~ A true, scary tale ~
The dream haunted me for years when I was a girl, circling around with other recurring nightly visitations that all conspired to prevent a sweet dream from ever gracing my childhood slumber. This particular dream series repeated each time with little variation of detail and no variation in terror, producing an ever-growing sense of claustrophobia in my awake world as well. Each vivid detail kept its sharp clarity, even when the dream quit sabotaging my sleep, through all my adult years to this day.
The nightmarish dream begins as I walk across the luxurious lobby of a sea-going cruise ship, though no ship is ever visible, just a large columned gallery appointed in traditional formal style, the vaulted ceilings soaring toward bright light. I am headed for the bank of elevator doors across the marbled floor, decisively guided by the unseen, heard, or felt "they".
When we arrive in front of the elevator door that I know is meant for me, the ornate doors open to reveal an old battered elevator car, with slatted, wooden walls and door that I call an orange crate in my youthful dream-mind, although that isn't exactly how it looks to my eye. Fear springs up in my dreamchild heart, rushing tension flows through my small, skinny limbs, each beat of my pulse racing at the thought of entering that rickety, small enclosure. There is a ship's rope knotted through the slats in the ceiling that looks inadequate for the lifting task, only broken or fraying threads left in the knot to twist around and back. Invisible forces push me in and I begin to panic as the outer doors glide shut, leaving only the rough crate slats surrounding me.
After several heart-pounding moments, with vertical lurchings starting and stopping, horizontal swayings impossible in any real-life elevator shaft, loud clanking sounds, and a growing sensation of damp and cold, the car/crate stops and the rickety doors disappear altogether. A long narrow hall stretches out before me, dark shadows of gloomy door openings marching symmetrically down each side.
I am pushed forward and the elevator disappears. I am made to walk forward, by invisible forces again, although every step threatens to tremble me to pieces. Step by step is taken, each with a stop-jerk sensation, then the hall physically begins to close in. Darker. Danker. Walls pressing. Fear racing. Slowly walking forward, then crouching, then crawling, along.
When I reach my door and peer in, the shrinking dimensions have turned my cruise ship quarters into a coffin-sized black hole that I must slither into. Gasping breaths and tears of panic engulf me.
It is at this moment in every one of the dream's occurrences that I'd wake up in my own childhood room, each time terrified to close my eyes again, afraid I'd fall back into this dark world that feels as though it will bury me alive in my sleep.
I have sworn since childhood never to take a cruise.
This week while eating breakfast, I followed my usual habit of checking various news sites, emails, and television news clips before getting Youngest up and off to school. After I'd gone on to other things, the Today show video player stayed on, and during a trek back through the room I found a human interest clip beginning, one of a series where the anchors go on adventures together in a virtual anchor-audience bonding experience.
This installment's excursion was to a haunted prison, located in the center of Philadelphia, where the quartet, I think, would stay all night to see if they experienced any ghost-y vibes. A Halloween adventure, with anchor-audience fear-bonding.
I watch as one anchor-as-narrator begins to tell of the Eastern State Prison's 146-year history as the nation's first actual "penitentiary," while the camera pans across the outside of a medieval-castle-looking fortress with greystone walls, then zooms in on its entrance. My heart's pace quickens although I'm not sure why. I begin to turn back out of the room to remind Youngest we have to leave soon, when the anchors walk in the prison and cameras scan the tall-ceilinged, dingy hall that has light pouring down from skylights, showing the main floor of the prison with doors opening onto cells.
My body is transfixed by a strong sensation, while my mind is vague on the reasons why.
While the video images are not exactly similar to my dream landscape, they are familiar somehow, and my body's reaction is identical to those first dream-moments of apprehension, with claustrophobic pressure closing in. My throat begins to feels tight, as if I can't get enough air, although the oxygen is fresh and plentiful, the windows are open.
More than startled, I shut off the news clips and walk away, then find myself back at the screen again. I watch the whole clip, then google 'Eastern State Prison images.' I am hoping the decisive differences between this building on television and the dream-ship in my nightmare will solidify as I look further on still images. I am also hoping the trembles running through my not-so-skinny adult limbs will fade with those decisive visual differences.
The subsequent still images I click on serve only to reinforce those trembles.
Cellblock 5's wooden slatted door in one photograph mirrors the 'orange crate' walls and door of the elevator car in my dream. One image of a close corridor echoes the sight of the narrow hall stretching before me when I'd reached my cabin's floor, while the marching symmetry of gloomy door openings is identical.
At that moment, the rising claustrophobia at the very thought of peering into a cell, even in photograph, is enough. The walls were pressing in. My heart raced. I needed air.
Within seconds I was outside, the wet, cold grass on my bare feet not yet warmed by morning sun. I kept walking to the one corner of our fenced backyard where the eastern rays of morning light glowed bright and warm, and I stepped into them and stood. Silently I stood, my mind deliberately empty, until its shadows filled with the light of day. I stood longer still, until my limbs felt strong and solid again, then longer, until the smell of dark and damp faded away.
OCTOBER 31, 2011 12:48AM