Enter to Receive Your Wildest Dreams, these words etched in stone above the door frame. Stark and cold, the concrete house sat in the loneliest part of the desert. It was rather small for a traditional house, it was more like a large shed, only sheds do not typically have candles lit around their opening. It was known as Metanoia, the Greek term for a transformation of the heart.
One could not see the delicate flames from far away, they only become visible within six feet of the entrance. As soon as your eyes meet the blaze, a chilling presence saturates the air. It feels like doom, and yet, its pull is so strong that curiosity will win over your fear.
I’ve heard stories of this place for years. The experiences of each person varied greatly, making it seem like a myth rather than a physical location. Most were reluctant to share. However, they all give the same advice, “Don’t run.”
A few years ago, I bumped into one of the Elders that I’ve known since I was a child. Her statement was the most impactful to me, “It exposes what you try to hide.” She rendered me speechless and a bit frightened. Then, as she was leaving, she expressed her condolences.
I was always intrigued by Metanoia, but never had a desire to go for myself, for I was still skeptical, until a friend went missing. Metanoia is believed to be the last location where she was reportedly heard from.
I take one last look at the stars, position my flashlight to face the door and place my hand over the door handle. With a heavy push, the door creaks open.
Darkness. Complete darkness.
I enter slowly, illuminating the darkness as much as I can. It’s eerily silent; I can hear only my own heartbeat. I continue walking cautiously until I see light in the distance. Candles are lit at what appears to be a dead end. I reach the candles and scan the flawless concrete wall in front of me. This enigma of a hallway seems lengthy compared to the actual structure.
Finally, I see the tiniest reflection in the corner. I investigate and find a small crack containing a reflective shard. I pick it up and shine my light on it, inspecting it. I see an opening behind me through its reflection. I whip my head around, there’s nothing but a wall. I look at the shard again, it reveals a doorway. I tread backwards, looking into the shard, into the opening. I make it through and stop to understand my surroundings.
I turn forward with my light and my eyes instantly burn from the intense shine.
The ceiling and walls are brimming with mirrors of all sizes, shapes and directions. Their brilliance stuns me for a moment and I find relief with my gaze at the ground. The rush of the sparkle takes the breath out of me.
A descending staircase is only a few feet away and I make my way towards it, fighting through dazzling rays of shimmer blessing the hallway.
Mirrors continue to line the path down into a large open room. It’s beautiful, radiant glass from floor to ceiling, including the spiral staircase. All the reflections create an endless abyss of my image, the torches on either side, and of the glass. I sit on the part of the ground that’s not filled with glass; it seems purposeful. The quiet is deafening, and I drink in the atmosphere. My body is trembling but my heart is longing.
In between breaths, the mood shifts. Within the walls, a whisper is echoed. It is strangely familiar. At first, I believe it to be my missing friend’s voice, but doubt lingers. I try to follow the sound with my light, shining at the mirrored walls, up and down.
Without warning, there is a light touch on my shoulder and I squirm. I dart my eyes behind me but there’s no one there.
“Hello?” my breath quivers unexpectedly. The torches light.
A warm glow emerges from thin air. I am captivated. The glow forms into a person.
A familiar person.
My dead older brother.
Tears violently climb out of my eyes and I run to hug him. He vanishes, and quickly reappears on the other side of the room. I can’t believe what I’m seeing.
In my devastation, I run after him again, yelling his name.
And then he’s gone. The torches extinguish. Darkness again.
In a single minute, I relive loss. My mind feels like it’s sinking into infinite water.
And then I remember the advice, “Don’t run.”
I sit patiently on the ground, light only emanating from my flashlight. Fear begins to find a home within my heart, triggering a panic so visceral it can only be felt, not described. Hearing absolutely nothing causes you to feel everything.
He appears again, a few feet in front of me. I shine my light towards him, receiving a multitude of bright reflections back at me. The torches light again.
As he comes closer, I’m able to see his flat expression. I can’t help but think that maybe his spirit isn’t at peace.
He’s towering over me, observing me closely. I reach my hand out to him, but he steps away. I snatch my trembling arm back and wait. For a brief moment, he smiles; the smile he used to smile when he thought of something really funny.
This feels like a dream, where the images are hazy but faces are recognizable.
He’s only an inch away from my form and his luminous essence overpowers my flashlight. I shakily turn it off.
His stare causes a heaviness in me, until his figure begins to unravel. His lips stretch into an exaggerated, terrifying frown as his neck, arms and legs fragment. His body rapidly decays; bones splinter, muscles unfurl and blood gushes out. My brother’s jaw opens wide and decomposes while he lets out a dreadful howl. The torches roar with fire. The grotesque affair climaxes at his limbs tearing from his figure.
Spectral blood hits my face and I scream. I shield my arms around my head. He’s dying all over again.
Abruptly, he’s gone.
The torches expire.
I scramble for my flashlight and begin to wail. The macabre snapshot is scarred into my memory.
But I don't have time to cry, his mangled form instantly materializes above me and rapidly melts into something else….
Stunned, my eyes cannot move from this ethereal figure. It’s me, as I am right now, only with a blank expression. My legs instinctively twitch to get up but I resist the urge. Don’t run.
I wait in terror as another ‘me’ joins the space- me as a little child. I stare at Little Me and Alt Me with apprehension. My own movie begins to play, as a group of men appear and aggressively run after both visions of me. Intuitively, I know they are charging to bring pain. The torches blaze but there is no sound, which ignites a primal alarm in my bones. Impulsively, I launch my flashlight at the ghostly men.
The urge is too strong; it’s too real, I can’t watch. I get up and flee, expecting the vision to disappear like before, but it keeps playing. As I sprint, I peek to my side; I see the men accelerate in their force. Little Me is keeping pace as I search for the stairs that are nowhere to be found; the room is an endless house of mirrors. I stop, turn around and shriek for it to stop.
Alt Me holds a large knife and suddenly plunges it into the top of one of the men’s heads and severs it from his body. It bursts with fluids, bones and brain matter. His eyes bulge until they liquify. Little Me dashes away in panic.
Disoriented from the mirrors and violence, I shy my gaze away, praying for this nightmare to end. I lose control of myself and plummet to the floor. Feeling so emotional I’ve become nauseous, I lay in the fetal position. In my peripheral vision, Little Me is sitting at my side and staring straight ahead. Trying not to vomit, I look in the same direction, and in the mirror the child’s reflection is joyful. My neverending echo of images disappear.
The mirrors now reveal a different scene: my Alt form is smiling, accompanied by my brother, who is sitting and reading; his favorite pastime. The beauty of the sight calls to me, and I get up and walk towards it, ignoring the blurry brutality still continuing beside me.
I face the mirror and grin, it’s the happiest I’ve felt in years. The Alt me in the mirror looks up at my brother from the ground, and my brother looks back with pure love.
“I miss you,” I sob.
They look back at me. I apologize profusely and mourn for him. They continue to watch me fall apart; empathy in their demeanor. The chaos of the chamber melts away as the torches’ flames lessen to a fragile spark.
The grieving has finally begun.
I collapse back to the ground and grip my face; quaking in my grief. Waves of loss control my being as I’m forced out of my denial and into acceptance. I watch my Alt form and my brother hug. I feel it; the warmth of his care wrapped into a simple embrace. Delight frightens me, knowing that this illusion is coming to a close. They wave to me, a goodbye exuding with closure, the one thing I refused to create. I hold myself tight, soothed by his memory. All the visions fade away, like a beautiful leaf following an autumn breeze.
Within a few minutes, my emotional peak relaxes. The mysterious dried blood flakes off my face into nothing. The room brightens as if the sun was visiting and I see an exit. Exhaustion crashes into me, but I muster the strength to get up. The mirrors still fascinate me, reminding me of gemstones gleaming. The air purrs with comfort as I step out to the exit. I take one last look at the room; a bittersweet taste in my mouth.
Dawn is arriving. The sleepy colors transform into pastel with the sun rising, until only clear blue is visible.
The memory of my friend alerts me, and I wonder where she has gone. My heart tells me she is safe; adventuring towards her new beginning.
My notion is confirmed as I trek through the desert back to the city road. I see her, and a few others, camping on the other side. She’s laughing and dancing with childlike freedom. I chuckle to myself and continue my walk. A shout of my name is heard; I turn and find her studying me. She smiles the same smile as my brother, waves, and walks back to her camp. She always dreamed of being nomadic.
Her smile rekindles the warmth I felt while inside the house of metamorphosis. My brother’s hug envelops me again and I beam.
The realm of Metanoia is more than transformation, it’s birth.