Notes: This story is true. This story is my story. I'm posting it here because this is the only place I'm almost positive no one will ever find me. I had to tell someone, you know?

Guilty Conscience

By Violet Beck

For six months, I couldn't sleep.

At first, insomnia's progress was mind-numbing and slow, leaving me unprotected and unassuming even as the first damages were incurred. I lost sleep only hours at a time; I would wake in the middle of the night for no reason and sit still until dawn, or lie down at ten and finally sleep at one. It was easy enough to ignore. I passed it off on my usual nightmares and went on with my life. Soon, though, the night came when I slept only twenty minutes after lying in bed for seven hours. I couldn't deny that the problem was growing, but I still elected to keep silent. I didn't want to involve my parents in my problems. They had enough to deal with on their own. Secretly, I hoped that it was all just a phase, and that one blessed evening in a few days' time, I would simply drop off like a baby and never have the problem again.

Weeks passed. Months passed. There was no change. The fatigue and the wear began to show readily in my face, my body, and my work. The telltale circles below my eyes darkened. My eyes themselves seemed to sink into pits in my face. As I lost weight, my cheeks grew gaunt, and my ribs began to show through my shirts. My skin took on a sickly jaundiced hue, and the veins in my chest and arms showed through like thin, blue sub-dermal superhighways. My anxious parents poked, prodded, and finally ascertained the truth: I was sleeping a grand total of six hours a week, and that was when I was lucky. Something had to be done.

They told a psychiatrist and I was given some little white pills to take before bed. They did nothing. The psychiatrist scratched his head, and I was given some yellow pills. They made me a little dizzy. On my third visit, the psychiatrist made a small noise of disquiet, and reluctantly prescribed me two thin pink pills per night.

I slept. It was only for five hours, but I slept and I woke up feeling remotely like a human being again. To my doctor and my parents, this was a roaring success. I began to take the medication on a regular basis, and slowly, the skeletal nature I had taken on in my months of insomnia began to fade. I was, apparently, coming back to life.

Weeks passed.

I'd known from the beginning, to a certain degree, that it was all too good to be true. I'd known that the cure for my insomnia was not going to come in a bottle or a talk therapy session. As my tolerance to the thin pink pills increased, my sleep time began to rapidly descend. At last, I was back down to two hours a night. And that was when I was lucky.

One night, as usual, I took my pills in resignation and waited for the blackness to fall down on me. That was the trick: I would lie there for about ten minutes flat, and then suddenly it would be a few hours later and I would have slept. Lying inert atop my rumpled sheets, my eyes numbly watched the green glow of the digital clock across the room. Five minutes passed. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten.

Eleven.

Twelve.

A slow start of panic started to take over. Had I only taken one, by accident? No, no, I expressly remembered taking two. I had to check, though.

I moved to stand.

I didn't stand.

There, I tried again. I sent the command to my body. I told it to move. It didn't. It just sort of squirmed and twitched in place. I panicked, and tried to scream. Only a thin, squeaking sound. I tried to roll over. Again, the twitch. My heart was pounding inside me but it was almost as though nothing was getting the oxygen.

I was trapped.

I tried to calm down, and I closed my eyes. Sleep would come, I told myself firmly. It always came, eventually.

Such rational thought, however, soon became impossible. My thoughts became disjointed, like a box of dying butterflies: bumping, falling, starting, stopping—all out of turn. Some of them seemed to run off by themselves without my permission. If I listened I could find them. Sometimes they replayed conversations from during the day, and sometimes the conversations I wished I'd had during the day. Staring at the black and motionless interiors of my eyelids, I started to see flashes of light. Striving for control, I willed them to take form. I made them red. I made them green. I made them blue.

The talking in my memories was growing louder, like there was a huge party going on downstairs that I couldn't stop. The flashes of color spun out of my control, and suddenly I was viewing my own personal fireworks display. Feebly, I tried to ascertain what was happening to my brain. I was…dreaming. Then, the explanation came fast and clear, as though from a previous recording: I had somehow accessed my mental filing system, after hours. I was watching my thoughts and memories be stored while in a fully lucid state.

Sleep without sleeping; dreams without dreaming. It was too much. I fought against it, mentally lashing out at myself. The twittering of my thoughts grew louder. They were laughing at me. Far away, I felt my body quivering. Hot tears were streaming down my motionless face.

Stop! I screamed inside my head. Stop! God, please, stop!

And they stopped. For one, blessed moment, they stopped.

"You stop," someone said teasingly, and suddenly I was looking right at her. "You brought this on yourself, you know," my former best friend bit off vindictively.

Jasmine…?

"You always made people think you were so damn great," she spat. "I was the brains, though. I was the real leader and your impotence showed them that." She leered at me. "I never wanted you, you know," she said. "Especially that last year. I spent the entire time trying to push you away. And then, after you moved, all that whiny shit you fed me about how I never called—that was the limit. You made me hate you. You always wanted everything I never wanted to give."

I trusted you, though. The tears were coming faster. I loved you.

"But I never loved you," Jasmine explained coldly. "That's the trick, isn't it? God, it just seems like everybody loves you, doesn't it, Violet? Everybody but your friends."

You're the reason…you're the reason I can't sleep.

"Not just me. All of them. Everybody that you hurt; everybody who's hurt you."

Who?

"Who!?" she sneered. "You make me sick."

She faded out with a blinding intensity—and suddenly, there were other people there, some of them so far back in shadow that I couldn't see any more of them than an outline.

Their talking was a rough cacophony, and they grew steadily louder, as my thoughts had: I fought to discern the different lines of speech in the crowd.

"You thought you were so great. You thought your world was made of steel. But then you accused me…you accused me of doing that…I know you believed it was true, but it wasn't and it fucked up my life. You crazy little fuck, where do you get off, dictating reality—"

"—I could tell. But you went about it all the wrong way. You should have just told me, or asked to come, or even just confessed your undying love to me. It would have worked. But instead you lied, again and again. I could tell you were lying. Now, you still feel the shame, but you can't even remember my face…."

"You never even told me! You just got yourself so god damn sick in the rain the next day so you'd never have to look me in the eyes again. You can't sing when you're sick. When you can't sing, you don't have the occasion to dally with the choir-master's daughter—"

"—You don't even know my name anymore, but at least you know how I feel…you heartless bitch."

I knew I was practically convulsing where I lay in bed, body and mind wracked with tense terror. I couldn't even cry out for all my misery. One by one, each figure blessedly finished their piece. With painful slowness, the noise began to wind down.

"—So I got tired. So tired. It wasn't worth it anymore so I just fucking checked out of Hotel Earth. Just because you and the rest of your little pack could never accept me. But you were freaks, too—remember!? You were freaks, too!"

"Everyone believed in you. But you never, ever delivered." An end.

At last, the last one rambled on alone. "—We saw great things in you. Now, you've allowed yourself to disintegrate. Fall apart. You had potential, Violet, but now it's being squandered. Violet! Are you listening?"

I'm listening.

Silence.

I'm listening, I repeated, inside myself. I'm listening…to you. To my inarticulate sobs. I'm listening to the rumpling of the sheets and the pounding in my chest. I'm listening to my breathing. I know that I'm alive out there but in here…in here, I think I'm dead. And it didn't just happen now. I think I died a long time ago, and nobody bothered to tell me.

"Why can't you sleep?" she asked kindly. It was so dark in the room that I could barely even see the outlines of her face, but I knew it was her. She lay down beside me, supporting me against her body. The position was from memory, but the words were all my own.

The dead don't sleep, I answered sullenly.

"You're not dead," she said, her voice full of a sort of nonjudgmental wisdom I would have more easily placed with God than with her. "You're just lost." She stroked my hair affectionately. "You're looking for the right answers, but trust me, they're not in here. They're outside, in the wild, where you can get hurt and you can hurt people. I know you don't want that life, but it's the only way. You have to finish the game."

I just want to go home, I sob to her.

"Where is home!?" she exclaims, cuffing me gently. "Honestly. In utero? You don't have a home anymore, remember?" She looked up suddenly, over her shoulder, as though some unseen force were calling her. "It's time, now," she says. "Go back."

Back where!?

"Back. I know you're afraid, but you have to fight it. Go back."

I'm afraid….

"You're afraid."

What am I afraid of?

Silence.

What am I afraid of?

Darkness. Silence. Everything was gone. I was alone with my own head again. I could feel my tears.

"Why can't you sleep?" she asked, but it was just an echo, simulated by my conscious thoughts.

And then, the answer came to me, like a recording made long ago.

You will not sleep because you are to afraid to dream.

"What am I afraid of?"

I'm afraid of myself.

Myself.

My self, my whole self, sat up in bed. The room was dark, and a breeze blowing in through the white curtains chilled the skin on my wet face. Unconsciously, I wiped the slick of tears away.

Feeling the need for movement, I clumsily stumbled out of bed, and stubbed my toe on the nightstand. The subsequent rush of pain was a sharp reminder of reality and its trappings; I thoughtfully reached down and rubbed my toe, attempting to quell the throbbing.

Wistfully, then, I found myself glancing around, hoping to see her there, sitting quietly in my chair or on the dresser. She had just seemed so…real. In the end, though, I admitted to myself that she had just been another figment; some errant thought's flawless avatar.

I walked to dresser, and lightly brushed my fingers over the wood, and through my strewn belongings. I found her hair-tie and stretched it intently between my fingers a few times. It had her smell to it, and her feeling. It made me shiver, in the realization that my senses had been subject to that very scent and feeling not a few moments ago.

Lying down once more, I closed my eyes and went to sleep. The hair-tie was around my wrist.

Near morning, I had a dream about waking up alive.

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