This Week’s Prompt: 23. The man who would not sleep—dares not sleep—takes drugs to keep himself awake. Finally falls asleep—and something happens. Motto from Baudelaire p. 214.
This Week’s Research: Insomnia and the Infernal
Windgift is not a place for lost souls. If you ended up lost in my fair city, it wasn’t by accident. The gird would guard against it, and the constabulary was always on the alert for misplaced workers. And when someone wanted to find you in the fog and cloud, beneath the factories churning light, they came to me. Typically, it was over money or marriage. But rarely, ever so rarely, it was to find out why you ran in the first place.
You in this case was Jared Jahpeth.
“He’d been erratic. Kept getting up in the middle of night, staying out late, and then just vanished. Muttering to himself a lot too. I caught him mixing something into his coffee, some pills. He even admitted to taking them at night, to keep himself working through the night. We were going to see a therapist that day, but he never made it to work.” Mrs. Jahpeth said, staring into my eyes. It was a tad unnerving, her eyes staring straight ahead as she talked. I don’t think she blinked.
We went through the more standard line of questioning after that. What did he look like, any enemies, any hangouts, friends, and so on. All out of town. Jared must have deep debts if he had to jump ship. She left a little more than an hour later, and I packed my things to make my way out onto the sky lit by the crimsons sun and steely clouds.
There was a chance that Luke, down at the pharmacy, had heard of him. There were only three pharmacies in town, and if you’re aiming to stay awake for more than a few days, you’ll need some memorable stuff. Coffee can only carry you so far.
Luke was a portly old man with only a few grey hairs left. He felt out of place in the slick and clean pharmacy, full of plastic cases and pills. He always reminded me of a candy store salesmen from another world, more than happy to sell things that help people go on living.
“Martin! What are you in for? Anti-depressants? Tums?” he asked with a smile. Luke liked to pretend I was a regular for legitimate reasons. Poor guy.
“Nothing of the sort. Listen, anyone strange come in lately?” I asked, leaning on the white counter.
“Yeah. Unusual new customers or the like.”
“Not that I can think of. Few kids trying to scam fake doctor’s notes by me, but that’s hardly new. Who’s the suspect this time?” He asked with a sigh.
“Guy named Jared. He’s getting something to keep him up. Anyone like that come by? Might have a doctored note. Kinda lanky, bags under the eyes, skittish.”
“Muttering to himself?” Luke asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Yeah. Probably carrying some coffee.”
“Guy came in a few hours ago. Can’t say much past that, patient confidentiality and all.”
“ Did you get word where he was staying? Just in passing?” I asked, leaning over the counter.
Luke shook his head. A dead end. Well, there were other sources. Outside of Luke’s and across the street there’s a timid old lady. Mrs. Wilcox, poor thing thinks the world is out to get her. Her paranoia makes her sharp, however, and a few years back I convinced her I was a double agent for the nefarious powers that be.
“He went east, looked awful. They’ve gotten to him, clearly, they have. Poor man,” she said through her peephole.
“Gotten to him how?” I asked, scribbling on a note pad.
“His limbs, they’ve injected them with some of the chemicals from their homeworld. They want to see if people can survive. You can tell, his limbs were twitching all the time.” She continue, her eye darting about.
“Thank you, Mrs. Wilcox.” I said, noting to confirm it when I found Jahpeth. Waking drugs will do that.
“And your end? What’s the latest you and your partner have found?” she whispered.
I got halfway through rattling off a list of local politicians that ‘were actually lizardmen’ before stopping.
“Partner?” I asked, turning around. The street was empty.
“Yeah, your partner. He’s in the alley, isn’t he? He’s been walking with you since you left the pharmacy.”
I nodded a bit, finished the tin foil hat wearing nonsense, and walked down the street for a bit. I waited a few blocks before turning around. Sure enough, I saw a shadow dart behind a building. It was a glimpse, but it was there. Sprinting down toward it, I began reviewing a list of possible enemies.
The alley was empty when rounded the corner. The alley only had one exit, and was completely bare. Past that, however, was Main Street. I continued the chase and looked about. I hadn’t caught a good enough glimpse to spot him by appearance. But behavior? No one was running, or looking over their shoulder. Just, vanished.
I retraced my steps with Jared. Wilcox said east. East was easy. There was a common hidey hole out east. See, the coal plant wasn’t in use any more, but it was still burning. There was a gas leak that caught, and well, the fire kept going.
It was evacuated not long after. Eternal fire isn’t exactly a habitable place. Past the warning fence was a preserved town, untouched and uninhabited for twenty years according to official records. Most of the time they were right. The odd squatter got the idea to hide out here for a month or two before leaving. Place almost radiated a sense of unease.
The dust brushed against my feet as I walked through ashen streets, listening. There was a breeze billowing broken doors and a growling flame still deep in the ground. I walked carefully down the streets, scanning for the remains of tracks before the winds washed them away. There wouldn’t be many, but if you looked closely, you could see shifts in the bigger piles of debris.
Eventually, the little impressions and shifts lead me to an small store front. The door was open, either because of the wind or negligence. I closed it slowly. I could hear someone breathing the stairs, hasty gasps, like he was had just run a mile.
Running up the stairs, I stop to see a single room with a bed. There’s a man, Jared, lying there. There are some packages on the desk next to him. A couple books were scattered on the floor. I stepped over them to get a closer look.
“Mr. Jahpeth?” I asked as I approached. His head bent back a bit, and his mouth fell open. And there was a loud, heave, followed by a rustling sound. And then, out it poured. His lung’s, his entire chest collapsed and ash spewed out of his eyes and mouth. His skin greyed and cracked, broken clay revealing an on rush of darkened blood. His bones were charcoal, an unseen fire burning him up.
I gripped the door frame as, after only a few moments, Mr. Jahpeth was naught but dust and bone. That insatiable curiosity of my profession, however, that demon of dark ambition bit my brain. I hunched over to look at the books scattered on the floor. The ink was splotched, hard to read, but there were diagrams. A drawing of a horned figure, a thing rising out of a skull. I picked through a few more.
The writing was more legible, at first.
“There is a thing ticking in the back of the mind. There is a thing that I see in window panes in the alleys of my dreams. In eyes of distant mountains, in dark places growling things lie. Something is wrong in the skies.”
But the vague poetics began to decay. No doubt his ability to write decayed with Jared’s health. Sleep deprivation does not refine the motor skills. Gradually, the ink bled into drawings again. Eyes in the ‘o’s, little trees out of ‘t’s.
But then, as I sat scanning book after book, great diagrams of trees full of fire and great birds with many eyes, I noticed something strange. The process seemed to be reversing. Letters were returning, although not English characters. Nor Greek or even vaguely Eastern letters. No, it was strange blockish script, dotted and swirled within it’s confines.
I collected all of it, all the books I could carry and began to leave the ashen place, the fiery pit beside the city roads. But at the door, I noticed some small impression in the ash. A set of tracks entering the house beside my own, visible only a moment before the wind swept them away.
I followed there general direction as the moon rose, yellow and worn. Starlight showed shining hoof tracks, a goat. But I never found anything. What took Jared I can’t say. His wife didn’t show up at the deadline to hear what happened. When I got to the station, they denied ever hearing of him. Mrs. Wilcox didn’t open her eyehole after that, and a few weeks later her house went up in smoke.
I’m still trying to make sense of it all. I’m grasping at straws and chasing shadows. I’m lost, and the red high noon sun seems to be mocking me for it.
I am not proud of this story, to be honest. I feel it is truncated, missing an underlying horror, and doesn’t properly exploit the fear in dreams and devils. But perhaps it provided some fright or inspiration for your own work? What did you dredge up from the graveyard of dreams?
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