The Pod and Not Sleeping

[StoryADay May Prompt: “First Person Story“]

[Edited 6/18/2016]

I answered the door without delay to stand silent in front of neighbors who for years I had seen but never spoken to, nor they me. She held the potted plant in her hands. It was already flowering.

He nodded at me. She said “So much nicer when you open the door without a fuss. Have you been expecting us, dear?”

All my courage had gone to removing the safety chain, turning the lock, and pulling the door open. Fear was nice to feel again. It stirred like a dandelion growing through a crack in pavement. It went with the weeds while they led me back to my bedroom.

They paid no attention to the inside of my home as new and curious neighbors should have. Their necks were stiff and they walked with quiet determination, she just ahead of me, he just behind. I was not planning to escape. We walked across the worn hardwood floor of my cavernous and sparsely furnished living room, down the short musty hall to the kitchen where nothing had been put away and a faint smell of garbage came from the overflowing bag underneath the sink which I had found impossible to tie let alone take out, to the left and another short hallway that led past the door to the basement and past a small bathroom with a sink and toilet and into my corner bedroom. The bedroom had been tucked in the back of the house as if for a servant, the only such room in a house given mostly to living areas.

I spent most of my time in the bedroom. What I did there was not enough sleeping and very little living. Only the breath of me, late nights into late mornings, caught between two struggles: one to sleep and the other to get up for anything. I had gotten up for the knocking on the door. I had accomplished at least that much. I had accomplished a lot more than that.

“So docile,” she said. I did not ask her name. I doubt she had one. He frowned while she continued, “And why don’t I detect fear? Exactly what do you do here all by yourself?”

I had nothing to say even if I thought they really wanted an answer. She set the plant on my nightstand, helped me back to bed, pulled two thin blankets up to my chin, and then stared down at me for several long minutes. I looked up at her and wondered what I expected to see. What was there to see in her eyes? On her face there was no expression, though the blankness there could have been confused for calm care. What I recognized instead was ice, the way both she and her husband were solid as ice and unbending. I sensed the shape of them exceeded their minimal frames.

“You will sleep,” she said finally. I imagined she gave this command frequently.

“You won’t feel a thing. Not again. But, I wonder, do you feel much at all? How strange. How strange for me to want to focus on that. Do we need to give you a shot to help you sleep? I don’t think we do. I think you have been waiting to sleep for a very long time.” Then she frowned, and for a moment it passed for expression, like her husband’s earlier frown. She shook it off her face like water. I was reminded of sea parks where they kept the killer whales, where when I was young I had walked beside their tiny pools of ocean, pressed my face to the glass, and saw only small patches of their skin when they swam by closely. Or when they had leaped into the air on command during a show. They had made me feel so small. I felt a lot of things back then. I remember how tiny I had been. I could not have known at that age I would only get tinier.

She fussed with the plant. “You’ll stay right here?” I nodded my head. It was an effort to comfort them. It was all the communication I was capable of. It seemed to be enough. “We’ll be waiting in the living room. It won’t be long now, dear. Just you sleep. Give in to sleep and wake up new.”

Alone again in my bedroom, the house felt as empty as ever. They did not make a sound while they waited for morning. The house seemed to press forward, away from me, away from this corner where I had been tucked in. The sun set, I waited for the plant, and it waited for me.

About insomnia I was decades familiar. The way it bats at tiredness like a new baby a mobile. The way it plays. The way it becomes larger, even if I sleep, a not-so-great mercy, and when I find myself thinking I have been awake for some time now and even if I slept that was some time ago, none of it measuring up to anything I can really count, insomnia has been waiting beside me without worry. All the worry is mine, with emotions so numerous that they reveal nothing about me, they are a kind of sleep, an absence of being full of them, motionless, a dream that never ends.

I wondered if that was what the plants wanted.

The neighborhood had changed when all the normal noises that kept me awake at night mutated into something else. The loud pedestrians who walked through our neighborhood to the bars that lined the main street to the east, and walked back even louder early the next morning, I thought at first had found a different hotspot to frequent. I still heard footsteps, though, more and more of them all the time, a march but quietly, without giving voice to excitement or anger or drunkenness. The loud couple who yelled at each other next door stopped so abruptly I thought they had moved. There were fewer vehicles now and little traffic noise, except for afternoon garbage trucks, not just once a week, but now every day. Mail delivery stopped. A night came when I realized I had not heard a single cat or dog. Incessant morning bird chirping ceased.

It made me curious enough, in a distant kind of way, to peek through the blinds, when I was up anyway because I finally needed to use the bathroom, or a shower, or a glass of water, or a nibble at whatever I had left since my last grocery delivery. I had not looked out before, no peeping gossip me hunting down activity when activity was already ceaseless in my own mind. What I saw when I peeked were quiet people constantly heading somewhere, at all hours. A few of them together, at first, two or three at a time, but now a steady stream of them. They seemed busy. Determined. Always moving forward. The neighborhood changed and it left me alone, for a time.

I also saw through the blinds the new vegetation. It spread lawn to lawn. When people were not walking the neighborhood to destinations unknown, they were attending to the plants, the vines and their regular protrusions like gourds but now seen up close on her nightstand, more pod-shaped and ready to open underneath a single flower. The flower was intricate in detail, like cauliflower shaped into a rose, or a forest of thick vegetation shrunk down to petals colored as much like meat as plant. In the meager light cast by the lamp, the plant seemed to move, to reach, to squirm.

Oh, yes, I realized then, she had left the light on. What a strange thing to do. She wanted me to sleep but she kept the light on, as if she wanted me to really see what she had brought me, the same plant she had brought to people up and down the street those first few days when I started to peek, when I considered opening the front door and running away as fast as I could, running into neighboring streets to warn people that there were new flowers blooming everywhere and everywhere there were new flowers people went to sleep and did not wake up. They ended up in the afternoon garbage, tossed out by another who stood in their place. Someone who looked just like them, but was not them.

No, I could not sleep. I lay in bed and watched the flower. Exhaustion was no cause to make a sleepless person fall asleep. I had volumes in which to be exhausted and not close my eyes. One can get by on four or five hours a night through her twenties and thirties, and when even an hour is hard to come by in her forties, no trigger rewards her with unconsciousness. I would have to pull something specific out of the storm of me, but I could find nothing to pull from my wind and rain-whipped inner world.

Or when perhaps I dozed, still on my side, the plant never out of my sight. When next I cared to note changes, it had been reaching for me for quite some time with its white filaments poking out of the lips of the cantaloupe-sized pod nestled in the pot’s dirt. They seemed so timid, these explorers, even when they reached my face. What to do but expect them, expect them to seek me out over the short distance, and once upon my skin creep without sensation over me and into my orifices. Except that now they seemed to retreat. Between blinks they repeated that pattern, responding to the ebb and flow of my erratic fussing brain in its state of not giving over to sleep but reaching desperately for it.

Or when the flower grew in size, emitted a fuzzy pollen into the room, and when my eyes closed it was only because they were irritated, and the numbing of the pollen’s effect was not what my body needed to rest. An injection would have had no effect, either.

Or when the sun rose again, and the pod was dead. I walked into the living room. They didn’t start but they seemed startled anyway. They pointed at me and they screeched. Beneath their shrill accusation and responding cries from their expanding collective outside, I asked them quietly “Perhaps another pod? Perhaps several of them? Gardens of them, can you lead me there? Lead me to them. Lead me to the pods and to my sleeping. Lead me so I can finally leave here and never be again.”

StoryADay May 2016 Day 4

Published by

Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a writer and poet. His first published poem, "Roadside Freak Show," arrives on August 21, 2017 in Impossible Archetype.  His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey. Richard is also the Downlink Lead for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) team at the University of Arizona. He monitors images of the Martian surface taken by the HiRISE camera located on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in orbit around Mars and helps ensure they process successfully and are validated for quick release to the science community and public. Once upon a time, Richard wrote and edited the science and technology news and commentary website Frontier Channel, hosted the RADIO Frontier Channel podcast, and organized transhumanist clubs. Follow Richard on his website (richardleis.com), on Goodreads (richardleis), Twitter (@richardleisjr), and Facebook (richardleisjr).