Sleepless Kingdom, Part 1

The following is another short story, this one based on my own experiences with sleep paralysis dramatized and embellished of course. For about six months or so, I suffered from sleep deprivation brought on by Pro-Plus tablets and coffee just to avoid sleeping and experiencing this myself. Something that was ultimately just as destructive as not only did it intensify the dreams in the long run but also fueled and deepened a depression and bad temperament. I look back now at this time with the lessons and luxury of hindsight but one positive that came from it, was a wealth of inspiration for writing.

Once again, this piece is inspired by the likes of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P Lovecraft – their works not philosophies and ideologies of their times to be clear.

She was there again; that ragged old bitch at the end of my bed. She leaned, her noxious void of an existence casting a deep shadow over the spartan duvet coverings long overdue a wash. I had taken to calling her Gran which was fine, by the way, as I never knew my own so-called gran. No, this particular term of phrase held no reverence for me nor any warm feelings of comfort and joy. Instead, this Gran, this pervasive stand-in, who lingers there in the low gloom of every waking morning, is just a vicious parody.

Gran had been visiting me for as long as I can remember giving way to a numb kind of fear. I couldn’t be sure for how long that was as the memory of having sweet dreams at all was fading away as quickly as they came. It was a companion now, satiated by Pro-Plus and Kenco at three AM. While her appearance was expected, a vision of poison from the bowels of gothic fiction, my body still froze, mind raced, and heart raced towards an impossibly distant finish line against some phantom Olympic sprinter. My only real sense of rebellion in my whole corporeal being was the smile that I forced across my trembling face. An enormous grin of wanton disregard for the impending doom of the wicked entity at the end of the divan.

Then I’d wake; bracing into the true universe, forcing away the false reality of Gran. Everything would be the same, of course. Her kingdom was the same as mine only in hers, she held the power of some neo-classical deity of the realm around her foul being. Arguably it was the same as the actual waking world but in this case, Gran was replaced by the student loan industry. In the waking world, breakfast will come and go. Black coffee and a cigarette on the porch were as reliable as the bitch at the end of the bed. Polite chit-chat with the housemates and the refreshingly stoic Clara keeps me busy enough to not feel totally maddeningly tired. Lectures and seminars go by in a blur, with Gran lingering in the peripherals as they darken, ready to return to her kingdom at any point. Dinner, drinks, Pro-Plus and the ritual of going out into town begins, Clara propping me up, keeping me from either drifting into Gran’s dark oblivion or snapping at the banal dramas of the others. I’d envy them and their genuine smiles and their faces in the morning, refreshed from a good night’s sleep – hungover (still with remnants of kebab and ketchup around their mouths) or not. That’s what really would anger me, not the bollocks of he-said-she-said and all that normal human activity. My own sunny disposition painted on, false lashes batting away close inspection.

Eventually she’d win, old Gran. The Pro-Plus would where off and even Clara would retreat from the awesome power of sleep and the perchance to dream. I would be lulled into a false sense of security, with pure, deep dark sleep. Then, as I’d wake with relief, I’d find myself unable to read the messages on my phone. The light itself would be thick and heavy, my legs responding in kind to the gravity suddenly exerting the force of Jupiter. The relief would be drowned by panic as torso would drag neck and head back to pillow; air thick and heavy as from the slightest dark of the sun-drenched box room, the eldritch form would emerge. Always the figure of some long-dead Victorian woman, with black bonnet and frills, she would come a creeping to what should be the safest of places. Yet, it was never my safe place, a place for recuperation from the normality. In truth, perhaps, it has always been her hunting ground or more accurately just a softly manifested feeding trough.

It has a name, this curse. The diagnosable term is Sleep Paralysis, which sounds so ungodly scientific. Hallucinations of such a vivid nature with no known cure or treatment is a fashionable talking point on blogs and in artsy coffee shops where turtleneck sweaters are the truest of currency – not that I’m complaining, I have six myself. They discuss through excited smiles the thrill of the unknowable terror. They say meaningless supportive buzzwords to so-called sufferers over the rims of their espresso cups, soaking up the bullshit with the nauseating aromas. The truth is in the eyes. Looking passed the smiles and the tales of horror akin to a Lovecraft short, you see the tired fright in the eyes. It lingers there like a quietly burst blood vessel just off centre. The truth is in the stories they speak. Not the words but the feeling; the feeling like you’ve just dropped your toe over the edge and into the uncanny valley itself. Then, it spreads like a virus – a biochemical abyss that doesn’t wait for you to look too long into its depths. Who’s to say that creatures like Gran are even of our own creation? Simple mind tricks invented by ourselves for ourselves because we were never satiated with the available horror that can be downloaded from the world wide web. Outside fables of the unknown heavenly powers, biology has never been so methodical, so malicious. The dark entropy incarnate.

It was on this one morning, three days before my twentieth birthday, that I stood against the dark. The air was thick and brutal and Gran’s extended claws were reaching across the unwashed sheets, casting a shadow of pure oblivion over my frozen legs. Morning light was disfigured around her looming presence that grew ever closer to my face. The battle for control raged in my bones as her hag-like face drew near, her long nose inches away from touching mine. I felt her cold and clammy breath beat down upon my skin as time itself slowed to a crawl. I let out a raspy, incomprehensible mutter, pleading for an answer to her endlessness. A skeletal claw reached up and took hold of my cheeks, her fingers like icy daggers cutting deep into the flesh.

That’s when I found the voice; the absent voice never before brave enough to express more than a whimper. It began as a stirring in my gut before racing like a cheetah through my body and bursting like lava from a volcano out of my mouth. In the seconds of its great genesis, I followed its mighty journey, so readily anticipating its triumphant roar.

‘W-w-what do you want?’ I croaked; the grand imaginary charge of the voice swept away. My pounding heart sunk as the wiry eyebrows above Gran’s night sky eyes raised. Her already twisted expression contorted at the defiance, her clammy breath quickening as her icy fingers dug deeper into my cheeks. I could have died right then and there. I could have melted into the bed, already soaked with perspiration. No. She wouldn’t have let me slip from her grasp and her pure cold rage. Nothing in this moment would escape her, not at least in Room 5 of Flat E. Gran’s response was a scream. A single elongated, shrill note that shook my entire being. Her wide mouth exposed a cascading, thunderous black hole with sparks of purple lightning lashing out to dance on the churning rows of overlapping shards of deep grey teeth. My head and neck gave in to her, snapping wildly from side to side within her fixed grasp as the gravitational pull of her nightmarish infinite aperture readied itself to digest.

… End of Part 1

Z3N0

The Art and The Truth, Part 2

People seemed to enjoy the first half of this so I thought I wouldn’t wait a bit before posting the second and final half. I’d be interested to know how people feel about it, I’ve been meaning to get back into writing fiction and any feedback would be appreciated. I hope that someone takes something from this story, sees the message I tried to sneak in, I hope it means something to someone other than myself. Of course, if not, it was an interesting read, all the same.

From then on, as she remained silent. So, I am alone in Orphan House as my wife and my children live their lives separate from the machinations of the true work. The twisting walls and ever-changing madness of the great gallery will protect them and keep them. So peaceful they are that the children have not stirred since their mother put them to bed, and my wife remains so in her chair in the library. Time and space bend in the halls of Orphan House and it slips away like sand through fingers so much so that it seems like months since they became still. Yet, of course, as the God of my kingdom, I know it to be only moments.

‘Will it always be like this?’ I asked the hooded avatar in its cliffside residence, waves crashing against the rock just outside of the perfectly rectangular stony cavern. ‘This lonely?’ I continued, sat in the brown leather armchair in the arrangement of contemporary furnishings. Sat opposite in a matching seat was the avatar of my most trusted mentor. Far removed from the throne on the beach with the true body like a pale kraken, this skeletal reaper, with face obscured by smoke from a black pipe seemed almost convivial. Yet, I thought, even that towering glorious monster would not be the true extent of the king’s true physique as I pictured in my minds eye, some infernal twisted serpent slumbering soundly at the bottom of the ocean. It waived a nonchalant hand through the smoke and drew near; placing the pipe down in an elegant crystal ashtray upon the rich wood coffee table at the centre of the arrangement. Lifting from the chair, It strolled silently over to the precipice of the sanctuary – where I was no more a God as a termite -, bare muddied feet patting on the smooth rock face. The waves, crashing against the cliff, pushed chill winds into the cavern and as It reached closer to the mouth, the black cloak billowed wildly. There was a moment of pure silence and total stillness. I awaited the answer, rising to my feet. Seconds that felt like eternity ticking over in that cold silence in the no longer howling, Howling Isles. Then it came: the dreaded answer. My pale host, let out a dry tobacco lined chuckle before extending white, skinny arms out wide and falling forward into the quiet icy sea. Upon the crash, the Howling Isles resumed its turbulence.

The eleventh winter in Orphan House has come, and I fear that the mighty fortress kingdom that I have forged is returning to its natural earthly form. The wide aperture in the roof has become lush and green and provides me with its fruits – a strange entrance from the outside. It has been so long, or perhaps not at all, since I tasted sweet things. Through the endless travel through oblivion and the dancing of my brushes, I found little interest in the simple pleasures that once meant so much to me. As a child – even with the nightmares and the endless spouting of lies from men in white collars – it was the sweet taste that helped the colours of the world come together for but a moment. I scratch at my beard and feel for where I remember my eyes to be and smile softly. I rush to my wife’s side to find she is not there anymore. Alas, it was to be expected, her departure. In my panic I race to the nursery and the children are no longer there either. My sweet daughters had left their beds and there was nothing about the room. No trace of their existence and the sweet from the apple in the attic turned to ash. So bitter and foul was the taste that I could cut off my tongue. How could a god be so ignorant, so blind? They had been taken by the deep dark, by the rage of the lords themselves for my own hubris. Or worse yet, she had taken the children and left the fortress, a foolish betrayal out of a fearful panic, exposing their young minds to the poisonous lies of the outside real.

I staggered through the winding labyrinth of the house wailing. I cried out to my patrons, so many now, numbering in the thousands with their icons covering every surface. ‘My lords!’ I shout, scratching on canvas after canvas, an affront they could not ever ignore. ‘Answer me!’

Then I fell. I fell for so far and for so long into an abyss. As God of Orphan House, artist and sorcerer supreme, I had forgotten the rule. I had forgotten that those on my walls, decaying and bowed, had become of far greater import. Spartacus, god of the pit, had, in his grand revolution forgotten whose hands fed him. The true household gods of Orphan House, those who I had invited from further afield than the outside, had been disrespected. Was my realization enough in that endless abyss to warrant the punishment served? All my powers, so mighty in the real, equated to nothing at all in the face of true divinity. Perhaps I was mad after all. It was one of the last words my wife spoke before she stood before the great Eel King. Perhaps she was right; or rather is right; or rather is right, now. How far had I fallen? I could not say. As I tumbled down the abyss, biting winds rushing against me skin, I wandered if I had indeed been falling since I first picked up the brush. It was the price of truth. It had never been clearer to me, after all these years of crafting portraits for the gods, it had never been so transparent and brilliant.

Awaking on the cold ground of the basement, I thought myself dead. My clothes were dusty and my skin had lost all elasticity. In my quest for more answers, I pressed against the boarded windows of the second floor to hear the churnings of the outside. Their machinations louder than ever before. My punishments were not over, I thought. They were coming, and as I charged through my winding halls, the paintings finally spoke to me after so much silence when I needed their voices most. So loud they were, as the shouts from the outside erupted into a crescendo and the canvases crashed from the walls. Louder and louder, like the world was collapsing, the hand of Chronos crashing down through the open roof and through the boards and into the library. Down it came, through the library and into the central hallway and down further, smashing the grand staircase in two. My great kingdom crumbled inwards like a collapsing soufflé and so, with all my strength and the chanting of the art of the endless universe itself, I charged at the vicious inevitability with all my power. Sparks of brilliant purple and splashes of deep crimsons filled the tearing reality and as Chronos, with his hand of time aloft roared for more battle, it stopped. There was only silence once more.

Silence: the national anthem of Orphan House. It had been this way even when it was full of life not of the unearthly kind. When it was simple and gentle. When my wife and I would sit in the kitchen and laugh at the fluttering larks outside the window. This was a time when the three-hundred-acre estate was protected by just the simple boundary. When the outside was free to impose its laws and the truth about their pointlessness was unknown. I would still visit Boston then. We were far enough away from the city that the smoke of the docks and the industry was a distant memory. Even the Atlantic became somewhat of a myth in our simple home. Our children, so safe within the property lines, used to play in the woods from morning ‘till night. My wife would read for hours and hours in the library that I had had created for her, while I painted landscapes of lush verdant still life to her satisfaction. Now, of course, I paint for another’s satisfaction and we are rewarded with more than a smile of hers could ever dream of. We were rewarded with the beauty of this kingdom that I was crowned regent. Its halls adorned from floor ceiling with art and magic that the outside fallacy could never love or understand.

Chronos had retreated and the nation of Orphan House was saved and the twisting faces and figures upon the canvases cheered in congratulations. The chattering jaws and gnashing teeth thanked and greeted their savoir as I marched through my lands and showered me in roses and bright confetti. I bowed graciously to the mighty delegates of the unknown but my revelling was cut short. A crashing of wood and metal from the foyer stamped on this fantastical celebration. The last thrashing of Chronos, that bitter bastard. I forced my legs to move faster than they have ever moved before and rushed to the pristine central staircase. Upon my arrival, I witnessed the ultimate horror that no creature from a million abysses removed could ever compete with. My heart leapt into my throat and tried to force its way into my mouth. I could do nothing but make a foul guttural noise as the wooden boards, before nailed so firmly to the frame, fell from the doors with a series of thuds. The chains slipped from their hooks like dead snakes, sliding with a horrendous jangle to the floor. As each element of my fortifications came down, poisonous bright white light spilled into the hall through empty window panes. Then, finally, with a gentle rattle of the brass handle, double doors open wide. It was the final act of the lord of time, commander of the encroaching chaos. The outside had come in.

… Fin.

Z3N0

Link to Part 1: