First time I’ve had the elevator dream since Doc told me to start this journal. Fourth time I’ve had it total, I think, maybe fifth. It’s always the same.
In the dream, I’m just getting off work, except it’s later than usual and I’m the only one left in the office. I fill out my timesheet, set my desktop to sleep mode, and head toward the elevator. I’m the only one on it, and instead of starting from the 33rd floor, I’m on the 400th floor. I press the button for the lobby and the elevator begins its slow descent. It beeps as it passes each floor on the way down, never stopping, never opening for more passengers. It seems as if there isn’t another living soul in the entire building. I lose count of the beeps, but it must be at least a hundred before the lights go out and the elevator stops. Suddenly I’m plunged into darkness. Panic starts to well up, and I try to yell for help but my voice is weak, I can’t force the sound out for some reason, like when you try to punch someone in a dream but your arm seems made out of feathers. So instead, I reach out and try to touch the walls. At first there are none, and I nearly fall forward, certain I'm tumbling over a cliff. It seems as if the car has doubled in size, but eventually I fall against the door, and regain my footing. I try to pry open the doors but they won’t budge, I feel for buttons but they do nothing. Then, without warning, I hear a deafening screech the room begins to plummet. My blood vessels swell from the sudden change in pressure, and all of my internal organs try to escape through my throat, choking me. Despite that, my lungs finally begin to work and I scream, I scream louder than I’ve ever screamed in life. When the elevator lands, I am jerked awake by the sound of the crash. Every time I swear to God I hear that crash for real, as if it’s in my bedroom or just outside my window. My heart is pounding and my throat is sore, tired, strained as if I’d actually been screaming into my pillow.
Every few days this happens, exactly the same way. Doc thinks writing about it will help me sort out my emotions, get my brain under control, and improve my sleep. Writing this entry feels a bit like laying the first brick of the Great Wall of China but I guess we will see what happens.
Had the dream again. Doc said I should try something called “lucid dreaming.” Apparently, some folks can become conscious during their dreams, and take control of what’s happening, maybe stop it from becoming a nightmare. Sounds kinda nuts to me, but it’s worth a shot. She said the simplest way to do it is through “reality testing.” Basically, it means constantly checking your surroundings to make sure you’re awake, getting to know things inside and out, how they feel, how they sound, what they look like, so that when you’re dreaming, you notice right away when something’s changed and you “come online” in a manner of speaking.
I spent the entire day rubbing the surface of my desk, feeling the wood, trying to break the laws of physics by pushing my hand through it. On my breaks I stared at the grain, trying to memorize the patterns. When I went to the bathroom, I gawked at myself in the mirror, making sure my nose, eyes, and ears were all still in the correct places. Everything was accounted for, including the bags under my eyes. Maybe I’m thinking about this a little too hard.
At the end of the day, I focused really hard on the elevator. Biggest difference, right off the bat, was people. The office was never deserted at my normal end time. There were usually four or five, sometimes as many as ten people in there with me. And it smelled. I’d never noticed the smell before. Like a high school locker room. How can people who sit at a desk all day smell that bad? I guess mental stress can make you work up a sweat too. Then of course, there’s the floors. The building only goes up to the mid forties, starting at 400 should be a dead giveaway.
Had the dream again. Didn’t notice any heightened awareness. Everything just seems normal in the dream. The changes don’t strike you as weird, the late hour, the lack of people, the impossible height, you just accept them in the moment. How is this supposed to work? Maybe it takes more time. And more minute details. Doc says it’s like reprogramming your brain. It takes a lot of inputs to get it to behave how you want.
I concentrated on the really small details today. I stood at the back of the elevator car and pressed my fingers against the wall. Felt the coolness and smoothness of the metal. I listened to the music, some new-age drivel, meant to calm the employees, make them more docile I suppose. I listened to the beeps as it passed each level, tried to log the pitch and timbre in my memory, as if I’d actually be able to recall such things. It’s actually kind of a calming ritual, in a strange way. Pretty soon I’m going to be counting the streetlights on the drive home and humming along to tires on asphalt. Whatever works I guess.
Finally noticed some progress. The dream started just like normal. I got in the elevator and pushed the button for the lobby but something was different. It took a few floors for me to figure out what it was. Then I realized, the ding was wrong. Not just wrong it was … incomplete. It sort of crackled, as if coming from an old analog radio stuck between frequencies. Like it were trying to come through the speakers from across dimensions, an ambassador from the waking world failing to fully surface in the dream world. It made me wonder why the music didn’t sound the same way and then I realized, there was no music…
I woke up prematurely. For the first time, the dream didn’t follow through to conclusion. It was as if the dream were a burglar, aborting the mission as soon as it was found out. I was confused at first, disoriented, but not panicked like normal. As I came out of my grogginess, I thought that was it, I won, I got out of the dream. Then I grabbed my phone from the night stand and checked the time. 2:53AM. Great. I swapped terrifying sleep for no sleep. Now no matter how hard I try, I can’t drift off again. Work is going to be miserable today. This clearly isn’t going to work. I need to learn to steer the dream in another direction, instead of just bailing on it.
I did it again. This time, I noticed the dings and the missing music much sooner. But it wasn’t enough. I needed one more thing to anchor myself. So I stepped back and felt the wall, just as I’d been doing every day on the real ride down to the lobby. It felt wrong immediately. Softer, rougher, less cool to the touch. I turned around and saw wood instead of metal. It looked just like the surface of my office desk. Don’t wake up was my next immediate thought. And then everything changed. Time seemed to slow down. The air decompressed … or did it compress? I’m not sure, but the room seemed to flex. I stepped back toward the middle of the car and every motion seemed to shake the very fabric of reality. I got the feeling that the entire would could shatter at any moment, that I was fighting to hold it together.
Open the door I thought. I tried to say it out loud but I still could barely speak. It was the same sensation as when you’re trying to carry on a conversation even though you can feel yourself drifting off. Made me wonder if I was talking aloud in my sleep. So I stuck to internal thoughts. Open the door. But I had to stop the elevator first. Of course the elevator did stop, and the lights went out, just like always. I thought no, don’t let it drop. Then it released with that ear-splitting screech, only it didn’t drop all the way. It fell what I would guess was about twenty feet, then stopped. I fought to stay standing and it felt like the floor was drifting back and forth, like a raft on water, and I realized that somehow I was holding the car in place. But it was difficult, taxing, and I was losing focus. Finally I let go and woke with another violent start, exhausted and drenched in sweat. I’m going to be tired again today, but I’m starting to think this lucid dreaming thing actually works.
The dream got weird this time. I went through all the same beats as before, the crackly dings, the lack of music, the wooden instead of metal walls. Open the door I began to think again, and this time, when the elevator came to a halt, the lights stayed on, and the door did open … and a stunning woman in a red dress stepped through into the elevator. She didn’t look like anyone I knew, or anyone who worked in my building. She seemed to be coming from some sort of lavish holiday party. The dress hugged all of her curves and exposed her shoulders and cleavage. Her lips were a deep red to match the dress and her hair was a cascade of curls tumbling down her back. She didn’t say a word, she simply stepped forward, wrapped her arms around my neck, and began to kiss me passionately. I knew she wasn’t real, I knew I had to stay focused on the dream sequence, but I surrendered. It seemed as if I was falling back asleep as I placed my hands on her hips, enjoying her lips and imagining what we could get done with the remaining three hundred floors.
The lights went out and the elevator fell all at once. The sound that woke me up was not the crash of the car, but a blood-curdling scream. A woman’s scream, the same woman who seconds before was draped over me like a curtain. It was high-pitched and shrill, like a banshee, and I swear as I write this that my ears are still ringing from it. Where did she come from? Is my own brain fighting back against me? Did it make her up to disarm me, to lull me back into a passive state so it could finish terrorizing me? I don’t know, but it worked. I need to not let her in next time.
I was determined to beat the dream this time. I checked the dings, the music, the walls, and then abruptly reminded myself: don’t let the woman in. The elevator slowed to a halt and as the doors began to slide open, I thought: No. Just as a flash of red fabric came into my field of vision, the doors snapped shut like a pair of hands smashing a fly. Okay good, now go down. The elevator began to move again, almost reluctantly, as if it didn’t like following my orders. As it descended, I focused, pretended I was laying a trap, a net to catch it before the inevitable fall. When the lights went out, I thought now! The entire elevator shaft seemed to shake violently as the car ground to a halt. I sprinted forward, knowing the room had grown, and braced myself against the doors before I could fall. Stop! I commanded the room as it inched downward, attempting to enter free-fall. Stop now! The world seemed on the brink of collapse as the elevator tried to wrench itself free of my invisible net, but after about thirty seconds it seemed to concede defeat.
As the room settled, I straightened up and commanded the doors: Okay, now open. The sound they made was not like metal nor like wood. It sounded like stone, a deep, earthy rumble, like the tomb of an ancient pyramid. A brilliant light flooded into the room, forcing me to shield my eyes. As my pupils adjusted and I was able to see out, I realized I was no longer in an office building, but floating in space. I stepped out onto a seemingly invisible surface, floating above the milky way galaxy, but feeling totally balanced and safe. To my left I saw the Horsehead Nebula, to my right a black hole. Everything was an explosion of stars, gas, and colors. And suddenly, I was overwhelmed with a profound feeling of freedom. I had become the master of my own dreams, and with that came endless possibilities. The universe itself was at my disposal. I’d escaped certain death and could now travel anywhere I pleased.
I sat down on my invisible platform, and merely basked in the sea of stars. After what felt like hours, I decided that where I wanted to go was home. I opened my eyes, feeling peaceful and well-rested for the first time in months.