I awoke at 3 am this morning with my heart pounding. I was enjoying a run-of-the-mill nightmare about fending off a horde of vampires when I realized I was re-entering a recurring death trap.
Imagine a series of long hallways, dimly lit, each ending in a dead end that requires puzzle-solving to open a trap door to access the next hallway. In this particular iteration of the dream, Pete, Totty and I, along with Brad Pitt, my former colleague Lorinda from ATCO, and a young woman I've never met before, were gathered in hallway one.
"Oh man, this again," I say to Pete. "Do you remember anything from last time?"
As we speak, I realize that I, in fact, remember how to unlock the first two traps. Bond-like, I use some fishing line to release a catch on the first secret door, which slides aside to reveal a bookcase. I tug on one book on the second-highest shelf, and the bookshelf slides aside. We all cram, single file, down a narrow, pitch-black corridor, the bookshelf slamming shut behind us. I feel a metal pole jutting out of the wall, and I realize I don't remember how we bypassed this trap last time.
"Does anyone remember how to do the pole..?"
Mike steps up to handle it, everyone shuffling back and forth to make room, while Pete and I continue our conversation.
"How many times have we done this?" I ask.
"I'm not sure," Pete says. "You look around 50 now, and this all started back in university."
"What's the farthest we've gotten?"
"My memory isn't perfect, but I feel like Ticheler made it through nine or ten traps before he was dissolved in acid."
I wince. "I'm sure he's looking forward to giving that one a try again."
"Maybe we'll get that far this time," Pete shrugs. Mike has successfully managed the pole trick, and a door slides open to reveal a casual gaming lounge furnished with low couches and short tables, each with a board game on it - but no game matches any seen in the real world.
The young woman I don't know approaches me. She's terrified. "I don't remember which games are harmless distractions and which can kill you if you make the wrong move."
"I'm sorry...I don't remember either. At least none of these are mandatory."
She nods, but she slides into one of the low couches anyway and starts playing a game that uses straws and coloured marbles. I suddenly remember that some of the marbles are coated in deadly contact poison, but my throat seizes up and I can't warn her.
"This is the lowest-rated game on board game geek," Pete notes, and when I awaken I have a strong urge to look it up.
She stays behind while Pete, Totty, and I join the large crowd gathering at the lounge's exit. As we push through the doors, we leave behind the near-blackness of the lounge and plunge into a brightly-lit series of institutional staircases. Hundreds of people are lined up, and we shuffle along. We know that once we make it down the staircases, we enter the deadliest part of the death maze.
"Over and over again until we escape," I mutter. "It's the afterlife. Is it hell? Maybe Steve can tell us."
"I don't think Steve's actually been through this yet," Mike says.
"Rob was compiling a video with all our clearest memories of how to get through the first few traps," Pete notes.
"That's stuck in the real world, though," I reply. "Doesn't help us here."
Mike takes a left turn down a staircase no one else is using, and Pete and I follow. We go down two flights, and to our surprise, we reach a large parking garage on the ground floor. The exit is open.
"Are you fucking kidding me?" Mike says, arms outstretched. We dash into the open air. I pump my fists in delight.
"YES! Has anything ever been this REAL?" I shout. "FUCK YOU, YOU BASTARDS!" I scream at the sky, jumping up and down.
My joy is short-lived, though, because I wake up, and I realize the escape was not, in fact, real. It's 3 am and I wish I could just stay up. Because going back means another iteration, another opportunity to die horribly. I made it out this time, but it's the first time in hundreds of tries that doesn't end in blistering agony of one form or another.
NOTE: I shared this dream with some friends, and Colin sent a chill down my spine by writing back: "The lowest-ranked game on board game geek is something called 'Passages and Purgatory.'" He really got me, then admitted he made it up. That prompted Mike to do the math...but that's Mike's story to tell.