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It all started with the nightmares.
Is this a dream? Am I asleep? Is this really happening to me?
Strapped in a strait jacket, I find myself stationed uncomfortably on a hard metal chair. Two uniformed police officers stand over me, staring down at me. One of them tugs forcefully on the jackets straps to verify that they are secure. The other suddenly jerks my feet up off the floor almost pulling me from my chair in the process. Holding my shoes by the heels, he allows the first policeman to lock a pair of inversion boots tightly around my ankles. Next, I hear that distinct tearing sound as one of the officers rips off a couple yards of duct tape from a large gray roll with his teeth. Together, the two meticulously wrap the tape steadfastly around the boots and over the buckles, making absolutely certain the boots wont fly open once Im hanging upside down.
Unable to move either my arms or feet, I attempt to see just how tight the strait jacket is by wriggling back and forth in my steel folding chair. There is no give, no slack at all. I am completely confined.
Ha, ha, I guess Ive gained a few pounds, I chuckle nervously to the officers, trying to relieve some of the tension in the air. However, their lack of response makes me even more uptight.
The pressure from the heavily starched white canvas is constricting my ability to take a full breath. My breathing is forced to become short and quick. As a result, I begin to hyperventilate slightly. Soon my lungs are begging for more oxygen, causing my heart to pound strenuously against my chest.
Desperate to calm my pounding heart, I whisper to myself, Dont panic. Concentrate on what you are doing. Focus on the escape.
It isnt working just the opposite. Claustrophobia is taking hold of me. As my blood pressure increases, I begin to feel light-headed. The blood, pulsating against my eardrums, changes the dull thumping in my chest into a sharp throbbing in my head.
Concentrate, Jim! Panic and you could die!
Gradually the driving bass notes of some dramatic theme music replace the thudding in my ears. Over the loudspeakers, I hear the deep-voiced master of ceremonies announcing to the crowd, Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, you are about to witness one of the most daring escapes of all time. Even the late, great Harry Houdini never attempted anything like this! After being strapped into a regulation straitjacket and shackled by the ankles to a piece of rope, our magician, the amazing James Carpenter, will be attached to this two-hundred-foot extension crane. Whereupon, the rope will be set on fire, the crane will be set into action, and our magician will go way beyond Houdini!
He will be hoisted upside down, two-hundred feet into the air. Remember, the only thing holding him up there will be a four-foot length of burning rope. Check your watches, ladies and gentlemen. The rope will burn through in approximately three minutes. If this daring escape artist does not release himself before the rope burns through hell either have to learn to fly or hell plunge two-hundred feet TO HIS DEATH!
The crane starts up. The music builds toward a crescendo, quickly drowning out the dull roar of the cranes diesel engine. After repositioning my chair to face the crowd, the police officers attach one end of the rope to the inversion boots around my ankles and the other end to the hook of the crane. With a wave from one of them, my beautiful assistant, her golden hair blowing in the breeze, steps up onto the platform carrying a fiery torch.
Strutting across the stage in fishnet stockings, her long silky legs draw all the attention away from me. She leans forward, extending the torch, which is now accompanied by a tremendous whooshing sound of the wind-blown flames. Almost in slow motion, I see the flame jump from the torch to the diesel-soaked rope, quickly igniting it. Within seconds the ropes roaring like a blast furnace.
I unsuccessfully struggle to take a full breath, coughing slightly after inhaling some of the diesel smoke. Concentrate. Try to relax, I repeat to myself in silence.
With a sudden jerk the crane kicks into high gear and the cable hoists me upside down, by the ankles. Looking downward, I see the ground pulling away rapidly, surprised at how quickly Im pulled higher and higher into the sky.
Twenty feet I see the people in the audience very clearly from this height. Some have their arms crossed firmly, some applaud and cheer; others simply stare, their mouths wide open. Beginning my struggle against the straitjacket wrapped so tightly around me, I attempt to force my arms away from my body the attempt is in vain. The jacket doesnt give a millimeter.
Sixty feet, and still rising my body weight pulling down heavily on the hemp causes the rope to start untwisting slightly. Spinning slowly in a circle, I become aware of every motion, every slight twitch and pop of the burning fibers.
Get out of this, I say to myself. Youve got to get out! Wrenching sideways, I feel the rope make a sudden lurch down, frightening me. Time is ticking by as I make my way skyward.
Eighty feet losing my sensation of the crowd, my concentration now turns to the wind. With each gust it sways me slightly back and forth, creating red-hot flames and billowing a continuous cloud of black smoke into the blue sky. My eyes follow a small rainstorm of flaming diesel whipped away from the rope by the blustering air. Falling toward the earth, each droplet disappears, consumed by the flame long before smashing into the pavement below, leaving only a tiny trail of smoke as proof of its existence.
One-hundred feet with all the blood rushing into my head, I feel a kind of euphoria. Losing the upside down sensation, I feel as though the world around me is inverted. For a brief moment my mind begins to wander, contemplating the vastness of the space around me and suddenly I feel very alone.
Concentrate, Ive got to focus!
One-hundred-fifty feet my struggle has now become a test of mental clarity as well as physical strength. My thinking is unclear. My arms are beginning to fatigue. Perspiration breaks out on my head and neck. Short of breath, I am starting to panic. My twisting back and forth becomes violent. I cant get out!
One-hundred-eighty feet my enraged twisting yields a positive result as at last the sleeves gain some slack. With the extra space comes the ability to take a full breath and the sense that Ill be okay. I just need to force my shoulder out of place for a moment. Pressing my right shoulder fiercely against the restraint, I feel a pop that goes along with a sharp, but temporary pain, Aaarrrgh!! For a moment my shoulder is slightly separated; however, I now have the necessary room to get one arm out of its sleeve. A heavy sigh of relief just a few more seconds and Ill be out.
Two-hundred feet in the air my arms are almost free; another distinct snap not my shoulders this time. A burning ember brushes my cheek on its way down. I gaze up. Time stands still for a moment. In horror, I watch as the rope separates. The small end of the burning rope, still attached to the crane, makes a flip skyward as if waving good-bye. The top of the crane pulls rapidly away from me.
Oh my God! The rope is broken!
I feel the sudden rush of momentum downward. A terrifying falling feeling envelops me. The pavement races up to meet me head on. The crowd is screaming.
I scream, Aaaaaaggggghhhhhh!
Falling, falling I close my eyes falling.
With the sudden lurch of the mattress beneath me, I practically felt myself hit the bed, waking up drenched in a cold sweat. Confused and lost for a moment, there in the darkness of my own bedroom, I could almost hear the faint echo of my own scream. But, as my eyes adjusted to the moonlight filtering through the blinds, I slowly regained my bearings and composure, realizing that it was all simply a bad dream.
Somehow, during my sleep, the bed linens had become entangled around me evidently the cause of the nightmare. After turning my night table lamp on, untangling myself took only a moment. To my misfortune, I discovered that during my nightmare Id actually ripped a hole through one of the sheets. It must have happened while trying to free myself. The unconscious mind is a powerful force, I thought, perturbed that Id have to go out and buy another set of designer sheets.
Taking a drink of water from the glass on my nightstand, I relaxed, trying to reassemble the details of the nightmare. However, they were not very clear. I found that by the time I was completely awake, I had forgotten much more of the dream than I remembered.
It had been a long time since Id had a nightmare. I couldnt really remember the last one, and I was sort of glad that I didnt remember this one. They happened a lot, right after my father died, but that was when I was just a kid.
That was a long time ago.
Why was I having nightmares again? Why now?
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