“You know that never happened, right?”
Paul is always like this, whenever we get together. It irks me every time.
His job brings him back to town every three months or so, give or take. Over dinner and some beers, we fill each other in on what we’ve been doing since the last time we met up.
He says this town is just a pimple on the backside of this country. He can never wait to get out again.
One thing that never changes is that he never believes anything I tell him. In his opinion, nothing interesting will ever or can ever happen here. Especially if he isn’t here to see it.
He didn’t believe me when I told him about the dragon swooping down and snatching a small dog off the street right in front of me! Right in front, I tell you. I couldn’t have missed it. I was the only one in the street at 3 am, so of course I was the only one who witnessed it. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen!
And that time when that monster was wandering the streets at night, searching for… Well, no one really knows what it was looking for, do they? Several pets went missing during its reign of terror, mainly in the vicinity of the Black Lagoon resort. So presumably it was hungry.
I saw it more than once that week, even followed it a couple of times. It was big and black and looked like a human covered in tar. It stank of fetid swamp water and left huge slimy footprints as it lumbered down the street.
Don’t worry, I was never in danger. I made sure I was hidden in case it decided it wanted a bigger meal than a dog or a cat. It was around for about a week before it just stopped coming. I wonder what happened to it?
There was also that time when I saw that man running awkwardly down the street. He was weaving from side to side and I thought he was drunk until I saw the knives. One in each hand, dripping blood, leaving a gory trail behind him. That was actually pretty scary, but exhilarating at the same time, you know? I only saw him the once and I never found out if he’d murdered someone. I checked the local news for days afterwards, but nothing was ever mentioned.
Paul says that if it’s not in the news, then it can’t have happened. He says there are people and phones everywhere these days and as soon as something happens, it’s all over social media within minutes.
I say he’d be surprised at what happens that doesn’t get plastered all over the internet and that if he were here for more than a couple of hours, he might see something that will blow his mind.
Personally, I’m not a fan of social media. The few times I’ve looked at Twitter or Facebook, all I’ve seen are people complaining about things that aren’t important. Or harshly judging other people for flaws they themselves have. Or posting photos of a meal they’re about to eat. Big deal. I eat every day but I don’t need to show it to the world.
Paul just about lives on social media. It never used to be like that but now he’s always got one hand on his phone. His attention is always divided between his news feeds and the conversation I’m trying to have with him. Sometimes I wonder if he even hears what I’m saying, but he always, always, responds with: “You know that never happened, right”.
Maybe this is the trip in which something will happen to show him that he’s wrong. We finish our meal and go to leave the restaurant but it’s snowing so hard that I can’t see how he’ll be able to get to the airport, let alone how the plane will be able to fly.
Ha, he just got a message from the airline; his plane’s been delayed for 24 hours. I tell him he can stay at my house. On the couch, of course.
We walk home with snow dancing madly around us, like confetti at an outdoor wedding. It’s hard to see more than a couple of feet in front of us, but I know where I’m going. I’ve walked this route so many times, I can do it with my eyes closed.
The snow is cold but not unpleasant. I wish I’d brought a heavier jacket. Paul doesn’t have one at all. But all he complains about is the snow getting on his phone’s screen. It’s only a couple of blocks so I tell him to put it in his pocket until we get there. He does, but, of course, he can’t leave it in there for more than a minute before pulling it out to check his news feed again.
Finally, we’re home but Paul’s still complaining. It was only a 20-minute walk so I don’t know what his problem is. I say that to him, but he doesn’t hear me or chooses not to hear me. I don’t know which.
I put the kettle on. While waiting for it to boil, I dig out the spare pillow and blankets. Paul’s going to need plenty of blankets tonight. The wind and the unexpected snow have the furnace struggling to keep the house at a decent temperature.
Paul sits on the couch, scrolling, scrolling, forever scrolling. I dump the pillow and blankets on his head and laugh but he barely seems to notice and absently shrugs them off.
I make us tea and put his mug on the coffee table in front of him with a plate of chocolate chip cookies. I talk at him until I finish my tea. He barely touches his, occasionally grunting at me.
I make myself another cup of tea and eat almost all the cookies, leaving just a few lonely crumbs on the plate. If he’s not going to look up from his phone, too bad for him.
I’m trying to put off going to bed. I always put it off for as long as I can. I have nightmares, you see. Bad nightmares. Well, one bad nightmare. It's always the same.
You know what Paul’s comment is whenever I tell him about my nightmare? Yep, you guessed it: “You know that never happened, right?”
I make myself stay awake for as long as I can. Sometimes, when I start to get sleepy, I get up and go for a walk in the middle of the night. The streets are quiet then. I rarely see or hear anyone in my travels, except for the dragons and monsters and things.
I wonder why interesting things only happen at night in this town when I’m the only one awake to see them. Why don’t these things happen during the day when other people can see them too?
There have been times when I’ve walked all night. Stayed awake for more than 24 hours. But I can’t do that very often. I have to sleep. Then, the nightmares come back stronger than ever.
I have to go to bed now. I can’t put it off any longer.
Paul hasn’t even put the pillow or blankets on the couch properly. They’re still sitting bunched up in a heap beside him. I ask him if he wants the light left on and he mumbles something which I assume is a yes.
I’m lying in bed. I scratch my left arm with my right fingernails, trying to stay awake.
I can’t really go for a walk while it’s snowing outside, can I? Also, I don’t want to wake Paul.
I hope he’s warm enough down there. I can feel my eyes trying to close. I don’t think I’m going to be able to stop it for much longer.
I know when I’m in my nightmare. It’s always the same so I know when I’m asleep. I know that I’ll eventually wake up, but it doesn’t make it any less scary.
I can’t move my head, only my eyes.
I’m in a hospital room. I hear the beep beep beep and whoosh whoosh whoosh of hospital machines. I’ve heard those exact sounds in movies and on television. I also remember them from when Dad was in a car crash. Those machines kept him alive.
I don’t want to think about that. My brother and I had to make the hardest decision of our lives: whether to switch off the machines and let Dad die, or keep him alive like a vegetable in a glasshouse.
I can’t move my body.
I try to lift my arms but there’s resistance, like I’m strapped down. I start to panic and my blood pressure rises. I know because I can hear the machine beeping quicker. It’s getting harder to breathe.
Oh god, why is this happening?
I’ve been through this so many times but I still can’t work it out. I try to calm my breathing because I know if I can’t someone will come. Then more someones, and they’ll all start yelling at me and at each other, demanding things that I don’t know the answer to.
The more I think about this, the faster my heart rate and breathing rise. Stop, stop, stop, I try to yell at myself, but I can’t get the words out. I hear the door open and someone entering the room. Now someone is leaning over me. They’re right in my face, saying things that I can’t understand.
I try to move my head so I don’t have to smell their breath, but only my eyes move. I try to talk with my eyes. Try to ask them to step back. But the nightmare person doesn’t understand. They’re clicking their fingers right in front of my nose, trying to get a reaction, yelling at me.
But I can’t move, I can’t move, I CAN’T MOVE!
WAKE UP! WAKE UP! WAKE UP!
The nightmare seems to go on forever, but eventually I wake up. I always wake up.
The moon shines through the window onto my face and wakes me up fully. I’m sitting up now. I can feel my dishevelled hair, my pyjamas are twisted, and my eyes are red and swollen from crying.
Even though I can’t move in the nightmare, I obviously thrash around a lot in my bed because I wake up like this every morning. I hope I didn’t wake Paul.
I look at the clock. 3:11 am. I can see through the window that the snow and wind have blown themselves away. The moon is high and bright and there’s barely a cloud in the sky now. The weather here is pretty good most of the time.
I head down the stairs and call out to Paul, “Hope you got some sleep. I’ll make you some breakfast if you don’t mind eating this early?”
Rounding the corner into the lounge room, I reach out and switch on the light, expecting to see Paul sitting in the same place as last night, still scrolling, scrolling. But that’s not what I see at all.
What I see is a heap of blood-soaked blankets on my couch and no sign of Paul anywhere!
Oh my god, what happened here? How could I have slept through this? Where is Paul? Where is Paul’s phone? All these things go through my mind as I stand there dumbfounded, as mute as I was in my nightmare.
Once I can move again, I walk over to the couch and toss the blankets onto the floor, just in case Paul is somehow curled up and buried underneath them. But all I see is more blood. No Paul. A fleeting thought crosses my mind that it’s going to be almost impossible to get that stain out of my couch.
What if whoever did this is still here? I walk slowly but methodically around the ground floor of my house, checking the doors and windows but they are all shut and locked, just like they were before I went to bed.
I think what’s happened is that someone has tricked Paul into opening the door. They’ve then caught him when his guard was down, between scrolling his Facebook news feed and his Twitter news feed. He wouldn’t have seen it coming. The killer must have taken Paul’s body with him, then locked the door on the way out.
Ah yes, I can now see a blood trail, leading from the couch to the front door. Why didn’t I see that before?
I need to follow the blood trail. Yes, that’s what I’ll do. Ha, Paul can’t say that this didn’t happen now, can he? Finally, something has happened and he was here for it.
I run upstairs and get dressed in warm clothing. Even though the wind and snow have gone, it’s still going to be icy cold out there. I head downstairs again and grab my heavy winter jacket from the closet.
I fish out the torch from under the kitchen sink, then sit down at the table and quickly write this journal entry. I wonder if anyone will ever read it? In a minute, I'll pull on my snow boots and head out.
I’ll find him. Alive or dead, I’ll find him.
The hospital room was quiet again, just the beeping and the whooshing of the life support machines. There’d been a flurry of activity in the middle of the night again. The patient had appeared to wake up again, just as she did most nights.
Kate looked at the woman lying relaxed in the bed, kept alive by machines. What’s going on in your head, she wondered. Anything? Nothing? Is there even a mind there anymore?
The woman’s breathing was slow and rhythmical, her heartbeat steady. For a minute, Kate heard them increase slightly before settling down again.
She felt sorry for this woman. She’d come into Kate’s care about nine months ago, comatose and completely paralysed after a car accident. In all that time, not one person had come to visit. The police had not been able to find even one living relative.
The woman appeared to wake up most nights, panicking before dropping back into her coma again. None of the hospital staff could get her to understand anything or to stay awake longer than a few minutes.
Last night, Paul had been working again. The patient's vitals sometimes increased during his shifts. Paul wasn’t a permanent staff member. He covered someone else’s shift every three months or so.
He’d handed in his resignation yesterday and Kate, for one, wouldn’t miss him. She often found him sitting in the room, scrolling his phone, rather than working. Whenever Kate accused him of slacking, his response was always: “You know that never happened, right?”
The doctors wanted some sort of decision to be made but they couldn’t justify to a court that the patient was a vegetable that would never wake up. Because she did wake up. Just about every night.
She just couldn’t, or wouldn’t, stay awake. Not that Kate blamed her. She shuddered. How terrifying would it be to not be able to move any part of your body but your eyes?
Kate knew it was only a matter of time before the patient was transferred. She was taking up a hospital bed that no one was paying for it and that wasn’t how the world worked these days.
Maybe someone would turn up this week. A long-lost sibling or a parent or even an ex-lover. Maybe the patient would wake up tonight and stay awake.
Kate sighed and turned to continue her rounds, mumbling to herself, “You know that never happens, right?”
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