This week’s 1,000- word flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds was to involve insomnia in any way we want. I went with a straightforward approach.
Damn it. What time is it?
Pompous red numbers say two thirty-six. Cold, unfeeling bastard numbers.
I’m warm. Roll onto my back, peel the covers off my legs, kick my feet out from under them. Better, but still not great. Fold my hands on my stomach, close my eyes, deep breath.
Wait, facial muscles are tense. Noticed in the past I fall asleep more easily if I focus on relaxing my face. Relax, try again.
I have a headache. Back of my head. Why do I wake up with headaches so often? Need a new pillow… don’t drink enough water… grind my teeth in my sleep… something more serious? Growing tumor or hematoma pressing on my brain—
NO. Didn’t used to be so paranoid about my health. Getting old, I guess.
Okay, try thinking about relaxing things, stress-free things. What are my book’s main characters doing right now? Let mind wander. I either fall asleep again or think of some fun story element and jot it in the notebook on the nightstand. A win either way. Oh wait, I have a team meeting at work first thing in the morning. That’s gonna get in the way of the experiment I’m in the middle of. My whole day will be pushed back, I won’t get home in time to have dinner ready before S.O. gets home—
NO. STOP. Thinking about real life only makes it worse. Clear mind, think about book characters. I last left them in tenth-century Norway. Harvest celebration. Reunion with long-lost… friends… airplanes… scratch thermometers… walking on sidewalk… trip on uneven cement—
Agh, damn it, full-body spasm just as I was falling asleep. So close, mind was in gibberish mode. All right, calm down, roll over onto my side, think about book characters, try again…
What time is it?
Three-oh-three. So it’s gonna be one of those nights. Welp, I’m wide awake now, and will only toss and turn. Don’t wanna wake up S.O. Off to the living room. Sit up, swing legs around, stand from bed, mattress groans angrily. Gotta get a new mattress. S.O. still asleep? Looks like it. Grab my glasses, open bedroom door. Door groans angrily. Gotta get a new apartment. Close door as quietly as possible behind me, stop in kitchen for a glass of water for the headache, hit the lights, plant myself on the couch, open the laptop.
Cycle through the usuals: Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, BBC RSS feed. Fuzzy pressure behind my eyes, forebear to new headache . Gonna be a mess in lab tomorrow. Better not do anything too involved.
What time is it now?
Cable box says three twenty-seven.
Seriously? This night’s never going to end.
What to do… could try to do some work… could write some new material for work-in-progress… but what quality would I produce while sleep-deprived in the middle of the night? Could read, have a ton of unread historical nonfiction piling up. No, won’t focus on words, waste of time in my state. Games it is. But which? Slaying medieval undead and renegade wizards? Space marine defying galactic imperative? No, bounding across Renaissance rooftops somehow fits my mood best…
Five fifteen. Really need to sleep or I’ll be completely useless at work today. Could just stay home… no, have that experiment running. Waste of a week’s worth of work if I don’t go in today. Definitely tired. Let’s try one more time. Close laptop, hit lights—agh, pitch black. Blindly feel my way along the wall to the bedroom. Door groans as I open it and step inside. Maybe she didn’t hear—
“Honey? What’s wrong?”
Damn. “Nothing, just… couldn’t sleep.”
She’s more asleep than awake, too tired for more words, won’t even remember the exchange when we get up for work in a couple of hours. Still, lets out what might be a soft sympathetic sigh, rolls toward me as I lower myself to the bed. Immediately drapes an arm over me as I settle down for one last attempt at sleep. Just hope I don’t keep her up if I can’t—
That sensation. Arm across my body, hand on my chest. Small puffs of breath on my shoulder. I sink, gratefully, into the mattress, tension and frustration draining out of me as she drifts effortlessly back to whatever dream I interrupted. Close my eyes, my own breaths falling into a steady rhythm, the simple weight and warmth of her arm as my chest rises and falls… That was all I needed? Should… remember… for next time…