A man in his late 30's is laying on an antique couch, it is a dark rich mahogany in color. There is a sense of worry in his eyes as if he was carrying the burdens of the entire world behind them. At his side is a young woman, her golden blonde hair sitting upright in a bun. Her professional attire belies a beauty that's almost angelic, innocent, and pure. She is sitting in a plain office chair with her legs crossed scribbling notes into a notepad with singular focus. The man breaks the silent tension in the air by speaking, he has an almost melancholy undertone in his voice.
"I dreamed that I was walking through an IKEA store, I'm not really sure why I was there. I walked for hours, and didn't see a single person. I started to get impatient at one point and couldn't find an exit, it just kept looping back on itself. I started running through the store until I found myself in the bathroom section and there was a figure of a man in a dark robe standing in the corner, he kept waving me on, as if beckoning me to come, but my legs wouldn't move and then I woke up"
The young woman takes a moments pause from scribbling on her note pad to respond.
"How did this make you feel?" she queries
"I don't know doctor, I was kind of hoping you knew, I mean that's why I'm paying you $200 an hour right?"
She raises an eyebrow at the aggressive tone but responds in a professional manner.
"Now, now Jim no need to lash out, dreams can be hard to interpret for any outside observer, they are full of personal meanings and subtext. What I might interpret from your dream may be radically different from what your subconscious mind may be trying to tell you. Have you ever had an incident inside a furniture store?"
He takes a moment to consider her question, searching his mind for any offending memories inside a retail shopping center, but most of his memories of shopping were boring and uneventful.
"No, I can't even remember the last time I went shopping for a piece of furniture"
The young doctor takes a look at her wrist watch and realizes his session is over for the day.
"I'm sorry Jim but we are going to have to leave it there for today. I want you to consider the underlying meaning of this dream and bring it up in our next session."
Jim takes a long deep sigh and walks out of his therapists office. The elevator is out of service, and a deep weariness sets into his bones as he walks down the stairs. It's ghostly quiet in the parking garage and Jim can't shake the feeling that someone is watching him. He takes a moment look at his surroundings. There is an eerie whistle in the wind yet no one around, and the cars lay still. It's late, its cold, and rainy on the road. As he drives in silence he wonders why he decided to schedule his therapy session so late. "I should reschedule for an earlier time" he thinks to himself. Still he can't shake the feeling he is being watched or followed. He nervously glances up at his rear view mirror every few minutes, looking for any familiar headlights or cars. The road is oddly empty even for this time of the evening. The drive is short however, and he is home quickly enough. He takes a moment in his car to calm himself down before going inside. As he walks in to his house a sense of dread hangs over him. The eeriness is so thick in the air you can almost cut it with a knife. The day has been so stress filled that the deathly weariness from earlier has settled even deeper into his bones. Too tired to make dinner he wastes no time and goes straight to the bed room. He throws himself into bed and turns on the TV. On his television is a scene of an Octopus violently grabbing hold of a fish and bringing it toward it's hungry beak head first. He quickly starts to drift off into a deep slumber finding himself in that middle ground between being awake and dreams. Jim always thought that falling asleep was a bit like death, and that thought, that "Memento Mori" probably fed his insomnia more than anything else. This time was different, and sleep came easy. It was as if he was slipping into a warm coma.
He opened his eyes and suddenly he could feel the heat of harsh florescent lights beating down on his head. Like a hot desert sun the heat from the lights was unrelenting . This time the dream feels different, more lucid, more real than life. The aisles twist and turn, each section is a theme of a different part of a house. Bedrooms, to offices, to bedding, to kitchens, to bathrooms, and endlessly looping in on itself. Every time he completes a loop through the store it seems to get hotter until the heat becomes unbearable. Jim starts to panic and starts banging on the walls of the store "Please, please wake the fuck up!" He is yelling at the top of his lungs, and beating the wall so hard his hands start to bleed. He takes one last exasperated shot at the wall with his fists and its as if the wall turns to water. Suddenly he finds himself awake, if you could call it that.
Sleep paralysis is strange state of consciousness. You aren't awake, you aren't asleep, you can't move, and words seem to choke in your throat. This is the state of consciousness that Jim finds himself in, but its strange. He isn't in bed, he is sitting on the toilet in his bathroom. He wills his body to move, his eyelids to open further, but its no use, no command he gives his body works. His eyelids start to feel heavy again and he drifts back to sleep. He finds himself back in the IKEA, right in front of the same wall he was beating his fists against earlier. He no longer feels alone in this store, he feels a presence behind him. Jim just stands there for a moment, he can hear his heart pounding in his ears. What ever is behind him, Jim can sense it doesn't have his best interests in mind. Whoever or what ever it is speaks to him in a slow, unearthly rumble, in a pitch so strange it rattles Jim to his very core, and the hairs on the back on his neck stand up.
"You're dead Jim"
Jim turns around to face this threat, his fight or flight response kicking into high gear, and he starts swinging wild fists at the air. There is no one there, and the scenery has changed, he no longer finds himself in the store, he is now in a bizarre room. The ceiling and the floors are lit by florescent light, a single mahogany desk sitting in the middle of the room with a tall office chair behind it, someone is rocking the chair back and forth. Jim takes a moment to breathe and calm himself down. He notices the desk has a name badge at the right side, it reads "Manager". The rest of the desk is bare bones. There is a small brass cup with a single feather tipped pen sticking out of it at the left side of the desk. The same unearthly low voice rumbles from behind the chair, it is directed at Jim with authority, and menace.
"It is time to take account of your life Jim, but before we can do so, you must render payment"
Jim answers back in an angry tone "What the hell are you talking about, what kind of clown show is this place, who are you?"
The voice answers back in a slow, steady pace, completely unmoved by Jim's anger
"Check your pockets and place my payment on the desk"
There is an awkward moment of silence as Jim's hands fumble around inside his pants pockets. He feels around until his fingers touch the familiar shape of a quarter, and then he finds another in his back pocket. He takes a second to look at the quarters, they are plain, unassuming, boring quarters. He walks slowly toward the desk and places the quarters down on the desk. The tall office chair starts to creak and slowly turn around. Its the hooded figure from before, dressed in a long black robe, and covered in a fine dust. Its as if the robe had been a discarded piece of furniture left in an attic to collect dust and cobwebs. Jim struggles to make out a face, as if the shadow cast by the hood was alone its visage. A face comprised of the void, a black hole of darkness. It stands, pushing back the seat in one single motion, its leather gloved hands countering its weight against the mahogany desk. The man, if you could call him that is so tall his head almost touches the ceiling, and he begins to speak to Jim.
"You are dead Jim, you no longer belong to the physical world, it is time to take account of your deeds in life"
Jim is even angrier now in response to this "Manager"
"What the fuck is this place, who are you, and why do you keep saying I'm dead?"
The Manager leans in, its hooded robe getting dangerously close to Jim, who is also leaning into the desk. Despite being almost face to face with this thing, Jim can make out no face, only darkness.
"I am the Ferryman, I guide lost souls to their final judgement"
Jim laughs "So you're telling me that the afterlife is an IKEA?"
"This place is an illusion, we are in a void of darkness, and this is the place chosen for you based on the way you lived your life. You lived in a world of endless consumerism, so you will cross over in its image."
Jim looks around and comes to a stark realization, that this is the most vivid dream he has ever experienced. He prays to wake up but he senses it to be a waste of energy considering his previous attempt. He tries to buy himself more time by asking questions.
"How did I die?"
The hooded figure relaxes its posture from the desk "Brain aneurysm, you died in your home sitting on the toilet."
"Jesus" Jim says out loud, "but I'm young, I'm not ready to go yet!" He pleads with the hooded figure, a sense of panic in his voice
"This has to be a mistake, there has to be some way for me to go back!"
There is an undertone of annoyance in the hooded figure's voice, the first time its shown any emotion.
"Death makes no mistakes, do not waste your time bargaining with me"
Jim has an idea, maybe if he acquiesces to the Ferryman he can wake up. This is all just a dream after all, one he almost woke up from.
"This is not a dream" The Ferryman responds to him
"Get the fuck out of my head" Jim shouts
The Ferryman reaches out and touches Jim's shoulder with his hand, and suddenly he sees the truth of it all. It would be Jim's final epiphany. Every moment of his life in crystal perfect vision, from his childhood, to his teenage years, to manhood. His first kiss, the first time he rode a bicycle, and his lost loves. It was film of the entirety of his life. After the film was over he was no longer standing inside the IKEA, he was standing in his bathroom, staring at the now lifeless figure of himself.
In resignation Jim asks the last question he will ever ask "Now what?"
The Ferryman then leans in closer and closer to Jim, wrapping its arms around Jim fully. It swallows Jim in darkness like an octopus swallowing its prey.
"Now you join me in the void and face judgement" it whispers back
As darkness envelops Jim suddenly there is a sense of warmth washing over his body. A distant ringing in his ears that starts growing louder, and louder. There is a light at the end of what looks like a tunnel yet its rushing toward him. He then opens his eyes for what feels like the first time, takes a look around him, and breathes in what feels like his first breath.
About the Creator
A theater major, a poet, and a lover of the written word. I write to the muses that they may inspire me, and to you the reader. Hopefully you can find meaning in my words or something that will lighten your heart on this journey of life