Craig D.B. Patton's stories have appeared in various publications, including Aeon Speculative Fiction, BOOK OF DEAD THINGS
(Twilight Tales), NORTHERN HAUNTS (Shroud Publishing), and HELL IN THE HEARTLAND (Annihilation Press). Additional stories
are forthcoming in All Hallows and Shroud Magazine. Most of his time is occupied by juggling two small children and attempting
to keep the household on an interesting heading. All of the following story is true, including the parts that are not.
The House Of Fallen Dreams
She asked me one day if I wanted to go with her to The House of Fallen Dreams. I had no idea what it was. I said yes. I would
have gone with her anywhere.
I met her in freshman English. The alphabet had placed her seat right in front of mine. It was the only time I ever thanked God
for alphabetization. She sat down, introduced herself, and asked if I liked Chaucer.
I knew he was a writer. I thought one of his books might be called The Cathberry Tales. Something like that. I said yes, I
She smiled, and I knew she had seen right through my lie. I was naked before her and I loved her from that moment on. But I
could not understand why she had taken such an interest in me.
I didn't waste time wondering about it.
"Tell me a story," she said. We were drifting in a canoe down a sleepy river the summer before senior year. She was leaning
back on her elbows on the thwart behind her seat, letting the sun caress more of her skin. I was trying not to stare too much
at the swell of her breasts, visible over her shoulders. She was like some half-naked goddess in her bikini top and shorts.
"Once upon a time…"
I could not go on. My tongue felt lashed to the floor of my mouth. My brain was broadcasting a test pattern. I was
embarrassed by my emptiness and felt guilty for failing her.
She said that I lived in a snow globe, not the real world, and that was why I could never tell stories. My experience was too
limited. My life too finite. Too clean.
I didn't care while she was in it.
She was an only child. Her father worked long, hard days at something honest. When he was home, he was either mowing his
lawn or sitting in front of the television – "relaxing". It was a strict rule not to disturb him, so I mostly knew him as the
silhouette of a head above the back of the family room couch. Her mother shopped. She was on a two-part quest to find
better deals than her neighbors and to have better flowers and decorations in her yard than theirs. The low point was the
motion-activated garden gnome that called out "How's the weather up there?" whenever someone got too close.
She kept telling me stories about things that happened to the garden gnome. Someone painted it like a barbershop pole.
Someone dressed it in a ballerina costume. Someone put a snorkel and mask on it and left it in the neighbor's swimming pool.
"Someone?" I asked.
She winked. "Someone."
She was in the front row on opening night. I'd made her promise she would be since the whole thing was her idea.
Sophomore year. Lynnfield High presents… Dracula! I was Dr. John Seward, caretaker and scholar of the insane, honest and
noble suitor to beautiful, doomed Lucy, who turns him down.
Being someone else for awhile would be good for me, she said. Give me permission to let go. After I won the part, she called
me John until the run closed. To help me live inside the role, she explained. I called her Lucy one day, but she waved it off,
telling me it would shatter the illusion.
"I'm proud of you," she told me during rehearsals.
"You were great," she told me backstage after the opening, handing me flowers and giving me a hug.
It meant more than all of the applause. And I did feel different. Freer. But it faded as soon as the wrap party ended. I could
pretend to be someone else for a while, but I had to go back to being me.
If that disappointed her, she never let it show.
The House of Fallen Dreams was in the woods beyond her family's property. We climbed over the rock wall at the border and
started down a narrow path, pushing aside the vines and bushes that would one day reclaim it. A development had been
started back here when she was a baby, she said, but they had only built one house before the project failed.
The land the development sat on was really an ancient kingdom, she said. Knights had battled in the empty lots. Horse drawn
carriages had bounced along the roads. But the land was cursed, which was why the development had failed.
I asked her how she knew all this.
She pointed at an ancient, gnarled oak and said she used to have tea with a nymph who lived in it.
"What happened to her?"
She shrugged. "Faded away. Like everyone else."
The fall of senior year, one of my friends asked me if we were finally going out. He was always interested in who I was into and
he was always into her, so it was an obvious topic of conversation.
I told him I didn't know.
He launched into a speech about how hot she was and how we were together all of the time so we obviously dug each other
and how, if I had any balls at all, I'd ask her out.
She was driving us to the movies in her rusted out Plymouth wagon with the sun-bleached wood paneling when I asked if we
were, in fact, going out. Tina Turner was wailing about something on the radio.
She shut her off and told me we weren't going out. She told me I needed to live in the moment and not worry about how to
label it. She told me my friend was an idiot. She told me we would forget this conversation and enjoy the rest of our evening.
And we did.
It was a raised, split-level ranch. Half of my friends lived in them. Branches lay on the sagging, moss-covered roof where there
weren't holes. The windows were empty, the bare plywood walls stained with mildew. Thick vines grew across the cracked,
concrete front steps. It was a ruin more than a house and I told her so.
She gave me a wistful smile. "Don't judge a book…"
I stared at the ground in embarrassment, scuffed at dead leaves with my foot. We had so little time left. In a few weeks we
would be in college, a thousand miles from each other.
She went up the steps. I followed her in.
She had boyfriends, of course. There was a parade of boys who I loathed with feverish intensity. They were too boring. Too
self-absorbed. Too ordinary. They wanted too much of her time. Too much of her body. Too little of her soul.
I never said any of those things to her.
Once, junior year, we were alone in her house, working on homework, when the current boyfriend dropped by. He barely
acknowledged me. Just plopped down on the couch, almost on top of her, and began pawing at her. She deflected his
advances for a while, but eventually she asked me to leave. I walked out shaking, my face hot with shame and rage.
But it was me she called every night before bed.
And it was me she took out to the house.
And it was me she took out to the house.
The inside of the house was empty. It was just framed up walls and hallways. You could see right through to the outer walls
in every direction. The slanting beams of sunlight coming from the windows only emphasized the gloom.
There was nothing there. Nothing remarkable about it.
I would not repeat the mistake I had made outside. I said nothing.
"I used to come here all the time," she said.
"Your fantasy world?"
"Mmmm." She nodded, walking to stand in one of the sunbeams. "Except this was the real world. Going home felt more like
"But that's all over now, too. Now it's just an empty house."
I wasn't sure which house she was talking about anymore. I shuffled my feet, trying to decide where to put them.
She turned and looked at me. "My parents are divorcing."
She shrugged. "I guess it was just time to stop pretending."
"That's awful. I… God, I'm so sorry."
Again the shrug. "It's ok. But my Mom's moving back to Pennsylvania…."
I nodded, not understanding.
"I'm going with her."
My mouth dropped open. "Wh-"
She looked at the floor. "Yeah."
"But, we'll never…"
"Maybe I'll come visit. Maybe you will."
But we never did. We faded from each other's lives, until my memories of her felt just as fictional as Chaucer's tales or John
I've told many stories since that day. They are on pages and on line and on stage and on screen. Except for the ones I make
up for my children each night. Those are entrusted to their memory and mine.
In each one, the protagonist encounters obstacles, overcomes them, is changed by them, and wins the girl or the boy or the
peace or the world.
Except when they don't.
Because that's just the way some stories go.
Craig D.B. Patton