Author: Lisa Tuttle
Anthologised In: The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2012; House of Fear
I didn’t know why he felt the need to revisit the past like that...
Looking back through the sixteen ‘Strange Stories’ to date I noticed something disturbing the other day – not a single haunted house story…
Let’s rectify that with Lisa Tuttle’s thoroughly haunting Objects in Dreams May be Closer Than They Appear.
The most obvious way to define a haunted house would be to say it’s one that contains a ghost (or ghosts). But that’s a bit boringly literal, and I prefer to think of these stories are being ones where our dwellings, our homes - where we should feel at our safest - turn out to be some kind of trap. Houses are not the same as other things that we buy, and not just because of their price. We buy a certain kind of house because we want a certain kind of life. Because we can imagine a certain kind of life there.
I would have been happy to go on for months, thinks the narrator in this story, driving down to the West Country, looking at properties and imagining what our life might be like in this house or that...
People talk about finding their ‘dream house’… and the one in Tuttle’s story might be just that. It is first glimpsed by a young couple house hunting – their dream house seen in a glimpse whilst they are driving. But despite hours of trying, and checking with the local estate agent, they can’t find the road, or any road, that leads to it. The house seems to remain like a mirage on the horizon.
There it was, so close it must be just beyond the next curve of the road, yet forever out of our reach. The faint curl of smoke from the chimney inspired another yearning tug...
They don't find a route to that house - to their dream, if you like. And the story is narrated from the vantage point of years later, after the breakup of their relationship in the thoroughly normal, non-dreamlike house that they did end up living in.
Years later they meet up - and Michael (her old husband) has found the house again... and found a route to it.
“You’re not talking about our house,” she says. Outwardly she has her misgivings about going to look for the house - not out of fear, but because she doesn't want to relive the past. But maybe some part of her has been dreaming all these years - "our house" she says.
And they do find a way to their ‘dream house’ from all those years ago, and foolishly enter. The trap springs shut, and it’s an utterly compelling and unnerving one which I won't spoil here. But it is note-perfect, Tuttle managing to make it both incredibly disturbing and a perfect demonstration of how old dreams can curdle and warp.
Next Time: Strange Stories #19: The Beautiful Stranger by Shirley Jackson