Something was shining brightly on the bedroom floor, casting the moonlight directly into Brian's eye. He rolled away from it, irritated, but the movement helped nothing — the glare was still piercing. That was all right, he hadn't been sleeping well anyway; hadn't been for some time.
Kelsey had teased him about it. She would angle her glasses down, looking over the rims, and in a drawling affectation, say "Class-ic case. Textbook in-som-nia." She drew out the statement, holding the syllables as if they were whole words. He would chuckle and she would giggle, and then she would fall asleep and he would stare upwards at the ceiling, alternating between his frustration at being awake and his joy at having her asleep next to him.
Of course, in those days, he had been able to get in a couple hours every once in a while. The pills his doctor prescribed helped sometimes, and on rare occasions his body cooperated naturally, replenishing him with energy like a camel taking in water for a trip across the desert. Brian remembered looking good in those days: Kelsey insisted he was a catch, anyway, and he was all too willing to grin, shake his head in an 'aw shucks' sort of a way, and accept the compliment.
He wondered whether she would be able to classify him that way in his current condition. Lately, Brian felt, his body was displaying a bad case of life imitating art: he had become the textbook def-in-it-ion of an insomniac. A halo of frazzled mousy-brown hair hovering above bloodshot, baggy eyes, a frame that seemed to retreat into itself, twitching, beetle-like. A creature that seemed unrecognizable to Brian when he saw it glaring at him from the bathroom mirror.
He blinked twice, owlishly. Without his glasses, the room was a silver-washed blur. Even with the moonlight pouring in, he was practically blind. "Built for caves and tunnels, darling," Kelsey had said, as she tried not to laugh at his clumsy attempts to navigate their first apartment together at night. He remembered her half-crooked smile in perfect definition, could see it much more clearly than the room he'd been sleeping in for five years. Brian supposed there was some delicious irony in that.
With a grunt of bedsprings, a firm shape rested itself in the empty space on the bed to Brian’s right, pulling him back from his memories. He arched his back through the sheets against it. Molly was a good dog, a comfort and a companion. The adoption agency had written ‘German Shepherd mix’ on the paperwork, but from her size alone, anyone could see the mastiff in her blood. She was practically bigger than Brian — maybe really was, after all the weight he’d lost in the last few months. He felt her sigh, envied her natural ability to doze off without pills or hypnosis. Brian assumed she must have been digging in the yard that evening, because she brought with her the deep, earthy smell of freshly turned soil. He wondered absently if he would have to wash the bedsheets in the morning.
"Good girl," he mumbled, rolling back on his side, searching for that perfect position that would trip the switch and send him off to sleep. There was that glare again: the moon was awfully bright, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Brian sighed audibly. Once, the sleepless nights seemed to him a quirk, a curio, an oddness of his physiology that he was almost proud of. After Kelsey, it felt more like the symptom of an illness he hadn’t known he carried.
"You're not doing me any favors," he growled in the general direction of the sky. Brian rolled on his back. It was no more comfortable than the last hundred times he had done it. He wobbled back and forth for a moment, a child’s tantrum slowed to a fraction of its speed and just as doomed to failure. He was awake.
With an exasperated grunt, Brian swung himself out of the bed. As if the insomnia wasn’t enough, nature had also equipped him with a bladder he supposed was maybe big enough to hold a couple tablespoons of Bud Lite at a time. At night, it was always playing catch-up with him; he’d wake, and by the time he was ready to fall back asleep there the need was, swelling against the inside of his stomach like a hot stone.
The habit had become so ingrained that he didn't even consider putting on his glasses before venturing out of the bedroom. He could, by now, travel to the bathroom and back without them, but more importantly, he was safer from the Horrors if he was blind.
He shuffled to the open door, already feeling their attention drawn to him: dozens of pairs of eyes, shifting slowly to focus on his frail, slim body. Their glassy hides sucked in the bright moonlight greedily, reflecting it back in sharp blades of illumination. Despite his failing eyes, Brian could see the beams, like knife edges. On darker nights, the Horrors might have been sleeping, or content to lurk in the pools of shadow, allowing him passage unnoticed through their territory. Tonight, they were awake, and restless. He was certain that had he put on his glasses, they would have descended on him, like lions descending on the weak antelopes at the edge of the herd.
Pace, pace, pace — he timed each step carefully, deliberately. With disguised calm, Brian crossed into the bathroom, shut the door with a sharp click. He exhaled in relief, savored the sound of the whispery little ventilation fan susurrating into the room to accompany the slight buzzing of the halogen light. He lifted the toilet lid, feeling his stomach relax as he urinated. He flushed, flipped the lid shut again (even in an otherwise unoccupied house — “You’re not an animal, darling, try to act like a civilized person!”) and turned to face the door.
The return journey down the hallway was somehow less fraught. Brian felt emboldened; he moved with greater speed than usual. Where the walk to the bathroom had felt like an agonizing eternity, setting foot back in the bedroom seemed to occur almost immediately. He reclaimed his space in the bed — Molly had stayed on her side, so his half had gone a little cold, the imprint betraying him as it turned clammy. It was yet another obstacle on the path to sleep, which Brian was beginning to realize might become a genuine issue. Sooner or later, he’d start getting real problems from the lack of sleep. The problems Kelsey had called, simply enough, the Big Ones.
He didn’t want to have a Big One. Of course, neither had she.
Molly drew a long, shuddering breath next to Brian, the vibration passing through the mattress into his ribs. The moonlight was still maddening. He had failed to notice whatever was casting it back at him during his trip to the bathroom. Brian wondered what time it was: a peculiarity of this new form of sleeplessness was a certain disorientation when it came to time. He used to have a decent sense of it, but as he adjusted to a life without Kelsey, the progression blurred, and the space between dusk and dawn was rendered opaque. The clock by his bedside was a greenish slab of light, digits no more recognizable without his glasses than individual atoms to a normal eye. Brian grimaced and flapped his hand around the stand for his glasses. He could walk halfway to the corner gas station without them, but could he find the damn things where he left them the night before? Not a chance.
His pawing knocked various items aside and allowed moonlight to slap the lenses of the glasses, providing an easy target for him. Brian grabbed, misjudging the delicacy of his reach and planting his fingers firmly against the left lens. He cursed under his breath. There was a cloth somewhere on the stand, but the sheet would do just as well to wipe them off. He polished mindlessly, fingers drawing circles across the glass. Finishing his work, he slipped them onto his face.
The cold of the stems against his temples stung minutely for a second, jerking his senses ever so slightly. The world swam into focus, moonlight lubricating every surface and sheen in the room. He could see the green digits of the clock reading 3:42. The delicate carved bedpost by his head, with a stain on one section from where Kelsey had lost her balance while using nail polish remover. The moon was still bouncing off of something in the corner of the room. Something broad, like a mirror, or serving tray, or a
Brian blinked, confused. He hadn’t brought a drink to bed — nothing to spill. He leaned up, craning his neck to get a better look.
His gaze met Molly’s, staring sightlessly from the far side of the room. The dog was dead. There was no question of that. Her mouth broken open, a stub of tongue left from having been cut
out of her skull. The gorms of her mouth shredded so deep the white of bone was visible. Her neck not just cut, not even gouged, but simply removed — a sucking crater so deep it disappeared into shadow. Her rear legs, almost beyond his vision, splayed as though someone had tried to pry them away like chicken legs.
He took in each nightmarish wound impassively, caught like Polaroid photographs in the icy calm as adrenaline rose like a storm tide. His mind attempted to reconcile the suddenness of this nightmare with the stillness of the room.
The thing in the bed next to him was discordantly quiet. No longer breathing deeply in sleep.