Written by: Joseph D. Stirling (1996)
The party began like all parties do. Some guests arriving by horse and carriage, some on horseback, and a few with the gall to actually arrive on foot. I however came in a gilded plush sedan chair, spacious and without the smell of horse. Three hours passed and everything was going smoothly. A moment of confusion arose when I heard the first screams. Then panic. Wide spread panic that swept through the illustrious mansion as a wave crashing upon a coastline. I myself was sitting on a sofa in the parlor discussing an evening of romantic vulgarity with a young Countess when the whole thing unraveled into a massacre.
The others in the room with me had decided to lock the door and wait out the insane ravings of a madman with an axe. Then, when the first chop of the axe bit into the door I, like a coward, hid in the bath closet and locked the door. I was terrified. The screams outside the door curdled my blood and my panic arose to an even greater height than it had already been.
The bite of the axe found the bathroom door and I took action. I pulled my knife from my belt, decoration only I assure you, and began to cut into the ceiling, chipping through the plaster. I climbed up through the hole I had made just as the door crashed in. I found myself crawling on dusty beams in the small space between ceiling and floor. The space became taller, and if I trusted myself to crouch and walk the beams I would have. If you can believe that what follows will seem dull.
Glancing back I saw him climbing up through the hole as well. Frightfully I clambered across the rafters on shaky limbs towards a window curiously placed between floors. A swift kick and I was almost to freedom. Looking down I saw only a chimney and seventy-five feet of open air to the ground. In my fear I failed to realize that I was between the first and second floor and the distance should have been far less. But at this point I did what any rational man would have done, I climbed out to the chimney. To my surprise I found I could easily navigate each and every small ledge my feet and hands came across. This was strange to me for I am a clumsy man, never having to even tie my own shoes let alone climb down a chimney with a crazed axe-wielding party host after me.
Reaching the ground I started to run around to the front of the house. Looking back I saw the axe-man leap from the window and land firmly on both feet. With but a look from his cold glazed eyes, I realized I was going to die. I heard someone scream my name and my next step found only air. My heart leapt to my throat. I was plummeting.
I landed a good twenty feet down in a pebble garden filled with elegant marble statues, fountains, and arranged boulders. Dazed but not broken I rose to my feet expecting the axe-man to leap the twenty feet and dispatch me quickly. However, I saw a ledge and ran to it, another drop. Several stones and bricks jutted perfectly for climbing. Again each foot and hand knew precisely where to go as if I had climbed the route a thousand times before.
The next landing was much like the first, although the statues and fountains were a bit more aged. Another ledge awaited me at the end of the next garden as well. Quickly I maneuvered down the segment of wall. Again a pebble garden more aged than the last. I was genuinely confused for none of these gardens were apparent upon entering the mansion. As I reached the next ledge I heard the axe-man land in the stones of the first garden.
My heart raced and blood pulsed in my temples. I was embraced by a fear unlike any fear I had ever known; and at this point in my tale it was a fear I thought I would never know again nor fear anything more than this. I shot down the wall, another garden even older still. Down and down I went, older and darker the gardens became; and still I heard the axe-man in endless pursuit. At one time I thought I had lost him only to hear him landing in the garden not far above me.
After what seemed like hours of climbing, I could not truly say how long, I found myself underground standing on dusky gray-brown dirt. Huge glistening snail shells long uninhabited lay all about me. My time for running had ceased. My lungs burned and felt as if they would explode. My heart beat at a furious pace threatening to fail me if I ran any farther. I chose one of the larger shells and climbed in to hide.
Just as I had began to feel safe, the ground shuddered as I heard him land. My heart dropped. I was dead and just waiting there for it to happen. Then I heard him running. His heavy footfalls slowly receding. When I could no longer hear him, I relaxed somewhat.
Sometime later I awoke, still alive, unaware that I had fallen asleep to begin with. Again I felt an emotion exaggerated to an unbelievable point. This time, however it was joy, happiness so great I wept. This too was an experience that would come again…
After climbing out from the shell I looked at my strange surroundings. A cavern, vast and empty save for the monstrously large snail shells. Where had the mansion and gardens disappeared to? What happened to the snails, did they die or just outgrow their physical homes? Many questions entered my mind. Then the boyish flights of fancy lit up my imagination. The illusions of wizards and witches, castles and keeps, dungeons and tombs, dragons and valiant knights clothed in heavy armor.
I found myself wandering through this vast new underground world. Minutes flew by, then hours and days and months and years. Or maybe only a few short seconds. Without a clock or the sun I could not be sure. Although I did not think I could be sure of much of anything after the events that had led me here. All I knew at this point was that no one would ever believe me.
Time passed, or maybe it didn’t, and I saw a strange glow of swirling hues spilling like mist from a delicately cut limestone archway. What an archway was doing twenty-two gardens underground is yet another mystery in itself. And nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. A sweet insatiable melody came flowing forth like a gentle stream. Ebbing this way and that, pulling at my senses as a needle pulls thread. I moved closer to find the root of the enchanting lullaby.
The interior of the room was covered in shinning mollusk trail and sitting atop a dais I spotted the source of the music. It was as brilliant as a multi-faceted gem, sparkling like diamond dust. A gem encrusted snail shell, the most-clever music box ever conceived I remember thinking. I moved closer to see how it might work only to have it move as the owner made itself known. A snail perfectly normal in all respects; save for size and shell.
I watched in awe as it unfurled itself from inside the shell. How delicate the eye-stalks and feelers unrolled from the inside out. The eyes fixed on me and I froze. The intelligence behind them was greater than looking into the eyes of any mortal man. To this point I thought nothing could surprise me as much as what was to follow. My apologies that I lied earlier about things which surprise me.
The snail opened its mouth and began to speak; though not in words or music as with humans, but it spoke in colors. I tell you it spoke in colors but not colors that one would see with eyes, but colors that can be heard. I heard blue and red and green, then black and yellow, and lastly, the colors of white, purple, and gray found my open ears. What does a color sound like you may find yourself thinking. If I could tell you, you would think me mad. Mad as a hatter. If I could even find the words in any language to even begin describing I would have to be the most intelligent man and the greatest poet to have ever existed. However, in the words of an un-talented and poetically inept man, it was the most beautiful and docile sound I have ever heard in all my life.
At this point I had no understanding of what the magnificent creature had said to me, but later I found the wisdom that had always been there. The wisdom that lies in the darkest reaches of the mind in every man, woman, and child. Wisdom locked away in silence that if one allows oneself to feel it, one might have chance of understanding. The greatest thoughts and inventions of mankind lie there. The reality of dreams and illusions call it home. A place not even the grace of God can touch, for it was here that He too was born.
It is true that a man called Jesus Christ walked the earth and was said to have performed miracles giving him the tittle “Son of God;” however, he was just a man that could reach out and grab hold of this place removing chunks of its power. The missing pieces would bleed and fester but scab and heal like a wound on the skin.
Another man was also able to pull the energy from this place of wisdom. He was called Buddha at a later time, and called Siddhartha Gautama at birth. It was this place that let him sit beneath the Bo Tree for that length of time without food or water. It was this place that also let him leap into the gorge so the broken lioness could feed her starving cubs and again walk on the streets before his followers. Pieces torn and ripped from this wisdom again to scab and heal.
Forgive me for I have strayed from my tale and unleashed some beliefs of my own that you yourself may not share.
I found myself wandering aimlessly, to this point still unaware of what the vocal string of colors meant. Remembering the sounds of each color as if they were my own voice. Nor could I forget the snail, an intellectual poet born to the form of a mollusk. Then without-hardly noticing, for my mind was lost in other matters, I found myself outside starring into a starless sky with a pale ivory moon. A few small copses of trees lay scattered about the immediate area and I stood in knee high grasses that smelled sweet and glistened with dewdrops. The air was cool and carried a fresh salty scent on its breath.
Behind me lay the ocean vast and blue, I almost didn’t recognize its song. The sound of small waves licking the sandy shore and the gulls’ shrill cry bouncing off the waters’ surface. And the almost inaudible booming voice of the oceans’ great depths. A symphony, nay an opus comprised of Mother Earth’s’ finest musicians. In the scheme of things I stopped looking ahead at what may come and took the time to look at the here and now, and now was dawn. The beginning of a day in a place I’ve never known. The place I would soon come to recognize as where dreams lay down to die.
It first came from the nearest copse of trees, a whisper…or perhaps the breeze rustling the dew burdened leaves. Then it came again, a definite whisper, and above all it was whispering my name. My name, it sounded to me like a long forgotten memory, a glimpse of a past life or a life to be. I couldn’t be certain, I’m not certain of much of anything anymore. But what I do know it that it’s whispering my name.
Again I hear it. Again my boyish flights of fancy take over and I began to slowly approach the trees. However, the closer I got the more frightened I became. I was sweating now, a cold sweat that when mixed with the cool breeze caused me to shiver. A shiver from chill and fear, but mostly the latter. I glanced back at the ocean; it would be so easy to just swim until fatigue pulled me under dragging my body to the very floor of the world, so easy. So easy. I looked back to the grove of trees. A shadow had spread across them, a dark foreboding presence that wrenched my guts and caused my body to convulse with terror. I couldn’t take it any longer.
I turned and broke out running for the water. So easy as I ran through the waves until the water reached my waist. The whisper called out one last time that I heard and then I was swimming. Swimming as fast and as far as I could get from the terrifying whisper. When my arms and legs began to grow tired and again my lungs burned I looked back. The shore was nowhere to be seen. The cool blue waters faded out to the edge of each and every horizon, and I was alone. Strangely, it was still dawn and the sun had yet to peek into the morning sky. I tried to continue swimming but found my arms and legs to be useless like so many overcooked noodles. I couldn’t even keep myself afloat, I felt I had lost the strength to live.
I don’t remember how long I drifted downwards through the darkest-waters, nor if I ever drowned, but I remember sinking as if my feet were lead weights. I woke up face down in the middle of a kelp forest. The tall seaweed swayed gently with the ocean currents. Moving around was relaxing, everything moved slower down here and the speed of things was soothing on my aching muscles. And if you’re wondering why I hadn’t drown yet, all I can say is I simply didn’t breath. Not that I held my breath, it was very simply I didn’t breath. I could fell no need to nor did I get light headed or dizzy from the lack of oxygen.
I walked on. Seeing millions of different sights, nothing like what you find here on land. Huge, fantastical-fish, some lit up like light bulbs, others with bony plates, and still more with the look of overturned bowls of jelly with milky strands floating in the currents like silk thread. I saw rocks that looked like crumpled wads of paper, but still others that looked like strings of ragged popcorn stretching towards the surface. And still other rocks vented heat and caused great amounts of steam and bubbles to disappear far above my view.
The tranquillity beneath the ocean is astounding. Never in all my thirty-three years have I been more at peace than at that moment, but, like all good things, the serenity didn’t last. I saw the flicker of movement from the corner of my eye. It was large but still mostly lost in haze at the edge of my sight. I couldn’t move; I stood watching and could feel the fear melting everything around me into nonexistence. A flash of needle-like teeth, a pair of milky yellow eyes, and moss choked steely scales. I had found a dragon, or more appropriately stated, a dragon had found me.
I ran. Before I had been grateful for the slowness, now I loathed it. The gigantic beast slipped through the water with ease while I hopelessly struggled moving. Ahead of me I could see the sand ending. It just didn’t exist after a point. I soon found out why when I slammed headfirst into a wall made of glass. My face hurt and my nose bled, a drifting crimson cloud staining the water around me. The beast was moving ever closer, its terrible eyes fixed on me and me alone. It was playing with me. Moving just fast enough to keep my heart racing in sync with every movement of its muscles.
I grabbed a rock about the size of a mans head, and I waited. The beast seemed to frenzy and enjoy its game even more. With a blur of movement and a rush of water it spun three-hundred sixty degrees in place and came at me even faster than before. The game was about to end. Just then a small flake from that place of wisdom drifted into my outstretched mind. I lifted the rock above my head. The beast moved ravenously. My move, I swung the rock down turning as I did and struck the glass. A dull hollow thud, but it worked. The glass began to spider web, checkmate.
The beast stopped dead in its path, mere yards away, and watched. I too watched, the dragon all but forgotten. The small lines stretched across the glass, farther and farther with a dull click and pop. The beast whirled and was gone leaving only a rush of churned water were it had sat seconds before. It was then I realized my mistake. The glass shattered sucking me out as the water spilled from the opening. For the second time I was plummeting. Different lights, sounds, smells, and images flooded my mind like a child’s kaleidoscope. Blue, red, green, waffles, tea, my mother, black, yellow, old shoes, armed soldiers, flowers, cars, white, purple, gray, you, the axe-man, the dragon, the whispers, the mansion…
I awoke, startled by the sound of breaking glass. A fishbowl had slipped off from a perfectly level stand across the room. The glass and water had been thrown about upon impact with the hard tile leaving the gold fish to flounder as it suffocated. My nose was swollen and both eyes hurt, rounded with black, yellow, and purple. At least the bleeding had stopped. I found myself this time in a white room. At one end, a door with a knob in its exact center and at the other end, a staircase leading down. Nothing hung from the walls and the only light came from a single white glowing bulb on the ceiling. Which way to go? Through the door, or down the stairs? It could have gone either way from here.
Then the door opened and a man dressed in white with a matching clipboard stepped into the room. “The doctor will see you now,” was all he said. And all I needed to hear. The man stepped back through the door and shut it behind him. I took the stairs. I followed them down till I reached a hallway. The corridor was barren, save for five doors to my right and two on my left, each having a different color. From the door farthest my left it began: blue, red, green, black, yellow, a white-door at the top of the stairwell, purple, and gray. I opted to take the blue door for each of these colors could still be heard, each time I see them even now I hear the beautiful sounds as if each were the sound of my own heart.
I passed through the door unsure of what lay ahead and unwilling to see what lay behind. Inside the room I could feel and hear the sound of blue. It was the great sadness, cool morning mist after a rainfall, and a deep non-resisted slumber. Now keep in mind that these images are merely scratching the surface of what I found. Also they are words of my choosing and perhaps not even of the mood of that blue room.
Following the order of sounds, or colors for those who have never heard, I next entered red. A pulsing heartbeat strangled by a consuming fear, hatred, hatred of everything, a flaming effigy, and sacrifice. I couldn’t stand the feeling. The color red sounded nothing like that. I ran from the room and kicked the door shut. I stood breathing hard, my eyes locked on the red door.
Maybe the human body wasn’t allowed to really feel that sound. Then I heard voices coming from the white room. I panicked. I ran for the gray door: perfectly normal in every way shape and form. Closing that door I next entered purple: a lovers’ embrace, a mothers’ touch, a deep numbing passion; I would have liked to stay in that room, I felt safe there but there was no exit and the voices were drawing nearer. Next yellow: a long hallway the color of the sun ending in another door; however, this door was glass and held the shine of light from outside. I felt my heart flutter as escape was near.
I opened the door and again my foot found only air. I was falling. Man was never meant to fly, and never truly did till I was about to hit the ground. I spread my arms and lifted back into the sky. A beautiful dawn, the western sky painted in reds and yellows and purples and oranges. I was soaring, leaving the building and the open door far behind me. In this instance I learned to appreciate birds even more than for just the beauty of their feathers and song. For they have a freedom unlike any other. The freedom is one far more profound than the still tranquillity of the briny ocean depths.
I, like the bird, could see beyond the horizons of any man who stands on ground or atop the highest mountains’ peak. I watched as the land unfolded itself to me. A painting of greens and browns and whites and blues lay all around me. A living diorama, in-which even the smallest detail sung of life and moved with gentle breezes. Then I saw a mountain from my past. The mountain I never found the top of, the mountain I was afraid to climb. It was just as I remembered it. Fur-trees surrounding the base and a blanket of snow covering both trees and mountain. This was the day my father died.
I landed in the trees at the foot of the mountain. He was standing there just as he had been thirteen years before. The first time I was here with my father he wanted me to climb the mountain with him. I refused out of fear that I wouldn’t make it and that he would be disappointed when I failed to reach the summit. I didn’t know it then, but I failed him the moment I said no. And so it was that I waited at the bottom while he climbed. During my first night there I heard a scream. The next morning I found him. Frozen, bloodied, bruised, and broken. He was dead. He might have lived if I had gone with him, but my fear was too great.
I dressed myself in the climbing gear he had laid out for me and not a single word was exchanged. We began the climb with me in the lead. The rope was secured before we ever left the safety of the ground. At this point I remember thinking how new life felt when standing before the powdery white precipice. I dug my spiked boot in pushing aside my fears and lifting my body towards the heavens. We climbed throughout the day. I never noticed the sunrise or the sunset. I was distracted by the challenge of proving myself to my father, the great man that I loved so dearly.
Not even the howling winds could pull my gaze from the difficulties that stretched ever upward. Sadly, the wind shielded my ears from my fathers’ scream, I never knew he cut his rope earlier that evening till I finally reached the top three days later. I remember crying as I sat in the freezing air, the tears turning to ice on my warm skin. It took me some time to see the white-door suspended at the edge of the cliff. But when I did see it, the choice was still the same. The white-door; or down.
I had spent too much time running, too much time going down. I needed to know what lay behind the white-door. So now you know my choice. I turned the knob in the center of the door and pushed it open. A white hallway stretched forth before me. It was cold and unfeeling and filled with the smell of medicine. I walked in, again pushing my fear away so I could have the strength to continue, ever forward. A line of electricity leapt from the wall to my chest. I felt my body surge and my back arch.
White light spilled into my eyes as I looked up at the ceiling. People rushed around me speaking in muffled voices I couldn’t make out. They were angels clothed in white gowns from head to toe each one with some mission of great importance. I would have liked to watch them work their angelic miracles but I fell backwards watching them fade away into Heaven. The Pearly Gates of that fabled place closed and I was alone in an ocean of thought.
No, not thought, it was indeed an ocean. And I lay starring into the night sky. I saw no moon, but the sky was dotted with an uncountable number of sparkling dreams. I was dressed as I had been in the beginning. My decorative knife clutched in my white knuckled hand. Then it stirred the boat. My dragon had found me vulnerable on a small raft without a means of escape. But escape wasn’t my intention anymore.
It struck again splintering my small boat and in an instant the teeth closed out my view of the stars. I had found myself in a position like the story of Jonah and the Whale; I was in the belly of the beast. But I had a knife. I slashed madly at the fleshy confines of my prison spilling its blood from the weakest points. The walls of the dragons’ insides contracted sending me into a frenzy to once again be free into the ocean.
The more I cut the more enraged I became. Enraged like the feel of the red room. Then the water spilled in. The great beast began to sink, the water choked at me. I couldn’t breath.
I pulled myself through the hole and into the vast ocean waters. I swam for the surface and the air that would heal my dying lungs. I broke through and sucked in large amounts of air, each one more sweet than the last. I had beat the great dragon of the seas and found my freedom, but all doesn’t end here. I was still lost in an ocean in a place I had never known. I took hold of the debris from my raft and began to kick. I swam for days on end, counting eight sunrises and sunsets before reaching a shoreline that broke into tall grasses.
I rested on the moist sands looking up into the late afternoon sky. My whispering tree then spoke my name as it always had before. I put my trust in myself, and rose to face the small grove of trees. A dark shadow still hung over that place. Nothing but a cloud blocking the sun light from a place that had frightened me once upon a time. I entered the ring of trees and found the whisper to be only a trick of wind and leaves. The cloud overhead rained down its juice like the nectar of an over ripe fruit that drips onto ones chin.
The thunder boomed in this tiny cloud and lightning flashed. I stood like a statue awaiting the impossible to take place. And it did. Lightning struck me true, not once but twice. Again my eyes opened into Heaven. My head and chest were lit afire with pain. A pain I would feel only once in my entire life. Again I fell from the grace of that mythical locale and into an unknown land.
When the confusion left my eyes I found myself standing before the illustrious white mansion. The screams inside let me know exactly when it was, the beginning. I walked inside and saw the first mangled bodies. Blood covered almost every inch of the hardwood floors. I walked up the grand staircase into the banquet hall. More bodies. Starring blankly from their dead eyes with contempt, for I was the only one still alive.
I could hear the axe biting into the door where I was busy cutting a hole in the ceiling. How weak I was then, running was always the easy way. I remember I used to be a clumsy man.
I reached the brandy room just in time to see the door break in and my leg disappear through the ceiling with the axe-man close behind. I turned and ran, hoping to catch myself before I ran too far into that lucid realm of dreams. I slipped and tumbled on the blood soaked floors but quickly came to my feet again. I made it out and ran to the side of the house. I saw myself running. I screamed my name desperately trying to get my attention. I saw myself fall from the edge of reality.
The axe-man stopped and looked into my soul with those cold glazed eyes. I made not one move, even though every molecule of my being told me to run. I swear to you, I wanted to run. Run from all of the insanity of that night. The night my world came apart at the seams. It would be so easy, and so I let myself run. All I had I threw at the axe-man. Knife in hand I leapt towards him, burying the blade deep into his chest. With the axe-man below me we fell to the first garden. I stood wanting to chase myself, then the place of wisdom delivered upon me another gift. This is not what had happened at the beginning.
Again I was standing in front of the mansion listening to the screams of those that used to be my friends. The screaming stopped. I never remembered that happening, nor did I remember the gunshot that followed.
I moved slowly into the house again. Red. Red everywhere. I can still hear the hatred and the fear. The blood covered everything, and what it didn’t cover was drenched in the impending silence. I walked as casually as any man in a normal situation would, to the brandy room. More bodies, more friends, and the axe. The axe-man with gun still in hand and the remains of his head spread onto the wall. Myself, head cleaved open and chest pumping blood onto the six-thousand dollar sofa. I was still breathing. Ambulance sirens wailed in the distance.
I looked into Heaven one last time, although I wasn’t looking up from the table anymore. I was looking down upon the doctors and nurses and myself, hearing only the sound of a long flat beep. I was dead, or maybe just reborn. Again I entered the place where dreams lay down to die. I found you and unfolded my tale to see if I understood what you said to me in the beginning. If I am right or wrong it doesn’t really matter.
The snail nodded its ancient head, then closed its eyes, laying down to die as all dreams do when faced with their dreamer. You too will someday meet your dreams, though their meaning may be something different each time around. I have found several answers, yet I am simply one of the down dreams. Someday I may wake up, that doesn’t matter yet as well. Sleep in peace and dream of your childish flights of fancy. Some never get to live them, as I have…
©October1996 Joseph D. Stirling