10 April, 2017
I had a writing deadline and nothing was coming. My boss, who was a contrarian and an impatient old man, telephoned me every half hour demanding an update. "It's almost done," I said eagerly, but there was not one word on the page as yet.
The phone rang again and I awoke with a start. I must have drifted off. Instead of sitting in the worn leather chair, my last memory of where I was, I found myself standing at the end of a living room. This was not just any living room, it was the one in which I spent my entire childhood. I hadn't lived there in almost three decades.
The phone continued to ring. It sounded like it was coming from another room.
I followed the sound until the light grew quite dim. As I looked around, the wallpaper was torn and the paint had faded and the brickwork crumbled with age. A whiff of smoke, not from an active fire but mixed with a kind of musky odor, filled the air. Dust was everywhere and, as I continued, the place became completely unrecognizable.
The sound of the ringing morphed into a continuous and omnidirectional tone reminiscent, as I listened more intently, of the ambiance usually associated with that of a huge cathedral.
I walked slowly down a darkened corridor, tripping several times. There was all manner of debris strewn across the floor. I couldn't make out what most of it was but I kept going until I reached the top of a staircase. The ringing was now deafening and I could feel the fabric of my clothing vibrating. I stumbled down the stairs and came to a curious labyrinth of tunnels that spread out in every direction.
As I went deeper into this maze, I thought I was going to pass out. The noise had reached such a din I began to panic. I looked back towards the stairs but they were gone. Every tunnel looked the same, I was completely disoriented. I tried to shield my ears and screamed in pain.
The ringing stopped. There was a moment of absolute silence. "Are you here to see my mother?" a voice said. It sounded like a young woman. I looked up and only by squinting could I barely make out the form of a person. "Are you here to see my mother?" The voice asked again, "Her name is Veronica Delacroix." "No." I replied, a hissing still in my ears, "Who are you?" "Mother is ill and needs help," said the voice, "but no one has come. She is very weak. She may not make it through the night."
"But what's your name?" I said. "Did you not hear me?!" The woman sounded exasperated. "My mother is dying and you are wasting time. Why don't you make yourself useful? There's a telephone somewhere around here. Call the doctor!"
She turned and moved out of sight. When I say moved, it was more like a kind of gliding motion. I followed in her direction through more dark tunnels until it opened up to a large bright hall that looked like it was part of an old castle.
There was a flow of people ascending the stone steps by the back wall. They appeared ghost-like but not threatening. A wheelchair stood motionless at the foot of the stairs, I assumed it belonged to the woman's mother. The faint murmur of conversation that had been permeating the air ceased as I stepped into the middle of the room. "My mother lived here, but she died last night." said the voice, although I could no longer see its owner. "We couldn't find the telephone to call the doctor so she died."
"Look, this is her headstone." said the voice. I was alone in a cemetery. I could feel a gentle breeze on my cheek. The people were gone, the room was gone. I leaned over for a closer look at the headstone. The engraving read "My miserable mother is dead. Good riddance."
I walked around the cemetery in a daze for most of the day and, in the evening, found a stone bench and rested there. Every now and again I thought I heard someone but no one was there. The voice was gone too. I had no idea where I was exactly.
A group of four people passed by some time later. I wanted to ask them where I was but I was embarrassed so I kept silent. Looking back now, it just seems so ridiculous. It was important to know where I was but I couldn't bring myself to ask? Anyway, no matter, I decided to follow them, assuming they would lead me to a way out of the cemetery. During my earlier wanderings, I hadn't been able to find an exit or an entrance which amounts to the same thing, I suppose.
I kept an appropriate distance behind them so they wouldn't suspect anything. Every now and then they would stop and the man on the right would bend over with laughter. The other three just stared at him without emotion. I thought it was a little strange but, given all the events of the day so far, it wasn't really that unusual.
Finally, up ahead, the little group disappeared around a corner. When I got there, I discovered a gate that led into a churchyard and exited the grounds altogether. I stood in a cobble-stoned street in an old town. The architecture seemed to suggest that it was old. I looked around, unsure of what way to go. The foursome I was following had vanished.
I heard more voices down an alley so I decided to walk in that direction. The voices were screaming and I heard a loud crash and then more screaming. It sounded chaotic and I hesitated to go any further. I snuck up along the wall at the end of the alley and peered around. A group of men stood there about 20 yards away glaring at me. They didn't say a word. My heart was racing. I slowly moved back towards the alley, turned and ran as fast as I could.
After spending a considerable amount of time running for my life, I took refuge in the grounds of a church. Not the same one as before, mind you, this one was older, ancient, some might say. The point is that I felt safe there and was completely alone once more.
I took this time to ponder my current circumstances. How did I get here? Was this a dream and if so, why couldn't I wake up? If it was real and not a dream after all, why was nothing making sense? What had happened between talking to my boss on the telephone and being here in this churchyard? And what was it with all the churches and cemeteries? I'm not particularly religious, I thought. Was this some kind of metaphor or riddle I had to unravel?
I stayed there for at least forty five minutes, pacing about, here and there, to and fro, unable to find an answer. I concluded that it must be a dream. My waking life had always had some semblance of order and certainly nothing like this had ever happened. It was better to think of it as a dream. That, in itself, excused any absurdity and relieved me of the burden of trying to make sense of any or all of it.
Feeling satisfied, I made my way out through the iron gate and on to the sidewalk again. Hours had passed since I was in the cemetery and still the sun hadn't set . For a moment I was trying to make sense of that too but I was reminded that this was all a dream so night time was probably optional. How liberating!
I once read a book about dreams that described in great detail how to wake up from a nightmare. At the time, I didn't think anything of it. That's not true, I actually thought the whole thing was nonsense. In fact, I put in a complaint with the librarian detailing why I thought the book was heavy on opinion and light on science. The librarian smiled but I could tell she was only barely tolerating the scene I was making.
Anyway, that's neither here nor there. Did I now remember those steps from the book explaining how to wake myself, given that I would now categorize this experience as an actual nightmare? No, of course not. I couldn't recall one iota of the information. But isn't it funny how I could remember every word I wrote in that letter of complaint and the expression on the librarian's face?
I could feel the fatigue in my legs from all the walking and running. I was not used to exerting myself this much in a single day. There were no signs of life around and the whole town looked abandoned. There were cars parked on the sides of streets that looked like they hadn't been driven in years.
Despite my exhaustion, I pressed on. For what, I don't know. I had no idea in what direction I was going. My sense of direction, while we are on the subject, is noteworthy for its abysmal failure. I think my internal compass is broken. If it weren't for the sun, I would not have the first clue of which way is north, south, east or west. I can tell, for instance, which way is east because the sun rises in the east. At least it does in the northern hemisphere which is where I am at any given time. I also know that it sets in the west. I realize I'm stating the obvious but in the middle of the day, when the sun is at its highest, I have no idea which way is east or west.
Typically, if I am in this state of disorientation and I reach a fork in the road, my inclination will always be to turn the wrong way. One day, I decided I should try an experiment. What if I turned left when my instincts are telling me to turn right? If I completely defied my own internal compass, surely I would arrive at my intended destination?
Well l actually tried that one day. I was walking for hours out in the hot desert and I came to a crossroads. There were no road signs so I was oblivious about which way to go. The road I was on had wound around and zigzagged so many times, keeping track of its direction was virtually impossible. Now, in the middle of the day with the sun right above my head, I had a decision to make. Should I go straight on, turn left or turn right?
This was a perfect time to try out my theory, I thought. My instinct told me to go straight but, given my track record, that was probably not correct. But now I had to choose between left and right. It was then I realized my idea was flawed. The only actual opposite to my instinct in this case was to turn back the way I came. Left was not opposite any more than right was. Anyway, I decided to take a right that day and, after a few more hours of walking, realized it was the wrong direction. I should have been heading west but now the sun was to my left as it was sinking below the horizon so I was obviously walking north.
That same feeling came upon me in this old abandoned town. The whole place was unfamiliar with no landmarks to speak of. Walking in any direction could have been the right way but that would also assume there was a purpose to the journey. I could be walking for days or even weeks if there was no destination so I sat down on the steps of an old shack and decided to make a plan.
Instead of continuing forward, what if I was to completely backtrack and end up at the cemetery again? Maybe I could get back to where I came from and awake from the dream? It sounded like a most reasonable proposition. I had no idea how far I had come but I did know it took me quite a few hours so it was going to be at least that long to return.
If this dream, or whatever it was, was a movie, I thought, it would make my life so much easier. There would be a soundtrack that would clue me into what was going on. Ominous music, for instance, would indicate danger ahead so I could quickly change direction to avoid it. If the music was upbeat, it would give me confidence that I was on the right path and would relieve some of the stress I was feeling.
Also, if this was a movie, things would be simpler. For instance, everything I did or encountered would further the story and the movie itself would more than likely reach a logical conclusion. Given that I am the protagonist, I would reach home safely and then live quite happily for the rest of my life.
Of course, in real life, we don't go through only one challenge in our lives and then that's it, time to be forever happy and worry-free. Also, the things we do and decisions we make don't necessarily connect to some kind of logical end. The only guaranteed end is death itself. Beyond that, I believe, our life is part of a continuum. There is nothing so neatly packaged as it is in a movie. It's strange then that we can relate to so many of these big screen apologues. Perhaps it reflects our inner struggle for order and gives us a false sense of satisfaction? By extension, wouldn't that make us even more unhappy with our daily existence? The fact that we can't put our lives into neat little categories and make everything predictable?
Not everything in life has meaning although we seem to be on an endless quest to make sense of it. We demand answers when we don't understand something yet not everything can or needs to be understood. All of this was swirling around in my head as I sat there on the curb.
What snapped me out of my thoughts was the sound of footsteps. I jumped up, feeling starved of human contact so I was a little excited to have a conversation with someone. The figure of a young man, perhaps sixteen, flew around the corner. He looked terrified. "They're coming!" he bellowed, briefly acknowledging me as he tore past. "Who?!" I called back but he was already halfway down the street. That got my adrenaline going and I felt pretty unnerved myself. I hurried over to the corner and looked down every street but saw and heard nothing. I didn't have the energy to catch up with the running man.
This encounter had given me a second wind. I started back quickly toward the cemetery. My mind was so focused I must have literally wished myself back there. I don't remember any details except I was suddenly standing outside a door and it appeared to be back at the cemetery.
Behind the door I could hear the sound of a telephone ringing. Could this be the same ear-splitting sound that almost killed me earlier? Part of me wanted it to be because that could mean I was close to getting back to my office or waking up or both. The other part of me was dreading the pain in my ears but I just wasn't willing to stay in the cemetery any longer than necessary. I tried the doorknob but it was locked.
Across the little footpath I noticed a woman down on her knees arranging flowers. She had her back to me so I couldn't see her face. I approached her cautiously. "Excuse me, ma'am," I said, "Could I trouble you for a moment?" The woman did not turn around. She wore a bonnet that was tied around her chin. That much I could see. "I'm really sorry to bother you but I seem to be lost." The woman continued to arrange the flowers without saying a word. I tried to move to the side so I could see her face but she moved with me. "I can't talk to you," she said, sounding a little agitated.
"I'm sorry ma'am, I don't mean to disturb you but I really want to get back to my office. You see, I've had a particularly strange day and I'm a little turned around to say the least. If I could just get some directions and then I'll be on my way."
"It's Veronica." she whispered. "I'm sorry, what was that?" I had actually heard her but it needed repeating. "My name is Veronica. Veronica Delacroix. I believe you've already met my daughter." "Yes," I replied, a little shocked, "didn't she say you were dead? I even saw your headstone!" "Indeed you may well have seen it but obviously I am alive and breathing!" She snapped back. "Why on earth would your daughter say you were dead if you aren't actually dead?" "That is a very good question," she said, "a very good question indeed. Leave me now, I must finish with my arranging."
At this point I was infinitely more confused than before I met this Veronica Delacroix. I stood there watching her fussing over the flowers and then returned to the door. Clearly she wasn't going to talk and I assumed the whole affair would likely remain a mystery. As she stood up to leave, she said, "And you'll do well to leave her alone! She is nothing but bad news. Trouble follows wherever she goes." Then Veronica was gone.
There was a piece of burlap beside the flower stems she left behind. Upon closer inspection, I saw a key. She must have put it there for me, I thought.
I could again hear the faint ringing of that godforsaken telephone. It was still coming from behind the door. The key slid into the keyhole and it turned without effort. The door creaked open and the volume of the ringing increased. I followed it back through the network of tunnels.
This time the sound was even louder than before. Tears flowed from my eyes and my whole body shook. I instinctively wanted to hide but that obviously wouldn't stop the ringing. I ducked into a room with a gigantic furnace and found a corner to try to shield myself. It was no good, my ears hurt and I must have blacked out because I don't remember what happened next.
The light around me flickered as I wiped the tears away. Had I woken up or was this still the dream?
I was laying on a bed and there was a candle providing the only light. It was mostly dark but I could see what looked like an armchair in the far corner. Something moved in the darkness and it startled me. "Who's there?!" I cried in fright. "I'm sorry? Are you quite right in the head?!" came the reply. It was my boss. I was sitting up now, on the leather chair with the telephone receiver in my hand. "How's the article coming? You don't have much time left, you know?" "It's...almost done," I said in a state of complete and utter shock. My hands were shaking so badly, I slowly lowered the phone to my lap. "Hello? Hello? Are you there? Hello? Now look here, young ma..." I hung up the phone and fell back into the chair.
Everything around me was the same as before. The clock indicated that only a few minutes had passed. The sun outside was setting. Night is coming, I thought, the dream is over.
Now I'm quite sure you're wondering what the point of this story is and why certain things were not revealed or resolved. I've recounted events exactly as I remember them without any expectation one way or the other. What happened to the girl and her mother and what was the running man so afraid of? These questions and others have no answers that I can find. The mystery, it seems, remains unsolved.
On the advice of a friend, I'm now seeing a therapist on a regular basis. I briefly mentioned this story to him and he tasked me with writing a journal about it which is what I did. I will see him this coming Tuesday at 4pm to discuss the details. If he has any insights on the matter, I may write another journal and share his conclusions.
In the meantime, I must go. The phone is ringing and I'm sure it's my boss. I have a writing deadline that needs my attention.
If you would like to keep up with my meanderings, sign up to subscribe to my blog at the bottom of this page. Peace.