The Somnambulist

by

Gabriel Enrique Llanas




Awake. Shower. Bathroom. Shave. Clothes. Do they match? Who cares? Commute. Out of gas. Late. Cubicle. "What the hell is wrong with you?" Skipped break. Lunch. "What the hell is wrong with you on this one?" Muttered, "Kiss my ass." Shouted, "What did you say?" Muttered, "Nothing." Spite break. Commute. Home. Nine-month-old son. Two-year-old daughter. Dinner. Finances. Shouting, "What the hell is wrong with you?" Muttered, "Thatís three times today. I just want to sleep." Shouted, "Do it on the couch!" Blanket. Pillow. Insomnia. Infomercial. Two A.M. Son wakes up. Give him to his mother to feed. Couch. Blessed sleep.

****

My eyes slowly shut. My hearing dulls. I know that now is the chance for me to fall into sleep. I need to get some rest. My wife walks out of the bedroom, my hearing snaps back to volume and Iím awake. I put my son back in his bedroom. Her voice softly cuts through the thin veneer of sleep that I still have up. "Darling, come to bed, please." I do, because I love her. I will always love her no matter how bad things get. I lie in the bed and think about how bad the money is. I think about the rent, about the creditors, about the -- well, about everything. I try to find sleep in desperation.

****

I toss, I turn, and I adjust my blankets to maximum comfort factor. One is under my head; one is between my legs in lieu of holding my wife tight to my body. Nothing is working. I try some more. I do little Zen tricks that I learned in a high school class that was supposed to convince me that other religions were evil. I guess that class failed. Oh well. I just want some sleep. I must find it. I close my eyes. Breathe. In. Out. Slow my heart. In. Out. Slow my heart. In. Out. Slow my heart.

It works, warmth and silence flood over me again. I know that now is my chance. I stop trying to fall asleep and just let go. There is nothing. It is dark, black endless nothing, so beautiful. Sleep is more wonderful that sex. More wonderful than, nothing.

****

Darkness turn into soaring. I fly in a world of sunset colors, surrounded by vivid russets, violets, and tangerines. The colors seem to adhere to me like paint. They slowly spread across my skin, and drip onto and off of my body, like honey. As I fly, I drag my fingers through the mixture of dyes. They mix on my body forming new colors, greens, ochre, and eventually brown. Like any other color they all eventually devolve into a brown. My body is covered with this brown paste that slowly becomes less fluid and sticks like a lacquer. It is seeping into my skin making me the brown that the colors created. As it seeps into my skin, my body begins to itch. The sensation is easy to put out of my mind. After all, Iím flying.

Iím coming up out of the sunset, an Icarus painted a brown made from every shade of the rainbow. I hurtle up the side of a snow-covered crag, more cliff face than mountain. I look up to see that top speeding nearer. I know that this is my destination. I dawdle though. I donít want to lose this moment of release. It has been such a long time since I have had the chance to just be free. Unfettered, unhindered, unencumbered I launch myself through the sky. Tilting and whirling though the air, like some bizarre bird of prey. I dive and I climb and for a brief moment I wish that my children were here with me. How my daughter would love to do this. I can hear her laugh; I can almost see her smile, like she is ghosting me in some parallel dream. I then focus and climb towards the peak, towards my destination.

****

I light softly at the top of the peak. The air is thin and cool, further drying the substance that covers me. I look down and realize that Iím no longer covered with it. All of the pigment has seeped into my body leaving behind warmth and stickiness. I rub my fingernail on my skin out of curiosity trying to get the color off. Nothing comes off, but it doesnít bother me. Now Iím just a new color.

I look down from the top of the peak and reel for a moment, then remembering my ability to fly let out a haughty laugh. A vista is opens before me, a wide plane that seems to go on forever. There before me is sand and waste. For a moment, the thought unsettles me. But there is nothing to be afraid of. Why should I fear a long fall, or the open empty spaces? I can soar through the air like a giant hawk. This is a dream, there is no chance of me starving to death or running out of water before I awake. Just the thought of being afraid makes me laugh again. The sound is good for a moment. Then I cough. I hear the sound of myself choking. I make a sound like there is too much fluid in my throat. I know that I have to get down from the top of the mountain. I take wing and Ö fall.

Awake. I try to sit up, but nothing happens. I donít sit up. I hear my son crying in the other room. I try to move. I am motionless. I am frozen. I try to sit up again, to no avail. I try to scream, like a child, like a girl, like a banshee. All that comes out of my mouth is the gurgling noise. I try to cry out again and feel something thick and snotty run down my chin. I let out a weak groan. I have to help my son. I canít move. My eyes are heavy again and there is nothing holding the sleep back. I let out one groan, lower than the first. I canít move. I sink into the bed. I realize that I can feel nothing. My eyes slowly shut.

I open them again. I look up. Am I still asleep? Have I awakened and meandered away from home in this tortured slumber? There is nothing to differentiate between the two. I can move though, and that counts for something. I look around. It is the cul-de-sac that I grew up in. In that instant I know this is a dream. I havenít been here since I was eight when my parents were divorced. The place has always been too much for me to bear. I just never went back. I donít want to be here now.

****

Iím here though. Iím here and Iím all alone. No cars no lights, just the darkened autumn streets, of when I was eight. I knew they would leave me alone. I knew that I would get left behind. I knew that neither of them would want me as their son. I knew. Oh, how I knew.

****

Almost every night I would find myself in this dream, alone and wandering the streets of my childhood memories. It plagued my young mind to know my mother and father would abandon me. Neither of them wanted me after the divorce. They packed and left me standing here, forsaken, in the middle of the cul-de-sac, wondering where they had gone. Wondering why they had decided to abandon me.

****

I am here alone. I'm calling out. "Mommy? Daddy?" I know that there is something strange. Shouldnít I be too old to call them that? I look around, trying to get my bearings. I see my house and I see the rest of the cul-de-sac. There is something ominous about this place, there is a presence watching over the whole scene. It is a presence that was never there when I was a child. I try to find somewhere that looks like a safe place to hide. There is nowhere. The place that looks the least foreboding is my old house, and I have no desire to go into there.

It is darkened and obviously empty. The other houses seem to leer at me like the faces of broken hearts. I must find a place to hide. It seems that my only choice is my old home. I slowly walk towards it, tears rolling down my face, burning with memory

I enter the front door, which as always is unlocked. The house is dark inside, and I fumble along the wall for a switch. I havenít been here for such a long time that I just donít know where it is. My hands grope and for a moment it feels like the walls are breathing. In. Out. My heart slows, and then stops a beat. My fingers find the switch. I gasp with relief as I grope to turn the light on. As I succeed the light burns my eyes.

When my eyes adjust I see that there is nothing strange. It is just my old brown house. The lighting is slightly off kilter though. It leads my eyes to the staircase that goes into the basement. I turn around looking out the open front door. I see that the cul-de-sac is gone, the empty waste I saw from the mountaintop replacing it, the wasteland spreading out forever. I turn back around though I donít want to. I am driven by this compulsion to make my way into the basement. Memories come back, things that I havenít thought about in over a decade. There are memories of a Christmas when I was allowed to pick out my own gift and keep it in my playroom until the holiday arrived.

It was an endless temptation. They were the coolest army trucks I had ever seen. They had so many moving parts: gun turrets that moved up and down, tank tread that actually rolled like the real thing, doors that opened and closed and even little men that you could remove from the vehicles themselves. They were all wrapped up in my room, calling my name. In my childlike imagination it seemed like I had to wait for months.

I make my way through the backlit halls, to my playroom. The light seems to be coming from a broken sun that glares feebly through the open door. It is a dead color, mood lighting for the lowest rings of Hades. The playroom is just as I left it on the night my mother ran away from my father. Strewn with my favorite toys, things that I havenít seen since their divorce. There on top of the toy box is the gift.

Those army trucks are just sitting there wrapped in the finest of Christmas papers. I am forced to make my way over to them. I begin unwrapping the gift. I know that it isnít time yet, but I cannot help myself. As hard as I try the paper seems to make a sound louder than a gunshot. I try to move slower and quieter but my machinations the papers crinkle and pop. My work is done and the toys fall into my grasp. How I love them.

A voice, clear as day, booms behind me, "What are you doing," says my father. I try to hide what Iím doing but Iím not fast enough. "Are you playing with those toys?"

I stammer out a feeble, "No."

"You are, god damn it boy." Suddenly Iím scared. Is this my father, or something else that is out to hurt me? Iím mortified to go back outside, but I have no other option. I flee. I move as quickly as I can around the figure that fills the door, darting up the stairs and out the door. I reassess where I am. The street is gone in its place are endless sand dunes. I hear a noise and glance behind me. Panic fills my heart as I see some huge hulking thing shamble up the stairs from the basement. Where can I move to, to get away from the beast? I know that he is going to tell my parents what I did. I know that this is why they got divorced. They couldnít stand to have a child that was always doing what he was told not to do. Behind me lie that hideous house and its massive occupant. This is the very corner of my own little Hell. I whirl around ready to bolt into the desert. Iím shocked to see that the street is in place again. I have to get away. I know that the beast is coming. I run ahead making my way into the middle of the street, where I become paralyzed.

A white sedan, without its lights on slowly creeps up the street, inching closer and closer. Someone in there wants to kill me. I will myself to move. I walk sluggishly. I look down. The street has become mud that teems with life, and sucks at my feet. There are worms burrowing into my ankles. I canít get away and it is starting to burn. I realize that all those times that I couldnít move in my dreams, it was these worms. They want you there, drawing you into the ground. Gumming up your progress. They want you to fall and die, so they can feed. Something burns my retinas. Headlights. I suddenly remember the car.

****

The car that was creeping up on me is now barreling down on me. The car contains someone, something, that wants me to die. It is the same ominous presence that I sensed when I first came to this place. I have to wake up. I try to scream and just feel the fluid gurgling up out of my mouth again. I look down, seeing a thick black fluid pouring out of my mouth, flowing down to my chest. Iím not in the dream any more.

****

Awake. Iím standing in the middle of the street. A car is careening towards me. Its brights are flashing, its horn is blaring. I try to run. Nothing. I try to jump. Nothing. I try to react at all. I hear the groaning noise come out of my clogged mouth again. I realize that Iím trying to scream in terror. One foot shuffles forward. It is the only movement I get out of my body that has forsaken me. Dear God, the car is right on top of me. I get one more hateful shuffle out of my feet.

****

The car swerves. Thank God. My mind reels. I canít concentrate. I know that Iím falling asleep again. I donít want to be asleep anymore. Out of the corner of my eye I see the car barrel into a tree. It hits full speed and bursts into flame. I need to go help. There are people in the car. I try to move, to get my body going in that direction. It almost responds. I sort of turn that direction, but I can feel my grip on this part of the world slipping away again.

****

What the hell is going on now? I canít see, the whole world has gone dark. I know that Iím sitting in a chair looking over a horizon that I canít see because of the inky blackness. There is nothing but space in front of me, and Iím afraid to move because I canít see. At least it isnít some claustrophobic darkness. There is no sensation that I dread more than confined spaces. I donít want to move, but I choose to stand just to stretch my legs. The movement is slow but I get it done and it feels good to stretch for a moment.

****

Vertigo passes quickly; I must have just stood up too fast, in spite of the slothfulness of my movements. I donít dare move. Who knows what could be lurking beyond my vision, in these insidious dreams? Something is strange.

****

It isnít quite so dark anymore. It isnít so much black as pitch, but gray like slate. Amidst that gray I can see outlines of mountains. The thinnest sliver of light comes over that distant hill. Slowly my eyes begin to adjust to the semidarkness. As they adjust it begins to get lighter and I realize that the sun is coming up over majestic mountains.

It is your typical movie Western sunrise. At first it is just a paling of the sky, from gray to blue. Then the sky begins to transition into a sort of yellow orange color. The sun coronas over the mountains, giving way to the purest of white light, as my eyes look out at the magnificent open wilderness that gives way to those far off hills.

****

I try to look in that direction, but the sun is so bright. Something else is odd. There is a noise like a small thunderclap somewhere. Clouds begin to move and swirl through the air. They are moving much too fast. Each cloud is doing its best to smother the sun. I hear the thunder again. This time it is closer and I see the lightning. I take a step forward onto the great expanse of sand, realizing immediately that I am in the middle of the waste. There is no shelter. And there is lightning striking. I am by far the tallest thing within a few hundred miles.

****

Dread fills me. I know that I have to find shelter, but where I do not know. So I start to move in the direction of the mountains. I take ten steps, and as is the way with dreams, I am in the mountains.

****

I look around to see if there is anywhere that I can hide. The open air seems to be pressing down on me, watching me, seeking to devour me. Up in the hills I see a cave. I make my way over loose shale and pebbles towards it. The movement here is all wrong. I stumble forward as the storm begins to intensify. My movement hinders me more than helping me.

****

Lightning strikes feet away from me, flinging rock that is melted to glass into my arms, chest and face. It burns and I lose my balance; slipping into the rocks, I tear up my leg. The pain is excruciating. My blood doesnít look right. It looks like it is black water flowing from my leg. Another bolt of lightning, this time striking within inches. The white-hot agony of the strike courses through my body, and I begin to burn. I trip, stumble forward, falling on my face. Involuntarily I stop, drop and roll down the sharp rocks of the mountains side. Though the fire is extinguished, my body is flayed open in places.

****

Awake. Iím getting a real close up view of the asphalt. My left eye seems a bit blurry, there is something stuck in my eye. I canít get my body to respond the way that it should. I make small, jerky movements that eventually get me in a sort of push up position. I look ahead of me. I see the car that swerved to miss me, wrapped soundly around a tree. It is burning intensely and I hear a strange hissing noise. The hiss gives way to silence for a moment. Then boom! An explosion rocks the air, pushing me back into the asphalt and sending hot metal and glass into the backside of my body. I feel the pain, but it is dulled. I know that I have to get up.

****

Something is driving me to get up. Once more I struggle. It takes what feels like an eternity just get my knees. Then I see her. The driver of the car is lying prostrate. I must help her. I am the reason that she is in this predicament. I just canít get my body to do what I want it to do. I half crawl, half drag myself towards her. I see her look at me and cringe. What do I look like that would make her face twist in such a way?

There is something on the ground that is slick and oily. My hand slips in it, and my head makes hard contact with the ground. As I hit, I hear the woman scream at my sudden movement, as though she is expecting me to jump on her and eat her. This is the last thought that crosses my mind as the whole world turns black again.

My eyes open. I am somewhere else. Somewhere that I know is part of this dream cycle that I just canít escape. Not that it is that pleasant to escape, each time I do things get worse. I will make it through. This has all been a dream. It is all a figment of my imagination brought on by too much pizza before bed, my boss, or too much stress at home. I will wake up and when I do -- Oh God, when I do I will be the happiest man on earth. I just have to wake up. For right now Iím in a room filled with all shades of velvet covering the walls. I am on some type of lounge chair that is a beautiful burgundy, made of crushed velvet. Its soft touch is a welcome change from the asphalt and glass. Looking at my surroundings so is the rest of this dream. This I could get used to. My brief moments of lucidity werenít really something that I wanted to experience again.

I think about my son crying. Is my son ok? What is going on? Where am I wandering to now? Am I sleepwalking through helping the people that just wrecked their car to avoid me? This place that I am in is truly amazing. It is like a scene from Masque of the Red Death; the whole room is awash in gaudy colors, not unlike the sunset that I flew through. The whole area is clothed in burgundies, royal blues, purples and forest greens. What lies before me is what is really tempting me.

A feast, a banquet, is about to begin. There is every conceivable type of food on the table. I realize the food must be trapped in some way. Each thing that I have seen in my dreams has been paralleled for me, in a horrible way, when awake. What terrifying ordeal could this represent? Maybe Iím just dead now. That would be nice. I want something to be nice for a moment. I look around to see if anyone else is here. There is no one. Iím curious as to where everyone could be with this whole buffet spread out on the table.

I realize that this is a tent, all made from the same wonderful cloth that the fainting couch was made of. I find the entrance to the room. I make my way towards it and slowly push the folds of the gateway open. It reveals a foyer made of the same materials that lead to another portal folded shut. I walk with my arms outstretched feeling the soft cloth against my skin. The short hallway envelops me. The cliché of it feeling like a womb comes to mind, but it reminds me more of laying in bed on cold winter days. I find my way to the other end of the hall and push back the folds on that side. There is a familiar sight. The endless landscape of badlands stretches out in front of me. The brooding presence is still there as is the fading light of that cracked sun. I decide in an instant to make my way back to the banquet. I refuse to dwell on this place any longer. I realize that Iím starving.

****

I wonder how long I have been asleep. I know that I want to eat something. This food looks delicious. On the table is a spread of anything and everything that I could ever desire. The whole meal is like Thanksgiving times ten. The table starts to sink into the floor. I know that the twist in my dream is coming so I make a lunge for the table. I grab a piece of chicken. The chicken squirms under my fingertips. It is still alive, and trying desperately to get away.

****

It slips from my grasp and the table starts to sink further. I refuse to give up. I will get the benefit of this dream if it is the last thing that I do. I reach and grab again. The table slips down some more. I am on my knees but I have that damn chicken in my grasp. With no regard for decorum I take a hand full of the bird, pulling it apart. There is the snapping sound of bone and the tearing sound of me rending the flesh of the fowl. My fist comes away full of the meaty undercooked bird. I gorge myself on it. It tastes different, nothing like chicken as a matter of fact. The meat has a hard time going down my throat though. I choke on it and then I realize that the room is gone.

****

Awake. There are flames all around me. The area looks like a disaster movie, but it is real life. The car is still wrapped around a tree. Something is squirming right in front of me. I donít think that Iím helping whoever were in the car. The person in front of me is screaming. I take a close look and realize that there is a large chunk of flesh pulled out of her rib cage, just under the breast. My hand holds what remains of her pound of flesh. The rest is sliding down my throat unchewed, raw, and not quite dead. I know that something is very wrong with me. I feel the sleep coming over me again, but this time I fight. I fight hard. I keep what are left of my wits about me.

****

I try but I canít resist the urge to feed. The woman in front of me sees that I paused for a moment. She tries to get up. I lunge for her. An Instinct has taken over. Something deep inside, something primal that needs to consume her. If she is inside of me her life will become mine. I throw myself at her but my body doesnít react the way it should. I snag her foot; it is enough to trip her. She is in front of me, prone on the ground.

****

I move closer. I see others. They want the same thing. I know they do. They are in various states of disrepair but they are my brothers and sisters now. Some are fresh, some of them are almost skeletons, but somehow I know that we are all one in the same. Iím not alone now. I may never be alone again. I descend on the woman. Her shrieking is almost inaudible over the dull roar of the moaning horde. Then there is a clap of thunder and some of my family disappears in a wash of black liquid and chunks of rotted flesh. I turn my head. It is slow to respond.

****

When finally I get my body facing the sound, I see that the thunder is my wife. My son is in the Snugli on her chest. He is crying, but he is ok. My daughter is in the frame pack that I loved to take her on walks with. She is asleep in spite of the terrible noise. In my wifeís hands is the twelve gauge that I bought in case a robber got in the house. She sees me and says quietly, "Iím sorry."

****

This time I embrace sleep. That is something that I hope to never see again. What kind of nightmare am I stuck in? I canít breath. It is dark. Something is crowding out my air. I think Iím choking on the blanket. Dear God, I have to wake up. I pull and tug, toss and turn. I try to get out. Oh thank God it was all just a dream. Iím waking up now Iím finally waking up. I just have to get out of this bed; out from under this blanket that is trying itís best to kill me. I can make it. If I can get out Iíll finally be awake.

****

Something is wrong with the blanket though. It is deteriorating, falling apart. Suddenly there is a beam of light piercing my eye. The blanket is not a blanket it is dirt. My hands are clawing their way though a shallow grave. I see sunlight. I drag the dirt away I claw and get purchase on the ground around me. Sluggishly I pull myself from the earth, into the bright light of an Indian summer day. I stand next to a swing set that I recognize. I look and see a house boarded up that I donít quite recognize until I look for a while. It is my house and Iím on the outside now. I look down as much as my limited movement will let me and see the ragged hole in my chest. My wife is a good shot. Iím hungry again. Iím hungry and drowsy. I feel the world slipping away again. I donít even fight; I would rather be in these dreams than in the nightmare of the real world. I close my eyes and Iím in a desert, surrounded by friends, family and an enormous table lay out with a feast in the open air. I know that I will never be alone again, that these new-found friends are now the majority. We will have the chance to engorge ourselves on the food before us. There will be a feast, an endless feast. It will go on forever, until this endless expanse of sand is filled with our sleeping brethren.

THE END



© 2005 by Gabriel Enrique Llanas

Mr. Llanas says: "I live in Greeley, Colorado (read middle of nowhere, northeast Colorado) with my wife, son and daughter. When Iím not writing Iím busy reading the backlog of books that I would like to get through in this lifetime, or chasing around my highly energetic children."

E-mail: Gabriel Llanas

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