Saturday 28 November 2009

DRESSMAKING by Rebecca Swan

Here's a creepy one for the dark nights...


“What an unusual house!” we exclaimed in unison.
I’d always been the mistress of understatement, when inwardly I was bristling with excitement. We abandoned our suitcases and fell onto the sofa, our legs entwined. This trip was supposed to repair our floundering marriage. It was Richard’s idea.
He jumped up and lit candles, as outside the sky was darkening. I looked around inquisitively. Despite my earlier proclamations, the house was unspectacular and had an air of gloom about it. Yet I could forego cheerful furnishings just for a chance to be away from my usual routine.
“What did we bring to eat?” I said, as I languished on the sofa without a care in the world.
We gorged ourselves on Black Forest gateau in front of the fire.

Richard went into the kitchen , and I spirited myself upstairs to explore, armed with a candle. There were dark wood floors throughout the house, and pictures of unknown faces leered from the walls. They all had the same strange, malevolent looking smiles. An impressive gilt mirror had been placed on a wall at the top of the stairs. The air was heavy.
I reached the last room and was about to open the door when I heard the sound of something heavy falling to the floor within.
“I asked you to wait for me. I wanted to look around with you,” said Richard.
I gasped, and nearly dropped the candlestick.
“Don’t creep up on me like that,” I snapped.
“Lydia…I am trying, you know,” he said sheepishly.
“I heard a noise in this room,” I said and grasped the handle, but the door was locked.
“Let me try,” said Richard.
Richard twisted the handle, and needless to say, the door opened. I barged past him into the room. An antique sewing machine sat on a dressing table by the window, glinting in the moonlight. I inspected an armoire where I discovered a rail of beautiful evening gowns, none of which looked less than fifty years old.
“Oh Richard, look at these!” I said, softening.
I plunged my hand between the dresses, and fingered the sequins, beads and feathers.
“Why have these been left here? They’re vintage, anyone could make off with them,” he said grouchily. “They’ve not even been covered up.”
“Do you know what, I’m glad they haven’t, because it means I get to touch them,” I said dreamily.
I wanted to plunge my head into the wardrobe and imagine I could smell the perfumes of the women who wore these magnificent items. I fantasised that the sewing machine before me had created these wondrous dresses.

When I woke up the following morning, Richard had already gone, and for that I was glad. The first thing I did was go to the room where the dresses were, because I felt so drawn to it. It had given an otherwise mediocre holiday home something of an edge.
I was surprised to find a dress laid out on the bed. I had not noticed it in the armoire the previous evening, and I doubted Richard had bought it because he was useless at choosing clothes for me. It was a cream, beaded affair, covered with tassels. I was no fashion expert but guessed it was from the 1920s. I slipped out of my nightclothes, and stepped into the dress . It was a perfect fit. Small tassels on the hem tickled my knees. I looked at myself in the mirror.
“Lydia, really. I don’t think the dresses are there to be tried on.”
“Richard, will you stop sneaking up on me like that!” I said incredulously. “Anyone would think you float around, I never hear your footsteps. Anyway, you left this on the bed, so it serves you right.”
“Er, actually I didn’t.”
“Well it wasn’t here last night. Don’t joke, Richard.”
“I’m not, I genuinely did not put that on the bed. Why on earth would I do that?”
For a few moments, there was a pregnant pause. Richard, to his credit, never lied. A mystery was unravelling and I wanted to be the one to solve it.

We went to the kitchen. There were fresh flowers on the table which Richard had obviously picked especially. As he proudly placed breakfast in front of me, I calmly left the room, and went and made myself a whisky in the lounge.
“Please don’t start your histrionics again,” said Richard with an air of desperation. “I can’t believe you’re pouring a drink, it’s nine ‘o’ clock in the morning.”
“Histrionics, histrionics! How dare you!”
I ran upstairs and straight to the room with the sewing machine. My heart beat heavily in my chest, suffused with anger and frustration. I turned my glassy eyes towards the open door of the armoire, and, in the very centre of the rack, hung an ivory coloured wedding dress. It was a bitterly ironic reminder that my marriage was limping to a close. But who had put it there? Who was following my thoughts and giving me these small signals? I eased out the dress. It was so unutterably beautiful, the way it was gathered in here and there. The sewing machine, as if echoing my appreciation, burst into life and began whirring away right before my very eyes. I was overcome with a feeling of drunkenness.
Later that day, as I ruminated over what I’d seen and topped myself up with wine, I put the experience down as a figment of my imagination. Yet when I stumbled drunkenly upstairs, the wedding dress had disappeared. Richard had been gone for hours, to my relief. I started to go through my clothes, when I came across one of my favourite dresses, and noticed a tear down the side. I had the idea of leaving the dress beside the sewing machine and locking the room overnight.

Sure enough, the following morning, upon entering the room I found my dress lying on the bed as good as new. I tried to stay out for most of the day, and when I returned Richard was making his own supper. We didn’t have a conversation - we both knew this time it was the end. I went upstairs and checked my case - although part of me wanted to stay and enjoy events at the house for as long as possible. I took out a silk nightdress and deliberately cut it to shreds, and again placed the pieces beside the sewing machine.

The next day, my nightdress had been repaired. I laughed. I went to bed early that evening, while Richard was still downstairs bitching about me to his family members on the phone. I lay there imagining the sewing machine whirring away, while a competent pair of hands steered the fabric this way and that beneath its needle.
I woke suddenly a few hours later to find the sewing machine suspended in the air above my head. Richard slept soundly beside me. It loomed above me for a few moments then seemed to pop like a bubble and disappear. I jumped out of bed and hared it to the other bedroom. The sewing machine sat in its usual place, looking far from menacing. It had all been a bad dream, but I still felt unnerved by it.

The following morning I was woken by the incessant click-click of the needle. I wanted to be privy to a sight that I had formerly been denied - the sight of the machine at work, and who or what was operating it. There, sitting on the dressing table, was an elderly woman, hunched over the machine. Her woolly hair was fastened into a tight bun, and she wore a black dress with a high collar. She froze when I gasped and started to swivel on the stool, but I ran from the room in terror and begged Richard to drive us home, but he told me to wait until the following day.
I was woken again that night, this time by the sound of the sewing machine working at some ridiculous speed. Yet again, Richard slept through it all, so I would never be able to prove it was more than imagined. I ran down the hallway and found the sewing machine sitting silent and menacing in the darkness. I touched it, and it whirred into life for a brief moment, causing the needle to pierce my finger. I looked around the room and was sure I could see the face of an elderly woman grinning satanically in a shadowy corner.
I curled up close to Richard. When I eventually began to fall asleep, I was disturbed by a loud thud, as if the sewing machine had been pushed to the floor. I lay quivering until it started getting light outside. I dared not open my eyes. I was aware of Richard getting out of bed.
“Lydia! How do you explain this?” he cried.
I opened my eyes, and saw him gesticulating to the floor at the end of the bed. When I sat up I saw the entire contents of my case had been shredded and tossed to the floor.
“Oh Richard!” I said desperately. “I told you there was something amiss in this house. We have to leave - today!”
“We’ll leave today but I refuse to believe there’s anything abnormal about this house. The only thing amiss is you. We need to have serious talks when we get home.”
I felt stung by Richard’s diatribe.
“I’m telling you the truth!” I cried.
“The sad thing is, I don’t know when I can believe you any more,” he said sadly, as he left the room.
“Richard, don’t go out there! We need to leave, as a matter of urgency.”
I dived out of bed and grabbed my handbag - after all, I had no clothes left. As I did this, I heard the sewing machine firing up. I cornered Richard in the hallway.
“Can’t you hear that?”
Richard stopped in his tracks and for a few fearful seconds I thought he couldn’t hear anything.
“What the hell?” he said, marching towards the room with the armoire.
“No, Richard no, you mustn’t.”
“Someone’s broken in, go and call the Police,” he said, trying to shake me off his arm.
“No Richard, - it’s not an intruder. I’ve been aware of it for a few days. You mustn’t mess with it, we have to go.”
We heard the door of the armoire creak open, and suddenly, all the dresses I’d admired earlier were hurled into the hallway by unseen hands. They were suspended for a moment like dark angels before cluttering to the floor still on their hangers. And then all went black.

I found myself in bed and Richard was entering the room with our breakfast on a tray. He slid into bed beside me.
“I thought I’d never be able to wake you,” he said, beaming as he passed me a drink.
“Why are we still here?” I asked, shaking my head in confusion.
“Well, the last thing you said before you went to sleep was that you wanted to stay here for the full week and sort things out between us.”
I eyed him suspiciously.
“I never said that - I don’t recall saying that. Why aren’t you petrified? Don’t you remember what happened last night?”
“Yes - we had a meal together then we went to bed.”
“No Richard - the armoire….”
“What about the armoire? What armoire?”
“You saw it!”
“What are you talking about? I think you’ve been having strange dreams again. You did drink rather too much last night.”
I hurried to the other bedroom, but the sewing machine had disappeared, and the armoire contained nothing but mothballs.

Richard followed me, looking concerned.
“Lydia, are you okay?”
“Did you get rid of them?”
“Get rid of what?” he said.
“The sewing machine. The dresses. You know what I mean - you came in here with me numerous times, you saw them.”
“Lydia, this is the first time I’ve set foot in this room since we’ve been here.”
I could have continued to argue with him, but I knew Richard never lied.
We left the house that day, and have never been back.

To Follow...


  1. Hiya Becky,
    An eerie tale, well told. Some beautiful descriptive writing here.
    Just be aware of cliches creeping in (e.g. 'pregnant pause' - 'figment of my imagination') and try to think of other ways to say it.
    That apart, a fine atmospheric story.

  2. I really liked it, so much that I read it twice! The writing style is very good, especially for the type of story and the periods it evokes (1920's). It really has me wondering about the ending!

  3. I really enjoyed this. It was different, spooky and amusing. You described the house so well, I want to visit it!

    I was a little concerned about the character turning her 'glassy eyes' towards the armoire, and I'm not sure that anyone really would say "We need to leave, as a matter of urgency" especially to a partner. But I thought it was very well written and I was drawn in immediately. More please!

  4. Hi Beccy,I already gave you my feedback by email, so I hope the comments above help. Good work, by the way (and I hope you're happy with the little cut I did?)

  5. Spooky! I liked the old-fashioned ghost story vibe. It made me wonder when the story is set - at times it seems almost Victorian, but the characters occasionally use more modern-day terms.

  6. Nice spooky tale. Can't really add anything that hasn't been said above. Good work and keep it up.
    Regards, David.

  7. Thanks for your comments everyone,

    Regards, Rebecca

  8. Hi Rebecca ;-)

    I enjoyed this chilling piece Very, very much.

    Thank you for sharing ;-)