Posts Tagged ‘short fiction

26
Jan
18

Sleep Like the Dead

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I don’t sleep anymore. Not since they brought me back. The doctors don’t know why, and I think it’s beginning to worry them. They don’t tell me that, though; they just smile and ask for a few more tests. They tie me down with wires and nodes and electrodes and stare at me through their viewing monitors. They tap their pens against their teeth and make hmming noises and pretend like it’s all actually getting them somewhere.

I think things are a little simpler than they’re making it out to be. I was asleep – sort of – for almost twenty years. Maybe I got enough. Sounds alright when I say it, at least to myself. Of course all the shrinks claim there’s no such thing as “catching up” to your sleep schedule, no way to bank the stuff; you need it when you need it, usually at least once a day, and so far as anybody’s been able to figure out, if you skip it entirely for a week or so, you die.

Of course, it’s been six months for me. So I’m throwing their data curve off a bit. Sometimes I wonder if the others are doing the same, if pretty soon that little factoid is going to have to be modified to accommodate people like me.

I’m not the only one, after all. There were a half dozen in my group, and as the tech improves, they’re doing more all the time.

I picture someone thinking about this a decade ago, twirling their finger around their ear and whistling cuckoo noises. They said folks who believed in it, let alone paid to have it done or volunteered for it were crazy, deluding themselves. Said that having your corpse put in a deep freeze until they could fix whatever was wrong with you and zap you back awake was a pipe dream for the worst kinds of nuts.

Well, to those people I say that me and the six hundred or so others they’ve brought back are here to prove you wrong.

Of course, a lot of it is bullshit; the ones who had their heads cut off and frozen because their bodies were too screwed up, or the ones who were hoping for a cure for cancer… Yeah, they’re still out of luck. The ones who had strokes or other cranial damage are also up the creek, right along with the ones who didn’t get iced fast enough. Maybe someday they’ll get their chance. But for now, it’s mostly people like me. Heart attacks, exhaustion, frostbite, wristcutters. Little or no structural damage, low core temperature at the time of death, stuff that could probably have been fixed or avoided, given time, finances or proximity to appropriate care services. The reason’s simple; if it was something that could have been fixed or prevented, that means they can do the repair and zap us back, now. If it was something they couldn’t fix then, odds are they can’t fix it now. They might still be able to fill the body full of that crazy cocktail the dweebs cooked up and put the paddles to the schmuck who’s missing half his skull or who’s brain took a permanent vacation, but all they’d get is nothing, under the best of circumstances.

Worst case scenario’s a whole lot worse. They get to watch them die. Again. Sometimes more than once.

Yeah, the lab coats weren’t too bright when they first thought they’d figured out the key. I hear one of the first subjects, who took a steel rod straight through the dome, ended up dying twelve times on them before they finally figured out that he wasn’t going to stay alive too long with the giant hole through the center of his brain. Have to love the MENSA quiz kids. Always coming up with something brilliant, then forgetting the practical aspects of it.

But hey, at least they’re determined, I’ll give ’em that much. Of course, now they’re also scared. Because the folks like me, in addition to throwing off their understanding of how us humans are supposed to function, are getting weirder.

I hear one of the first success stories still doesn’t sleep, and he’s been back for almost a year. But he still dreams, though. Sometimes he’ll just be walking along, doing his thing when he’ll drop into something the lab monkeys call a fugue state, at which point he goes very weepy and whatever he’s saying gets a lot weirder. Sometimes he thrashes, swings wildly at nothing – or anyone dumb enough to be in his way – for a bit, then goes back to whatever he was doing. Doesn’t even remember it, gets agitated if you push the issue.

That’s what one of the techs told me, anyway. Who knows if its true. We don’t associate with one another, and the company likes to keep what they’ve been doing quiet. There may be six hundred of us or so, but most of us have only had a chance to chat with one or two others, usually from the same batch.

I may not sleep… but I dream.

There are images in the back of my head, all the time. A gray place, dozens of shapes that might be people, might be something else, trudging among spires that look to be made of rotten flesh, leaving bloody footprints in their wake. Sometimes I think I see a familiar face in there, other times they’re all strangers, and other times they don’t seem to have faces or defining features at all. But they’re always there.

Most of the time I can ignore it, go about my day. Sometimes I just freeze, staring at them and wondering if they’re looking back at me before I realize that’s a crazy thought. Just hallucinations brought on by dead cells misfiring as they try to come back to life.

Sometimes I even believe it.

KA Spiral no signature

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19
Jan
18

Layers, Part 8

(Missed the beginning? It starts right here!)

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That should have ended it. I’d never found her in the dreams, after all. This was the resolution that I’d been pushed to since I was about the age she was. Or had been. Who knows what tense to use when you’re dealing with ghosts?

If she was a ghost. She was solid, having weight as I cradled her in one arm while running the steering wheel with the other. But it was just meat I was holding. Something she’d vacated long ago. A symbol and little else. But symbols had power, and by taking her battered body from the family and the burned, disfigured thing that had held her hostage for who knows how many decades, I’d given her the power to be free.

She wasn’t crying, anymore. I could hear her breathing, though. Ragged and labored at first, then smoothing out to the sound of a sleeping child being broadcast through a baby monitor. In that breathing she whispered to me; I heard her thanking me, and she told me her name.

“Deborah,” the corpse in my arms whispered. “Deborah Daphne King.”

The name gave me a terrible chill. I’d had a sister… or was supposed to have one, at least. But she hadn’t made it out of the hospital. Only lasted three days. Birth defects, something to do with the lungs; I don’t know if I just didn’t remember, or had never been fully told. But she’d been a Deborah, too.

That chill led to a shudder, and that led to the car drifting out of the thin lane. At the same time, a steep curve came into view. A terrible calm fell over me, a sense of resignation and deja vu that told me all I needed to know.

It didn’t matter how things had changed. One thing was going to stay the same. I tried to pull the car straight again, to force it into the turn. I pumped the brake. Neither had any effect, as the car continued to drift, the guardrail growing larger.

I looked down at her, the mangled thing that I’d been looking for my whole life, the thing that had driven me past the point of logic, of sanity. The thing that was going to kill me.

There was no body. No Deborah. Just a filthy, matted rag that might have been a towel at some point. Tears began running down my cheeks, and a strangled sob escaped my lips.

“You always knew,” a familiar voice said from the passenger seat. I drew my eyes up.

The thing from the house was sitting there, trying to smile at me. One arm was dangling between its upraised knees, the other stretched towards me, clenching the steering wheel and urging the car to the left, towards the rail.

I could hear it clearly now. I should have noticed it when it stated I’d finally come. But have you ever noticed that your voice sounds different, somehow alien when you hear it on a recording or an echo?

The thing spoke in my voice. It had always been me. Some lost fragment of myself, calling out somehow through the years, begging me to claim the treasure that it had given its life for, somehow blind to the fact it was no treasure but a wad of broken repressed memories and carefully fabricated lies.

“We’ll be together, now.”

The car hit the rail. I let go of the wheel as the vehicle plowed through with the shriek of steel and the roar of the engine as it surged, no longer powering wheels on asphalt but spinning in thin air.

“Forever,” I whispered to myself, hearing it both in my head as my voice always sounded, and in my ears as the thing had always spoken. Whether I meant myself and I, myself and Deborah, or all three of us together, I don’t know.

The car flipped once, cracking my skull against the roof and sending a freshet of blood into my eyes. I hadn’t been wearing my seatbelt. There was no pain. The thing in the passenger seat reached out one claw, stroking the wound.

Another flip jarred me back into the seat and drove me forward. I felt my rib cage give way, my lungs collapse, as the wheel plunged into my chest. The thing put its finger to its mouth.

“Shhhh,” it said. “It’ll all be over soon.”

The car hit the bottom of the ravine below, doing another backflip and landing on the roof. The windshield, designed before safety glass had become the standard, shattered. Thick shards embedded themselves in my face, my chest, my arms. Everything went dark as my eyes were popped like ripe grapes. I felt fluids from the emptied sockets leaking down my face, mingling with the tears and blood.

The roof of the car had been punctured by a rock formation, dragging across it as the car burned the last of its momentum. It dug into my back as well, leaving a ragged gash that left the flesh hanging to either side like broken wings.

There was a perfect stillness to the world, then. A moment of absolute silence and clarity. No birds sang, no bugs hummed. My breathing had stopped, and the thing in the passenger seat had apparently lost its taste for chatter.

That silence was broken by a soft, unimportant sound. “Foomp,” it sounded like to me. But I knew what came next, knew it wasn’t unimportant.

Something had cracked the gas tank. The metal body of the car dragging across the gravel and rocks had provided the spark. Smoke and the smell of scorched earth came first, then pain sank in as the smell of a roasted pig added to it.

I couldn’t vomit, no matter how much I wanted to. Couldn’t hold my breath, even though it was coming only in shallow rasps. I just had to wait, to endure, as I burned alive.

But again, one fresh change. I was spared having to endure it all the way through, didn’t have to wait as I crisped, blackened, and finally died trying to scream. The thing laid hold of me, was dragging me out. Through the undercarriage, back up the hill, passing through the guardrail, which seemed to stitch itself back together as we passed, my eyesight somehow returned.

Back up the hill, a movie running backward. I passed the car going the other direction, then my other self pursuing it. Back to the house, where we were pulled through the hole in the front that it/me had created giving chase. Like the guardrail, it pulled itself back together like a flower closing its petals against the night. I saw the television I’d knocked over right itself, saw the doors I’d opened on the way in slam shut, the blanket replace itself on the bed and straighten out perfectly. I heard a thud and knew the dryer had slammed shut again, and a moment later the rhythmic thumping of the thing in the dryer started again. Back into the shower stall, where I stood still and watched as the curtain pulled shut in front of me.

The house was as it had been, as it was supposed to be. It looked like a quaint little cabin, but underneath it was just a trap, a honeypot laid out just for me. Just like underneath the scars and claws and demon-like appearance, my tormentor had always been myself.

I was alone. I had become him, and he was me again. Now we/I would wait.

Perhaps not completely alone, though. Somewhere in the house, I heard the crying start again. Deborah was with me like she always had been.

I waited. I had time. All the time in the world.

I knew I’d come along. Eventually.

KA Spiral no signature

14
Jan
18

Lucky Day

It was a good day. I couldn’t have asked for more, looking back at it. I’d slept in. Ran around the park for a few hours. Saw some pretty girls, more than one of whom waved or whistled. Found a chocolate bar, the good kind, dark with nuts, still in the wrapper on a bench. Took a few minutes to peel the plastic off and really savor it.

In light of what happened, maybe I shouldn’t have lingered over that candy. Things might have been different. But at least my last meal was a good one. I’d had worse, after all. When you’ve had days where all you ate was the remains of a greasy burger, gone cold and almost rancid, going so far as to lick the rainwater out of the paper it had been wrapped in just for the last bit of taste in it, finding an abandoned and forgotten Hershey bar is a gift from God. Even if it was a little melty.

My lunch finished, I hurried on. I was planning on heading over to the 7-11 at the corner. Maybe have a drink to cap off the chocolate. I was pretty equal opportunity in that department; didn’t matter if it was a Slurpee, a soda, or a shot of Jim, Jack or Jose. Just something wet.

Normally I’m pretty cautious. Maybe even skittish. Crossing the street has never been easy for me; some might even think I’m phobic. Usually, I get up to the curb, peer both ways, then inch back. Then creep back to the edge, check again, then back away again. Sometimes I’ll do that six or seven times before I manage to get up the courage to actually cross, and when I finally do commit to it, I bolt as fast as I can, feeling almost suicidally brave. Takes me an hour to calm down.

I saw three little boys coming out of the store, sucking on neon-green Slurpees that had me drooling while they punched each other amicably and swapped stories. I don’t know if it was the chocolate, the sight of their drinks and the want for one of my own, or just how good I was feeling that day that did it, but this time I didn’t do my little dance. I just charged.

Everything is pretty blurry after that. I remember a dip as I practically dove off the sidewalk and into the road. I remember seeing a stray bit of brilliant green ice-choked syrup beading at the head of one of the boys’ straw, and every bit of my concentration focusing on it as it slid down the straw and fell to the pavement. I felt like I could track every tiny splashing drop as it hit the ground and splattered.

Then there was pain. Pain that devoured my world. I forgot about the Slurpee. I forgot about the chocolate. The pretty girls who’d waved were gone. How good I’d felt after a long nap and a good run didn’t matter anymore.

There was nothing but agony. Every nerve in every bit of my body from the waist down felt like a storm of angry bees stinging simultaneously. Then pressure, building up from my waist, seeming to flow up into my chest and my head, almost enough to make my eyes pop out of my skull, to drive my tongue out and silence the shrill scream that I didn’t even realize I was making.

I tried to turn my head, to look down and see what had caused the pain. I couldn’t move. I think I managed a twitch, but that might have just been my body shaking. I tried again, and even though it made everything hurt even more – something I didn’t even think was possible – I made it.

Below the waist, I was a bloody ruin. One leg was gone; I could see it lying in the gutter several feet away. The other was skewed to the side in a way that told me my hip was destroyed. But the middle of me was the worst. There was a ragged imprint of tire tread almost exactly across my middle, and I could see the ragged edges of my guts leaking out of me, my insides trying to be my outsides. I’d seen things like that, but usually only when a cat or owl got ahold of a mouse but was driven off before it could finish whatever it was up to.

I knew I was done, then. There’s no way I was going to make it through that. I could see the car that hit me, continuing on like nothing had happened. It was a big blue monster, seemed like it must have been hundreds of times bigger than me. As it pulled away, I saw a little smear of red, a splotch of the jam that used to be me, rolling back up into the wheel well, disappearing, then reappearing again, leaving little bits of me on the asphalt as it went.

The boys didn’t notice, either. They rounded the corner, and I felt an absurd pang of sorrow and desire run through me. I tried to shout after them.

“Hey, come back! Give me some of that Slurpee! Can’t you see I’m dying, here?”

I tried to say it. Nothing came out but coughs and wheezes. Probably decimated my lungs along with my digestive tract.

Someone noticed, though. A little girl. Pretty, in a sad way. Barefoot. White tights, frilly skirt. Big floppy bow in her black hair. Maybe she thought she was a ballerina. She bent down by me, getting her tights all dirty. The next car was coming, and I heard the unearthly wail as the tires locked, followed by unintelligible shouts. Probably the driver cursing her out. I don’t know. It was getting hard to focus on more than one thing, and that made me angrier than it should; I was used to being aware of almost everything around me, all the time, and barely being able to look at this little girl who was trying to help me was infuriating.

She bent down, extending one pudgy hand and stroking my face. I saw her eyes start to water and her mouth pursed, chin quivering.

“Poor guy,” she said.

There was a creak and a thud, and heavy footfalls. A shadow fell over the girl, man-shaped. The shadow head was shaped weirdly, extending out to either side, making me think of pictures of Saturn I’d seen. He must have had a hat.

“Oh, honey, don’t touch him.”

She didn’t stop stroking my face. The pain was lessening; coming in its place was an almost comforting numbness. As that crept up my body, the anger was also fading, replaced with gratitude. I was dying, but at least I was going to do it in the company of someone who cared.

“Why not?” I heard her ask. I couldn’t see her anymore; everything had gone black. My hearing wasn’t very good, either. Her voice sounded like it was coming from far away. But I still heard the man when he answered her.

“It might be rabid, honey. Or have some other disease.”

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“Poor little squirrel,” she muttered.

Then everything was gone. Better luck next time, maybe.

KA Spiral no signature

 




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