fiction

THE AFFLICTED

Chris R-1110228 Image by Christine Renney

Tyler was amongst the first to stop sleeping. It was quite possible he was at the head of the chain, although officially it would not be recognised because Tyler didn’t tell. He did not want to offer himself up for scrutiny and, despite everything, he held to this and managed alone.
At first, Tyler believed the insomnia was the beginning of something else; that he was coming down with a fever, a virus of some sort. That it was just a freakish interlude and that the excess energy would eventually lay him low and that after a few days in bed he would recover.
A couple of sleepless nights didn’t seem so unusual and in fact, whilst at work, Tyler forgot. It wasn’t until late in the evening when his wife was readying for bed that he realised he didn’t feel tired and it was then that he remembered he hadn’t slept.
Nevertheless, Tyler followed her upstairs and lay beside her in the bed. For a third night he stared blankly in the darkness and he tossed and turned, trying but failing to settle and the following day he didn’t forget.
Tyler began to worry. Something was happening or, more accurately, had already happened. He neither could nor needed to sleep and that night, the fourth night, for the first time Tyler abandoned his bed.
He untangled himself from the twisted duvet and his sleeping wife and, in his robe and bare feet, padded out onto the landing. He hovered for a moment – he didn’t know what to do or where to go.

He stood at the sink with a glass of juice and peered through the window, trying to see into the garden. His wife appeared in the doorway and Tyler watched her reflection in the glass as she moved toward him.
‘Can’t you sleep?’ she asked.
‘No.’
‘Why not?’
‘I don’t know. Just not tired.’
‘Aren’t you feeling well?’
‘I feel fine,’ he snapped. ‘I’m not tired, that’s all.’
She reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder.
‘Come on,’ she said, ‘let’s go back up.’
‘No, not now. It’s not worth it.’
‘Don’t be silly, of course it is. Come on,’ she urged, ‘let’s go.’
Tyler turned.
‘You go,’ he said softly, ‘I’ll be up in a few minutes.’
He watched her in the hallway, sleep already reclaiming her and it almost had her but she would of course make it back to their bed.
Tyler placed the glass, still untouched, on the counter and he leaned back against the sink. He waited like that until it was time for him to get ready for work.

Even before the end of the second week, on the eleventh day in fact, the others began to emerge. At first it was just something on the internet with only those directly affected participating. But they were doing what Tyler could not do; they were talking, desperately trying to understand, to make sense of it and wanting to be heard and believed.
Tyler studied the news on the web. Late in the night, whilst his wife was sleeping, he sat with his tablet, frantically scouring site after site, scanning from page to page, reading and re-reading all the brief messages and devouring the lengthier blogs. Although tempted, he didn’t add any comments of his own. Not even out there in the ether Tyler couldn’t say it, he wouldn’t confess.
As the days progressed, the others began to post video diaries. Amid the speculation there was much talk about what they were doing, how they were utilising the extra time, they were sharing and comparing and coming together.
There was a college student in Cranston, Connecticut, who had set himself up in front of a webcam, where he intended to stay put for as long as he needed in order to silence the sceptics. But the doubters of course would cling on and it seemed to Tyler an entirely pointless exercise. He could see quite clearly just how quickly the phenomenon was building, that it was spiralling and could not be contained.
Nevertheless, Tyler found himself drawn to this self-proclaimed spokesperson, who in a manifesto of sorts, had stated his intention was to read. He had even made a list of the books he intended to keep close at hand. But whenever Tyler checked on his progress he was always talking, either directly to the camera or with his girlfriend who sat off-screen, only coming into the frame when she leant forward, gesticulating in order to make a point.
Tyler wasn’t listening, he didn’t switch on the sound. He didn’t want to hear, what he wanted was for him to fail, for the college student from Cranston, Connecticut, to begin nodding off and to fall asleep. But of course, he didn’t. Like Tyler, he remained rigid and wide awake.

Tyler couldn’t help feeling that he should be making better use of his time, doing something with it rather than simply standing and staring into space. And yet here he was again, leaning back against the sink and gazing across at the clock above the fridge.
He could read, not in a showy and attention grabbing way like the ‘college student from Cranston, Connecticut‘, but down here. Uninterrupted, he could get to grips with “War & Peace” at last, or Don DeLillo’s “Underworld”. Tyler realised that, other than news reports and the testimonies of others on the internet, he hadn’t read anything at all, not since this began.
Or perhaps exercise was the key? He could easily picture himself out there, beneath the street lights, pounding the pavements, head down and breathing hard, weaving his way in a tracksuit and running shoes, although he owned neither. But a strict and gruelling regime might help to make the time pass. But of course it couldn’t and wouldn’t.

By the middle of the third week it had escalated and as Tyler had expected it was everywhere. He watched his wife at the breakfast table struggling, bleary eyed, with the newspaper, readying herself to face it, to contemplate it yet again.
‘It’s remarkable,’ she said at last, ‘unbelievable.’
She began then to really grapple with it and it didn’t matter that Tyler wasn’t contributing. It was a monologue and one he had played out in his own head many times. And now all he needed to do was sit back and listen.
He was almost ready to tell her but not quite. After all, he had been granted all of this extra time and so why shouldn’t he linger a little longer? A few more hours, another day at most. Let it build, become even bigger. It had already been estimated that a least twenty five per cent of the world’s population had been afflicted. Those not sleeping, the non-sleepers, had been angered by the use of this word. ‘Afflicted.’
Declaring that what was happening to them wasn’t in any way an affliction, with many claiming that all the evidence suggested that only healthy and well-adjusted individuals had been affected, had, in inverted commas, ‘been chosen’. Those who could manage, who were able to cope.
Tyler wasn’t really listening to his wife now but he found the sound of her voice soothing. She was excited and although she wouldn’t say it she was wondering if she or he or perhaps both of them would be next.
Tyler stifled a yawn. He stretched out and, pushing back his chair, made himself comfortable. For the first time in weeks he felt at ease and also very, very sleepy.

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11 thoughts on “THE AFFLICTED

  1. Phil Ryan says:

    A cracking read, Mark. Both the writing and between the lines. I used to work with some sad buggers who would have tried to get overtime if so ‘afflicted’ and I dare say some unscrupulous minister would seek some advantage.

    Like

  2. This has a really strong Sci-Fi appeal to it initially yet the undercurrent is far more psychological: we all wish for more time, but, if granted it, how would we spend it? The ending is a fabulous twist which leaves the reader questioning what exactly has happened to Tyler (some sort of epiphany perhaps?). An excellent read, Mark.

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  3. haha i liked this one. Wished it were longer. I think you have something here. reminds me of Blindness by Jose Saramago. But the possibilities of insomnia are more intriguing. I like the idea of having all this time available…

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    • markrenney2 says:

      Ha! Thanks Cat. I know what you mean about Saramago. Actually when I showed this one to Christine I said to her ‘it’s a bit like Blindness ‘.

      Like

  4. Grrrreat read Mark! The possibilities are wild. For some reason I’m left with an image of walking in absolute darkness without fear of obstacles. Wide open. The key – not to panic.
    Interesting to see Underworld mentioned. One of my all-time favourite novels (and authors).

    Liked by 1 person

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