Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Insomnia: A Dispatch From The Foothills Of Sleep

From somewhere he heard a few hesitant notes from a piano. Perhaps it was coming from the back room, but it sounded even more distant. It was the sound of a piano stretched to the point where it could almost not have been a piano he was hearing. It could have been an audio hallucination. There was no pattern, just a random pinging at the high end of the keyboard. Silence, then a burst of four or five notes.

He went through the front room and into a hallway that was carved through permanent shadow. The whole place had been sealed up tight for weeks and most of the furniture had been removed. The curtains were all tightly drawn, and only a stray strand of fuzzed light snuck in from outside, crepuscular and loaded with slow cruising dust.

There was still blood on the kitchen floor, a substantial quantity of it, dried to the darkest edges of maroon and become almost chalk, or tempera powder. It had splashed up onto the cupboards and across the refrigerator door.

From the kitchen he could see out into the backyard, where there was a familiar and now abandoned doghouse. When he wandered out there he found the piano: a rusted set of wind chimes swaying almost imperceptibly from a clothesline pole.

He didn't stay long.

At the edge of town there were the ruins of an ancient fortress, perched right at the edge of the ocean on a hill. The ramparts and parapet were all more or less in place, thrown up around a cluster of terraces, each of them situated at a different height and connected by a series of damp tunnels and stone steps and the occasional wooden ladder. Above it all at the southernmost end overlooking the water was the largest terrace, now completely exposed to the sky and the stars.

He made his way through the tight lanes of the town to this fortress, and through the labyrinths of the fortress to the terrace above the ocean. He'd been there many times. It was a wonderful place for silence. Whatever sound made the journey up there was oddly transformed. The voices from the little tavern at the bottom of the hill sounded as if they were rising from a very deep well.

The whine of an unseen boat in the darkness lulled him almost to sleep. He saw blazing cruise ships creeping along the distant horizon, and heard what sounded like one loud laugh carry from far out at sea. Exhausted and splayed on his back, he watched as one star after another tumbled down the sky and crashed into the ocean.

After a time he walked back to his room at the only inn still open in town.

He was very tired from his long journey and retired early, only to be immediately seized by an episode of what felt like intense seasickness. Words and images were pitching around in his head and it was as if he were aboard a flooded boat or rolling raft. This went on for several hours. He went to the basement at one point and retrieved a plastic pail that he placed next to the bed and vomited into during the night. Recalling that he had a bottle of motion sickness tablets in his travel bag, he staggered to the sink and swallowed several of the pills.

The medication did not, however, quell his seasickness, and he suffered through terrifying hallucinations of violent storms and hurricanes and even sea serpents. Again and again in the midst of these visions he would find himself tossed from a boat into the endless, roiling darkness of the sea.

He thrashed and thrashed until he felt himself sinking into a deeper and darker place. As he sank he was dimly aware of daylight slowly developing on the walls of the room.

The coroner's report listed the official cause of death as drowning.

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