Nightwalkers

The insomnia stole upon her suddenly and without warning. One evening she lay down in bed and found she just couldn’t sleep. She’d gotten up, turned on the light, poured a glass of water, took a sip, turned off the light, and lay back down.

A few minutes later, she’d switched on the light, swung her legs over the side of the bed, sighed in irritation. She walked into the small television room, watched TV for several hours, and eventually lumbered back across the hall to her room for a few hours’ sleep.

After a few nights like this, she grew resigned. She ate dinner late, and at an hour where previously she had slept deeply, she’d tie on some shoes and walk out along the city street.

She found she liked the shops all closed up; restaurants illuminated in the red and blue glow of beer signs; shampoos and plush toys and books lit up in the all-night lights of display windows.

She walked past dark taverns where shadowed figures talked low outside over cigarettes whose ends burned bright. She passed always the ordinary figures in the brightly lit laundromat, of whom she was inexplicably jealous.

The most surprising thing that she found was that there were others, like herself, who wandered the night street. Always alone, their faces were dark and their clothes shapeless and nondescript. They’d walk past and nod, or even smile, but always their eyes met and some surge of recognition would blaze between their eyes like electricity.

She suffered the consequences of her insomnia at work. She was never late, but she began falling asleep frequently. And when she wasn’t asleep, she was sleepy.

One day she actually fell asleep at the coffee station, standing up. Her hand rested on her mug on the counter, and her chin fell forward onto her chest.

She was wakened by her boss’s hand on her shoulder.

“Is everything all right with you?” he asked.

He was standing close, and she was having trouble focusing her eyes. She had the feeling that, as she tried to focus, she was going cross-eyed, so she squinted her eyes to prevent her boss from seeing them crossed.

“I mean,” he said, still looking closely at her face. “You haven’t exactly been yourself lately.”

“Who?” she said, squinting.

“You,” he said.

“Thanks,” she said. “I just haven’t been getting enough sleep.”

She turned her attention to filling the empty mug in her hand.

“OK,” said the Boss concernedly. “You just make sure to let me know if you need anything, all right?”

A memo must have gone around the office, because all the sudden everyone seemed concerned. Little questions snuck up on her here and there, some innocuous, some pointed.

One day after a meeting an older woman cornered her into conversation.

“You know,” said the older woman, “I used to have a huge alcohol problem. Ruined my first marriage. Nearly ruined my second, but my husband pulled me through. Intervention, that’s what he did. I’ll never forget it.”

She stared at the speaking woman.

“Ok,” she said.

“I guess what I’m saying is, people got all sorts of problems you just don’t know about. And just cause you don’t know about ’em don’t mean they don’t got ’em. So, if you ever want to talk, well, you know.”

“Thanks,” said the girl, blinking her red eyes.

In time, her coworkers went from their intermittent solicitations to ignoring her completely. It took a while for her to notice; she was used to keeping to herself, but after a day or two she realized people weren’t even looking at her. On the third day when she walked in to work, someone was sitting at her desk. Pictures of this new woman and her family already clung to the cubicle sides like static, leading the girl to wonder whether she was at the wrong cubicle.

She checked to the left and to the right, however, and was assured that this was her cubicle. There wasn’t even anything for her to pack up; her files and pencil mug and Post-its of phone numbers had disappeared as though they were never there at all.

She had a similar experience in her apartment a few days later. She had begun sleeping most of the day, and she woke up late one afternoon to find all her furniture gone, replaced by unfamiliar pieces. Not long after, a strange woman in a suit walked into the room, closing the door behind her, and began to undress.

Embarrassed, the girl climbed from the bed and walked carefully along the room’s perimeter and slipped out the door. She ran down the stairwell and into the street.

She was met with a cool rush of air upon her face. The day’s light was yielding to the gentle darkness of the coming night.

She looked west and saw the sun begin to drop below the horizon. As she looked out into the gathering darkness of the street she could see the nightwalkers begin to materialize.

She stepped forward and took her place among them.

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