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“It’s sleep paralysis. I Googled it,” I said.
“I value your internet skills, but remember I am the doctor,” Dr. Smythe told me dryly. I got the impression he was mocking my self-researching abilities.
“I’m just saying, sounds like it to me.”
Dr. Smythe leaned back in his chair as he flipped through my novel-sized file. “You have delayed onset insomnia with restorative sleep problems.”
“Yes and have since I was a kid. I seem to recall you saying sleeping pills were addictive and habit forming, yadda, yadda. I think over time I have just gotten used to a few hours a night.”
“Explain to me these sleep problems.”
“Well, it’s like sleep paralysis,” I replied with a cheeky grin.
“Feel free to hold the sarcasm.”
“All right. I wake up and I can hear the room, my breathing and so forth. But I’m unable to move or open my eyes. The first time it really freaked me out, and it took a good fifteen minutes of inwardly thrashing madly before I managed to wiggle my finger. Sometimes that is all there is. Sometimes I’m dreaming at the same time. I wake up in my room, unable to move, but there are dream elements as well. Something attacking me, biting the back of my legs, or trying to drag me off the bed. The room seems oppressively dark. In fact, the reason I know I’m sleeping is because while everything looks normal, it feels very wrong and the darkness is too oppressive.”
“Hmmm. Sleep paralysis is common in someone who is sleep deprived.”
“I’m always sleep deprived. You don’t need to tell me the effects of constant lack of sleep. I caught the damn flu eighteen times last year, several times I think I caught it from myself.”
“While this may be a new aspect to your sleeping disorders it’s not unexpected. It is unfortunate the medications we tried did not improve your sleep quality.”
“Yes, the meds with a side effect of drowsiness. I’m not sure if they improved my sleep quality or not, since I still had problems actually getting to sleep and staying there. Maybe the two hours I got were super good ones.”
Dr. Smythe held up his hands in defeat. “All right. We are going to try a new class of sleeping pill with you. It has been suggested it works well for long-term use and should help with both problems. Plus we will keep you on the other medication as well.”
“Compounding medications sounds like fun,” I said when actually I was silently doing a happy dance for the sleeping pills. I would rather wrestle a rotund smelly man than try and convince a doctor that sleeping pills might actually be the solution to a sleeping disorder. But I could not actually come out and ask for them because clearly, that would be ‘drug seeking’ behavior.
Dr. Smythe grunted in response. The old coot had an amazing tolerance for my frequent visits. It was my firm belief we saw too much of each other. He scribbled on his prescription book, tore off a page and thrust it at me. I took it, scanned it, and naturally, it looked a lot like Egyptian hieroglyphics. I did not care what the medication was called, to me it was like crack or ambrosia; it would give me that elusive uninterrupted night of sleep that I craved so much.
“See me in six months for an update,” he said and I smiled politely. The fact was I would see him long before that. I was getting frequent migraine attacks that were proving difficult to treat. My theory was lack of sleep made my brain cranky.
I stood up. “Right.”
From there I drove straight to the local pharmacy, the sort of place that knew me by name these days. I sat there waiting for my order to be ready, smiling slightly at my success.
Insomnia is the plague of a bright, sparkly, fast-paced society. It just went to show you could not always get what you needed, what you most ardently desired, even if that thing was just a couple hours of solid sleep. Everyone seemed to have trouble getting a full nights rest these days. I had very little sympathy though since I had not slept through the night since I was ten years old, possibly before that since my childhood memories were as hazy as dreams.
When I arrived home I settled down, trying to mellow out with some TV to get the old brain to slow down. Usually, my night time protocol involves this. Spontaneously I decided to go to bed early and while preparing for bed, decide to try and sleep first before taking the new medication. Maybe just the fact that I have them there, available, will help me sleep. I flip on the radio to play softly in the background because any muffled noise at night grabs my attention and sometimes I imagine burglars or rats in the wall to explain them. After settling in under my enormous duvet, I closed my eyes and just willed sleep. However, even with sustained effort, sleep cannot be willed. So for a while I daydreamed about the new hot pharmacist, plotted various schemes to take over the world and then briefly thought on the beginning of the universe to perhaps confuse my brain. I glanced at the clock and discovered it is consistently going forward as time tends to do.
With a very exaggerated sigh of annoyance, I flipped onto my back. I find changing positions can sometimes trick my mind into thinking it is comfortable. When this is not successful I try the ‘flip the pillow to the nice and cool side’ trick, then begin the ‘wiggle your feet until you tire yourself out’ plan. This is when I noticed a slight line of light outlining my window, which was absurdly irritating to me. I preferred to sleep in pure blackness, anti-light if you will, and thus had closed blinds with a thick blanket over top. At the precise point my head began to ache with a dull throb, which perhaps anticipated a migraine or, if lucky, a tumor, I gave up with the ruse of sleeping.
With a groan and several mumbled curse words, I roll myself upright. Padding out of the bedroom with the grace of a drunken monkey I aimed for the bathroom, steadying myself by running my fingertips along the wall and peering, squinty like, into the gloom. I flicked on the bathroom light and immediately feel the light stab into my eyes and rip around my brain, seeming to ricochet on the sides of my skull.
I groggily shuffled through the collection of bottles I have, obviously including herbal sleep remedies that are ineffective but I tend to take anyway on the off chance they might be doing something I am unaware of. I land upon the newest member of the collection and struggle a few minutes with the lid because apparently the lids now are child, elderly and migraine proof. Snapping off the lip I took out one pale blue pill. I wondered at the color choice because it seems to me sleeping pills are always blue, as though blue implies sleep. Just like pills for depression are always ‘happy’ colors like pink. I popped the pill in my mouth and taste just pure bitterness before I force the thing down. I suspected the taste is intentionally put into the mix, to prevent people from having any desire to take a fistful of the things.
I caught my reflection in the mirror and grimaced. It came to no surprise I am currently, entirely, too single. My wavy hair had formed a sort of knot on the side of my head from all the tossing and turning, and not the sort of messy that looks sexy and disheveled either. The fact I am cursed with pale blond hair, with naturally pale skin that rarely sees sunlight, makes me look so pale I might be ill. While migraines are a disease, it is the sort you can sometimes hide and pretend to be healthy, but tended to make me look like I had the flu or was slightly constipated. My eyes seem to be sinking into my skull, an impression made by the black smudges under them and there seems to be more red than white or blue. Just lovely. Shuffling back to bed I crawled under the sheets once more.
I could not say when the pill kicked it, but when it did it was sudden. I felt a sensation of falling and when I tried to jerk myself away I found I could not move. Being somewhat accustomed to the whole sleep paralysis thing, I did not panic and try the madly flailing of my limbs, as I admit I did the first few times. The thought of a sleeping pill locking me into a state of sleep paralysis all night long did cross my mind and caused a momentary panic. Then to add to the strangeness I felt vertigo, but not in my head, but rather as though my entire body were spinning in a pit of darkness.
The dream hit me with a sudden jolt, an almost physical jolt really. I found myself in a serene forest glade. I was a bit relieved, after weeks of dreams involving the enveloping, oppressive darkness, this was new and not at all threatening.
I blinked a few times. “Different. But different is good.”
Still, I was aware I was dreaming, a state I often believed was due to the fact I was dreaming in the lighter stages of sleep. I used to find lucid dreaming rather entertaining. I could fast forward and rewind as I altered my dream. However, sometimes knowing I was dreaming took a bit of fun out of the phenomena. It was rather like trying to imprint in my memory an enjoyable event, while I was actually doing the event, such that the distancing from the experience decreased the pure joy of it. Since on its own the subconscious could come up with some fantastic stuff, I now tended not to alter the natural flow of the dream, even if I was aware of the act itself.
The breeze brushed against my cheek and ruffled my hair. I was amazed at the realness of the sensation. I was alone and the scene, other than the forest around me, was empty of other props. A rather plain start. I was used to having very entertaining dreams. It seemed my mind made up for the lack of sleep by piling as much symbolism as possible into one. The nightmares were as vivid as any other, but much to be avoided. I concentrated on the surroundings, trying to switch the scene or even fast forward, but everything remained to same despite my furrowing of brow.
Oddly enough I still wore my pink plaid PJ bottoms with a white tank top. It was not the sort of thing one stomped around the forest in and I would have thought my mind would know better. Spinning in a slow circle I tried to choose a direction. As I completed the full turn I was surprised to see an old man approaching me. A very thin old man with a wild tuft of white hair, a flowing beard, and a thick knotted walking stick clutched in his fist. Of course, what stood out was that he was wearing a navy blue robe with arcane symbols on it that screamed ‘I am a magician and will perform at children’s parties.’
The man’s piercing blue eyes locked on me when he stopped abruptly in front of me, then he looked back the way he came.
"Yes, well, you should have been over there and not here at all. I suppose I could have miscalculated... the spin of the spheres... or perhaps the translation," he mumbled, not really at me.
"Ah, hello," I said to get his attention. "My name is Lily. You‘re Merlin, I suppose."
He looked at me directly again with a puzzled look seeming to see me for the first time. "What? Oh, I see. Yes, well, I’m the wizard Piadre. I didn’t think a calling would come with a name. I had some rather impressive names picked out you know. Quite odd. And female as well. I had thought this would be somewhat different. That is, I was expecting something grander. A lot of effort went into that spell, you know, a lot of effort."
"Okay. Clearly, I have been reading too many fantasy novels. If I had known they were going to directly influence my dreams I would have chosen one of those juicy historical romances with the real steamy sex scenes. But no, I get an old befuddled wizard."
"Befuddled!" he said, straightening himself up. "I will have you know that it takes a lot of skill to create a being from nothing, you know, a lot of skill. I cannot be blamed for your being a woman. Or that you should have appeared over there. Simply small deviations. I can understand this must be all very confusing for you..."
"I’m not confused, but perhaps you are. I’m dreaming and you’re a figment of my overactive imagination," I interrupted. It was unavoidable that I mention the fact I was dreaming at this point.
He frowned at me, his bushy eyebrows almost connecting. "Why would you think you are dreaming? How would a calling know what dreaming was, to begin with?"
"What’s a calling?"
"I suppose I should explain things, it is only right that I do. I created you with grand spellcraft. It took four months to finish. Five days of fasting. Two months of careful celestial calculations. The ritual itself took precise timing and five... five endowed rune stones. All to create the perfection of your form and endow your flesh with spirit."
"Hmm, interesting. I think I should be impressed. Clearly, I’m not this 'calling'. I am me, and I have been me for twenty-six years. My parents created this body, not you, so perhaps you got something wrong. Wronger. Perhaps your calling is somewhere else. Or perhaps you called that bird over there. Or perhaps, and this is a little weird, perhaps you called yourself into my dream."
"You are clearly mistaken. Every memory you have has been placed within you by the spell. I didn’t require an empty vessel. That would not do at all. I created your form. I can tell my own work when I see it. I see the fresh runes dancing on your skin. I admit I may have put the wrong thoughts into the spell since clearly, you are not what I anticipated. Still, it has worked, and I will have to study my results carefully."
He stepped closer to me and peering at me intensely. He was getting into my personal space and so stepping back and holding my hands up I said, "Hold on, old man. You’re not going to study anything on me, thank you very much. Look.” I held my arms out, touching a scar that ran up my forearm for a few inches. "See that scar. That scar is two years old and a lesson why someone my age should not attempt to rollerblade. Would a perfectly created being have scars? Not likely. And let me tell you this body is far from perfect, in fact, it is rather broken. I have half a mind to ask you to make a new one; without the distracting pain part and perhaps slightly bigger breasts."
He leaned in to study the scar but then pulled back sharply. "It is not broken! It is perfect. I have never made anything that was flawed. Not ever. I may get something different than I wanted, but whatever I get, is perfect."
I smiled slightly. "You don't sound as though you are the most skilled wizard around. What exactly were you intending to call?"
He looked insulted for a moment. "Well, it is the first time I have ever done such a spell. I did have to work on the translation for many years, you know, and that is not easy. Ancient Edierian is a complex language. They put words together to make new words. And they make up words. How am I to translate words that are made up?"
"Right. What were you trying to create?" I repeated.
"I was trying to call forth a hero. A hero with particular traits. One that would defeat our enemies."
"Seriously? A hero? So did you define exactly what your hero was to be like? It's exact purpose? Or did you just say ‘I want a hero’ and hope the spell defined 'hero' in the way that you defined 'hero' and gave you want you wanted? These things must be specific you know. I have read many a story where spells go array because things were not explicit."
"Then we should establish what type of hero you are.”
"I don't think I really am a hero, per se. I once saved a stray dog so I must be a hero to that dog. The dog did run away though, so not sure that’s a great example. Actually, I would say I’m rather indifferent to most things and I think really, a hero should be the sort to be passionate about some cause or at the very least do charity. Again, I have to say I’m not this calling of yours. I cannot defeat any enemies, not unless you called a gun as well, and even then, I’ve never actually used a gun. Besides, it is rather unrealistic to expect one person to defeat your enemies. One person's vote doesn’t really even do all that much. And really rather rude for you to expect me to solve your problems."
He pulled my arm out before I could pull away and muttered under his breath. Bright blue symbols flickered on my skin, actually under the skin and I felt a sort of uncomfortable fluid sensation as though some sort of parasite was slithering under there. "Neat," I said after he gave me a look of expectation.
He released me with a satisfied smile. "See. I created you. You are my creation. It is possible that I endowed this body with a dead spirit rather than raw energy. Perhaps I got the whole hero thing wrong."
"It was an impressive show of magic," I said, pulling her arm away and rubbing it thoughtfully. My skin tingled, however, such neurological brain hiccups were hardly unknown to me. "It doesn’t prove anything really. After all, I’m dreaming, and I would like you to prove that I’m not. Also, I’m not a dead spirit and this is not just some body created out of your mind, it is my body exactly. Well, I’m sure it is exactly, but I lack a mirror to prove that. Still, I’m fairly certain I know my own body when I am in it."
"You would not remember that you are dead," he argued. "You would remember the last moment of your life."
"Then I had one severe reaction to a few sleeping pills. If that is so, then how did you create a body which is exactly like my former body?" I demanded, knowing it was ridiculous to argue with the dream mage.
"If I accidentally called a dead spirit into the mold I was creating then it would affect the result and, in fact, your spirit would impose it's will onto the form, since all spirits have a firm mental image of who they are."
"All right. You say you created me from a fouled up spell. That you created my body and implanted my memories, or accidentally implanted my dead spirit in the body you made. And I say I’m dreaming, what you said is all quite impossible and none of this is real, including you. Rather hard to prove one way of the other, isn't it? Although, I must say this situation is very fanciful and magic doesn’t exist, so really my story makes more sense. Because if you implanted my memories then I would know how to be the hero you sought and I would presumably know that magic is possible. If I were a dead spirit implanted in a body again presumably I had lived around here and again would be familiar with magic. Since magic doesn’t exist clearly what you say is impossible, you’re a figment of my imagination and all this is one hell of a vivid dream. Not really an entertaining dream, but somewhat amusing. Philosophical really.”
"This is not a dream, because I’m real and I’m not sleeping," the wizard stated firmly as though it were obvious.
"But I am sleeping and a dream wizard may say just that."
He frowned. "Well, how can I prove that I am real?"
"There is no way to prove that, my friend. There is no way to prove a dream from reality, you should read Rene Descartes. Certainly, nothing you can say is going to make this situation plausible."
"I suppose I could destroy you and then you would know but then I would have ruined a perfectly good spell. I have no time to argue the nature of reality and perception with a calling. A particularly irritating calling. No, I think I will have to bring you back with me and look over that spell."
"Which way do you plan on going?"
He pointed back behind him. "That is where I created the ritual spell. Behind that is my keep and my companions on this quest. We will be there in a few hours."
"Well it just so happens that I am going that way," I said, pointing in the opposite direction.
"But that is the wrong way."
"It is my dream, my friend. I’m sure I will find something just as entertaining that way, rather than following you. Pink bunny rabbits or frolicking naked men."
"You will find a marsh and a particularly foul smelling giant. I cannot let you run around alone you know. A calling running around loose. That would be foolish."
"Pity, because I’m not going with you. It would be foolish to follow a mad figment of my imagination, one who cannot even do a proper spell."
"I was not planning on giving you a choice really," he replied and with a word a blue rune appeared in the air and rushed towards me.
I threw up my hands to protect my face and the next thing I knew, with a thump, I was on the bedroom floor tangled in blankets.
Dazed, I blinked a few times and still felt a heavy, cotton ball head feeling from the pill. Glancing at the alarm clock it was easy to determine I had not been out long, but that short span had been a deep sleep.
"Now those are some odd pills," I mumbled and crawled back up into bed and instantly fell back to sleep, plummeting into the unknown and glad for the escape.