A Case of Insomnia
A curious case emerged in the fall of two thousand four. A man, aged nineteen, was found dead of an exhaustion-induced heart attack. The man, believed to be a casual user of methamphetamine, described his gradual descent into mental instability due to chronic insomnia, suffered over a course of a little over two months, in a series of journal entries collected at the scene of the fatality. At his family’s request, his name has not been made public.
I’m keeping this journal in keeping with my therapist’s orders. He suspects I suffer some as-of-yet undiagnosed nervous disorder. Whether or not that’s the case, it’s true that I’ve been known to suffer from anxiety, hell, even paranoia from time to time. At an age when I should be transitioning into adulthood, I feel unprepared and, I’ll admit, vulnerable.
I’m a first-year college student, and soon enough I’ll declare my major - English. Writing this comes naturally to me, and I’ve always had a fondness for writing in general. I’m more well-spoken than most my age, but that by itself won’t prepare me for the real world. I struggled to decide what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
Some people know, even as kids, what they want to do. They make a plan and follow a series of steps to get to it. After years of long, good old-fashioned hard work, they reach their goal and, among at least a few people I know in passing, are set for life. This isn’t the case for me.
I’m fickle and unsure of myself. The thought of committing the rest of my life to a career is more than a little intimidating. I settled for the idea of being an English teacher if only to satisfy my therapist’s urging to set a goal for myself, but I don’t think my heart’s really in it.
Unfortunately, I’ve been sidetracked by a requisite Biology class to complete my general ed. Science has never been my strong suit. An important test is coming up soon in that class, and I’m here writing this when I should be studying. But I can’t focus. My mind’s scattered in too many different directions, a little bit in several different classes, to really do well in any of them.
I’d rather drop it altogether, but my parents, instead of having me pay rent to live with them, insist I either work or go to school. I don’t have any marketable skills, so here I am. If I back out now or, God forbid, fail the class, I’m looking at life on the street. Tough love, eh?
I can’t afford to flunk this test. I’ve had ample warning that it’s coming - two weeks of it - and it still doesn’t come up for another week. I have to make the most of the week I have left.
I passed out in class today. The stress of trying to keep up with everything, I guess. I should have just started as a part-time student, but I overestimated myself. On the flip side of being uncertain all of the time, there are occasional moments when I bite off more than I can chew, in an inversion of my usual symptoms that mystifies those around me.
These random bursts of manic confidence bear some resemblance to bipolar disorder, but I don’t seem to qualify for the other symptoms. I’ve undergone extensive testing, but no one’s really sure, least of all my therapist. My parents would prefer I “snap out of it” as it goes, but that’s not happening. At least, not anytime soon.
It happened again, several times in fact. I excused myself from class early, made up some bullshit about indigestion, and came home to rest. When I woke up, six hours had passed, yet I didn’t feel any more rested than when I laid down. Maybe something’s wrong with me other than just my nerves.
I didn’t even bother going to school today; I wouldn’t have retained any information anyway. My parents were surprisingly sympathetic. Mom made me some soothing tea and Dad, usually standoffish and curt, made an effort at some idle, pleasant conversation. He’s been home on paid sick leave since he hurt his back moving a load, and bitching about it ever since. Naturally, he’s projected that stress onto me. So, it was a nice change of pace to just talk from one man to another. He still doesn’t realize that I couldn’t care less about football - his default topic - but I’ll take what I can get.
Sam came over today, my second day absent from school. He took the day off from his job at his dad’s meat-packing plant to come to see me. In the text he sent me two hours before showing up, he asked if I wanted some coke to perk me up a bit. I thought he was joking, so I replied “yes”. Well, the smartass came by in his dad’s pickup with a literal trunk full of cola - decidedly not the type of coke we both knew I’d assume he meant.
My parents were bemused. The two of us had a good laugh about his little stunt. His family supplied meat to the local grocery store, so that was probably where he got the soda. He brought treats he’d gotten for free there to the house from time to time.
We mostly holed up in my room, playing some video games, binge-drinking cola, but mostly just shooting the shit. At some point, I must have told him about my test anxiety. Sam’s face changed. He said it sounded like I needed something to help me focus. I knew what he’d meant.
I’d been clean off meth for three years, starting when my parents threatened to call the cops on me. I’d had a cousin on the poor side of town who’d gotten in with the wrong crowd to sustain his supply. I hadn’t known him that well, but I’d still been shocked when I heard he’d been gunned down by an assassin from some rival gang. Naturally, my parents were horrified. When they found out I was using - just a little, I told myself - they asked me if I wanted to end up like him. I guess it was a wake-up call. I hadn’t touched the stuff since.
If my parents knew that good, hardworking Sam had done it with me half the time, they probably wouldn’t badger me to be more like him anymore. My Dad just might kill him. At first I was reluctant, but Sam assured me I could just use it to get through my studying and then call it quits for good. He’d even stop screwing around with the stuff himself to help me through it. Cold turkey. It was a seductive notion, and I convinced myself a brief relapse was the lesser of two evils compared to homelessness.
Sam said it was short notice, but he could probably get the supply from Trent - who neither of us really liked, but tolerated - by tomorrow. I said that sounded fine.
Good old douchebag Trent came through for me. Sam got the stuff - at a generous friends and family discount, Trent assured him - today as promised, just in time for the weekend. The Bio test is on Monday, that gives me two days to stay up all night and get through this goddamn book. I stopped using because it started exacerbating my symptoms, but that was a small price to pay now. It’s do or die.
The first night, Sam came over while my parents were out on date night at some pretentious Italian place. He cut the stuff into two lines - the selfish asshole reserved the clearly larger line for himself - and produced two straws. We bumped them together and snorted.
The high came on strong and fast, and I could feel my heart pounding hard. At once, it was like everything came into focus. I turned Sam away, who conveniently forgot that my goal was to study, when he suggested first video games, then a wrestling match. He ended up sifting through my stashed illicit magazines while I hit the books. Well, book.
I kicked Sam out at around ten, just before my parents got back. I said goodnight to them and pretended to go to sleep. I was up till eight. I’m still up, in fact.
Dude, fuck this journal.
I passed the test with flying colors. I’ll have my official grade by next class or so, but I know I aced it. I still haven’t slept yet, but who needs sleep? I think I’m going to go run a couple laps around the park, work off some of this nervous energy.
Never got through the whole stash. I didn’t end up needing all of it, and I think my parents were starting to catch on, so I flushed the rest of it. Trent would have been horrified at a waste of good product. As I promised myself, I’m finished with it for good. School is smooth sailing from here.
The come-down off the high has been a little rough, but nothing I can’t handle. I just wonder when it will finally end. Must have been some really good shit, cause I’m still wide awake.
I’m a dumbass. My nosy mom started leafing through my journal. I “accidentally” pushed the lamp on my nightstand over to distract her. She berated me for breaking it and extracted a promise from me to pay for a replacement, but better that than she finds out I touched meth again. I’m keeping this journal in an old lock-and-key heirloom box I got from my late great aunt from now on.
Going on three nights without sleep. I haven’t heard of the aftereffects lasting this long, but I guess that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. My nervous ticks are starting to act up a little. Mostly just an eye twitch and some infrequent fidgeting.
I’m getting scared. It’s been almost a full week without sleep and I’m having a hard time keeping it together. Somehow I’m relatively clear-headed, but I can feel that slowly changing. It’s taking a lot of effort just to put pen to paper.
I don’t want to tell my parents what’s happening, at least not if I don’t have to. I see my therapist the day after tomorrow for a regular check-in. If I can’t sleep again tomorrow, I’ll tell him. Doctor-patient confidentiality should mean that we can keep things just between us.
I’ll call Sam tonight and have him talk me through the freak out I’m having. He’ll bitch about being woken up at three in the morning but fuck him - this was his idea in the first place.
I’d say I’m exhausted, but that would be redundant. It’s amazing how long the night seems when you can’t sleep through it. I’ve had insomnia before but nothing like this. I tried to read one of my textbooks - I forget which - but I couldn’t focus.
How can I be this worn out and scatterbrained at the same time? I’ll talk to my therapist about it tomorrow. He’ll know what to do.
I hardly had to tell him I was losing sleep. He could clearly see the dark circles under my reddened eyes. He asked if I’d done any drugs. I lied of course, but I could tell he was suspicious. I don’t think he’d turn me in, but I’d just as soon keep my less-than-stellar choices private.
He said he couldn’t really do anything for me, and said I should try sleeping pills over the counter. I told him I’d tried that already, and I had. So, he recommended seeing a psychiatrist, someone who could prescribe me something stronger. I made an appointment as soon as I walked out.
I was lucky to get an early opening, but it still feels so far away. My grades have really started to suffer due to my sleep deprivation, so I’ve told all the teachers I’m out sick until further notice.
Ever opportunistic, shady-ass Trent has covered for me for a daily fee, doing my assignments for me and forging my penmanship, even turning it in for me. If he’s that smart, I don’t get why he’s a drug dealer in the first place. I hate his stupid face.
I asked him point blank where he got the meth and if it was cut with anything. I decided to take his word for it that it was pure when push came to shove. I decidedly did not want to meet his supplier, who was rumored to the prime suspect in a number of disappearances, and a big-time crime boss. I’d watched enough gangster movies to know better than bother someone like that.
I had a strange respect for Trent then, who was either brave enough or blissfully dumb enough to deal with that kind of danger. I had the feeling he was making money off me to pay off his own debt.
Trent’s fish food. They found him wearing a pair of cement shoes in the river. I changed my mind about asking him about the product a little too late. I guess I’ll miss him after all, primarily because my cover’s gone. I’ve been with Sam on school days, so my parents think I’ve been going to class. They still don’t know about my condition.
Sam and I went to Trent’s funeral - attended by a handful of indifferent acquaintances of his - in secret. Neither of our parents would like it if they knew we hung out with gutter-trash like Trent. I should have felt a little sorry for him, but all I can feel is tired.
I’m starting to see things. I looked at my bedroom wall and saw it running like wax. I rubbed my eyes and blinked repeatedly, but it still didn’t go away for a good fifteen minutes.
In addition to the running walls, I’m starting to see sparkles, and I’m lightheaded too. I haven’t been eating either. My parents are starting to notice.
Thank fucking Christ, I finally saw my new psychiatrist. He prescribed me some supposedly powerful sleeping pills. Here’s hoping.
I’ve been going down the line of different pills at a record pace. For a small bribe, he hooked me up with something experimental. There goes the rest of my college fund.
I’m starting to see something in the corner of my eye. Whenever I turn to see it, it’s gone. I feel so close to catching it, but no luck.
Something’s watching me. I just can’t shake that feeling.
It moves through my room at night while I lay awake on the mattress, covered in cold sweat. Tonight it’s under my bed. I have to take a piss, but I’m not getting up. It’s waiting for me to.
Tonight it’s in the closet. It’s taunting me. It showed me Trent, his body waterlogged, gray-green, and ravaged by hungry fish. Trent leered at me with a toothy grin, lips rotted away, watery eyes bulging and mean. He accused me of things. I apologized through terrified tears, but he only pointed at me, his finger gnawed to the bone. He wanted me to come into the closet with him. I refused. He disappeared behind a hanging coat around four in the morning.
I went to the bathroom. The thing wasn’t under my bed this time. Instead, it was waiting for me in the mirror. I screamed as I saw my reflection being ravaged by that thing. I only got a glance at it, and blanked the memory of its appearance from my mind.
It’s not the meth. It can’t be. That thing is doing this to me. I can start to see more and more of it out of the corner of my eye. It’s starting to become more defined.
I went for a midnight snack of cold chicken. When I opened the refrigerator, Sam’s severed head was waiting for me on a platter.
Halloween, and I’m living an honest-to-God horror movie. I didn’t go out to trick or treat. I don’t go out at all anymore.
Sam came over today. He didn’t respond well when I asked how he got his head back.
I see them, the missing people. They won’t leave me alone.
It revealed itself to me for real this time. I screamed and my parents rushed in and turned on the lights, but not before I saw it in full. It was skeletal, grey, with glowing yellow cat’s eyes, and long retractable bone claws on each hand. It smiled at me, revealing a mouthful of needle teeth. I don’t want to sleep anymore.
My eyelids are getting heavy. I understand now. It kept me awake, and now it’s going to stop. It made sure that I’d sleep for a long, long time when I finally crashed. I have a feeling that if I fall asleep now, I’ll never wake up.
No one else can see the claw marks it leaves in the walls. It only wants me to see. It shows me other things too, things no one should see.
It isn’t really the humanoid it presents itself as. That’s just the closest I can come to understanding it. Whatever I saw in the mirror was more accurate.
No amount of meth or coffee is going to help me anymore. I’m done fighting it. I just want to sleep. I guess this is my final entry. I’m going to close this journal and leave it on the nightstand for my parents to find it. I’m sorry, Mom, Dad. I’m sorry Sam. Goodnight.
End of entries
The creepiest case I ever had the displeasure to cover. That poor, crazy kid. I wish you’d never shown me the report. Maybe you and I can get together for drinks. I… can’t sleep.