I’ve been having this weird reoccurring nightmare. The thing is I’m not up on all that dream interpretation jargon. My brain keeps trying to tell me something, but I keep missing the point. Maybe you could help me figure it out.
The dream takes place in a vast palatial estate in the middle of the forest. I have no idea who owns the property or why they built so far from civilization. All I know is that the beds are always filled and that the guests have no clue how they got in them.
While this can be a jarring experience, the guests always seem to settle in. No one ever makes a break for the exit. Besides, where would they go? Every window looks out onto bark surfaces. The pantries are surrounded by towering evergreens. The dining hall is built upon a swamp and the bedchambers sit in a field of reeds.
The forest is well on its way to reclaiming the building. Maple seeds swirl through the skylights, vines droop from the rafters, and pollen is built up on everything like snow. Muskrats swim beneath the floorboards, frogs congregate on the windowsills, and raccoons and crows fight for perches on the shingles. There are cobwebs in every corner, nests in every crossbeam, and cocoons in every gutter.
For its part the estate refuses to go quietly. The support beams are always groaning, the foundations are always settling, and the shutters are always slapping against the side of the building.
The estate has a footprint the size of a castle, yet there are no grounds, no carriage houses, and no paths leading to the front steps.
There’s only one way to find this place.
I come here on nights when I’ve spent too much time pacing the apartment, too much time in the kitchen drinking, and too much time on the pillow thinking. I lie down in the city and rise up from my bunk in the woods.
Despite the size of the estate I can’t help but think of it as a cabin. Perhaps it’s the pine strips stacked floor to ceiling, the hardwood screeching under foot, or the log furnishing. Perhaps it’s the quilts hanging from the banisters, the moose antlers, or the smell of maple in the air.
I breath it all in.
The shade is up and my window is open. Tonight the wind is violent. The evergreens creak like a field of rocking chairs. Their branches sway toward building in an eerie hula dance motion. Something thrashes against the wall.
I lean out the window, searching for the point of impact until I realize it’s a neighboring couple, thrusting their headboard into the wall behind me.
Gasps and moans carry with a series of wet hard slapping sounds.
Here’s another odd thing about the estate: the rooms only have three walls. There are dividers between them, but whoever designed the building didn’t see fit to separate them from the hall. We’re like drones in a honeycomb hive. Our personal space is communal. Anyone that’s out for a midnight stroll can peep in on a sex session.
I push my bed to the other side of the room. This is a mistake. Through the wall I hear a different couple. This one is bickering, whispering louder than most people speak with the calculated candor of contract negotiators vying for power.
“You told me I didn’t have to walk on egg shells around you, but what you really meant was, ‘don’t walk on those eggshells walk on these eggshells.’”
The landscape above me rattles in its frame.
“I thought you knew the difference between raising issues and pushing buttons.”
“You said your past was fair game, that you had nothing to hide, and if you had a problem you’d say when, but apparently you say a lot of things.”
“There’s my stenographer. Anything else you’d like to read back to the court room?”
“Since when is having a good memory a bad thing?”
“When it’s selective.”
The landscape rattles until it’s hanging crooked.
I shut the window and wrap a pillow around my head, but it doesn’t muffle the feuding couple. Either the walls are made of balsa wood or these two have some lungs on them.
“Selective how? I’ve never forgotten an anniversary. A birthday. I’m Johnny on the spot for every special occasion.”
“But your memory gets hazy when it comes to anything that doesn’t revolve around you.”
“Okay fine. What musical instrument did I play growing up? This should be an easy one.”
“I thought you said you didn’t play mind games.”
“I’m testing your memory not toying with your emotions. Now answer the question.”
“I didn’t know there was going to be a quiz. I should’ve prepared some obscure questions for you too.”
“I was a concert violinist. I’ve performed with orchestras. That’s hardly a deep cut.”
There’s a crash. The landscape pops off the wall and shatters on the floor.
“What was that?”
“I don’t know. Did you elbow the window?”
“No. Did you tip something over?”
“It was on your side of the bed.”
“Shhh. There’s something out there.”
“There’s so much fog. How can you see anything?”
“It’s there, in the underbrush.”
I look outside, but all I can make out is my own reflection. I’m about to lean in for a closer look when something blots out the moonlight. I catch the silhouette for a fraction of a second, but that’s enough to get me off the bed and on all fours. I back away slowly for fear that it sees me.
My neighbors’ marathon sex session comes to an abrupt end. Their bedsprings take a moment to catch up with their decision. This seems to draw the silhouette’s attention.
Meanwhile the other couple keeps right on bickering.
“Slowly. It’s trying to rattle us.”
“I am going slow. You’re the one shaking like leaf.”
“Will you shut up and go?”
“Don’t tell me to shut up.”
I glance back to find the situation is evolving. Across the dining hall past the tables and chairs all of the other rooms are aflutter with movement.
Shadows sneak out of sheets, spill onto the floor, and back from the windows. They tiptoe from their rooms, dance around corners, and duck behind chairs.
I watch the guests try as they might to avoid the skylights.
Husbands position themselves in front of wives as wives clasp the top few buttons of their blouses. I catch the men tracking my sightline as I watch the windows for movement.
The ground rumbles. The moonlight continues to dim as the silhouette stalks the perimeter snapping saplings, amputating branches, and laying the reeds flat.
From here I can just make out shapes in the moonlight.
At first I think I’m watching a procession of hunchbacks haling sacks on their backs. It takes a moment to realize those sacks are coffins, shattered and bent, leaking dirt in all directions. Limbs dangle through the cracks. No. Dangleisn’t the right word. Those limbs aren’t limp. They’re moving, writhing, reaching for the stars to strangle the light right out of them.
The longer I stare I realize the procession is linked by strands of blood vessels, intestines, and gore. The broken caskets make up the columns of some kind of warped exoskeleton. This isn’t a funeral march. It’s a millipede of rotten corpses all strung together. It’s a splatterpillar.
I stand in awe of the enormity of this creature. It comes to a sudden stop. A head rolls over the side of one of the casket columns. It bounces from a rope of muscle and veins like a tetherball.
Its mouth is frozen in a slack jawed yawn. Its dead eyes are wide open. Tiny embers fire up inside them. They make glowing trails as it bops up and down. The eyes flare brighter when I look right at them.
I switch course and back toward my room.
So many couples are whispering it’s hard to make out what they’re saying. I keep hearing something along the lines of, “This is what we get for building on a floodplain.”
That first couple, from earlier, squats in the dark. They’re going at it harder than before.
The wife karate chops her palm to emphasize every word she says. “You don’t want consistency. You want control.”
The husband shrugs. “I want something on my terms. The power differential has always been skewed toward you, even when we were dating.”
“If it wasn’t we’d have never left the house.”
The husband throws his hand up. “Well, look where that got us.”
I creep backward like a cat burglar hugging the floor, out of range of the moonlight, out of sight of those awful glowing eyes.
I make my way back toward my room, to my closet, to the shelf above the rack where my belongings are stacked. I’m hoping there’s something I could use as a weapon.
The splatterpillar slams the wall, knocking me end over end. I land right as the window caves in. Cracks ripple across the wall as the pine strips buckle and snap. My mattress and box spring slide off the bed frame like cards from a deck. I scramble to my feet. A set of antlers comes crashing down before me.
There’s a long agonizing croaking sound.
I make the mistake of looking back toward the hole where my window had been. A lacerated arm reaches through the gap. Strips of flesh flap from it in the breeze. Its exposed musculature glistens in the moonlight.
The closest splatterpillar column grinds against the building. Another head rolls into view and swings like a pendulum on a long thread of spine. Its jaw juts out in a fierce under bite. The skin from its chin has long since eroded. Its eyes shine like a pair of high beams. They cast a glare on all the couples huddling in the archways.
Now that there’s no more hiding that same couple bickers with reckless abandon.
“Don’t you dare touch me.”
“This is the last night of my life. I’m going to spend it holding my wife.”
“Do you think you’ve been acting like a husband at all this evening?”
“Death is coming and we’re having this conversation? We’re that couple. We’re that couple now. This is so embarrassing.”
“Then why don’t you be a man and do something about it?”
“It has us surrounded. What’s to be done?”
“You wanted agency. Figure something out.”
I spin around with my fists balled up. “Are you two fucking kidding me right now?”
They’re taken aback like I’m the one at fault for eavesdropping on their ever so private conversation. I gage my surroundings for support. There’s a sea of scouring face, agitated men and disapproving women.
“How am I the only single person here?”
There’s a labored creaking, like an old sailing ship running aground. The hole in my room stretches until the moonlight spills in.
The splatterpillar crawls through on a mile of misshapen muscles. Its face is a patchwork of flesh, framed in severed torsos with chests positioned like cheeks and abs positioned like jowls. A severed head hangs between the bodies, its forehead positioned like the bulb of a nose. A pair of severed legs serves as its lips. They open wide, revealing a mouth of crooked fingers, de-gloved hands exposed to bone, each one beckoning me in.
The splatterpillar heaves itself into the room, knocking my clothes off the rack and upending the floorboards.
When it bellows it fills the air with the putrid stench of death.
The head at the center of splatterpillar’s face rattles awake. It sets its high beams on yours truly. I weave through the couples desperate to put some bodies between that thing and me. The monster mirrors my movements heaving its body in whatever direction I’m going. It’s targeting me specifically, like I’m the lonely one that’s lagging behind the herd, like it knows that there will be no one to pry me from its gaping maw.
The couples back out of the monster’s path and step up onto their mattresses.
I whirl around searching for an exit. The forest has gone black. The cabin is as long and wide as a landing strip and the splatterpillar has encircled all of it. Now it’s tightening its grip.
Every window shatters at the same time. All those angry limbs make me think of a tactical unit storming a building, but it’s just one predator asserting its dominance.
Now the only way out is through the monster’s throat.
“Push him in.”
“You push in.”
“It won’t leave until it feeds. So give it what it wants.”
The same couple is arguing behind me.
“Oh I get it. You’re strong and independent until you need a man?”
“Do you really want to talk about gender roles right now? Just push him in.”
“You’re woker than thou. You push him in. Come on.” He sings mockingly. “Anything you can do I can do better. I can do anything better than you.”
I choke the air between him and me. “Seriously with this shit?”
The husband winces as his wife bursts into a cackle.
I turn to her and repeat the gesture.
She just laughs louder.
I back into a divider between the cabins. I try to back away further, but feel several hands push me back the way I came.
The splatterpillar has me cornered. It bides its time as it decides how to proceed. When it opens wide I see those skeletal hands running all the way up the rough of its mouth. A tongue of knotted musculature the size of a surfboard unrolls onto the floor.
The monster is on top of me so fast I can barely comprehend what’s happening. It slurps me up as the hands lining its mouth drag me over its jaw and pass me down the line.
The wife turns to her husband. “You just lucked out.”
“Did I? Did I really, because I have a feeling you’re going to lord this over me.”
“I’m not the one who lays exhibits out every time we try to have conversation.”
I’m pulled ever deeper into the monster. It all happens so fast. First I’m in up to my waist, then my chest, and then my shoulders.
The husband crosses his arms. “If you don’t want me to quote you then I’ll just stop listening.”
“Fine as long you stop talking.”
I’m in up to my neck when the husband cracks a smile at me.
“Hey buddy. Do you want to switch places?”
I shake my head. “No, I’m good.”
That’s when everything goes black. When I wake up I feel the strangest sense of relief.