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The House Was a Clockwork Automaton

June 13th, 2003

I came out of General Dynamics into a dark, overcast summer’s night, much like the one that was passing rapidly in the waking world. I was wearing the same clothes I had worn that day, purple shirt, dark shorts. I had forgotten something, left it behind at my desk–a pen perhaps, or a book–something I wanted, but did not necessarily need. I was about to start back in after it, when I realized I didn’t have an ID badge, and thus couldn’t get back in anyway. Then I realized I did not work at GD. A dream!

I started to run. I ran a long time through the night, without getting tired or putting any effort into running, in suburban surroundings I had never seen before. I passed a few other joggers, a surprising number considering the lateness of the hour, especially since I hadn’t seen a single car. I wondered about them as I passed: figments of my dream.

Finally, I reached my house. I came up to it from the left, on a road that is not really there. And my house was not my house. It was built on a little hill, with a stone wall in front, and the driveway cut into the hill. I think it was white with black shutters. My dad was standing out in the street in front of the house, stretching, wearing his running clothes. I thought we would start running together, but he had just come back from his run, so I stopped, and went inside with him.

There were all kinds of luggage and things packed up in the dining room that was not my dining room. My uncle David was there, and his hair was thick and black and curly, not greying and balding on top like it is now, and he had these killer diamond-shaped sideburns. I think my dad was younger too. They were both in a very happy, jocular mood, smiling a lot, and were talking about something in which I quickly lost interest – something they were packing. Apparently, it was the day before I was going off to college, and this stuff was going with me. So I was younger too. I was 1997 me.

The feeling of half-dream, like I was about to wake up, had been with me in greater or lesser intensity since I came out of GD. Now I said to myself, “I am dreaming. What should I do? Look at my hands!” So I did. I looked down–but instead of my hands, I found a grey inattention, a little ball of it, like a tiredness that came over me. And a moment later, I looked up at my dad and his brother. “Okay,” I said groggily, out loud, and started to turn away. Dad and David both said goodnight, though I hadn’t really been talking to them, but to myself. But I turned and went back through the kitchen towards the stairs.

Rapidly, I now went through a series of other false flashbacks–settings that were like things from my memory, but had actually never happened. You might also look at it that I was just dreaming in a setting that was the past. Though each scene was short, I remember them only foggily. In one I was having a conversation with Erin, and as this was happening, I thought to myself, “Wait til I tell Erin about this.” In another, I was standing on a brown ladder, trying to fix a gutter or something similar.

Then the dream shifted completely, and I was no longer in any control. I was in the mansion of a ridiculously rich, evil, mad, old man. The whole house was a clockwork automaton that played through the same, thoroughly disturbing opera/melodrama over and over. Apparently it gave this old man kicks to invite unwitting young people to his house, offer them anything they desired, and then draw them in to his own inescapable cycle of carnal sin and crushing remorse. I believe it had been Purpura who initially drew me in to the house with promises of things of great coolness and quality. But he could easily have been part of the old man’s automaton, or part of my own fucked-up failsafe mechanism for perpetuating my dreaming reality.

The house was all in warm colors: yellows, browns, reds, oranges. There were female servants in kimonos who would bring you orange towels or drinks or food. There were huge, steamy bathrooms with big hot tubs. There were wide grounds; the house was on a hill with a nice view. Purpura and I walked the grounds; we studied the huge old grandfather clock in the foyer, we played with the toys he kept in his screening room, which was a kind of holographic projector that played scenes from the star wars that hadn’t come out yet. There were lightsabers, real ones, that worked.

And there were people moving through the house all the time. It seemed people came through in groups, like tours, and with each group’s entry, the process started over again. At first, they didn’t even know of the old man’s existence. They just stumbled onto the house, as Hansel and Gretel on the witch’s cottage, Pinnochio on the island of lost children, Sen’s parents on the feast of the spirits. They would gorge themselves for a time on the house’s pleasures, grow almost addicted to them, and only then begin to perceive the house’s more disturbing aspects, of which the old man himself was foremost.

He would summon you at breakfast time after a night of debauchery, to sit there and eat, or queasily try to eat, while he sat in his decaying majesty, surrounded by his superhumanly sanguine, sickeningly sexual servants, and grilled you with questions. What had you done last night? Did you feel good about it? Were you through exploiting his generosity, or were you going to do it again? He treated everyone like a prodigal son he had treated with too much leniency. He had already killed the fatted calf for you; and you had betrayed him again. Of course he wouldn’t say these things, he would only insinuate them. And he would kill the fatted calf for you again the next night. It was the guilt, the personal horror of those he tormented, that was his meat and drink. He was like the father from The Beautiful and Damned. Perhaps he was the devil. Perhaps he was god.

The climax of the melodrama came at the end of the meal. It was this horrible vampiric dance, with the old man, the servants, and the house all taking part, and you forced to watch as a disembodied presence. It was reminiscent of Rocky Horror Picture Show in many ways–that was the first comparison I made when I awoke. I witnessed it twice in the course of the dream. There were two coffins in the main hallway of the mansion. They had always been there, but you had never seen them until now. They were of this rich orangey wood, magnificently lacquered, and carved with yellow flowers and designs like stained glass. They opened of their own accord; and in one you saw the old man lay down to sleep, helped in by his voluptuous young maid. Then, suspended in the air over the other, there came into view one of his sculpted, hairless male servants, completely naked, glistening with oils. You watched from above, as, framed by the coffin, another naked servant appeared, and the two performed a kind of synchronized swimming-type dance, tumbling and rolling and caressing. Then the original servant would float away, and another would appear. It began with a white man; then a black man appeared, they danced, and the white man went away, then a white woman appeared, and the process repeated cyclically for as long as it seemed you could stand to watch this with that waxen, dead figure staring up at you from the next coffin. You knew somehow that their sexual dance was rejuvenating him. He was a parasite; the house kept him alive, perhaps forever. There was nothing you could do but watch.

And at the end, when you were left alone again, you’d swear to yourself you were leaving. You’d say “it was fun while it lasted, but nothing in this house makes it worth encountering that old man ever again.” and you’d get up to go. I did this. I thought I was leaving, but as soon as I did, suddenly the house was empty again. The old man and all memory of him was gone, and it began all over again. Once you had passed through the cycle once, I think it was possible for you to escape. But if you didn’t, as I didn’t, you became a part of the clockwork.

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