Nocturnal Adventures Of A Skeptic

I was walking down a hallway on an upper floor of a fading, run-down apartment building, with a set of keys in my hand. I don’t remember why I was there, except that it had to do with laundry. I was looking for a washing machine, or trying to find a flashlight so that I could see well enough to operate a washing machine that was in a dark room somewhere, or something along those lines. The hallway was itself fairly dark, although not pitch black, and I wasn’t sure exactly where I was going or whether I was even allowed to be there. I moved forward cautiously.

Suddenly I spotted a human figure, running towards me at full tilt! I braced myself, thinking I might be about to come under attack, but presently I saw that the person was a fairly young Chinese woman and that her expression was one of abject terror. As she rushed past I saw that a man, also Chinese, was sprinting after her. I don’t believe he had a weapon, but his face was a rictus of fury, and I had no doubt that he intended to kill her.

I woke with a huge jolt, well before my alarm was set to go off. I didn’t scream or break out in a cold sweat, but my whole body seemed to be resonating with shock. The visceral horror of the dark hallway, the woman’s desperation to escape, and the man’s murderous rage was slow to ebb away, and the tableau stood out as qualitatively different from the flotsam that usually percolates through my sleeping brain. I don’t remember my dreams very often, and when I do they’re usually very tame, almost ridiculously so considering that I like my film and fiction good and lurid. It’s normal for my nocturnal adventures to be quirky and surreal, but to my chronic disappointment there’s very little sex or violence. They do often involve feelings of being lost, confused and/or hopelessly late, and I suppose my dream about the hallway was initially shaping up to be an unremarkable installment in that genre. However, it went off the rails in rather spectacular fashion, to the point where – given my personal and inevitably subjective experience of what dreams are like – it didn’t feel like a proper dream at all.

I don’t even have the luxury of a tidy explanation for why the woman and her pursuer might have manifested themselves in my comatose brain. I read Mo Hayder’s Birdman, a fun crime novel featuring twisted serial killers, a few weeks ago, but Birdman isn’t the kind of book that would inspire visions of frenzied chases down dark hallways; Hayder’s murderers are sinister precisely because she portrays them as highly calculating and deliberate. It’s been ages since I found the time for a movie, horrific or otherwise. Now and then I’ll notice a couple arguing vehemently on the street, but they never look like they’re about to start trying to kill each other. The part of the dream having to do with laundry, oddly enough, does have plausible roots in my recent experience – I spent part of the summer visiting a university campus, and they were in the process of upgrading all the washing machines and dryers in the residence buildings, so finding a place where I could wash my clothes was actually sometimes a bit of an issue. But the terrified woman and the guy who clearly wanted her dead? No idea, I’m afraid.

While I was a bit shaken after I suddenly came awake, it wasn’t long before I started to think of my little nightmare as a salutary reminder that most of us do have experiences – spooky coincidences, sudden inspirations, bouts of déjà vu, unpredictable surges of strong emotion, minor hallucinations, and yes, vivid and disconcerting dreams – that feel like they really ought to be imbued with deep and possibly even supernatural significance. If I were I different kind of person, perhaps a priest could convince me that my dream was an indication that some demon was trying to drive me insane with evil and ungodly thoughts. Perhaps a spiritualist could convince me that the dark hall of my nightmare was really one of the corridors here in my reliably quiet Beijing apartment building, and that I had “seen” either a past or a future episode of violence between two of my fellow tenants. Perhaps, if nothing else, a Freudian could convince me that I was repressing my memories of some terrible childhood trauma! Fortunately, skepticism is an excellent suit of armour against all such notions. It probably took me a good half hour to get back to sleep, but that was partly because I was already mentally composing this blog post.

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