See “The Dream Factory” for a full list of my shared dreams.
This was a dream I had some time back in college more than a decade ago. I actually started writing it into a story at one point, but scrapped it after a few chapters in. Still, the concept of it intrigues me. It’s one of the spookiest dreams I’ve ever had for its length, clarity and storytelling. Believe me or don’t believe me, but the vast majority of these details are as I remember them directly from the dream. I don’t often dream to this kind of detail.
It began with me running over a hill of grass. I was being chased by a few other guys around my age, all them carrying knives. They caught up to me and one stabbed me in the chest. Then everything began to fade to white. As it was fading, I saw the face of a guy I didn’t particularly like at the time. He held the bloody knife in hand, glared at me and said something I couldn’t make out.
When I came to, I was standing in a very long line of people in some kind of large parking lot. It was sunny, but if it was overly hot, I didn’t notice. Far ahead was an airplane hangar with its massive doors opened like a dark mouth. I asked the person in front of me what the line was for, but he only shrugged and gave me a look that said he was just as perplexed. So I waited.
It didn’t take long before I was at the front of the line. In fact, it took but a matter of moments. This in spite of the fact that I couldn’t recall ever moving—I suppose dreams can be like that. The line ended with a small, wooden booth where a heavy-set, dark-skinned woman was poking her head out through a window, looking at him with thick, dark spectacles and a warm smile on her face.
“What’s your name, sugar?”
I was in a daze and, instead of answering, looked ahead at the massive structure with intense curiosity. I’d expected to see some sort of aircraft inside, but instead the place was gutted and replaced with clusters and clusters of burgundy, leather sofas in sets of three or four with each surrounding a large coffee table. The place was swarming with people of various ages and ethnicities.
“Your name, hun?” the woman asked again.
“Phil,” I said, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember my last name.
The woman looked down at something behind the window and offered a comforting, “Don’t worry, the headaches will pass soon.”
It wasn’t until then that I realized I did in fact have a headache—a pretty painful one—and suddenly the brilliance of the sun was overbearing.
She reached out from the window to hand something to me: a small wooden box with a key attached to it by a gray lanyard.
“Guard that with your life,” she said, and then laughed long and hard. She must have seen a look of puzzlement on my face, because she wiped the happy tears from her eyes and said, “You’ll get that one later. Go on now. Find a seat,” and then when I turned my attention to the box, she added,” Don’t open that here. You’re at table 6.” This was followed by a lively “Next in line?”
There were hanging fluorescent light fixtures scattered about the high ceiling of the hangar, but this only brought the dark room to a dim. Most of the light leaked in through the giant mouth of the outside. On my way to table 6, I was stopped at several junctures by congestions of people. Each time I stopped I was crudely reminded of how bizarre this all was, and at first I had trouble pinpointing precisely what I found so off-putting. That’s when I noticed three men sitting at one of the nearby sofas, sitting with legs crossed and engaged in some philosophical discussion. What caught my attention was that all three were speaking a completely different language from the other two, though none seemed to have any trouble understanding what was said. Even more unsettling was that I could understand them, too—every word—and this revelation led to another:
The air feels empty, almost as if it wasn’t there at all.
I took in several deep breaths, almost desperate ones as if I was suffocating. In a way, it felt like I was—I felt no more or less saturated by these breaths. It wasn’t just the breathing either. I didn’t feel hot, nor cold…I was hardly sure I felt anything at all.
I was being foolish, is all, perhaps rattled by my sudden presence in this place.
I finally reached table 6 and sat down between an old man in a business suit and dark shades, reading the Walstreet Journal, and a petite woman who looked like an uptight school teacher with her gray hair pulled back in an over-tight bun. This woman was busy with a crossword puzzle and her pursed lips and down-turned eyes made it clear she had no urge to speak with anyone. Another man in more casual clothes sat on opposite side of the table. This man was asleep, with legs sprawled, his arms folded and his chin resting on his sternum.
The older man in the suit had a nimbus of smoke wafting about him, sourced by the cigar that was tucked between his lips. He adjusted his newspaper, enabling me to read the backside headlines.
Corpse Found Stabbed in Park
Pleasant, I thought, and recalled the last thing I remembered before being magically transported to this place.
I studied the weight of the key in my palm—it was heavier than it looked, and quite shiny. I slid the key into the box’s keyhole and turned. It clicked as the top sprang open to reveal a copper medallion laced with a green string, and also a ticket that read Admit One Adult, #5000.
“Five thousand? Why, what a lucky number that is!” The man with the cigar had peered over to see and was now patting me on the shoulder. He gave a nod and a welcome: “Richard Palms. Please to meet you, young man.” His breath reeked of cigar smoke and alcohol, which I could see in small stains on his suit. Beyond the smell, however, the smoke didn’t seem to bother him as it normally would, though it did invoke a vague memory of my uncle puffing out red clouds of cigar smoke at some holiday party. Anyway, I figured there must be air if I could smell the stuff.
“I’m Phil,” I said. “Where are we?”
Mr. Palms laughed and settled back into his seat. The woman looked up for a moment at the abruptness of his laughter, as if to remind him to keep quiet (which I thought was silly since the hangar was already noisy from all the conversations going on at other tables). Then she returned to her crossword puzzle. The other man remained asleep.
Mr. Palms sighed and readjusted so that he was facing me.
“I haven’t been here too long, myself, but I’m starting to think of this place as a kind of purgatory. These sofas aren’t comfortable enough for it to be heaven, but some of the women…” He gave a smirk of approval and then a wink which I could only slightly see through his shades. “It certainly can’t be hell, now can it?”
I probably should have realized what was going on before, but it only just struck me after hearing Mr. Palm’s answer.
“So…I’m dead?” I was amazed at how easy it was to say and even more amazed that I wasn’t too bothered by it. I wondered if this was shock kicking in, but I didn’t think so.
“How did I die?” I asked.
Mr. Palms laughed again. “That’s the five thousand dollar question, now ain’t it? I don’t know, son. I don’t know. Heck, can’t say I know much about my own death, or life for that matter.”
“Why can’t we remember? Why does my head hurt so badly? If I’m dead, how come I’m still breathing?” I was merely voicing my thoughts, not really looking for answers. At this point, I’m not sure I was really processing anything. Nevertheless, the answers came with Mr. Palms knocking them out one by one.
He smiled broadly and put down his newspaper. “I think this is a safe place. It feels safe, at least.” Then he buried his cigar in an ashtray on the table and shook his head slowly. “To your other questions, I have no stinkin’ idea. Like I said, I just got here myself…I think. I’m finding it hard to tell what time it is. I guess maybe we don’t remember much of our passing because going through something so something as traumatic as dying…you’re bound to lose some memories of it. At least you seem to have some sense of who you are. To your third question, not sure why we feel the need to breathe in this place. Out of habit, I suppose. I doubt we need to or even ought to. Maybe over time we’ll learn to kick the pointless habit. I mean, why am I smoking? I can tell you, it ain’t doing a thing for me. Guess I’m just comfortable making the motions.”
I was a little disappointed at how anticlimactic death was. I hadn’t even remembered it wholly—just broken images, like the remains of a dream upon awakening.
“You shouldn’t have been there!”
That guy who stabbed me—that’s what he had been yelling.
Mr. Palms pulled a fresh cigar from the interior of his jacket, then lit it and smiled again. “You’re starting to remember it a bit, aren’t you? All I know about my death? It was dark and it burned like hell. Your headache will pass. Mine did. Now, be alert, son; your number’s about to be called.” He pointed to the front of the hangar where a large, blinking sign flashed “4,998.”
“Haven’t more people died than that?” I asked.
Mr. Palms inhaled deeply. “Your questions are good ones, son, but what makes you think I’m the expert here?” Then he thought on it a moment and said, “I suppose…maybe there are other hangars.”
When five thousand was called on the loud speaker, the woman with the tight bun looked up from her crossword puzzle again, shot Mr. Palms another be quiet! Look and then went back to her activity. The sleeping man stayed asleep.
“Good luck, kid,” Mr. Palms said. “Remember to hit whatever’s out there head on. That’s the only way to fly.” He shifted in his chair and went back to reading his newspaper.
At the front of the hangar, I handed my ticket to some official-looking person and then was directed to a small office at the far corner. Inside the office was a forty-something-year-old blond woman in a blue suit, like something you might see a flight attendant wear. There were three other young people (about my age) sitting at a round office table. I sat with them.
“You lucky chaps have been assigned to guardian angel duty,” the lady said. From here, I don’t recall all the specifics like I do the interaction with Richard Palms. Suffice to say, she explained some basic rules, told us that we would be sent back to the living world, but not in the area where we lived (for safety reasons, whatever that meant). We had to find the person we were assigned to, because “that’s how it works” and we were to look out for one another. Really, not much was said. A couple of the kids had questions, but the lady wouldn’t let them ask, saying something like, “Please no questions now. The answers will come to you when you need them.”
Next we were directed outside of the room and through another door. As soon as my foot touched asphault again, the world began to fade—much like it did when I was stabbed. Though—and I remember very vividly that this was the thought that came to mind as this occurred—it didn’t feel like I was dying this time.
It felt like I was being born.