Friday, July 8, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday: Insomnia

Well here we are with another Flash Fiction Friday from Terrible Minds. This week's challenge was to incorporate insomnia. A perfect prompt for me as the main character of my current WIP has fairly chronic insomnia. Here is the link to the post:

Night Swimming

August is the worst month to do anything. Even the night air is hot and sticky as I ease out into the darkness. I’m sweating before I get on my bike and start peddling and by the time I reach the end of the block my shirt is soaked through with perspiration. The night is heavy with the silence of slumbering houses.  

I pedal on, riding the familiar streets until I reach the pool. The smell of Chlorine and sunscreen is a comfort. I lean the bike again the brick of the building and hop the chain-link fence. I check my watch: 2:30 AM. I strip down to my jammers, grab my goggles, and jump in the pool. The water is cool and refreshing.

The night swimming started back in June, but the insomnia has been a thing for almost a year. When I do sleep, nightmares plague me. I figure if I’m awake I may as well do something. Last winter, when the insomnia first became really bad, I watched TV or did puzzles or reorganized random rooms in the house. Anything to keep my mind occupied.

The night swimming has been the best solution so far. Ironic because I haven’t been able to set foot near a pool, let alone get in one, in the light of day. Not since last summer. When it became warm enough to ride my bike around in the dead of night, I would just pedal. I never had a specific destination in mind. The first time I ended up at a pool, I stared at the dark water through the fence for a long time before turning around and going home. That happened two more times before I hopped the fence for the first time.

I’d jumped in the water fully clothed. I’d forgotten how much I loved being surrounded by it, how calming it was. I floated there for a long time, letting the water embrace me. Somehow the darkness made the water seem less frightening. At night I couldn’t see any of the things that scared me. I only heard the sloshing of the water and smelled the chlorine.

This is the third night in a row this week I’ve snuck out to clear my head. Things at home have gone from bad to worse. At first Mom couldn’t stop crying. She didn’t sleep, she didn’t eat, she just lay in bed and cried. Dad finally got her sleeping pills and anti-depressants and whatever else you take when you have chronic sadness and no will to be a person anymore. Now, she either sleeps through the days or she wanders through the house in a drug-induced stupor.

Dad never comes home, claiming he has a lot of work to do with the new accounts he’s taken on at the office. Even when he is home, he’s not present. I know it’s because he doesn’t want to deal with my mom or me. He can’t even look at me, not since the funeral.  

I push off the wall and my mind clears of everything. It’s one of the best things about swimming, the nothingness that fills my mind as I churn out lap after lap. I keep up a steady pace for a while, tallying the laps as I go. Three hundred meters…five hundred meters…eight hundred meters…I go until I’m tired enough to stop.

I finally stop after four thousand meters. My arms ache and my legs burn, but it feels good. It’s the farthest I’ve gone in a single session.

“If you keep these kinds of laps up, you just might become an Olympic distance swimmer,” a voice behind me says.

I nearly jump out of my skin as I turn around to see who’s caught me. And then I know I must be losing my mind because my dead brother is sitting there.

“Seriously, dude, you’re building up some serious stamina,” he says as though we’ve been carrying on a conversation on the topic.

I rub my eyes hard and look again. He’s still there.

“Jesus, I need to get some sleep,” I mutter. “I’m going crazy.”

“You’re not going crazy,” he replies. “But you do look like shit, so you’re probably right about needing some sleep.”

I have to be hallucinating. My overworked brain is playing tricks on me as punishment for not giving it the rest it needs.

“You’re not hallucinating,” he says. “And before you ask, no I can’t read your mind.”

“Edison, you’re dead,” I tell him. “You died.”

“I’m aware,” he says.

I stare at him, at a loss for words. The fatigue of swimming and lack of sleep hits me head on, suddenly and violently, and I grip the edge of the gutter for support.

“I don’t understand. If you’re not a hallucination, then what are you?”

“A ghost,” he says, as though it should be obvious.

A ghost? Now I’m seeing ghosts? Maybe I really am asleep and I am just having the most realistic and bizarre dream. I suppose it’s better than the nightmares. How can you tell if you really awake? I know there are ways to determine the difference between a dream and reality, but my brain is moving too slowly to keep up.

“Shai,” my brother says. “You’re not dreaming. This is real.”

“How can it be?” I ask.

He shrugs. “No clue. But just because it doesn’t make sense doesn’t make it any less real.”

“Are you here to haunt me?” I ask, suddenly afraid that he’s come back for revenge.

He laughs. “No. I’m here to help you.”

I mull that over. I mean, a ghost? Perhaps if I hadn’t gone the last three days with very little sleep I would be more inclined to believe he was real and not some figment of my imagination. Is that all ghosts are? Extremely strong illusions that the mind makes up to help us cope with trauma? And why now? Why is he here now?

I’m not sure that I even believe this is actually happening.

“You can believe or not believe,” Edison says. “But either way, I’m here to stay for a while.”

I look at him, searching for words, but nothing comes to me.

“You really should go home and get some sleep.”


Any comments or thoughts are appreciated!


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