A Candlelight Insomniac

By: Kylie Volavongsa

It’s midnight, and he finds that it’s impossible to sleep. He isn’t exactly sure why, though he suspects it’s because his mind has wound itself into a series of complicated knots. There’s an abundance of loose ends as well, and he wonders which one carries the most weight. 

His pillow is getting too hot. 

12:45 AM. Not even an hour gone by, but it feels like he’s been craving sleep far longer than that. When he looks out the window, he doesn’t even see a moon, let alone the sky itself. What appears to be a cloudy evening, he decides, is his new least favorite thing. 

It doesn’t take long for him to realize that he simply can’t close his eyes. Instead, he settles on waiting for sunrise. He’s never witnessed one anyway, and the more he thinks about it, there are a lot of things he’s never seen or done before. 

Despite the activity in his head, he finds that his body is glued to the mattress and bound by the sheets. Solitary confinement, he thinks to himself. When he tries to hum something he’d heard on the radio to pass the time, he realizes that his voice is gone, and that a glass of water would actually be wonderful right now. 

His arms and legs seem to ignore this, as well as the possibility of perhaps being useful. 

The more minutes that tick by, the more he believes that his situation really is similar to that of a prison. He’s trapped, it’s dark, and there’s nothing to do but wait. Come to think of it, he can’t even make out the shape of his fingertips in the inky black that is his surroundings. It’s boring.

It starts to rain, beginning as small, erratic taps on the bedroom window. And he wonders for a minute if someone is throwing rocks outside. Then the wind picks up, and he remembers that he doesn’t know anyone who would want to summon him for adventures in the middle of the night or share secrets that can only be told this late.

He heaves a solitary sigh and tries to 

ignore how his blanket has become a furnace.

It’s been over an hour, and he’s worried that the rain is unending, that maybe he’ll just have to suffer through a different sleepless night for his first sunrise (waking up early just isn’t an option). A newfound resentment, hot and bitter, pools in his stomach. More than anything, he wishes for the clouds to disperse already. By this point, all this sighing and staring at the ceiling has gotten just about as stale as the air in the room. 

Silence and raindrops, 2:47 AM. 

It reaches about 4 AM when things get interesting. Unfortunately, the rain still hasn’t ceased (and he curses it again for its horrible sense of timing), but there’s at least a somewhat larger variety of things to observe from his cell. He’s pretty sure he’s hallucinating thanks to sleep deprivation, a possible heat stroke, and whatever else there could be to blame for his insanity. But he’ll take what he can get for a little entertainment. After all, the sky never seems to make guarantees. 

He thought smoke began to creep in from beneath the bedroom door at first, that it began to slither and coil in tendrils toward the ceiling, then towards him. When he blinked, it was gone, and now a faint orange dances somewhere just beyond his peripheral vision. 

Maybe it’s sleep paralysis. Then again, he doesn’t see the illusion of a demon loitering by his bedside. Maybe it isn’t. Whatever it is, it makes his pupils shake.

He spends the next several minutes blinking furiously to expel the burning glow. It doesn’t work, and he decides once and for all that maybe this really is some strange cocktail of all sorts of sleep related issues. 

The temperature beneath the blanket grows warmer still, and he wishes that he had a hammock instead of a bed. 

5:58 AM, and everything from his frustrations to his hallucinations is figuratively roaring when a thought crosses his mind. That maybe he’s dreamed this same dream before. That a strong sense of deja vu is coming on. That his anxiety is oddly familiar.

Meanwhile, his surroundings die down to a low simmer. His eyelids begin to droop. This is okay, he supposes, but so much for that sunrise. 

He feels himself entering the void, body losing substance. 

They return to the residence as soon as it’s bright enough to. And as soon as the weather lets up. Because at this point, there’s no margin for failure, for any stone to go unturned, for any sort of shadow (whether it be an actual obstruction of light or plain doubt) to sabotage their task. 

Maybe this approach works a bit better than attempting to sort everything at dusk. Underneath a charred and surprisingly large plank, someone finds what seem to be the remains of a large collections of candles. A hardened amalgamation of various colors, splinters, and dark flecks of ash. It isn’t much, but it’s something. Very possibly, a clue. 

It pushes the search crew harder. A neighborhood fire as large as this couldn’t have been victimless, no matter how many people escaped that night. 

Still, they have a long way to go. 

It’s midnight and he’s restless again.