“An Autumn Nightmare” Dark, Surreal Fiction by Philip Laverty

When I discovered that the hotel from my dreams had manifested itself in the real world, I did the one thing I should never have done and went inside.

In my dream, two men were staying in the hotel, which had a long, dark-blue corridor and high, narrow windows that let in little light. The wallpaper had a velvety texture, and it felt damp, like the walls were sweating.

The corridor had three rooms, the doors to which were black–so black that, at first it looked like you were staring into nothing. Then my mind made an adjustment, and small, square windows appeared in the centre of the doors, so that I could peer inside, and this was what I saw:

The men were sitting on the edge of one of two single beds, talking. They were dressed in crumpled, white shirts and cheap, suit trousers. They may have been travelling salesmen or criminals. Their room was as gloomy as the corridor, with an identical source of light.

One of the men stood up and exited his room. He did not see me, for this was the type of dream where I was an invisible observer. He knocked once upon the door of the next room before entering. The woman in the room was young and beautiful, and she begged the man to make love to her, which he did. Later, he returned to his room. The other man visited the woman; and the earlier scene, beginning with the begging, replayed itself.

When he returned to his room, the second man drank whisky with his friend, and they spoke of the woman and what they had done with her. As they spoke, a realisation seemed to dawn, and they looked at one another, horrified, no longer able to speak. Quickly, they began to pack, and they were soon fleeing the hotel.

I stared into the woman’s room and saw the trick that the hotel had played: on her bed lay nothing but a rotting corpse.

Upon waking from the dream, I decided to go for a walk. The morning was bright and desolately autumnal as I wandered along a lonely little street in a part of town that I did not recall having ever visited.

Passing a dilapidated house, I noticed that some local children had smashed each of the windows. I imagine they thought it was fun, and maybe even a little cathartic. Rusty water had leaked from the pipes and stained the building’s white surface. Oh, the bloom of youth had most definitely gone from this poor girl. Her basic, rectangular shape was the only thing that remained constant, while all else had changed and aged. Once she had stood, detached in more ways than one, nothing phasing her, but now all she could do was endure the slow end, and weep ugly tears.

She was set back from the other houses on the street. Those fresher properties did not want to be associated with such sadness, because then they might start to feel sad too.

A fence, long-since breached, had once hidden a garden where a child’s swing would pass long summers. The swing was still there, but the grass and weeds caressed its bottom half.

You could almost imagine that the satellite dish hanging above the front windows was sending distress signals, an S.O.S from the house’s soul to whomever might care to listen.

Suddenly, the kind of shock that can take the breath from you stopped me in my tracks. Leaves blew past as I stood dumbfounded. They raced like silent children towards October’s garish conclusion.

As incredible as it may sound, I had just seen the two men from my dream of the previous night walking with hurried intent from the house.

Whatever they were (travelling salesmen, crooks, or country-spanning hitmen for hire), they now vanished before my eyes, like they had been a projected image, and now the projector had suddenly cut out.

Part of me piped up after seeing the apparitions, the part that always advocates caution, and that thinks it knows the best way to get me through life unscathed. However, I was quick to dismiss its concerns and walked towards the front door. I suppose it would be more accurate to say that I felt like I was being summoned: something called wordlessly to me, and I could not resist.

The door was unlocked, Fate having gone before me and cleared all obstacles. It looked like it had been dipped in blood, but that was just the red paint peeling.

It was a harsh, wintry sun that lit the sky, the kind that makes the cold seem somehow sharper, more cutting. Therefore, my eyes took time to adjust to the interior, and all I really saw was darkness. This maybe took the edge off of the shock that my surroundings delivered. I was in the hotel of my nightmare, with the same dank corridor, the same sweating walls, the same sense of mundane evil. Looking back, I could no longer see the front door, only a turn in the corridor, leading no doubt to more rooms, and perhaps more horrors.

I peered in at the room belonging to the two men. Presumably just vacated, it still held their scent, and the sheets on the beds where they had lain and sat and smoked were crumpled, and would doubtless still be damp with their sweat.

Strangely, a tie had been left behind. It lay snake-like upon the floor.

Following the slow-to-dawn shock of realising where I was, I had drifted into that state of acceptance that characterises most dreams (even nightmares), but now, dread that I might never escape the hotel began to well up within me, turning my body cold. I went in search of the front door, but each turn led to only more corridor, and so I began a reluctant exploration of the place.

At one point, I came to an elevator’s steel doors. A tall, potted plant stood across from it, and on the wall a painting hung of a stormy and unfamiliar cityscape. On this same stretch of corridor, and separated from the elevator by a storage room (in which I saw only piles of white linen), I came to a glass door that led into a lounge area.

I was growing unsure as to how long I had been in the hotel. The light coming in the high windows had dimmed, and lamps with amber-coloured, bell-shaped shades had begun to come on. Some of these stood on their own, as tall as the plant, while other, smaller lamps sat on tables.

Entering the lounge, I saw that it had a fireplace, the flames of which had long-since turned to ash. Two armchairs faced it. These would once have been occupied on cosy winter nights, but now looked lonely instead of inviting. However, I still seized the opportunity to sit for a moment and gather my thoughts.

My period of rest was short-lived. A door opened and closed somewhere, followed by a loud thud and muffled voices. I felt sure that someone was checking in. In fact, I feared that the two men had returned, and that they would be certain that I suspected them of being responsible for the woman’s death. They would seek to silence me by whatever means they could.

I stood up, intent on bring my exploration to an end and escaping the hotel.   

I walked towards the door but froze before I got to it. There, staring in through the glass, was one of the men. Although a shadow was cast over his eyes by the fedora he wore, I could see them gleaming. His teeth gleamed too as he grinned at me. He looked off to the side, and I knew that he was looking at his companion. I wanted to run, but wondered where I could run to.

On the other side of the door, a finger was raised, the glass tapped twice, and then the man took a step back, turned and walked off down the corridor. I waited, expecting his companion to take his place, but he never did.

Eventually I grew tired of waiting. I ran out of patience with my fear, also, which was robbing me of the ability to act. I opened the door and left the lounge, resolving that even if I were to encounter the two guests, I would display courage. I’ll admit that I was still scared that I would never leave the hotel, that it would continue to play its tricks on me until I lost first my sanity and then my life. However, I would pour all my energy into escape and not into hiding.

Earlier, the thought had flitted through my mind that the men might be alive, that maybe my reality had somehow collided with theirs. The hotel, too, seemed to be a living thing, capable of changing, of making a door vanish that had been there only moments before.

Now I dismissed that notion, and believed the hotel and the men to be no more real than the dream they had leapt from. I was gripped by the conviction that this was all an illusion and that I was walking through an ordinary house, onto which the image of a hotel’s interior had been super-imposed. It was, in short, a sort of strange virtual reality. Although I wasn’t wearing a VR headset, I was sure that the same principle nevertheless applied. In short, although I appeared to be walking through endless corridors, and travelling between different floors, I was not. That being the case, then the front door would be where it had always been. The difficulty, however, lay in finding the thing, as I had now grown very disorientated.

In the end, I literally stumbled upon the solution to the puzzle as, starting to wander pretty aimlessly while I ruminated, I bumped into something that didn’t seem to be there. I reached out and ran my hand along the unmistakable shape of a kitchen sink. And there were the taps and a draining board. Thinking about it now, it’s a lucky thing that I didn’t slice my hand open on, say, a bread knife. I continued to grope, feeling a table, chairs, and, eventually, a door. I felt walls under my hands, even though I appeared to be touching thin air.

Along I went, hoping that my guess was correct and that I was in the hallway. I reached out, and then I felt it: the front door. In my excitement (or was it panic?), I failed initially to find the handle. Taking a deep breath, and forcing myself to calm down, I searched more slowly, and there it was.    

I opened the door, and stepped out into the real world once more.

This is the only time I have related this story, and whether or not you choose to believe what I have told you about the house is up to you. Maybe it was only haunted by my nightmare, and all that anyone else will find upon entering is an ordinary, abandoned property.

Still, you should err on the side of caution. Listen to the voice that I failed to listen to, the one that wants to keep you alive. Avoid the sad house with the smashed windows. Resist if you feel you are being summoned inside. Keep walking.

Mr. Laverty notes:

“I am forty-six, and this is my first published fiction. I am currently working on some new horror fiction while looking to place my work with various publishers and agents.

I live in Scotland and have two daughters. My main literary influences are M.R. James, Stephen King and Martin Amis.”

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