THETHOUSANDDREAMSOF
STELLAVISTA
No one ever comes to Vermilion Sands now, and I
supposetherearefewpeoplewhohaveeverheardofit.
Buttenyearsago,whenFayandIfirstwenttoliveat
99 Stellavista, just before our marriage broke up, the
colony was still remembered as the one-time
playground of movie stars, delinquent heiresses and
eccentric cosmopolites in those fabulous years before
the Recess. Admittedly most of the abstract villas and
fake palazzos were empty, their huge gardens
overgrown, two-level swimming pools long drained,
and the whole place was degenerating like an
abandoned amusement park, but there was enough
bizarreextravaganceintheairtomakeonerealizethat
thegiantshadonlyjustdeparted.
IrememberthedaywefirstdrovedownStellavistain
thepropertyagent’scar,andhowexhilaratedFayandI
were, despite our bogus front of bourgeois
respectability.Fay,Ithink,wasevenalittleawed–one
or two of the big names were living on behind the
shutteredterraces–andwemusthavebeentheeasiest
prospectstheyoungagenthadseenformonths.
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Presumably this was why he tried to work off the
really weird places first. The half dozen we saw to
begin with were obviously the old regulars, faithfully
paraded in the hope that some unwary client might be
staggered into buying one of them, or failing that,
temporarily lose all standards of comparison and take
thefirsttolerablyconventionalpiletocomealong.
One, just off Stellavista and M, would have shaken
even an old-guard surrealist on a heroin swing.
Screened from the road by a mass of dusty
rhododendrons, it consisted of six aluminium-shelled
spheres suspended like the elements of a mobile from
an enormous concrete davit. The largest sphere
contained the lounge, the others, successively smaller
and spiralling upwards into the air, the bedrooms and
kitchen.Manyofthehullplateshadbeenholed,andthe
entire slightly tarnished structure hung down into the
weedspokingthroughthecrackedconcretecourtlikea
collectionofforgottenspaceshipsinavacantlot.
Stamers, the agent, left us sitting in the car, partly
shielded by the rhododendrons. He ran across to the
entrance and switched the place on (all the houses in
Vermilion Sands, it goes without saying, were
psychotropic). There was a dim whirring, and the
spherestippedandbegantorotate,brushingagainstthe
undergrowth.
Fay sat in the car, staring up in amazement at this
awful,beautifulthing,butoutofcuriosityIgotoutand
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walkedovertotheentrance,themainsphereslowingas
Iapproached,uncertainlysteeringacoursetowardsme,
thesmalleronesfollowing.
Accordingtothedescriptivebrochure,thehousehad
been built eight years earlier for a TV mogul as a
weekendretreat.Thepedigreewasalongone,through
two movie starlets, a psychiatrist, an ultrasonic
composer (the late Dmitri Shochmann – a notorious
madman. I remembered that he had invited a score of
gueststohissuicideparty,butnoonehadturnedupto
watch. Chagrined, he bungled the attempt.) and an
automobilestylist.Withsuchanoverlayofmoreorless
blue-chipresponsesbuiltintoit,thehouseshouldhave
been snapped up within a week, even in Vermilion
Sands.Tohavebeenonthemarketforseveralmonths,
ifnotyears,indicatedthattheprevioustenantshadbeen
nonetoohappythere.
Ten feet from me, the main sphere hovered
uncertainly, the entrance extending downwards.
Stamers stood in the open doorway, smiling
encouragingly, but the house seemed nervous of
something. As I stepped forward it suddenly jerked
away, almost in alarm, the entrance retracting and
sendingalowshudderthroughtherestofthespheres.
It’salwaysinterestingtowatchapsychotropichouse
try to adjust itself to strangers, particularly those at all
guarded or suspicious. The responses vary, a blend of
pastreactionstonegativeemotions,thehostilityofthe
previoustenants,atraumaticencounterwithabailiffor
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burglar(thoughboththeseusuallystaywellawayfrom
PT houses; the dangers of an inverting balcony or the
suddendeflatusofacorridoraretoogreat).Theinitial
reaction can be a surer indication of a house’s true
condition than any amount of sales talk about
horsepowerandmoduliofelasticity.
This one was definitely on the defensive. When I
climbed on to the entrance Stamers was fiddling
desperately with the control console recessed into the
wallbehindthedoor,dampingthevolumedownaslow
as possible. Usually a property agent will select
medium/full,tryingtoheightenthePTresponses.
He smiled thinly at me. ‘Circuits are a little worn.
Nothing serious, we’ll replace them on contract. Some
ofthepreviousownerswereshowbusinesspeople,had
anover-simplifiedviewofthefulllife.
Inodded,walkingontothebalconywhichringedthe
wide sunken lounge. It was a beautiful room all right,
withopaqueplastexwallsandwhitefluo-glassceiling,
but something terrible had happened there. As it
respondedtome,theceilingliftedslightlyandthewalls
grew less opaque, reflecting my perspective-seeking
eye. I noticed that curious mottled knots were forming
where the room had been strained and healed faultily.
Hiddenriftsbegantodistortthesphere,ballooningout
oneofthealcoveslikeabubbleofover-extendedgum.
Stamerstappedmyelbow.
‘Lively responses, aren’t they, Mr Talbot?’ He put
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hishandonthewallbehindus.Theplastexswamand
whirledlikeboilingtoothpaste,thenextrudeditselfinto
a small ledge. Stamers sat down on the lip, which
quickly expanded to match the contours of his body,
providingbackandarmrests.‘Sitdownandrelax,Mr
Talbot,letyourselffeelathomehere.’
The seat cushioned up around me like an enormous
white hand, and immediately the walls and ceiling
quietened–obviouslyStamers’sfirstjobwastogethis
clientsofftheirfeetbeforetheirrestlessshufflingcould
doanydamage.Someonelivingtheremusthaveputin
alotofanguishedpacingandknuckle-cracking.
‘Of course, you’re getting nothing but custom-built
units here,’ Stamers said. ‘The vinyl chains in this
plastex were hand-crafted literally molecule by
molecule.’
I felt the room shift around me. The ceiling was
dilating and contracting in steady pulses, an absurdly
exaggerated response to our own respiratory rhythms,
but the motions were overlayed by sharp transverse
spasms,feed-backfromsomecardiacailment.
The house was not only frightened of us, it was
seriously ill. Somebody, Dmitri Shochmann perhaps,
overflowingwithself-hate,hadcommittedanappalling
injury to himself, and the house was recapitulating its
previous response. I was about to ask Stamers if the
suicidepartyhadbeenstagedherewhenhesatupand
lookedaroundfretfully.
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At the same time my ears started to sing.
Mysteriously, the air pressure inside the lounge was
building up, gusts of old grit whirling out into the
hallwaytowardstheexit.
Stamers was on his feet, the seat telescoping back
intothewall.
‘Er, Mr Talbot, let’s stroll around the garden, give
youthefeelof–’
Hebrokeoff,facecreasedinalarm.Theceilingwas
onlyfivefeetaboveourheads,contractinglikeahuge
whitebladder.
‘– explosive decompression,’ Stamers finished
automatically,takingmyarm.‘Idon’tunderstandthis,’
he muttered as we ran out into the hallway, the air
whooshingpastus.
I had a shrewd idea what was happening, and sure
enoughwefoundFaypeeringintothecontrolconsole,
swingingthevolumetabs.
Stamers dived past her. We were almost dragged
backintotheloungeastheceilingbeganitsoutwardleg
andsuckedtheairinthroughthedoorway.Hereached
theemergencypanelandswitchedthehouseoff.
Wide-eyed, he buttoned his shirt. ‘That was close,
Mrs Talbot, really close.’ He gave a light hysterical
laugh.
As we walked back to the car, the giant spheres
restingamongtheweeds,hesaid:‘Well,MrTalbot,it’s
afineproperty.Aremarkablepedigreeforahouseonly
eightyearsold.Anexcitingchallenge,youknow,anew
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dimensioninliving.’
Igavehimaweaksmile.‘Maybe,butit’snotexactly
us,isit?’
WehadcometoVermilionSandsfortwoyears,whileI
opened a law office in downtown Red Beach twenty
milesaway.Apartfromthedust,smogandinflationary
prices of real estate in Red Beach, a strong motive for
comingouttoVermilionSandswasthatanynumberof
potentialclientsweremoulderingawaythereintheold
mansions–forgottenmoviequeens,lonelyimpresarios
and the like, some of the most litigious people in the
world. Once installed, I could make my rounds of the
bridge tables and dinner parties, tactfully stimulating a
littlerighteouswill-paringandcontract-breaking.
However, as we drove down Stellavista on our
inspection tour I wondered if we’d find anywhere
suitable. Rapidly we went through a mock Assyrian
ziggurat (the last owner had suffered from St Vitus’s
Dance, and the whole structure still jittered like a
galvanized Tower of Pisa), and a converted submarine
pen (here the problem had been alcoholism, we could
feel the gloom and helplessness come down off those
hugedampwalls).
FinallyStamersgaveupandbroughtusbacktoearth.
Unfortunately his more conventional properties were
littlebetter.TherealtroublewasthatmostofVermilion
Sands is composed of early, or primitive-fantastic
psychotropic,whenthepossibilitiesofferedbythenew
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bio-plastic medium rather went to architects’ heads. It
was some years before a compromise was reached
between the one hundred per cent responsive structive
and the rigid non-responsive houses of the past. The
firstPThouseshadsomanysenso-cellsdistributedover
them, echoing every shift of mood and position of the
occupants, that living in one was like inhabiting
someoneelse’sbrain.
Unluckily bioplastics need a lot of exercise or they
growrigidandcrack,andmanypeoplebelievethatPT
buildings are still given unnecessarily subtle memories
andarefartoosensitive–there’stheapocryphalstory
of the millionaire of plebian origins who was literally
frozen out of a million-dollar mansion he had bought
fromanaristocraticfamily.Theplacehadbeentrained
to respond to their habitual rudeness and bad temper,
and reacted discordantly when readjusting itself to the
millionaire, unintentionally parodying his soft-spoken
politeness.
But although the echoes of previous tenants can be
intrusive, this naturally has its advantages. Many
medium-priced PT homes resonate with the bygone
laughter of happy families, the relaxed harmony of a
successful marriage. It was something like this that I
wanted for Fay and myself. In the previous year our
relationshiphadbeguntofadealittle,andareallywellintegrated house with a healthy set of reflexes – say,
those of a prosperous bank president and his devoted
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spouse–wouldgoalongwaytowardshealingtherifts
betweenus.
Leafing through the brochures when we reached the
end of Stellavista I could see that domesticated bank
presidentshadbeeninshortsupplyatVermilionSands.
The pedigrees were either packed with ulcer-ridden,
quadri-divorcedTVexecutives,ordiscreetlyblank.
99Stellavistawasinthelattercategory.Asweclimbed
outofthecarandwalkeduptheshortdriveIsearched
the pedigree for data on the past tenants, but only the
originalownerwasgiven:aMissEmmaSlack,psychic
orientationunstated.
That it was a woman’s house was obvious. Shaped
like an enormous orchid, it was set back on a low
concrete dais in the centre of a blue gravel court. The
white plastex wings, which carried the lounge on one
sideandthemasterbedroomontheother,spannedout
across the magnolias on the far side of the drive.
Betweenthetwowings,onthefirstfloor,wasanopen
terrace around a heart-shaped swimming pool. The
terrace ran back to the central bulb, a three-storey
segment containing the chauffeur’s apartment and a
vasttwo-deckerkitchen.
The house seemed to be in good condition. The
plastexwasunscarred,itsthinseamsrunningsmoothly
tothefarrimliketheveinsofagiantleaf.
Curiously,Stamerswasinnohurrytoswitchon.He
pointed to left and right as we made our way up the
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glass staircase to the terrace, underlining various
attractivefeatures,butmadenoefforttofindthecontrol
console,andsuspectedthatthehousemightbeastatic
conversion – a fair number of PT houses are frozen in
oneorotherpositionattheendoftheirworkinglives,
andmaketolerablestatichomes.
‘It’snotbad,’Iadmitted,lookingacrossthepowderblue water as Stamers piled on the superlatives.
Through the glass bottom of the pool the car parked
below loomed like a coloured whale asleep on the
oceanbed.‘Thisisthesortofthing,allright.Butwhat
aboutswitchingiton?’
Stamers stepped around me and headed after Fay.
‘You’llwanttoseethekitchenfirst,MrTalbot.There’s
nohurry,letyourselffeelathomehere.’
The kitchen was fabulous, banks of gleaming control
panels and auto units. Everything was recessed and
stylized, blending into the overall colour scheme,
complexgadgetsfoldingbackintoself-sealingcabinets.
Boilinganeggtherewouldhavetakenmeacoupleof
days.
‘Quite a plant,’ I commented. Fay wandered around
inadazeofdelight,automaticallyfingeringthechrome.
‘Looks as if it’s tooled up to produce penicillin.’ I
tappedthebrochure.‘Butwhysocheap?Attwenty-five
thousandit’sdamnnearlybeinggivenaway.’
Stamers’s eyes brightened. He flashed me a broad
conspiratorial smile which indicated that this was my
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year, my day. Taking me off on a tour of the rumpus
roomandlibrary,hebegantohammerhomethemerits
of the house, extolling his company’s thirty-five-year,
easy-purchaseplan(theywantedanythingexceptcash–
there was no money in that) and the beauty and
simplicity of the garden (mostly flexible polyurethane
perennials).
Finally, apparently convinced that I was sold, he
switchedthehouseon.
I didn’t know then what it was, but something strange
had taken place in that house. Emma Slack had
certainly been a woman with a powerful and oblique
personality. As I walked slowly around the empty
lounge, feeling the walls angle and edge away,
doorways widen when I approached, curious echoes
stirred through the memories embedded in the house.
Theresponseswereundefined,butsomehoweerieand
unsettling, like being continually watched over one’s
shoulder,eachroomadjustingitselftomysoft,random
footsteps as if they contained the possibility of some
explosiveburstofpassionortemperament.
Inclining my head, I seemed to hear other echoes,
delicate and feminine, a graceful swirl of movement
reflected in a brief, fluid sweep in one corner, the
decorousunfoldingofanarchwayorrecess.
Then, abruptly, the mood would invert, and the
holloweerinessreturn.
Faytouchedmyarm.‘Howard,it’sstrange.’
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Ishrugged.‘Interesting,though.Remember,ourown
responseswilloverlaythesewithinafewdays.’
Fayshookherhead.‘Icouldn’tstandit,Howard.Mr
Stamersmusthavesomethingnormal.’
‘Darling,VermilionSandsisVermilionSands.Don’t
expect to find the suburban norms. People here were
individualists.’
I looked down at Fay. Her small oval face, with its
childlikemouthandchin,thefringeofblondehairand
pertnose,seemedlostandanxious.
I put my arm around her shoulder. ‘Okay, sweetie,
you’requiteright.Let’sfindsomewherewecanputour
feet up and relax. Now, what are we going to say to
Stamers?’
Surprisingly,Stamersdidn’tseemallthatdisappointed.
When I shook my head he put up a token protest but
soongaveinandswitchedoffthehouse.
‘I know how Mrs Talbot feels,’ he conceded as we
wentdownthestaircase.‘Someoftheseplaceshavegot
too much personality built into them. Living with
someonelikeGloriaTremayneisn’ttooeasy.’
Istopped,twostepsfromthebottom,acuriousripple
ofrecognitionrunningthroughmymind.
‘Gloria Tremayne? I thought the only owner was a
MissEmmaSlack.’
Stamers nodded. ‘Yes. Gloria Tremayne. Emma
Slack was her real name. Don’t say I told you, though
everybodylivingaroundhereknowsit.Wekeepitquiet
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aslongaswecan.IfwesaidGloriaTremaynenoone
wouldevenlookattheplace.’
‘Gloria Tremayne,’ Fay repeated, puzzled. ‘She was
the movie star who shot her husband, wasn’t she? He
wasafamousarchitect–Howard,weren’tyouonthat
case?’
As Fay’s voice chattered on I turned and looked up
the staircase towards the sun-lounge, my mind casting
itselfbacktenyearstooneofthemostfamoustrialsof
thedecade,whosecourseandverdictwereasmuchas
anything else to mark the end of a whole generation,
and show up the irresponsibilities of the world before
the Recess. Even though Gloria Tremayne had been
acquitted, everyone knew that she had cold-bloodedly
murdered her husband, the architect Miles Vanden
Starr. Only the silver-tongued pleading of Daniel
Hammett, her defence attorney, assisted by a young
mancalledHowardTalbot,hadsavedher.IsaidtoFay,
‘Yes,Ihelpedtodefendher.Itseemsalongtimeago.
Angel,waitinthecar.Iwanttochecksomething.’
BeforeshecouldfollowmeIranupthestaircaseon
totheterraceandclosedtheglassdoubledoorsbehind
me. Inert and unresponsive now, the white walls rose
into the sky on either side of the pool. The water was
motionless, a transparent block of condensed time,
through which I could see the drowned images of Fay
and Stamers sitting in the car, like an embalmed
fragmentofmyfuture.
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Forthreeweeks,duringhertrialtenyearsearlier,Isat
only a few feet from Gloria Tremayne, and like
everyoneelseinthatcrowdedcourtroomIwouldnever
forget her mask-like face, the composed eyes that
examined each of the witnesses as they gave their
testimony–chauffeur,policesurgeon,neighbourswho
heardtheshots–likeabrilliantspiderarraignedbyits
victims, never once showing any emotion or response.
As they dismembered her web, skein by skein, she sat
impassively at its centre, giving Hammett no
encouragement, content to repose in the image of
herself (‘The Ice Face’) projected across the globe for
thepreviousfifteenyears.
Perhaps in the end this saved her. The jury were
unabletooutstaretheenigma.Tobehonest,bythelast
weekofthetrialIhadlostallinterestinit.AsIsteered
Hammettthroughhisbrief,openingandshuttinghisred
wooden suitcase (the Hammett hallmark, it was an
excellent jury distractor) whenever he indicated, my
attention was fixed completely on Gloria Tremayne,
trying to find some flaw in the mask through which I
couldglimpseherpersonality.IsupposethatIwasjust
anothernaiveyoungmanwhohadfalleninlovewitha
mythmanufacturedbyathousandpublicityagents,but
for me the sensation was the real thing, and when she
wasacquittedtheworldbegantorevolveagain.
That justice had been flouted mattered nothing.
Hammett, curiously, believed her innocent. Like many
successful lawyers he had based his career on the
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principle of prosecuting the guilty and defending the
innocent – this way he was sure of a sufficiently high
proportion of successes to give him a reputation for
being brilliant and unbeatable. When he defended
Gloria Tremayne most lawyers thought he had been
temptedtodepartfromprinciplebyafatbribefromher
studio, but in fact he volunteered to take the case.
Perhapshe,too,wasworkingoffasecretinfatuation.
Ofcourse,Ineversawheragain.Assoonashernext
picturehadbeensafelyreleasedherstudiodroppedher.
Latershebrieflyreappearedonanarcoticschargeafter
a car smash, and then disappeared into a limbo of
alcoholics hospitals and psychiatric wards. When she
died five years afterwards few newspapers gave her
morethanacoupleoflines.
Below, Stamers sounded the horn. Leisurely I retraced
mywaythroughtheloungeandbedrooms,scanningthe
empty floors, running my hands over the smooth
plastexwalls,bracingmyselftofeelagaintheimpactof
GloriaTremayne’spersonality.Blissfully,herpresence
wouldbeeverywhereinthehouse,athousandechoesof
her distilled into every matrix and senso-cell, each
moment of emotion blended into a replica more
intimate than anyone, apart from her dead husband,
could ever know. The Gloria Tremayne with whom I
had become infatuated had ceased to exist, but this
housewastheshrinethatentombedtheverysignatures
ofhersoul.
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To begin with everything went quietly. Fay
remonstrated with me, but I promised her a new mink
wrap out of the savings we made on the house.
Secondly, I was careful to keep the volume down for
thefirstfewweeks,sothattherewouldbenoclashof
feminine wills. A major problem of psychotropic
houses is that after several months one has to increase
thevolumetogetthesameimageofthelastowner,and
this increases the sensitivity of the memory cells and
their rate of contamination. At the same time,
magnifyingthepsychicunderlayemphasizesthecruder
emotional ground-base. One begins to taste the lees
ratherthanthedistilledcreamoftheprevioustenancy.I
wanted to savour the quintessence of Gloria Tremayne
as long as possible so I deliberately rationed myself,
turning the volume down during the day while I was
out,thenswitchingononlythoseroomsinwhichIsat
intheevenings.
RightfromtheoutsetIwasneglectingFay.Notonly
were we both preoccupied with the usual problems of
adjustmentfacedbyeverymarriedcouplemovinginto
a new house – undressing in the master bedroom that
first night was a positive honeymoon debut all over
again – but I was completely immersed in the
exhilarating persona of Gloria Tremayne, exploring
everyalcoveandnicheinsearchofher.
IntheeveningsIsatinthelibrary,feelingheraround
me in the stirring walls, hovering nearby as I emptied
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the packing cases like an attendant succubus. Sipping
myscotchwhilenightclosedoverthedarkbluepool,I
carefully analysed her personality, deliberately varying
mymoodstoevokeaswidearangeofresponses.The
memorycellsinthehousewereperfectlybonded,never
revealing any flaws of character, always reposed and
self-controlled.IfIleaptoutofmychairandswitched
thestereogramabruptlyfromStravinskytoStanKenton
to the MJQ, the room adjusted its mood and tempo
withouteffort.
And yet how long was it before I discovered that
therewasanotherpersonalitypresentinthathouse,and
begantofeelthecuriouseerinessFayandIhadnoticed
as soon as Stamers switched the house on? Not for a
fewweeks,whenthehousewasstillrespondingtomy
star-struckidealism.Whilemydevotiontothedeparted
spiritofGloriaTremaynewasthedominantmood,the
house played itself back accordingly, recapitulating
only the more serene aspects of Gloria Tremayne’s
character.
Soon,however,themirrorwastodarken.
It was Fay who broke the spell. She quickly realized
thattheinitialresponseswerebeingoverlaidbyothers
fromamoremellowand,fromherpointofview,more
dangerous quarter of the past. After doing her best to
put up with them she made a few guarded attempts to
freezeGloriaout,switchingthevolumecontrolsupand
down, selecting the maximum of bass lift – which
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stressedthemasculineresponses–andtheminimumof
altolift.
One morning I caught her on her knees by the
console, poking a screwdriver at the memory drum,
apparentlyinanefforttoerasetheentirestore.
Takingitfromher,Ilockedtheunitandhookedthe
keyontomychain.
‘Darling, the mortgage company could sue us for
destroyingthepedigree.Withoutitthishousewouldbe
valueless.Whatareyoutryingtodo?’
Fay dusted her hands on her skirt and stared me
straightintheeye,chinjutting.
‘I’m trying to restore a little sanity here and if
possible, find my own marriage again. I thought it
mightbeintheresomewhere.’
I put my arm around her and steered her back
towards the kitchen. ‘Darling, you’re getting overintuitiveagain.Justrelax,don’ttrytoupseteverything.’
‘Upset –? Howard, what are you talking about?
Haven’t I a right to my own husband? I’m sick of
sharing him with a homicidal neurotic who died five
yearsago.It’spositivelyghoulish!’
Iwincedasshesnappedthisout,feelingthewallsin
the hallway darken and retreat defensively. The air
became clouded and frenetic, like a dull storm-filled
day.
‘Fay, you know your talent for exaggeration …’ I
searched around for the kitchen, momentarily
disoriented as the corridor walls shifted and backed.
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‘Youdon’tknowhowluckyyou–’
Ididn’tgetanyfurtherbeforesheinterrupted.Within
fivesecondswewereinthemiddleofablisteringrow.
Faythrewallcautiontothewinds,deliberately,Ithink,
inthehopeofdamagingthehousepermanently,whileI
stupidlyletalotofmyunconsciousresentmenttowards
her come out. Finally she stormed away into her
bedroom and I stamped into the shattered lounge and
slumpeddownangrilyonthesofa.
Abovemetheceilingflexedandquivered,thecolourof
roof slates, here and there mottled by angry veins that
bunched the walls in on each other. The air pressure
mounted but I felt too tired to open a window and sat
stewinginapitofblackanger.
ItmusthavebeenthenthatIrecognizedthepresence
of Miles Vanden Starr. All echoes of Gloria
Tremayne’s personality had vanished, and for the first
time since moving in I had recovered my normal
perspectives.Themoodofangerandresentmentinthe
lounge was remarkably persistent, far longer than
expectedfromwhathadbeenlittlemorethanatiff.The
wallscontinuedtopulseandknotforoverhalfanhour,
longaftermyownirritationhadfadedandIwassitting
upandexaminingtheroomclear-headedly.
The anger, deep and frustrated, was obviously
masculine.Iassumed,correctly,thattheoriginalsource
hadbeenVandenStarr,whohaddesignedthehousefor
GloriaTremayneandlivedthereforoverayearbefore
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hisdeath.Tohavesogroovedthememorydrummeant
that this atmosphere of blind, neurotic hostility had
beenmaintainedformostofthattime.
As the resentment slowly dispersed I could see that
forthetimebeingFayhadsucceededinherobject.The
serene persona of Gloria Tremayne had vanished. The
feminine motif was still there, in a higher and shriller
key, but the dominant presence was distinctly Vanden
Starr’s. This new mood of the house reminded me of
the courtroom photographs of him; glowering out of
1950-ish groups with Le Corbusier and Lloyd Wright,
stalking about some housing project in Chicago or
Tokyo like a petty dictator, heavy-jowled, thyroidal,
with large lustreless eyes, and then the Vermilion
Sands:1970shotsofhim,fittingintothemoviecolony
likeasharkintoagoldfishbowl.
However, there was power behind those baleful
drives.Cuedinbyourtantrum,thepresenceofVanden
Starr had descended upon 99 Stellavista like a
thundercloud. At first I tried to recapture the earlier
halcyon mood, but this had disappeared and my
irritation at losing it only served to inflate the
thundercloud. An unfortunate aspect of psychotropic
houses is the factor of resonance – diametrically
opposed personalities soon stabilize their relationship,
the echo inevitably yielding to the new source. But
where the personalities are of similar frequency and
amplitude they mutually reinforce themselves, each
adapting itself for comfort to the personality of the
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other. All too soon I began to assume the character of
VandenStarr,andmyincreasedexasperationwithFay
merely drew from the house a harder front of
antagonism.
Later I knew that I was, in fact, treating Fay in
exactly the way that Vanden Starr had treated Gloria
Tremayne,recapitulatingthestepsoftheirtragedywith
consequencesthatwereequallydisastrous.
Fay recognized the changed mood of the house
immediately. ‘What’s happened to our lodger?’ she
gibed at dinner the next evening. ‘Our beautiful ghost
seems to be spurning you. Is the spirit unwilling
althoughthefleshisweak?’
‘Godknows,’Igrowledtestily.‘Ithinkyou’vereally
messedtheplaceup.’Iglancedaroundthediningroom
foranyechoofGloriaTremayne,butshehadgone.Fay
went out to the kitchen and I sat over my half-eaten
hors d’oeuvres, staring at it blankly, when I felt a
curious ripple in the wall behind me, a silver dart of
movementthatvanishedassoonasIlookedup.Itried
tofocusitwithoutsuccess,thefirstechoofGloriasince
ourrow,butlaterthatevening,whenIwentintoFay’s
bedroomafterIheardhercrying,Inoticeditagain.
Fay had gone into the bathroom. As I was about to
findherIfeltthesameechooffeminineanguish.Ithad
been prompted by Fay’s tears, but like Vanden Starr’s
mood set off by my own anger, it persisted long after
the original cue. I followed it into the corridor as it
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fadedoutoftheroombutitdiffusedoutwardsintothe
ceilingandhungtheremotionlessly.
Starting to walk down to the lounge, I realized that
thehousewaswatchingmelikeawoundedanimal.
TwodayslatercametheattackonFay.
I had just returned home from the office, childishly
annoyedwithFayforparkinghercaronmysideofthe
garage.InthecloakroomItriedtocheckmyanger;the
senso-cellshadpickedupthecueandbegantosuckthe
irritationoutofme,pouringitbackintotheairuntilthe
wallsofthecloakroomdarkenedandseethed.
I shouted some gratuitous insult at Fay, who was in
the lounge. A second later she screamed: ‘Howard!
Quickly!’
Running towards the lounge, I flung myself at the
door, expecting it to retract. Instead, it remained rigid,
framelockedinthearchway.Theentirehouseseemed
grey and strained, the pool outside like a tank of cold
lead.
Fay shouted again. I seized the metal handle of the
manualcontrolandwrenchedthedoorback.
Faywasalmostoutofsight,ononeoftheslabsofas
in the centre of the room, buried beneath the sagging
canopy of the ceiling which had collapsed on to her.
The heavy plastex had flowed together directly above
herhead,formingablobayardindiameter.
Raisingtheflaccidplastexwithmyhands,Imanaged
to lift it off Fay, who was spread-eagled into the
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cushions with only her feet protruding. She wriggled
outandflungherarmsaroundme,sobbingnoiselessly.
‘Howard, this house is insane, I think it’s trying to
killme!’
‘Forheaven’ssake,Fay,don’tbesilly.Itwassimply
a freak accumulation of senso-cells. Your breathing
probablysetitoff.’Ipattedhershoulder,remembering
the child I had married a few years earlier. Smiling to
myself, I watched the ceiling retract slowly, the walls
growlighterintone.
‘Howard, can’t we leave here?’ Fay babbled. ‘Let’s
goandliveinastatichouse.Iknowit’sdull,butwhat
doesitmatter–?’
‘Well,’ I said, ‘it’s not just dull, it’s dead. Don’t
worry,angel,you’lllearntolikeithere.’
Faytwistedawayfromme.‘Howard,Ican’tstayin
this house any more. You’ve been so preoccupied
recently,you’recompletelychanged.’Shestartedtocry
again,andpointedattheceiling.‘IfIhadn’tbeenlying
down,doyourealizeitwouldhavekilledme?’
Idustedtheendofthesofa.‘Yes,Icanseeyourheel
marks.’IrritationwelleduplikebilebeforeIcouldstop
it.‘IthoughtItoldyounottostretchouthere.Thisisn’t
abeach,Fay.Youknowitannoysme.’
Aroundusthewallsbegantomottleandcloudagain.
WhydidFayangermesoeasily?Wasit,asIassumed
at the time, unconscious resentment that egged me on,
orwasImerelyavehiclefortheantagonismwhichhad
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accumulated during Vanden Starr’s marriage to Gloria
Tremayne and was now venting itself on the hapless
couple who followed them to 99 Stellavista? Perhaps
I’mover-charitabletomyselfinassumingthelatter,but
Fay and I had been tolerably happy during our five
years of marriage, and I am sure my nostalgic
infatuationforGloriaTremaynecouldn’thavesoswept
meoffmyfeet.
Either way, however, Fay didn’t wait for a second
attempt. Two days later I came home to find a fresh
tapeonthekitchenmemophone.Iswitcheditontohear
hertellmethatshecouldnolongerputupwithme,my
nagging or 99 Stellavista and was going back east to
staywithhersister.
Callously,myfirstreaction,aftertheinitialtwingeof
indignation, was sheer relief. I still believed that Fay
was responsible for Gloria Tremayne’s eclipse and the
emergence of Vanden Starr, and that with her gone I
wouldrecapturetheearlydaysofidyllandromance.
I was only partly right. Gloria Tremayne did return,
but not in the role expected. I, who had helped to
defendherathertrial,shouldhaveknownbetter.
AfewdaysafterFayleftIbecameawarethatthehouse
had taken on a separate existence, its coded memories
discharging themselves independently of my own
behaviour.OftenwhenIreturnedintheevening,eager
torelaxoverhalfadecanterofscotch,Iwouldfindthe
ghosts of Miles Vanden Starr and Gloria Tremayne in
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full flight. Starr’s black and menacing personality
crowded after the tenuous but increasingly resilient
quintessence of his wife. This rapier-like resistance
could be observed literally – the walls of the lounge
would stiffen and darken in a vortex of anger that
convergeduponasmallzoneoflightnesshidinginone
ofthealcoves,asiftoobliterateitspresence,butatthe
last moment Gloria’s persona would flit nimbly away,
leavingtheroomtoseetheandwrithe.
Fay had set off this spirit of resistance, and I
visualized Gloria Tremayne going through a similar
period of living hell. As her personality re-emerged in
itsnewroleIwatcheditcarefully,volumeatmaximum
despite the damage the house might do to itself. Once
Stamers stopped by and offered to get the circuits
checked for me. He had seen the house from the road,
flexing and changing colour like an anguished squid.
Thanking him, I made up some excuse and declined.
Later he told me that I had kicked him out
unceremoniously–apparentlyhehardlyrecognizedme;
I was striding around the dark quaking house like a
madmaninanElizabethanhorrortragedy,obliviousof
everything.
Although submerged by the personality of Miles
VandenStarr,IgraduallyrealizedthatGloriaTremayne
had been deliberately driven out of her mind by him.
WhathadpromptedhisimplacablehostilityIcanonly
hazard – perhaps he resented her success, perhaps she
hadbeenunfaithfultohim.Whenshefinallyretaliated
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andshothimitwas,I’msure,anactofself-defence.
TwomonthsaftershewenteastFayfiledadivorcesuit
againstme.FranticallyItelephonedher,explainingthat
I would be grateful if she postponed the action as the
publicity would probably kill my new law office.
However, Fay was adamant. What annoyed me most
wasthatshesoundedbetterthanshehaddoneforyears,
really happy again. When I pleaded with her she said
she needed the divorce in order to marry again, and
then, as a last straw, refused to tell me who the man
was.
By the time I slammed the phone down my temper
wastakingofflikealunarprobe.Ilefttheofficeearly
andbeganatourofthebarsinRedBeach,workingmy
wayslowlybacktoVermilionSands.Ihit99Stellavista
like a one-man task force, mowing down most of the
magnoliasinthedrive,rammingthecarintothegarage
onthethirdpassafterwreckingbothauto-doors.
MykeysjammedinthedoorlockandIfinallyhadto
kick my way through one of the glass panels. Raging
upstairs on to the darkened terrace I flung my hat and
coat into the pool and slammed into the lounge. By 2
a.m.,asImixedmyselfanightcapatthebarandputthe
last act of Götterdämmerung on the stereogram, the
wholeplacewasreallywarmingup.
On the way to bed I lurched into Fay’s room to see
whatdamageIcoulddotothememoriesIstillretained
ofher,kickedinawardrobeandbootedthemattresson
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tothefloor,turningthewallsliterallybluewithasalvo
ofepithets.
Shortly after three o’clock I fell asleep, the house
revolvingaroundmelikeanenormousturntable.
It must have been only four o’clock when I woke,
conscious of a curious silence in the darkened room. I
wasstretchedacrossthebed,onehandaroundtheneck
ofthedecanter,theotherholdingadeadcigarstub.The
walls were motionless, unstirred by even the residual
eddies which drift through a psychotropic house when
theoccupantsareasleep.
Somethinghadalteredthenormalperspectivesofthe
room. Trying to focus on the grey underswell of the
ceiling, I listened for footsteps outside. Sure enough,
thecorridorwallbegantoretract.Thearchway,usually
a six-inch wide slit, rose to admit someone. Nothing
camethrough,buttheroomexpandedtoaccommodate
anadditionalpresence,theceilingballooningupwards.
Astounded, I tried not to move my head, watching the
unoccupied pressure zone move quickly across the
roomtowardsthebed,itsmotionshadowedbyasmall
domeintheceiling.
The pressure zone paused at the foot of the bed and
hesitated for a few seconds. But instead of stabilizing,
the walls began to vibrate rapidly, quivering with
strangeuncertaintremors,radiatingasensationofacute
urgencyandindecision.
Then,abruptly,theroomstilled.Asecondlater,asI
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lifted myself up on one elbow, a violent spasm
convulsed the room, buckling the walls and lifting the
bedoffthefloor.Theentirehousestartedtoshakeand
writhe.Grippedbythisseizure,thebedroomcontracted
and expanded like the chamber of a dying heart, the
ceilingrisingandfalling.
Isteadiedmyselfontheswingingbedandgradually
theconvulsiondiedaway,thewallsrealigning.Istood
up, wondering what insane crisis this psychotropic
grandmalduplicated.
The room was in darkness, thin moonlight coming
throughthetrioofsmallcircularventsbehindthebed.
These were contracting as the walls closed in on each
other. Pressing my hands against the ceiling, I felt it
pushdownwardsstrongly.Theedgesofthefloorwere
blendingintothewallsastheroomconverteditselfinto
asphere.
Theairpressuremounted.Itumbledovertothevents,
reached them as they clamped around my fists, air
whistling through my fingers. Face against the
openings, I gulped in the cool night air, and tried to
forceapartthelockingplastex.
Thesafetycut-outswitchwasabovethedooronthe
othersideoftheroom.Idivedacrosstoit,clambering
over the tilting bed, but the flowing plastex had
submergedthewholeunit.
Head bent to avoid the ceiling, I pulled off my tie,
gaspingatthethuddingair.Trappedintheroom,Iwas
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suffocating as it duplicated the expiring breaths of
Vanden Starr after he had been shot. The tremendous
spasm had been his convulsive reaction as the bullet
fromGloriaTremayne’sguncrashedintohischest.
Ifumbledinmypocketsforaknife,feltmycigarette
lighter, pulled it out and flicked it on. The room was
nowagreyspheretenfeetindiameter.Thickveins,as
broad as my arm, were knotting across its surface,
crushingtheendboardsofthebedstead.
I raised the lighter to the surface of the ceiling, and
let it play across the opaque fluoglass. Immediately it
begantofizzandbubble.Itflaredalightandsplitapart,
the two burning lips unzipping in a brilliant discharge
ofheat.
Asthecocoonbisecteditself,Icouldseethetwisted
mouthofthecorridorbendingintotheroombelowthe
saggingoutlineofthediningroomceiling.Feetskating
in the molten plastex, I pulled myself up on to the
corridor. The whole house seemed to have been
ruptured. Walls were buckled, floors furling at their
edges. Water was pouring out of the pool as the unit
tippedforwardsontheweakenedfoundations.Theglass
slabsofthestaircasehadbeenshattered,therazor-like
teethjuttingfromthewall.
I ran into Fay’s bedroom, found the cut-out switch
andstabbedthesprinkleralarm.
Thehousewasstillthrobbing,butamomentlaterit
locked and became rigid. I leaned against the dented
wall and let the spray pour across my face from the
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sprinklerjets.
Aroundme,itswingstornanddisarrayed,thehouse
reareduplikeatorturedflower.
Standinginthetrampledflowerbeds,Stamersgazedat
the house, an expression of awe and bewilderment on
his face. It was just after six o’clock. The last of the
three police cars had driven away, the lieutenant in
chargefinallyconcedingdefeat.‘Dammit,Ican’tarrest
ahouseforattemptedhomicide,canI?’he’daskedme
somewhat belligerently. I roared with laughter at this,
my initial feelings of shock having given way to an
almosthystericalsenseoffun.
Stamersfoundmeequallydifficulttounderstand.
‘What on earth were you doing in there?’ he asked,
voicedowntoawhisper.
‘Nothing.ItellyouIwasfastasleep.Andrelax.The
housecan’thearyou.It’sswitchedoff.’
We wandered across the churned gravel and waded
through the water which lay like a black mirror.
Stamersshookhishead.
‘The place must have been insane. If you ask me it
needsapsychiatristtostraightenitout.’
‘You’re right,’ I told him. ‘In fact, that was exactly
myrole–toreconstructtheoriginaltraumaticsituation
andreleasetherepressedmaterial.’
‘Whyjokeaboutit?Ittriedtokillyou.’
‘Don’t be absurd. The real culprit is Vanden Starr.
But as the lieutenant implied, you can’t arrest a man
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who’s been dead for ten years. It was the pent-up
memory of his death which tried to kill me. Even if
GloriaTremaynewasdriventopullingthetrigger,Starr
pointed the gun. Believe me, I lived out his role for a
coupleofmonths.WhatworriesmeisthatifFayhadn’t
had enough good sense to leave she might have been
hypnotized by the persona of Gloria Tremayne into
killingme.’
Much to Stamers’s surprise, I decided to stay on at 99
Stellavista. Apart from the fact that I hadn’t enough
cash to buy another place, the house had certain
undeniable memories for me that I didn’t want to
forsake.GloriaTremaynewasstillthere,andIwassure
that Vanden Starr had at last gone. The kitchen and
service units were still functional, and apart from their
contorted shapes most of the rooms were habitable. In
addition I needed a rest, and nothing is so quiet as a
statichouse.
Of course, in its present form 99 Stellavista can
hardlyberegardedasatypicalstaticdwelling.Yet,the
deformed rooms and twisted corridors have as much
personality as any psychotropic house. The PT unit is
stillworkingandonedayIshallswitchitonagain.But
one thing worries me. The violent spasms which
ruptured the house may in some way have damaged
Gloria Tremayne’s personality. To live with it might
wellbemadnessforme,asthere’sasubtlecharmabout
thehouseeveninitsdistortedform,liketheambiguous
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smileofabeautifulbutinsanewoman.
Often I unlock the control console and examine the
memory drum. Her personality, whatever it may be, is
there.Nothingwouldbesimplerthantoeraseit.ButI
can’t.
One day soon, whatever the outcome, I know that I
shallhavetoswitchthehouseonagain.
1962
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