In 2017, I tasted death for the first time. Naturally speaking, I wasn’t dead, but I wasn’t alive either; I do not know what I was, or where I was. About four years ago I was put into a coma after a sudden and unexplainable stroke; unexplainable because I was only twenty-three years old when it happened. I was finishing up my shift at my local gas station, playing around on my phone while waiting for the next guy to take over my shift. Completely out of nowhere, I started to feel… off. I became confused, my surroundings felt unfamiliar all at once, I forgot what I was doing, and I set my phone down. I closed my eyes as I became extremely sensitive to light, I felt nauseous and a tingling sensation filled my body – then it all felt limp – hollow-like, and after that, well, I don’t remember much until waking back up much later.
Before the incident, I wasn’t going anywhere with my life. Every day felt monotonous, samey, dull, and tiring. I was living with my parents in my hometown of Dredford, Rose Creek, I watched all of my friends get their lives together and move on, and while I tried going to college for about a year I quickly found myself dropping out and returning home. I was stuck in a bad cycle, I always felt an urge to leave and do something with my life but every time I tried I would just retreat back into my safe place at home. Comfortable at home, yet incredibly unhappy. I continued with my easy and safe job at the gas station, this was what I felt content with – but except it wasn’t at the same time; I knew my life was going nowhere fast, and perhaps the incident was in some twisted way, exactly what I needed.
They say when you’re in a coma you’re aware of what’s going on around you. Well, for me, I certainly felt aware. While in the coma I was entirely lucid, yet I wasn’t present, and while my friends and family saw me lying on that hospital bed, terrified that I was never going to wake up, my mind was in other places. While in my coma, I went to a place that I was not welcome, I passed through what I can best describe as ‘velvet hallways’, and saw things that I was not meant to see.
. . .
The numbness, the nausea, the pain, the confusion from the gas station all slowly faded away into darkness. Where I would expect to feel nothing after such an event, I began to feel very much alive, I felt at peace; I was extremely happy actually. I heard the faint echoes of an old tune dancing all around me, I knew this tune yet I couldn’t put my finger on it. The black void slowly faded away and I could see once again, I did not awake where I collapsed – I was someplace new – I felt comfortable and safe. I sat in the middle of a hallway, the walls on each sides of me soft and dark red, the walls subtly waved back and forth with gracefulness, almost like they were flowing in a gentle breeze, yet there was no wind. I reached out to my sides and touched them, they were soft to the touch like a fabric.
I saw a faint light at the end of the hallway – perhaps this was where the comforting music was coming from? I slowly stood up and walked towards the light. Getting closer and closer by the step, the light shone through a half-opened door, and it welcomed me. I touched the doorknob and slowly pulled it open as I walked into a familiar home. I stepped into a kitchen, and I heard the door close unobtrusively behind me. I turned around to see that no door existed at all, it was like I had entered through a wall. Quickly forgetting about this, I slowly walked around the kitchen to see balloons, confetti, party hats, and food was scattered all around. It looks like a child’s birthday party had just happened – except there were no people here, the house was dead quiet, not even white noise kept me company. I noticed an analogue clock on the wall that ticked to “1:00”, it was the afternoon. Ever since noticing the clock, I could hear every single tick the hand made.
Tuning out the ticking but still hearing it in the back of my mind, I decided to explore the rest of the room. I leaned in to see a birthday cake sitting at the centre of the kitchen table, a candle shaped like a “7” was stuck in it – I remember this, this was Justin’s seventh-birthday party, he was one of my old childhood friends that I used to be very close with, we grew apart in high school and after graduation he had moved far away for college. While reminiscing, I felt a tingly-feeling in the back of my neck, like someone was glaring at me. I turned around and examined the rest of the room, I didn’t see anybody – how could I feel watched in a place so lonely? Everything started coming back to me as I took in the details of the kitchen: yellow wallpaper all around, white-tiled floor, that old popcorn ceiling; the place was a bit tacky looking back, but it’s vivid and colorful design screamed a nostalgic, early-2000’s. It was euphoric, I had missed this so much – back during the time when everything was so simple, I could imagine myself and my old friends running through this house hyped up on birthday cake and candy. I left the kitchen and examined the living room – brown couches facing a big boxed-television, I smiled to myself as I remembered back to the days where those still existed. The more I explored the house, the more familiar it became and the greater that nostalgic feeling in my stomach grew. That was, until I glanced through the front door window.
As I peeked through the glass window at the front door, I saw Justin’s old neighborhood that was also all so familiar to me – it was a classic suburban neighborhood. His driveway extended out to the road of a cul-de-sac, the surrounding houses all looking very similar. The day was a bright, sunny day, and everything looked so peaceful… so why wasn’t I feeling at peace anymore? Was it because the nostalgic music began to grow quieter and quieter, as the clock ticking grew louder? Or was it because I didn’t see a single person outside, nor did I see any cars, driving or parked – it was all so empty. But, something more felt wrong – was the sky ‘too’ blue? The sky was an intense light blue; I don’t think the sky was ever that blue, was it? The grass too, does grass even get that green? It was a vibrant lime green, all perfectly cut and not one patchy spot in sight. The white, puffy clouds in the sky, were they even moving? The tree leaves were static, even on days with no wind the leaves ought to move a bit, right? Where were all of the birds? It all looked a little… artificial, like it was trying its hardest to seem comforting and nostalgic, yet falling short into the uncanny valley.
The feelings of nostalgia in my stomach faded, and were replaced with a weird gut-feeling that something was not right. I tried to open the door, but the knob didn’t even turn – it was like it was never designed for that purpose. I turned back around to get another good look at this old home – it no longer felt familiar. The clock-ticking became louder and louder until it replaced the comforting music entirely. I started to become increasingly uncomfortable in my own skin, I felt like a stranger in a place that I was not supposed to be in. I looked upstairs, a long stairway led up to the second floor of the home, but I could not see past the first few steps – why was it so dark up there on a bright day? I kept my back pushed up against the front door, I no longer wanted to move, and I wanted to stay as far away from this house as I could – this was not the house I remembered from my childhood. Then – something broke the deafening silence.
Wesley, what are you doing here?
The voice emerged from the top of the stairs, in the darkness where I could not see. The voice was not familiar, and not human in the slightest. It sounded like an old computer trying to talk – the voice was staticky, and its pitch was all off like it was automated. I heard the steps creak and slow, heavy footsteps come closer down the stairs. I was frozen in fear and tried my hardest to push my back up against the front door – but I wasn’t going anywhere. The footsteps then stopped again right before it could emerge from the darkness; it spoke again:
Oh, you’re not supposed to be here yet, are you?
My vision grew dark and my legs fell limp, my body tingled all around as I collapsed onto the floor.
. . .
Yet, I would wake up in the velvet hallways once more; and once again, the same familiar tune played at the end of the hallway, accompanied subtly by the same clock-ticking. Surprisingly enough, despite having full memory of what had happened just moments before blacking out, I felt comfortable again. My fears from earlier felt unfounded and irrational, I had nothing to be scared of, I told myself as I stood up once more and walked towards the end of the hallway with eagerness, letting the music guide me.
Once again, I creaked open the door at the end of the hallway and found myself in my old high school gymnasium, from the looks of it, prom had just ended – the place was trashed. Tables were pushed together on one side of the room, leaving room for a dance floor which had leftover decorations strewn about; deflated balloons lied on the ground, confetti and ribbons scattered all over the ground. A large banner still hung from the wall: “Congratulations Class of 2015!” – this was exactly how I remembered it, the feeling of nostalgia put an unerasable smile on my face as I continued my walk across the littered gymnasium floor to take in a past that seemed so distant to me. I had almost entirely forgotten this memory, surprisingly, it was one of the last times I remember being happy. Everything was just as I remembered it, yet the emptiness of the last memory remained; so why didn’t I feel alone?
I walked towards the doors to exit the gymnasium, they opened and I found myself in the hallways – again, just as I remembered them. The windows outside presented the sky as a dark blue, like it was late evening, and the hallways were lit by the fluorescent ceiling lights, yet they seemed dimmer than usual, with the occasional flicker. It was such a weird feeling to stand in the hallways that I once remembered to be so lively, never have I seen the school completely empty. I walked through the hallways and touched the lockers that lined the walls – I remembered all of this, and I had missed it so much. I then made my way to a pair of exit doors at the end of the hallway – this was the back entrance to the school, the one I often took if I wanted to skip class. I peeked through the glass windows on the doors and saw a parking lot – with no cars in it. Again, it was a familiar scene, the total absence of anything began to make me uncomfortable; the familiar music slowly began to fade, just like it did before and the ticking of a clock took its place in full. I don’t even recall seeing any animals – no birds sitting on the powerlines, not even any flies swarmed in their usual places; it was dead.
I sighed in disappointment as the illusion of sweet nostalgia began to fade once more, but this time, upon turning around I saw something new. Beside a clock that now read “2:00”, a prom banner had been strung up on the ceiling right in front of me – I did not recall seeing it there when I had first walked down this hallway. In black writing, it simply read:
That’s when the panic set in once more. The comforting feeling of being back in one of the happiest memories of my life shattered, the reality of this illusion set in full-force and I felt true fear. Where was I, really? My legs felt weak, maybe – just maybe if I returned to the gymnasium everything would be better? I began walking back the way I came, this time, slower and much more cautious than I was before; the deafening silence of this memory broken only by the monotonous ticking of the clock that echoed throughout the hallways. I was made blatantly aware to every tiny sound I made as I walked, I could hear every dreaded step onto the cold tile floors, I could hear my shaky-breaths, and my heartbeat pounding quickly. Then – I stopped dead in my tracks. At the end of the hallway – perhaps fifty-feet in front of me, stood a man under a flickering fluorescent light – yet despite the light he appeared as a silhouette, he was extremely tall and hunched over to even fit in the building. He just stood still, and I did the same. Then he spoke, and in the same robotic and distorted tone from before he said:
You really shouldn’t be here.
My body felt numb, my legs buckled under the weight of my own body and I collapsed onto the floor – the last thing I saw before blacking out was the tall man walking quickly towards me with long strides, remaining hunched over to fit inside the now increasingly shrinking hallways.
. . .
Once more, I would wake in the velvet hallways, and once more, I would hear the sweet and welcoming tune play off in the distance, but this time that tune felt… worn, scratchy, and slightly distorted – like a damaged vinyl, and the clock-ticking was more overbearing than usual. One last time I would slowly rise onto my feet and begin to slow and entranced walk towards the light at the end of the tunnel, led by the song of sirens. I placed my hand on the door and slowly pulled it towards me, and stepping inside of my old childhood bedroom. The door slammed shut behind me, startling me at first, but the welcoming tune quickly calmed me down. It was just how I remembered it, and it was wonderful; my wallpaper was painted a bright sky blue, my wooden floor creaked in all of the usual spots when I stepped on it, my small bed with a red blanket made neatly, a brown dresser with an old, hand-me-down box TV sitting on top of it. A window was placed to my right, and my bedroom door to my left, just how I remembered it, and finally, a clock hung over the headboard of my bed that read “3:00”.
I sat on the edge of my bed and took it all in; the old sights and smells, with the sounds of the old tune keeping me at peace – yet I knew in the back of my mind that it wasn’t going to last, just like before, the illusion would fade, but all I could do in this moment was sit and enjoy it – I didn’t want to be anywhere else. After what felt like an eternity of sitting in my bed in a trance, I decided to stand up and once again take a look outside – each time I did this before, the illusion would fade, I knew this, and did it anyway for some reason I can’t explain. Staring out my old bedroom window, I… didn’t see anything. No familiar sight of my old backyard, not even for a moment, there was truly nothing there. No darkness, no light, literally nothing – do you know what ‘nothing’ looks like? It’s impossible to comprehend, yet I saw it, and I cannot explain it. The old tune, instead of gracefully fading, abruptly stopped this time and I was ripped out of my trance more violently than before, left alone with nothing but the head-pounding sound of the ticking clock – I turned away from the window and collapsed into the fetal position on the floor; this room was no longer familiar to me – I did not recognize this room, and I did not know why, this feeling of dread and unfamiliarity I had was far worse than what I felt the previous two other times.
I then heard long, heavy steps approach my bedroom door, every step they took closer they felt more and more labored; I heard heavy and tired breaths accompany every step; I prayed the door was locked. The footsteps then stopped once they reached the door, and I saw the shadow of someone standing on the other side beneath the door; the doorknob shook and the door along with it – yet it didn’t budge, it was locked and I let out a sigh of relief. The figure on the other side tried again, to no avail, and again, and again. Then, in the robotic and distorted voice all too familiar to me by now, it spoke its last words.
Wesley, this is not home.
The door then shook more violently than before, it was trying hard to get through – my brittle wooden door was not going to hold forever, and the panic began to set in. The door shook over and over again as the figure on the other side began to wheeze again, and then the wheezing turned to muffled crying of which I’ve never heard before – they were cries of despair, desperateness, and loneliness. The sounds became too much to bear and I covered my ears and forced my eyes shut, hopelessly trying to block out all of my senses, but the sounds only got louder and more overwhelming – the ticking of the clock felt like it was inside of my head. The room began to vibrate as the figure on the outside was trying so hard to get in that its unrelenting force shook the walls around me, and finally when I thought the door was going to give way, everything stopped abruptly, just like the familiar tune. I opened my eyes, uncovered my ears and sat upright with my back to the wall. The clock on the wall began to ring like an alarm clock, it now read “4:00” – had it already been an hour?
As the deafening sound of ringing continued, everything around me began to melt. The sky blue dripped off of the wall to reveal nothing on the other side, like there was no wall behind the paint. My box TV turned to sludge and dripped off of the dresser, which began to melt away itself. The red sheets on my bed turned to goop and slopped off my bed frame, and even the floor beneath me began to evaporate, yet I stayed grounded. The ringing persisted until the clock finally melted away, the ringing stopped, feeling true silence for the first time, all that was left was me and my bedroom door a few feet away from me. After the briefest moments of peace and quiet, the door creaked open and I forced my eyes shut out of pure fear of what I would see on the other side – I refused to open my eyes as I heard slow steps approach me, and I buried my face into my hands as I felt heavy breaths hit me. Whatever it was reached out and touched my shoulder with its cold hand, and its grip tightened, and tightened, until it became too much to bear and I screamed in agony – opening my eyes, I saw the ceiling of a hospital room.
. . .
In the early spring of 2021, I woke up from a coma in the hospital alone, with the monotonous beeping of the life support systems surrounding me. Apparently I screamed when I woke up, it wasn’t something the doctors and nurses had ever heard before, and it took a long time for them to calm me down. My family was called in shortly after, and after finally being in a calm enough state to listen to them, I learned that I was in a coma for four years – that thought still makes me severely uncomfortable, I had lost four years of my life just like that; had I been in the velvet hallways for that long? It certainly did not feel like four years, perhaps only a few hours. Surprisingly, I suffered very little in terms of my motor functions, I stayed in the hospital for a few more days for examinations, but after that, I was able to finally go home.
While my motor functions were largely unharmed, mentally, I did not feel okay. Little, everyday things would send me into panic attacks, clocks ticking too loudly would overwhelm me, I could no longer be alone for long periods of time, I was terrified to go to sleep, and when I did I often woke up in the night screaming. My entire perception of reality was thrown off, and a lot of the time I would put myself into ‘autopilot’ to tune out my overreactive brain just to try censoring the intrusive thoughts. My family often asked me if I remembered anything from being in my coma, as my new and unusual behaviour must have concerned them – I would always tell them that I didn’t remember a thing, not out of embarrassment, but because I could not figure out a way to explain in words what I saw. I hope that writing this experience down helps get my thoughts in order, I am thankful for my recovery, and I’ve tried my best to get my life back on track since, losing four years of my life really put into perspective how precious time is, and how much I was wasting it before.
Sometimes the familiar tune begins to play in my head, often when I’m alone I’ll hear the faintest sound of the tune, if I don’t block it out quick enough I begin to lose perception of reality and question if I am really where I think I am. I try my best not to think about it, it is so much easier to pretend it never happened and go about the rest of my life in blissful ignorance, but that is easier said than done. I can’t help but question where I was for four years, where I truly was; it’s on my mind more often than it’s not. What are the velvet hallways? What was that thing stalking me for that entire time, and what was it trying to tell me? I do not know if I want the answers, but I do hope that when I die, this is not what waits for me on the other side.
Credit : Riley Vanderlip
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