Staying Awake


They don't understand. It doesn't want them, it waits for me ...

Like some malevolent tumor the thing attaches itself to innocent souls. We are its meal, its reason for being. Always the innocent. Always the helpless.

My nightmares began soon after a paralyzing accident. I saw again a tractor-trailer swerving, dragging my car against concrete barriers. Though over in seconds my slow-motion dream stretched into agony. I watched metal crumple against my legs, felt the wheel staple ribs into my lungs, heard that crisp snap of my neck. And finally a sparkling cascade of glass seeming to hover a moment before beginning its inexorable approach, feeling each shard enter shoulder, cheek, neck. The whole performance a slow inevitable symphony of pain seemingly orchestrated for my torment.

I woke screaming in silence, my voice another victim of the accident.

At first I thought it natural to relive such traumas, but now I understand. I know what brings the dreams, recognize that inventive malicious force which fastened itself upon me. And no matter how I struggle to stay awake, one night each week it returns to script a new nightmare.

Last week it uncovered my memories of combat, parading past me lost comrades in arms. They spoke to me first as children, boyhood friends in our clubhouse, then as twisted bodies I slid into a bag. Mercifully I woke and riveted my eyes on the bedroom window till the blessed dawn.

The previous week I saw my Mother again. Cancer had claimed her years before; but our last visit, the one she didn't know us through the pain, I relived twice that night. After one episode I revived to find my caretaker wiping sweat from my brow, and watched with horror as a sedative invaded my arm. When I rejoined my demon I suffered a sequel as it whispered it had been with her then, watching me, waiting for my turn ...

In daytime I watched a home nurse tend my body as I vainly prayed for some fatal mistake. Modern medicine has many tools to restore health, but it found them convenient tools of horror. Bone saws chewed my limbs, poison vaccines filled my blood with clots. Through cunning surgeries I was turned inside out, every organ exposed. And yet, devious as it was in these nightmarish plays, it occasionally withheld petty torments. Only at such times did I sense a darker malignant evil setting boundaries, reserving for itself the coup de grace, the final push towards insanity.

Between dreams were typically five or six days to recover, to think. I begged God for explanation. Surely my wife, blessedly lost in the accident and spared my living torment, surely her love for me was proof enough of the good man I had been.

When no answer came I asked instead how such evil could be, how long such demons had cursed humankind, if this explained insanity and suicide. And I pondered most why this terror came weekly, like a scheduled tour of the nether Hells.

During one visit the parasitic demon sensed this curiosity, even as dreamed intruders brutally raped my ethereal family. It paused the scene, I thought to replay it in gorier detail, but instead it pondered ...

... it sensed the opportunity I offered it to present a variety of new horrors which were not my own, made me understand I am visited between other victims of the night. That an old woman awaits its coming to unleash a lifetime of fear under abusive parents. That a little boy in traction has fallen from the same tree a dozen times already, branches lashing eyes and limbs breaking limbs. That each night I am untouched the ravenous demon feasts upon fresh innocents, revitalized by their week of respite. Then I was swept along for a brief taste of their multiple horrors, a private tour of six other Hells.

I felt a tinge of pity but had not the strength for compassion. I suffer my own weekly curse entertaining it, feeding it. And no matter how I endeavor to miss a night, how I pray, do puzzles in my head, nap during the daylight, it wins in the end. If I thwart one visit it's spurred to greater atrocities the following.

And its greatest allies are my own unsuspecting sons. With infinite tenderness they watch over me on my restless nights, administer the sedative, and I succumb. They don't understand. It doesn't want them it waits for me ...

The End