A vivid dream struck me when I was in the kitchen making my coffee this morning. Impossibly intense, I rushed into the other room to remember and record it. Honestly, I don’t know how much was dream, imagination filling in gaps, or a partially remembered television show or movie.
Following a path, I jogged through a forest of thick, tall trees, like redwood and sequoia. Mists and low gray fog kept everything cool, dark, and quiet. Something tripped me. As I fell, I tried catching myself, and spun backwards, flailing to grab anything to keep me upright. I broke into a circle of sunlight. As I wondered why that was, I heard crashing and then realized I was falling over a cliff.
Thinking that I wanted to go face first, I twisted my torso around. One foot was still on the ground. Looking ahead, I saw crashing waves. Knowing that I couldn’t go back, I shoved hard with my foot, hoping to launch myself out over the waves and away from the cliff.
A wind caught me, slamming me back into the cliff face. I hit with my left side. Grunting, I spotted a root sticking out, and lunged for it. Missing, I crashed onto rock. Pain soaked me. I couldn’t move and thought I’d surely broken many things and was on the verge of death, but the hurts subsided. When I sat up, a hard, salt-laced wind smashed my face. Squinting against it, I looked out over a sunlit body of gray water. I thought, Pacific.
It looked like late afternoon. I was on a flat ledge about twenty feet long and eight feet wide. Past it was a sheer drop to the riotous sea hundreds of feet below. Placing it against my knowledge of heights from working in a tall building, I guessed I was about fifteen stories high. The top from which I’d fallen was about twenty feet above my head. I wondered if I could climb back up there. I didn’t think I’d survive or be rescued if I stayed where I was. I’d been traveling alone. Nobody was expecting me. No one would miss me for days. My car was parked at least a mile away because I’d been walking and running, enjoying the cool, fresh air. I hadn’t seen anyone else.
I stood. Growing fierce, the wind knocked me back into the cliff. I worried that I was going to be blown off the ledge and looked for something to hold onto. That’s when I saw a body on the ledge’s other end. After some time to stomach the thought, I approached it enough steps to see that they’d been dead a while and was mostly decayed. From the flapping remnants of clothing and hair, and the jewelry I noticed, I took it to be a white woman with graying red hair.
Wondering if she’d fallen as I had, I crept closer. She was dressed in a sheer, flowering orange and yellow skirt, white blouse, and tannish jacket. Dark spots blotted her clothes like a Rorschach test. One shoe was missing. A pair of broken sunglasses were beside her head. I thought that she’d been bloodied when she’d fallen, but it was also possible that she’ been killed first and tossed over the side. Both ideas disturbed me.
I didn’t see any purse or wallet. I didn’t think there’d be identification in her clothes. I didn’t want to look. The wind blew her clothes around. I avoided seeing her too closely.
Moving back and flattening against the cliff, I checked myself for injuries. I had none. Checking the cliff above me again, I saw roots sticking out. I didn’t trust them. I’d tried using roots to climb hills before. They tend to snap off without warning. If that happened, I’d probably end up in the sea. I didn’t think I’d survive the fall.
I didn’t want to stay there. I had to find a way to get out of there. Hunting toe and hand holds, I started to climb, and then saw an irregularity in the cliff above the body. Reluctant to get too close to her, I slipped toward the space and saw that it looked like a mud-splattered door. I stood, looking at the door, and then the body, thinking how strange a door in that cliff was, growing almost certain, given its placement, that the body’s existence there was related to the door. A door meant a building, though. I hadn’t seen any buildings above. If there was a building, it was underground.
The setting sun had gone behind a fog bank on the horizon. It was going to get dark soon and already nippier. The wind was a constant, growling force.
I was in a quandary. I didn’t want to stay on the ledge. I didn’t think I could climb up the cliff in the dark. I might be able to reach the door, but the body’s presence made me dubious about using the door. Forced to move because of the dimming light, bolder and more desperate, I went over to the door, regarded it. Its bottom was level with my head. What looked like iron handles thrust in cement were to the door’s right side, leading up from the ledge. The iron was old and rusted. Some holds were missing or twisted and broken.
Lacking choices, I said good-bye to the woman, promising her that I’d lead others to her, and struggled up the holds. They were narrow, cut into my hands, and were too small for my feet. The wind had worsened and was screaming in my ears. My fingers were numbed with cold. I was sure that if I let go, I was done. I kept telling myself, “Don’t let go, don’t let go.”
Getting my shoulders even with the handle, I contorted myself to get a grip on it. Glancing down, I gaped into the growing dusk.
The woman was gone. I thought, the wind must have blown her off. I didn’t know if that was possible, but what else could have happened?
Up close, I could tell the door was metal. Holding onto the handle with one hand, I banged on it with the other. I barely heard the noise over the wind. I turned the handle. It went easily, but I couldn’t pull it open. Either the handle didn’t work, or the wind was keeping it closed.
That’s where memory ended, with me hanging onto the handle as darkness fell and a salty wind assaulting me. In reflection, I wondered about how much of this felt like a metaphor for my life, that I felt like I’d arrived somewhere by accident, and was now trapped, without choices.
Or, maybe, it was just a half-remembered television show or movie, infused into my imagination and dreams.