Jackson's Dilemma

Submitted into Contest #138 in response to: Write about a character who doesn’t want to go to sleep.... view prompt


Fiction Crime Horror

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

The bills kept on piling up. It seemed that everyday some new creditor was sending a letter of foreclosure or worse—incarceration. Jackson felt the choke-hold of debt ever so slightly constricting his breathing, but he couldn’t let his family down. He was a new father —just barely six weeks—and facing homelessness. 

Jackson couldn’t tell his wife, Rose, she would be devastated. He decided to give one last try at work and ask for a raise. He wasn’t the type to demand, let alone ask for a raise, he was more of a “my work speaks for itself” type of employee, but his work seemed silent. The boss rarely even looked his way while he loaded and unloaded boxes from the trucks that arrived daily.

The walk to work was somber, his car had already been repossessed. 

Once at work, Jackson mustered up the courage and knocked on Mr. Frankford’s door.

“Come in,” barked Mr. Frankford.

Jackson slowly opened the door and walked in.

“What is it boy? What do you want?” 

Mr. Frankford’s booming voice startled Jackson; the speech that he practiced on his way to work fumbled out in stutters. 

“Raise sir,” was all Jackson could say.

“Raise what?! Well, since you’re here, come in and sit down.”

Jackson walked into the musty office littered with paper strewn about. His knees wanted to buckle right from under him, but he somehow managed to walk to the chair. Jackson looked around the room then his eyes settled on the car keys hanging on hooks behind Mr. Frankford. One of the keys was to a Lamborghini, the other to a Tundra truck. How nice would it be to own just one of those cars, thought Jackson. 

“Lately we have been having a slow down in shipments. Well, all that being said, you’re fired. Get your things and get out. Here’s your money for this week you’ve worked.”

Jackson just looked on in disbelief, momentarily frozen in his seat, unable to reach for the cash that Mr. Frankford was handing him. Mr. Frankford just let the money fall on his desk and continued with his work as if Jackson had already left. Jackson looked down at the one hundred dollar bill, grabbed it then walked out with tears streaming down his face.

Walking back home, he stopped at the local bar, where he was a regular, and drank all his money. By the time he left it was midnight —-around the same time he arrived home from work. Drunk beyond he had ever been, he walked home, stumbling a couple of times on the sidewalk. At one point, he fell face first to the ground on a piece of flyer. When he regained consciousness, he grabbed the flyer from his face and read:

Subjects needed for a sleep experiment.

!,002.00 will be given monthly.

Jackson snapped back into consciousness and sat up straight on the ground he had been laying on.

“One grand a month can pay all my bills and bring me back up to date,” said Jackson, to an empty sleepy street. He looked around and laughed thinking that he would roll-up into his old boss’ house with his own Lamborghini and flip him one.

As his laughter settled, he looked around at the flickering street lights. It must’ve been around 2am, he thought. His wife wouldn’t be upset, Rose was a calm soul, nothing bothered her, but he knew that she would be upset if they lost the house because of his fault. She had been none too happy when the car was repossessed, nor when the lights were cut off. Jackson had fixed the lights problem, he just paid his neighbor to turn them back on, it was illegal, but the lights were on for free.  

Jackson stood, dusted off his clothes and headed home. The house was quiet, like always. He made his way towards the kitchen and there on the table was a plate of food waiting for him. He sat and ate, even though it was cold. A quick shower and off to bed he went. The next morning the cries of the baby awoke him. Rose, knowing or assuming that he was tired from work, quickly made her way over to the baby to let Jackson sleep a bit more.

Nonetheless Jackson arose and got ready for the walk to the clinic address on the flyer.

Breakfast was a quick coffee with toasted bread. He kissed Rose and the baby, then headed out. His walk, Jackson assumed, would take him one hour there and one hour back, but it was fine with him.

On his walk, he planned what he would do with the money. Surely, he would go directly to the bank and make a payment on the house. Then, of course, pay the gas bill to get heating in the house again after so long. He would do the sleep experiment for as long as he could then get himself a real job. 

Jackson’s stomach rumbled, he thought that perhaps he would be fed at the clinic, who knows.

1 hour and a ½ later.

Jackson signed all the necessary paperwork and was being wheeled into the operating room before he could even think straight. He was told that a chip would be implanted in his brain to keep track of wakeful patterns. The chip would detect how long Jackson could stay awake before sleep overcame him. If Jackson fell asleep he wouldn't get paid. 

During the procedure Jackson was awake and answering questions. He was just given local anesthesia; the doctor made a small incision then cracked open the skull and implanted the small chip. Once in the brain, the chip would expand and connect itself to the brain via microscopic wires. It would then send signals to the lab. But first, Jackson had to run several tests, one of which was going to sleep then waking to see if it was functioning. He was given a hearty lunch, since he was the first and only person thus far to sign up for the experiment.

Jackson was placed in a dark room with soothing music and told to go to sleep. He slept like never before. After five hours, he was awakened. Then the chip in his brain sent frequencies to the monitors to show when Jackson had fallen asleep and when he was awake. 

The chip worked perfectly and so Jackson was sent home with instructions:

Do not fall asleep

If you fall asleep the test will be void and no payment will be given.

Jackson was given $300.00 for entering the experiment. He took the money straight to the bank and made a payment to the house, $250.00, with the rest he bought some food for his small family, then headed home. 

On his walk home, he noticed that the leaves on the trees weren’t as green as before. He had to be imagining things, he told himself. Jackson hurried his steps when he saw a cat walking backwards. Finally home, he placed the groceries in the kitchen then decided to take a nap, he remembered the instructions so he headed to the yard to mow the lawn. His wife wasn’t home so the place was very quiet. Jackson knew that he had to keep busy inorder to receive his money at the end of the week. 

The neighbor saw Jackson mowing the lawn and asked if he could mow his lawn as well. Jackson accepted only to keep himself busy. One neighbor followed the other until Jackson had over five hundred dollars. He put the money in his pocket and promised himself to go directly to the gas company to put the heating back on. The money itched in his pocket, it called to be spent at the bar. He grew uncomfortable and so he put the money in his room.

Rose arrived just a little after 8pm, just as Jackson was finishing cleaning up after mowing the lawn of practically all his neighbors.

He wanted to ask Rose where she had been all day, but then she would realize that he was fired and she would be upset.

“You’re home early.”

“Yeah, just decided to come home and do some chores that I’ve been leaving.”

“Ok, that’s good. Can you stay with the baby until I shower?”

“Sure, go right ahead.”

Jackson played with the baby until she cried for milk. He fed and changed her, then she fell asleep in his arms. The house was quiet, with just the soft sound of the shower water falling gently in the background. Jackson’s eyes felt heavy with sleep, he was seeing the room slowly disappear as his dream state started to appear when suddenly he jolted up, causing the baby to cry out in his arms.

“I’m sorry sweetie.”

He stood and started rocking the baby back and forth until Rose appeared.

“What happened? I heard the baby cry.”

“I don’t know, I think she had a nightmare.”

“Oh, ok. Are you hungry?”

“Yes, very.”

Rose quickly went to the kitchen and cooked up a meal that Jackson knew would have him asleep in no time, so he drank coffee.

“Ima put the baby in her room, wait for me here. We can watch a movie.”

Jackson made sure that the movie was as scary as possible to keep him up all night—-it worked..

The next morning Rose awoke to find Jackson making breakfast. The baby was already up and fed. 

“Wow, what has gotten into you?,” said Rose with a smile.

The house smelled of Mr. Clean with a hint of Clorox, the curtains in the living room had been pushed to the side to reveal a gorgeous sunshine. The light emanated throughout the house, Rose even realized that Jackson had cleaned the windows as well.

During the week Jackson had to feign work, so he went out every morning looking for odd jobs. He managed to work here and there and pay the bills that were past due. But slowly, ever so slowly, sleep kept trying to creep into his daily routine and he fought it with all his might. 

The house no longer seemed silent, but instead filled with noise.

“Can I get some quiet around here,” screamed Jackson to Rose as he ate an entire roasted chicken, “Keep that baby quiet!”

Rose jumped when Jackson spoke. Lately he had been touchy and eating more often than usual.

“Are you ok? The baby is just cranky, a bath would do her good.”

“Then bathe her. What are you waiting for?”

Friday arrived and he was given $334. He took it to the bank and made another payment on his house. His next plan was to get a car. 

As he walked home from the clinic, he felt that someone was following him home. He had gone without sleep for four days straight, but he felt pretty good regardless. Jackson heard as someone called out his name, then called him a loser. He turned around and saw a dark figure running towards him. He ran and ran until he was out of breath and laid on the ground. 

Not only was Jackson sleep deprived, but he had over done it with all the odd jobs he had taken on to keep him awake. As he lay on the floor, he saw a hawk swoop down and start pecking at him. Jackson slapped away the bird and continued on his run as dark figures, and now a bird, were chasing him.

He arrived home to find the house filled with women.

“What’s this?”

Rose was not expecting Jackson to enter as if he had not been missing for days.

“Where have you been?”

In his sleep deprived state, Jackson’s days and nights merged into one long day with no end. During these episodes he fought a lion, killed and ate the hawk, then grabbed the dark shadows and killed them. 

Sirens interrupted Jackson’s reply. He was still in the entrance to the house when he was apprehended  for the murder of several people including the dismemberment of their corpses.

March 25, 2022 15:32

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16:52 Apr 06, 2022

I liked the fact that all he wanted to do was help his family, but at first he kept wasting money in his favourite bar. That little detail was good. Then he was shown desperate with his boss and I really liked that too. What shocked me most was the ending. Such a plot-twist!


Annette C
12:12 Apr 07, 2022

Thank you so much for your comment, I really appreciate it. I tried to say much by writing little in order to lead the reader to what I was trying to convey. ...Annette


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Felice Noelle
19:16 Apr 02, 2022

Annette: A very unique slant on the prompt. In my reading on bipolar disorder, because we have it in the family, I have learned that sleep deprivation Is a real determiner. And sleep deprivation is a form of torture and brain-washing technique. There's a lot of research on it, so it was very interesting to see it written in fiction. It might have been interesting, too, if the story had started out with him at the end of the story, having gone sleepless for days, and then the rest told as flashbacks, kind of hallucinating. That would gr...


Annette C
18:04 Apr 03, 2022

Thank you so much for your advice!! I love the advice. I want my writing to continue to get better. I love positive feedback. Since you gave me that idea I'm thinking of rewriting it and seeing how it turns out.... Annette PS. Please any other advice you can give me with my other stories please do, I'm all ears :)


Felice Noelle
18:33 Apr 03, 2022

Annette: If you spend some time reading the comments by some of your favorite writers, sometimes they say that they delete entire stories, or sometimes rewrite it a number of times. If you research the Australian author of one of my favorites for teens, "The Book Thief," he wrote that he edited and rewrote his novel 200 times before he got it the way he was finally satisfied. I think I remember that he was inspired to write the novel by an anecdote his mother had told him about being in Germany prior to WWII. So I guess it behooves us n...


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Michał Przywara
20:37 Mar 29, 2022

That's quite a twist at the end! I guess sleep deprivation can really do a number on your mind. I also liked the idea that he probably didn't even need to do the study, since it sounds like he might have made enough money just doing odd jobs – at least, at the start where he was still thinking straight. I think the boss was funny too. Certainly the firing was shocking, but the casual way it was delivered was amusing. Thanks for sharing!


Annette C
10:24 Mar 31, 2022

Thank you so much for your feedback!! I wanted to have a twist at the end to exaggerate sleep deprivation.


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