I watch the sun rise on my tenth day without sleep. I feel my mind slipping away from reality. The hallucinations are bad. One moment I am trying to make sense of the world, the next I am being eaten alive by giant spiders. Wrapping my arms around myself, I rock on the edge of the kerb and try to cling to this moment of lucidity. In the distance I hear gunfire and realise it’s not safe on the streets.
“It’s going to get much worse if something isn’t done soon, Jack,” a woman mutters.
I am not sure if I imagined her. I turn to my right. “Huh?”
The woman next to me has a vacant glare, the bags around her eyes making her face skull like. For a moment she is a stranger until I remember and give a half smile at my wife. The face under the pale, starved look is Lisa and I force my mind to hold onto her name, even if it forgets everything else. She responds by hanging her head down, her black hair a curtain of darkness over her face. “You’re not even listening to me, are you?”
I shrug and look down the road in the direction of the gunfire. “We need to get inside,” I say. What was it we were doing outside? There must have been a reason to leave the safety of our home. The sound of a fighting draws close. “How much do we have left?” I ask, trying to mask the desperation in my voice.
Lisa digs her hand into her pocket and brings out a small glass tube half full with a clear liquid. My mouth waters at the sight. “We have enough for one more sleep each, but not a very deep one.”
The liquid shines in the morning light and reflects into Lisa’s face, bringing her back to life for a moment. Our last of the drug and I close Lisa’s hand over the phial, looking around in case anyone else has seen. Luckily the street is deserted.
“You have to be more careful,” I warn her. In her hand is the most precious substance in the world.
Lisa’s face has a sudden glimmer of love. “You should take it; you’ve had less sleep than me.”
I look at the scratch marks on Lisa’s forearm. There are eight jagged marks sliced in, one for each day she has not slept. We started doing this once the drug began to run out because it was the only way to keep track as the mind began to let go. If we shared the drug, then we would only have around two hours sleep each. That might give me another three days before I lost my mind and became psychotic. If Lisa took it all, she could last out a week.
Perhaps long enough for the military to make another drop.
Lisa nods, reaches out and holds my hand. We both know the chances of scoring more of the drug are slim as the government supplies have nearly run out. One day the body stopped producing Adenosine that caused us to sleep. A virus had swept through the human race over night, some thought. Others believed it was an act of God. Most blamed the terrorists. I think it is a natural step in our evolution, but to what end I am not sure.
The first few months of the pandemic had seen the drug rolled out to every street, supplying a household with a month supply. But instead of adapting like we have, most people continued to try and use the drug to make it appear that their lives were just the same as always. They were convinced the doctors would work out what had happened to the ability to sleep.
Of course, people used their supplies up within a couple of weeks of the epidemic and demanded more. After the first week without sleep, people found it difficult to concentrate, but as the drug shortage went on, psychosis set in. Some heard voices, some became paranoid. For others, they began to have what the so called experts called waking dreams as the mind tried to shut down. The military moved into action as the riots washed through the cities.
Now I was ten days without sleep and convinced I was being eaten by giant spiders. As I look at my arms, I can see them crawling beneath, eating away at my body from inside. Sometimes I find myself screaming out for help, rolling around on the floor. Then I find that safe point in reality and grab hold of it before I lose my mind completely to the sleep deprivation. Lisa has always been there to catch me when I fell. Unknown to her, I have taken less of the drug than her. One of us has to remain saner than the other.
An explosion sounds down the street and I hear the crowd. Standing, I grab Lisa’s hand and pull her up. She looks confused. “Where are we going?”
The fighting is close. We run down a side alley and into the next street where we stop beneath the body of a man hanging from a lamp post. I stare at him, wondering if I should cut him down. The man suddenly looks at me, laughing. He twists around in the noose at his neck. His fingers try to work at the knot in the rope. “The spiders are coming for you Jack!” he yells at me.
“Not real,” I whisper, closing my eyes. When I open them again, the body is still. “Another suicide,” I say. Most people got to their first month without sleep and were unable to continue. They called it the turning point. When you reached your upper limit you either became a deranged killer or found yourself a quick death. The crowd behind draw close and I guess they have decided to take the path of deranged killer. On their own I can handle them, but in a large gang, they are brutal. Last week I watched a crowd punching and scratching at each other, desperate to kill. Are we to become like animals?
“Let’s go,” Lisa says, pulling me away from the body.
More bodies line the street, claimed by the crows that peck out their eyes. It is a sight I am becoming accustomed to, though I am never quite sure what is real anymore. Crossing the road where a car has been set alight, I see a pack of dogs raiding a rubbish bin for scraps. We hurry on down the street towards our home.
“Jack, I can’t go on,” Lisa mumbles. She looks at me with lifeless eyes. Once she had been the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, full of life and joy. It had been painful to watch her fade away like everyone else. I wonder how she sees me, but there is barely a glimmer of intelligence left within her. Some fared better without sleep, but Lisa is not one of them. Luckily we do not have to go further as our house is ahead, the door left ajar. Careless of me, I realise. We hurry over and slam the door behind us, keeping the horrors outside.
I leave Lisa at the foot of the stairs and check each room of the house, closing the curtains and hoping the mob will continue on and ignore us. When I am sure we are safe as we can be, I help Lisa upstairs. She is barely aware of what is going on and has lapsed into an incoherent state, her eyes dazed. I wonder what hallucinations she experiences. When I lay her on our bed, she looks at me with sad eyes and smiles.
“Don’t set the alarm tomorrow,” she says. “I want to have a lay in.”
Holding back tears, I laugh weakly, but the sound of fighting outside drowns me out. I stroke back her hair and take hold of her hand, squeezing gently. To my relief, the crowd passes by and a peaceful silence descends. “Close your eyes,” I tell Lisa.
Lisa closes her eyes and I take the glass phial from her, holding it up and shaking the contents. The liquid sloshes around and I take the stopper out, then lift Lisa’s head and pour the entire contents into her mouth. She swallows it back, licking her lips. I wait as she slowly drifts away into sleep and I can see life filling her again. I lie down next to her and close my eyes, as though I could drift into sleep as easily. When she wakes up, I will not be here. I kiss her on the forehead, but she remains in a deep sleep.
Then something happens to me. It is as though a switch is flicked on in my brain and I have a sudden moment of clarity. I sit up and look around. Fatigue has gone and my body is pulsing with energy. Thoughts whizz around and I shake from the buzz of adrenaline. In that one instant everything has become clear. I have changed, have become something different.
And I realise in my new state of consciousness that the drug was preventing us from evolving to the next stage of our existence. Sleep is a safe guard, holding us back from our true potential. It is all so very clear to me. But my mind begins to fog over and the person I struggle to hold onto is slipping away. If we are to evolve, then we must become like animals, for it will be the strongest who survive.
I take a last look at Lisa, sleeping peacefully. If I stayed, I would end up killing her as I slipped deeper into the psychosis. Leaning over her, I kiss Lisa on the lips and whisper my goodbye. I hurry down the stairs and into the street, gently closing the door behind me. The fighting continues in the distance and I run as fast as I can away from it, and further away from the woman I love.