Peter Morton couldn’t sleep; he hadn’t been able to sleep for years. When his peers were tucked away dreaming childhood dreams of football and bikes, he was sitting by the window; staring out into the night.
When they were coming home after the teenage dance at the Church at the top of hill, ready to drop and rest after a night of dancing and nervous exploring, he was awake. He would be when the milkman made his rounds, just staring out the window.
Later, as they got married and would couple and sleep in their lover’s bed, he would be solitarily watching, looking, seeing what the night would bring.
Peter Morton had not slept for more that three hours at one time in 20 years.
It didn’t concern him too much and he did a pretty good job of managing his life around it. Admittedly it exacted a toll. He was itinerant in his work habits and it impacted on almost every aspect of his life.
Because he was not a social type he just worked when he needed and lived in the house that had been his home for as long as he could remember. Peter was independently wealthy and most eligible although most who knew him thought of him as lonely.
He was not adverse to ladies and had had more than a few lovers, but he tended to wear their patience. After a time no “normal sleeper”, as he had come to call them, could live with his nocturnal habits.
So, he found that the best course was to find a friend, which he had in Sally, who would enjoy his time and not demand too much of his life because with his life came his life style; and it was unique.
So, at age 29, Peter Morton sat looking out the window in the early morning hours of this December day, watching and waiting; alone in the dark.
The night was bright. Summer nights tended to be like this and the Milky Way seemed to act like a reflection sheet to the night sky, improving the light dramatically. So much so, Peter could read the book in front of him with out a lamp, the street lights more than adequate.
The milkman had been so it was after three; this was when Peter was at his most alert. Between three and four; that was when it happened. At least that was when it had happened.
What it was he wasn’t too sure but happened it had; all those years ago. A young boy, sleeping lightly on a hot night, night noises echoing through the bedroom, the window open and no breeze to speak of, tossing and turning in a less than fitful in sleep.
It was one of those nights when the sky was like heavy black paper pricked with a million holes, the light behind forcing its way through. The ground was silver in a phosphorescent sheen and things appeared where they weren’t really, and not where they were. The night noises were whispering their song, a subtle counterpoint to the silence of the witching hours.
This was a world that a young boy had every right to feel foreign in, the primordial reality of it all overpowering in its presence.
Remember the night? Remember how you used to feel as you pulled the blankets up over your face, the cloying warmth of your breath on the sheets as you covered yourself in the protective mantel of comforter and linen.
So it was this night. The little gap between the pillow and sheet formed a tunnel of view that bent reality and gave him a view of events that were at best always going to be strange.
It was this night when young Peter first became aware that the night was indeed full of surprising things.
Time tends to take its toll on recollection. Peter had often considered the first time, once tried to document it, but found that some force seemed to be at play, rendering him unable to do so with any authority. More so, leaving him wondering whether it had happened at all, often shrugging and thinking it may have been just a memory of a memory.
Many times he had laid down to sleep, content that he would not mind at all about it; then, as the night wore on, as the world slept and rested, as the clock tirelessly marched into the new day, he would lay awake, the feeling growing as he became more alone, until he was convinced that it had happened and; well, it would happen again.
Near the old Fig tree, behind the outhouse, where the rose garden used to be; the one that his father had removed years back to make way for the barbecue, a shadow lived. It was cast by both the neighbour’s house, a two story Cape Code, and a large plum tree at the opposite side of the yard.
The house, at most times blocking the moon in the summer sky, and the tree, the street light on the other side of the old paling fence.
Peter and his friends would often spend summer’s nights playing chasey in the dark, hiding in and hugging the shadow to become invisible to the world.
As he lay there he could see the place through the window, not see a thing but see where things should be if the shadow was not as pervasive as it was. At first, a twinkle, single and random, like a firefly lost from its swarm, then more, forming a line vertical and hovering about a foot from the ground.
It is always difficult to find words that would be working in the head of an eight year old. If one endeavours to make it sound the age it starts to sound patronizing, and, on the other hand, if adult thoughts are applied there is little of the reality of it all. To Peter, it was; goodness, there has to be a word that explains what draws a moth to a flame, that can be applied to a eight year olds thoughts, I’m damned if I can think of one so I will say; mesmerized.
He laid there watching as the line shimmered in the cool morning darkness and found himself lifting his head out from under the sheets and moving the blankets back. Something he was never bound to do for he fully understood, like all eight year olds, the protection they provided against the things in the night, but for some reason, he felt this event needed to be studied.
With an abandon that could be best described as reckless he hopped out of bed and went to the window. Peter rarely left the bed at night, it was rare that the blankets and covers were lowered, but leaving the bed was something he hardly ever did. Even if needing a piss badly, he would never venture into the dark. This was different. He felt something, heard things, all of them seeming to draw or at least call him forward.
The line was now wider, through it light shone, casting a fine line across the ground. It shone like daylight in the darkness of the shadow. Peter slid the window up slowly, his eyes never leaving the miniature light show being performed before him. He slid out and his feet felt the wetness of the buffalo grass. A slight humming was filling his ears as he walked towards the thing, now pulsing gently, the light casting its penumbra into the dark.
Peter reached it. He moved his hand into the light and found it shined through it; what’s more it was warm and it tingled his skin. He felt no fear; on the contrary, he felt safe, content.
From within he heard what sounded like voices, no; thoughts, many different and varied things but all sounding sweet to his young ears.
Moving into the light now, the crack was wider still, if he had had the word power at the time he may have used the term fissure, it seemed to be a crack in his reality. Still concepts like reality are a little strange to kids so it was more a case of it being another place, a place where he currently wasn’t so he did what any eight year old would do; he went there.
There was different.
After what felt like a fall of a few feet, the world was changed. In place of the back yard of his suburban house was what looked like a land of sweeping plains of long grass and snow topped mountains in the far distance. The fields or plains went on forever and turning he saw the line of black light shimmering in the daylight of this place.
Peter was scared, not for any other reason than for the absolute change and scrambled back through, into the night, onto the grass of home’s back lawn, feeling the same falling sensations as he did.
Panting in the dark, crickets chirping softly and a cat calling in the distance, his world was restored. He stood and waited for a second. OK, if he could enter and return he could do it again so he did.
This time, the place was by the shore of a lagoon. Not that Peter knew what a lagoon was but for the sake of reporting, it was a lagoon. The shore line white as white could be, sand smooth, like talc. A waterfall hitting the rocks behind and away to the right of where he was standing and a forest like the one he saw when his family visited Cairns just a few weeks earlier.
In the distance, young children played in the azure blue of the water, their skin dark brown and their voices bubbling above the sound of the surf on the reef at the mouth of the lagoon and counterpoint to the waters of the falls behind.
Peter now smiled and stepped back into the night; back to his world.
Next, it was snow and so cold he jumped back as quickly as he entered and took forever to stop shivering. It wasn’t till then that he realized he was standing there in pajama bottoms and nothing else.
During the next few hours Peter just hoped in and out of this place and was confronted with many and varied worlds. At times he met and talked with people, other times he was by himself in wondrous places. On one or two occasions he tried the fruit from the trees but didn’t eat too much cause he remembered his mother warning him about bright fruit sometimes being poisonous.
With the first light of morning, the shadow started to disappear and Peter watched as the crack began to close and fade. His mind was agog with the wondrous nature of it all. Later that year, his mother bought him the Enid Blyton book “The Magic Faraway Tree” and he just nodded, accepting the story completely, for he knew it was true, although his lands were never the weird places written about there.
Since that night, Peter has waited for it to happen again. Over the years he had read all there was to read on any thing that seemed related to his experiences. He knew with a passion that it had happened.
He knew it wasn’t a dream because he had in his desk a rock of red and blue crystal that he picked up in one of the places he visited.
And this night, as the moon swept behind a cloud, as the shadows ate the light and the place reestablished, Peter sat and watched; waiting. In the corner, a pack with clothes and sleeping equipment and food was always ready.
He was sure that when it happened again, he would pick a world, and, well, he doubted he would ever sit at this window spending a sleepless night again.
The low glow of the red characters on the clock radio showed 03:27. Peter yawned gently and rubbed his eyes. I would love to report right now that Peter saw the forming of it again. I can’t.
Still, for a reason that is so strong and with solid purpose, Peter knows it will happen again. He knows he will have another chance to explore what ever it is, and when it does, he will be prepared.
Until that time, Peter Morton can’t sleep, well, not if he wants to ever be there again.