The building was old and had the appearance of a medieval castle, with walls built of large stone blocks, fully three feet long and at least eighteen inches tall. Huge fluted stone pillars supported the massively high vaulted ceiling and all around were people sitting at tables as if in a restaurant, but it wasn’t one I recognised.
I wasn’t surprised that it didn’t seem familiar however, as I didn’t go to that many restaurants and I looked about me, wondering what I was doing in such an up-market place, hoping to God I could afford whatever I bought. Perhaps I should just have a glass of water…
The man sitting at one table, set in front of one of the giant pillars, beckoned to me to join him.
It was strange. I didn’t recognise him, yet I knew I knew him.
I sat and we chatted idly about the weather and other stupid stuff, but it seemed very false. The more I looked at the man opposite me the less I thought I knew him. I started to get a very uneasy feeling about where I found myself and what was happening around me.
The scene was very normal yet at the same time, it felt surreal.
Other diners were chatting amongst themselves as waiters and waitresses scampered about between the tables taking drinks and food to them.
The feeling of unease grew within me and from somewhere I remembered the old wives tale about throwing salt over the left shoulder for luck. I began toying with the cruets and ‘accidentally’ spilt the salt.
“Oops,” I said, smiling a bit sheepishly. I righted the salt cellar and picked up a pinch of the white granules, throwing them over my left shoulder.
A woman behind me shouted in alarm, filling the room with a shriek and dropping whatever it was she was carrying. I didn’t see, but the sounds were perfectly clear. I turned to see a waitress blinking and rubbing her eyes. Around her, the drinks that had been on the tray were now in puddles all over the flagstone floor.
The restaurant patrons and staff were now staring at me in a muted silence, their faces all stern, yet at the same time, not really faces. Their features were unclear, kind of misty – out of focus. They looked like a scene from a student’s artwork piece, the faces in the crowds merely suggestions and not detailed. There was no denying the feeling of annoyance and anger at what I had caused that emanated from each and every one of them though.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, trying to help the somewhat distraught waitress to her feet. She smiled and I felt a cold chill run the length of my spine.
It was so odd. Despite the waitress being in obvious distress, not one person – even the man I was apparently with, moved to help; not the waiters, nor the patrons. I was it – the help.
I felt confused as I helped the poor girl, she was attractive, petite and seemed extremely pleasant, and yet, I kept feeling like warning bells were going off in my head, my ‘spidey-sense’ was tingling.
The man I was with started talking about joining them – whoever they were and more of that tingling seemed to radiate through my body, my mind rejecting any such ideas and telling me so in no uncertain terms.
“I need to use the loo,” I said and went to a doorway not five yards from where we sat, with an ornate Gothic arch, leading to a short landing and a flight of stone stairs.
I began my descent and had taken no more than six steps when I felt a pulling sensation. It was so weird, each step I took, caused the pull to feel as though it had double in intensity and that danger signal was now like an air-raid siren going off cartoon-like in my ears.
The stairway seemed of indeterminate length, only the top maybe twenty stairs were visible, yet I sensed it went further – much further. The rest of the stairs didn’t as much fade into the gloomy depths below as simply stopped, ending in a dense black nothingness thereafter.
I suppose I must have taken about ten steps by this time and whilst I thought I would have been able to see beyond that twentieth stair, I couldn’t; it still disappeared as before, into the inky, scary blackness below.
The feeling of unease had now increased to one where my brain was yelling at me to go no further.
I decided it was probably a good idea to listen.
I turned and tried to climb back up the stairs to the top and the moment I did, the pull that I had been feeling, increased beyond all measure, tearing and pulling, feeling as though I was battling a fierce wind, bending and straining against the elemental force, that was blowing me backwards; closer to the abyss I was sure waited for me after the twentieth stair. Yet there was no wind.
I fell to my knees, trying with all my might to crawl up the incline, feeling that I would have more purchase on the smooth slabs in that position, but no, the pull just seemed to increase still further, my hands and feet losing grip and slipping back as I tried to make headway.
Finally I managed one stair.
I looked at the walls, hoping to find something that I could use to help me haul myself up from what I felt would be certain death, where I spotted a rope – instead of a banister rail and tried to reach it, shifting sideways carefully and painfully slowly towards that side of the stair well, hearing the sound of my shoes scraping, slipping back across the big stone slabs of the stairs.
I reached up and as I did so, the rope seemed to recede into the distance. I pulled my hand back and there it was as normal, hanging in neat swags down the wall. I reached again and the same thing happened.
The fear I felt was mounting, growing inside me like some kind of a lump that got bigger and bigger. It was akin to being on the edge of a precipitous drop; each movement, taking me closer to the edge, drawn like a moth to a flame, powerless to stop.
I redoubled my efforts, clawing at the unyielding stonework with fingers that hurt as I tried to drag myself up the few stairs that remained between me and the safety of the top.
After several minutes of extreme exertion, I had to stop. I could feel the chill path of numerous sweat-trails that had coursed down my back and my hair was sticking to my forehead as I panted, drawing each breath deep into my lungs.
I looked up at the arched opening which led back into the restaurant and with as much will as I could muster, I turned to face the climb.
Like a sudden snatch, the pull drew me back and I slid three stairs before I managed to halt my descent. Breathing a huge sigh of relief, I turned to sit on the step I had reached.
I realised that by facing the blackness, the pull reduced and by shuffling backwards, I found I could actually get back up the stairs. It was slow going, but eventually and with an almost Herculean effort, I dragged myself up that final stair, along the short landing and clawing with all my might, I slid round the mitred stonework, the idea being to sit, my back to the wall to get my breath back.
It didn’t work.
I clawed my way up and pulled myself round, only to find that as I did so, I actually rounded a corner to slide down another set of stairs absolutely identical to the ones I had just escaped from. I tried sliding my way up the other side of the stairs, pulling myself round the other corner only to have the same thing happen.
It was like there were three stairways, though I was positive there was only one.
With sweat stinging my eyes, I wiped my brow as best I could and tried again, getting to the arch, looking left and right to see nought but blank stone walls, just as I had before, yet if I moved left or right, I started that slip back towards the blackness.
There was only one way I was going to do this and that was to continue my efforts to move away from the arch and after much shuffling, I finally stood, to find everything just like normal; no pull, no blackness and more strangely, no-one seemed to have paid my efforts the least bit of attention.
I looked at the man at the table and saw what I thought was a devilish arch to his eyebrows, a goatee and were those horns?
No, I must have been imagining it.
“Have you decided?” he asked.
I had decided alright and there was no way I was joining anything I knew nothing about and more to the point, if he or any other in the ‘we’ of which he had spoken, was in any way responsible for what had just happened to me...
I thought I knew this man; thought I knew who he was, but I was wrong. He only seemed familiar. I didn’t know him at all. I certainly didn’t trust him enough to join him in anything he had in mind.
“I have decided and the answer’s no.”
This obviously wasn’t what he wanted to hear and he made certain threatening noises.
I called him a name, which didn’t go down at all well. It wasn’t a profanity either, not like that at all. I called him a name that sounded like it came straight out of some black magic movie – a demonic name and to this day, I cannot remember what it was.
He got really angry and I decided it was time to get out of there.
The next thing I knew, I was running round the front of a building which didn’t look like the one I had just left.
This was a simple, low, modern building, which looked more like a warehouse than the castle that housed the restaurant I had been in not moments before.
My ‘spidey-sense’ was tingling again and I could feel the presence of someone else nearby. I suspected that the man from the restaurant would not take my escape lightly and perhaps it was he who was following.
I burst through the first door I came to with a clatter and slid to a halt on the other side as all before me turned to see what was happening, just as they had in the restaurant; that feeling of anger emanating from them.
They looked like they were in some sort of school assembly, all sitting on chairs arranged in neat rows, facing a raised dais or stage, where three figures stood, also staring at me.
Despite knowing that I had just entered a modern concrete building that could have been built no later than the late sixties, this place had more of the medieval theme going on – just like the restaurant. The three on the stage looked like a king, a queen and perhaps a chancellor or some sort of priest.
Perhaps it was just scenery – like a play or film set, but these people didn’t look anything like actors. Their costumes looked right and yet incongruous at the same time and not just a little anachronistic. Their faces too – weren’t faces; just the merest suggestions of features were visible even on those who were no more than ten feet from me. If anything, they looked alien.
Could it have been makeup; prosthetics maybe?
Of course it could, but the feeling I got from these people – if that was indeed what they were – was so similar to those in the restaurant that I couldn’t believe that this assemblage was anything as prosaic as actors and extras on a film set, and if it was, where was the crew; the director; the lighting? It didn’t make sense.
With a sound that more closely resembled the teacher’s voice from the Charlie Brown cartoons, the figure I took to be the king, signalled to two equally odd-looking figures to the left of the stage who immediately started racing towards me.
Reaching the door where I came in didn’t seem possible. At the speed they were moving, they would have got there before I did. I spotted a doorway to my left and took to my heels, running as fast as I could towards the door that hopefully, would lead me away from all of this.
The doors were swing doors – reinforcing the surrealist’s ‘school assembly’ appearance of this scene and without stopping, I hit them at full tilt to emerge on the other side in an interminably long, straight corridor.
White walls ran unbroken for what seemed miles, flanking a checker-board of grey and white tiles on the floor. A strong smell of floor polish rose, evoking memories of gymnasiums, school halls and hospital corridors.
Frosted diffusers masking fluorescent lights above, flashed past me as I pumped my legs for all I was worth, accompanied by the sound of my feet echoing with the twang of an enclosed space, as I attempted to put as much distance between myself and my pursuers as was possible.
Ahead of me and from out of nowhere, the King and Queen suddenly appeared, floating towards me.
For a moment I froze, skidding to a stop on the polished surface, breathing heavily as the regal pair continued to advance. At first, it seemed like a trick of the light, but as they neared, it became apparent that there was nothing between the hems of their cloaks and the floor.
A subtle hum emanated from them and I stood transfixed, trying to decide whether they would be friendly. The man in the restaurant hadn’t been and these two were part of the same set of circumstances – at least, that’s what went through my mind.
Without looking, I knew that the other two were approaching and I felt completely helpless; trapped between the four of them with no way out.
Two incredibly loud ‘cracks’ that sounded to me like shots, came from behind.
Instinctively, I threw myself to the ground, landing heavily on my shoulder, my face pressed up against the raised texture of the corridor wall. The ‘shots’ as I presumed them to be, had not in fact hit me – not that I could tell, nor could I be sure that they had even been intended for me, but I wasn’t about to take that chance.
Lying there on the smooth corridor floor, I hoped with everything within me, that my stillness would be enough to persuade these ‘things’ that I had indeed been hit and immobilised, if not killed and that this would be an end to the chase.
I felt a prod then another, but made no attempt to respond. Then the hum started to recede, disappearing down the corridor behind me.
I opened my eyes.
My shoulder hurt, huge flashes of pain ripping through it, but I could neither move and take the pressure off, nor cry out without running the risk that either would alert them to the fact that I hadn’t been killed – merely bruised.
Instead, I remained still and silent.
Before me, the bright white of the wall and its texture stared back. The hum had gone and as the seconds ticked past, I continued to hope that this was the end.
For the longest time I lay there, wondering whether all four had gone; whether they had left me for dead in that stark white corridor or whether they were just waiting to see whether I would eventually move.
Eventually, the ache in my shoulder hurt too much and I had to move.
As my face moved away from the wall, I realised it wasn’t the wall of a corridor, but the wall of my room.
For about ten minutes, I had laid there staring at the wall my bed was against. Opening my eyes in the dream hadn’t resulted in what I thought it would – I had actually opened my eyes on reality, feeling those same sensations that I had felt within the dream environment.
* * *
God alone knows where that dream came from or rather what prompted it all those years ago, but to this day I can still recall it in glorious ‘Technicolor’. The feeling of being dragged backwards down the stairs and the feeling of helplessness when confronted in the corridor.
I will freely admit to feeling pretty scared and freaked out to discover I wasn’t dreaming when I opened my eyes, regardless of seeing exactly what I had been looking at in the dream.
The colours, the smells and the sensations all felt so real. The pain in my shoulder were still there when I awoke and had me thinking was it really a just a dream? It seemed so much more.
Did the real world sensations overlay and influence the sensations in the dream or was it the other way round?
I guess I’ll never know.
My thanks to Kaiten for taking the time out to give this a going over – twice
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