To many, sleep is something that just comes and goes, a part of life so ingrained and natural it just fades into the background, never noticed, never missed.
For those who can't find it, however, it's something almost like a wound, an absence of something inside of you, a hole that gnaws until the discomfort fades into the back of your mind.
Whichever extreme you swing to, the point is that sleep, or lack of it, still remains behind our eyes, deep in the mind, always present but never closely examined.
You don't stop your work day to ponder how exactly it is you breathe, do you? I'd hope not. You might be crazy, or bored. But the fact you're alive means you breathe.
Isn't that creepy, how your body works without your consent like that? That may seem a bit paranoid of me, distrusting something like your own body, but believe me, my own paranoia once went much, much deeper than this... There are things closer to home, deeper, and much more sadistic and powerful.
At least when your body fails you, or rebels in its slow moving but terrible fashion, there are signs, a lump under the arm, a bloody spatter in your hand when you sneeze. It's hard to miss something like your heart twisting in your chest. But what happens when the signs are clear to everyone except for you? What if the fact you're broken makes it impossible to see what's wrong with you?
When your mind wants to fuck with you, it's infinitely more dangerous then some tumor. I may be getting a bit jumbled here, I apologise. Let me go back a bit, explain how it used to be, before I needed to write my thoughts down to keep them from twisting.
A year ago, I had been diagnosed with a rather severe case of insomnia. I don't just mean I found it hard to get to sleep, I could go days at a time without so much as nodding off. When I did sleep, it was a short affair, and oddly, I remember nothing prior to, during, or after the four or so hour escape from wakefulness. Well, that's not true, I do remember flashes of images, brief sensations, all tiny pieces that didn't add up to anything when put together, and were even less telling on their own.
It was like a scene in my memory had been simply torn away, and the motion had rendered the edges ragged and leaving only the most inconsequential scraps of half thoughts and the beginnings of feelings. One minute I was riding my bike home from the store, the next I was shaving, and it was dark. My unpacking of groceries, getting settled in bed, and waking up and showering were all missing.
I don't have a bad memory. It's not photogenic, but it's not exactly normal for me to lose hours out of my day. Finally, I saw a doctor, and after a lot of waiting, and an even harder time of trying to make myself sound sane, a shrink finally gave me a curious shrug. It seems I'd stumped him. In his professional opinion, there was nothing wrong with me. Well, nothing that made sense, at least. There was no apparent reason for me to be randomly blacking out like this, but, he noted cautiously, there were signs of something else. Post traumatic stress syndrome.
He repeated himself, for both our sakes, and we were equally confused over this. PTSD sounded crazy, right? Nothing has happened to me that's kicked my brain into a closet... right? Maybe something could have happened while I was out, but that didn't explain how I got these blackouts in the first place. Almost as confusing, I seemed in good health.
Apparently I was some kind of mutant who didn't require sleep to stay on my feet. The shrink didn't believe me when I told him I'd been awake one hundred and thirteen hours. If he hadn't have noted the surface symptoms of PTSD, I'm not sure he would have taken me seriously.
He assured me that I didn't have any kind of traumatic disorder, and that it must be something else, impossible to tell like this. I'd need to see a specialist, to get the answers, and so I was scheduled in to see someone else. In the meantime, he advised I keep a diary of my sleeping patterns, and wrote me a prescription for some heavy duty sleeping pills.
And that's how it started, innocently enough. I was relieved that answers were coming, slowly, but then, something strange happened. On my way to the chemist, I was about to cross the threshold, when something suddenly kept my feet in place. You know that sensation when you realise there's a massive drop in front of you, and you were about to blindly step into empty air?
It was like that. The aisles of the store extended a moment and my mind locked up with a sudden caution. By the time I noticed the employee speaking to me, the prescription had been crushed in my shaking, sweaty hand, and I had been staring into the store like I had just seen something terrible.
I shook the cobwebs from my mind and smiled at the woman, now feeling thoroughly embarrassed. She mercifully brushed the incident aside and walked me to the counter. I can't really describe what I was feeling as I paid for the bottle of pills. Something was telling me to leave, and whatever it was, it waited outside the store for me. I didn't want to look back at the tugging, nagging presence, not after my display in front of this clerk, but I felt like its eyes were on my back, and it was worried.
But I turned around and left and there was nothing there. What was I expecting to see? I laughed and brushed it off. I just needed some sleep, and maybe tonight I'd finally get it. I was being stupid. Taking the bottle from the wax paper bag on the escalator, I read the label, and couldn't shake that strange presence. Before I put the bag away in my backpack, I entertained, for the briefest second, that someone was standing behind me, and I swore as I stepped off of the moving platform that they had been just reaching out to place a hand on my shoulder.
I took my medications, and recorded it in the diary. That first night, nothing happened, and my diary steadily filled with what I had already been experiencing. A light dinner, take my meds, shower, read in bed for a few hours, finally give up and play some Skyrim until the sun rises, and start on my housework. Waste my day away with shopping, bills, maybe see a movie, avoiding caffeine and hitting the gym before finally heading home to repeat the process again.
The first 8 days of my diary were the same as this, and as I started penning down the words “Day 9”, the diary propped in my comic book, I strangely felt relieved. Folding my legs closer to prop the comic and diary up, I chewed the end of my pen and tried to pinpoint this feeling. It wasn't the first time a shadow of something had crossed my mind, like I was accidentally picking up someone else’s emotions.
Once again, nothing came, and as I put the pen back to the page, something scuttled across the edges of my mind, something akin to panic, or maybe being startled. The hairs on my neck suddenly stood up and I was alert. I heard a sound, like an inhalation drowned by a whisper, and I felt my chest clamp down on my lungs.
I was laying down. The comic and diary had fallen from my chest, the pen in my fingers, and a thin beam of very weak, pink light streamed in from my curtains. Suddenly aware of my surroundings again, I sat up and grabbed lethargically for the alarm clock on my bedside table. It was 4:41 in the morning, just before sunrise. Peering down at the clock in the near darkness, waiting for my mind to start working again, I tried to remember the last thing I had done. What time had I sat in bed to write in the diary? Rubbing my eyes, I padded about for the diary and checked the time I had written.
It had been two in the afternoon when I had began, and I had lost consciousness at that time, but there was a scribbling underneath the date. It was illegible. It was definitely my handwriting, and it had tried to form letters, but it had kept on packing together too close, or spreading out and scribbling over itself. Whatever I had tried to write, I must have had a lot on my mind, and couldn't decide what deserved space on the paper. How long had I been trying to write after I put down the time? A few minutes? An hour? I'd been lucid much longer in the past.
As I tried to push out of bed, I found my limbs were sluggish, and the world waved unsteadily as I got on my feet. I felt my way blindly to the bathroom and flipped the light switch, leaning on the counter and splashing water on my face. My eyes were blurry, and my mouth was dry. As the light flickered on, the reflection in the mirror was flashed into my vision like a lens flare. My eyes adjusted and the picture faded away, an image of someone in the bathroom door barely remembered, leaving my very tired image slumped over the sink. What the hell had just happened?
The next 7 days had gone by much like the first 8, and it seemed my sudden bout of hibernation had been only a fluke. For some reason, I felt grateful for this. My energy slowly returned, and I felt that same phantom presence return, with a curious mix of half emotions. It was the same caution from the store front, but just after my sleep, it had been frantic, impotent, like it was frightened and worried, but could do nothing.
As the days went by, and I still could not sleep, it relaxed, slowly, and began to hope. I had stopped pretending this 'presence' didn't exist, and I had started adding her to the diary. I don't know why, but I saw it as a woman. Maybe it was crazy of me to personify a voice in my head, but she wasn't a voice really. Did that make it less insane? I couldn't tell.
She was starting to grow relieved, and with it, I too felt better. Whatever it was that had worried Her, it was passing, and I felt lighter. Now that I had accepted her existence, if only as a part of my mind, I tried to remain as detached as I could. Every night, I read over my diary before entering a new page, and tried to understand why She existed, and what part of me she was an outlet for.
To me, this was like isolating a sore, understanding what it was, and keeping it from spreading while I learned as much as I could. She must have approved of my approach, since whenever I thought like this, She crooned approvingly in my mind, like she was proud of me. On day 7, I started to realise She was guilty for being here, making me question my sanity, and I felt like I owed Her my patience.
And then it came again. This time, I had been on my computer, watching Animal Cops, when She fell silent. I know that's difficult to imagine, since She can't speak, but I immediately felt her absence. Sitting up, I felt her claw back into my mind, and she was quickly torn from me. I barely had time to process the screeched mental warning when I saw a shadow moving to my left, and then I was on the floor.
15 hours had passed this time, and it was 2 in the morning. I had spent the entire time on my side, my computer chair toppled, mouse and keyboard scattered. I must have tried to get up, and collapsed, falling asleep. My limbs were stiff, sore, and weak, and I had not slept well, it seemed, tossing and turning on the hard ground.
I remembered my dream. That had never happened before. It was hazy, distorted, like it had been partially torn out of me and then stuffed back in, but I had one clear, vivid memory, of standing over myself where I lay on the floor, breathing slowly, just short of seething through my teeth. No, I thought, that wasn't me. I was down here, on the floor. It didn't make sense, but I could see it, I could remember it, even if it didn't amount to anything coherent.
My computer screen was the only light, and my screen saver was a dark one, so only occasional grey light was cast over the lounge room. I was disoriented and tried to pull myself to my feet, having to brace against the couch to not fall over again. Why was I panting? I had just been sleeping, I had no excuse being tired. No, this made no sense, something felt wrong... where was She?
That was the strongest thought I had mustered at that time. Where was She? Crazy, I know, but things became clear as I recognised this, and suddenly, I thought, no, KNEW, that I wasn't alone. Looking around, I tried to peer into the darkness, and inched my way across the room, bumping a coffee table, and kept my eyes on the empty middle of the room as I padded the wall for the light switch.
The first flash of light imprinted my empty lounge room, but the second showed a shape, too quick for me to see, and then the light came on. The vision burned into my eyes had been in front of the dark glass sliding door that looked out to my pitch black balcony. If someone had been standing out there, or even inside, there would be no way to see them. Not when they were black as ink.
Wait... black as ink? Why did I think that? Just as this thought flitted across my mind, I felt a cold, heavy weight press over me, and I swore I could hear an exhalation of breath, just on my neck. It was as if whatever it was I had imagine was confirming my fear, indicating that yes, I had seen it, and I was right. It was there, just too dark to see.
I flipped on all the lights, switched the TV on, the radio, the kettle, and started the washing machine. I needed noise. There could be no shadows, no silence, and I don't know what compelled me, but at the time, all I could think of was warding off this presence. Whatever He was, I knew now that it was what She was warning me about. It all made sense to me now.
I hurled the pills against the glass door and curled up in the corner of my kitchen, hoarding a box of candles and four torches, two of which weren't working or had near dead batteries. I had just grabbed whatever I could find, including my butchers knife. Backed into a corner like this, I could see everything in the room, but it was little comfort. I just watched the sliding door, the black upon black, the figure standing beyond the glass, silent and unmoving.
After an hour like this, wide eyed and panting, I began to calm down, and then I extended my senses. I could not feel Him. I know that sounds silly, 'extending my senses', like I'm Harry Dresden or something, but you need to understand that at the time, I was not thinking clearly. These figments of my mind were as real to me as anything, and the looping, scatterdash logic had all been clear at the time.
It was only after my heart stopped pounding and I began to ache from the cramped space that I began to detach once again, survey my situation much like I had the imaginary woman, clinically, like all of this was happening to a character in a story, or to a friend or relative that I admired. I pictured my brother, who I had always liked.
My brother looked insane. And if he did, so did I. I told myself that these two figures did not exist, and I compacted this thought into something solid, driving it into the front of my mind like a roadblock, and stood up. I walked over to where I had thrown the pills, and even with my new found determination, I looked down from the dark glass. I bent to gather the pills up and return them to the bottle, and then stood and stared into the dark balcony. I shut the curtain and turned away, effectively telling Him to talk to the hand.
I busied myself with cleaning, taking my chaotic, messy apartment and returning it to order, imagining it was my mind, and I did feel slightly better, but I was visited by my neighbour from downstairs at around 7 in the morning. I was pretty embarrassed, and apologised, but I felt a little reclusive after this, and so didn't go outside any more. I ate sparingly, because I didn't want to have to buy food, and I had stopped calling friends or going to the gym.
I had also stopped taking the pills, and neglected to write in my diary. For some reason, I dreaded opening it. What I would find, I don't know, but I wasn't ready. Even if this was just another facet of my growing insanity, it was one I simply couldn't shut the curtain on. I threw the diary in my closet. I never questioned why I kept getting fresh ink on my finger tips.
After several days of no sleep, and not seeing the outside, I finally decided to go to the gym. It was midnight, but I always went late when no one was around, and it felt good to return to a semblance of my routine. As I got my gym bag together, and checked my bikes tyres and iPod, I felt like I was reassembling the order I had scattered.
Two hours later, after a silent work out in the empty automated gym, I had almost forgotten about everything. The burning in my muscles was familiar, and comforting in its familiarity. The crackle of the cheap speakers playing late night radio, the click of the big fan that never turned right, humming of the Gatorade machine, it was all so normal and familiar for me. I had been silly, I decided. I would see the doctor tomorrow and life would get back on track, I knew it. Pulling the zipper of my gym bag to toss in the water bottle and towel, I froze.
The pills were there, resting on my spare clothes. I hadn't packed them. Seeing them sent a sudden wave of bone deep exhaustion through me, and as the world wavered, I saw it. I saw Him. It was just a shape in the corner of my eye, gone when I whipped around to look, but now a shape stood on my other periphery, just as quick, disappearing when I darted about to see it. He was in here with me. All my prior resolve melted from my mind, and I began to panic as the weariness set in.
I backed up from the table, and in my haste, I knocked the bag and chair down, staggering into my bike, and almost falling. The only reason I didn't scream when the lights went out was because my throat had closed with my panic. I knew it was there, standing in front of me, and inch from my face, silent and imposing, possessive. It wanted me. It always had. Finally, I went down, toppling over my bike, landing on my front, looking up at the dark glass doors of the gym.
Off in the car park, shrouded in shadow, was a figure, barely registering as a woman's silhouette. She cupped her hands and called to me, and while I couldn't hear her, I knew she was telling me to run.
The rest is a blur. I sprinted down the road, limbs screaming in protest as the strength seeped from them, my vision blurring, ground swinging underneath my feet, causing me to stagger and trip. I was running, frantic to get away, the shadows catching up to me, enveloping me, like the night itself was coming for me, and as it closed about me, my strength was bled away. I vaguely recall the blare of a horn, a set of headlights and a sudden, burning sensation in my chest, like someone had punched me so hard that my lungs had expelled their air.
The world spun about, the road came fast and hard, and I struggled to go on. Figures crowded me, clawing at me, trying to pull me into the darkness, and I was blacking out, fighting to keep my head above the inky blackness. As my last ounce of strength was torn away, all was dark and silent, and I felt Him looming over me.
It was as if I had been wrapped in dozens of thick blankets, chained up until I was weighted down, and dropped into a tank of freezing cold water. It was helplessness, fear, and a screaming, kicking, yet futile desperation to escape, and the whole time, He stood over that tank, silent and satisfied.
I woke up three days later in the hospital. I had fractured ribs, a shattered hip, several broken fingers, and I had almost died from a heart attack. They told me that I had run into traffic, and been hit by a car, but when people had tried to help me, I had swung at them and staggered into yet another car. That one put me in no state to run any more, and I had just begged them to leave me alone, screaming not to fall asleep. I had been clutching the diary to my chest the entire time, and when they showed the contents to me, I knew I had to get help.
There's a certain wisdom in telling when your too far gone to help yourself. I haven't yet been able to put in words that I find adequate, but the sanest thing a man can do is admit when he isn't sane. All I knew was that I could trust my own mind no longer. I went willingly, and much lighter, to the mental ward.
I asked that I keep the diary, and keep adding to it, not really expecting to be allowed to, but they agreed, and now, with the burden of my mental health passed on to someone else, I felt... lighter, I guess? Like I had a free pass to finally look into that dark glass and see just what it was that lurked there wearing my face. I didn't need to worry about Him any more, that was the doctors' job. Right?
And what had I seen in the diary that had prompted me to submit to these doctors? Each instance of Her had been scribbled out with such force the pages had ripped in places, rabid crisscrosses that clawed her out of the account, tearing her away, and in some places, tentative writings had appeared next to these mad scratchings, too light and thin to read, and as the pages went on, they became fewer, and smaller, fainter, like the hand that wrote them became weaker.
Each page was more dominated by the scribblings, until finally, a full black page, ripped and bleeding over into the next page, so that it was smudged, smeared and torn. On this page, I had drawn three figures, all crude, standing in a line. I had drawn so hard that they had been partially imprinted onto the following page.
This continued for dozens of pages, each faded copy added to, elaborated on, until the figure on the left grew, twisted and deformed, and the one on the right shrank and weakened, and the middle figure had simply curled up and cowered. I had used my palm and thumb to mash the wet ink, warping the pictures, so that they swirled inward, becoming less and less coherent, just a warped spiral. And on the final page, this spiral became a face, and this face looms over me as I write this.
Whether He is real or not, I cannot escape him, and I don't know if anyone can help me. He watches these words form on the pages, and he approves. I'm glad he likes it. Maybe he'll let me wake up if I please him. He wants me to tell you I might not though... He says you can't help me.
The nurse is coming with my pills. Please don't let me sleep long... Please wake me up, Doctor.