Pemberton was not a man given to hallucinations; in fact, you could pretty much credit anything he said as being the plain truth, at least as he understood it. Which is what made the circumstances of his death so intriguing.
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It was at the club, where we would often gather to exchange little anecdotes over a few drinks, that Pemberton first let on that something was steadily eating at him. I mean, the man seemed to have lost a lot of weight, and he was never a fat man to begin with, and his hands shook that last time he was with us. So the ice in his glass gave a little tinkling sound every time he picked it up. Also, I think there was something about his eyes, a dreadful, haunted look that belied the fact that he wasn’t getting any sleep.
We kidded him about it of course. We were all drunks in those days, some of us more accomplished at it than others I’m afraid, and we all had more than our fair share of laughs at each other’s expense. Night after night we each took a turn being roasted. This being a particularly bad night for Pemberton, I’m afraid we rather poured it on with both guns.
Of course, he laughed with us, taking it (or seeming to take it) all in stride, but when we inquired, during a serious moment, what his trouble might be, he turned pale, and, with a stuttering tongue, began to relate for us a peculiar dream that had been annoying him. Well, suddenly everyone in the smoking lounge was all ears, and in light of what happened afterward, I don’t wonder that many of us at the club still feel a chill run down our backs when we think of Pemberton.
Pemberton, you must understand, was a traveling salesman, so his job took him all over in search of someone, somewhere, to buy these blasted vacuum cleaners he was always trying to fob off on everyone’s wife. Dreadful things, really, they gave off a tremendous amount of noise and dust, don’t you remember? Yes, Alma had one for awhile, but she quickly traded it in for another as soon as she saw that it was next to worthless. At any rate, selling vacuum cleaners was his line of work, and, though it may not have exactly made him independently wealthy, it did offer him a reasonable standard of living and allow him to travel, which is all a chap like Pemberton really wanted out of life, once you got right down to it.
He wasn’t particularly ambitious, Mr. Pemberton. In fact, in business matters he was always regarded by the rest of us as a bungler and lightweight. I suppose it helped his situation that his father happened to own the vacuum cleaner company.
Well, be that as it may, Pemberton spent a good deal of time on the road, away from that horrid little family he suffered; that constant, shrewish woman he married and those ghastly sons…I only know about all this because Pemberton, when he had imbibed too much liquor, would often, nearly tearfully, relate his domestic problems to the rest of us while we took secret delight in the spectacle…I know you must think us a cruel lot at the club, but Pemberton was really never a full member and had only been invited by one of our regulars, and seemed to have become so accustomed to our company that he kept showing up unwelcome. At any rate, we tolerated him mainly for sport…
Well, on that last night, as I recall, I was sitting in my usual chair smoking, discussing the topics of the day. I dunno, some ghastly news or other, and in comes Pemberton from the bar, looking as if someone had just walked over his grave, and sits down with us in the lounge and begins to tinkle his glass of scotch, and we can all see that he’s shaking badly and is in need--well, I really have no idea what could have helped him at that point except perhaps several sessions with a competent psychoanalyst. The man kept fidgeting in his chair, and the haunted, cursed look in his eye told me that he was on the verge of just collapsing right where he sat.
“Ah Mr. Pemberton,” I said to him, “you seem to be in a rather distressed state this evening. May I inquire what all the trouble is?”
Pemberton looked as if someone had just asked him what time it was on Mars, and then said, “Why, Mr. Rudolph, I didn’t know that you cared.”
“I don’t, but I suspect that you’ll sob it all out before the evening is over whether anyone gives a whiff or not, so it might as well be now.”
A few good natured laughs rang out, and Pemberton at least smiled a little--a horrible expression when it crossed his face, Pemberton not being a man born to smile very often--and said, “Well, I suppose that if you gentleman really must know…”
And he sat up in his chair and drained his glass and smoothed out his coat and screwed himself up to start talking. His mouth opened, his lips began to move and then…nothing. He seemed to be caught, or he didn’t know how to begin and he was having a damn hard time getting the first word to pass through his lips.
“Yes…” I drawled, trying to draw out whatever he was after, and he stuttered for a few moments saying “Well…well…well…well, you see” and suchlike.
Finally someone said, “Well spit it out Pem, we haven’t got the blessed night!”
And that someone should really have been me, as I was the ringleader in those happy, bygone days. But it wasn’t. But I did say, “Come now Pemberton old bean, don’t leave us in suspense.”
Finally he plunged into it.
“Well, it’s just that, several nights ago, I began to be bothered by a strange, recurring dream…”
“Ah!” someone piped up. “Bit of mystery here! Tell me Pem, about this dream: what were her measurements?”
“Was she an Oriental number? I hear he fancies those.”
“Better not tell your wife about this dream, Pem. She’s liable to file for divorce!”
That started a round of laughter, but Pemberton, quite seriously, continued.
“Oh no, it wasn’t that sort of dream. I wish to God it was. It was…well, let’s just say…it was the sort of dream that stays with you, long after you’ve woken up and started your day.”
“And what,” I asked, dragging on my smoldering cigar, “would be the nature of this dream, Pem? Can you tell us?”
He looked puzzled for a moment.
Actually, he looked alternately puzzled and frightened the whole of the night, but he rubbed his bristly little moustache, finished off another drink, took a cigarette from the man nearest him, lit up with trembling fingers, and said, “Well, it is peculiar beyond my meager abilities to explain it. You see, in the dream, I wake up, and Betty is up making breakfast, and all of a sudden she says to me ‘Did you hear the neighbor’s dog barking last night? It made an awful racket.’ To which I reply ‘No. I didn’t hear a thing.’ To which she replies, ‘It doesn’t surprise me. You sleep like the dead.’ And then I get up to breakfast, go out to the car, and start on my way.”
He paused for a moment, and I got the false impression that he meant for this to be the end, so I said, “And? That’s it? That’s what’s been troubling you?”
There was a general murmur of confusion among the club before Pemberton sighed, took a shaky breath, and said in his defense, “No. No that’s not it. I wish to God that it was, but…there’s more.”
There were a few sighs (Pemberton was really drawing this out) and one gentleman got up to leave, or perhaps he just need to go to the privy. I was enjoying this in my own way, but Pemberton clearly was not. There was some point that he was driving toward, and the closer he got to it, the more unnerved he seemed to become.
“Well, the next thing I know I’m driving, and the day is gorgeous, and I’m headed out to a row of houses down a country lane, and there’s music on the radio. I realize that I had better get moving if I want to sell any vacuums today, as I got a late start. The next thing I know I’m standing outside the car, kicking the tires in exhaustion. Or rather, I am kicking them in frustration, for the damn car won’t start, and I am fifty miles from home and there is no one to come and get me.
“Well, I start walking, and suddenly I find myself approaching an old, two-story house with a sagging porch, peeling paint, ivy growing across the face of it, and a porch swing out front. So this is the closest house, but it is in such a state of disrepair that I wonder if anyone actually lives here. So I go up the rickety steps to the porch, just knowing that I’m going to put my foot through the boards, and knock on the door. I try peering inside, but all is dark. Suddenly, to my complete amazement, a curtain at the window is drawn back, someone hastily glances out, and the door is slowly opened a crack.
“It is an old woman, very plain and severe, with her hair done up into a tight bun at the back, and an old dress that looked as if it was several decades out of style. Well, she gives me the strangest look, eyes burning a hole right through me, and she says, ‘It’s been a long time, Edward, a long time, but we’ve been expecting you. Come in.’
“Well, the next thing I know I’m walking through this dusty old place, just strolling about the living room, and it really is in a state of complete disrepair, with great cracks and stains running the length of the walls and ceiling, and furniture all sort of covered over with white drapes, and the woman, I realize for the first time, is not alone. No. There is a young man with blond hair with her, who I take is the son. He seems to be rather unfriendly, or suspicious of me for some strange reason, but even he can’t compare to the other one that is in the room…the one that comes from the upstairs hallway, banging his heavy feet across the floorboards and down the stairs, and pauses at the foot of the stairs and sort of tilts his head with his hand still resting on the banister, and then goes and skulks in the shadows. And this one really frightens me, because, you see, I cannot see his face--”
“Right…no face. Or, just like a shadow for a face. He, in fact, blends into the shadows, and I never get to see him much beyond an occasional glimpse out of the corner of my eye. At any rate, the next thing I know I’m lying upstairs, or what I take to be upstairs, in a bed, and that same figure with the blotted-out face is bending over me. He’s holding something in his hand, and I see that it is something shiny and long--”
There were a few rude titters here, but I shushed everyone up as best I could and let the man get on with it.
“Well”, he continued, “suddenly I see that it is a long knife, like a surgical knife that he has got in his hand, and he’s plunging it into me, again and again. It’s all so quick I can only lay there and die.”
At this, silence. Then Pemberton said, “Well, after that, I am conscious of hands carrying me out of the house, and the next thing I know I’m at a funeral. My own. My wife and sons are there, and my wife is crying, aand I approach the casket but, of course, nobody can see me, and I look down and see myself lying there in he box. After that the place goes dark and the mourners file out. I follow the funeral procession, somehow, out to the cemetery, and I see them plant the box in the ground and then everyone leaves slowly and I approach the headstone. Edward Pemberton, it says, and it gives the year of my birth and the year of my death. This year.”
Silence for a long time, then someone coughed and said, “Well, never mind it old boy. Just a dream, after all.”
“Yes,” said Pemberton, “yes, you may be right. However, just this morning as I woke up do you know what happened? The most amazing thing. My wife was up cooking breakfast, and do you know what she said? Do you?”
Oh no, I thought, here it comes.
There were a few groans and one gasp as Pemberton said, “Yes, that’s right. She said, ‘Did you hear the neighbor’s dog barking last night? It made an awful racket.’ To which I replied, my heart sinking in my chest, ‘No. I didn’t hear a thing.’ To which she replied, ‘It doesn’t surprise me. You sleep like the dead.’”
He stopped for a moment, leaning forward, his eyes growing a tad wild. His breath quickened as he said, “Do you see? Do you see? It’s just as it was in my dream! Just as it was.”
There was a general murmur of agreement, and he took a cigarette from a man seated to his left and lit it with shaking fingers. For a moment I could sympathize with him; after all, it was not the first time I had heard of such dreams being portents of death for the dreamer. I mean, everyone’s heard such stories. But I doubted, if I were in his shoes, that I would let it trouble me to quite the same degree that it seemed to be troubling him. Now of course, I’m not so sure, but in those days I’m a little ashamed to admit we treated Pemberton a little like an idiot child, so…
“Well, I can tell you I didn’t dare even leave the house yesterday, and today I gave the excuse that I felt ill to avoid going out…I had the exact same dream again last night, and I suspect that when I leave here to go home and go to bed, I’ll have the exact same dream tonight. What on earth do you think it could all mean?”
There was a hint of desperation in his voice, and no quick replies came forth. Pemberton showed up at the club two or three times after that, looking a little worse, a little more haggard each time, but never let on again about whether or not he was having the dream. No one asked him either, the tale having left such a…disquieting feeling amongst us.
At any rate, when we found out Pemberton was dead, we were all generally shocked, and not a few of us secretly dismayed. He was a good chap, was Pemberton, if not a remarkably bright one, and everyone’s death, I believe, diminishes society in some regard. Be that as it may, we read in the paper about his accident and, after a little research, pieced together what we could. Nobody discussed it much afterward, but, then, it is such a chilling little tale, comic and morbid by turns…Just like Pemberton to go out of the world and leave a mystery in his trail.
Well, the old boy must have got back to work, or, more like it, his wife finally kicked him out the door, probably at the point of a flying frying pan, because on that final day Mr. Pemberton was driving out in the country when his car broke down along a lonely stretch of road. Don’t ask me to give you particulars about where it was, I can’t remember now. Well, there was a farm house a mile down from where his car had stalled, so, knowing what he had to do, poor Pemberton walked to the only handy place that might possibly have a telephone for him to use. You young kids today don’t know how lucky you are to have portable phones and the like.
Well, Pemberton must have gotten spooked when he realized that this scenario was eerily like the one in his recurring dream, but seeing no other recourse, and seeing a car parked in the driveway, he went up on the porch, knocked at the door, and waited. Well, unlucky for him there were three people in the house, three prospective buyers, a Mrs. Monmouth and her two sons. Mrs. Monmouth was an independently wealthy woman who ran a string of dry cleaners in the city many decades ago. Anyway, this Mrs. Monmouth was a severe, batty-looking old hag who always wore her hair tied in a bun at the back of her head, very tightly. We got this from a gentleman who had business dealings with her from time to time.
Anyway, according to what she told the police, and what appeared in the papers, she goes to the door of the old place and there, standing stock still in terror, is Pemberton. Well, as soon as he laid eyes on what he took to be the woman from his dreams, he completely lost his nerve.
She said that he screamed. I don’t doubt it. The next thing he did proved fatal, because he apparently turned, threw up his arms, and ran across the porch.
His foot came down on the wrong spot, though, and he tripped, sprawling across the stone walkway at the foot of the porch, and giving himself a very bloody head injury.
He was knocked unconscious, and, as there didn’t seem to be anything else to do (or perhaps they didn’t know what to do in their panic) the two sons carried Pemberton inside and upstairs to the only bed left in the old place, and placed him on it, trying to make a compress out of some ice in their chest and an old rag.
They argued about whether or not to try and drive him to the hospital, but thought it better, for some reason, not to presently move him, and so it was decided that one son should drive to a filling station several miles away and call for an ambulance. Of course, the details are fuzzy in my mind now, it having been the better part of five decades since this happened, but they then decided to try and get him in the car and drive him to hospital themselves. Or maybe it was the stern Mrs. Monmouth who decided for her arguing sons. Remember, Pemberton was bleeding badly and nothing they could do would staunch the flow.
They thus carried him back downstairs and out to the car, where, as luck would have it, the damn thing wouldn’t start. Do you mark this? Pemberton is lying in the back bleeding to death, and one of the sons has to get out and pop the hood and jiggle the wires because Mrs. Monmouth was too much of a skinflint to keep her own car working properly. Well, amazingly, they finally got Tin Lizzie running, and got on their way as quick as they could to the nearest hospital. Of course, by that time, the backseat of their car must have been soaked in blood.
Pemberton was pronounced DOA. Some of us went to the funeral; I did not. I have no appetite for them, to be frank.
Well, we all agreed that Pemberton’s strange dream had, after a fashion, come true. All the fellows at the club agreed upon this most readily. What we couldn’t agree upon was the portions of the dream that, quite frankly, made no sense to us, in particular the fact that Pemberton had described a scenario that sounded, well--as if he was to be murdered instead of dying through his own misadventure. It was then that a rather enterprising member of the club did a little easy research into the background of the house where Pemberton had, for all purposes, died.
This is where things begin to get even weirder.
It seems that the reason the house had stood vacant for so many years was that it was, during the early years of the last century, the scene of a particularly grisly homicide.
It seems that the family that originally occupied the house, a family by the name of Danvers, had a son that went off to the war. This would have been around 1917 I think. He was very badly maimed, mentally and physically, and particularly in the face, which he took pains to conceal with a mask. Some sort of mask, we really could get no details about that. Do you remember that Pemberton said there was a tall man in his dream, a man whose face he could not see clearly? That would have been the veteran, I believe.
Well, apparently, while he had been off in the trenches, his malingering brother had had an affair with his sweetheart. Or, at least, that is what he believed. Not entirely sure about how he came to that conclusion, but there it is.
Well, the brother came to spend some time at the family home, to visit the mother I believe, and the wounded veteran confronted him about this, a charge that I imagine was hastily denied. The brother repaired to the upstairs bedroom, the same room, I might add, where Pemberton was taken after having had his fatal fall, and went to sleep. The veteran, enraged to the point of madness, slipped upstairs with his bayonet later that evening, and stabbed him mercilessly…
So it seems as if Pemberton, while receiving an impression of his own impending death, also saw back through the decades to a terrible death that had occurred, in the same house, in the same room…
Do you think that certain places just attract tragedy or misfortune? I’m not sure how I feel about the whole affair, to be perfectly honest. But it is tragic and comic the way that Pemberton dreamed of his death, then reacted in such a way as to make that dream inadvertently become a reality. As for his vision of the killing that had taken place there, I’m not sure about…
No, I’m not sure what any of it means, at all.