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Nightlight Part 1 From: Variations on the End of the World

He looked such a fragile thing. He had an i.v. in his arm, a feeding tube, catheter, colostomy; the whole works. He was gaunt and frail looking. His hair and beard were long and unkempt, proving my theory that no one gave a single damn about him. Why should they? Why do I insist on calling him a “him”? The more effective word would be “monster”. Or beast. I think “beast” works best. I hadn’t known this thing for that long, but I was intent on destroying it. That’s what society does with its’ garbage, right? Anytime something is no longer of use, we burn that shit out of existence. Let the cosmos handle it. Ashes to ashes and all that. I leaned down as close to the beast as I could without touching it and whispered in its’ ear. “I found you, you motherfucker. We’re about to finish this one way or the other.” Call me crazy, but I think I saw him smirk. I have insomnia. But, like, the legit kind. Not the thing Debra in accounting complains about on Mondays. I experience a profound lack of sleep on a regular basis. I can’t turn my brain off unless I shut it down with a chemical. I tried melatonin, all natural and such; didn’t work. I was still up until three. Sleeping pills leave me groggy as fuck the next day, so they’re right the hell out. Alcohol works best. If it weren’t for the hangovers and headaches, I’d be a legit professional alcoholic. On the weekends, I’ll swallow a handle of whatever’s cheapest, or on sale, and sleep like a goddamned baby. I’m useless on Saturday and Sunday mornings from a lack of will compounded with a lack of general “fuck youedness”. About six months ago, my wife started working for a new doctor. She’s a nurse. Does god’s work and all that. This doc. is a sleep specialist. He deals with apnea and insomnia and shit. The rest of his field has had strong opinions about him, saying he’s radical. He used to use Rohipnol in sleep studies or something. At the time, that sounded like exactly what I needed. I really just needed some sleep. So my wife takes me to this doctor, right? Dude tells me that all this herbal, all natural shit, I’ve been trying is garbage. I agreed. I know our species got by for millennia on the stuff nature gave us, but, come on. Science works. He tells me about this new drug on the market , “Somnescent”, it was called. It was designed to inhibit one’s higher brain functions to allow the lower to take over and enter REM sleep. It would basically tell your head to shut up long enough for your body to do what it needed to reboot. That’s what I was missing. The reboot. When an insomniac finally sleeps, it doesn’t feel like sleep. It’s just a black mark in memory. Like the time was redacted. Once you get used to remembering everything, you start to notice when you don’t. You make black-out calls to exes and text bosses. You tell your friends what you actually think about their mundane problems. Regardless, when Doc. said he could stop that mess without the hangover, I basically begged for the script. It wasn’t cheap either; two hundred dollars for a month’s worth. Insurance considered it experimental and unnecessary. Somnescent had not been evaluated by the FDA to treat insomnia. It was currently being used for kids who couldn’t stop moving in class. The first night I took the stuff, nothing happened. I ended up watching a show trying to sell me something to aide my vegetable chopping abilities. For the record, I can chop like a chef. The next night I went out like a light. Six solid hours of inky blackness that came along with dreams and all the other business. Two hours of which I should have been at work, but my shit-hole boss never notices. Day three is when my world changed. I still don’t believe most of it myself, so you’ll have to bear with me. The third day was a Saturday, and I had suffered an especially rough week. I won’t bore you with the details, but I lost my biggest client, got rear-ended, and had a pipe burst in the basement. I needed a nap. I typically can’t sleep when the sun’s up. I don’t know if it’s circadian rhythm or what, but I just can’t fall asleep if the sun’s up. Like I said, I needed a nap. I had lain down and put a blanket over my eyes. I had a moment of an almost euphoric feeling when I noticed something odd. The door. I was looking at the bedroom door. The one I had closed right before I laid down. This struck me as odd for several reasons. The first being that I shouldn’t have being seeing anything at all. I was suddenly aware that I was somehow looking through both my eyelids and the blanket I had put over them. The blanket wasn’t a heavy thick one or anything, but it also certainly wasn’t transparent. The scariest thing though is that once I noticed whatever witchcraft this was, I couldn’t turn it off. I tried closing my eyes and couldn’t. I tried to reach for the blanket on my face, but my arm wouldn’t move. I could hear the ceiling fan and the birds outside but I couldn’t make any part of my body move. Then the door did a funny thing. Not funny like “ha ha”, funny like “what the actual fuck.” It got kinda fuzzy like it was going out of focus and then just disappeared entirely. I can’t move and now I’m looking at the landing outside my bedroom. I heard my wife in the bathroom and thought that maybe she had just come in and didn’t close the door. Nope, the whole wall was gone. I could clearly see my office door and the little room the washer and dryer were in. I mustered all the mental willpower I had a tried to throw myself off the bed. That finally worked. Kind of. I was standing in front of the missing wall, looking at the landing. My wife bumped my shoulder as she left the room. I didn’t see her, but heard her say, “The fuck?” When I turned around to look at her, she still wasn’t there. I wish she had been. Then I might not have seen what I did. All of this could have gone without notice. Instead, what I see is myself. Not in a mirror or the reflection on the window or anything, but in bed. I’m looking at myself sleeping, still lying in bed. Full on open mouth, snoring, bedhead sleep. I raised my arm, but the body in the bed didn’t move. I turned to try to chase my invisible wife down the stairs and ran face first into the apparently invisible door that was still closed. Next thing I know, I wake up at 3 p.m. You best believe the first thing I did was to call this quack doctor that fucked with my brain. “Sleep paralysis,” he says, “coupled with a waking hallucination.” He tells me that Somnescence worked the way it was supposed to, turned off my brain and all that, but my mind kept going apparently. My body stopped, but my mind kept on pluggin. The shit about the wall disappearing, and my invisible wife he said was my brain trying to fill in the gaps. That I was still receiving auditory information from the room and my head filled in gaps to my visual cortex to make memories of seeing something. I don’t know. Half of it sounded like bullshit. The other half sounded terrible. My body stops, but my brain keeps ticking away like nothing is happening. That’s more or less the exact thing I wanted to stop. He tells me I should discontinue the use of the medication. I say, “You fuckin’ think?” He tells me to destroy whatever I’ve got left and continue to monitor the situation. Monitor the situation. Ok, Doc., I’ll document every time I can’t sleep. I’ll go ahead and get a jump on that. Did the sun set today? Well, then I didn’t sleep much. I didn’t toss the pills out. I should’ve. There’re a lot of things I should have done in the beginning. Well, then I have another one of those weeks. And there that orange fucking bottle is, staring at me during a rerun of Gilligan. I had taken the prescribed dose the night I left my body, but decided I wanted to delete an entire day. I took two. I didn’t even make it upstairs. I passed out, hard, on the couch. Just as I had the last time, I found myself unable to move staring at a crooked episode of “Gilligan’s Island”. And as before, when I focused all my energy into jumping up, I was looking at my fat ass drooling on the couch. Seeing myself was less of a shock this go round, so I didn’t knock myself out with a door. Unfortunately. I decided to explore a bit. The kitchen was next to the living room. We had opted for the open floor plan. My wife had boiled eggs for her lunch, some fad diet or some shit. As she usually does, she had left the pot on the stove. I reached for it to put it in the dishwasher and it went right through me. More accurately, I went through it. No matter how hard I tried, every time I reached for this damn thing, my hand flew right through it. I left the kitchen and walked through the dining room to the stairs. I stepped onto the first one and found it supported me. Clearly physics didn’t mean a damn to whatever this was. I couldn’t pick up a damned pot, but I could walk up stairs and not fall through the earth. It was like bad science fiction. I walked into the bedroom, thankfully the door was open, and didn’t quite know what to make of it. Once again, I could hear the ceiling fan, and the snores from both my wife and the dog. More sleep paralysis shit, I thought at the time. I wondered what Doc. would say about hearing things and seeing things from another room. But they didn’t seem to be there. The dog at least seemed to know what was up. I heard her shuffle on the bed and give a quiet “woof”. I heard her jump off the bed and register another quiet protestation. For the record, I didn’t like what was going on any more than she did. I heard her collar as she shook her head and then was almost on my ass as her ghost took out my leg in her path to running down the stairs. I followed her downstairs and saw nothing but my lifeless body on the couch. Then I noticed something. Just like the wall had started to blur out of existence on the first night, a blur started to appear on my face. It solidified into a floppy tongue. My dog was licking me in the face. As I stood there, amazed, her big pitty head started to come into reality. As her shoulders started to materialize, I said, “Stop!” She looked right at me. The me that was looking at her, not the heap on the couch. Her disembodied head lowered off the couch, and she blurred out of existence before almost knocking me down again on the way back upstairs. As I tried to follow the invisible shape, my gaze fell on the front door. It was starting to go all blurry like the wall and the dog. Sure enough, it dissolved into nothing along with the front wall of the house. I was now looking at the parking lot. Mine and my wife’s cars were parked right out front as they always were. They blinked out, and I saw the houses across the street. Then inside of them. Then beyond them. I saw the neighborhood. Then the hill that led to the street. Then the street. I had the feeling that if I looked long enough, I would be able to see to the other side of the world. But, that was a different night. This night I just walked outside. I could feel the humidity and hear the dull thump of bass coming from someone’s car. I walked to the end of the sidewalk that ran down the hill to the street. I heard a car pass by and felt the wind as it passed, but never saw the thing. Until I learned all the rules, I thought it best to stick to the sidewalk. I walked down the hill to the main road. The street I live on is a busy one. Even at, what did the microwave say? Four? I could hear what sounded like cars occasionally, but didn’t see one, or even headlights. I looked at the empty road, just two lanes it was. It occurred to me that I had never stood in the middle of it, other than when Tennessee was crippled by ice and snow. I walked into the middle of both lanes and looked down at the double yellow line. It was surreal to look both north and south and not see even a hint of another living thing. There was movement out of the corner of my eye and a rustle in the woods next to the street. A wavy shape flickered in and out like one of those old film projectors. It solidified into a deer. A young looking fawn. The thing was chewing something, but stopped and looked at me. It tilted it’s head resumed its’ chewing. I saw a flash of light and heard a sound akin to a branch breaking off a tree and woke up to fluorescent lights and pain. My wife was in a chair in the corner, mascara all over her face. There was a cop next to her and a nurse next to me. I connected the dots that I was in a hospital. “Mr. Rutledge,” the nurse says, “do you remember any of what happened?” “Any of what that happened?” Not my finest moment. Then the cop walks over. “Mr. Rutledge,” he says, “do you want to press charges at this time?” “For what?” I ask. He looks down and sighs. “Domestic abuse, Mr. Rutledge.” “Domestic what?” He gives me this look like I’m some poor sack of shit that he’s seen a hundred times. “These situations can be complicated. But if you feel like you’re in any kind of danger, you can tell me and we can work to resolve this situation.” “The fuck are you people talking about?!” I may have spoken a little too loudly. A doctor had just walked into the room and she stepped in front of the now noticeably angry cop. “Hello Conner, I’m Dr. Roshan. You were admitted this morning after your wife,” she throws a sideways glance to the corner of the room, “called 911 and reported your injuries.” “What fucking injuries?” As I ask, I notice the pain is localized to my leg with a few burning sensations on my face. “That’s why I was asking what you recall. Your wife states that you went to bed approximately the same as she and that she didn’t witness you leave your residence.”

“And?” I asked, the feeling of dread boiling over inside me like a pot of hard boiled eggs. “Well, Mr. Rutledge,” the doctor says, “your injuries are not consistent with any trauma that could be associated with self-harm during sleep.” “What injuries?” “You have a fractured tibia in your left leg, deep contusions on the majority of your body, and lacerations on your face.” That at least explained the pain. “Your injuries are more consistent with a traumatic experience with blunt force trauma. A fight, or a beating, or…what you typically see when a pedestrian gets hit by a bus. Mr. Rutledge, Conner, have you ever experienced sleep walking? Or woken up somewhere without memory of how you got there? Sometimes our brains can shut down while our bodies keep moving. We call it a ‘fugue state’. Is it possible that you may have experienced something like this? Is it in any way possible that you left your home last night?” “Mr. Rutledge,” the cop chimes in, “if you think this may have, in any way, been a result of a situation that came out of the home environment, you need to let me know. We can file charges and have this taken care of in no time at all.” “I’m trying to process all this.” I say. “Am I to understand that the two leading theories on how I ended up with a busted leg are that I either got hit by a car in my bed, or that my wife did it?” No one seemed to have an answer, but my wife started to smile. It was the smile she always gave me when she knew I was about to make someone feel stupid. “Well,” I said, pointing to my wife, “that woman can’t even squish a spider, much less break bones, contuse, or lacerate. And I’m pretty sure if a car rolled through the bedroom, my dog would have caught it by now.” Laughing hurt; a lot. All over, in fact. I could feel every white blood cell in my leg, every pool of blood in my side, and every cut on my face scream. But I laughed. I laughed out loud as my brain tried to tell my body to shut the fuck up. My wife laughed too. She stopped laughing when I looked Dr. Roshan in the face and bluntly stated, “Doc., I think my illness is a side effect of being a god.” I pressed my morphine button and remember saying something on the order of “No charges. I need a refill on my sleeping pill. Som-something. Narcotics are the tits.” Slept like a junky.

Nashville, TN, USA

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