I don’t stop. I need answers. One side of the desk comes off with a loud crack. I lose a fingernail yanking at the small brass drawer handle, but I don’t stop. I can’t. I keep kicking it, violently dismantling this beautiful piece of furniture, until the stuck drawer finally bursts free, and its contents spill across the floor.
More papers and pens, as well as a black, leather notebook. I collect myself and suck my bloodied finger. I can feel a frantic pulse beating where a nail once was.
I am sweating, but the roar has receded to a whine. I exhale slowly, my sudden rage spent.
I pick up the book and it drops open to the last entry. Instead of handwriting, there is a newspaper clipping that I scan frantically. The clipping is reporting an impossible story. I read it once, then I re-read it more carefully, to make sure that I’ve understood it properly.
The book slips between my fingers and thumps to the floor. The world starts to list and tilt.
I drop to my knees and pick the book up. It’s wrong. It’s not right, I think as I flip to the page again.
The story is dated two years ago. It says that I am missing, presumed murdered. The picture accompanying it is my face, taken from a picture of me and my wife on holiday. I’m smiling in the photo. Underneath the picture is a caption that calls me the victim.
My mouth is filled with a hot iron tang and the whistle in my head begins to rise in pitch and volume again. Blood thumps behind my eyes. I feel a splitting pressure in my brain. I am utterly disbelieving in the face of undeniable proof.
It’s a fake. It has to be a fake. But how? Why? The dates match, the picture is mine. That picture of my wife and I is saved on my computer at home, locked behind a password, never posted to social media, never shared or retweeted or upvoted or blogged. Only my wife and I have access to that picture.
I feel sick, confused, and angry. It feels like something is slipping under my consciousness, working me like a puppet. I take the book and look again, searching for something that proves it’s a fraudulent document.
I read it twice more.
Went missing on the 10th of June, believed to have been kidnapped and possibly murdered. Blood found at the scene.
There’s a quote from my wife; “He was the most loving and caring person. My life is empty now that he is gone.”
It’s not true, and yet my tears begin to blur the lies.
I skip back to the beginning of the book and find blocky font, yellow paper. Another clipping, much older. The headline is dated 8th September 1962, and details a missing girl named Alice Morton. I skip through pages, and suddenly the book seems thicker than it did a minute ago.
Two clippings from ’62 and ‘63, three from ‘64, nothing for ‘65, but five from ‘66 and ’67… it continues on and on. The decades roll by in clippings of aged paper, each page details a person missing. I don’t count, but there are dozens until they stop at me, until my wife says that her life is empty now that I am gone.
I slam the thing shut and call my wife, but before she can answer I hang up. She’ll think I have finally lost it.
I feel dizzy. I feel like I am suddenly not real, that my world is suddenly becoming unravelled. A part of me knows that I still exist, but with the weight of the evidence in my hands, it would appear that even that is in question.
Everything aligns then and suddenly clicks. I am standing in the home of a killer. That’s the reason for the fence, the locks. The ramshackle back garden is probably a mass burial pit. Am I there, dead amongst the dying grass?
Am I a ghost?
I run out of the bedroom, slamming the door behind me, and I run down the stairs. I need to get out somehow, but I can’t climb the fence. I search the kitchen drawers for keys, but find only matches and some old cutlery. I search the living room, upturning everything and pulling every drawer open. This place is a shell, apart from that bloody bedroom.
A glint by the front door catches my eyes and I spot a ring of keys hanging on a hook. I berate myself for not checking there first. I’m panicking, being stupid, not thinking. I breathe a heavy sigh of relief as I slowly work my way down the locks of the front door.
I leave the building behind without looking back. Under my arm is the black book.
I arrive back at my car a sweaty, panting mess. I drive home as slowly as I can.
Back at home, I sit at my computer and stare at the Google search screen, afraid of what I might find.
Am I real? I don’t even know anymore. I don’t know why I’m hesitating over the keys that will spell my name. My wife will be home soon; she will want to know why I look pale as a ghost, all scratched up and with half a trouser leg missing.
I breathe out slowly and type.
I type my name and add missing but nothing comes back.
I add dead and still nothing comes back.
Relief, or some shade of it under the confusion.
I open the book at a name in 1996 and type their name. Nothing.
I skip forward to more recent dates and try more names. One woman was killed in a car accident. Another name in the book belongs to a successful lawyer. Another is a man who murdered several people before getting caught. They’re all local people. They never moved away after their supposed disappearances.
All of this occurs years after the dates recorded in the newspaper clippings.
I hit Facebook and start searching for these people. The first person, Alice Morton, is on there. She’s an old lady now, with kids and grandkids. I send a private message to her and ask if she’s ever been kidnapped. I attach a picture of the headline, which shows her at fifteen.
Now I’m worried that I’ll look like some kind of psycho, but it’s too late now. I carry on and message a few of the other people, attaching photos of their headlines too.
My wife arrives home tired and in a bad mood from a bad day at work. I make her tea and rub her feet, and then we eat dinner and talk about her day. She dozes a little on the couch with the TV on in the background.
When she nods off, I creep back to the computer and see that I’ve had two messages. One from Alice Morton, who is kindly in her message but confused. She writes that the young woman in the photo is definitely her, but nothing of the sort had ever happened.
The other message is from James Roburn, the lawyer. He is much less amenable than Alice, but his message is similar. He’s never gone missing either.
I slam the laptop shut and pace around the house, biting my fist and trying unsuccessfully to calm down. I feel so close to some kind of resolution. Close to having an answer that makes sense. I don’t want to sleep, but as the minutes turn into hours, I know I don’t have any kind of choice.
I wake my wife and she goes up to bed. “I was having such a lovely dream,” she grumbles.
I open my laptop again and fire off a message to James and Alice, and ask them about their dreams. Have they had a recurring one for a number of years? I describe the old man and the house in as much detail as possible. I even write out the lyrics to that horrible song, and I leave my number.
I stay up as late as possible. I watch a documentary about Richard Ramirez and then a couple of episodes of Futurama.
My eyelids start to droop and the last thing I see before I go to sleep is the digital clock reading 03.12.
The dream is the same: the old man’s face, the cups laid out on the table. I try and hold on to as many details as possible.
I awake on the sofa with a jolt. My phone is going off, its jolly ring tone belying the seriousness of the call, because no one rings at five in the morning unless it’s an emergency.
“How could you know?” a man’s voice asks me, thick with sleep and tears. It’s the lawyer, I know it instinctively from the tone.
“I have it too,” I say. It takes the man a few moments to reply and he clears his throat.
“You got it wrong about the song though, but other than that it’s exactly the same.”
“How long have you been having it?” I ask. I sit up straight and flick the TV off with the remote.
“About six years. I thought I was going crazy,” he replies. I hear a sense of relief in his tone now.
“Hang on,” I say, and get up and run over to the diary. It takes me a few seconds to find the article with his name. “Did you check the date of the headline on the photo I sent to you?”
“Check it now.”
“Okay, hang on.” I hear him switching the phone to loudspeaker so he can check the photo and talk at the same time.
“I’ve got to admit,” he says. “I was pretty angry when you sent me that. I get shit like it all the time, it was only when… oh God.”
“The date; it’s the date the dream started, right?” I say. Again, there is a long pause as the man collects himself.
“What the fuck is this?” he hisses.
“I found the house, the one from the dream, and I found a book inside of a locked drawer. A book filled with newspaper clippings recording things that haven’t happened. Names of people who have gone missing, including myself. There’s a fucking picture with my clipping, a picture that only my wife and I have.”
“This doesn’t make any kind of sense,” he says, half to himself.
“You’re telling me. Look, I’m going back into that place again tomorrow. I’m going to look for more clues about what happened to us. But after that, I think we should meet.”
We both agree to meet tomorrow night and hang up. I check my Facebook messages and Alice Morton has sent me a long, rambling reply. She has been having the same dream for the last forty-eight years, and she’s on some medication to suppress them. She had electroshock therapy in her late twenties, and when that didn’t work, she relied on good old-fashioned denial. Her first and second husband left her because of the dreams. The third one doesn’t know that she has them.
I reply and invite her along to the meeting too, then I shower, brush my teeth and get dressed. The clock says 06.14 when I close the door behind me.
Night is waning when I pull up outside the house. A thin, bloody line cracked the dark in the east, setting fire to the outline of the city. Above me, dark clouds threaten to spill their contents as I unlock the gate to the house. Morning dew jewels an empty cobweb strung across the spaces between the dark bars of the fence.
The metal gate protests noisily as I push it open and walk into the shadow of the house. I slowly climb the steps to the three keyholes. My heart is hammering in my chest. It feels like I was only just here. I haven’t long woken from the dream, where I had sat at the table and been served tea by a stranger who I knew intimately. In the half-dark, the house feels far more sinister.
I laugh a little. It’s just a stupid fucking dream. But it isn’t. I’m scared and I have to steady my hand to get the keys into the holes. Finally, the last one clicks and I push the door open. It creaks, horror movie style.
It’s dark. I didn’t even think about whether or not I’d be able to see. Pale light creeps in through the windows, lighting the husks of dead flies and beetles on the windowsill, but not the guts of the building.
I use the torch app on my phone and close the door behind me.
I go back upstairs to the bedroom and I am confronted again with the results of my anger. Seeing the splintered wood again brings back the ghost of how I felt, the raw frustration.
I carefully pick through the debris, and then I inspect the whole room inch by inch, pulling open drawers and checking for other compartments. I find nothing.
An hour passes. I am sweating when I finally give in and collapse onto the bed. It’s daylight now.
Closing my eyes, I pick through the detail of the dream piece by piece looking for clues. Over and over, I play the scene in my head; down a hall and then to the table, down the hall and then to a table.
The revelation suddenly hits me. I run down the stairs, and stand in the kitchen facing the front door. I learn two things: it’s not the right angle from the dream, and I’m too tall when standing. I crouch to the height I would be at if I was sat in a chair, and it fits. How did I not realise this before? I was seated, and being pushed; in a wheelchair maybe.
I walk back into the living room and inspect the back wall. I turn and face the table; this angle is correct, but in my dream I am further away, much further away. So I scour the wall looking for some kind of secret mechanism or hidden door. It becomes so obvious the moment I start looking. I think about the dimensions of the house, picturing the floorplan and how it looks from the outside; there has to be a room behind this one. But I see no way of getting to it. I throw myself against it but it doesn’t budge.
I’m so close to knowing now that I feel like frothing at the mouth. I could go down to the site of Jonas’ build, come back with a sledgehammer and power tools, and tear the walls down…
I practice my breathing and try to think. Remember the dream, what stands out in it?
I walk about the room with my eyes half closed, transposing the images from the nightmare on to the layout. Finally, I stop at the coat hooks, and it falls into place. They all gleam, bright and golden, but now I see that one is slightly brighter than the others. I pull it and there’s a sudden loud scraping noise, like bricks being dragged across the floor.
The door in the wall is open, and beyond its threshold is a long corridor lined with russet-coloured wallpaper embossed with fleur-de-lys symbols. The end of the corridor is lost in darkness. It isn’t simply dark, it’s utterly black; when I shine my torch at it, it reveals nothing. I smell something like burning metal.
I move to it slowly, as if pulled by some kind of gravity. The darkness is moving, undulating and rippling. I am terrified of it, because I think I know what it might be, and that is as impossible as everything that has happened to me in the last twenty-four hours.
The air around the darkness is vibrating and shimmering. It feels like my bare skin is being pulled into it.
I close my eyes and take one step forward.
Dark wainscoting meets russet-coloured wallpaper embossed with Fleur-De-Lys. A mirror of a mirror. It’s almost as if I had just turned around instead of walking forward. The details from my dream have changed, but it’s here; I have stepped into it. Behind me I feel the simmering darkness.
What is this?
The corridor is narrow. Old paintings line the wall, depicting subjects that have been sun-bleached to phantoms.
The whine is back, building to a roar. I feel sick as I stumble down the hallway, surely to be met with a table, a record player and a grinning old man.
I brush the wood with my fingertips to check that it’s real. I have a headache.
The table is there, and the door with the all the locks. Morning light streams through the front window. I feel like I have gone back in time somehow.
Is this the dream? Am I in the dream, now?
I pull out my phone, and see that I have no signal. I take some photos of the room to prove to the other dreamers that this is the place.
There is music coming from upstairs. Old timey songs, not quite the tune from my dream, but similar. The edges of my world are starting to blur as the words get louder, drowning the whine a little.
Someone sings, “If I didn’t care more than words can say. If I didn’t care would I feel this way? If this isn’t love then why do I thrill? And what makes my head go ’round and ’round while my heart stands still?”
I creep up, my footsteps muffled by a luxurious, blood-coloured rug. The stairs have a gleaming silver rail running the length of them; an empty stair lift is waiting at the top the stairs.
I have to pull myself up the last couple of stairs using the handrail. I am suddenly overcome with bone deep fatigue. My legs are leaden, my heart is an anchor sunk into the depths of the dark at the end of the corridor. I can feel it pulling me back.
The music is louder now. I feel a breeze from an open window and smell the scent of honeysuckle and fresh flowers.
I peek between the balustrade and see the corner of a large, white bed. I see the shape of legs hidden under a rough blanket. I see a white machine ticking away time, measuring its passing in LED lights.
I come to the top of the stairs.
The room is the same as in the other house; the house that is a reflection of this one. I think I understand what the darkness at the end of that corridor is, I just don’t know how it can be. So what does that make me here? A ghost? A shade?
Yellow teeth. I can smell his breath in my mind. Those teeth closing around something.
Anger begins to build in me, rising up and up; a chemical reaction, igniting something imminently fatal.
I step closer, and spy wrinkled hands closed around the white metal bed frame.
I fill the doorway and see it, prostrate in bed. A skeletal creature looks up at me with yellow skin and yellow eyes and blackness in its heart. Tubes disappear under blankets and into its papery skin.
I can see the shape of its skull, its loose miasma of hair like the ghost of an idea.
The voices sing “If I didn’t care would it be the same? Would my ev’ry prayer begin and end with just your name? And would I be sure that this is love beyond compare? Would all this be true if I didn’t care for you?”
There is no fright or fear in its eyes, only familiarity. Its pale lips peel back to reveal something of a smile. I know that expression intimately. I’ve seen it every night for two years.
I know the truth.
Blackness begins to spot my vision.
“I remember you,” the creature wheezes between laboured, mechanical breaths. I bet the number of them it has left is only in the double digits.
It knows me, and suddenly I know the real truth, whatever that means and despite what it means. It laughs at me, a dry, cruel cackle.
I can’t speak. I just stand there at the foot of the creature’s bed. Its wrinkled and sagging arms resemble the leathery wings of a bat. It is an ancient apex predator at the end of its time.
I remember my breathing and I suck in the death stench, masked by the honeysuckle.
It starts a feeble attempt to move, to shuffle into a sitting position, but there is no moving now.
It can’t fight me off, and I will not allow it a chance to make me its victim again.
Somewhere far away I hear a high-pitched scream, somewhere between fear and hatred. My thumbs find the soft orbs of the creature’s eyes and its cries mingle with mine as I dig deep and turn its world black.
I crush the soft pouchy skin of its throat, collapsing cartilage and turning its screams into a wet gurgle.
It’s quiet now apart from the scratch of the record skipping, and the blood pumping in my ears.
I step away from the bed and turn away without looking at what I’ve done. A single withered foot with long toenails peeks out from under a rough blanket.
I hang my head, exhausted and make my way slowly down the stairs.
At the end of the corridor is the seething darkness. It will deposit me back into an empty house. It will take me to a world where a parallel version of me was brought into my world to be murdered.
I will be back in that world. A version of this one. One without monsters like the old man.
A version of the world where my wife will still have me.
A version of the world where the dreams that I am forced to endure are really the last moments of a man who is me and also not me.