“When I think of fear, two truths come to the fore. First, that most fear is the fear of unknown. The second, ‘better the devil you know’. But what if that wasn’t true. What if our worst fear was the one right in front of us. What if we’d been in danger this whole time, and never knew it until now.”
Be Not Proud
Cold sweat. It was an age-old term, but one that fit for the first time in my life. I was drenched in it, perspiration clinging to me, closer than a mother’s hug. I struggled to keep my eyes open, though I had already been awake for nearly three days. Sprites danced at the edges of my vision, while dreams were beginning to intrude on my reality.
Caffeine, I thought. I needed more. Or meth. Or coke. Anything so that I could stay awake just a while longer.
I reached out, stroking my wife’s hair. Her gentle snoring was soothing, calming in a way nothing else has ever been. The soft metronome of her breathing often lulled me to sleep when nothing else would. Even now, her gentle rhythms called to me, to put my head down just for a minute for a quick nap. How bad could thirty second nap be?
I stood abruptly. I made my way out of the bedroom to the shower. My hands shook as I turned the spigot on full blast – cold, of course. I needed to keep my family safe for as long as I could.
My two remaining children slept in their beds upstairs. I hated our last interaction when I yelled at them about some inconsequential infraction. The lack of sleep was causing cracks in my self control. My moods were on a high-speed pendulum, from self righteous giddiness to petulant anger, I could feel myself spiraling.
I gasped as I got in the shower, the icy water hitting the back of my neck causing an involuntary whole-body spasm. This would do, for a few minutes at least.
Hypothermia was starting to set in, so I got out. The shivering was almost pleasurable, in a violent sort of way. Lips blue, teeth chattering, I found my second wind. I could stay awake long enough to make my high-powered coffee, brewed with an energy drink instead of water – disgusting, but it did the job.
I have loved comics for as long as I could remember. I’d always envisioned having some cool superpower like flying. Hell, I would have even settled for one that wasn’t so cool, like having porcupine quills for hair. But real powers? That was all comic stuff.
But I found out that when I sleep, people die. I know that happens to everybody, but there is no causation/correlation to their sleep cycles, whereas there is to mine. Every time I fall asleep, someone I know dies. Sometimes it’s more than one person. Sometimes it’s a freak accident, car crash, tsunami, or a telephone pole falling through a living room and impaling a man on his couch. Sometimes it’s a violent death: act of terror, mugging gone wrong, or rogue coyote. And sometimes it’s just… natural.
I’ve gone through everyone on my social media, and I can’t keep a job. I didn’t realize until a week ago, when my youngest succumbed to a brain tumor that I realized something: I didn’t know anyone else. The last three people in my life were my wife and two kids.
I sipped on the vile concoction in my cup. It needed sugar. I rummaged through the cabinet as I thought about my wife, reminisced about the children. I hadn’t told her about my deadly disorder, though she did know that I’d been having trouble sleeping. I spooned in the white powder , stirring it in until it was dissolved completely. I took another sip, blowing on the hot black liquid.
Perfect. I downed the coffee in one swig. My eyes grew heavy. The room lost focus. I sat heavily on the floor, staring at the rat poison on the counter. I hoped my family would remember I’d been mixing things up recently. They’d thought I’d put keys in the freezer and OJ on my toast due to lack of sleep. I’d hope they’d think the same when they found me in the morning.
But more, I’d hoped that I didn’t fall asleep before I died.