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Thursday, October 31, 2013

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?


Anonymous said...

A waking, walking nightmare. Best handcuff yourself to the bed from now on.

Pearl said...

Delores, it was days and days before I could stop thinking about it!

Vicus Scurra said...

That was you?

Shelly said...

I think more and more someone must have slipped something in one of your drinks. That's too much for a sleep walking nightmare type of thing. Have you ever figured out anything more about what could have happened?

Watson said...

My heart is pounding. You've had some scarey times, Pearlie girl.

Al Penwasser said...

Philadelphia will do that to people. I think it's the cheesesteaks.
As to your first question, "Why not go?", that's easy.
Camden, New Jersey, is right across the river.
Plus, the Liberty Bell ain't all it's cracked up to be.

Christine said...

The whole time I read this I was thinking, "Oh, this is just a Halloween joke. This didn't really happen." Good heavens, Pearl! I really wish that was a joke. What a horrible thing to happen to you!

jenny_o said...

I'm thinking along the same lines as Shelly.

This really IS a scary story.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

I, too, think you were drugged. But that doesn't answer the other questions, and it does nothing to take the edge off the terror in this story!

fishducky said...

This scared the hell out of me!!

Geo. said...

Sounds like spiritual astral projection. Mine always finds stuff that makes it want to go back and fetch its body, which I never consent to because my spirit is an idiot.

Elephant's Child said...


Launna said...

One of those nasty nightmares... someone must have slipped something in your drinks... WOW... very scary Pearl...

Joanne Noragon said...

I kept thinking, this can only be a technicolor nightmare. Wrong.

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

If you haven't already, you need to see the movie Sleepwalk With Me. It's a true autobiographical movie about a comedian who has a severe sleepwalking disorder. Before the movie, he also told his story on various NPR shows. It's pretty fascinating.

Connie said...

Oh my, oh my! How scary. Both of my sons walked in their sleep when they were little, but luckily they both outgrew it.

Yamini MacLean said...

Hari Om
This is the definition of living hell.

Ever been back to Philly? YAM xx

Susan Kane said...

Many lessons can be gleaned from this experience. what, I am not sure entirely.

River said...

I thought you were drugged too, just like others thought, but I thought this whole thing was a nightmare you couldn't wake up from. When I got to the end and found it was real, I was horrified. I'm so glad you are/were safe, well I hope you were safe and to answer your last question, yes, I think you should know the answers if you can find out. I know I would want to. I'm also wondering why Willie didn't hear you the first time you were banging on the door.

Linda O'Connell said...

Holy crap! Truth IS stranger than fiction. Someone slipped you something. How frightening.

Anonymous said...

Oh Pearl, I am so sorry that happened to you! That's awful. If it makes you feel better, I work for a brand similar to Clarion. Cameras are in the lobby area and loading dock areas, but not on the floors of the guestrooms.

Ms Sparrow said...

Sad that it was so deeply imprinted on your consciousness. That is a nightmare you would want to forget!

Jayne Martin said...

Holy shit, Pearl! Even your nightmares are brilliant! Damn, I hate those naked dreams. Well done!

Pearl said...

It actually wasn't a nightmare/dream. I really did wander around the Philadelphia Clarion for well over an hour, naked and disoriented.

I have great sympathy of habitual sleepwalkers. This has not happened to me to this degree since then...