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A Dream, Of Sleep - A short story

13strigoiAug 15, 2021, 12:23:22 AM
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Chapter One

Now

I awoke again. No easy transition to consciousness, but a startled heart-pounding

leap from the covers. Halfway to the door, before I realized my

whereabouts and paused, hand to heart and breathing heavily, looking quickly

around the darkened room. Was that a shadowy outline, towering in the corner,

its head an oddly formed translucence over the cornice?

I outstretched my other arm in defense, or maybe supplication, and moved

towards the corner. As I walked slowly nearer, the shape began to fade into the

ordinary things of a bedroom. A jacket thrown idly onto the chair, a framed poster,

all the detritus of a young man’s bedroom. And yet—I felt something there. Could

not bring myself to touch the wall. Instead I quickly lurched to the light switch to

my left, and flipped it. The swift change in lighting created after images, one of

which was a grotesque form which caused me to stagger backward in fright. I

stumbled and hit my elbow against the wall as I fell to a sitting position on the

floor.

The sudden shock-like pain brought me completely awake. As I rubbed my

elbow, I glanced around the room. There was nothing but my belongings.

Following my doctor’s guidance, I took deep breaths and tried to calm myself.

Tears pooled at the sides of my eyes, ignored. The medications I had been given,

made sleep feel like a trap. One which held me down, as the things in my head

did their worst.

Only now, they seemed to persist longer into my awakening. Screw the doc,

tomorrow night, no pills.

 

Chapter Two

The drive to work was a blur. My head was cottony from lack of sleep. I had

cracked the windows to force a breeze, an attempt to try and keep myself alert in

the dense morning traffic. I pulled into the parking garage, and taking a last slurp

from the awkward thermos cup of coffee, I headed for the stairs.

The fatigue from the last few weeks of interrupted sleep, lent the world a

distance. As if the waking world was itself a dream. My legs leaden as I dragged

myself up the stairs. I reached the third floor landing, and tried to catch my

reflection in the small wired glass window. I feared I looked cadaverous. I had

noticed looks from coworkers as darkened circles grew under my eyes.

I entered the office, a dull gray assemblage of cubicles. They had been

fashioned together in different shapes, presumably to disguise that they were, in

fact, eastern bloc architecture writ small. I realized that my restless nights had

begun affecting my outlook, but was far too exhausted to care. Except for one

thing.

I made my best effort to smile as I passed the desk where Brittany, the

administrative assistant sat. “Good morning Brit.” I said as I walked slowly by, a

sad attempt to provide her with ample opportunity to engage in conversation.

“Good morning Jacob.”

She didn’t look up from the file cabinet that she was rummaging through, and

I continued on toward my desk. My pace maybe a bit slower.

 

Chapter Three

The characters on the screen were starting to blur, and I had re-typed the last

paragraph at least four times, when Marcus came by and stuck his head over my

cubicle.

“Come on man? Do you know what time it is?”

I sat back from the screen, realizing that I didn’t. A glance at the lower corner

of my computer monitor read 7:49PM. I looked through the slim gap between the

cubicles to where the one window could usually be seen. It was dark.

I looked up at him, a dark-skinned black man who always wore suits so well-fitting

that I had assumed they were tailored. They were not, as it turned out. I

asked. He was also quite tall and could easily look over the cubicle wall at me.

“Sorry Marcus, I got caught up on this document for legal.”

“Don’t apologize, but you’re salaried for fuck’s sake. You really need to work

on that work-life balance and get more life in.”

I liked Marcus as a manager, but I really hated that phrase. There was no

truth to it. I saw that he was looking more closely at me. I looked down and

started my routine of shutting down the computer and filing away the paperwork.

It didn’t fool him.

He started to speak, and then paused. His tone when he resumed was not

one I liked to hear. “Jacob. If there’s some personal stuff going on, I’d be glad to

talk to HR and see about some time off. Or whatever you need. It looks like you

haven't slept in weeks.”

I finished up, and with no other distractions to shield me, I stood up and made

eye contact. “I know boss. I’ve—had some insomnia and I’ve been working with

the doctor on it. I think we just haven’t found the right meds. I’ll be alright.” I made

what I hoped was my best appearance of being happy and normal.

He took a deep breath, “OK. Just know that you can come to me if you need

help man. If you don’t have the time off, I’ll work out some sort of leave for you.

Just say the word.” He looked into my eyes. I wasn’t sure what he saw there, but

he was seemingly satisfied. He clapped me on the shoulder, “OK, get home and

get some sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.”

His head disappeared from the top of the cubicle, but I was too short to watch

him walk out. Instead, I looked down at my feet for a minute. I was afraid. Not of

going home, but of the inevitability of falling asleep.

With a sigh, I headed to the stairs.

 

Chapter Four

Just as I started to nod off, the obnoxious music faded, and I looked up to see

Netflix prodding me to tell it that I was in fact still here and did want to watch

more of whatever show I had picked. I clicked the button. I was still here.

I had arrived home, eaten a salty microwave meal alone, and then headed to

the couch where I randomly picked a sitcom to stream. I knew I should head to

bed. It was after midnight and I still had most of the lights on. The electricity bill

would kill me if something else didn’t first.

Not for the first time, I wondered if my subconscious was taking this fear and

using it against me. I had visited website after website for advice. I learned about

lucid dreaming. I thought perhaps I was experiencing it in it’s most horrific form.

Most articles seemed to have advice on how to create the perfect state for lucid

dreams, not how to prevent them. Madness.

There were, of course, a number of articles on getting a good nights sleep.

Along with their accompanying sales pitch for supplements, pillows, beds,

meditation, yoga—a never ending list of products.

I had already seen two doctors. The first wanted to prescribe me antidepressants

before I had even finished describing my symptoms. I moved on to

another, older doctor. He had listened more carefully, and after a few tests,

decided that a sleep aid would likely help me sleep undisturbed.

The thing was, it wasn’t working. Oh I did fall asleep quickly. But then, after a

period from minutes to hours, it would start.

 

Chapter Five

Then

At first it was like almost any other nightmare. I would awaken in a fright,

images of some dark thing or another quickly fading. I would brush it off and

return to sleep.

It gradually changed.

In the dream I would believe I had awakened. My eyes would slowly open in

the darkened room. I was always flat on my back, and there was a feeling of

restraint. It was only then that my subconscious mind realized that I was still

asleep.

I’d lay there feeling a terrible helplessness. My arms and legs lie limp no

matter how much I tried to force them into movement. It felt, I thought, very much

like it must feel to be a paraplegic. I would eventually awaken, and aside from a

newfound respect for those so afflicted, I would also feel incredibly lethargic.

It was as if, for the duration of that mysterious dream-time, I had fought a

battle to control my body. I began to believe that I had maybe recalled some

childhood fear of becoming paralyzed.

It had been a few weeks, and becoming concerned that my work would

indeed suffer, I went to the first doctor. And then the second. And then I began

taking the medication.

From the very first night things changed.

 

Chapter Six

After taking the small innocuous looking pill, it took maybe 30 minutes to an

hour before I became unnaturally drowsy. I didn’t care for the feeling, but was

willing to put up with it for a full nights sleep. I was asleep within a minute of

laying my head on the pillow.

Once again, the time of night seemed not to matter. I had started becoming

almost accustomed to the reoccurring dream, and that conscious awareness

carried over into the subconscious dreamworld. I would believe myself awake,

and unable to move. Only my eyes moved, and they darted around the darkened

room. This time something was off. Different.

It was the sense of presence. I looked into the shadowy corners, trying to

pinpoint my unease. There was no movement, nothing to be seen. But I was

certain something was there. I fought all the harder to move, to make a sound, to

scream for help. It was futile. The internal battle would continue until I actually

awoke and would get up for the night, no matter the hour.

As days and nights passed, the presence became more—certain. I knew it

was there, and it knew I was there. And what was worse, it knew I couldn’t move.

The feeling was unexplainable. Much like the displacement of air or space in

a darkened elevator or closet makes us aware of our friends, regardless of how

quiet they might be, I knew there was something there. I also inexplicably knew

that it was full of malice and meant me harm.

I called the doctor. Or rather called the service. I could make an appointment,

or speak with an assistant. Yes, I would speak with the assistant.

I was told that the medication did have side effects. Some of which included

lucid dreaming, sleepwalking, and in rare cases death. I had already read the

lengthy sheet given with the bottle. She recommended that I continue on the

medication. My body would adapt and as long as I wasn’t experiencing any

reaction, it should prove helpful over time.

I thought about telling her about the thing that lurked invisibly in the dark of

my room, savoring my fear and inability to move, but quickly realized that would

likely result in my committal to a hospital. The fatigue was certainly beginning to

affect my judgement. Instead, I thanked her and hung up.

 

Chapter Seven

Now

That had been weeks ago, and I was now going to face the night without the

use of medication. The side of the bottle warned me to not stop taking it without

consulting the doctor. I silently informed the bottle that it would be weeks before I

could see the actual doctor, and I didn’t feel like going through another

patronizing phone call with the assistant. It didn’t object.

I was exhausted and jittery all at the same time. I had been consuming

caffeine for weeks at an alarming rate. I was punch drunk with weariness. The

inane show often had me laughing hysterically. Often not in time with the laugh

track. It should have concerned me.

After awhile, the noise died down a second time and Netflix awaited my

decision. This time Caesar’s thumb went down.

I walked to the bedroom with the heavy step of the condemned. I didn’t bother

changing, I had put on shorts after arriving home from work. It was good enough.

The room was warm, and as I lay down, I pulled up just a single sheet and

waited to fall asleep. And waited. I was tired. Unbelievably tired. And yet my mind

raced, thinking about everything and nothing.

I guessed the lack of medication was having it’s effect.

In the end, it didn’t matter. At some point, in spite of my mind’s ramblings, I fell

asleep. I knew I had, because I had awoken in a state of terror, paralyzed and

looking around for the unseen entity that I knew was there.

I gradually calmed and once again began the ineffectual struggle to move my

deadened limbs. I stopped my efforts almost immediately.

Above me, in the dim light filtering in through the blinds, was a shape.

Diaphanous and inhumanly large. I was afraid to move my gaze. I didn’t know

what it would do, what it could do. I expected to feel an explosion of pain at any

moment.

I overcame the dread, and eventually glanced down. The thing began at the

base of my bed, the rest of it’s massive form loomed over my still body in a way

that defied any human physiology. My cursory look revealed the bulk of it, and

my mind balked at what I was seeing.

My mind raced through all the things I had seen, heard and read, and nothing

made sense of the reality of what I was seeing. Then…

There was a sound like a dark chuckle. Was it amused by my horror? I

suddenly grew enraged. All the lack of sleep and fear had built up and I fought to

move. I would show this thing, whatever it was and wherever it came from, that I

wouldn't die still and afraid.

A strain began in my head, becoming an intense pain, the room going white—

and then I was free! Free to move! I swung and hit a surface that had no give.

Then it had hold of my arm, and I struggled and fought and tore at it.

Awareness came quickly. I was sitting up in bed, covered in sweat, part of my

arm and shoulder feeling trapped in the sheet that I had become entangled in. I

scoffed, and shook it free. I looked around the empty room, now brightening in

the morning light, and began to chuckle. For a moment I continued quietly

laughing until tears began to run from my eyes.

 

Chapter Eight

I had slept well for over a week. No nightmares, no dreams. I did have trouble

falling asleep initially, but put that off to the medication withdrawals.

Today I woke up earlier than normal. It was Monday and I had plans at work.

Now that I was looking human, and feeling human, I had decided that I was going

to look my best and ask Brittany out to lunch.

I slowly slid upright and onto the edge of the bed. Dim light was trickling in

from the rising sun. The change to daylight savings had only just passed, and the

sunrise had begun early.

I thought about exercising to kill time. I decided to read instead. I checked to

see that the alarm was still set, a lifetime of paranoia ensuring that I wouldn’t be

late should I fall back asleep while reading.

I needn't have worried, the book was engaging and soon I was double

checking the clock, and preparing to turn off the alarm. I decided I might as well

get up and start what was going to be a much longer grooming session.

I yawned my way into the kitchen and turned on the coffee pot. I waited a

moment to make sure it began to churn and steam and then made my way

towards the bathroom. On the way there, I grabbed a couple of shirts from the

laundry room to try on. In spite of having owned them all for some time. I was

certain that looking my best would improve my confidence when the time came.

I walked into the bathroom, the skylight in the high ceiling providing just

enough light to keep my toes safe. I hung the shirts on the shower curtain rod,

and turned to flip the light switch.

It was there. Right behind me. In the light. I had but a moment to try and take

in the monstrous form in the vanity mirror, nearly curved over in the high-ceilinged

room when I saw a flash of movement from the side.

Then the pain I had feared for weeks ripped through me, a blow of

tremendous force followed by a tearing hot pain.

I felt myself falling, and as I fell my eyes turned upward, a hazy darkness

beginning to obscure my vision, and it was then that I saw the thing’s face. And I

carried that vision with me.