REG HAD FORGOTTEN what it was like to sleep.
It hadn’t been that long since he’d had sleep that he’d forget, surely. Nevertheless, he had.
He had memories of sleep.
Well … vague memories, anyway.
He vaguely remembered how good it felt to put his head down on the soft coolness of a pillow.
He vaguely remembered what it was like to feel as though he were melting into the comfort of a nice, soft mattress.
He vaguely remembered what it was like to get the covers just right so that he was warm where he wanted to be warm and cool where he wanted to be cool.
And he very, very vaguely remembered what it was like to wake up refreshed in the morning after a good night’s sleep.
What he couldn’t remember was the process of actually going to sleep; what his mind actually did to get him to go to sleep – and this lack of memory preyed on the back of his mind like someone of questionable intention following him down a darkened street.
With a start his attention was wrenched back to the present. His mind had no trouble wandering, it seemed. It just wasn’t wandering in the right direction (towards wherever it had to go to get some bloody sleep!)
He shook himself out of his mild depression and reached for the TV remote.
The TV was turned down so low that the only thing he could hear from it was a slight hum displacing the air around his eardrums. He’d turned it down earlier in the night, but left the picture on. For … company. Stupid, he thought. You’re a grown man; you don’t need to worry about boogeymen ‘n stuff.
Still, he did feel curiously alone, as though he was the only person in the world.
That was stupid, of course – but he couldn’t seem to control how he felt as well as he normally could.
Of course, his uncomfortable feeling of solitude might have come from the fact that he lived in the middle of ten acres, but this had never bothered him before. About forty-five minutes out of town, his property always seemed like an oasis, rather than some hermit’s cave. His house was right in the middle of the block – far enough away from the neighbours that he couldn’t hear anything from them, or vice versa. Besides, there was plenty going on in his own yard to keep him interested – for a while, anyway.
Outside, a small breeze was stirring the grass that Reg hadn’t gotten around to mowing. There was an occasional chirp from a lonely cricket here and there, and a tiny series of cracks, which almost seemed to converse with one another as the house settled around him. Occasionally something would crash, screaming, through the gum trees with the sound of footsteps running along the ground. But that was only flying foxes.
The really intriguing sounds, though, were the horrendous grunting and howling noises that came from – believe it or not – koalas and possums, sorting out their territories and breeding. Even though Reg knew that these weren’t the howls of something conjured up by cultists, he still broke out in goosebumps whenever he heard it.
Not normally aware of such things, Reg had become well acquainted with night sounds since forgetting how to sleep.
The first night it had happened (or didn’t happen), Reg figured that there’d been some extra kick in his coffee. Or something like that. He noted that – although he was tired – he did not even briefly sleep that night.
Not at all.
Not one bit.
The second night it had happened (or not), Reg grew nervous. Time seemed to slow down. The night crawled by while Reg tossed and turned and did not sleep. He lay there for hours. Trying to sleep. But, he realized, you can’t force yourself to sleep, can you?
Before dawn began to poke its way into the night’s business, Reg had decided to settle in the lounge with a couple of books, magazines, and a few Reader’s Digests – all containing articles and information on getting a good night’s sleep.
Keeping them company was his third cup of warm milk.
And none of it had been effective.
Nevertheless, Reg’s nervousness had abated somewhat as he learned that most people suffered from occasional bouts of insomnia from time to time, and that it wasn’t really anything to worry about. Usually there was some sort of mental or emotional stress underlying the condition, but – for the life of him – Reg couldn’t determine what it was.
The third night it happened, Reg decided to ‘have fun’ with it, seeing his insomnia as an opportunity to have more time to ‘stuff around’.
It didn’t quite work out how he planned it, however, since a general feeling of lethargy kept him in almost a stupor throughout the night.
The next day, Reg dragged himself to his GP, who told him the same thing the books and magazines had. Underlying stress. Everybody suffers from this from time to time. Nothing to worry about.
There was one more thing the doctor added, which was that – if it was still bothering him in a day or two – Reg could come back for a prescription of Normiston.
As Reg drove home that afternoon, completely awake but infused with an awful lassitude, he wondered, Why?
Why was he having such trouble sleeping, when he couldn’t pinpoint the source of any stress – mental, emotional, physical … whatever. Well, except for the stress caused by the fact that he couldn’t for the life of him get to sleep!
The inanition was the worst thing about it, he figured on the fourth night. Not being able to sleep, but feeling tired just sucked large chunks of smelly ass. Even though it was the complete opposite of what he needed, Reg decided to have some coffee to try and get rid of it.
Not sleeping he could deal with, so long as he didn’t feel so bloody tired all the time.
Reg called a few friends over on the fifth night for an all-night party. Not much of a rage, just some music, food, BBQ, vids here and there. Whatever. His friends agreed and – since it was the start of a long weekend – the party was on.
During it, nobody could tell that Reg had been suffering from insomnia, except by the bags under his eyes and his almost constant yawning. Benny Smith told him that he looked like a fish. Reg told him to fish off.
The few people he did mention his insomnia to commiserated with him. They understood, they said, they’d also had insomnia.
But their commiseration didn’t help Reg’s feeling of isolation.
He was developing the feeling of being an apparition, floating through a scene from a TV show. Nothing around him seemed quite real, somehow.
He responded to the people around him normally enough. Good-naturedly. But it all felt … odd.
Reg found himself bored before too long, and was glad when people left in the morning. Due to all the ‘extra hours’ Reg now had in his days, boredom had moved in with the insomnia almost as though they were siblings.
Reg thought that there was something he should be doing. Seeing the doctor, or something. But his thoughts were getting muddy.
Monday came and Reg found himself at the doctor’s offices, confused when he discovered that they were closed due to the public holiday. He stood looking at the locked doors of the medical centre for nearly ten minutes, not thinking anything before he drove home.
Driving probably wasn’t the best thing to do, Reg thought at some point throughout the seventh day … or was it the sixth? Or the tenth? Or second?
But he had to go to the doctor to get some of that Normalston.
The doctor was there this time, and suggested that Reg go up to the hospital for some scans.
Reg thought this was a good idea.
He refused the offer of an ambulance to transport him there, answering almost on autopilot that he’d walk since it wasn’t far.
Reg was perplexed when he found himself at home. He thought that he might have come back after he’d gone to the doctor’s. But he wasn’t sure. His mind was so terribly confused.
He did know that he didn’t feel too well. Something he read once said that insomnia stopped the immune system. No. That wasn’t it. Lack of sleep didn’t allow the immune system to secrete the hormones required to maintain health in the body.
The body …
That’s all Reg felt like, now. A body that wasn’t dead, but wasn’t alive.
He was awake, but dazed.
And definitely not asleep.
He needed some fucking sleep!
Reg remembered looking at the big orange Normaltown tablets as he shook them out into his hand. He didn’t know how many he was supposed to take because he couldn’t make any sense out of the words on the side of the bottle, but something told him that one or two probably weren’t enough in his case. So he stared at the TV and popped them with warm milk until they were all gone.
At some point, he heard someone at the door.
They sounded insistent.
He didn’t know how much later it was, but it was light.
The phone had probably rung, too, a few times, but Reg wasn’t sure.
He was still awake when someone pushed open the door with a crash.
A light was shined in his eyes, which Reg barely registered. He was still trying to remember what it felt like to sleep, but someone holding his wrist and putting something cold on his chest was distracting him.
A voice from nearby asked him for the time. At least, that’s what Reg thought it had said. Something about time, in any case.
A sheet was pulled over his head.
It was dark for a while, but Reg knew there was no fucking sleep for him.
Someone moved him, he thought.
There was a door closing over him … in front of him? Above him?
He was still awake, though, but he just couldn’t focus.
Reg heard a sound like dirt being thrown against wood. But the wood was hollow, somehow.
Still unable to focus on anything for very long, Reg noticed distantly that it was very dark. He felt himself sinking down, down, until he came to rest with a jolt.
It was dark, here.
It was soft.
Good, he thought.
Maybe now I’ll be able to get some sleep.
Copyright © 2007 by David Scott Aubrey
All Rights Reserved
This short story is a work of fiction. Any and all names, characters and/or incidents are either products of my imagination or are used fictitiously. Where any such resemblance may exist to actual persons (living or dead), actual events or locales, it is purely coincidental.
Please don’t assume that my characters speak for me or carry my own opinions on various matters in any way, shape or form (though some might … you never can tell).