“When was the last time you slept?” she asked.
I pondered this for a second. I recognized the word, of course, but it seemed meaningless and powerless against the reality I faced. My brain futilely burned glucose like a furnace trying to heat a house with missing walls. Everything was so heavy. My limbs, my eyelids, the world itself pressed down on me. Every action was, out of necessity, deliberate. There was no room for casual movement. It would have been a pointless waste of energy.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “What did you ask?”
She looked at me, lines of genuine worry sullying her features.
“You look awful,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said, resting my head in my hands, “You look great too.”
I realized I was staring directly into my cup. She had coffee, I had ordered a tea with the ludicrous name of “Sleepytime Orange Jasmine.” I considered drinking it, but at the thought my stomach roiled in protest.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said.
I stared out the window as she drove. Trees and houses whipped past. It hurt my eyes to watch, so I closed them.
“I don’t know why you do this to yourself,” she said.
“I haven’t done anything,” I said, eyes still closed.
We drove on in silence for a few minutes.
“Have you seen a doctor?” she asked, finally.
“I *am* a doctor,” I sighed.
“That doesn’t matter. I’m a stylist, but I don’t cut my own hair.”
“Why not?” I asked, opening my eyes at this point and turning to look at her. I was genuinely interested. I didn’t know anything about cutting hair.
“I spend all day fussing over other people’s hair,” she said, faint traces of a smile creeping over her features, “I just like to have the same attention paid to mine by someone else sometimes.”
“I don’t really think that’s anything like my situation,” I said.
Her smile disappeared.
“Anyway,” I said after a few minutes, “To answer your question, I have been to a doctor. Multiple doctors, in fact. Nobody’s ever heard of this happening before. Nobody’s body has ever just up and decided that it’s going to stop sleeping.”
“That’s so weird,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said, sighing. “I’ve been to sleep specialists, psychologists, faith healers, sleeping pills, meditation, you name it. I’ve tried drinking myself to sleep, didn’t do anything. I even had coven of wiccans cast a sleeping spell on me.”
She laughed, then stopped, unsure of if that was rude or not.
“So…how did it happen?”
I shrugged. “I’ve always had a lot of trouble sleeping. You know how sometimes, the night before something really big and important, you just can’t sleep? Your mind just won’t stop, you toss and turn until your alarm clock goes off?”
“Well, that sort of thing used to happen to me a lot. More than most people, I’m sure. And then, eventually, it just started happening every night.”
“Wow,” she said, “That’s terrible.”
The car stopped. She had finally pulled up in front of my house. I unbuckled my seatbelt and climbed out.
“Well,” she said, “This has been the weirdest first date I’VE ever been on.”
“I’m a little nervous,” she said, frowning a little. “I’ve never done this before.”
“To tell you the truth, me either,” he said, grinning sheepishly.
“Oh!” she said, brightening considerably, “Well that makes me feel a lot better.”
“Why?” he laughed, “It makes me a hell of a lot more nervous to know neither of us know what we’re doing.”
“Well,” she said, grinning devilishly, “At least I know if something goes wrong it’s not my fault.”
“I guess that’s true,” he laughed.
“Besides,” she said, “It can’t be that hard. Total morons manage to do it just fine all the time.”
“Maybe it’s because they don’t think too hard about it,” he said, “We might think too hard about it and mess it up.”
“I guess that could happen,” she said.
“It’s something that has to be done though,” he said.
“Oh definitely,” she said, “It’s not something that you can just not do.”
“And you know, with you, I just…it just seemed like the right thing to do.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she laughed, “I wouldn’t be able to do it by myself after all.”
“Well, I guess we should get it over with,” he said, sighing.
He turned back to her car and stared at the front wheel. “Let’s get this tire changed.”
“Hey, look!” called out the kid, prodding a small paper bag with his foot. The old man walked over and picked it up carefully.
“Now there’s a symbol I haven’t seen in years. ‘Trillions served.’ That was more than the population of the planet at its height. Damn fine achievement.”
“What’s this?” asked the kid, picking up a cup made out of a strange, squishy white material. Inside was a dark brown liquid.
The old man took a sip and smiled wistfully. “The nectar of the gods,” he said.
He passed the cup to the kid, who took a sip and winced. “Gross! It’s so sweet!”
The old man smiled sadly. “We used to drink that poison by the gallon. But now let’s see what’s in the bag. Those health nuts always used to say that there were enough preservatives in this ‘food’ to last a hundred years. Maybe they were right.”
He opened the bag and pulled out a small cardboard container filled with thin yellow sticks. He offered one to the kid, who took it and sniffed it cautiously.
“It’s a funny thing,” mused the old man, “I never ate here before the war. I always preferred the competitors. But hey, everything changes.”
He popped one of the sticks into his mouth, chewed, and grimaced. “Well, some things stay the same,” he sighed. “The food here still sucks.”
(I originally wrote this story in German. I took some liberties with the translation [which you have to do with German anyway], but if any of the phrasing is awkward we’ll blame it on that.)
The children called him the eyeless man. Because he was blind, he always wore big dark sunglasses and nobody had ever seen him without them. Actually, that’s not true. No adults had ever seen him without them. Every kid knew a friend of a friend who had seen under the sunglasses. The story was always the same; he had no eyes.
The children also had other stories about the eyeless man. They said he could see the future. It only makes sense that when someone can’t see normally, they must see other things instead. This is the logic of children and it’s usually right.
But this time it wasn’t right. It was true that the eyeless man had no eyes. It was true that he could see strange things. But he couldn’t see the future. He could only see what was coming in over the television waves. And that’s not nearly as interesting.
(Just joining us? Go back to the beginning of the story.)
“Hey lady!” shouted Alex, “Over here!”
They had jumped dramatically through the window of the hotel to rescue Jenny. She caught sight of them and ran over.
“Come on y’all, back in the hotel!” shouted Billy.
The three of them ran back to the hotel and dove through the window not a moment too soon. Jenny’s pursuers howled in heat and anger that their quarry had escaped. The three of them sat on the floor panting, when Billy looked up.
“Oh hey there sweet pea, I wondered where your pretty little self got off to there,” he said, smiling at the woman he met in the bar.
The woman smiled back, but her smile was filled with razor sharp teeth that dripped with blood. She lunged at Alex, biting him on the arm.
“Shit!” he screamed, shaking her off, “Back out the window!”
“Wait!” Billy said, taking a bottle of booze out of his pocket. “Gonna drive off those sons of guns first.” He fashioned himself a molotov cocktail, lit it on fire, then through it out the window. The three followed.
Unfortunately, they found themselves in a writhing mass of horny zombies. To make matters worse, several of the zombies were now on fire. Jenny was the first to go down. By playing hard-to-get, she’d annoyed and upset the zombies even more. Alex was futilely trying to beat of a paramour of his own. Billy, on the other hand, had caught on fire when one of the flamboyantly flaming zombies started to dryhump him.
As Billy went down in flames, he caught Alex’s eyes one last time. Alex looked at him sadly from beneath a pile of writhing bodies.
“Young man,” Billy said, haltingly, “I ain’t known you that long but I got somethin I gotta tell ya.”
“What’s that?” asked Alex, choking back a sob that was partially caused by this heartfelt moment, and partially from the intense sense of violation he felt.
“I gotta tell ya…”
Moaning and groaning.
“…that even though…”
Disgusting slurping noises.
“…you’re just some no-good punk kid…”
“What? What?” Alex shouted, straining to reach Billy, knowing deep in his heart that Billy was going to say what both of them knew, to reveal the powerful forbidden feelings that they’d felt for each other since the moment they’d met. That he would tell him how different things would have been under different circumstances, how this whole horrible apocalypse had ruined everything but still, they’d found a brief moment of happiness in the few minutes they’d spent together.
“…the Baby Jesus loves you.”
Tom was sitting at his computer when all of a sudden his heart froze as he heard the door behind him open. Quickly closing the window, he spun around and smiled. “Hey honey, you’re home early!”
Rebecca stood in the doorway, shock and disappointment plastered on her face. “Tom,” she said quietly, “What was that?”
“What was what?” Tom asked a little too casually.
“On your screen,” she said.
“Oh, I dunno. Just looking at the stocks, checking up on the news a bit.”
Rebecca’s brow furrowed as she walked over to the desk. “Don’t lie to me Tom,” she said.
“I really don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, laughing nervously as she leaned over him and clicked the history button.
“Tom,” she said quietly, “What is this?”
“It’s nothing,” he said frantically, “I thought it was something else I accidentally clicked it…”
Rebecca turned to him, tears in her eyes.
“I can’t believe you’d do this to me,” she said.
“Honey really, it’s not…look, I don’t normally look at that stuff, OK! An old friend from high school sent it to me in an email, he didn’t tell me what it was…”
“You’ve been doing this since High School?” she asked, slowly sinking to the floor, head in her hands.
“No, it’s not, no! Look, please, just listen to me,” Tom began, grasping for words that could explain, could set everything right.
“No Tom, you listen to me,” Rebecca said, her voice hardening as she stood up. “I’ve put up with a lot in the fifteen years we’ve been married. I realize that we’re different people. I know that I can’t please your every taste, and that sometimes a man has needs. But Tom, there have to be limits. There’s a line you just can’t cross.”
“Rebecca…” he faltered.
“I could put up with almost anything, Tom,” she said, “But The Star Wars Christmas Special? I’m sorry, Tom. It’s over.”