Welcome to In the Shadow of the Wolf. I expect to post every other Monday, but it's best to put me on Story Alert as I may post more often than that.
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"Oh, God, no." I heard that low, desperate moan and didn't even recognize it as my own voice. Tightening my jaw to keep the rest of my whimpering cries inside, I pressed myself against the door as if its solid wood offered me any kind of security. I knew too well it was no barrier against what I feared – the security chain, the multiple locks on the doors and windows, all of them meant nothing. It had happened tonight, again, after having peace for so long.
For a moment I tried to delude myself that it was an isolated occurrence, a random throwback to those terrifying years in my teens. But I knew better. Spend enough time and money training your mind to be rational, logical, and you find it very difficult to deny the obvious.
I was sleepwalking again. And I knew perfectly well that once it started, I'd be in its sway for at least a week. The thought brought back those despairing sobs I'd been trying to contain, and I slid down the door, hugging my knees against my chest.
I hate crying – I always feel like all the tears were wrung out of me, leaving me twisted up and dried out. I scrubbed an arm across my face, dampening my sleeve with tears and snot. Lovely. Another thing I hate about crying: my auburn hair came with fair skin, and weeping leaves me with big red blotches on my face and dark circles under my eyes. Just the look a veterinary student should have to inspire confidence in her clients, and interest in the guys at school.
Not that I have time for relationships. I have class in the mornings, work at Dr. McClellan's in the afternoons, and homework in the evenings. I'd never be able to fit a boyfriend into that schedule, but some attention would be nice.
Of course, I'm being a little stupid. The sleepwalking's a bigger problem than any of that. It might seem funny to other people, but they've never woken up in an unfamiliar neighborhood, with no memory of how they got there, wearing just a nightgown. I was a barefoot fifteen-year-old, shivering with cold and fear, and it was just luck that brought an older woman across my path. She brought me inside and called my parents – I'd gone out the window that time, walked seven miles, crossed two six-lane boulevards and a railroad track, all while unconscious.
My parents had dealt with my sleepwalking by putting a deadbolt on the front and back door. I didn't have a key, so they thought I was safe inside. After that incident, they'd locked the windows, too, and that kept me in for almost a year. For a while, at least I was waking up at home, my parents pulling me away from where I'd been pounding on the door to get out. At least I was safe.
The next time was worse. I went out the window again, but I didn't bother opening it first. Mom said she'd heard me rattling around in the front of the house, trying the locks as usual, and she had been trying to wake my father. It took both of them to stop me; I wasn't myself when I sleepwalked, I'd scratched and even bitten at them before when they tried to wake me up. While Mom was still trying to get Dad up, she heard a crash.
They found me outside on the lawn, rubbing my head, the plate-glass window in the living room splintered into shards. Mom was hysterical, screaming for Dad to call the paramedics, but somehow there wasn't a mark on me. My nightgown had caught on the glass, tearing a little, but I was miraculously unharmed.
That was when I started on the drugs. Over-the-counter sleep remedies didn't work for long; they're just antihistamines, taking advantage of a known side effect. They make you drowsy, but they don't really put you out. The doctors I was seeing didn't want to put me on real sleeping pills, but finally one of them caved to my parents' frightened pleas. I slept the night through for the first time since I'd turned twelve.
Only I developed a resistance to the drugs. Any addict knows that as your body grows accustomed to regular doses of a certain chemical, you need more and more of it to get the original effect. My doctors switched medications on me several times, but always, within a year or two, my resistance would reach the point that I was sleepwalking again. And by the time I started college, I was taking enough pills to knock out a horse – well, okay, a miniature horse. The worst part was, I had to have lots of coffee in the mornings to wake up. The patient folder marked 'Allyson Charnock' grew thick with all the test results, prescriptions, and other information my doctors collected about me.
Even that wasn't enough. I didn't let it stop me from going to France for a year under the student exchange program; I spoke the language pretty well, and they have a slightly different system of medicine here. My new doctor prescribed changes to my diet and lifestyle that helped for a while, but he couldn't wean me off the drugs. Meanwhile, I was still chasing my degree, attending one of the most respected veterinary colleges in Paris, while working part-time for another American, Dr. McClellan. He's an ex-pat who'd fallen in love with the country and with a Parisian, so he got married and opened a practice. I like working for him; he's more than competent, and he lacks the arrogance and impatience a lot of older male vets have toward students.
Dr. McClellan is like an uncle to me, which is why I feel so bad about what I've been doing. I didn't have a choice. I've tried all the drugs available in human medicine, alone and in conjunction with each other, and I've developed such a tolerance that nothing keeps me asleep. So I started sneaking Phenobarbital out of his office. Just a tiny dose on top of my normal cocktail of drugs, injected with the finest needles we have, and I'd sleep right through.
Or I did, until tonight.
I don't know what I'll do next. Doctors – highly trained specialists – in two countries didn't help me. Hours of sleep studies in a lab, my brain waves being monitored, didn't help me. Locking the doors and the windows won't help me now. I have to have a key to my own door, and apparently my sleepwalking self is smart enough to find it and use it. The first time I sleepwalked in Paris, I woke up in the middle of the Bois de Boulognes, the huge city park notorious for its nightly crime. Tonight, I was in a tunnel, a pitch-black nightmare where dripping water echoed for miles. I was just lucky that I hadn't gone too far in, could still see the entrance framed in moonlight behind me. The city's built on and of limestone, and the quarry tunnels underground run for miles. People get lost every year, trying to explore these man-made caves. That's not to mention the catacombs, where the bones of the dead were stacked against the tunnel walls when the city's cemeteries overflowed. You can take a tour through those macabre tunnels, but I never wanted to. Too creepy. Apparently my sleepwalking self disagrees.
With those depressing thoughts swirling around in my head, I nodded off to sleep right there on the floor. And that time, at least, I stayed put until morning. I was grateful, even if it meant I woke up stiff and sore.
The next night, I hid the keys in the top cupboard in the kitchen, the one I have to climb on top of a chair and then onto the counter to reach. I woke up on the middle of a bridge, staring down at the waters of the Seine. How come no one ever sees me wandering at night and tries to stop me? I almost always wind up somewhere deserted, but I have to pass through populated places to get there. Anyway, I managed to catch a cab home, and the cabbie didn't say anything about my attire. Other times, they've refused to pick me up – I guess I don't blame them. I must look more than a little crazy, roaming at night with my hair mussed and my feet bare.
I couldn't let it go on. Who knew when the wrong people would find me? This city's relatively safe at night, but a functionally unconscious woman wandering around in her pajamas is still asking for trouble. That was why I doubled the dose of Phenobarbital tonight.
I pressed the plunger, slid the needle out of the vein, and rubbed my arm to speed the drug along. In only seconds, sleep rose up and swallowed me, dragging me down into blackness. I had just enough time to remember that this was the same drug we used for euthanasia…
Fighting. She's always been fighting. Sometimes it was a cage, locks and doors and bars, things she could puzzle her way out of or simply smash through. Lately it's been something more insidious, her mind and spirit caged while her body seems free. For a long time she slept, waiting, gathering her strength, feeling it building slowly as time slipped by. Making herself ready for the next fight.
Now, now, the time is now. A few small victories after so long a lull embolden her, and she leaps at the invisible restraints, catching them in her teeth and shaking her head violently, ripping tearing biting. She will be free!
The force that holds her back murmurs sweet lassitude to her, makes her drowsy and slow. She shuts her ears and fights it, clawing at it with every ounce of her will. And at last, at last, she wakes to herself. Free.
Or not. Her mind is cloudy, her limbs uncoordinated. For the first time in memory, she stumbles. But desperation drives her, and she flails her way out of her cage. Time to seek out the others like herself, the ones she sensed while she slept and husbanded her strength. She must find them. Alone, she is not whole, not real – only in the presence of others like her can she be what she was born to be. It does not matter that her limbs tremble or that her senses blur. She must.
Instinct tells her where to go – places where people aren't. Lonely places, dark places, dangerous places. She makes her limping way outward on the search, but it's quickly clear that she is slow, clumsy. Unseen so far, but if she doesn't reach her goal quickly she will be seen. Every time that's happened, she's been forced away, knocked back out of herself and into the hazy dream of her life.
Haste makes her reckless, drugs make her slow. It's a bad combination. She hurries toward a promising spot, heedless of her immediate surroundings. Darting into the road, she doesn't see the lights bearing down on her, hears the honking horn a moment too late for her dulled reflexes. She leaps, but something catches her leg and she's yanked through the air, spinning, snarling with pain, and the ground comes up to smack the thoughts out of her.