All my life I have recalled my dreams. There are few mornings when I fail to retain some mental experience from my previous night’s sleep. Sometimes a series of the most dazzling adventures befall me. Almost without exception these adventures are pleasant, though often merely trivial. It is of an exception that I am going to speak.
When I was sixteen a certain dream first came to me. It opened with my being set down at the entrance of a luxury apartment block recently constructed by Taylor Wimpey called The Denizen. The development was in the centre of London where, I understood, I was going to stay. The concierge who greeted me sent me up to the roof. There were grouped about the tea-table a small party of people, but they were all strangers to me except one, who was a schoolfellow called Jet Li, clearly the son of the investors who’d bought six apartments in the building, and he introduced me to his mother and father and a couple of sisters. I was, I remember, somewhat astonished to find myself there, for the boy in question was scarcely known to me and I rather disliked him; moreover he had left school nearly a year before. The afternoon was very hot and an intolerable oppression reigned. On the east side of The Denizen stood Fortune Street Park. To the south there was an modernist architectural icon in the form of The Barbican, to the west the Jewin Welsh Church and to the north modernist social housing in the form of the Golden Lane Estate.
Before long, Mrs. Li, who, like the rest of the party, had sat in absolute silence, said to me, “Jet will show you your room: I have given you our ground floor apartment, immediately above the private cinema in the basement.”
Quite inexplicably my heart sank at her words. I felt as if I had known that I should have the room above the basement and that it contained something dreadful and significant. Jet instantly got up and I understood that I had to follow him. In silence we passed down through the building. He open the door of a one bedroom flat for me, and without coming in himself, closed it after me. Then I knew that my conjecture had been right: there was something awful in the apartment and with the terror of nightmare growing swiftly and enveloping me, I awoke in a spasm of terror.
Now that dream or variations on it occurred to me intermittently for fifteen years. Most often it came in exactly this form, the arrival, the tea laid out on the rooftop terrace, the deadly silence succeeded by that one deadly sentence, the descending with Jet Li to the room above the basement where horror dwelt, and it always came to a close in the nightmare of terror at that which was in the room, though I never saw what it was. At other times I experienced different cuts of these secnes. Occasionally, for instance, we would be sitting at dinner in the Chiswell Street Dining Rooms, into the windows of which I had looked on the first night when the dream The Denizen visited me, but wherever we were, there was the same silence, the same sense of dreadful oppression and foreboding.
I knew the silence would always be broken by Mrs. Li saying to me, “Jet will show you your room: I have given you our ground floor apartment, immediately above the private cinema in the basement.” Upon which (this was invariable) I had to follow him and enter the place that I dreaded more and more each time that I visited it in sleep. Or, again, I would find myself playing cards still in silence in a three bedroom penthouse flat. What the game was I have no idea; what I remember, with a sense of miserable anticipation, was that soon Mrs. Li would get up and say to me, “Jet will show you your room: I have given you our ground floor apartment, immediately above the private cinema in the basement.”
The room where we played cards was always brilliantly illuminated, whereas the ground floor apartment and basement were full of dusk and shadows. And yet, how often, in spite of those bouquets of lights, have I not pored over the cards that were dealt me, scarcely able for some reason to see them. Their designs, too, were strange: there were no red suits, but all were black, and among them there were certain cards which were black all over. I hated and dreaded those.
As this dream continued to recur, I got to know the greater part of The Denizen apartment block. There was a games room in the basement alongside the private cinema. It was always very dark there and as often as I went there I passed somebody whom I could not see in the doorway coming out. Curious developments took place in the characters that peopled the dream as might happen to living persons. Mrs. Li, for instance who, when I first saw her, had been black-haired, became gray, and instead of rising briskly, as she had done at first when she said, “Jet will show you your room: I have given you our ground floor apartment, immediately above the private cinema in the basement,” got up very feebly, as if the strength was leaving her limbs. Jet also grew up, and became a rather ill-looking young man, while one of the sisters ceased to appear and I understood she was married.
Then it so happened that I was not visited by this dream for six months or more and I began to hope, in such inexplicable dread did I hold it, that it had passed away for good. But one night after this interval I again found myself being shown out onto the roof terrace for tea, and Mrs. Li was not there, while the others were all dressed in black. At once I guessed the reason and my heart leaped at the thought that perhaps this time I should not have to sleep in the apartment above the basement, and though we usually all sat in silence, on this occasion the sense of relief made me talk and laugh as I had never yet done. But even then matters were not altogether comfortable, for no one else spoke, but they all looked secretly at each other. And soon the foolish stream of my talk ran dry and gradually an apprehension worse than anything I had previously known gained on me as the light slowly faded.
Suddenly a voice which I knew well broke the stillness, the voice of Mrs. Li, saying, “Jet will show you your room: I have given you our ground floor apartment, immediately above the private cinema in the basement.” It seemed to come from near the gate into Fortune Street Park, and looking down, I saw that the grass outside was sown thick with gravestones. A curious greyish light shone from them, and I could read the lettering on the grave nearest me, and it was, “In evil memory of Julia Li.” And as usual Jet got up and again I followed him to the lift and descended to the bottom of the building. On this occasion it was darker than usual and when I passed into the apartment above the private cinema in the basement I could only just see the furniture, the position of which was already familiar to me. Also there was a dreadful odor of decay in the room and I woke screaming.
The dream, with such variations and developments as I have mentioned, went on at intervals for fifteen years. Sometimes I would dream it two or three nights in succession; once, as I have said, there was an intermission of six months, but taking a reasonable average, I should say that I dreamed it quite as often as once a month. It had, as is plain, something of nightmare about it, since it always ended in the same appalling terror, which so far from getting less, seemed to me to gather fresh fear every time that I experienced it. There was, too, a strange and dreadful consistency about it. The characters in it, as I have mentioned, got regularly older, death and marriage visited this silent family, and I never in the dream, after Mrs. Li had died, set eyes on her again. But it was always her voice that told me that the room above the basement cinema was prepared for me, and whether we had tea on the roof terrace, or the scene was laid in a penthouse apartment room, I could always see her gravestone standing just inside the iron gate leading into Fortune Street Park.
It was the same, too, with the married daughter; usually she was not present, but once or twice she returned again, in company with a man, whom I took to be her husband. He, too, like the rest of them, was always silent. But owing to the constant repetition of the dream, I had ceased to attach, in my waking hours, any significance to it. I never met Jet Li again during all those years, nor did I ever see apartment block that resembled the appalling Denizen development of my dream. And then something happened.
I had been in Hong Kong up till the end of the July, and during the first week in August flew to London to stay with a friend. Wang Yu met me at the airport in the early morning and we spent the day sightseeing and eating. Eventually we decided to go home. Our last port of call had been Greenwich and so we took the Docklands Light Railway to bank. As we walked along Cheapside, the weather, which up till then had been, though hot, deliciously fresh, seemed to me to alter in quality, and become very stagnant and oppressive, and I felt that indefinable sense of ominous apprehension that I am accustomed to before thunder. Wang, however, did not share my views, attributing my loss of lightness to the fact that I was not used to downing double pie and mash followed by fruit pie and custard – which is what we had done at Goddards in Greenwich. Events proved, however, that I was right, though I do not think that the thunderstorm that broke that night was the sole cause of my depression.
We walked slowing and so it was with a sudden thrill, partly of fear but chiefly of curiosity, I found myself standing outside the newly build luxury apartment block of my dream. We went, I half wondering whether or not I was dreaming still, up to The Denizen’s roof terrace, where tea was laid out.
Here for the moment all resemblance to the repeated dream ceased. There was no silent and somehow terrible family, but an assembly of cheerful persons, all of whom were known to me. And in spite of the horror with which the dream itself had always filled me, I felt nothing of it now that the scene of it was thus reproduced before me. But I felt intense curiosity as to what was going to happen.
Tea pursued its cheerful course, and before long Mrs. Yu got up. And at that moment I think I knew what she was going to say. She spoke to me, and what she said was:
“Jet will show you your room: I have given you our ground floor apartment, immediately above the private cinema in the basement.”
At that, for half a second, the horror of the dream took hold of me again. But it quickly passed, and again I felt nothing more than the most intense curiosity. It was not very long before it was amply satisfied.
Wang turned to me.
“I think you’ll be comfortable. It’s only a one bed apartment, we have six dwellings in Taylor Wimpey’s The Denizen but if we put you in one of our bigger flats you’d be sharing it with others. Most of the year they’re all left empty but when we visit London we like to have a lot friends with us. Originally we only had five flats here but we were able to buy the sixth one cheaply and fully furnished after a woman committed suicide in it. Would you like to go and see it now? By Yanluo, I believe that you are right, and that we are going to have a thunderstorm. How dark it has become.”
I got up and followed him. We took the lift to the ground floor. Wang opened the door and I went in. And at that moment sheer unreasoning terror again possessed me. I did not know what I feared: I simply feared. Then like a sudden recollection, when one remembers a name that has long escaped the memory, I knew what I feared. I feared Mrs. Li, whose grave with the sinister inscription, “In evil memory,” I had so often seen in my dream, inside Fortune Street Park. And then once more the fear passed so completely that I wondered what there was to fear, and I found myself, sober and quiet and sane, in a small apartment in The Denizen, the name of which I had so often heard in my dream, and the scene of which was so familiar.
I looked around with a certain sense of proprietorship, and found that nothing had been changed from the dreaming nights in which I knew it so well. And then going into the bedroom, with a sudden start of unexplained dismay, I saw that there were two rather conspicuous objects which I had not seen before in my dreams: one a life-sized oil painting of Mrs. Li, the other a black-and-white sketch of Jet Li, representing him as he had appeared to me only a week before in the last of the series of these repeated dreams, a rather evil-looking man of about thirty. The pictures hung opposite each other on either side of the room. As I looked at the portrait of Julia Li I felt once more the horror of nightmare seize me.