What did I say, she asked herself when the effort had been made, something about machines that fly, or was it aeronautic machines? Wireless, she screamed in her mind, television, penicillin, gramophone-records and vaccum-cleaners, but none of these words could be framed by her lips. I can think them, why can’t I say them? she begged; can I introduce nothing into this real past?–and if I cannot, then even these thoughts I am thinking, has Milly thought them before? But things can’t happen twice, she told herself wearily, closing her eyes, the momentary relaxation over, the racking torture established again, I must always have been Milly and Milly me. It is now that is present reality and the future is still to come. But if I have to wait for the future, if it is only in time to come that I shall be Melanie again, then that time must come again too when Sister Smith leaves me to sleep on the chaise-longue, and I wake up in the past. I shall never escape-and the eternal prison she imagined consumed her mind, and she fainted or dozed off into a nightmare of chase and pursuit and loss.
What is frightening? Not the typical lore of Halloween: ghosts, goblins, ghouls.
To me, what is most frightening is real life gone awry. Just a little twist, a little tweak, a little shade off center. We experience this in those dreams from which we cannot run away fast enough. We cannot scream loudly enough for someone to hear us. We cannot wake up from a nightmare which appears to be reality.
In The Victorian Chaise Longue, Melanie Langdon, who is recovering not only from the birth of her baby but from a terrible disease which troubles her lungs, decides to rest on the Victorian chaise longue she bought in an antique store. It is upholstered in red wool and tapestry, a sturdy and comfortable piece of furniture which appears to be the perfect thing for her to lie upon.
Only, it isn’t.
When she wakes, it is not to any life she knows. It is to inhabit the body of Milly Baines, also suffering from consumption, in 1864. In a kind of virtual time travel, Melly experiences Milly’s life, which weaves in and out of similarity to her own. No one believes her when she tells them who she really is, nor when she tells the doctor how she could recover with fresh air and sunlight. She is trapped within her own life and another’s, the two of which are difficult to separate. Even if she could.
This was an immensely satisfying read of pure terror and suspense. It reminds me too closely of dreams and experiences I’ve suffered in which I’ve wondered, “What if this is my real life, and what I thought was real is not?” I read it for Carl’s RIP V, and I highly recommend it for you.