There are some things you can only see when you sleep.
Memories that serve as a glimpse into the past, back when the days had the color of roses and the food didn’t taste like ash. Dreams that are bitter only in the fact that you know they must end, but oh so sweet while they last. To be reunited with lost loves and dear friends is the most precious thing sleep offers us.
But for a few others, dreaming instead serves as a portal into new worlds. The past can provide them no comfort, so the Sandman ferries them elsewhere. To these far-away slumbering realms only the resting mind can reach. There we must wonder, what happens to these worlds when we are not observing them?
Does the Sandman keep watch over them until the next time we visit, or do they vanish without a mind to grasp them? Would even our world exist if there wasn’t someone to perceive it?
They aren’t real, of course. Another comfort to turn the mind away from the darker things one can dream of. The real nightmares, the ones that exist not as an imaginary terrorscape solely in the mind, but as a reminder.
Remember what happened. This is you, this is what-
“Need more coffee.” This shift was dragging on. Usually it wasn’t this bad, but I hadn’t slept in two days and I was reaching the end of the rope caffeine could provide. “Just one more hour.”
Fortunately it was almost over, then the day shift would show up and I could stop staring at these monitors. I’d take the bus home, crawl into bed, and…crawl right out, make a fresh pot of coffee. Go outside and have a smoke after I finished the pot.
Not yet, I’m not ready yet to sleep. I can’t sleep, not yet. I’m not ready to disappear.
“Be back in a second,” I mumbled to myself as I stepped away from the desk. It was an hour away from the shift change and the sun was already out, so I doubted anyone would try to break in now.
It wouldn’t take long, just a few minutes to nip down to the breakroom.
“Mhm, AA coffee.” You know the stuff, comes in the big tin. Not that I’d ever been to AA, alcohol makes me too sleepy for me to ever consider having a drink, but I…I…
What was I talking about?
“Oh, crap!” I had overfilled the machine, spilling water across the counter. Go ahead and hit that button to start it, then I’ll go grab some paper towels.
That’s weird. Roll’s empty.
“I could’ve sworn I refilled it.” Being a security guard wasn’t enough, I also usually had to restock the breakroom since those working the shift before mine forgot to. No way around it if I wanted my…
Where am I? This isn’t right, I’m lost. I should be at home, I was heading home.
I blinked, and I was back at the desk with a mug of steaming coffee.
Mhm, now that’s the good stuff. Reminds me of the church, back in the room where they held the AA meetings. I used to help them set up beforehand and brewed a pot while we were pulling out chairs, but I never stuck around long enough to see people showing up. They tend to like their privacy and can’t say as I blame them.
Some of those folk harbor dark…dark…
“What the heck?” I leaned over my desk to examine the monitors.
A few of them were flickering, going from the parts of the building they were supposed to record to nothing, then normal again. Off, back on. Off. On.
Off. Off. Off.
One by one, the screens went dark until they all showed the same uniform black. Then as one, as if they all had planned on this to trick me, they turned back on.
But what they showed wasn’t the building they were supposed to, but an empty night street. Each of them showed the same view, looking down and at an angle of a street corner that looked familiar. Hm, that building on the corner…
“Tim’s pharmacy?” Must be, no mistaking it. The camera only caught part of the wall, but that graffiti was unmistakable. City’s been hounding Tim to clean it off for years, but he likes it too much to get rid of it. Meaning, that’s Seventh Street the cameras were showing me.
About ten minutes away from my job, and on my way home. No wonder it looks familiar, I pass by there every night when I drive home.
When I drive…? I don’t drive, I take the bus. Like I could afford to buy a car on my paycheck with rent and everything else hanging over my head. Really, why would I think I had a car?
The monitors were back to normal, showing the empty rooms and corridors of the building I was sat in.
“God, shift’s going on too long. Need more coffee.” According to the clock, the shift change was only an hour away. Shouldn’t be an issue if I take five, go make a fresh pot. Sun was already out anyway, doubt anybody would try to break in now.
“Damn it.” But somebody in the day crew hadn’t cleaned up after themselves. Left a bunch of water spilled across the counter, and no paper towels on the roll. It’s like they think this stuff just magically cleans itself up at night. If only complaining about it to management did anything.
Instead, despite all my grumbling, I did what I normally did and headed for the supply closet. Less trouble to clean it up myself than to talk to the manager. Besides, I knew where they kept everything stored almost as well as the janitor by this point. New roll would be right there-
I pushed open the door and stepped out onto Seventh Street. The air was brisk, holding a sharp edge that promised winter was right around the corner. I didn’t have a good enough jacket to fend it off, but the warmth radiating from my gut served an adequate replacement. There was still some hooting and hollering coming from behind me in McGilligan’s, couple people shouting my name and how it was too early for me to leave.
Ignoring them, I stumbled past Tim’s pharmacy and came to an unsteady rest at the corner crosswalk. The cold was enough to sober me to a point I thought to check both ways, just like I was taught as a kid. Left, then right. Clear?
I stepped out in the crosswalk and heard a roar to my left, then a flash of light so bright I thought the sun had arisen early. Couldn’t see a thing through it, but I heard a squeal that came to a sudden stop.
Then the sun vanished like a candle snuffed, and it became too dark to see anything. But I could hear a voice. Faint, so I had to strain my ear to listen.
Sounded like someone was saying…
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, I’m sorry…” On repeat, almost like a record except it was broken up by the occasional sob and the sound of sniffling. They were crying, and not the pretty kind you see in movies. Full on ugly cry, snot and all.
But why? Why are you crying? Who do you cry for?
Is it for me, or yourself?
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…”
“You’re sorry about what?” I asked, but they continued on like they couldn’t hear me.
Was I hallucinating? I’d heard that was possible with sleep deprivation, and I’m sure all the caffeine and nicotine couldn’t be helping.
I needed a doctor but work first. The clock says only an hour left, right? Then I could go check into the hospital and see what was wrong with me. Hopefully nothing, didn’t I have plans?
Right, tomorrow’s my day off. A couple friends were hounding me to go hit up McGilligan’s with them. It’s been a while since I had a drink, but that sounds nice. Catch up, play some pool, have a couple beers. McGilligan’s is close enough I could just walk home, too. But work first.
I was back at my desk, watching the monitors with an empty mug by my hand.
“I need more…” I started, but then stopped halfway out of my chair. There was movement on one of the monitors that stopped me dead.
There wasn’t anybody on the screen, but there was something new.
“What’s that say?” There was writing on one of the walls in the hallway leading to the breakroom. It was hard to read through the grainy feed, but I might as well walk over and check. Could make a fresh pot while I’m over there.
Hey, this felt a bit exciting. It helped drive my fatigue away as I sauntered over, feeling like a proper guard with my flashlight.
That feeling deflated a bit once I reached the wall. There was nothing there. I must be hallucinating things…maybe I should call the manager, tell them to send someone else by to take over.
“Could’ve sworn I saw…” I swept the light over the spot a few times, but nothing.
No, there was something there. It was faint, but there were thin lines carved into the plaster. It was hard to see direct on, but the camera picked it up from its angle. So, if I step under it and take another look?
You can’t fall asleep. You must focus on your own existence, or you will stop.
It took some doing, but that’s what it said. Stop what?
And can’t fall asleep? I already knew that. That’s why I was so tired, I hadn’t slept in a few days. I knew I shouldn’t sleep…but why, again? Why couldn’t I sleep?
Could I really not sleep?
But I feel so tired…