When sleep can’t be an escape. Short story.

I was reading my 3rd short story of the night when I started feeling drowsy. The thin new book I had bought impulsively from the book stand was just a collection of random horror stories which failed to interest me. Considering how the day had gone so far, I had every reason to fall asleep. The story was boring, but the book had only 3 pages left, so I soldiered on, trying to finish it before turning off the light. It was only one minute past midnight, still too early for sleep by my standards.

But I underestimated my fatigue and was nodding off with my nose touching the book on study table without even knowing it. I was suddenly awoken by a very cold gust of air on my neck and back. The old trusty air conditioner was running on full cooling levels chilling the room to near freezing levels. I gave up the quest to finish the story and stood up from the study table.. The room was already a bit too cold for my comfort, so I turned off the AC and went to bed. I grabbed the comforter, put it over my head and within seconds I was fast asleep.

I was awakened by the thin comforter flying off me by strong gusts of wind. Ceiling fan running too fast, was the first thought in my sleepy mind. I groped with my eyes closed for the bed side switch to turn the fan off. It was already too cold. I had developed good muscle memory for this habit and found the switch without any difficulty. There was one problem though. The switch was already in off position. My clumsy groping in the dark turned it to on position and the fan turned on with a soft whirring sound. I opened my eyes with a snap, confused and startled. Without getting up, I moved my neck a little to see around the dark room. There was no light except for a faint silver of light coming in from street lights outside my house through the cosed windows covered by heavy drapes. If I wasn’t so tired already, that would have bothered me a bit. But in my sleepy and tired condition, I just blamed the flying sheets on wind blowing in through half closed door and windows. Or may be a strange dream

I fell in to a fitful slumber again. For how long, I didn’t know.

My sleep was interrupted by again a ticklish sensation of something touching my shoulder. Then it was a hand gently caressing sides of my arm. The feeling was familiar. Misha often did it when she could not sleep. She used to say that it helped calm her down. Sometimes it woke me up and I just grabbed her hand and we both fell asleep together holding hands. Instinctively, I moved my hand to touch hers only to snap awake again. There was no hand caressing my arm. I was alone in my bed. I stifled a sob. I had not felt that hand touching my arm for so long that it might well be an eternity. A tear escaped from my eyes and streaked across my cheek .

I lay there, feeling numb with hundreds of things running through my mind and not even one making any sense. The white noise numbed my senses and I dozed off again. I had some terrible dreams, neither one of which made any sense.In one dream, I was trying to pull off an rotting apple tree from the ground without much success. A small bird sitting on one of the branches looked on with a puzzled expression and cheeped once in a while. In frustration, I I got angry and started shaking the branches scaring the little bird. It took to wings and started flying around my head chirping loudly. I was even more annoyed by this and started jumping wildly to catch the bird . In my blind anger, I managed to swat it down and it fell to the ground stunned and in an awkward position as if it’s wings were broken. Triumphantly I grabbed it’s limp body in my hands and brought it up to my eyes. It moved it’s head a little and uttered a painful moan. I was so startled that i tripped back and landed on my ass. I saw the body of that little bird falling down in slow motion as my grip sipped, then it disappeared all of a sudden.

I awoke again panting hard and my body drenched in sweat. I looked around the room again, my eyes open wide by a mixture of fear, confusion and surprise. Slowly, my heart beat got normal and i started breathing easier. I grabbed the comforter and pulled it above my head when i heard it again. Another painful moan, coming from the other bedroom where Misha had been confined to after that accident. But it was impossible. Misha could never do that now. I grabbed a pillow and put it around my ears to block out the moans. I soon fell in to an uneasy slumber.

I had another strange dream. in this one, I was standing near my bed watching someone sleep in it. there was just enough light to make out the outlines of a person breathing with comforter covering the whole body from head to toe. Overcome by curiosity, I slowly moved towards the bed and put my hand on edge of comforter to take it off whoever was sleeping on my bed. But as soon as I grabbed the comforter, the breathing stopped and the body beneath it just vanished. I uttered a scream and found myself awake again standing just where I was in dream, clutching the comforter in both hands. My legs gave away and I collapsed on the floor shaking and hyper-ventilating.

After a while, my breathing stabilised but i couldn’t stop myself from shaking uncontrollably . I looked in to my bedside drawer and found the bottle of sedatives empty save for two pills. I took them out with some difficulty and swallowed them. Then I lay on floor with reclining with bed post for support, waiting for the sedatives to take effect. But there was no relief. My overuse or abuse of the pills as the doctor liked to say, meant that 2 pills were just not enough for panic attacks like this one. I groaned loudly and banged my head on the mattress of bed. It infuriated me even more, but I didn’t have the courage to hit the wall with my head and hopefully get it over with.

 

I lay there writhing for what seemed like an eternity when I heard the soft moaning again. This time, there was no mistaking it. It was the painful moans of Misha whenever her painkillers wore off. Hearing it, my breath started racing again and I crushed my ears with my hands to block them out. But there was no escape this time. I could hear them inside my head. Soon she’d be almost screaming and then sobbing with pain, only noises that her broken body could make. The habits formed during the past year were hard to break even then. I automatically stood up and walked to the door which connected her room with mine. She had been sleeping in a special bed next room, ever since the doctors had sent her home from hospital. I simply couldn’t afford any more hospital bills except for the nurse who came 3-4 times a week.

I grabbed the door handle and slowly pushed it open. Just then the painful moans stopped. I flicked on the light switch and was blinded by the bright light for a few seconds. As my sight cleared, I saw her special bed, meant to provide support to her fractured spine absolutely empty, just the way I had seen it in morning. There was no sign of Misha or anyone else. Why there should be anyone in that room anyway . Misha was gone. I myself had made her go away, just the way she would have wanted to. I had followed the nurse’s instructions to a tee and made sure that nobody had any suspicions about her fading away. Even her family, whatever was left of it seemed relieved to finally find her free of her pain and suffering.

Even I was free now. I could finally get out and get on back with my life. May be start a new life with the nurse who had come to become the only source of support for me after everyone else had washed their hands off.
The sedatives were finally beginning to take effect. I felt calmer, at peace and at the same time unbearably sad. i walked towards her bed .and sat down gingerly on it, just where I used to when I read her the newspaper early in the morning. A faint smile crossed my lips as i picked up the unread morning paper. I read the important parts of front page aloud just like the old days, but with tears streaming down my face. I couldn’t read anything after a while and crushed the newspaper on my face sobbing loudly and felt the faint sting of chlorine in my eyes and nose.

I rolled down on the bed clawing on the sheets and screaming. It felt like an eternity. but somehow I calmed down and started feeling sleepy. Maybe the sedatives still had some effect after all this time. The only thought I had in my mind was of me watching Misha’s breathing becoming fainter after I had administered the last dose. Slowly the blessed sleep took over and everything went blank.

When I woke up, I found myself back on my study table with my head resting on still open book I had been reading and cold air from air-conditioner chilling my back. i rubbed my eyes and found them wet. The pages stuck to my face and came off the binding. I pulled them off and they were the last three pages that I still had not read, all pulpy and unreadable. I glanced at the wall clock and it was not midnight yet.

May be that’s what hell is for people like me

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