The Deeper Sleeper Creepers by Jason Darrell

 Tonight, like every night, I sleep alone. The prescribed smorgasbord of medication cannot touch this pain. The CPAP machine's cough and wheeze make for lonely night-times.

The pillow, Sleep Apnoea sufferers' magic carpet, beckons. Where will the Steps of Deeper Slumber lead tonight, oh fluffy cloud? To landscapes of fantasy, wherein magical vistas host acquaintances past and present to punctuate my dreams?

Or, like most nights, will I descend into worlds of unseen horrors, half-mirrored madness, and unknowable beasts threatening the dreamscape darkness?

Ask me again two hours from now. For only then, as my defined sleep cycle crashes to its conclusion, will I have parlayed with pugilists, fought with phantoms, or danced with demons.

I'll sleep in abject blackness for one and a half hours, then the show will begin. Dreams bizarre, fanciful, and terrifying will play out in glorious or terrible technicolour (to those who say we dream only in black and white, I say, "Tosh!"). Then: boot! Out I'll pop, like overcooked slices from a toaster.

Fair heart never won fair lady…

Settling into the foetal position (for sleeping on my back guarantees nightmares, buzzsaw snores and dreaded sleep paralysis), I fight the CPAP mask. Its hooks and briars catch in my hair, but I persist, as I must every night.

The last hook clicks into place; one deep breath triggers the machine. 9.4 bar of air pressure blusters past my oesophagus and into my lungs.

CPAP machines contain no sedative, but the mask has become my comfort blanket, nonetheless. I start counting backwards, fifteen, fourteen, thirteen, twel…


…distant lights flicker across the dreamscape, reflecting incremental activity in my temporal lobe. We must be, what, 90 minutes into the sleep cycle?

Aargh! It's the assault course dream again. I've dreamt this dream so often, and countless times before first recalling it in the waking world; every time it incrementally grows more difficult to complete. We're off again!

The obstacles at the outset aren't difficult in and of themselves. It's the memory of the final plank and crawl that presses my psyche already.

Can I describe these obstacles? Only in the vaguest terms; they are not of the waking dimension.

Each foothold is to leverage whorls of other galaxies. Around each cube's sides indifferent worlds hide. Over every wall awaits a drop into a vortex that twists light and sound, and refutes gravity. Each water obstacle is an ocean that would swallow Earth in the shallows of its smallest bays. Yet, I overcome them, albeit that I become more deaf, blind, and stretched beyond proportion as the field falls behind me. But at least I'm still whole. For now.

What, do I think this dream can kill me? Absolutely. Why else would the 'end game' get more complex each time? I know where the hole leads.

As a child, we lived in a 'boozer'. Above the cellar, beyond a four foot by three foot ragged hole in the brickwork, lurked a hollow. But I never possessed courage enough to peep into it, let alone clamber into its cavernous darkness as did my step-brother and the patrons' children. Ever since then, dreams have conjured the imaginary monstrosities that lay await therein.

That hole's dreamscape twin will, one night, close. I'll wobble off the final plank that teeters above a cavern of fire. Or my crawl will be too cumbersome to reach the light, escape forever denied. Upon that night, neither will I awake from slumber.

But I digress and must thank you again. Tonight, I've reached that plank already. Suddenly, I perceive the monster at my shoulder. I scramble like a commando, dash for the light, and…


I stare around the black bedroom, the CPAP machine's phosphorescent green LCD display casts eerie shadows about everything. I struggle with the mask, feel its whoosh! as the silicon's seal breaks, and gulp in stale air.

Made it!

Relief washes over me. I relax back into the pillow and instantly regret my mistake. The familiar pins and needles fuzz crawls across my brain, trapped inside my skull, scouting out an exit, but finds only its own tail before circuiting again, and again.

That's not the worst! Sleep paralysis almost always accompanies 'brain fuzz'. Rarely do I manage to halt the spiralling descent back into The Land of Nod. Reader, save me! Please, sav…

…too late. The dream world is blacker than the densest Amazonian Rain Forest on a moonless, starless night. Things that would bite, sting, devour me if I presented them the opportunity skulk in the shadows. I must maintain mobility, but already oppression counteracts motion.

Backwards I'm falling onto an ethereal mattress, but it has substance enough to permit the predator to pin me down. I must awaken, shake off this unseeable monster, but my struggles are futile. I feel myself conceding the fight. I must flip myself over, but it's as if my limbs have been set in peanut brittle.

The invisible monster knows it's winning, relaxes its grip. Instinct kicks in, leverages my last vestiges of strength. My body spasms, flips the impossible weight off. Flapping like a fish on a riverbank, I choke down the air as dreamland dissipates for the second time tonight.

This time, I'm awake, force myself upright, to stay up. I splash water onto my face from my 'dry mouth' bottle on the bedside table, unheeding its splashes onto the bedclothes.

My eyes adjust. Through the ever-present gap in the curtains, I make out a sea of clouds reflecting the arc-sodium blanket that slickly coats the real world's suburban concrete jungle.

Dawn is yet a way off. But for me, for tonight, I think my travelling's done. I convince myself that I'll maybe stay awake awhile once the mask's back on. I position myself almost prostrate; no more invisible monsters tonight, if you please. But who knows what nightmares or fantasies await?

I slip the mask back on, ever hopeful; the countdown begins again, fifteen, fourteen, thirte…

Selected: March Short Story Contest
Published in Issue #28

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