Recurring dreams are a rarity for me. When I have them, usually I have them only a few times, then it’s on to something new. This is about the one time I’ve had a recurring dream stick around for longer than that. It’s burned into my memory now, and has made several appearances in my writing.
Every time, I’d wake up wearing what I had on when I fell asleep. I found myself curled up on the cold, concrete floor of some kind of industrial facility, which I took to calling the foundry, though its purpose was never clear. The starting room is U shaped, with tall narrow windows inset along the outer wall.
The light coming in through them was a deep, rich shade of brownish yellow. Almost orange. The color of rust. I found doorways at either tip of the U, as well as one on the inner wall at the center point. That one led to a massive spiral staircase. But initially it was too dark to explore.
At one end of the U shaped room, through the door, I found a hall of machinery. Row after row of machines with dusty control consoles and huge gears, the sizes and designs of which vary from one machine to the next. To my surprise, this room had power. The light coming from the bulbs was the same rich, dark yellow as what came through the windows. I never saw normal light there.
I also never saw any plants or other living things. Not even mold, or moss. I’ve found books, but I can never read the writing. It’s just these abstract squiggles and patterns that swim around on the page as I try to make sense of it. The tools are equally unhelpful. Every tool I ever found there was designed to be useless.
A screwdriver where both ends are handles, for example. Or a wrench where the handle is a drill. I went looking for tools in the first place in hopes of fixing the machines, because they were the same way. When I studied them to figure out what was wrong, the gears were arranged in such a way as to turn against each other.
The machines were receiving power, but when I tried to switch on a machine there was just this horrible metallic grinding sound, then it would shut itself off. I eventually did manage to get one machine working because it was incomplete, and there were replacement parts on the shelves. The tools weren’t much help, but a few happened to be shaped in a way that I could use them to pry, or effect force in some other basic way.
I was eventually able to assemble that one machine properly, and when turned on, the gears operated the way they should. It wasn’t much. the rest of the machines were still broken. But this one, by itself, was apparently enough to restore power to the rest of the building because when I returned to the stairwell, it was illuminated.
Sickly deep yellow bulbs strung along the wall illuminated the shaft at intervals along the railing. I didn’t enter that time, as I woke up. But upon having the dream again, I was able to. The weird thing is, that one machine I fixed was still working. The rest were still broken, and the tools were still where I left them.
Everything was laid out the same as before, too. Because of that, in my waking hours I was able to begin mapping the place out on graph paper. I was seeing a therapist during this time, a free one (technically just a psych student participating in a program that offers free therapy as practice for them). She recommended I make the maps, and try to fix the machines.
She said the machines represented problems I recognize with myself and society that I feel powerless to fix. I don’t know if it’s really possible to glean coherent meaning from dreams, but I did what she suggested, as well as trying a variety of experiments. I hoped fucking with the dream might reveal something new, or make them stop.
I was only able to deliberately do anything when dreaming lucidly, which I managed maybe three or four times. I would happen to do stuff during the non-lucid dreams that was interesting, just not what I went in meaning to do. Pounding on the glass or throwing tools at it for example, discovering the glass was unbreakable.
It was such a hopeless place. Debris, trash and dust coating the floors. Water stained concrete but no water anywhere. Rusty pipes snaking up and down the walls, and across the ceilings. Doorways slightly the wrong size or shape, often missing doorknobs. As if this place were designed by somebody using photographs of industrial buildings, but who had no idea what they are or what they’re for.
There was never anything to eat, so I wasn’t able to try. Perhaps as a result I could never shit, piss or throw up either. I remember weaving my way through a dense tangled cluster of pipes, avoiding hot blasts of steam. The steam didn’t seem to cause any condensation. Water would not collect anywhere. I never found any puddles or dripping pipes for example.
Eventually I returned to the stairwell and descended it. A ways down, it widened into a sort of expanded, circular chamber. All around it were cages. Recesses, concrete alcoves, blocked off with chain link fence doors. So dark near the back I couldn’t make out if anything was in them.
At one point I thought I saw motion in one of the cages. Too dark to be sure, I fetched one of the tools and pried it open. I could just barely make out a huddling figure in the furthest, shadowy recesses of the cage. It wouldn’t respond to speech. I didn’t want to approach it, either. The next time I checked, it was gone.
In a subsequent dream I continued even further, finding more circular chambers below that one. All of them lined with cages. What for? Why is this in an industrial building? Weeks went by, then months, before I finally explored all the way to the bottom of the stairwell.
In the process, a few times I would hear footsteps. Or see something climbing around in the rafters. When I first caught a glimpse of it, to my surprise it looked like a regular human boy. He was wearing only overalls and was filthy, skin covered in soot and oil stains.
I could never seem to glimpse his face. His head was always faced exactly away from me. I left it alone for a time, and focused on the stairwell. At the bottom, the round concrete shaft protruded into a massive subterranean cavern. Just poking right through its ceiling.
The stairs terminated on a metal grating platform, suspended from the cavern ceiling by chains. There were other such platforms, suspended in the same manner but at slightly different heights. Someone must have been here before me (the boy, possibly?) because there were wooden planks set up as bridges between them.
It was a while before I felt brave enough to attempt a crossing. I first tried dropping things off the edge. I never heard them hit anything. Below me was not the shadow you might expect, but fog. Rolling, tumultuous fog, resembling stormy cloud cover but upside down, and below me instead of above.
I was hoping this would be it. Some sort of big discovery that would make sense of it all. At the end of all the bridged platforms was a rectilinear concrete building also suspended from chains. But inside I found nothing of any use. A broken crate. A wooden table and chair. Some torn up, unreadable pages of writing.
It was a punch in the gut. Until then, I felt sure this had to be where I’d find some sort of answers. Instead it was just nothing. No obvious reason to even put a building here, much less the platforms. I considered throwing myself off the edge, but fear always stopped me.
Instead, I then focused on tracking down that boy. At the other end of the U shaped room I found a room very much like the other, with similar machines in it. But also a huge boiler. That explained where the steam came from. But again, no puddles of water. Everything was bone dry. The wood, the paper, the concrete, the metal. No trace of moisture anywhere.
The boy was here, on top of the boiler. He had no place to go. I harassed him by throwing shit until he came down, and tried to flee. Instead I pinned him. But a weird thing happened. However I tried to get a look at his face, his head was always turned away. Even when that meant it was on the wrong way around.
I tried to physically turn his head around with my hands. But on the back was just another back of his head. I turned and turned, but on the other side it was always just the back of his head again. I became irate and yelled at the boy. I shook him until, perhaps frightened, he stopped hiding his face from me.
It was smooth and featureless, like an egg. Flesh colored, same skin as on the rest of his body. But no eyes. No mouth or nose. How could he breathe? I could see his jaw moving as if he was trying to talk to me, but there was no opening to speak through. I let him go and withdrew in disgust.
He scampered off, leaving me wondering if he’d been in that cage for a reason. Who was he? Might he be a dreamer, like me? Did he have answers? I never got the chance to find out. Maybe that’s for the best. I don’t relish the idea of cutting his face open in the right spots so he could speak, look at me and so on.
In a subsequent dream, I returned to the boiler, remembering the thing about reflections. It occurred to me if I polished it with my sleeve or a rag, I might be able to see myself in it. So I did. When at last it was reflective enough, I gaped, and couldn’t accept what I saw.
My own face was as featureless and smooth as the boy’s. It must have been all along. It made no sense, though. How could I see? How could I make sounds, and breathe? Why was the boy afraid of me all this time? Until I seized him, he had no reason to think I meant him any harm. I only wanted to know whatever he knew about this building.
Since then I’ve sometimes wondered about the cages. Why I found him in there, and if perhaps I was there to release him. Maybe even to take his place. What troubles me most is thinking about what, if anything, was outside the foundry. I could never actually see through the windows.
It always felt artificial. Like a stage, or television set. Everything about it felt fake and wrong, like it was made with only minimal information. Maybe without even knowing what a human being is, or why we build structures like that. If I’d been able to someone puncture through the walls and look outside, I feel like that would have revealed everything I wanted to know.
Somewhere I am not supposed to be. Seeing things nobody is supposed to know about. “Backstage of the universe”. Like if reality had a crawlspace, or similar underlying utility access space that for the most part lay abandoned and forgotten by all but the few who wind up there by accident.
What does it mean? I never arrived at any conclusions that ring true to me. I suppose one parallel is that everything looks as if it’s leading somewhere, then doesn’t. Like the machinery, or the concrete building at the end of the suspended platforms. All the intriguing signs that I’m on the right track, only for there to be no payoff.
This seems to me a lot like how we try to construct a narrative out of events in our lives, to assign it meaning. But reality isn’t a story and we’re not the main character, so it’s under no obligating to make sense, progress in a logical way, or provide closure. Most of the time the meaning we find is just pareidolia. Maybe it comes from our history of telling stories to pass down information before writing.
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