I am at my desk, very early in the morning, a cup of coffee in my hand and a blank page on the computer screen. The humidity in the air combines with the crusting in my eyes to make the view hazy, dream-like. In contrast, the dream itself is crystal clear in my memory, so fresh I can almost smell sulfur. It is not the prettiest of mornings, and it will be hot. I feel cold.
I have always been haunted by dreams. I remember the “head” from my childhood. That golden oval face floating in sheer darkness, always looking at me with empty orbits like a skull, analyzing with its gaze, threatening with its motion. I remember being very curious about the darkness around it.
“Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate.”
The words are so clear in my mind’s eye that I see them hovering over the mountains ahead, across the valley, almost like a huge macabre Hollywood sign. It is not “the head” saying it; that is what is written in Dante’s Hell gate. The head is long gone, like those kindergarten teachers we only have a flimsy sensation they even existed. The demons are different now. The words are my father’s fault; he used to recite them at dinner time, but I don’t remember the context.
I see the fire, but it’s not red or yellow; it is blue, green, grey. And it is not hot at all. The very remembrance of it makes me shiver and I envelop my hands around the cup, bending my face over it. It burns my hand, and so does the fire. It is cold, but it burns.
The skull with the sickle awaits me in the boat, with its ragged black mantle covering from the top of the head to the dark, pasty material below. I see no oar. I remember thinking about that incongruence. How nonsensical are man’s worries! That bony face with no eyes grins at me. You are supposed to pay the boatman. I ignore that custom. I have always hated giving alms.
I recognize the place, river Styx, the river of the dead, and I am crossing it. The river makes a low murmur, but it’s not of flowing water. Of course, the river is made of sinner’s blood, but that’s not blood moving either. Below the boat is a dead stagnant mass of an ancient clotted substance, but somehow we drag ourselves over and across it. The noise is a mourning, a mourning from the dead, itself oozing through this evil medium like an open sewage below the skies — only there is no sky here. It is a palpable sound of lamentation, grief, sorrow. The hair on the back of my neck bristles with the memory; I suppose the same happened in the dream. The noise makes it feel darker, every weeping a foreboding thunder of the approaching storm.
I keep advancing into the darkness, powerless. I guess I die next. But then, I wake up.
1. “All hope abandon, ye who enter here.” Divine Comedy – Inferno, canto III, line 9.