E.F. Benson, first published in 1912; translated into Modern English, otherwise exactly the same.
This story has been added to our Classics in the Rain collection! Hear Danie Dreadful’s magnificent narration here for the full experience!
It is probable that every lucid dreamer has had at least one dream come true. In my opinion, it would be more strange if it did not happen occasionally; our dreams involve people we know, places we are familiar with, and events that naturally occur anyway. It is true they might include impossible or absurd details, but – based purely on statistics – it is not unlikely for some to come true. For example, not long ago, one of my unremarkable dreams came true. I will tell you what happened.
A friend of mine who lives abroad is kind enough to write to me every couple of weeks. When that much time has passed, I know to expect a letter soon. One night last week, I dreamed that I was going upstairs to dress for dinner when the mailman knocked on the door; I went downstairs and among my other letters was one from my friend. After that is when the absurd part happened; when I opened it, there was an ace of diamonds inside and written on it was, “I am sending you this for safe keeping. You know it is risky to keep aces in Italy.”
The next evening – just as I was preparing to go upstairs and dress for dinner – I heard the mailman’s knock and did precisely as I had in my dream. Among the letters was one from my friend, but it did not contain the ace of diamonds. If it had, I would have been more impressed, but this was a perfectly ordinary coincidence. Obviously, I consciously or subconsciously expected a letter from him which is what influenced my dream in the first place. Also, the fact my friend had not written for two weeks influenced him to do so in the same way. Although, sometimes it is much harder to explain, and for the following story, I can find no explanation at all. It came out of the dark, and into the dark it has gone again.
All my life I have been a lucid dreamer; I spend my nights in a series of long, dazzling adventures. They are almost always pleasant, though most are trivial. The story I am about to share is a rare exception.
I was about sixteen the first time I had the dream. It started with me at the door of a big, red-brick house. The servant who greeted me said tea was being served in the garden, and he led me through a low, dark hall with a large fireplace to a cheerful green lawn with flower beds. A small gathering was grouped around the tea-table, but I only knew one person; he was an old classmate named Jack Stone, and his father owned the house. He introduced me to his parents and two sisters, and I was somewhat surprised. I hardly knew the boy and rather disliked what little I did know; plus, he quit school the previous year. The afternoon was stifling hot, and the yard was bordered by a red-brick wall with an iron gate in the center, and a walnut tree beyond it. We sat in the house’s shadow across from a row of windows, and inside, I could see a table glimmering with glass and silver. The front of the house was very long, and at one end was a three-story tower that looked much older than the rest of the building.
Soon, Mrs. Stone – who had sat in absolute silence like everyone else – said, “Jack will show you to your room at the top of the tower.”
For some inexplicable reason, my heart sank at her words. It was like I had already known I would get that room, and there was something important yet dreadful about it. Jack got up instantly, and I knew I had to follow him. We passed through the hall in silence and went up a great oak staircase with many corners before arriving at a small two-door landing. He pushed one open and closed it behind me; then, I knew my suspicion was correct. Something awful was in the room, and my fear grew quickly until I woke in a fit of terror.
I experienced variations of that dream at random intervals for fifteen years, but it usually happened exactly as I said. After arriving, tea is served in the silent garden before that one, terrible sentence is spoken. Jack Stone always guides me through the horrifying tower, and the nightmare ends with some unseen terror in my room. Other times, it is a variation of the same thing. Occasionally, we would be eating in the dining-room, but it remained silent with the same suffocating dread no matter where we were. The silence would always be broken by Mrs. Stone saying, “Jack will show you to your room at the top of the tower.”
Then, I would follow him up the square staircase and enter the place I feared more and more each time I dreamed of it. Otherwise, I would find myself playing cards in the silent den lit with enormous, blinding chandeliers. I have no idea what the game was; I only remember feeling miserably anxious that Mrs. Stone would send me to the tower soon. The den was next to the brightly lit dining-room, but the rest of the house was dim and full of shadows. Despite the bright lights, I often had a hard time seeing the cards that were dealt to me. Their colors were strange; there were no red suits – only black – and some cards were completely black all over. I hated and dreaded those.
As this dream continued to recur, I became familiar with most of the house. Beyond the den, there was a smoking-room with a green door at the end of the hall. It was always very dark, and I would pass somebody I could not see as they were coming out. Over the years, characters in the dream aged as people might in real life. When I first saw Mrs. Stone, she had black-hair and moved briskly, but now, she was gray and feeble. Jack grew into a rather sickly young man with a brown mustache, and one of the sisters stopped appearing when she married.
Then, I did not have the dream for six months or more; I began to hope they were over with, but one night after this break, I found myself being escorted onto the lawn for tea once again. Mrs. Stone was not there, and the others were all dressed in black. I guessed the reason immediately, and my heart leapt at the thought that I would not have to sleep in the tower room. Though we normally sat in silence, the sense of relief made me talk and laugh as I never had before, but even then it was uncomfortable; no one else spoke – they only shared secret glances with each other. Soon, my foolish talk ran dry, and as the light slowly faded, I grew more anxious than on any previous visit.
Suddenly, a familiar voice broke the silence; it was Mrs. Stone saying, “Jack will show you to your room at the top of the tower.” It seemed to come from somewhere near the gate, and when I looked up, the yard was covered in gravestones. They glowed with a strange, grayish light, and the grave closest to me read, “In evil memory of Julia Stone.” As usual, I followed Jack through the hall and up the squared staircase. This time, it was darker than usual, and when I entered the room, I could only see the furniture. There was also a dreadful smell of decay, and I woke up screaming.
The dream continued to occur at random intervals for fifteen years. Sometimes, I would have it two or three nights in a row; aside from the six month break – it happened roughly once a month on average. It always ended with the same awful terror, and each experience frightened me as badly as the first. There was also a strange and dreadful consistency to it. The characters aged regularly, there were deaths and marriages in the silent family, and after Mrs. Stone died, I never saw her again – but it was still her voice that spoke to me. I could always see her gravestone just outside the iron gate. It was the same with the married daughter; usually, she was not present, but once or twice she returned with a man I thought to be her husband. He, too, was always silent, but due to the constant repetition of the dream, I stopped thinking that was significant. I never met Jack Stone again, nor did I ever see a dark house that resembled the one in my dream. Then, something happened.
This year, I was in London until the end of July. During the first week of August, I left to stay with a friend; he had rented a summer house in the Ashdown Forest district of Sussex. John Clinton planned to meet me at Forest Row Station, and we spent the day golfing before he drove us to his house at roughly 5:00 that evening. Since it was still so early, we waited to have tea at home instead of having it at the club house. The weather had been hot and wonderfully fresh that day, but it became stagnant and oppressive during our drive. I felt that indescribable sense of ominous anxiety that I get before a storm. John, however, did not share my concerns; he blamed my attitude on the fact that I lost both the matches. Regardless, I turned out to be right, but I do not think that night’s thunderstorm was the only cause of my depression.
Our road ran through a deep valley, and I fell asleep quickly; I only woke when the motor stopped. Partly frightened but mostly curious, I found myself standing in front of my dream house. I wondered if I was dreaming at that moment when we walked through a low, oak-paneled hall and out to the lawn. Tea was being served in the house’s shadow. It was surrounded by flower beds and a gated red-brick wall; beyond that was an area with rough grass and a walnut tree. The front of the house was very long, and one end had a three-story tower that was noticeably older than the rest.
It was no longer like the dream; there was no silent and terrible family. Instead, there was a large group of very cheerful people, and I knew them all. I did not feel frightened in real life like I normally did in the dream, but I was very curious about what would happen.
We drank tea, and before long Mrs. Clinton stood up. At that moment, I knew what she was going to say. She told me, “John will show you to your room in the tower.”
For half a second, the horror from my dreams consumed me again but quickly passed, and the intense curiosity returned; it did not take long to satisfy.
John turned to me. “It’s at the top of the house, but I think you’ll be comfortable; the other rooms are already taken. Would you like to see it now?” He looked up as he said this. “My goodness, I believe you’re right; there’s going to be a thunderstorm. It has gotten quite dark.” He added.
I rose and followed him as we passed through the hall and up the perfectly familiar staircase. I entered when he opened the door and was immediately struck with another wave of sheer terror. Suddenly, I remembered my fear of Mrs. Stone and her grave’s sinister inscription, “In evil memory.” I saw it often in my sleep – just past the lawn beneath my window. Then, once again, the fear passed, and I was left sane and sober inside the tower room – the very same one from my dream.
I looked around with a sense of familiarity and found that nothing had been changed from the dream version. The bed was angled along the wall to the left of the door; next to it was the fireplace and a small bookcase. Across from the door were two lattice-paned windows with a vanity between them. On the fourth wall was the washing-stand and a big cupboard. My luggage was already unpacked; my night clothes were laid neatly on the wash-stand, and my dinner clothes were spread out atop the bed. With a sudden jolt of dismay, I saw two things I had never seen in my dreams. One was a life-sized oil painting of Mrs. Stone hanging next to the bed, and the other was a black-and-white sketch of Jack Stone as he had appeared in my dreams a week before – a secretive, evil-looking man of about thirty. His picture hung between the windows, staring straight across the room at the other portrait. I also looked at it, and once again, I was filled with the horror from my nightmares.
It showed Mrs. Stone as I had last seen her in my dreams – old, withered, and white-haired. Despite her obviously feeble body, a dreadful vitality was beneath her fleshy shell – a malignant excitement radiated unimaginable evil from her narrow, leering eyes; it laughed with a demon-like mouth. Her face expressed an appalling humor, and her hands – clasped together on her knee – shook with joy. I also saw it was signed in the bottom left corner and wondered who the artist could be; looking closer, I read the inscription, “Julia Stone by Julia Stone.”
There was a knock at the door, and John Clinton entered. “Got everything you want?” he asked.
“Rather more than I want.” I said, pointing to the picture.
He laughed. “Hard-featured old lady. She was alone, too, I remember. Anyhow, she sure didn’t flatter herself much.”
“But don’t you see?” I said. “It’s hardly a human face at all. It’s the face of some witch or devil.”
He took a closer look. “Yes; it isn’t very pleasant. Especially not next to the bed, eh? Yes; I’d probably have a nightmare if I slept with that nearby. I’ll have it removed if you like.”
“I really wish you would.” I said.
He rang the bell, and a servant helped us remove the picture; it was taken out onto the landing and left facing the wall.
“My goodness, the old lady is heavy; I wonder if she had something on her mind.” John said, wiping the sweat from his forehead.
I had also noticed the picture’s extraordinary weight; I was about to reply when I saw a considerable amount of blood covering my palm. “I’ve cut myself somehow.” I said.
John was slightly startled. “Huh, I have too.” He said, cleaning the blood from his own hand with a handkerchief.
John and I returned to the tower room and washed the blood off, but neither of us had any trace of a scratch or cut. Once we realized this, we made an unspoken agreement not to mention it again. Then, something occurred to me that I did not want to think about. It was only a theory, but somehow, I knew John thought the same thing.
The air grew hotter and thicker after dinner; a storm was brewing, and most of us were sitting outside on the lawn where we had tea. The night was completely dark; no light from the stars or moon could penetrate the ominous clouds covering the sky. Our group slowly dispersed; the women went to bed, men retired to the smoking-room, and by 11:00, John and I were the only two left. All evening, I had thought there was something on his mind, and now that we were alone, he confirmed it.
“Did you notice the man who helped us with the picture also had blood on his hand? Just now, I asked him if he cut himself, and he supposed he had, but he could not find an actual wound. So, where did that blood come from?” He said.
Up to that point, I had succeeded in not thinking about it, and I especially did not want to be reminded of it at bedtime. “I don’t know, and I don’t really care as long as the picture of Mrs. Stone is gone.” I said.
He stood. “But it’s odd. Ha! Now you’ll see another odd thing.”
His Irish terrier came outside as we talked. The hall door was open behind us; its bright light shined across the yard and beyond the iron gate to the walnut tree. The dog’s hackles were raised, bristling with fear and rage; his lips were curled back as he growled, ready to pounce. He did not notice John or myself as he stiffly walked across the lawn to the gate. He stood there, growling and looking through the bars until he seemed to lose his nerve. With one long howl, he cowered and hurried back to the house.
“He does that half-a-dozen times a day. He sees something he both hates and fears.” John said.
I walked to the gate and looked over it. Something in the grass was moving, and there was a sound I could not immediately identify, but I soon realized it was only a purring cat. I lit a match and saw the big, blue Persian prancing around excitedly just outside the gate. Its tail was raised proudly, and its eyes shined brightly as it occasionally sniffed at the grass.
I laughed. “I’m afraid that’s the end of the mystery. Here’s a large cat having a party all alone.”
“Yes, that’s Darius; he spends half the day and all night there, but that’s not the end of the dog mystery. He and Toby are best friends – this is only the beginning of the cat mystery. What’s the cat doing there? Why is it that Darius is happy, but Toby is terrified?” John said.
At that moment, I remembered the horrible part of my dream where I see through the gate. The cat was standing exactly where the white tombstone with the sinister inscription is normally located. Before I could speak, it suddenly began raining like someone turned on a faucet. The big cat squeezed through the bars and ran into the house for shelter where it sat in the doorway, eagerly looking out into the darkness. When John pushed it back in order to close the door, it hissed and scratched at him.
With Julia Stone’s picture in the hallway, the tower room did not frighten me. Feeling very sleepy, I went to bed with only a mild interest in the strange occurrences of our bleeding hands and the pets’ behavior. The last thing I saw was the square, empty space where the portrait had been; there, the wallpaper was its original dark, red color, but it was faded everywhere else. After blowing out my candle, I fell asleep instantly.
My waking was equally instantaneous; I sat straight up thinking a bright light had been flashed in my face, but all was pitch black. I knew I was in the room from my terrifying dreams, but the fear I felt in those did not come close to the horror that now consumed me. Thunder cracked above the house immediately after the flash, but knowing it was probably lightning that woke me did not calm my racing heart. I knew something was in the room with me; instinctively, I reached for the wall with my right hand and touched the edge of a picture-frame.
I leapt out of bed, bumping the small table beside it, and I heard my watch, candle, and matches clatter to the floor. A blinding flash erupted from the clouds to show me the picture of Mrs. Stone was once again hanging on the wall, and the room instantly returned to blackness. In that flash, I also saw a figure leaning over the end of my bed – watching me. Its tight, white garment was spotted with mold, and its face matched the one from the portrait.
Overhead, the thunder roared, and when it stopped, all was deathly still. I heard a rustling as something moved closer, and even worse, there was a rotten stench of decay. That is when a hand was laid on the side of my neck, and I heard quick, eager breaths next to my ear. Even though this thing could be touched, smelled, seen, and heard, I knew it was not of this earth; it was something that left the body and had the power to manifest itself. Then, a familiar voice spoke.
“I knew you would come to the room in the tower; I have been waiting for a long time. At last, you have come. Tonight, I will feast, and soon, we will feast together.” It said as the quick breathing came close enough to feel on my neck.
The terror had temporarily paralyzed me, but now a wild instinct of self-preservation took control. I flailed both arms wildly while kicking my legs, and I heard a small animal-squeal as something soft dropped beside me with a thud. I took a few steps forward, nearly tripping over whatever lay there, and – by sheer luck – I found the exit. In another second, I ran out onto the landing and slammed the door behind me. At almost the same moment, another door opened somewhere below me, and John Clinton came running upstairs with a candle in hand.
“What is it?” He asked. “I sleep below you and heard a noise as if— Good heavens! There’s blood on your shoulder.”
Afterwards, he said I stood swaying from side to side – white as a sheet, with a bloody handprint stained on my shoulder. “She’s in there,” I said, pointing. “The portrait is hanging where we took it from, too.”
He laughed at that. “My dear fellow, it was only a nightmare.” He pushed by me and opened the door as I stood frozen in terror – unable to stop him or move.
“Phew! What an awful smell!” He said before falling silent as he entered the room. He returned almost immediately – as white as myself – and shut the door behind him.
“Yes, the portrait is there, and on the floor is a thing— a thing covered in dirt and wearing the garments people are buried in. Let’s get away, quick, let’s go!” He said.
I hardly know how I got downstairs. I was nauseous and shaking; multiple times, John had to place my feet on the steps, and he often looked back in terror, but eventually we came to his room on the floor below. There, I told him what I have described in these pages.
The end can be told quickly; some of my readers may have already guessed what it was if they remember the incident at the West Fawley churchyard from eight years ago. Three attempts were made to bury a woman who had committed suicide. Each time, the coffin was found sticking up from the ground a few days later. After the third attempt, the body was buried just outside the iron gate of this woman’s home. She had killed herself in the room at the top of the tower, and her name was Julia Stone.
The body was secretly dug up again, and the coffin was found full of blood.