Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.
My boyfriend and I are currently staying at the Revelry B&B, located in the Catskill
Mountains. Driving the winding mountain roads, during a snowstorm no less, really took it out of us both, so we pretty much collapsed into bed right away. I had some kind of weird nightmare–I can’t remember what it was about–and woke up at 5 AM, unable to fall back asleep.
Anthony’s probably going to sleep in for a while, so I don’t have much to do other than look around the room. He can be a little controlling sometimes, and he’d definitely be annoyed if I left the room without him. There’s no cell reception here, and the WiFi keeps cutting in and out, which is way more than frustrating if it would just stay out.
Everything in the green room, except for the white bedspread, is a shade of green, from the pale green dimity curtains to the forest green oriental rug on the ground. The owners have gone one step further by carving delicate ivy vines into the wooden bed posts of our king-sized bed and adding those fake silk plants you can get off of Amazon. The effect is a little overwhelming, but it’s still way nicer than our crappy studio in Queens. I wonder how Anthony found this place…and how much everything costs. Will they notice if that glass bull goes missing? It must be worth at least thirty or forty dollars.
Sorry, back to the point of this post. I found these letters inside one of the hardcover books lying on top of the enormous wooden dresser facing the bed. Each letter had been folded over into a square and jammed into the cover flap of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I almost threw them away without bothering to read them; the parchment was yellowed and covered with gross reddish stains, and the handwriting faded, barely legible. But a few words from the pages caught my eye and made me hesitate. Curiosity took over from there.
I’ve transcribed the letters below, after correcting the misspellings and guessing at the occasional intended word. The letter writer seems to have stayed at the same B&B we’re now currently staying in, and she must have been completely off her rocker. That’s the only explanation I can think of for the weird shit she describes. She never wrote her full name, but the language makes me think she wrote this in the late 1890s or early 1900s.
Hopefully the crappy WiFi lets me submit this post.
I apologize for sending only one letter to your three, but I daresay you’ll be glad to know that we’ve arrived safely at the Revelry Bed and Breakfast! When the snowstorm first began, I truly believed Jason would demand we hold off on the next leg of our journey for yet another day. I am so happy he allowed us to push forward, because this is the most beautiful place! I’ll do my best to describe it to you as well as if you stood next to me now, although I’m afraid I can’t possibly do it the justice it deserves.
The Revelry Bed and Breakfast is nestled inside of the forest, surrounded on all sides by tall evergreens. It is a lovely three-story tall colonial house, with a white wooden facade and columns framing the entryway. I can well imagine sitting under the covered porch when the weather is better. With the snow falling over it, and all the lamps lit from inside, it looks very picturesque, like something out of a storybook.
The owner’s wife came out to greet us as Jason struggled with our luggage. Her name is Agave (what a funny name!) and she was so sweet and welcoming, I forgot all my worries about our long trip here. From the descriptions I’d heard of her, I expected a grandmotherly creature puttering around the place, ready to drone on about the War of 1812 at the drop of a hat–but she looks sixty at most! She has dark hair streaked with grey, and the loveliest eyes, the color of a wine- dark sea.
As soon as she saw us, she began beaming and spread her arms wide in a gesture of welcome. “My husband and I are so glad you’ve safely arrived! You have had a long journey to reach us. Enter freely and partake of our hospitality. Eat and drink your fill.” She has a strange accent I can’t quite identify but speaks English more or less fluently. I do wonder how she and her husband manage to run everything here; although this house isn’t very large, it still seems a tremendous amount of work for only two people.
We very gladly went inside, as the cold really was becoming unbearable at that point. Everything inside is so ornate and luxurious, from the thick Persian rugs under our feet to the intricately carved wooden panels set into the furniture. The staircase leading up to the guest rooms must be the grandest one I’ve ever seen! Next to this staircase is a door that is very ornate, made of burnished wood and engraved with unfamiliar symbols and bulls chasing one another through a forest. I would have liked to stop and study it, but Jason rushed me onwards.
Agave brought us inside a well-lit room off to the side, where the table had been spread for supper. She had prepared oysters on the half shell, ribs of prime beef, turkey with chestnut dressing, quail toast, boiled sweet potatoes, and stewed tomatoes. She had also set out a huge spread of different fruits (apples, pomegranates, figs, etcetera) and a dusty bottle of white wine on the sideboard. The wine was unlike any other I’ve drunk before; exquisitely balanced, with marked notes of apple and honey. Jason didn’t approve of my helping myself to another glass, but I couldn’t help it. Everything tasted so divine that I lingered over every bite, trying to make it last as long as possible.
When we had finished supper, we staggered past the mysterious door and up the stairs, into our bedroom. Jason fell asleep at once, but I couldn’t sleep until I had dashed a few lines off to you. Oh, how I wish you were here with us, Penelope! I never want to leave this place. As you know, my father didn’t approve of our marriage; he believes we rushed into it. Everyone in our town does, except for you, my dearest friend. But Jason takes such good care of me. He worries constantly about my nerves, which he firmly believes have been permanently damaged by too much stress and over-education in my formative years. He’s always so careful to enforce periods of rest and it took all my persuasive powers to convince him to even allow me on this trip. It’s an inexpressible relief to be away from the prying eyes and scornful judgment of our neighbors!
Tell me how your recovery is going, and tell me too what news there is, for we’ve a hard time getting any. Is it true what they say about Wake Island?
Your grateful and loving,
My dear Penelope,
I’m afraid that you may think me mad if I share with you what I dreamt of to- night, but I must share it. I’m writing this letter while sitting at the window seat, the sky outside still bright with snow, one of the blankets from our bed draped around me, my teeth chattering with cold. The fire in our room has gone out, but I must tell you–I must tell someone about what happened in my dream, or I’ll start screaming and never stop. I feel half-mad already.
I dreamt that I opened the door beside the staircase, the one that has those bulls and odd symbols engraved on it, and it opened onto a vast vineyard, which was rich with a pleasant, earthy smell. Everywhere I looked, I saw huge clusters of dark purple grapes, each of them at least three inches across, hanging from the vines above or next to me. A tall man appeared in the row of grapes directly next to mine and began walking towards me. No matter how hard I tried to look at his face, it remained obscured in shadow, even though the sun shone brightly on everything else. I somehow knew though that he saw me, and he understood…oh, he understood everything about me, everything that made me me. My hopes, my dreams, and my fears. And he planned on taking them all away. He would erase every single part of me until I no longer had a voice to scream with.
At the same time, the sight of him made me so happy that I could hardly think or breathe. I don’t quite know how to describe it; only that it was a wild, frenzied joy rose within me, higher and higher, as he approached closer and closer, and it blotted out everything else in the world, like a dark cloud blotting out the sun. When he stood only a foot away from me, he took my hand and lifted it to his mouth and–forgive me, Penelope, but I must write on–and he bit down on it. He devoured my hand, gulping down every scrap of meat until there was nothing left of it but the bones. And then he sucked the finger bones clean one by one, before cracking them open to swallow the marrow, all while I remained helpless and unable to move.
It was painless–of course it was painless, it was a dream. But I have never experienced one so disturbing! The mingled joy and terror I felt, the sight of the blood gushing down my hand and pooling at my feet, even the repulsive slurping noises he made as he consumed it–
And it didn’t end there. After he finished with my hand, he came even closer. His thumb rose into the air and arrowed straight towards my right eye, looming larger–and larger–and larger–until I heard a wet pop and that side of my vision went dark. He pried it loose from my eye socket and devoured it. When he began reaching for my other eye, that was when I finally became able to move and speak again, and I immediately turned around and ran as fast as my feet would carry me in the opposite direction, all the while knowing it was hopeless and that he had already found me–and I woke up.
I must not have screamed aloud, for Jason still slumbered peacefully next to me, undisturbed. But the dream felt so real that I had to leave our bed and come to the window seat, where I am now, and look at what little I can make out of my reflection, ghostly and barely there.
Reading over what I’ve written so far, I’m half-tempted to crumple this letter up and swallow it, to destroy these words I’ve so carelessly spilled over the page. Yet it helps somehow to see the words in my handwriting, shaky as it may be, the black letters on the starkly white paper. I feel purged, cleansed, now that I have written this down. Perhaps I shall find some sleep to-night after all.
Yours, as ever and always,
A thousand apologies for alarming you by writing such a nonsensical letter. If I could but get ahold of it again, I’d tear it up into a hundred pieces and throw them all out of the window for the wind to take, so that it could bury my letter under the snow until the ink has run and the paper has disintegrated. That is what it deserves. It was merely a dream borne of silly fancies, one laughable to the extreme. If you can, forget what I’ve written and put it out of your mind. I certainly have! I’m only a little tired at the moment.
To-day’s breakfast was as delicious as last night’s supper (sago, hashed cold meat, jellied veal, buttered toast with hash, and rice-and-meat croquettes). We met one of the two other couples staying here: Alexander and Sophia. Alexander was very reserved and imperturbable, but Sophia and I amused ourselves by prattling on about all manner of silly things. Even though it was mid-morning at that point, the wind outside kept howling and screaming outside like a jilted lover, raking its fingers against the windows, and snatching at handfuls of snow. It felt very much like we were cut off from the rest of the world, all alone except for each other. It was a strange, lonely feeling.
Jason and I set off for the library after breakfast and soon found it; it is a beautifully appointed room with a vaulted ceiling and bookcases surrounding us on all sides. A wooden platform, perhaps five feet across, wraps around the entire room, so that you may get to the books at the very top, and a ladder has been set next to it. There are leather armchairs arranged around the fireplace and dainty side tables next to them. I do believe this may be my favorite room in the entire house, though the ornate door beside the staircase continues to dwell in my mind. There’s something awfully mysterious and queer about it, and I can’t help feeling curious.
We spent some time conversing about the books I had brought with me on our trip, none of which he liked. As I think I’ve told you before, Jason doesn’t approve of the so-called “New Woman.” He believes that higher education is neither safe nor necessary for women, and that we must not involve ourselves with political matters. I must admit that when he explains it all to me, it seems reasonable, and I can never think of any way to refute his points during our discussions, only after. He believes too that I have a tendency towards the romantic, one exacerbated by too much reading (Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley) and too much writing. I know he is right, of course, he’s a physician of high standing, only–only I don’t feel unwell at all, and I can’t possibly bring myself to end my correspondence with you.
Before he could recommend rereading The Sphere and Duties of Woman to me for the twentieth time, Agave broke into our conversation by offering us coffee. And then, we received very bad news from her; she told us gravely, “The snowstorm is worse than expected. We will be snowed in. I don’t know for how long.” It must have been a trick of the dim light, the flames casting strange, writhing shadows over her face, but she looked somehow even younger than she had yesterday, when we’d first met her. Fifty instead of sixty. Isn’t that so strange? Of course, Jason would say that it’s simply my overheated imagination at work.
He was, of course, absolutely furious at this unexpected delay, which will set back our schedule by two weeks at the least. You know he can’t abide anything disorderly; he expects the world to run like a well-wound watch. He certainly would not allow any strange dreams to make him nervous. I was mortified by his anger; it’s not her fault that the weather is so much worse than we predicted. But (guilty, despicable thought) at the same time, I’m relieved he’s angry with her rather than with me! Shortly after Agave left us, Jason told me in clipped tones that he would attempt to get some work done and stormed up the stairs.
So here I am, still perched on the armchair with a cup of coffee set on the dainty little side table beside me, writing this letter to you. I am glad to hear that you are making a swift recovery and that you may soon begin to walk short distances.
Your loving and grateful,
I am determined to keep writing to you, though I don’t know when I’ll be able to send this letter or receive any of yours. I suppose I’ll have to wait and send all my letters in one batch after the weather has improved.
I’m afraid I don’t have any exciting news to share, though something odd did happen to-day. With the snowstorm growing worse, we’ve all been advised to stay inside, where it is warm and safe. So, I spent the entire morning wandering around the house and familiarizing myself with its layout. I discovered six guest bedrooms on the second floor, three of which are occupied. The other two guests here are a very old man and someone who perhaps is his son; neither of them introduced themselves to me, so I can only speculate as to their relationship. I haven’t seen Alexander and Sophia since our first morning here, which is exceedingly strange, as this house is not so very large. And it isn’t possible for them to have left; it’s not possible for any of us to leave until the snowstorm ends.
After exhausting the third and second floors of the house, I eventually found myself returning to the door beside the staircase, the one that has fascinated me since I first saw it. I don’t know what came over me–perhaps it was the lingering aftereffects of the nightmare that first night–but I reached out to touch it (only to touch it) and before I knew what had happened, my hand tried to turn the doorknob.
It remained tightly shut and locked.
As I stood there looking at it, I realized that the engravings were even more detailed than I had previously supposed, with lines swooping and curling in on themselves at odd places. I thought it depicted bulls chasing one another through a forest, but the longer I stood there, the clearer it became that there were women hiding among the trees. It was hard to make them out, but if I turned my head sideways, I could see their staring eyes hidden in the undergrowth and their hands clutching the tree branches and their hair spread on the ground. And the bulls weren’t chasing one another at all; they were chasing the women. And if I held very still, it seemed as though the engravings moved: the bulls tossed their heads and gored the air with their curved horns, and the women ran and hid! Oh, how the women screamed!
Jason was very angry with me when he found me. He said that I had missed breakfast and dinner earlier and demanded to know if I had spent the whole afternoon simply standing there like a lump. The truth is, Penelope, that I must have, even though I thought only a handful of minutes had passed. He insisted that I immediately rest and has confined me to the bedroom since. I had to wait for him to leave for supper before I could scribble this letter to you. But I must get your thoughts on the door; write back to me at once and tell me what you think.
All my love,
I had the same nightmare again last night, and I woke up feeling irritable and listless. Lately, all I feel is exhaustion. Jason allowed me to venture downstairs for breakfast, but he made sure I went straight there without stopping anywhere else. I know he is doing this only because he cares for me and wants me to recover quickly, but sometimes–sometimes, I almost wish I had never met–no, I can’t write it.
After reading his book for a few hours, he went downstairs to speak to Agave again. I must have fallen asleep, though I can’t remember doing so, because he startled me when he entered the room again. Usually, Jason is very calm and resolute, but he looked so upset at first that I was afraid to speak.
Then, he pointed wordlessly at his suitcase, and I saw that someone had taken out all the papers he usually keeps inside and ripped them into tiny pieces. Paper confetti covered our entire room, not unlike the snow covering the forest outside. Someone had also ripped apart the stitches in his clothing and flung them all over the ground. It was as though the wind outside had stolen inside and wreaked havoc on our room.
And he accused me of doing it.
I didn’t! Of course, I didn’t! I couldn’t have; I was asleep. I told him this, but he doesn’t believe me. He said that no one else could have entered the room while he was gone; he had the key in his pocket. And he said that it would have been impossible for me to sleep through the noise. But of course, he doesn’t know how exhausted I have been lately and what an effort it takes for me to do even the simplest things. I can well imagine sleeping right through something like this!
He said all of this with the gentlest tones, even though I could tell he really was quite angry, and he gave me such a reproachful look–I could almost have hated him at that moment–but I don’t mean that. If only he would stop lecturing me on my nervous condition, treating me like a child he intends on smothering to death–but there I go again. A sort of wild feeling came over me as he kept speaking to me, and I felt as though I could have gladly seized him by his shoulders and–I must not write on, not even to you. Especially to you, for your opinion is the only one that truly matters to me. I begin to think–I am afraid–it does not signify.
I barely recognize myself anymore.
I do not know if these words, or any of the other letters I have written, will ever reach you. I pray that they will reach someone’s eyes, so that they may be of some use. Even now, I hardly know what to say–every time I think of what I’ve seen, I feel dizzy and faint–but I must write this down. I must organize my thoughts; I must convince Jason that we should leave. I’m afraid he won’t believe me or that he’ll insist on opening the door himself–
If only I were there with you, Penelope, the two of us sitting by the fireplace just as we used to sit, your hand in mine, both of us telling each other of our days. But I must get ahold of myself! I will recount the events exactly as they happened, without deviating from the facts.
When I woke this morning, I discovered that Jason had left the door unlocked, which greatly surprised me, as I had supposed he would insist on my staying in the bedroom until we left. He learned from Agave last night that the worst of the snowstorm seems to have passed–he plans for us to leave tomorrow morning, thank God.
Art by Anonymous
I crept down the stairs and went straight over to the door. The engravings had changed yet again; I saw now that there was only one bull on the door, and it had red glowing eyes. It stalked after the women, who all cowered before it and fell to their knees in worship. I don’t know how long I would’ve stood in front of it, watching the carved lines change and squiggle across the wood–only I heard Jason speaking to someone else in a low voice. I reached out and gripped the doorknob, and to my shock, it smoothly turned under my hand. It was as if it had been waiting for me; as if it had known I would be back again.
I stepped through the door, and–there was a vineyard beyond it. It was the same vineyard, Penelope, the same one from my nightmares. I rubbed my eyes; I even pinched myself; but no matter how much I tried to convince myself that it was a dream, I knew in my heart that what I saw was real. The sun was warm against my skin, I could hear the sound of bees buzzing somewhere nearby, and when I reached out to pop one of the grapes into my mouth, it exploded across my tongue in a burst of sweetness. And then it was as if someone took over me; I would’ve gone back out the door, fled from this place even if it meant staggering through waist-high snow, but instead, my feet brought me deeper and deeper into the vineyard, until I reached what appeared to be its center.
Someone had placed a stone plinth there, and at its foot…Forgive me, Penelope, for the details I am about to share with you. They aren’t fit for your eyes, but it is imperative to recount all that I have seen so far, so that I may attempt to find some meaning in this madness.
Alexander’s headless, handless, and footless body had been left propped up against the plinth. His head sat in his lap; I barely recognized him, for the eyes had gone milk-white and glazed, like the eyes of a dead fish, and his tongue had blackened and swelled out of his mouth. Dime-sized drops of dried blood clumped the grass around him, and his hands and feet had been carelessly tossed onto the plinth. And as I looked at his body, I felt the horror cresting to a peak, for–I am so ashamed, I can hardly bear to write on, but I must be honest–for I felt hungry too, Penelope. Unspeakably hungry.
I don’t remember how I returned to our bedroom; I came to myself lying in bed. If only I could believe that what happened was the simple result of my imagination running riot; it seems impossible that we might ever safely leave. And why was the door open? I must convince Jason to leave, I must convince him that we are in grave danger–those must be his footsteps outside the door–
February 1 (later)
I’m writing this to let you know that I had the loveliest dream last night, and I understand now that neither you nor I have anything to fear. None of us women do. And I am well, better than I have ever felt.
I dreamt that I heard loud music and crashing cymbals while lying in bed, and I followed the sound towards the door beside the staircase, and beyond it. Dozens of strangers milled around the sun-lit vineyard; the women wore ivy wreaths and the men wore bull masks. I saw Jason standing by the stone plinth, wearing a mask too, though he didn’t appear to recognize me. I had a moment’s unease, seeing everyone’s carefree smiles, and turned to find the way out. Agave stood behind me, holding out an ivy wreath for me to wear. She looked my age now, the wrinkles on her face smoothed out and gone. Once I put the wreath on, she pressed a cup full to brimming with wine into my hands and urged me to drink my fill.
As soon as I did so, I forgot all my unease, intoxicated by the wine and the festive atmosphere.
All the women came together and we danced and danced. It seemed to me that music only grew louder and wilder as the night went on; for the first time in my life, I felt wonderfully alive and free. And as we whirled around the room, each of us laughing and breathless, I thought I saw him. The man from my dream. Only then did I realize He wasn’t an ordinary man at all. He reached out to us, and–I don’t quite know how to put it into words, but it was as if He plucked my consciousness out of my body and I entirely forgot who I was. He was within me, as well as everyone and everything around us, and through Him, I was in everyone and everything around us, all of us united as one soul.
The ecstasy within us reached a fever pitch, until it couldn’t be contained any longer, and we all fell on the bulls. Screams filled the air, along with wet rending sounds. I turned to the one closest to me and tore off his head with my bare hands, sending blood fountaining into the air and exposing the gleaming column of his spine. We went around the vineyard, each of us trying to outdo the other, all of us still screaming with raving and ravenous joy. One of the bulls tried to speak to me, grunting unintelligible words, and I seized him by the shoulders and tore his arm out of its socket, as easily as tearing the drumstick off a roast chicken. I stuffed down handful after handful of his raw flesh, nearly choking on it in my haste, and buried my face into his blood until it dripped down my chin and stained my teeth red.
And still the frenzied ecstasy inside of us continued, until there was nothing left but the dismembered limbs and handful of teeth strewn on the blood-sodden grass, around the stone plinth. That was when the dream finally began to dissolve, and I woke up crying with–sheer joy. Oh, Penelope, it was such a beautiful dream; mere words can’t adequately convey how wonderful it was.
So, again, you need not be worried for my sake. I’m perfectly alright.
That’s the very last letter.
Like I said: the letter writer was totally off her rocker. Hopefully she got some help or something. Although now that I’ve typed up all these letters, I’m pretty curious about the door she mentioned. I actually do remember passing one last night that sounded similar to her description. I didn’t get a chance to look at it too closely because Anthony insisted we head up right away, and I usually avoid arguing with him. He’s still asleep though–I bet I could check out the door without him realizing if I’m quick enough about it. Maybe there’ll even be some more figurines I can “liberate.”
I’ll report back soon. Wish me luck!