September 23rd – Pandora

I’ve become an insomniac.

It began innocently enough, it began with a strange coincidence. After Ted and I returned with the loot, we rationed it out. We estimated that it was enough to make us through the week if we were very careful and frugal. I feel something happening with Ted, something like friendship or solidarity. He didn’t mention my complete lapse of judgment, the lapse that almost led to us being zombie snacks. I don’t know why he did it, but it made me glow a little with relief: we would have to go out again and I would have to lead with confidence.

We’ve worked out the rations to roughly this:

2 Bags of chips per person per day
2 Drinks (juice first because of the expiration date) per person per day
3 or 4 Candies per person per day
2 Cookies each to be eaten at the owner’s discretion

It really isn’t much, and we may have extra at the end of the week but for now it’s the best we can do. There are still a few sticks of beef jerky left in the refrigerator and an old cling-wrapped muffin of indeterminate origin that no one has been brave enough to eat.

After we had finished rationing the food we sat down to eat. Ted and I kept mum for the most part. Janette seems extremely fragile these days; she’s never handled gore well, not in books or movies, and so we spared her the details of our expedition. She would never be asked to leave the break room, which left the rest of us to take turns going out when the time came. Phil ate in his office, still curled up on the floor. He mumbled a quiet “thank you” when I handed him a bag of Dorritos and a Pepsi. I don’t know what to say to him, I don’t want to make him feel guilty for passing the mantle of leader.

The rest of us ate at the table, sitting beneath the pale, buzzing glow of the emergency lights, crunching and chewing, each of us wrestling with our own tangled thoughts. Matt has been much more cheerful; I think he feels bad for voting against the mission in the first place. Holly is too overcome with relief at having Ted back to say much of anything. Instead, she hangs off the end of his elbow, staring at him as if he’s flickering mirage.

It was after dinner that I noticed the remarkable thing on the floor. It was wedged beneath the counters across from the door. At first I thought it might be a packet of papers or an old Team Work pamphlet that had been dropped and forgotten long ago. I waited until the others had left the table, separating to opposite corners of the room. Hollianted generally tried to keep their distance so they could cuddle and make out in peace. Janette and Matt started up a game of poker with a deck of old cards they had found. Matt was officially out one shirt; it was spattered with grime and zombie juice.

I pretended to knock the shirt off the counter and bent down, grabbing the thing wedged under the counter and shoving it into my jeans pocket. Matt looked over at me as I put his shirt back on the counter.

“Sorry,” I muttered, “clumsy.”

Matt turned back to the card game and I grabbed my lap top and shuffled into the safe room. That’s where I am now, my screen propped right next to the television monitor. The store is quieter these days. Whatever commotion Ted and I had stirred up settled and fewer and fewer hunched figures drift by the cameras.

And I’ve been too distracted to give them much thought – what did I find in my pocket that night? A book. Miraculously it had made its way into the break room, kicked inside during the scuffle. I must have dropped it just before Matt let us in the door and somehow managed to knock it inside; the damn thing made it, the lone survivor, the shipwrecked castaway. This alone might not seem very exciting or remarkable, but when I took the book back to the safe room I couldn’t believe which one it was.

The Awakening – my mother’s favorite book.

Elation… Joy… Complete disbelief…

I don’t believe in a high power, I never have, but I must admit that for a quick, flashing second I felt the presence, the interference of something supernatural. It just seemed too coincidental, too perfect and I sat with the book sitting on my open palms, staring at the cover as if it were an offering, a bowl of blessed incense. From that point on, from the moment the book came into my possession, I stopped sleeping.

Look, I know this isn’t exactly the hand of God reaching down to give me a sign or something. When I was in grade school my friends and I would play that Ouija board game at sleep overs. We would scare ourselves witless, watching in open-mouthed terror as the little pointed marker spelled out D-E-D. Close enough for us, close enough to keep us up all night wondering which of us would die during the night. Years later a boyfriend would explain to me why those boardgames worked. Tiny, minute vibrations in the fingertips communicated the desired outcome. So your conscious might not be thinking G-H-O-S-T but your subconscious is and that’s all it takes to move the marker slowly, slowly, centimeter by centimeter across the board.

Maybe it was my subconscious at work. Maybe I had grabbed The Awakening, shoved it beneath my armpit and locked on, determined no matter what not to let it go. Either way, divine intervention or trick of the mind, I had the book now. I don’t know why I guarded it so jealously, not allowing the others to see that I had found it. That’s stopped now and they’ve been passing it around for the last few days, taking turns reading and rereading it.

But the first night I had it, after we had rationed the loot and had dinner, I went to the safe room and stared at it. After that I started reading and every page seemed familiar, as if it hadn’t been years since my last reading but mere moments. I read it front to back and started over again. Then I began to get drowsy and decided to get some sleep. I drifted off, the neon light of the monitor covered my face and hands as I made a cradle for my head to rest on.

Maybe the book didn’t start the insomnia, maybe the dream did, but the book started the dream so the exact culprit doesn’t matter. The dream went like this: I was back out in the store with Ted, swinging my ax around and grabbing food. Then something rears up behind me screeching and rasping like a banshee. I turn and it’s one of them, one of the undead, and it looks like it should be Susan but it’s not, it’s my mom and she’s wearing that fucking shirt and the sloppy, little kid handwriting…

World’s Best Mom

I can’t move, I can’t stop looking at her face but I want to run, get away from the hollow, glaring eyes. They’re not my mom’s eyes anymore, the color is gone, the familiar warmth missing, replaced by death’s milky veil. Her hands are clawing at me, the flesh gone and showing the gleaming bone and her skull is peeking through the sagging holes in her face. She’s bald, of course, the chemo took her hair months ago, and there are garish purple spots all over the top of her head. Her fingers are ripping through my shirt, she’s tearing at my skin but there’s nothing I can do. I can’t kill her, I can’t swing the ax at her neck, I just stop and wait and let her rip me apart.

I wake up in a cold, shivering sweat. There are little beads of moisture on the counter and the backs of my hands are slippery and wet. The monitor flickers and shifts for a minute and then the camera fixes on Susan’s headless body, still there, still wearing the tee shirt.

It’s after that, after the dream ends, that I can’t sleep.

And now, writing this, my hands are shaking because I can’t control my nerves. My eyes hurt and they feel sandy, filled up with grit and blurry from hours and hours spent in the dark, wakeful night. I’m clammy all over and I know it would go away if I could just rest, just sleep for an our or two but I can’t, something in my brain won’t let me. I think about sleep constantly and I try to read to stay distracted, to keep my mind off the fact that when evening comes nothing will happen; I’ll close my eyes and feel perfectly, horribly awake.

It has to stop, if I go on like this much longer I’ll be useless, weak and dull and sick.

It has to stop.


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