Feeling satisfied, I made my way out through the iron gate and on to the sidewalk again. Hours had passed since I was in the cemetery and still the sun hadn't set . For a moment I was trying to make sense of that too but I was reminded that this was all a dream so night time was probably optional. How liberating!
I once read a book about dreams that described in great detail how to wake up from a nightmare. At the time, I didn't think anything of it. That's not true, I actually thought the whole thing was nonsense. In fact, I put in a complaint with the librarian detailing why I thought the book was heavy on opinion and light on science. The librarian smiled but I could tell she was only barely tolerating the scene I was making.
Anyway, that's neither here nor there. Did I now remember those steps from the book explaining how to wake myself, given that I would now categorize this experience as an actual nightmare? No, of course not. I couldn't recall one iota of the information. But isn't it funny how I could remember every word I wrote in that letter of complaint and the expression on the librarian's face?
I could feel the fatigue in my legs from all the walking and running. I was not used to exerting myself this much in a single day. There were no signs of life around and the whole town looked abandoned. There were cars parked on the sides of streets that looked like they hadn't been driven in years.
Despite my exhaustion, I pressed on. For what, I don't know. I had no idea in what direction I was going. My sense of direction, while we are on the subject, is noteworthy for its abysmal failure. I think my internal compass is broken. If it weren't for the sun, I would not have the first clue of which way is north, south, east or west. I can tell, for instance, which way is east because the sun rises in the east. At least it does in the northern hemisphere which is where I am at any given time. I also know that it sets in the west. I realize I'm stating the obvious but in the middle of the day, when the sun is at its highest, I have no idea which way is east or west.
Typically, if I am in this state of disorientation and I reach a fork in the road, my inclination will always be to turn the wrong way. One day, I decided I should try an experiment. What if I turned left when my instincts are telling me to turn right? If I completely defied my own internal compass, surely I would arrive at my intended destination?
Well l actually tried that one day. I was walking for hours out in the hot desert and I came to a crossroads. There were no road signs so I was oblivious about which way to go. The road I was on had wound around and zigzagged so many times, keeping track of its direction was virtually impossible. Now, in the middle of the day with the sun right above my head, I had a decision to make. Should I go straight on, turn left or turn right?
This was a perfect time to try out my theory, I thought. My instinct told me to go straight but, given my track record, that was probably not correct. But now I had to choose between left and right. It was then I realized my idea was flawed. The only actual opposite to my instinct in this case was to turn back the way I came. Left was not opposite any more than right was. Anyway, I decided to take a right that day and, after a few more hours of walking, realized it was the wrong direction. I should have been heading west but now the sun was to my left as it was sinking below the horizon so I was obviously walking north.
That same feeling came upon me in this old abandoned town. The whole place was unfamiliar with no landmarks to speak of. Walking in any direction could have been the right way but that would also assume there was a purpose to the journey. I could be walking for days or even weeks if there was no destination so I sat down on the steps of an old shack and decided to make a plan.
Instead of continuing forward, what if I was to completely backtrack and end up at the cemetery again? Maybe I could get back to where I came from and awake from the dream? It sounded like a most reasonable proposition. I had no idea how far I had come but I did know it took me quite a few hours so it was going to be at least that long to return.
If this dream, or whatever it was, was a movie, I thought, it would make my life so much easier. There would be a soundtrack that would clue me into what was going on. Ominous music, for instance, would indicate danger ahead so I could quickly change direction to avoid it. If the music was upbeat, it would give me confidence that I was on the right path and would relieve some of the stress I was feeling.
Also, if this was a movie, things would be simpler. For instance, everything I did or encountered would further the story and the movie itself would more than likely reach a logical conclusion. Given that I am the protagonist, I would reach home safely and then live quite happily for the rest of my life.
Of course, in real life, we don't go through only one challenge in our lives and then that's it, time to be forever happy and worry-free. Also, the things we do and decisions we make don't necessarily connect to some kind of logical end. The only guaranteed end is death itself. Beyond that, I believe, our life is part of a continuum. There is nothing so neatly packaged as it is in a movie. It's strange then that we can relate to so many of these big screen apologues. Perhaps it reflects our inner struggle for order and gives us a false sense of satisfaction? By extension, wouldn't that make us even more unhappy with our daily existence? The fact that we can't put our lives into neat little categories and make everything predictable?
Not everything in life has meaning although we seem to be on an endless quest to make sense of it. We demand answers when we don't understand something yet not everything can or needs to be understood. All of this was swirling around in my head as I sat there on the rickety old steps.
What snapped me out of my thoughts was the sound of footsteps. I jumped up, feeling starved of human contact so I was a little excited to have a conversation with someone. The figure of a young man, perhaps sixteen, flew around the corner. He looked terrified. "They're coming!" he bellowed, briefly acknowledging me as he tore past. "Who?!" I called back but he was already halfway down the street. That got my adrenaline going and I felt pretty unnerved myself. I hurried over to the corner and looked down every street but saw and heard nothing. I didn't have the energy to catch up with the running man.
This encounter had given me a second wind. I started back quickly toward the cemetery. My mind was so focused I must have literally wished myself back there. I don't remember any details except I was suddenly standing outside a door and it appeared to be back at the cemetery.
Behind the door I could hear the sound of a telephone ringing. Could this be the same ear-splitting sound that almost killed me earlier? Part of me wanted it to be because that could mean I was close to getting back to my office or waking up or both. The other part of me was dreading the pain in my ears but I just wasn't willing to stay in the cemetery any longer than necessary. I tried the doorknob but it was locked.
Across the little footpath I noticed a woman down on her knees arranging flowers. She had her back to me so I couldn't see her face. I approached her cautiously. "Excuse me, ma'am," I said, "Could I trouble you for a moment?" The woman did not turn around. She wore a bonnet that was tied around her chin. That much I could see. "I'm really sorry to bother you but I seem to be lost." The woman continued to arrange the flowers without saying a word. I tried to move to the side so I could see her face but she moved with me. "I can't talk to you," she said, sounding a little agitated.
"I'm sorry ma'am, I don't mean to disturb you but I really want to get back to my office. You see, I've had a particularly strange day and I'm a little turned around to say the least. If I could just get some directions and then I'll be on my way."
"It's Veronica." she whispered. "I'm sorry, what was that?" I had actually heard her but it needed repeating. "My name is Veronica. Veronica Delacroix. I believe you've already met my daughter." "Yes," I replied, a little shocked, "didn't she say you were dead? I even saw your headstone!" "Indeed you may well have seen it but obviously I am alive and breathing!" She snapped back. "Why on earth would your daughter say you were dead if you aren't actually dead?" "That is a very good question," she said, "a very good question indeed. Leave me now, I must finish with my arranging."
At this point I was infinitely more confused than before I met this Veronica Delacroix. I stood there watching her fussing over the flowers and then returned to the door. Clearly she wasn't going to talk and I assumed the whole affair would likely remain a mystery. As she stood up to leave, she said, "And you'll do well to leave her alone! She is nothing but bad news. Trouble follows wherever she goes." Then Veronica was gone.
There was a piece of burlap beside the flower stems she left behind. Upon closer inspection, I saw a key. She must have put it there for me, I thought.
I could again hear the faint ringing of that godforsaken telephone. It was still coming from behind the door. The key slid into the keyhole and it turned without effort. The door creaked open and the volume of the ringing increased. I followed it back through the network of tunnels.
This time the sound was even louder than before. Tears flowed from my eyes and my whole body shook. I instinctively wanted to hide but that obviously wouldn't stop the ringing. I ducked into a room with a gigantic furnace and found a corner to try to shield myself. It was no good, my ears hurt and I must have blacked out because I don't remember what happened next.