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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Philadelphia Story, or At No Time Did I See Rod Serling

Philadelphia, PA. Why not go? A couple days, just as a lark, just me and Willie. Eleven years ago it was. We ate a Philly cheesesteak, got drunk one afternoon with a bunch of new friends in a small pub where Willie turned over the “Galaga” machine. We went to the zoo.

And one night, we went out.

We went out for dinner, shared a taxi to a bar with live music with people we met at the restaurant. We went to bed that night a little after 1:30, me chattering away as we lay in the dark.

“Shhh,” Willie said, his fingertips on my eyelids. “Go to sleep.” 

And when I next notice, I am no longer in our room.

I am upright, walking, when I gain consciousness. I stop. There is an elusive, slippery aspect to thought that I’ve not experienced before. I am more confused than I have ever been. I can’t make sense of my surroundings. Scarier yet, I can’t make sense of myself. Why am I walking? Where am I walking? Why am I cold?

And I am abruptly, horrifyingly aware that I am naked.

I have nothing: no clothes, no purse, no keys, no glasses. I stare at my bare feet as the questions throw themselves against the inside of my skull: Where are my clothes? Where have I been? What have I been doing? Where is Willie?

Where is Willie?

The hall is absolutely silent; and, without my glasses, surreal in its lack of focus.

“Home,” my head says. “Go home now.”

I bolt down the hallway in the direction of the elevator.

I press the button, flatten myself against the wall. The world has been reduced to the maze-like, brick-walled halls of the Clarion Hotel.

The elevator doors open. No one comes out. I dash into the elevator, my head swimming, cloudy. Press 8. My eyes are glued to the door, unblinking. I am breathing through my mouth. How did I get here? Why am I here? My heart pounds. Panic, a concept I had only truly known through books, builds in my blood. I can taste it.

Panic tastes like copper.

I swallow hard.

My room is 822.

822 is the farthest room from the elevator at the end of a twisting hallway. I am forcing myself through the elevator door as it opens; and by the time I reach the hotel room door, panic’s war on my grip on reality has firm footholds.

My fists reach the door first.


I rap, long and hard, and then stop, panting. I am in the hallway outside a hotel room in Philadelphia. I am naked. Am I dreaming? My head is swimming, off-balance.

“Willie!” I pound the door. There is no answer. The hallway seems to narrow and then to tilt. I am dizzy, bright spots in front of my eyes.

Where am I? Am I here? Am I real? How did I get out here? Why isn’t Willie answering the door?

Panic seizes my chest. I have to get to Willie. I have to ask him. He’ll know. He’ll know why I’m out here.

I need a phone.

The elevator. They have phones in elevators, don’t they?

The panic swimming in my blood grabs on to the thought of the telephone in the elevator, propels me forward; and I am half-way down the hall when I hear a bell and the sound of the elevator doors opening. I hear two women laughing, talking. At a full run, I spin on my heels, spin away from the elevators and back to 822.

I am pounding on the door seconds later.

“Willie! Willie!” I cry. “I’m outside and I don’t know where I am!” I swallow panicked tears and crouch against the door.

The voices of the women, drunk, laughing, increase in volume as they get closer. I cover my breasts with one arm, my groin with the other and bury my face in the door jamb.

“Willie,” I sob, whispering into the door jamb. “Open the door! I’m afraid.”

Just around the corner, a woman says, “… and then he told me yes, he was still married, but she was in a coma!” They both laugh. Keys jingle. There is a failed attempt and then a successful opening of a door. The door shuts and the laughing women are gone.

I am alone.

I jump up and bolt for the elevator. I am sure there is a phone in the elevator. I am sure of it. I will call Willie. He will tell me why I’m alone.

The green of the carpeted floor seems to leap up. The walls are askew, tilted. My heart is pounding as I reach the elevator.

I press the button only to be terrified, suddenly, that it will open. I press myself against the wall next to the elevator. I have no clear idea of what I will do if the elevator is occupied.

The doors open. No one comes out. I step in, the muscles of my arms jumping, legs trembling.

There is no phone.

My mind stops.

There is no phone. I had been so sure... My mind drifts off, just for a moment, and I am snapped back into reality, if that's what this is, as the doors of the elevator close. The elevator begins to descend.

Floor! What floor?!

From the mirrored walls of the elevator I watch the image of a naked woman frantically pressing “Door Open”, then, stupidly, “8”, followed by “7”. Her frightened face bounces from one mirrored wall to another, a fun house of desperation.

The doors open to no one on the 7th floor.

Relieved, I step out. The doors close, and I begin to walk away.

But where am I going? I stop. There aren’t phones in hotel hallways.

The phones are in the rooms.

Or in the lobby.

New fear grips me as I turn back to the elevator. I cannot go to the lobby, and I cannot roam the hallways looking for help. I have to go back to 822.

I press the button. I wait, heart pounding in my chest, in my ears. Again, it is empty. I step inside: the naked woman in the mirrors works hard to avoid her own reflection.

I step onto the 8th floor without incident and then run, on tiptoes, to the room, the last room around the last corner on the top floor.

I throw myself at the door, knock long and hard. “Willie! Willie! It’s me! Am I dreaming?” Nothing happens. I hammer the door with my fists. I kick the door, hard, twice, and leap back in pain, my toes screaming. I see stars again.

Is this real? How can this be real?

The panic in my blood wins and my imagination leaps off a bridge and takes me with it.

“Willie! Oh my God, Willie! Am I dead?”

I put my hands over my face and fall to the ground.

The door opens.

“Oh my God. Pearl.” Willie’s voice is the sound of utter disbelief, and he pulls me up, pulls me into the room, and holds me tight.

“Where have you been? What are you doing? Where are your clothes? Why were you out there?"

He pushes me out to arm's length and stares at me. "Good God, you are ice cold!”

I look up, sobbing. “I’m naked.”

It is 3:28.

How long had I been wandering before I “came to” – and where was I during that time?

Why did it take so long for Willie to wake up?

Is there surveillance video at the Clarion?

Do I really want the answers to any of these questions?


Susan Williams said...

You just scared me to death!!! Holy crap!!!

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

Please tell me that was all a dream. Holy crow, I could hardly breathe.

Shelly said...

If this was a dream, it is a very telling metaphor.

If you actually walked this...it gives me chilling goosebumps.

Pearl said...

It IS a telling metaphor, isn't it?

But it really happened. It still frightens me. I had a number of bruises on my legs the next day, blisters on my knuckles from knocking so hard and so long, and the first three toes on my right foot were purple from kicking the door...

I still have no idea what happened.

bill lisleman said...

I remember reading about Willie on your blog long ago but not for a long time. Truth stranger than fiction fits this story.

Becky C. said...

You need to write fiction, girl! Had me feeling the fear right along with you. Dang goosebumps! Yikes!

Pearl said...

bill, good ol' Willie. :-)

Becky, it does feel a bit Twilight Zone-ish, doesn't it?!

Roses said...

Bloody hell woman!

Sabrina said...

Oh my god, my heart is pounding in my chest. I can't believe you went through that. Must have been so scary! I can also imagine the memory of it is scary.

Well written by the way. I seldomly read something so gripping.

Shelly said...

Good golly, Pearl- a sleepwalk gone horribly wrong??? The fact that you remember so much, though, and were so aware of your surroundings kind of points away from that. That is the stuff of true nightmares-

vanilla said...


You took me along on that terror-ridden night. Gentleman that I am, though, I kept my eyes averted from my companion.

Pearl said...

Roses, this is what I'm saying!

Sabrina, thank you!

Shelly, I sat at a sidewalk cafe the next morning, and wrote a TON of notes. I can still see that carpet, still feel how outrageously cold my flesh was at the end... What I didn't say here is that the next night Willie tied my leg to his with a pair of pantyhose I'd brought along. :-) And yes, I think it was sleepwalking. We have a history of that and sleep-talking in our family. I'd never actually sleep-walked to that extent before, generally just making it from the bedroom to the kitchen. :-) Used to wake up in front of the fridge quite a bit as a teenager!

Pearl said...

vanilla, I thank you, sir. :-)

Douglas said...

I just have one question:

When Willie turned over the Galaga machine (I loved that game), did you mean he upended the machine itself or turn the score over on the game? If the latter, you can blame Willie for your naked trek.

Suldog said...

Well, it was a terrifying experience (and I felt every bit of it, via your great writing) but at least you got a fantastically scary blog post out of it!

Stuff like this fascinates me. To the best of my knowledge, I've never sleepwalked. I did, however, have a "blackout" experience once. I was playing basketball. I remember being on defense, the other team coming down the court, and next thing I remember was being in the locker room, getting dressed, after the game was over. No idea whatsoever what transpired in the hour or so I "lost". Nobody was staring at me oddly or giving any indication that anything was out of the ordinary. I dressed, guys said "goodbye" as though it was a completely normal evening, so I never asked anyone what I might have done or what might have happened.

So far as I know, though, I never got naked (at least before hitting the showers.) Very scary tale, and I hope you never have a repeat.

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

I read this and thought you were going to tell us that it was a dream and you would have a punch line to this.

My second thought was that someone slipped something in one of your drinks.

Don't go back to Philly. I live 20 miles from this city and only go occasionally to meet up with friends. However, I am there only in the daytime and leave before dark.

Geo. said...

Gave me the willies.

Elizabeth Rose Stanton said...

Wow! You must experience PTSD when you are in hotels with long corridors--not to mention elevators without phones. Your writing had me riveted. Oh my gosh!

Dawn @Lighten Up! said...

Gah! Very worrisome!
Forgive me for asking, but I am the wife of a police office, and this is how we think: Is it possible someone slipped you a mickey or something? In your drink?
In any case, this is amazingly written, and gave me chills in my neck and spine.

Ian Lidster said...

That is a really frightening story, beautifully narrated by the talented you. So, WTF? Was it real? Was it a dream? Was it sleepwalking? Whatever it was, I don't want the experience.

Jacquelineand.... said...

There is occasionally an 'extra' sleep stage which comes right after REM sleep in which things like this happen. During REM sleep one is generally 'paralysed' to an extent, which is why we don't all fling ourselves out of windows, etc.. when having dreams of flying but, thankfully very rarely, we sometimes hit a stage directly after REM sleep in which we are still in a dream-like state but able to move.

Having said all that, this was a truly frightening tale that was beautifully written. How traumatic for you! Fingers are crossed that you never have such an experience again.

Pearl said...

I've had a number of people suggest to me that something had been slipped into my drink; and while I have sleep-walked (??) in my life, never like this. I didn't feel well when we left the bar, and it wasn't the drinking -- I think I'd had six or so beers over the course of about six hours, so not beyond what I'm accustomed to. But we left the bar with the live music because I didn't feel well -- in fact, I insisted that we leave, which was not particularly popular. I came out of the sleepwalking quite slowly, very disoriented. I remember struggling for clarity and really being quite firm with myself insofar as trying to think logically/analytically. Was I drugged? Is that why I "walked"? Was Willie drugged? Is that why he didn't waken, despite my injuring myself knocking on the door?


fishducky said...

I was ABSOLUTELY POSITIVE you were going to tell us it was a dream--but then when you said you had bruises the next day...! VERY well written & VERY scary!!

Craver Vii said...

Oh my gosh, that's terrible! I had been hoping to hear you say that it was just a dream or maybe a made-up Halloween story. I'm glad you are able to talk about it, and I hope you've experienced a good measure of healing and recovery from the incident. I'd also wish for justice if it were caused by something other than sleepwalking, but I guess we can't know that for sure.

Hey, I noticed that you passed through Chicago. That's close to where I live. In fact, I was born and raised in Chicago. I hope you were treated well while you were here. It would have been fun to try to visit, but I was camping over the weekend.

chlost said...

I'm convinced you were drugged. Glad that nothing worse happened, although this was pretty awful. Did Willie have any side effects that support the possibility that he was drugged too? He may just have been sleeping quite soundly after a few drinks that night.
Scary stuff.
What made you decide to write about it now? Has something recently brought this back to mind?

Jeremy Bates said...

That's a lot of naked running around! Alas, were it true, there would be cameras, and if it were a man, he'd be in jail.

Neat little story. Suspenseful. I like the line about the guys wife being in a coma. lol Good one.

Christian at Point Counter-Point Point Point said...

Here's the bright side of being naked. Perhaps being cold is what finally woke you up. If you had been clothed you may have wandered out onto the streets. Nudity saves the day!

Gigi said...

Holy hell, Pearl! This actually happened! (I remember reading it before and thinking it was a dream) Remind me to lock you in your room whenever you decide to grace me with a visit!

Steadfast Ahoy! said...

Truth is stranger than fiction. Great writing, eliciting real emotion. Good job. Hope it doesn't happen again.

SherilinR said...

that sounds very much like a roofie attack. thankfully the person who gave it to you must have wasted it since you went back to your own room with your own willie.
either that or maybe you had a seizure that caused you to "sleepwalk." have you ever read about that? it runs in my family and often looks like sleepwalking, but it's something different.
in any case, you wrote it beautifully and had all of us holding our breath to see what was going to happen next! i'm glad you were okay, though bruised and cold.

jenny_o said...

Frightening ... glad nothing worse happened. Brrr!

Daisy said...

My heart is still pounding...and Hallowe'en isn't til tomorrow!

Eva Gallant said...

tht was a scary tale!!!!

Rose L said...

It REALLY, REALLY happened??? You both should have called the police and been taken to hospital for tests if it was real. So scary.

David Macaulay said...

OMG - that was for real? The day I realize I am naked in an elevator asking 'where is my willie?' I'm retiring from public life...

The Elephant's Child said...

So glad that you (finally) got Willie to open the door. So glad that being cold, frightened and alone was the worst thing that happened to you. So mad that any of it happened. Aaaargh.

Linda O'Connell said...

This was a great Halloween fright story, only it sounds more like someone dropped acid in your beer if it wasn't a dream. My heart is rammimg.

River said...

I was hoping this was a nightmare you'd had, but I've read some of the other comments and found it really happened. That is SO scary! I agree with the others that you were somehow drugged. But why??

Teresa Coltrin@Journaling Woman said...

Very frightening. Very.

Raymond Alexander Kukkee said...

Pearl, this is such a powerful piece of writing. I read it several times. It does sound like 'date rape' drugs were involved, but who knows? Sleepwalkers do amazing things sometimes. Regardless, thank God you're safe. We didn't peek. Again, a great piece of writing.
Do take care.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Okay, this trumps even the opening scene in Scream, which scares the pants off me still.

Dr Zibbs said...

Pictures please.

DebH said...

You need to go to the Dr and ask for a few tests. Seriously, that is something that could be dangerous and frankly hard to sleep from there out. I just experienced a very out of the ordinary siezure while sleeping and awoke to the Local Law enforcement and an Ambulance team in my bedroom. I was hauled to the hospital and while I went back into a lull of a sleep, they did an MRI. I was in the hospital in Mayo a day later and within a few days of assorted tests, they did awake brain surgery to remove a gold ball size cancer spot. I'm not saying you have cancer but Please go get yourself checked. The mind is a mystery and your story definitely worries me. Let us know what you find out!