I remember how it feels to sleep.
I remember how it feels to dream.
I see the man in the pin-stripe suit, standing in the corner. To go with his suit, he has a cane, a bowler hat, and a monocle. The strangest choice about his attire is that he has nothing on his feet to complete the look of a Victorian gentlemen. I don’t care what anybody says: bare feet and a suit looks as ridiculous as a dog dressed in a human’s clothes.
He is the reason I can’t sleep. He stands there in the corner, watching and waiting.
Pinstripe appeared five days ago. I was drifting in and out of sleep when I saw the
moonlight catch his monocle. He wasn’t in the corner of the room. Instead, he was a black shape looming over me. His long fingers were close to wrapping around my throat. I smelled death on those fingers. When my eyes opened, he had recoiled, and floated back over to the corner. That was when I saw his feet. I would have laughed under normal circumstances. But someone, or something, had floated across my bedroom. I would not call that a laughing matter. He watched me for an hour, and I watched him back. Each time I blinked he would move forward a small amount before slowly receding back to his corner. And it was his corner. After the hour, he floated to my closet elegantly like a butterfly in the wind. He got in and closed the door. An hour passed before I mustered the courage to open the closet door. When I did, I saw my clothes. And that was it. I got back into bed. I didn’t sleep.
The next day, I went about my usual routine, albeit shakily. Breakfast at seven. Shower at eight. Work at nine. I worked a few streets away in an office as a freelance writer. I was writing a piece about Le Loup Graciuex; a new French Bistro that had opened in town. The food was pretentious, but good. I had just finished writing a paragraph about the mussels in white wine sauce when I realised that a second coffee was needed. I pressed the buttons that lock the computer and saw Pinstripe in the black screen. He was standing behind me by the entrance to my office. My knee smashed into the desk as I swivelled around before he could float to me and take me to wherever it is he comes from. Except he wasn’t there. And what stood there in his place was my office mate, Steve.
“Jesus Rick, you look fuckin’ terrible. What’s up with you?” he said.
Charming as ever,I thought
“I’m just heading off for a coffee. Care to join?” I asked.
“Sure, but it looks like you should inject it straight into your bloodstream buddy, not drink it.”
I laughed, and said, “I think you may be right.”
That night I sat in bed, watching the closet door. God knows what I was expecting. I thought maybe the previous night had been a dream. Then I remembered the smell. The stench of death and decay on his fingers, like roadkill rotting in the sun. That was real.
I’d heard that when you dream, your brain can’t make up a face. Pinstripe’s face had been burned onto my brain. It was pale, like it had never felt the sun kiss it there. Of course, it hadn’t, because Pinstripe was a creature that felt safe in the shadows. His face was unnaturally smooth. I was sure that if he were to take off his bowler hat, there would be no hair there. Only a continuation of skin twisting and folding back in on itself like a Mobius strip.
My eyes had started to feel heavy. Sleep called, whispering it will all be okay. Just close your eyes and come with me, you will be safe here. I listened, until I heard the closet door creak.
First, there was only black in the crack that appeared. A black so dark that staring at it for too long would drive anybody to madness. Then a red eye peeped through the hole and gazed at me. It was as though he fed through the eye. It opened wider and wider until eventually it surpassed the size of the crack, and the closet became the red light district. The door opened fully. He stepped out. That was the first time he walked. It was as though staring at me through the closet door had sucked some of my life-force and instilled inside him a newfound strength. He took up his usual spot in the corner. His eyes had turned black. He watched me, this time smiling with yellow teeth. The type of teeth that result from a combination of too much coffee and cigarettes. This time, two hours had passed before he walked back to the closet and climbed inside. I didn’t go to the closet. I knew he wouldn’t be there. I sat up in bed and wept.
Time crawled slowly, but eventually the clock struck seven, so I went about my morning routine.
I made a quick breakfast, but only managed a few bites of toast before I ran to the toilet to throw it all back up. I flushed it and cleaned my face. I expected that when I rose to look in the mirror, Pinstripe would be behind me, red eyes blazing and growing larger as he consumed and drained me. But that didn’t happen. Instead, I saw a sunken face staring back at me. It was both my face and not my face at the same time. My eyelids drooped and the area under them had changed to a shade of purple. My hair had become matted and shiny. My skin had a yellow tinge, as though Pinstripe had not only dined on me last night, but that he also had a hankering for liver when he did so. I pulled out a set of scales and stood on them. I weighed seventy-four kilograms: two kilograms lighter than the night before.
My routine — which I had been pretty good at keeping up with — was broken that morning. Instead of going to work, I headed for the pharmacy.
I couldn’t sleep. Not that I would have found it difficult. I think I could have fallen asleep there and then in the road, and not even a car running over my legs would have woken me. No, the fact was that I couldn’t sleep. He would get me. Pinstripe would find me, wherever I was, and take me to his world of shadows. Forever.
I bought smelling salts. Strong smelling salts. I hoped they would do the trick and keep me in the land of the living. It was all I could think to do. I couldn’t tell anybody. Who would listen without trying to get me institutionalized? Smelling salts would have to do.
That night, I lay awake in bed. Nothing had changed there. When I felt myself drifting, I cracked the smelling salt packet and let the ammonia drift into my nostrils. Whoever said those things pack a punch, they weren’t kidding. My breathing became rapid, and I felt my heart pounding, as though it were trying to escape my chest.
The light from the closet came about twenty minutes later. Red as usual, but this time pulsing, like Pinstripe was sending a signal. Like he was trying to communicate with me in some way. I didn’t speak his language and I didn’t want to learn it. With each pulse I could feel him growing stronger. My bedsheets became wet. I thought I’d pissed the bed — something I’d only done once before in my adult life after my twenty-first birthday — but found that it was sweat. The closet door opened, and he stepped out. He looked at me and was grinning. He bowed and then tipped his hat. I was right about there being no hair under there. But I couldn’t have been more wrong about it following the smoothness and paleness of his face. Instead, there was a writhing brain. His veins contorting and pulsating like maggots on a piece of meat. It started to glow red. He was mocking me. Showing me that he was getting stronger because of me, and I was getting weaker because of him. I screamed a noise I’d never thought could come out of me. He started to laugh, but instead of sound that came out of his mouth there was nothing. A nightmarish mime. He bent and held his belly as though he couldn’t contain his silent laughter anymore without bursting. Then he snapped his head back at me and put his fingers to his lips, shushing me and my screams. He walked over to the corner with an exuberant flare, where he waited, and watched. Always watching.
Just like the previous nights, Pinstripe went back to his shadowland via my closet. This time it had taken him three hours to leave. I had been awake for fifty-three hours when I went to the kitchen to make myself toast. I ate quickly and managed to keep it down.
The bathroom tiles were ice under my feet. I stepped on the scales; they read sixty-eight kilograms. What was happening to me? I had a cold shower, letting the water fall on me, but making no effort to wash myself. I dried off and went back to the bedroom. I cracked another tab of smelling salt and inhaled deeply. I knew that if I kept this up for much longer my body would shut down. I had to do something about the closet. That was his entrance. His marker. His gateway. Burning it came to mind, but I quickly disregarded it. I didn’t have a garden where I could pass it off as a bonfire, and I thought burning it in the street would get me thrown in jail, or at the very least an ASBO. Neither of which I needed.
I decided to lock the closet door with the biggest padlock I could find. I found a Heavy Duty Master Lock at an electrical and hardware store called Extra. It cost me fifteen pounds. I also bought a reel of duct tape which set me back an extra two pounds. I couldn’t bring myself to believe that seventeen pounds might be the cost of my life. Was that my worth? I put those thoughts to the back of my mind. I didn’t have time for them. I left the store, cracked another tab of smelling salt, and walked home.
Back at home, I wasted no time. I ran to my bedroom as fast as I could in my sleep deprived state. Luckily, my room was on the bottom floor. I don’t think I could have managed stairs, let alone lug a closet down them. I took no chances and locked the closet with the Master Lock. I didn’t think he would jump out while I moved it out of the room, but why take the risk? It smashed into the door on the way out which made me scream. The closet seemed to have gained one hundred kilograms by the time I got to the kitchen, and I had to stop. I caught my breath, cracked another tab of smelling salt, and opened the reel of duct tape. I don’t know how long it took me, but I was surprised at how much tape is on one of those small reels. The closet now had a Master Lock sealing the clothes in darkness, and duct tape covering every inch of the wooden pallets. The only thing I had left to do was move it facing the wall, door-side of course. Not that I believed this would help. After this, I cooked some dinner, and ate slowly. My eyes were fixed on the silver mess I had made.
After dinner, I got into bed. I snapped two smelling salt tabs and stuffed them into my nose. Me eyes burned and tears streamed down my face. The tabs did their job, so I removed them. In that moment, I thought about how they might taste and slowly brought them to my mouth. I stuck my tongue out which was trembling and dry as a bone. I realised what I was doing and chucked them both across the room.
Another hour passed, and I found myself drifting off. My body had already built a tolerance to the smelling salts. I slowly reached to my bedside table, and pulled out another tab. I cracked it and once again inhaled deeply. My nose had started to burn from their recent plugging, and I could feel the skin inside flaking off. When I stuck a finger up there it was met with a mixture of dried blood and wet snot. I started laughing and this time did eat what my fingers brought to my mouth. I would have thrown up, but I’d heard a loud bang from the kitchen. Oh god, I thought. Oh god please help me.
Silence. There was silence for what must have only been thirty seconds, but to me it felt like I’d fallen into a black hole and the whole concept of time ceased to exist. Then, the dragging started. The screech of the closet being traipsed along the kitchen floor. That’s when I tried to let out a scream, but my throat was so dry I could only manage a faint gargle. The dragging stopped and I heard footsteps just outside the room. There was a knock at the door. Two thuds. Then two more, louder this time. Then one final knock, so loud it seemed to rattle the bed posts. The handle turned, and the door swung open and stripped the paint from the wall.
The doorway remained empty, but the corridor was illuminated a deep crimson. This was the colour of anger. I had angered him by trying to cage him away. And I had to pay the price. He appeared with his back to me as he traipsed the closet into the room. I saw that all the duct tape had been ripped off, revealing the birch underneath. The padlock remained threaded through the handle, but the metal that fits into the lock had been sheared in two. He put the closet exactly where it had been before, then turned to look at me. He pointed a single finger into the air and started wagging it. The way a parent tells off a child when they’ve had their hand in the cookie jar. Then he committed what I think was his most egregious act. He started to dance over to the corner, not walk, dance. His cane tapped on the floor syncopated to his rhythm like a sinister ragtime. He turned to me, grinning. His teeth, once yellow, were now white. He stayed in his corner. And he watched.
I see the man in the pin-stripe suit, standing in the corner.
He has been waiting in the corner for three hours. If being awake for over one hundred hours has had any benefit at all, it is that I now understand he will not leave tonight for another two hours. I have no smelling salts left. I sit here now, remembering what it feels like to sleep. What it feels like to dream. Because I will be there soon. And when I get there, I will be met with darkness.
George Gill is studying for his Ph.D. in condensed matter physics at the University of Oxford. When he isn’t performing experiments, he is writing or reading. He is currently working on more short stories.