PseudoPod 863: Coincidence & The Dream
By A.J. Alan
This is the story of a coincidence. At any rate I call it a coincidence.
The road where I live is very long and very straight. It’s paved with wood and well lighted after dark. The result is that cars and taxis going by during the night . . . often go quite fast. I don’t blame ’em. They hardly ever wake me unless they stop near the house.
However, about two months ago one did.
I mean he did wake me. He jammed on his brakes for all he was worth just opposite my window and pulled up dead. You know what a row that makes. Then after quite a short pause he drove on again. That was nothing, of course, and it didn’t make much impression on me at the moment. I was only just not asleep. But about two minutes later the same thing happened again. This time it was a taxi – at least it sounded like a taxi. Just about the same place the driver shoved on his brakes with a regular scream and he stopped. Then I think he backed a few yards, but I don’t know. At all events he did a bit of shunting and in a minute or two he cleared off. As you can imagine this second . . . business . . . made more of an impression, and when still a third car went through the same . . . programme – I really did quite try to address my mind to the problem. You know how utterly vague one can be at three o’clock in the morning. I said, “Oh, yes. I know what it is – it’s the same as last February.”
In February, or was it January? – anyway whenever it was – the water main bust – and a hole became in the middle of the road. They fenced it off with poles and red lamps, and put a watchman and brazier and sentry box inside.
That was all right, of course, but during the night a thickish fog came on, and cars came whizzing along, banking on a clear road, and didn’t see the lights until they were nearly on top of them, and had to pull up in a hurry. Can’t you see the watchman striking out for the shore – after the first two or three? mit brazier.
At all events I thought, “That’s what’s happened again.” But then I said, “Hang it all it’s August – there can’t be a fog – so it isn’t that. This must be looked into.” So I got out of bed and went and hung out of the window. Presently a large touring car came buzzing along and just opposite me on went the brakes and it tried to loop the loop like the others had. I couldn’t quite see where it had pulled up because there are rather a lot of trees on each side of my window, but I heard people get out and there was a general air of excitement for about a minute. Then they climbed in again and the door banged and away they went. You can quite imagine how intriguing it all was. I said, “This cannot be borne for another moment. I simply must go and see what it’s all about.” So I put on some slippers and my dressing gown (pale blue, and much admired about the house) and went downstairs and out into the road.
Beautiful warm night and no end of a moon. I looked up and down but there wasn’t a thing in sight, and apparently nothing whatever wrong with the road. So I crossed over to where the marks of skidding began. There were great shining scrawks all over the shop – and then I saw the cause of all the trouble. The moonlight was pretty bright, and about fifteen yards up the road was a patch of deep shadow thrown by a tree. In this shadow there was a man lying. His back was towards me and his feet were about a yard from the pavement. He seemed to be dressed in light brown clothes – not exactly a check pattern but ruled off in squares, so to speak. You often see girls with cloaks made of that kind of stuff.
Well, of course, I started walking up the road towards him, but when I got within five or six yards an extraordinary thing happened. He disappeared. At least he didn’t exactly disappear, but I suddenly saw what he really was. He was a rough patch in the road – er . . . don’t misjudge me. I’d spent an absolutely blameless evening. No – something had evidently gone wrong with the water main during the afternoon. They’d come and mended the pipe, but hadn’t had time to make good the paving. They’d just shoved the wood blocks back loose, bashed them down with a – basher – and brushed some sand over the whole thing. Anyway, it produced a perfectly astounding optical illusion. And as if it wasn’t realistic enough already, there was a small piece of paper stuck on the road, and it gave a gleam of white just where the collar would be.
Well, as I was walking backwards and forwards across the critical point – that is – the point where the optical illusion ceased to opp, as it were – and you’ve no idea how startling it was – it’s a little difficult to describe.
I don’t know whether any of you have ever been to a cinema, but the time I went one of the scenes showed a beautiful maiden sitting on a stone seat by the side of a lake with water lilies and swans and so on, really very fine, and then, before you could say knife, the whole thing sort of dissolved and you found yourself in a low-down eating house in New York, watching a repulsive looking individual eating spaghetti.
Well that’s what it was like and while I was coquetting with this effect – round the corner came a policeman, very surprised to see me playing, “Here we go gathering nuts in May” – er – so early in the morning. He probably said – “Here’s a gink in a dressing gown. I’ll arrest him – he must be cracked, and I shall get promoted.”
He came up to me with a certain amount of – hesitation – but I reassured him and said, “Now you stand just here and look at that man lying there.” And he looked and said, “Well I’m – something or other,” and started off up the road – evidently meaning to pick him up. But in three or four yards he got to the place where the mirage melted – and then it really was as good as a play. He looked – and rubbed his eyes – and looked again. Then he walked to the patch in the road and examined that. And as soon as he’d decided it wasn’t my fault, I explained to him how dangerous it was, that all the cars and taxis were shying at it, and one of them might easily come to grief. And they were waking me up every two minutes. So I said, “If you’ll stop here and warn things, I’ll go across and see Sir William Horwood in the morning and get him to make you a sergeant.” And he said, “I am a sergeant.” So I said, “Never mind – perhaps he’ll make you another.” And I went back to bed.
At about four o’clock there were noises in the road, so I got up and looked out and there was my sergeant and an inspector doing a sort of foxtrot backwards and forwards – having a great time. No, it wasn’t a foxtrot – it was more of a pavane, which has been described as a slow and stately dance – the sort of thing they used to dance in armour. I think they went on playing till it got light.
Well the next day men came and made a proper job of the patch in the road – with concrete and tar and so on – and there it was.
That was in August. Now comes the peculiar part. Exactly a fortnight ago – at about one in the morning – there was the same old noise of a car pulling up in a violent hurry. I was sort of half asleep – and I said; “There – the same thing’s going to go on happening all night and I shan’t get a wink of sleep.” However, this car didn’t drive on as it ought to have done. There were voices and footsteps and the sound of the car being backed. General excitement. After a few minutes of this I got curious – and again went out – in my blue dressing gown. The car was pulled up just at the same old place. But there wasn’t any optical illusion about it this time. They’d run over a man and he was very dead. They said he’d walked off the pavement right into them. And now comes the coincidence. He was wearing light brown clothes – not exactly a check pattern, but ruled off into squares, so to speak. You often see girls with cloaks made of that kind of stuff.
by A.J. Alan
They’ve asked me to tell you about another of my experiences, and I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try to describe to you a dream I often have.
My mind has been very much exercised as to the propriety of doing this. I don’t mean that kind of propriety—It’s simply that I know from bitter experience that it’s going to annoy quite a lot of my lady listeners—and readers— and they’ll write and abuse me. Why they should is utterly beyond me; but the sad fact remains. Perhaps they will bear in mind that it is only a dream, and that I do now humbly apologize—in advance.
Very well then.
Before describing the dream itself it may be as well to explain a few things about it.
First of all, I’ve had it some fifteen or twenty times altogether, at quite irregular intervals. Sometimes it gives me a miss for two years, at others it will happen twice in six months. There’s no knowing.
It began—to visit me—when I was eight or nine years old, and I used to think then that it was just the same dream each time, but it wasn’t, and it isn’t. The general setting or locale is the same, but there’s a gradual moving forward of events which makes it somewhat interesting—to me, at any rate—and just a bit creepy.
It always begins in exactly the same way. I am walking up a broad flight of stairs in a very large house. The carpet is dark blue and very thick, so thick that you sink right in.
The walls are all white.
The time, as a rule, is between eleven and twelve at night. That, however, depends on what time I have gone to sleep.
It’s evidently a party I’m coming to, and I’m rather late
for it. My left forefinger is poking a piece of paper down into my waistcoat pocket, and I’m aware in some occult way that it’s the ticket for my hat and coat.
The whole place seems deserted except for me, not even anyone to take my name and announce me. In fact, I’m not rather late, I’m very late.
At the top of the stairs there’s a broad sort of landing place, and, immediately facing me, a very massive mahogany door with a large cut-glass knob. Through this door I go
In my very young days I used to have quite a job to push it open, but now it’s merely heavy and solid.
There’s a screen inside the door which cuts me off from the rest of the room, and it just gives me the opportunity to pull down my waistcoat. You know how badly they wash them nowadays, and there’s always the chance of the points having got bent up in the cab.
Anyway, having finally pulled myself together, I walk, with a certain amount of diffidence, round the screen. It’s a great big room—very high and brilliantly lighted. The walls are white and the carpet blue—like the stairs—and the furniture is very dark oak.
The scene is rather peculiar. There must be at least forty or fifty men in the room, and they are all sitting on chairs in front of a little platform against the far wall. They aren’t sitting in rows, but just anyhow. It looks as though they’ve drawn up their chairs as near the platform as they can get. I expect that’s what happens, really, but I’ve never got there early enough to see.
They are all much of the same class, as far as general appearance goes; but their ages are widely different. They range from twenty or less right up to seventy or more.
I used to wonder, many years ago, what it was all about, but now I realize that all these people are watching, with very great interest, a conversation which is taking place between a man and woman. Incidentally, she is the only woman in the room.
These two are sitting on chairs on the dais or platform. It’s quite a low platform really—not more than a foot high.
I say they’re watching the conversation because I’m sur« that unless one happens to be in the very front row it isn’t possible to catch more than a word here and there.
The man on the platform doesn’t call for any particular remark—at least, I don’t know—it is rather funny about him.
He is evidently just one of the audience who has been invited up, as it were, and I’ve usually seen him a few times before in the body of the room. Bat the thing is that once a man has spent the evening on the platform he never appears again.
Now we. come to the lady. I must tell you about her, even at the risk of boring you, because she’s the central figure, so to speak.
She is very beautiful—almost too beautiful to be respectable. In fact, if one didn’t actually know—However, when I say respectable, I don’t mean that she would faint clean away if anyone said damn; but one would hesitate before digging her in the ribs on short acquaintance.
As far as I can tell, she’s on the tall side, and very graceful. I’ve never seen her standing up. She looks as though she could dance well. By dance, I mean waltz, of course. She has lovely copper-colored hair, and she’s had the sense not to cut it off. She apparently believes in looking like a woman and not like an ungainly boy. Most unfashionable—but then you must remember that this is a dream.
She’s usually dressed in a simple black evening-frock and a hat. The hat is rather of the—I think it’s called the turban type. It’s a little difficult to describe. It’s got a sort of asprey—no, osprey—thing that points backwards and downwards, rather like the tail of a comet does. I think Miss Lily Elsie wore something like that in the Merry Widow (if she doesn’t mind my dragging her in).
When I say she’s wearing a simple black frock, I mean one of those simple little frocks which you can pick up anywhere for fifty or sixty guineas.
And it’s never the same dress twice.
If I could only draw I could earn a couple of thousand a year by making sketches of them. They aren’t quite like the things you see about just now, but they may be fashionable someday—who knows?
While she’s sitting down she isn’t having a perpetual struggle to make her skirt cover her knees. Not that I’ve any quarrel with knees— qua knees—but those rows of bony excrescences which stick out at you in the Tube, well, surely some of them might be left to the imagination. In fact, if things go on as they are doing now, one won’t want an imagination at all, and then what?
And while we are on the subject of horrors, I’m sure she would never wear Bolshie boots; she wouldn’t flaunt her political opinions to that extent, whatever they were. Quite apart from that, she wouldn’t have to wear such things, because her ankles are perfect. I won’t refer to light-colored stockings because they—well—de mortuis.
To go back to the lady’s hat for a moment. I must confess that it rather beats me—why she’s wearing one at all, that is—because she must be in her own house.
You can tell that from the way she behaves—I mean, that she’s obviously acting as hostess, and her manner is a treat to watch.
She sits quietly in her chair without looking as though she’d been spilt in it, and she doesn’t fidget. She hasn’t any of those irritating little affectations which one so often sees. She doesn’t drag out a repair outfit every two minutes and plaster a lot of stuff on her face. Perhaps she doesn’t have to. I don’t believe she’d even powder her nose in public. In fact, I’m quite sure she wouldn’t. Oh, I know that on this subject I’m only a locust crying in the wilderness, but it is refreshing to see anyone who isn’t ashamed of her complexion.
I’ve mentioned before that the conversation, or whatever it is, between the good lady and the man on the platform is so quiet that I’ve never been able to hear her voice, but there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s the kind that anyone vulgar, who wished to be extra offensive, would describe as a “refined voice ”; but he wouldn’t be there, so it doesn’t matter.
I’ve racked my brains trying to imagine what on earth they can be talking about for such a long time. In the early part she seems to be asking questions and getting very deferential answers. Perhaps she’s applying some form of test. Later on it’s more as though she is giving information or instructions, and he just puts in a word here and there.
At about half-past twelve she usually lights a cigarette. Between you and me, I think it’s a signal as much as anything to tell all the rest of us that we can smoke if we like. Some of us do.
Now, it’s rather a funny thing about the time. More often than not the place where I’m standing gives me a view of a clock there is on the mantelpiece. It’s one of those clocks which pretend they haven’t got any works, like the women of the present day. You know them—er—the clocks. All you can see is a sheet of plate-glass with the figures and hands on it, and the hands go round in some mysterious way. This clock goes and it’s right. How do I know it’s right— let’s see—how do I know it’s right? Oh, yes, because it always indicates the time of about one hour after I’ve got to sleep, and that may vary quite a lot. I think that more or less proves it.
It’s also a peculiar thing about the smoking. I didn’t begin to smoke in real life until I was twenty-three, but I always smoked in this dream, even when I was at school, and it used to give me a horrible taste in my mouth next morning. Oh, it’s a vivid dream all right.
As regards the age of the lady—well, it’s a little hard to say. In my extreme youth she was about as old as an aunt. When I was grown up she seemed more like a sister, and now I’m blowed if I know how old she is. Early thirties probably. It’s rather unusual to grow past anyone.
She has a fan—forgive me for going on about her— but she has a fan—it’s a big ostrich feather one; she knows how to use it, and she doesn’t wield it like a tennis racket. In fact, altogether, I give her full marks.
I think I said at the beginning that there aren’t quite enough chairs for everyone, and those who come late—like me—have to stand up at the back. All the same, it becomes apparent every now and then during the evening that there is a vacant chair a little way in. It’s always a mystery to me how this happens, because no one ever seems to go out (only a blind man would), but when it does happen one of the men standing at the back sort of tiptoes in and takes it.
We just settle it among ourselves who—like you do in the Tube—” That’s all right, I’m getting out at the next station ”—you know. A man who has once sat down always has a chair after that, so you see there’s a process going on all through the years whereby everyone gradually works forward to the front and eventually finishes up on the platform. It has often, undoubtedly, been my turn to take a vacant chair, but some instinct has always warned me not to. Even our hostess has noticed it, and she’s occasionally looked at me as though to say: ” Aren’t you going to sit down?” but I’ve always half-shaken my head and let someone else have it —the chair, that is. Then she has just given a slight, very slight, shrug of the shoulders, and I’ve felt rather ungracious and left it at that. I know now why I don’t sit down, and I’ll tell you about that presently.
It’s extremely difficult to give you the facts about this dream in their proper order, because there isn’t a proper order, and it differs in so many ways from ordinary dreams. There are none of the mad things in it that you usually get. For instance, only the other night—the night before last—I had a real beauty. Let’s see—how did it begin?—oh, yes.
There’d been an earthquake, and after it was all over I’d gone back to look for my opera hat. It was day-time, with a biting east wind blowing, and the whole landscape, as far as the eye could see, was completely covered with huge round boulders—presumably thrown up by the earthquake. These boulders were jammed so close together that you couldn’t walk between them, and they were all covered with green slime so that you couldn’t go jumping along the tops. I tried it exactly once. Frightfully slippery. So it was a case of scrambling up one side and slithering down the other the whole time. It would be an exaggeration to say that the going was at all easy.
The only other person in sight, besides me, was a horrible old beggar woman, and she would follow me about. She was wheeling a bicycle—she would be, of course—and I was continually having to help her with it over the more difficult places. She had a ghastly ingratiating smile, and whenever she did smile you could see that she had no teeth at all—just two rows of nothing. Most repulsive. All the time we were going along looking for my hat, I kept on finding half-crowns in the—what’s the right word—interstices —between the boulders—any amount of them. But whenever I came across one she vowed and declared it was hers. ” Surely the kind gentleman wouldn’t rob a poor old woman,” and so on. I don’t believe it was her money really, but she seemed so certain about it that one gave in to avoid a fuss.
I was getting very bored with her. I said, ” Why can’t you pick ’em up yourself?”
But she didn’t seem to, somehow. I was having a perfectly dreadful time with the bicycle, too. (There was no doubt about sitting down in this dream. My goodness!) And I said, ’’ Look here, my good woman, what is the use of lugging this great thing about? You can’t ride it, the country isn’t a bit suitable, and it’s a man’s machine. Why not park it?” Oh, no, that wouldn’t suit her at all, she might want it.
She finally became so exasperating that I chucked it and began to scramble away from her. She immediately put up a fearful moan about my leaving her in the lurch, and how she couldn’t possibly manage by herself. Old liar, she could manage perfectly well. I hadn’t gone fifty yards before she nipped on to her bicycle and rode it—rode it, mark you! —after me at no end of a lick. She came skimming along the tops of the rocks like a seaplane just taking off. It made me so angry—the way I’d been done—that it woke me up.
Now you know where you are with a dream like that. It follows the proper rules. But the one I’m really telling you about is so abnormally normal. For example, I recognize it the moment I’m going up the stairs, and say ” Here’s this jolly old dream again.” Also, it never comes to a definite end, but just fades out after I’ve been in the room for about an hour, and next morning every single detail is as clearly
in my mind as if it had actually happened—more clearly, if anything. In fact, I could write it all down, only it would take so long. I also have the impression that these ” doings ” often take place when I’m not there. It’s like reading a book with half the pages missing.
The one constantly variable factor is the man on the platform, and it’s rotten bad luck that I’ve always been too late to see how he comes to be chosen out of all the others. He was once just sitting down, but that’s the nearest I’ve ever got.
It used to strike me what a rag it would be if only I could recognize anyone there. After all, it stands to reason that all these other people must be dreaming, too—and then we could compare notes next day.
Well, one night the man on the platform was a man, a rather famous man, whom I knew very well. When I say I knew him very well, I really mean that I knew his secretary very well, which is infinitely better, believe me. So next morning I rang her up—the secretary—and said, ” I say, I wish you’d fix up an appointment with the old man sometime during the day, because I want to see him very particularly.” And she said, ” I’m afraid you can’t, because he was found dead in bed this morning.”
Quite a nasty thing to have put across you without any warning.
Wasn’t it just my luck? Fearful hard lines on him, too, of course, but it absolutely dished my chance of finding out what the dream meant. If it meant anything, that is.
However, the Fates were kind. Three or four years ago I again saw a man on the platform whom I knew perfectly well. His name was Ribblechick, but he couldn’t help that, poor chap. He recognized me, too, and we grinned at each other, and I thought now it’s all right-—he’ll have heard her speak, and will be able to tell me what she is—if not who.
So next morning I trotted round—they lived quite near us —and will you believe me, the whole house was upside down. He, poor old Ribblechick, had been found dead in bed, too. Heart-failure, they said it was.
Please don’t think that I’m suggesting for a moment that it was anything but the purest coincidence that these two unfortunate people happened to die in the same way. But all the same, each time I dream my dream nowadays, and a chair does fall vacant, I still let someone else have it, and the good lady still shrugs her shoulders.
About the Author
A. J. Alan
Leslie Harrison Lambert, known in public as A. J. Alan, was an English stage magician, intelligence officer, short story writer and radio broadcaster. At the beginning of World War II he worked in naval intelligence at Bletchley Park. Lambert contacted a member of the British Broadcasting Company to suggest he might tell one of his own short stories on the radio. This was accepted and so, as A. J. Alan, he broadcast “My Adventure in Jermyn Street,” on 31 January 1924. Following his immediate success, he quickly became one of the most popular broadcasting personalities of the time. He went to considerable trouble over writing each story, taking a couple of months over each one, and only broadcasting about five times a year. He carefully constructed an apparently extemporary, conversational, style making his stories seem like anecdotes concerning strange events that had happened to him. The endings were whimsical and unexpected.
About the Narrators
Matt Dovey is very tall, very British, and most likely drinking a cup of tea right now. He has a scar on his arm from a cruel childhood lesson, though to be fair to his parents that lesson was self-taught and best summarised as “don’t be an idiot”. He lives in a quiet market town in rural England with his wife, children, and a sadly decreasing number of cats.
His surname rhymes with “Dopey” but any other similarities to the dwarf are purely coincidental. He’s the current host over at PodCastle, the best fantasy sibling a horror podcast could have, and he has fiction out and forthcoming all over the place, including all four Escape Artists podcasts.
You can keep up with everything else at mattdovey.com, or follow along on Twitter at @mattdoveywriter, Instagram @mattjdovey and Mastodon @email@example.com
Hailing from the rainy North West of England, Phil Lunt has dabbled in many an arcane vocation during his lifetime. From attempted rock-star to conveyor-belt scraper at a bread factory, Easter Egg Wrangler to World’s Worst Waiter. Actor, designer and very infrequent writer, he now works full-time as a Casting Booker but likes to read stories to you whenever he gets a chance. Having an entry on Wookiepedia is one of his greatest achievements but for his sins he supports Bolton Wanderers. You could always check him out on Twitter to see what shenanigans he’s currently involved with. Phil served as Chair of the British Fantasy Society for four years.