"Somnolence" (5,698 Words) (PG-13 — Violence, Cursing, Drugs)

Published by Adenosine Triphosphate in the blog Adenosine's Notebook. Views: 168

Somnolence
Adenosine
(Alachua County)
(Telford, Florida)
(November 3rd, 2012)
(Michael Ferris)

His five hours of sleep left his eyes with a sort of deep, grainy soreness, as if they had been soaked in caustic chemicals. It made him want to bury his face in the pillows and lay there for the entire day.

His mind wanted to go back to sleep, but his body would not allow it, conditioned as it was to wake at this hour.

This hour. Six thirty. Every day, without fail, he woke within fifteen minutes of that time, unless his body decided to jolt itself up an hour or two earlier. Every goddamn day. It made no difference that it had taken him until 1 AM to get to sleep last night.

Sunlight flooded through his curtains. He heard talking from somewhere nearby.

"Michael." His mother's voice sounded from the hallway.

Go away, he thought. He heard her footsteps as she drew closer.

"Michael?" The door creaked open.

Go away. Go away now.

"Michael. It's six thirty-five. Time to get up," she said in an exaggeratedly sweet voice.

He pretended not to hear her.

"Up," she said, a little more firmly.

He rolled over and stared groggily at her. She was short and stout, with a bit of pudge around her stomach. She wore a gray sweater with a Florida flag on the center and a cigarette burn near the collar.

"Hey." He yawned and stretched his arms.

He grudgingly dragged himself up and stumbled into the hallway. The stale odor of tobacco met his nostrils. As he walked into the bathroom, he stepped on something. It was a box of Marlboro, empty aside from one unused cigarette. He kicked it away in disgust.

He looked into the mirror. The face that stared at him had black hair and circles under its eyes that were a diseased, defeated shade of gray. Much it was covered with angry red pimples, some tipped with pustules. He touched a hand to his chin. It burned with an inflamed greasiness. Disgusting.

He took a quick shower that was so relaxing that he feared (and wished) that he would fall asleep under the stream of water. But he did not, and after he dried himself and applied the last two stages of Extra-Strength Proactiv, he carried himself to breakfast.

"Hello, son." Dad was a lean, grizzled man. His fingers were stained with nicotine, and his head of brown hair was impressively thick. Thick in a variety of ways. His plate held a pile of eggs and an unopened tin of Grizzly.

"Hey." His brother Jacob was wide and muscular, with mild acne and spiked black hair. He had sixteen years to Michael's thirteen.

He tipped his bowl of Frosted Flakes haphazardly from side to side. Milk ran up against the edges. Michael thought it a wonder that none spilled over.

"Jacob, watch what you're doing," Dad warned.

"What?" Jacob sounded very sour.

"You about dumped that whole bowl."

"No I didn't." He kept tipping it.

"Don't pick fights," Mom said. Her lighter clicked and flamed as she lit a Marlboro.

"What you smokin that for?" Jacob turned to glare at her. "Yall always gettin on me about that. Goddamn hypocrites."

"Do I need to get my belt?" Dad asked.

"I don't know. Do you?" Jacob asked sarcastically.

"Over my knee!"

"What?" Jacob shrunk back.

"Over my knee!"

Jacob complied meekly. "Don't. You. Ever. Talk to your mother. Like. That," Dad growled, timing his blows with the breaks in his sentences.

"Yeah, you listen," Michael said. He swelled with power. Jacob growled at him, earning another smack.

What an idiot, Michael thought.

Jacob had a full set of A's on his report card, but his conformity ended there. He drank. He smoked. He fought with other kids at football practice. He backtalked any adult that would let him get away with it and some that wouldn't. He was a belligerent, irresponsible jackass, as Dad said. That was why he still got spanked at sixteen and Michael had never been spanked in his life.

Backing Mom and Dad up made him feel important. Like he was part of the family's power structure.

He went to get his backpack. Just as he was lifting it onto his back, he felt a stinging blow on the side of his face.

"Traitor!" Jacob glared at him.

"You hit me," he said meekly.

"Don't back them up!" He walked into his room and slammed the door.

"Jacob! Quiet!" Mom shouted.

"Jacob hit me!" Michael said.

"How many times do I have to tell that boy—"

Michael heard another "goddamn hypocrites" from behind the door, and then Dad arrived to retaliate on his behalf. He had barely finished when they had to leave for school.


————— S —————
Dad drove an old Ford pickup. The stench of tobacco was incredible. It made him think of lung cancer and heart disease. Products of an addiction that held Mom and Dad and probably Jacob in its claws.

He kept his eyes closed for the entire trip, headphones in, listening to Linkin Park. He fell halfway-asleep, and then was rudely jolted up by the sudden stop of Dad braking in the school drop-off line.

"Out," Dad directed him.

He got out. The cold air blasted his inflamed face and tired eyes, creating a disgusting blend of sensation. He hated Florida weather. It was too hot for three-fourths of the year and too cold for the rest.

There he was. Golden Gate Middle School. Seven hundred students strong. A collection of refurbished mobile homes and dilapidated buildings of jagged stone. The cafeteria consisted of six mobile homes welded together into something that looked like a bad imitation of a square. The field was full of potholes. The soccer nets had holes in them. The flag was halfway down the flagpole, hanging loosely by one cloth edge. The opposite corner had been ripped off by vandals.

A girl who had lived in Alachua during elementary school and sixth grade had compared it to an awful mixture of her hometown's Alachua Learning Center and Mebane Middle School. It made him feel like his family took in five thousand dollars a year instead of fifty thousand.

The bell rang, and he dragged himself to first period.

"Hello, class." Mrs. Newton stood by the board. She was a middle-aged white woman with a thin frame and an angular, protruding nose.

Advanced Math on five hours of sleep. Wonderful.

He put his head down and tried to disappear as she went over yesterday's homework. He hadn't done it. His mind had been too dull, and it still was.

Somehow, he still had a C. Everything else was a B or higher. That was the infuriating part.

"Three-x plus four equals thirty-seven. Subtract four from both sides and you get thirty three."

He couldn't sleep, and his parents didn't care as long as he got decent grades. "Six hours is perfectly normal," his mom was fond of saying. "We're not gonna put you on narcotics just because your eyes hurt a little."

She herself often got five. Just like him. Unlike him, she could handle it. Somehow. Maybe it was all the tobacco.

"Divide three from both sides and you get x equals eleven," Mrs. Myers said.

Just a summer ago, he had averaged nine hours a night. Now he was lucky to get seven.

"Homework?" She walked around, collecting last night's assignment.

She walked straight past him. He was thankful for that.

His next period was Art. An uncontrollable mess of a class who teachers rarely lasted for more than a year before they were run off.

The heater was on a few degrees too high, and the room felt hot and stuffy.

He sat at the end of a long table with a thick, black top. There were three other boys and two girls with him. As soon as the class started, a cloak of noise enveloped them, and they got down to business.

Without effective control, the class ran wild. It was a jungle, filled with verbal aggression and occasional physical violence. Anyone could be a target, even the bullies themselves. None would intervene unless it was to backup someone in their clique. Michael could save himself by putting his head down and pretending to sleep, but such measures actually seemed to enhance his hearing.

"You stole my paper!" Travis shouted. Michael knew him to be blonde and pudgy.

"Don't be such a girl," Nathan said. Michael knew that his frame was thin and malnourished. He was known to carry several bottles of Adderall in his backpack.

"Hey Travis, what's that in your hair?" Carlson asked. He was solidly built and pasty white.

"It's a religious symbol."

"It's a ponytail," Nathan retorted. "Like a damn female!"

"You're a fag, you know that, Travis?" Carlson's voice was cruel and mocking.

Travis had a girlfriend, and what Michael had seen made him fairly certain that he was attracted to her. Not that it mattered. Insults didn't need to obey logic. Sometimes they worked better if they didn't.

"What's your problem?"

“I don't like having to stare at your fat ass all period. That's my problem." Nathan laughed, but there was a certain edge and volatility to his voice, as if he was inches away from an eruption.

If Mrs. Laurel saw the altercation, she made no move to intervene in it. She never did. No one ever did.

Those two enraged him, but he knew it was beyond his abilities to defend the other boy. They would eviscerate him, as they had eviscerated him before, and they would do it with words alone. His own emotions betrayed him, filling him with useless, self-crippling anxiety. He cursed them impotently, and then he cursed his weakness.

Throughout the entire period, he lifted his head only once, and then only long enough to draw a tree in crayon. It gave him participation points, and that was all that mattered in Art.

As he went to use the bathroom, the musky smell of marijuana hit his nostrils. He chuckled bitterly.


————— S —————
The cafeteria was like a larger and even louder version of Art. Its white walls were covered with graffiti and pencil drawings, some quite obscene. There were two bathrooms for the boys. One always had a strong scent of tobacco. The other reeked of marijuana. Earlier that week, he had found a stall with an empty bottle of Adderall. He knew not how many students had been disciplined for bringing such substances, but it was clearly not enough to deter their usage.

The tables were islands of black, white, and tan skin, some with small dots of color different from the rest. There was no school rule enforcing it, not for decades; it was just what happened.

He sat by himself and ate his Vienna Sausages in silence. They tasted of saltwater.

During PE, they played soccer, and he flinched back when someone kicked the ball. It flew right past his head. Right into the goal. The game ended, and his team lost by one point.

"You're a sorry, pimple-faced excuse for a soccer player," Carlson informed him.

"Probably gonna go home and cut himself," Nathan added.

"I don't cut myself!" Michael yelled.

"You full of shit. I've seen you do it before," Nathan lied. "Why don't you do us all a favor and slit the bottom of your wrists instead of the top?"

"You should cut back on the speed, Nathan. Start eating more. Maybe then you'll put on enough muscle to actually hit somebody." He spoke quickly and not as assertively as would have he liked, but it made Nathan flare with rage. Before Michael could do anything, the other boy grabbed his backpack off of the bench and handed it to Carlson, who threw it some twelve feet away. "Better go get that," Carlson said. "I hear it's gonna rain soon."


————— S —————
His interaction with Nathan and Carlson spoiled the rest of his afternoon, adding to an ever-expanding pool of resentments. He felt stepped on.

He managed to complete his homework this time, and then he spent three hours at the computer, watching videos of horror games on YouTube.

He saw the protagonist of Cry of Fear take a black police nightstick to the head of a monster. It was a hideous, malformed being, with bloody flesh and clothes that were a sickly shade of navy blue. Its head hung face-down, as if the bones in its neck were broken. It twitched horribly as it swung its hammer and jerked forward through the sewer.

Two baton strikes, and it fell to the water.

He owned a pair of nightsticks himself. They were side-handled. Nylon fiberglass. Solid. The game had given him the idea to buy them.

He often held them and fantasized about beating those he hated with them—Nathan, Carlson, and a dozen other faces. They never died in his daydreams, and he never attacked them without cause. They had always attacked him or someone else first. It was a sick way of feeling power, and he felt ashamed of it. Nonetheless, a part of him reveled in those fantasies.

————— S —————

"Jacob!" Mom shouted.

"Jacob!" Dad shouted at the same time.

"What?" Jacob slowly emerged from the bathroom and walked into the kitchen. His nose was caked with dried blood.

"What are these?" Dad pointed to the counter. It had a mess of dirty, greasy, food-encrusted plates. Some had sizable portions of ketchup on them. Some had pieces of old rice and macaroni.

"Dishes." Jacob deadpanned. "Maybe even dirty ones."

“Why haven't you cleaned them up?" Mom demanded.

"Because I had afterschool detention," he replied.

"What?"

"Some kid decided to pick a fight with me."

"You got in a fight?"

"In the locker room. Some senior. He ran at me and tried to kick me in the balls, so I threw a few punches. He got me once," Jacob said, pointing to his nose.

"What did the teacher say?"

"He said I started it, but he didn't see the whole thing. I was defending myself!"

"Sixth time this tear! You wanna go to jail?" Dad pulled a belt from off the table. "Stop hitting people!"

"I had to," Jacob said, his voice rising. "People'll beat the crap out of me!"

"Boy, you better be a lot more scared of me than them."

"Yeah!" Michael said.

Jacob turned towards him. "Shut up!" Dad's belt lashed out, catching him on the backside. He yelped. "Damn you, Michael! They could stab me with a knife, and you'd still side with them!" Dad's belt lashed out again. "Aaggh!" he screamed.

Dad retracted the belt and put it back on the table. "Clean them up," he said. "Now."

"Yes sir." Jacob scampered over to the plates and took one to the sink. In a moment, when Mom and Dad were looking the other way, he sent Michael a glare of deep pain and rage. "You think you have it bad. When's the last time one of those bullies hit you?" He asked as he walked past him. And then he faded away into his room.

————— S —————

"When's the last time one of those bullies hit you?" Jacob's words and the glare that accompanied them played in his mind for hours. They stung, for in truth, Michael could not remember the last time he had been assaulted by someone at school. Everything he faced there was verbal, the type of violence that he would be called a bitch for complaining about. At times he agreed with that characterization.

Jacob had talked about himself as a victim, but Michael could not believe it. The boy was too strong, too edgy for Michael to imagine him as one. No, he decided. He had somehow instigated that fight. He was sure of it.

He then felt wronged, and that made him angry, and that made him angry at himself for being soft. He remembered how Nathan had told him to kill himself. And the fool thought he cut himself! An anorexic amphetamine addict wanted to talk to him about self-harm!

It was absurd, but that only made it all the more infuriating, and it kept him tossing and turning in his bed until well after eleven PM. By then, he was so angry at his body for not allowing him eight hours of sleep that he ruined any hope of achieving it. His heart pounded in his chest, pumping agitating stress hormones through his bloodstream. His pillows were soaked with slimy sweat, and then tears after the clock hit twelve and he still found himself far away from sleep.

Faced with the certainty of another awful day, he began to think back to the times before he had suffered from insomnia, hoping to somehow spare himself tomorrow night or the next.

In those days he had not been constantly enraged, and thus he he knew that the strategy of relaxation he had used back then would be useless now. He could not shut his feelings off.

His mind turned up blanks. For almost another hour, he despaired. And then he found something. Something that could help him. The relief of his discovery allowed him to finally rest.

————— S —————

Benadryl. The antihistamine. Years ago, his parents had given it to him for a spider bite, and it had knocked him flat out. At five PM. He had slept for nine hours straight.

A quick Wikipedia search told him that it was commonly used as a sleep aid. It was at that moment that he resolved to try it.

Mom had already shot that idea down during an argument where she had given him a list of sleep-inducing "narcotics" that he "couldn't have", but desperation drove him to disobey her. His life had come to feel like one awful, exhausting day that never ended. He would give anything to escape that horror, the burning in his eyes and the decay in his mind.

He knew better than to ask a second time.

That day, he carried his wallet with him to school. After the last bell rang, he gathered his bike from the house and rode seven miles into the city. His legs burned and his lungs cried for air, but he could not allow himself to be caught. Finally, he came to a Seven-Eleven.

He parked and went inside. The store was lined with all manner of goods—Doritos, Coke, Sprite, Monster, Budweiser, paper, pencils, notebooks, iPhone chargers, condoms, Tylenol, Advil—it was like a pocket Wal-Mart.

To disguise his purpose—and because it made him feel smart—he first picked up a bag of Doritos, a pair of Hershey's bars, and a paper notebook. Only then did he go for the Benadryl.

He brought his goods to the register. The clerk was a young, full-chested woman with olive skin—perhaps Mediterranean or part Native American. Her hair was short and black. He found her quite attractive, and that made his little adventure all the more uncomfortable.

After he paid, he stuffed the purchases in his backpack and drove away. A million fears raced through his head. What if the clerk knows Mom? What if Mom goes here after work? What if she tells her about the Benadryl? What if she searches my backpack? What if she hears them jiggling around in the box while I open them?

Ultimately, none were strong enough to sway him from his course. Wherever it led, it would be better that what he'd had to deal with for the past year.


————— S —————

He closed the door tightly and flipped the lock. He put Linkin Park's Meteora on, high enough to cloak the other noises from his room, but not high enough to draw attention. Then, he lifted his backpack over to his bed, taking care not to collide with the floor or the table or anything else. His senses were as acute as the decay of sleep deprivation could permit. He winced at the noise it made when he unzipped it. At the same time, he felt foolish for his fears, knowing that Mom and Dad would almost be asleep by now, knowing that there was no particular reason for them to come check on him. There was nothing special about this night. Not as far as they knew.

Slowly, he reached into the bottom and found the box. He retrieved it with another soft pull.

Benadryl. The box was light, but its weight felt unbearable in his trembling hands. He put his ear to the door, listening for footsteps. He heard only snores. After a final check, he sat on his bed, opened the package, and peeled two pink pills out of their tinfoil-textured wrappers. He winced at the noise they made as they broke free.

He had a moment of hesitation. The specters of delirium and respiratory failure came into his mind, both listed as overdose effects in the Wikipedia article. He tried to push them away, but they stubbornly remained, clinging to a probability that may have been zero.

Their persistence was not enough to stop him, and neither was the force of his parents' rules. They would not help him. He would help himself.

Both pills went down his throat, carried by the sweet taste of lemonade. He felt no immediate sense of intoxication, but the act of swallowing brought him relief all the same. And then he chuckled quietly. There was something distinctly ridiculous about sneaking allergy medicine behind his parents' backs.

The wrappers went back in the box, and it went back in his backpack. He zipped it up, resting it against his nightstand.

He read for the next hour. He'd read that it took around that long for the Benadryl's effects to reach their peak. After the afternoon's nerve-wrecking expedition, he figured he might as well experience them fully.

Within a quarter of that time, a sheet of drowsiness began to fall over him, dim and relaxing. The horrible anxiety he usually felt around that time was absent. On most nights, sleep seemed impossibly distant. Now he felt halfway there without even closing his eyes.

By the time he put his head down, it was 10 PM, and the sheet had deepened to a blanket of impossible density.

The feeling of lying in bed was indescribable. Before, there had been no real euphoria, but now the drowsiness transformed to a sense of perfect stillness and tranquility, as if he had gone to bed after getting no sleep instead of five hours. It was beautiful. It was one of the greatest sensations he had ever felt.

It lasted for perhaps seven minutes, and then he fell into slumber.

————— S —————

He woke in eight-and-a-half hours with more energy than he had felt in weeks. His mind was acute. The eye soreness was gone. For a moment, he feared that he was still dreaming. The world seemed brighter, its colors more vivid. He dressed, showered, and ate his breakfast so quickly that he was ready to leave before his parents were. Shortly before they left, Jacob managed to lose his algebra textbook, and he took a measure of satisfaction in hearing his frantic searching and his parents' frustrated yells. For a day, at least, he was operating on a level above them. It was a far cry from his usual slowness.

The anxiety he normally felt during the school day was almost absent. He finished his work quickly and enthusiastically, earning a perfect score on an English test. At lunch, he sat with the other boys, observing their interactions calmly. No longer did he fear ridicule. He felt ready for it, capable physically and mentally. They must have noticed his confidence, for he faced none. Nathan would not meet his eye.

After school, he went to McDonalds and bought a large double cheeseburger combo. He spent the next two hours running around town, exploring the convenience stores and neighborhoods. He returned home at four, and his homework went by as easily as his classes.

During gym class, Jacob had been kicked a little too hard for his tastes, and he had punched the offending student in the face. The ensuing fight had gotten him a black eye and a day of in-school-suspension. Michael watched with pleasure as Mom and Dad chastised him.

"Again? Are you on crack?" Dad's face and voice were hot with rage.

"He hit me first! Been hittin me all year!" The way he looked at Dad as he spoke made Michael wonder if he was talking about the other student or his father.

"Do I need to get my belt?"

"Do I need to get my fist?" Jacob looked ready to explode. "Hit me again and see what happens!"

Michael gasped.

"Boy!" Dad grabbed Jacob's arm and pulled him to him roughly, glaring at him dangerously. "Get over my knee!"

"No." Jacob pulled himself free.

"What?"

"No!" He began to walk away. Dad swatted at him, but Jacob beat his arm away with a whack to his shoulder and a kick to his knee that made him stagger. He backed into the hallway, holding his fists up defensively.

Michael saw a look of rage on their faces such as he had never seen in his life. For a moment, they simply stared at each other, and he wondered if their antagonism would escalate into a full-on brawl. But it didn't, and Jacob kept backing away, tears in his eyes. "Never again!" He shouted. "Never again!" He slammed the door hard and flipped the lock.

Michael looked at his father's face, and he saw not sadness, but pure rage. It scared him a little. "Told him to quit hitting back," Dad spat. "Shit ain't worth getting expelled for. But he ain't never gonna learn."

"You mean he didn't start those fights?"

"Of course not. He ain't that stupid."

"Then why do people keep attacking him?"

"This one group's been messing with him since elementary school. Gotten worse over the years. He has too much pride to tell—or "snitch"—on any of them, and the teachers always seem to take their side, so the only thing left to do is to bow down." He shrugged his shoulders. "He's already been to juvie once for fighting. Can't have him going to prison."

"Snitching on them would just make it worse." Michael pause for a moment. "So he was telling the truth. He is a victim."

The realization hit him like a punch in the gut. His smugness evaporated. He felt ashamed for his mindless cheerleading of his parents.

They ate dinner quietly, and then Michael went to bed early. Fearing that the shame would ruin his sleep, he took two more tablets of Benadryl. After an hour, he put his head down in bed, and he fell into the same wonderful hypnogogia. The fight was temporarily forgotten.

————— S —————
The next morning, the family was silent—a far cry from its usual shouting and chaos. Dad and Jacob spent breakfast sitting across from each other, staring down at their bowls of Frosted Flakes as they ate them. Not once did they make eye contact. Michael ate quickly, eager to escape the situation. After that, he collected his school supplies and sat down in the car with his headphones in. He was there a full fifteen minutes before everyone else. The cold air nipped unpleasantly at his inflamed face.

That night, he once again took two tablets of Benadryl. In around his hour, he put his head down in bed.

But they didn't work. An hour later, he was still wide awake. His heart pounded with toxic, sleep-killing excitement. He almost cried from despair.

Desperately, he turned on his iPod and searched the Wikipedia article. It was there that he found:

"Tolerance against the sedating effect of diphenhydramine builds very quickly; after three days of use at the common dosage, it is no more effective than a placebo."

Diphenhydramine was the generic name for Benadryl. And this was his third day of use.

In other words, it was useless. He cursed his idiocy. Why hadn't he read the whole article?

He lay there for a while, infuriated. And then, as the hated eye soreness began to make its presence known again, his desperation led him to do something more.

He took twelve more pills. Six hundred percent of the "common dosage". He hoped that his body would not be inured to that amount.

It wasn't. Soon, he felt the familiar drowsiness returning. But something was wrong this time. Some line had been crossed. His mouth grew dry and parched. His heart sped up crazily. His leg twitched and shook without his input. His very thoughts seemed to leave reality behind, running free from his rational mind, forming surreal ideas that confused and disturbed him.

And then he heard it. A horrible shriek sounded from the kitchen. It resounded, closer this time. And then a third, and then from two places at once.

An empty-eyed, rotting face flew through the wall, coming straight towards him. Its skin was a horrible reddish purple. Its mouth was a black void.

The void swallowed him whole. For a minute, he stood alone in darkness.

A thousand invisible hands clawed at his body, tearing deep gashes. He screamed.

He heard the sound of a freight train, and then he was back in his room, the injuries erased. He breathed a sigh of relief.

A giant, rotting spider corpse appeared on his bed. Its hairy, decomposing body was wreathed in blue flames. It hissed at him and bared its fangs. He jumped back in terror.

In a moment, it too was gone.

And then he fell unconscious.


————— S —————

He stood between two sets of tall apartment buildings. Their brick walls were lines with moss.

It was night. The only light came from electric street lamps.

There was a door behind him. He had a sense that he should not try to open it.

He saw a nightstick on the ground. Side-handled. Nylon fiberglass. Solid. He took it and braced it against his right arm. He walked forward cautiously. The buildings gave way to an empty plaza. An overturned police car sat in the center. He found another nightstick beside the window of the drivers' seat, next to a smashed tin of Grizzly. He collected it and braced it against his left arm.

Most of the plaza was dark. He saw a single bright sidewalk, lit by streetlamps. It seemed the only place to go, so he followed it.

It seemed to go on endlessly. As he went, the lamps grew increasingly dim and sporadic, and then their white lights turned to weak crimson.

He heard a burst of radio static, and then everything went black.

Suddenly, he found himself in a wide, dimly-lit hallway. In the distance, he heard the grinding of gears.

He felt something crack down on his back, and he stumbled forward and turned around. He nearly fell when he saw what stood there.

It wore a blood, navy-colored jumper. Its head was pale white, caked with lines of dried blood. Its eyes were soulless white dots.

It held a hammer in its clawed, red hands. It jerked forward erratically in a pursuit that looked like a fit of seizures.

He turned and ran, but he heard its swings behind him, always just a foot away. He realized he could not escape.

With the brutality of mortal fear, he turned and swung his arm out, and the hard fiberglass end connected with the creature's skull. It recoiled and clutched its head, howling.

Another blow sent it further back. It dropped its hammer. He kicked it hard in the head.

Another blow, and another, and then it fell to the ground, lifeless.

He heard the sound of hands clapping. "Bravo," he heard. "Bravo."

Hordes of creatures identical to the first tunneled appeared at both ends of the hallway, blocking off every exit. They convulsed towards him, hammers and claws outstretched. He screamed.

Just as they were about the reach him, they froze, and the area slowly faded to black.

His dream, and his drug-induced psychosis, ended with an image of a word in bold red letters. It stood in the black for a long time, long enough for him to analyze it fully.

He took a deep breath, and then he laughed long and bitterly, and then his laughter turned to tears.

It was perfect. It fit everything. His school, his family, his insomnia, his mental health, his parents' tobacco addictions—it fit them all.

DECAY

————— S —————
The sun came flooding through the cracks in his blinds, shining painfully in his eyes. His mouth was still dry. His head hurt. His eyes burned, and they seemed unable to bear any amount of light. He felt as if he had obtained no sleep instead of six or seven hours.

"Michael, time to get up," he heard Mom say. He that noticed the box of Benadryl was still lying on the floor. He quickly jolted out of bed and shoved it to the bottom of his backpack. Just then, she came through the door.

"Already up, I see."

"Yeah." He wondered if his voice sounded rude. It probably did.

That morning, he was thirty minutes late getting ready, so late that Mom, Dad, and Jacob left without him. He would have had to walk to school. He decided not to.

That afternoon, Mom came home to find him in a deep sleep that did not yield until she splashed cold water on his face. Upon finding out that he had cut school, and because of how many curse words he threw when she woke him up, she grounded him. She did not find the Benadryl, and, thus, she did not fully comprehend his desperation, his misery.

Perhaps Michael's insomnia would resolve in years to come, but it would not in this one, or the next. The next day, he junked the Benadryl in the garbage bin of a convenience store, and that was the end of his flirtations with sleeping medicine.
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