Sleep No More
You wander into the dark hotel on eleventh avenue and walk through a dimly lit hall. They take your coat and ticket and motion towards a dim light in the distance. You walk through pitch-blackness, hands in front of you, through a winding hallway. Before your eyes have had time to adjust, you pull back a velvet curtain and find yourself in a 1930s jazz club. They offer you punch and you drink it down quickly. A jazz trio sets up on a small stage surrounded by an audience mostly in their twenties and thirties. Soon you are escorted onto a small, crowded elevator. But first you are given a mask. A white masquerade mask that curves grotesquely at the bottom. Everyone in the elevator is wearing the same mask. When you step out of the elevator, you will all be ghosts. The elevator stops at the fifth floor. Two guests are allowed out. The door shuts and you are taken to the fourth floor. You and one other are let out. The rest continue down. You walk into what looks and feels like a cobblestone street. Jazz records from the ’30s are blaring. To your left is a dark room filled with specimen jars and other witchcraft. To your right is a macabre version of a century-old natural history museum, or a taxidermist’s study. You make your way across the dark cobble-stoned street and slip into a photography studio. Behind the studio, separated by floor-to-ceiling shelves, is the darkroom. Photos of decomposing female bodies are hung to dry. All at once a horde of ghosts flood into the darkroom, and at their center two men. Silently they grapple each other. You watch the fight but wordlessly slip away, to a narrow, dark hallway, up a flight of stairs, to the fifth floor. You open the door and find yourself in an empty asylum. Rows of hospital beds, clipboards hanging next to each, with scribbled notes difficult to make out. In the next room are rows of bathtubs filled with stagnant water. You are completely alone. Through an open window you see a forest. You check the window, not trusting your eyes. Your hand goes through it. You take the door next to the window, and find yourself alone in the woods. The woods are a silent, dark labyrinth. As you make your way through them, something catches your eye. In the center of the woods, separated by walls of trees, is what looks to be a live elk standing on a rock. You stand still and wait, and watch. He’s not moving. Was he moving before? You walk through the winding forest and finally find yourself in front of it. A blank stare. Stuffed. It is still silent, you are still alone, now in the middle
of the woods. A door opens on the other side of the forest and you notice a large black iron gate. A man walks to the gate and tries to open it. A heavy chain keeps it locked. He continues trying. Terrified you speed through the rest of the labyrinth, hoping he hasn’t seen you. You walk through a door and once again find yourself in the asylum. A small room used for electro shock therapy. The psychologist’s office. Scattered are reports of Lady Macbeth. She isn’t doing well. On the fourth floor you are greeted by a vast expanse of ruins. Statues of angels, of women, of demons dot the foggy landscape. The music is a heavy, rumbling drone. Passing through the decays of what might have been a cemetery, you find yourself in a graveyard lined with simple crosses as gravestones. The ghosts flood the area, and a woman pushing a baby carriage emerges. She lifts what must be a child from the carriage, but it disintegrates into sand. A man follows her, a few minutes later, and the enter into a house, climbing to the top high shelves in their living room, doing a twisted dance in the corner, against the ceiling. Room after room after room. In one is the baby’s crib, above it, strung from the ceiling, are headless babies, in a web. The ghosts whisper of an orgy on the fourth floor, naked dancers, a goat-faced man, and a woman giving birth to the son of Satan. You make your way back, but only find an empty bar. Down another flight of stairs. You’ve forgotten what floor you are on. It’s the hotel lobby, thick with ghosts. A woman angrily checks into the hotel. An empty restaurant borders it. There is Haggis on the menu. When you make your way to the stairwell again, a procession of ghosts races from the top floor to the bottom. You follow them down. When you walk into the basement, you find yourself on a balcony overlooking a large ballroom filled with dancers. As you stand at the edge, the music gradually changes from a waltz into a nightmarish drone. One woman is left dancing alone. She slowly pulls her hair, and it gradually falls out, until she is bald and the room’s lighting has shifted. It’s phantasmagoric. You are at the edge of a nightmare. You make your way through the hotel again. The lobby where another woman checks in. The asylum. The jazz club. You find the stairwells blocked by masked men who only allow you to make your way down. You enter the basement again, in time to see the whole of it packed with ghosts. At the center there is a long dining room table filled with well-dressed people. The music drones and the guests move in slow motion. A noose is produced. A man hangs himself. The music stops. The lights fade. You slowly make your way back to the jazz club, through the black halls, out into New York again. You know if you came back, the experience would be different, every time.