I had a dream one night, that a golden skeleton key opened a door to a world away from this one; a world where the pain of my known reality could not follow me were it not ushered in by my open arms. When I woke that morning, the key lay beside me on the nightstand.
The dream was like many others that preceded it. I opened my eyes to a blinding light as I stood in a gleaming white room. In the other dreams, the room was more of a cube with no doors. The only things in sight were a glass table placed precisely in the center of the cube, barely visible against the colorless walls, and a small hole in the floor next to one corner. I had never been able to stay asleep long enough to investigate the hole and the morning’s activities were plagued by it until the memory, as usually happens with dreams, faded slowly from my mind like fog retreating from a warm spring morning.
This dream proved to be quite different. When my eyes adjusted to the light they fixed on an odd irregularity in the cube. A sparkling golden key, old fashioned but shining brand new, sat on the table where it had not been before. As I approached it, another change in the cube caught my eye, it was a cube no longer. A small door surrounded the hole in the floor; a door that had no knob. I took the key from the table and suddenly felt terrified, as if this key held every painful and horrifying event I had experienced in all my years and transmitted them simultaneously into me at their most effective potency. Within seconds I was reduced to a child’s cower in the corner opposite the door, knees to my chest, cradling myself, tears streaming down my cheeks and clutching the key with all my might.
I rocked there for hours reliving each traumatizing event in my head, one after the other without the usual breaks for monotony life generally offers. I cried until all the tears I could generate had fallen and their absence left me numb. My arms went limp and the key dropped to the floor beside my feet. The sound it made when it hit was like an explosion in the tiny room. When it dissipated, I looked up to see that the walls had literally closed in around me. The table was gone, as there was no longer room for it and the door, nearly 20 feet away from me as it had been before, angled directly in front of me, stalking and scratching at my feet.
I looked up at the ceiling, not a foot from my head, just as it began to transform. It started with a speck of black, then grew as tendrils from its center arched and spread outward. The decay was swift and within seconds what started as a pin prick was the size of saucer. I touched its inky surface and it reacted violently, hastening its spread and wrapping a section of itself around my finger. It felt of tar and oil, tacky and viscous, burning me as deeply as if it were white hot flame. I ran my hand along the short wall to free myself of it before it overtook my hand and it relented, starting its own territorial campaign independent from its host. My plight became quite clear. If I could not touch the key again the oozing inferno would consume me.
I snatched up the key from where it fell and shoved it into the hole in the door. The trap opened and I lurched forward as high-pitched screams from a thousand leviathans bade me to stay. I was Alice crashed through the looking glass and plummeting deep into the void. The blackness was eternal. I twisted up toward the trap door just as the last lingering shade of white was devoured by the fiery glutton and no trace of the room remained. If it followed me, I would not know it until we touched and I could not escape. There was no light, no sound, nothing lived in this utter absence to taste or smell and the wind did not ruffle my hair as I passed through it.
Had I a sun to gauge it, I would have thought I fell for days. The nocturnal mind plays tricks with time and I succumbed to it. Devoid of all sensory perception and left alone with my thoughts, I imagined that this is what death must be to the troubled and assumed that I was in its grips. Each in turn I counted my regrets and shortcomings. Thereafter, I turned to my worries and woes. In the midst of one particularly awful memory, I screamed without a sound. I cried but felt no tears. In this terrifying moment, I felt myself begin to disappear. Falling into the abyss, would I have left no lasting mark on those few I loved, those simple few who loved me in return? Would I simply diminish in the blackness of death while all memory of me faded from them as if I were nothing more than the dream itself? The thought made me angry. Anger grew to fury and fury fed a resolve that built and rolled as storm clouds through my soul, exploding out at once as I screamed “STOP!” I heard myself say it and I obeyed.
“Stand!” I commanded with a presence I had forgotten existed and I suddenly felt a surface beneath me.
“Feel! Through the pain I allowed myself to endure so vehemently, I found an emotion more powerful and provoking than turmoil. It was determination, and I felt it with vigor.
“See!” A light glowed softly in the distance.
“Go!” I grew closer to the light and it brightened. Soon my room was in view with my sleeping self showing signs of fatigue, sweaty and with the covers strewn about the bed.
“Wake Up!” And I did. And the key was beside me. I took it, smiled and went back to sleep. Having conquered it, this dream will not plague me again.