I’m tired. I can’t remember the last time I had a good night’s sleep.
Up at 4, trudging cold through shadow and cars, bust my hump, on my feet through the long, hot days and nights. Ten hours, twelve hours, 14 hours, sure! 16 hours, 18 hours, 20 hours, more!
I stuff my body with takeaways and on-the-runs. I cannot not remember the last time I turned on a tv, or even remember seeing one on. I leave in the dark, I come home in the dark, plastic sack of shit-for-dinner rustling in my fist, wheezing from too many cigarettes, head thump-thump-thumping.
Back to the SleepShit. The Beige. A nothingnness place with borrowed and lost furniture, the whole of which would fit quite neatly into a shipping container.
Cold and dark, it smells of beige. Tastes like beige. I sleep in beige. No light from the windows. No moon, no trees. Bedsprings and bedfarts and never any dreams.
If I sleep for more than two hours at a stretch, I know I’ll actually feel not-so-shitty in the morning but I know that’s a lie too, and I lay awake, staring a the static-y dark. The broken TV of night.
I hear myself breathe, I hear myself breathe. I time my ticking heart, and I cough through the wheeze.
Sometimes I squint at the brightness of my shiny flat phone, a false moon in the deepening dark.
It delivers to me the whole world in video, the whole world in picture, the whole world in text. Sometimes it never lets me sleep at all, and I notice the waking sun and I see the battery near flat, and I realize with finality, that I have not slept, again.
I cannot go on. I cannot sleep. I cannot rise and I cannot live. I cannot go on. I must sleep.
The thought of eating makes me sick. The thought of the disgusting process we do to eat, we open our slavering insect sphincters to shove nutrients and the broiled-dead into our head-sacs and ohthesound when we chew. Sit in a room, at the mall, on a Sunday afternoon, when the place is overheated and full with the fattening damned. Close your eyes, if you dare, and listen to them. It sounds like the end-of-the-world-by-locust. Endless hunger, the endless. The thought of eating makes me sick and I know I still must. Another greasy burger, another bowl of salty chips, another fatty kebab, another cold pork sausage, another bag of cheese-flavored shit. Locust-like, I must keep ahead of the swarm, keep fueling the beast, eating and shitting and puking and pissing and blowing my nose and wiping my ass.
The beast has the day off. Saturday. Again. I should get some sleep, I always say I should. I always lie down to sleep on Friday night, knowing I can rise tomorrow as late as I wish, I can get up at dinner and have breakfast. Waffles and scotch. But when the sun rises and I’m bleary-eyed again, I know I’ll just lay awake, watching the sun move across the sky, and I get up.
I pound my flesh with scalding water, the best part of the day, warm and safe, and I feel like if I had a chair, and a comfy pillow, then I could just drift off in the steam and the rain. I slump against the cool wall, my forehead kissing the beige tiles, and I almost sleep. If it were to be anywhere, it would be there. I never bothered to think about the horrible, inevitable awakening in the cold spray, the hot long gone, shivering and sick.
Cups of tea and toast and outside to smoke a fag. Birds. People. Life. I go back inside. I contemplate the TV. I never turn it on. Think of the bed. Consider sleep. The warm blankets, the soft pillows. I go back outside and smoke. I cannot face those sweaty sheets. That close air. I’m so tired.
I pitch the smoke into the dirt patch that serves as my yard. It joins a thousand others. The visible graveyard of the death of my lungs. Many tombstones go up every day. Today will be no different.
The sky is blue, but patchy. Maybe rain later. Rain is good. Rain is relaxing. Some good thunder would really be nice. When was the last time I even heard a thunderstorm? When I was a kid, I heard them practically every week in the summer. Feels like years since the last one. Feels like years since the lightning. Feels like years since the rain.
When I went back inside, that’s when I saw the wolf.
It was sitting on my chair, my broken-down chair, tail curled around my remote control, head down on its paws, its golden-ringed eyes beaming right at me. I froze, and the screen door slammed shut behind me, and I think I jumped.
The wolf picked it’s head up, gurned a blue-toothed grin, laughed and said, “You look like terrible, Frank.”
I scoffed. “So would you if you hadn’t slept in a thousand years.” Fumbled for another smoke. Wondered if the great hairy bastard was going to eat me, and oh God, I don’t want my balls and belly chewed out. I nearly dropped the lighter, a finger-ballet of clumsiness, ultimately rescued, that ended with a satisfying lungful and that watery-stinging smoke-in-the-eye half-squint at the dripping beigeness of my nothingness place and the wolf, like some cutout in the world, crisped at the edges.
The wolf said, “You should get some sleep, Frank. You looked like toasted shit.”
I barked a laugh. “Fuck you, wolf.”
Wolf jumped down off the chair, barked at me and said, “HEY! ASSHOLE! I’m trying to help you! But hey, you wanna keep acting like a smartass, I can just go.”
Wolf cut a figure 8 while he talked, his tail held just so, invoking permissions unseen to me, at first.
He barked again and said, “We got two choices here Frank. Up to you which way those choices take us. I’m just a facilitator, Frank. I’m just a working stiff. I don’t make the choices. I just enforce ’em. Dig?”
I laughed. “Dig? Did you really just say, “Dig?” like we brothers or something?” I laughed again. “Fucking spirit animals and I get the angry henchman routine.” Opened the door and pitched the butt out into the graveyard.
When I turned back, Wolf was right up on me. His blue teeth were huge. He was staring at me.
I was backed against the wall, and I think I almost pissed myself.
“Lets. Get. Something. Straight.”, Wolf said. “You. Pathetic Dipshit. Me. Helpful assistant. We clear?”
The urge to retort, “Crystal! (sir!)” bubbled up maniacally before I kicked it in the face, I breathed deep, coupla times, looked Wolf in the eye and said, as sincerely as I could. “What. The fuck. Do you want?”
I could see small tears in the air. Shimmery rips, that eye-rubbing would not banish. Wolf gave me some breathing room, cutting circles and shapes with his body, round and round again, always staring at me, moving his head almost lazily as his body carved and conjured, swiveling round to keep me pinned with those golden-ringed eyes.
“I want what you want, Frank. I want you to get some sleep. You would like to sleep, right?”
I scratched a hairy chin. “Well, yeah. Um. Sure. That’d be really great and… yeah. Yeah I could sleep, maybe. Dunno. Been a while.” I grinned at Wolf. He threw it right back to me. “Not really tired right now, but, you know. Yeah. Eventually. Sure….you know? Maybe.”
Wolf stopped. Sat and said, “Are you shittin me Frank? You haven’t slept in fourteen hundred and eighty-some-odd days, Frank. Fourteen HUNDRED! Don’t you think its time?”
I shrugged. Laughed. “Time. I get it.” Chuckled. I asked if I could sit in my chair. Wolf moved. Watched me sit. The air seemed wrinkled. Smelled of something. I couldn’t place it. Not sweet and not burnt. But…something. I reached for a cigarette, but when I looked up, they were under Wolf’s hairy paw. Like a magic trick. I considered asking. Wolf growled, one lip peeled showing those bright blue teeth. I put the lighter away.
Wolf just stared. I stared right back at him. God he was beautiful. That pelt. Those eyes. He probably was having the reverse kinda reaction to me. Those hooves. That snout. He probably felt sick.
Finally I blurted, “Fine! I don’t want to sleep, ok? Alright? That ok with you? The fuck do you care anyway? Who asked ya!”
Before I could really get warmed up, and take the argument to dangerous places, Wolf intervened.
“YOU asked me, Frank! You!”
I stopped. Shook my head. “The hell you talking about?”
Wolf cut a figure 8. The air thickened.
“Hell is right, Frank. You made a deal remember. Late one night, drunk off your ass, high on whatever, horny as shit, bored as hell. Don’t you remember? Whispered in the darkness, trading all you have for the power – whatever pathetic thing you wanted at the time, who knows? Remember, Frank? Remember?”
My mind scrambled through the swamp of a lifetime, searching for drunken nuggets, some proof of my alleged stupidity, some fragment of evidence that would convince me or him or both that there was no way this could be true (no way there was anything legally binding, for fuck’s sake), when Wolf started laughing. A real gutbuster. I looked up him and if he could have wiped laughter tears away, he would have, and said, “Just messing with you, Frank. There’s no such thing as Hell. Well… at least, not the way you think of it. Relax.” Wolf laughed again. “Oh man, you should have seen your face. Classic.”
I threw the lighter at him, I missed by a mile. “You insufferable bastard! You made me think that…oh just fuck off, man! Go haunt somebody else!”
Wolf sobered. “I can’t, Frank. You know this. I wasn’t lying about before. You called me here. Your desperation has caused an imbalance that must be addressed. Sorrow has a peculiar vibration, through quantum acoustics, did you know that? I’m here to help. Let me. Or send me away. But choose.”
I rubbed my eyes. My head hurt. And I was so damn tired. The air was still dancing around me, and I could feel the slight pressure from the charged atmosphere on my clammy skin. Choose or die. Maybe both. So tired. Maybe I could sleep. Just for a minute. Just for five minutes. Just for a minu—-”
Wolf watched Frank slide into a sleep that would not end for a very long time. Chin-on-chest, hella bad for your neck, Wolf thought. He cut a figure 8 and carved shapes in the air with his tail.
When the final equations were complete, the vibrations melded into harmony and the air turned solid as glass for a moment, and door appeared. It had no color, no shape, no shadow. And yet. It opened and the figure of Frank, carved from bone and gristle, walked through its undoorway and into the beigeness of Frank’s living-now sleeping-room. Wolf nodded to the Unfrank. Unfrank had eyes only for his sleeping twin.
It saw with a desperate hunger, an insatiable need to feed upon the suffering that buffeted its waking mind in pulses of ecstatic lashings, an endless shoreline of hunger and lust.
Wolf spoke the Word. Unfrank finally acknowledged the Agent called Wolf. Unfrank spoke the Word.
The deal was done.
Unfrank took two strides towards sleeping Frank and vanished from the visible spectrum. Permissions were not needed, Frank had signed away his rights. Wolf had followed the Law. Frank chose to ignore it, and now it was out of his hands.
Wolf wondered how long God would let them get away with it. How long could they operate with impunity and not be called to account. Wolf knew that his hands were covered in blood. He was what he was and he would not change if he could, but he wondered, just wondered, sometimes, what if, what if God truly didn’t care about these creatures. What if all the Agents that Wolf knew did their jobs so well, that they claimed every last one of them. What then? What would Wolf become then?
Unfrank had no such existential crises. He was busy testing out the controls, playing with the mirrors, fiddling with the radio. Frank had many options. Frank was an oldie, but a goodie, a real vintage, and Unfrank couldn’t have been happier. Until Frank noticed Unfrank. Unfrank loves screaming.