A creative non-fiction piece of mine, Third Night, which I presented as a reading at the Australasian Association of Writing Programs’ conference last year, has just been published, along with other conference presenters’ pieces, in a special edition, ‘Hauntings’, of Swinburne University’s journal, Bukker Tillibul. I’m reproducing Third Night below, but you can also read it and all the other pieces here.
By Sophie Masson
The first night, far from home, and a dream: a woman writing, at a desk in an old weatherboard cottage. The screen door creaks, and something hurtles into the room. A glimpse of a face, vivid in its sheer ferocity: a tiny thing, but deadly. The dreamer awakes in fright, to silence and friendly darkness, thinks on the dream, but does not understand.
Now it’s the second night, another dream. Two travellers, a woman and a man, arrive at a lakeshore. The man strips, goes into the lake, and as he does so, the water turns his skin to bronze, he is becoming alien but doesn’t seem to notice, while his companion cries out in fear. The dreamer wakes, heart pounding, into the friendly darkness, and still does not understand.
It is the third night, in a Sydney suburb this time. The dreamer is asleep. All at once, dogs bark. The staccato sound that tells you their hackles are rising, that something unexpected is out there. It is this that wakes the dreamer and gets her up to look out the window.
Outside, in the vacant lot next door, there is a man, standing in the moonlight, hair of black and silver, dressed in plain pale clothes—but exactly what colour are they? He looks quite solid, there is no translucence about him, and yet..He has one hand on his hip, the other held out with fingers parted, a silent message. Otherwise, he is still, more still than ever any human can be: and his glance—what a cold, direct gaze!—is fixed at the wide-awake dreamer, standing transfixed at the window.
There is no fear. Don’t think that. Only an eternal moment, suspended, the cold direct gaze, the silver glimmer, the silent calling.
Now the waking mind is rebelling, seeking to explain. There is an intruder! Something must be done. The dreamer rouses the household which stands there in its pyjamas staring bleary-eyed out at the night. The household shouts at the dogs, hoping to chase away the intruder. Then rubs its eyes, says, ‘But he’s not there! Look..’ And in the place where the man stood in the vacant lot, the dreamer sees…a tree. A small, stunted grey eucalypt. The dogs have stopped barking. The household goes back to bed, shrugging.
But the dreamer stands at the window and stares out at the tree. I’ve heard the dogs barking before, gone to the window to shout at them, and seen that tree. But not this night. The dogs barked, and I saw something else, which the first two nights had prepared me for. Not a dream.
For yes, this was my own story. What happened was real: but I may never be able to understand it. It does not matter. For all of us move in the world’s mystery as fish swim in water, because it is our natural element. Yet often without understanding, for fish are the last to know they live in water.