Cautionary Tale

You get into it quite by accident. While exploring an unfamiliar town or place, you just happen to walk into it without knowing how. It may be while you’re looking into a shop of two. You know, just sightseeing. And you come across a place that looks like it has some interesting stuff in it and you are drawn in just to look around.

When you go in, it looks unfamiliar in some way, but not completely alien. It just feels different. You’re intrigued so you look a little further. There’s no one thing that draws you in. You just want to go. And you do.

The next thing you know you are in a world where everything is different. You are confronted by unfamiliar beings that want to kill you and it’s only by your wits and some fast talking that they don’t. These beings rule this space and are served by normal people who may or may not challenge you as you pass through their realm.  If they do confront you, you are brought before those beings again where they may or may not take you captive or worse. They make their decision on a whim and your fate may be sealed or not.

If you are spared, you’re not out of the woods yet. There is only one way that looks like “out” and it’s a bus with only one destination. As you ride on the bus you pass through familiar places that have been turned eerily unfamiliar. Whizzing along, you pass a shop you know but the sign is oddly twisted and partially blown down. Buildings that used to be whole have large pieces of the facade, walls and floor simply missing. Not damaged or burned, just gone like something came down and cut a jagged line through it with a sharp knife, like a drunk carving a sheet cake, and removed it. It’s hard to see anything in detail because the bus is speeding through the town so fast that you can only catch five-frame glimpses of anything, and everything looks weird.

The series of shots creates a composite in your brain that ends up letting you know that you’re not anyplace you’ve ever been and this bus is not taking you anywhere near home.

Without actually stopping, the bus deposits you in a scruffy section of an unknown city where people are going through what seems to be a normal routine. Normal for them maybe but something seems seriously different. Confrontations occur between the denizens with surprising frequency. They flare up quickly to the point just short of being violent and then dissipate just as rapidly like they don’t care about it any more, and they simply move on to what’s next.

You are intrigued by this, but not enough to stop. It all just looks too wrong and the urge to move on to someplace safer or more familiar drives your feet forward.

After a while, you come to a plaza on a neatly kept street corner and you sense that you’ve found a refuge so you go into a place where you can get a cup of coffee. At the counter where they are serving others, they tell you that you have to go downstairs into the kitchen to get what you want. In spite of the fact that you have never been here before, they single you out in their refusal of service. There is no apparent reason for it but you go anyway. Down a steep and thin flight of stairs to a large kitchen with a low ceiling full of people in white chef’s uniforms that ignore you. In spite of the fact that all the burners are fired, there is steam everywhere and the activity level of the people here is at a fever pitch, it appears that they are cooking nothing at all. No raw food on the cutting tables. No aromas of any kind from the steaming pots. It’s just hot and damp.

Realizing that you’re not going to get anything from these people you press on into an adjacent labyrinth of rooms with people moving about or simply sitting alone or in groups. Some people stare at you as you move past in search of something, others act as if you’re not even there. You have no compunction to talk with any of these people because all you want to do is get away from this place and everything in it.

Most of the rooms don’t have windows and those that do look out onto a close-in cityscape of tall buildings but you don’t notice whether there’s anyone out on those streets. You near a doorway that appears to be a choke point as people file through a maze of metal poles and railings to get to the exit. And it looks like an exit so you get in the long line and go left and right as you inch closer to the head of the line. Once there you realize that there is a weird contraption that you must pass through to get out. You must walk on your knees through a railed contraption that forces your head to face forward and keeps you from raising up. This short passage opens up to a stark room white with the only exit at the opposite end that forces you through another one of these strange devices.

You get down on your knees onto a platform that appears to roll forward and back and then fit your head into a passageway made of long thin metal tubing. The fit is precise allowing your head to look neither left nor right. The passageway for your head is just low enough that you cannot raise up from the kneeling position and your only option is to roll forward with your head looking straight ahead. After about 30 feet or so you come to an abrupt 90 degree left turn that you must negotiate but you’re going too fast and your face bounces off the tubes on the far end.

You can see enough to know that you must carefully turn your head and body in this tight space to move further through it so you do, slowly so that you don’t get wedged in or somehow stuck. Ready now you roll forward more slowly than before, wary of unknown obstacles that might lay ahead. But there are none and you roll out into another series of rooms and stand up.

You’re wife has been with you throughout the journey. She hasn’t always been right next to you or even that close by, but she’s been traveling the same path. Actually, she’s you’re ex-wife but you don’t know that.

You both wander out into a series of rooms. The rooms here are arranged oddly. There is no consistency between the chambers in size, height or look. It’s just a jumble that appears to have been thrown together with the rooms arranged cheek by jowl with no hallways between them. You see a woman and a man, not together, standing near to a large vertical door that they used on ancient freight elevators and you move toward it. You notice that the man is talking to another large man who appears to be minding the doors and as you draw near he opens the doors, lets the man pass and then closes them. The woman then talks to the large man at the door and although you cannot hear her, her gestures indicate that she wants to leave too. The big man sits on his stool and looks at the woman and is motionless. The woman gets more animated but it’s clear that she’s not getting through that door. The man listens, dispassionate and unmoved.

It seems that anything you might say to this sentry is unlikely to get the portal open for you so you and your wife move on into a large chamber with a random assortment of tables arranged in no particular order. By each table stands a person and on each table are arranged wares, apparently for sale. Your wife wanders up the few steps to a group of tables on a higher level and moves among them. You parallel her while you look around perhaps for another exit opportunity. When you finally look over to where you last saw your wife, she is gone. She might have slipped through some doorway you didn’t notice or simply disappeared but you are confident that you’ll meet up again because you have drifted apart along the journey and always come back together. This time, you will not see her again.

You move ahead and find yet more different rooms. Some of the rooms are stark with dark high walls and looming ceilings devoid of furniture while others are littered with furniture. One is full of cafeteria-style tables with groups of two or three people scattered about. Another large room is full of sofas, all different. They range from Victorian to modern, upholstered in all manner of fabrics and leather and are arranged side by side around the perimeter. In the center of this rectangular room is a long line of sofas arranged back-to-back and facing the couches along the wall. There are people sitting in some of them so you pick an open one and sit down to rest.

Sitting on the couch you notice an odd figure slouched down in the couch across and one to the right from where you’re sitting. He’s covered in dark fabric that’s not quite tatters and not quite robes and having a conversation with someone on the couch to your right. Actually, he’s appraising what that person apparently said before you’d arrived with some disdain and a sense of self satisfaction. The person looks down and says nothing.

The odd figure then turns to you and begin to speak in words that mean nothing. You feel that this person has some power over this place and in spite of the fact that you think this person might have the answers to the myriad of questions circling in your brain, you have no desire at all to engage him so you stand up and walk away.

Moving in and out of the different spaces you see an odd assortment of things weirdly placed. A plate of cookies next to a stuffed toy animal and a piece of carved wood. You nearly step into an apple pie sitting on the floor next to a chocolate cake. Stopping short you notice that they each have small price tags attached indicating some unfamiliar currency. Farther on you pass two people going the opposite way and catch one saying, “I’m not going to do that, they’ll send me down to the first level.”

It’s then you start to realize what’s happening. While you suspected that you were somehow imprisoned, it’s becoming clear that this is a prison that you will never escape and it’s a place that you never really expected to find yourself. That man in the room of couches was in fact the devil and you were truly in hell. Your future was to be paved in uncertainty, isolation and a complete lack of any kind of fulfillment. Constantly moving from room to room, you would find no peace. No understanding. No purpose. Only a confusing reality full of encounters that would constantly disquiet to the end of time.

If you were lucky, you would wake up and realize that this was a dream, but a dream far more interactive and realistic than any you’d experienced before and it would leave you wondering what it all meant. Was it a prophecy of what your future held? Was it a reflection on what your life had been? Was it a manifestation of your lunacy? Or was it just a dream?

Authors note:

This was originally written early on a Saturday morning in 2004 from an extraordinarily vivid dream experienced pre-dawn that morning. I only recently happened upon it whilst cleaning up my computer’s documents folder. It is unedited from its original form which I wrote as I replayed the dream in my head. 

I offer it without comment beyond the original text. If you care to share your thoughts on what you think it means, your comments are welcome.

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