Matt Gemmell

My new book CHANGER is out now!

An action-adventure novel — book 1 in the KESTREL series.

★★★★★ — Amazon

The door in the tower

Personal 8 min read

I had a strange dream last night. It’s been playing on my mind this morning, so I thought I’d post it here both to clear my mind and also just for interest’s sake.

It began in the courtyard of an old high school, which in the dream was clearly the high school I’d attended (though it of course bore no resemblance to the actual HSG). I was visiting the school with an old school-friend (which was Chris, although in real life I didn’t meet him until 3rd year at university). We seemed to have no escort or guide, and just wandered around the grounds. I remember asking my friend if he remembered all the times we’d spent running around this place. I was conscious of not wanting to sound childish by calling it a “playground”, but my mind couldn’t quite find the word “courtyard”, so instead I came out with “play-yard”. The word sounded familiar to both of us, and seemed to be the proper name.

The weather was grey and cold, though dry and somehow still. At one surreal moment, we played brass instruments we seemed to have brought with us, though we were still outside and there was no audience of any kind. The silence around us became vaguely oppressive, and our conversation faltered and eventually died out.

After a time my friend went off and I found myself wandering through narrow streets; the streets I grew up in (in this dream world at least). They had something of the High Street about them, and indeed I shortly found myself at the Cathedral. I went in, and a service was in progress, which was strange. I didn’t recognise the singing nor even the language of the service, though it had vague echoes of familiarity to it. I had a sense of becoming aware that a large part of my past had gone from my memory, or at least had become innaccessible, and that I was only now realising this. I was rediscovering some previous life I’d had before I went away. I wasn’t entirely sure where I’d went away to, but I had the impression it was overseas. I’d returned home (“to the old world”, I keep wanting to say) to rediscover my roots, but I had no family in this place.

As the service wound to a close, I felt many pairs of eyes on me as we all shuffled out into the dim and flat daylight. The usual buzz of conversation I’d have expected after any kind of religious service was subdued, and there were many whispered exchanges as I was pointed out. These people weren’t ordinary Glasgow folk, though I was definitely in Glasgow; they instead had the countenance of perhaps Spanish villagers attending Sunday mass or some such thing, though this had been no Christian service. In any case, they all vanished into various side-streets and passageways almost as soon as they’d emptied out into the courtyard.

I looked around, intending to admire the architecture, but I found none of the austere beauty I usually see in Glasgow Cathedral. It looked entirely wrong; somehow unbalanced and superimposed. I had a sense that it wasn’t entirely there, though having just been inside it I naturally dismissed that impression as nonsense. I began to walk away, and I was approached by two people; a couple who were perhaps in their mid-sixties.

They greeted me politely in the manner of people who had perhaps known and loved my parents or grandparents, but I saw a light of questioning expectation in their eyes; they were wondering if I would recognise them, though they made no verbal claim to have ever known me. The conversation came almost exclusively from the man, and was light and inconsequential. The woman wore a friendly expression, but seemed increasingly uncomfortable in the presence of the Cathedral, and would often glance towards it superstitiously without being fully aware she was doing so. At length she spoke, to ask how it felt to be back home once again. The tone of her voice held an urgency which seemed unsuited to the perfectly ordinary question. Indeed, there was almost a note of some kind of greed, and for the first time the growing vague uneasiness I’d been feeling bloomed into an actual fear. The old man glanced quickly at the woman and she bowed her head with a small smile, devoid of anything but grandmotherly affection, but my eye was quick enough to notice that the expression on the man’s face had been anything but reproachful; his eyes had begged her to be silent, and he had in no way been sure that she would comply.

As we spoke, I realised that the man was somewhat in awe of me. His manner was that of a loyal manservant, welcoming back the young master after his extended travels abroad. This made no sense to me, as I knew I’d grown up in a tower block (a block of flats, as they’re called here), hardly befitting having servants. As soon as I’d thought of the tower block, I felt a sharp tug in my mind, and almost immediately had a leap of intuition: the man feared my motives for returning. He was bound by honour or pact or some mechanism I didn’t fully understand, to help me in whatever task I was here to perform, but he feared that duty most profoundly. He also feared his wife, in the way of fearing the dangerous potential of someone who has long since been consumed by madness, yet feeling compelled to continue to look after them nonetheless. I sensed that his bond to her was not one of love, though it might once have been. Rather, I felt that he was her companion due to a guilt that he would never be free of.

The image of the tower block stuck in my mind, eventually blocking out my ability to even continue the conversation. I think the light in my eyes changed somehow, and the man noticed. His face paled, and his body slumped almost imperceptibly. Whatever he feared would happen had happened, and he had no choice but to go along with it. I suddenly desperately wanted to return home, and I told him to take me there. I had no doubt that he would obey me unquestioningly, and he did so.

We travelled mostly by train, though no-one else was on board. At length we arrived at the tower block, and it seemed much more real than it had been in my mind. It was an ordinary, drab Glasgow tower block, perhaps built in the 60s. Its doors had the characteristic look of having been repainted in the past year or so, and every 5 years before that for longer than I’d been alive. We entered the lobby and walked towards the door to the stairwell. I remember glancing into the lift and idly wondering what such a small, metal-walled room could possibly be for. I had the sense that I ought to know its purpose, but I didn’t care at having lost that knowledge. I felt I was slipping gradually out of this time of lifts and cars and planes and computers, though nothing around was actually changing.

We paused at the bottom of the stairs. The man placed his hand on my forearm, and asked in a quiet and surprisingly tender voice if I was sure I wanted to do this, to go to [name of place]. I knew the word, and the woman started at hearing it, though with a grotesque excitement. The word hitting the air was like the absolute silence after a bell is struck; almost like a momentary vacuum. It began with “Ko”, and I remember thinking that it was almost an anagram of “Dakota” all but a couple of letters. The word was compelling and seductive; it wanted to be spoken. Its sound was hypnotic.

I was absolutely certain I wished to proceed; I had a growing desperation to reach the place. It pulled at my mind and insisted I go there at once, and it was all I could do not to run all the way up the stairs. We passed a lot of floors, perhaps as many as 20. The stairs were arranged around 3 walls of the very large stairwell area, with landings on the 4th wall. The side of the building opposite the landings was almost entirely of glass. There was plenty of light, and plenty of opportunity to look down on the countless tarnished rooftops of Glasgow under the overcast sky. It was most assuredly not a stereotypical poorly-lit “creepy” stairwell.

As we ascended further, I began to feel fear once again, this time very much in earnest. Even as the compulsion to proceed grew stronger, fear made it harder and harder to even lift my feet. The old woman had begun to laugh to herself under her breath. Her eyes had too much light in them; I knew then that she was utterly insane. The old man’s face was almost completely white, though he kept pace with me and never spoke a word. He seemed to have built a wall in front of his eyes, but I sensed an ecstasy of terror in him. I also realised I didn’t care about either of them, not in the least. There was both the feeling of this being perfectly right, and simultaneously the most primal and abject fear I had ever felt.

Soon we neared the floor of our destination. I climbed the second last stairway, glancing to the right through the railings, towards the door which a part of me desperately wanted to open. As I ascended the stairs, my view of the door was repeatedly cut off by the posts holding up the handrail, and I stopped. Most of the time, as I glimped the door between the railings, it was a normal tower block flat door; painted a shiny, off-white colour which clearly revealed the poor state of the wood it was made from. The walls were a sickly yellow colour and the air smelled disagreeably of cheap disinfectant. But, perhaps through every third or fourth gap in the railings, the door looked different.

It was suddenly ornate, with a lintel and two stone steps. Its wood was flawless; perhaps too flawless to even be wood at all. It was of the most perfect red, and its panels held shadows too deep for the ambient light. Those shadows moved too, as if in firelight. The walls around were crisscrossed with wavering red lines, almost as if there were red grouting between the floor-tiles of a swimming pool, and I was viewing the pattern through 6 feet of water. The tile positions danced and changed, and gave a diffuse red glow which saturated the floor of the landing. I remember looking down at myself and seeing the red glow falling on my clothes. I slowly realised that the woman was standing at the half-landing below, wringing her hands and muttering to herself, grinning crazily. The old man was gone, clearly unable at the last to keep his end of whatever bargain we had struck long ago, during that time I could no longer remember.

I knew then that I didn’t want to open the door, nor for it ever to be opened by anyone. I ran back down the stairs, and the same door greeted me at each landing, accompanied by a thickening of the air and a rush of heat enough to make me hold my hand over my face as I ran by. Eventually, after passing the terrible door again and again, I jumped over the railings and fell gratefully through the cool air down the centre of the stairwell. As so often happens when you fall in a dream, everything swam together and then went dark. As I continued to fall, I remember hearing some kind of noise far above me.

When I woke up at first, I still remembered the name of the place; the name the old man had spoken at the foot of the stairs. I was definitely awake (Lauren’s alarm had gone off), and I strongly felt that I should not know that word; that it was somehow unsafe to even be aware of it. Lauren went for her shower and I fell asleep for a further 15 minutes.

When I woke again, the word was gone. I’ve tried various anagrams and such here on the PowerBook, but none ring a bell. Even now, in the cold light of day and hours later, I have to admit to being relieved that I no longer remember the name of the place behind that door in the tower.