The October Country: Oct. 21st: “Objects in Dreams May Be Closer Than They Appear” by Lisa Tuttle

In celebration of the month of October, I’ll be sharing 31 of my favorite spooky, eerie and creepy stories, one per day. The stories will range over an array of genres: horror, suspense, science fiction, mysteries and dark fantasy.

The October Country

that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain…

— Ray Bradbury

October 21:

Objects in Dreams May Be Closer Than They Appear by Lisa Tuttle

Found In:

The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2012 (edited by Paula Guran)

Opening Line:

Since we divorced twenty years ago, my ex-husband Michael and I rarely met, but we’d always kept in touch.”

I’ve always been a fan of Twilight Zone type stories, the ones that sneak up on you slowly like a far away storm cloud rolling easily across the sky. It looks like there’s plenty of time to get clear of the rain, but then suddenly the storm sweeps over and the lightning begins.

Objects in Dreams is a finely crafted tale that opens with our narrator receiving an email from her ex-husband. He has sent her a link that shows a view of the home they once owned in the country, a Google Earth view. Though initially unsettled by her ex’s desire to dig up the past (even in so innocent a fashion) she spends some time roving through Google Earth’s street views, perusing the small town in which she once lived.

Much has changed.

But I was startled by how different the present reality appeared from my memory of it. I did not recognize our old village at all, could find nothing I remembered except the war memorial—and that seemed to be in the wrong place. Where was the shop, the primary school, the pub? Had they all been altered beyond recognition, all turned into houses?”

In reminiscing about her youth and the early days of her first marriage, our narrator explains how her and Michael came to purchase their house in the first place. The purchase happened only after many weeks of house hunting, driving all over the countryside, touring homes, staying in cheap motels, imagining what their lives together would be like in this house or that.

And then one day, travelign between the viewing of one imperfect property to look at another which would doubtless be equally unsatisfactory in its own unique way, Blondie in the cassette player singing about hanging on the telephone, we came to an abrupt halt.”

Michael has spotted a distant old-fashioned home resting on a hill in a deep green valley. The home looks like a postcard picture, the kind of place that inspires longing and nostalgia. Michael and our narrator do their best to find a road to this particular house, but try as they might they cannot find one. They check their map, drive back and forth across the countryside, but they never seem to get any closer.

Finally, they head into town, determined to ask the local realtors how precisely one gets to this fabulous home. They’re not even sure if the place is for sale, but what’s the harm in asking?

But the realtors in town don’t know the place. They are, however, able to direct them to Mr. Yeo, a semi-retired property surveyor who should know what they are talking about.

He was an elderly man who seemed friendly, happy to welcome us in to his home, until Micahel revealed what we had come about, and then, abruptly, the atmosphere changed, and he bgan to usher us out again. The house was not for sael, we would not be able to visit it, there was no point in further discussion.”

Michael doesn’t relent. And so Mr. Yeo tells them the truth:

But Mr. Yeo made his meaning clear before sending us on our way: the perfectly desirable house we’d seen, nestled in a deep green coomb, did not exist. It was an illusion. We were not the first to have seen it; there were old folk and travelers’ tales about such a house, glimpsed from a hilltop, nextled in the next valley; most often glimpsed late in the day, seemingly near enough tthat the viewer thought he could reach it before sunset, and rest the night there.

But no matter how long theywalked, or what direction they tried, the could never reach it.”

Michael is incredulous, but this seems to be the end of it. They never find the house, and in the end they purchase another. Which doesn’t work out, and their marriage ends in divorce.

Fast-forward twenty years. A party thrown by mutual friends brings Michael and our narrator back together in the village where they lived before. Though both are happily remarried, they each attend the party alone, and it seems only natural that they should strike up a conversation and catch up a little. They agree to get together in the morning for coffee and take a drive around the old haunts.

But Michael has more than wandering in mind. Thanks to Google, Michael has now been able to precisely pinpoint the geographic coordinates of the perfect home they never reached twenty years ago. He proposes they go in search of it again. Our narrator reluctantly agrees.

This time they find it.

But all is not well. Our narrator is struck with a very strong, very sudden sense of deja vu.

The memory was unclear, but frightening. Somehow, I had come here before. When my knock at the door had gone unanswered, I’d peeked through the window on the right, and saw something that made me run away in terror.”

Michael knocks on the front door, but to no avail. He decides to try at the back, and after waiting for some time, our narrator realizes that Michael has simply been gone too long. She goes to the back after him, but does not find him there. She returns to the front, and tries the door.

She enters the house, and discovers an even greater horror.

He was a very, very old man, almost hairless, his skin like yellowed parchment, and appeared to have been dead for some time. It would have been his foot I would have seen if I’d looked through the window: his feet in brand new, brilliantly white sports shoes. But even as I recognized the rest of the clothes—polo shirt, jeans, soft gray hooded jacket, even the phone and car keys in his pockets—I clung to the notion of a vicious trick, that someone had stolen Michael’s clothes to dress an old man’s corpse. How could the vigorous fifty-eight-year-old that I’d seen a few minutes ago have aged and died so rapidly?

I know now that it is what’s left of Michael, and that there is no one else here.

I am not able to leave. I can open the door, but as soon as I step through, I find myself entering again.”

Tuttle executes the entire tale brilliantly, weaving together a vivid central narrative with a theme of lost dreams and broken marriage. Few stories come together as seamlessly as this one.

More October Stories

For the month of October, you can download

Tyler Miller’s The Other Side of the Door 

FREE.

In celebration of my favorite month, I’m giving away my collection The Other Side of the Door. These are stories inspired by so many of my favorite writers: Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Richard Matheson, Shirley Jackson.

Stories like the award-winning Til Death Do Us, about a man who believes he’s gotten away with his wife’s murder…at least until her severed finger is delivered to him in a box. Somebody knows the truth…

Or another first-place winner: Not Dead, Not Even Past, the story of a small-town sheriff confronted with a string of suicides he can’t explain. Each of the victims share a disturbing trait: no matter how they died, all of them have lungs full of water.

I loved working on these stories, and I truly believe that you’ll enjoy reading them just as much as I enjoyed writing them. Check them out. For the entire month, they’re free. What have you got to lose?

Except a little sleep…

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