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Observations placeholder

Dunne, J. W. - An Experiment with Time – Dreams of a big fire in a factory somewhere near Paris



Type of Spiritual Experience


The fire was in this case in the past

A description of the experience


I dreamed that I was standing on a footway of some kind, consisting of transverse planks flanked on my left side by some sort of railing, beyond which was a deep gulf filled with thick fog. Overhead, I had an impression of an awning. But this last was not clearly seen, for the fog partly hid everything except three or four yards of the planking ahead of me with its attendant portion of railing and gulf. Suddenly I noticed, projecting upwards from somewhere far down in the gulf, an immensely long, thin, shadowy thing like a gigantic lath. It reached above the plankway, and was slanted so that it would, had the upper end been visible through the fog, have impinged upon the awning. As I stared at it, it began to wave slowly up and down, brushing the railing.

A moment later I realized what the object was. I had seen just such a thing once before in a cinema picture of a fire in the early days of cinematography. Then, as now, I had undergone the same puzzlement as to what this sort of waving lath might be, until I had realized that it was the long water-jet from a fire-engine hose, as photographed through intervening smoke. Somewhere down in that gulf, then, there must be a fire-engine, and it was playing a stream of water upon the smoke-hidden, railed structure where I stood. As I perceived this, the dream became perfectly abominable.

The wooden plankway became crowded with people, dimly visible through the smoke. They were dropping in heaps ; and all the air was filled with horrible, choking, gasping ejaculations. Then the smoke, which had grown black and thick, rolled heavily over every-thing, hiding the entire scene. But a dreadful, suffocated moaning continued — and I was entirely thankful when I awoke.

I was taking no chances … this time I carefully recalled every detail of the dream after waking, and not till I had done this did I open the morning papers. There was nothing in these. But the evening editions brought the expected news.

There had been a big fire in a factory somewhere near Paris. I think it was a rubber factory, though I cannot be sure. At any rate it was a factory for some material which gave off vile fumes when burning. A large number of work-girls had been cut off by the flames, and had made their way out on to a balcony. There, for the moment, they had been comparatively safe, but the ladders available had been too short to admit of any rescue. While longer ones were being obtained, the fire-engines had directed streams of water on to the balcony to keep that refuge from catching alight. And then there happened a thing which must, I imagine, have been unique in the history of fires. From the broken windows behind the balcony the smoke from the burning rubber or other material came rolling out in such dense volumes that, although the unfortunate girls were standing actually in the open air, every one of them was suffocated before the new ladders could arrive.

This dream left the whole business more puzzling than ever. It seemed that nothing could explain it. For " clairvoyance " is not an explanation. It is a meaningless expression, a mere admission of inexplicability. And "telepathy" required an enormous amount of stretching before it could be made to fit the facts.

The source of the experience

Dunne, J. W.

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Science Items

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Dreaming and lucid dreaming