When there’s no sleep, time loses meaning. As days and nights blur into one, dreams worm their way into waking moments. Unless sleep comes first.
But Allie cannot sleep. And when she doesn’t sleep, bad things happen.
Last time, she woke with her bloodied head against the steering wheel, her car lodged in a tree. She’d been awake for three days. The paramedics said she had fallen asleep at the wheel.
But she knew otherwise.
Allie wakes to a piercing pain on her scalp, and in her ear the loud, hungry purring of a cat. She lies still for a moment, hanging on to the threads of sleep. But they are long gone.
As she stirs, the cat stops its kneading and with a small hiccup sound, jumps over her body before padding down the hall to the kitchen.
Light glows through the blinds and she can hear the hum of traffic outside the apartment. She hears a clatter in the kitchen. Lucifer must want breakfast.
Rubbing her eyes, she walks into the kitchen and flicks the jug on before noticing that the door to her apartment is wide open.
As she tries to remember if she left it open the night before, a hissing sound rises behind her. The jug is boiling dry.
Ignoring it, she grabs her Marlboro’s off the bench and walks down to the ground floor. She opens the doors to the street and through a cloud of smoke, sees a tall man in heavy combat boots.
After the car accident, Allie went to see the Doctor about her insomnia. He told her she needed to get some rest. She asked him, “What if I don’t?”
He replied that it was not uncommon for people who were deprived of sleep to experience paranoia and hallucinations.
“The human brain is very good at self preservation,” he said.
“So when you go without sleep for too long, the brain will shut the logic centre down to take some REM rest in order for it to function.
“Some people describe it as feeling like they’re dreaming – except they’re awake.”
“You mean, like sleepwalking?” Allie asked.
The Doctor opened his hands. “A little,” he replied. “But nothing to worry about.”
Allie leaned forward. “That depends on what I dream about, don’t you think?”
Blinding pain sears through her head as the morning light hits her eyes.
“Hey", Combat Boots says, glancing down at her bare feet as ash drops from between his fingers.
“I just moved into 7a.”
As she moves a cigarette between her lips, he lifts his lighter without asking. She flicks her head up in thanks, smiling with her lips around the filter.
The man takes a drag as his eyes graze over her chest. She looks like she just woke up, and her breasts hang loosely beneath her singlet.
Noticing his gaze, she folds an arm across her chest.
“Big night?” he asks with a smirk.
“Yeah, well. I have trouble sleeping, so,” she replies, staring at the ground.
He shrugs. “I wouldn’t worry too much. If your body really needs to sleep, it will take it.”
She wants to ask what he means, but the ache is increasing to a firm pressure in her temples. The cold from the concrete is eating into her bare feet.
“I’d better go back inside” she says, stubbing her cigarette on the wall.
Combat Boots nods. His eyes are still on her as she pulls the door and walks back up the stairs. She finds her door still open and notices a faint metallic smell as she walks into the apartment. She picks up the jug, fills it at the sink, and switches it back on.
Walking into her bedroom, Allie notices that her bed is made. She holds her palm to her forehead – confused – the ache getting worse now – wondering where she slept last night. If she slept at all.
But the metallic smell and the pink smears against the walls answer her question. Round, pink splashes. Dried now.
She touches the swelling at her temple and remembers.
When your body needs sleep, it will take it.
Allie knows. She knows how to take sleep before it takes her first.
No Rest For The Wicked
Driving along K-Road at 9am one weekday morning, I saw a young woman who appeared to be in her pyjamas, talking to a man in a doorway. That sparked the beginning of my thriller novel. This excerpt was my first attempt at writing for suspense - it's quite a different style and definitely something that will require practice.