The deck of cards which the young man on my right is busy shuffling is not a normal one, so I must be mistaken, either this isn’t a Friday, or they decided to play a different game for a change.
All of a sudden, I realize that I don’t know who this young man is! I have been a member of the club for years, yet this is the first time I see him. He does not introduce himself, nor do I ask his name. My attention is all on the cards from the unfamiliar deck, which he proceeds to show me. The first one pictures a werewolf howling under a red-tinted moon. Below is a legend in bold letters: The Nightmare.
The second card shows a cat-faced clown in motley clothes but, before I have time to read the legend; the young man is already showing me the next card that features a breathtakingly beautiful woman. Her long glowing hair is dark as jet; her eyes are like emeralds, and a long black dress in sheer silk shows off an alluring figure. Yet her icy smile is terrifying. What makes this all the more fearsome is that the lovely woman appears to be emerging from a coffin. Under the picture, I read The Queen of the Shadows.
I don’t like these cards. They are ghastly and give me the creeps. Part of me wants to shout at the young man to stop showing them to me, but for some reason beyond my grasp, I can’t take my eyes off the lurid pack.
On the next card, a tiger-headed woman is making passionate love to a panther-man. Demon Lovers it reads underneath, but I hardly pay attention; I am shocked at the impudent posture of the lovers.
At last, I manage to avert my gaze from the damned cards.
What sort of games do you play with such a deck? The young man carries on turning up images; I don’t want to see anymore. How can I take my leave of him politely? Failing to figure out a way, I decided I’ll simply get up and depart without explanation.
“What a boring game,” someone hisses in my ear. “We should go. I know of a cabaret where we’ll have a great time. What do you say?”
I dart a grateful glance at my rescuer, and he winks knowingly. We call him the Chess Man because he is unbeatable at chess, and this is not the first time he gets me out of an embarrassing situation.
Strangely, the face of the man who just offered to leave with me is not the Chess Man’s face! This man is young, has no moustache, and his dark hair is long to his shoulders. The Chess Man is going bald and has a thick moustache. Besides, he would never dress like this young man who looks like a Jane Austen novel hero. Even his suggestion is weird – the Chess Man is not the cabaret-going type. Yet, I know for sure that my current companion is my friend the chess champion.
Everything is so odd… Can I be dreaming? The thought fades quickly. The most important task for the moment is to get as far away as possible from those nightmarish cards. Moreover, a cabaret sounds like a good idea–
The room shimmers and I am at the cabaret.
The fact that I went from one place to another in the blink of an eye seems perfectly normal – just as it would in a dream. Yet everything seems so real! I have not the least doubt that I am in this luxurious venue, dimly illuminated by the red light of the stage where a show is underway.
A tall lad is performing magic tricks. He slips a gossamer red handkerchief into a hat; when he masterfully takes it out, the handkerchief turns into a necklace of glittering red crystals.
Crystals made of blood. Where does this weird thought come from? I cannot say. I just know that the red gems are blood.
Folding his long black velvet cloak across himself, the young magician graciously bows to the audience. During a burst of enthusiastic applause, he opens his cloak and lifts his head; he has metamorphosed into a cat-faced jester dressed in silky motley.
The cat-faced buffoon dances. His prancing is supposed to be comical, but his eyes are terrifying. He doesn’t amuse me at all. Where have I seen him before?
The jester disappears from the stage as if he had vanished into thin air. Now a man and a woman are doing the dancing – they appeared out of nowhere in the same weird way that the jester dissolved into nothingness. The couple’s dance is sensual; there is as much passion in their gestures as there is harmony in their gracious movements. For some reason, their dance makes me feel ill at ease. All of a sudden, I know what is wrong, and the blood freezes in my veins.
The magician, the jester, that couple dancing on stage – all of them are dead ringers for the pictures on the cards that the young man was showing me at the club.
I fled to get rid of those nightmarish cards; now they have come to life to perform on the stage of this strange cabaret! As if they were playing a cruel joke to make me look like a fool- No, it’s worse; maybe they are actually threatening me.
They won’t let me go. I am their prisoner.
I gasp – then I remember that I am not alone. The Chess Man can help me! When I turn my head, my friend is no longer sitting beside me. A breathtakingly beautiful woman has taken his place. She is dressed in a glossy black gown and her long dark hair shimmers like silk. She locks her emerald-like gaze upon mine, an icy smile on her exquisite face.
I turn my eyes away to watch the dancers on the stage, striving to hide my fear from her. I must keep a cool head and try to figure a way to get out of here.
The movements of the male dancer evoke a panther and the attitude of the female dancer somehow reminds of a wild feline –she looks like a tiger-woman.
How eerie and ghastly the music sounds as it echoes into my mind! That couple dancing on stage are definitely the Demon Lovers of the card deck.
As I stare at the woman dancer’s long dark hair, I am in a cold sweat. The woman on stage is also sitting next to me in the Chess Man’s place. This terrifying emerald-eyed woman with the icy smile that makes my flesh crawl is The Queen of Shadows of the cursed card deck.
What is the meaning of all this? How did the images depicted on those cards come to life? Why do they persist in playing with me the way a cat plays with a mouse? By what dark magic is the feline witch dancing on stage at the same time as she is sitting next to me…?
When she takes my hand in hers, cold as her icy smile, I shudder with terror and scream. The world whirls around me; I keep screaming while I am sucked into a whirlpool.
When I regain my senses, everything is blurred.
Where am I? Have I been transported elsewhere? The velvety voice of a woman tries to answer my unspoken questions.
“… So we administered a new drug to repair the area of your brain damaged by the trauma. Unfortunately, the drug was too efficient – your brain cells replicate at such a fast pace that the harmony is lost; your newborn neurons are growing in anarchy and have tremendous difficulties working together. That is why you may be experiencing some hallucinations just now. This shouldn’t upset you; it’s just a temporary side effect that we will soon have under control. We’ll need to perform a blood test; in the meantime, I’ll give you tranquillizers and a neuroleptic. Don’t worry; everything will be fine soon…”
I try my best to understand what the woman with the nice voice is explaining to me. It seems that I am sick. This must be why I saw all that weird stuff. This could also be the reason I was not able to tell dreams from reality. I must be in a hospital where they are trying to help me. The lovely woman is probably a doctor or a nurse.
Feeling comforted, I give a faint smile and blink to clear my vision, hoping that my surroundings will be as reassuring as the lovely voice.
Bathed in a dim red light, which seems to come from nowhere, the room I am lying in reminds of those in huge dark castles – the kind of place where vampires confine their victims in horror movies. This cannot be a hospital room!
The woman doctor or nurse is wearing a long black gown made of leather and lace. Nurses and doctors do not dress this way, and the icy smile on her handsome face deeply unsettles me. Oh, my God! She is the feline-dancer from the cabaret – the woman emerging from a coffin on the card that the young man was showing me in the club. She is The Queen of the Shadows of the ghastly deck.
I want to scream again, but this time no sound comes out of my mouth. Most of what the obliging voice just explained to me flies out of my head; anyway, I don’t believe her anymore. She belongs with that creepy bunch of living cards I am struggling to escape from.
Rational thought seems to melt from my mind just as the magician had vanished from the stage. I am caught in a vampire’s trap; that card deck is actually a vampires’ lair where they capture their victims. They must have done something to my brain. Maybe they mesmerized me; maybe they did something even worse, something alien to the human mind, so that they can steal my blood and transform it into red crystals or rob me of my dreams and turn them into some weird, splendid gem for their jewelry. They tricked my brain and now they pretend that the drug they gave me caused hall…uc…
What did that voice say? Oh, yes! Hell Oscillations.
Now I get it: they have brought me to Hell where they can induce strong oscillations. Hell Oscillations. That must be something similar to an earthquake in the real world. The vampires who imprisoned me to drink my blood or steal my dreams are causing the landscape of Hell to change constantly by means of those oscillations.
An icy finger is running down my spine. I cannot fight them. Hell is their place, not mine. Shutting my eyes to hide what I saw, I try to force myself to believe that all this is no more than a powerful nightmare. Okay, I can’t beat them at their own game – but if I concentrate strongly enough I might be able to escape and return to my own reality.
Needles (or are those fangs?) prick my throat and my arm. I dare not open my eyes. I shall have to fight hard to come back to reality. Hell Oscillations will continue, and I’ll need to ration my strength to face this terrifying new place and its nightmarish guardians from the gruesome card deck…
My bed is shaking. Green sparkles flash behind my closed lids accompanied by a blood-curdling sound. The green sparkles could be emerald eyes pursuing me in the darkness… or a dream transformed into some eerie and magnificent jewel. The sound resembles shrieks of laughter… Or is it a wolf’s howl under a cold emerald-like moon?
At least I haven’t died yet.
Or am I dead and I just don’t know it?
Maybe death is just a symphony of hallucinations orchestrated by the demons of our own mind; it goes on and on until it blazingly culminates into nothingness.
God, I am scared… Closing my eyes tightly, I pray that my terrifying tormentors are real.
“If someone believes that he has flown from America to England in the last few days, then, I believe, he cannot be making a mistake. And just the same if someone says that he is at this moment sitting at a table and writing.
But even if in such cases I can’t be mistaken, isn’t it possible that I am drugged? If I am and if the drug has taken away my consciousness, then I am not now really talking and thinking. I cannot seriously suppose that I am at this moment dreaming. Someone who, dreaming, says “I am dreaming”, even if he speaks audibly in doing so, is no more right than if he said in his dream “it is raining”, while it was, in fact, raining. Even if his dream were actually connected with the noise of the rain.”
— Ludwig Wittgenstein’s On Certainty, his last written words before becoming unconscious and dying.