01 Feb Sleeptalker
The meteor shower had been breathtaking. We had heard beforehand that our area would be one of the best for viewing the event, and it ended up turning into a neighborhood party. Our neighbors up and down the block had set out lawn chairs and coolers. The night was crisp, cool, and clear, and the stars were bright.
I held Naomi’s hand, which was cold in my own, as we reclined and watched the night sky. We were joined by our neighbors, Randy and Pam, who had brought over a blanket and a cooler overflowing with bottles of beer and wine spritzers.
“You know,” said Randy, “I heard that when there’s a meteor shower, Chuck Norris grabs a bar of soap.”
I chuckled and clinked my bottle of beer against his. Both of our wives groaned and shook their heads.
The meteors fell in rapid succession, an amazing sight to behold, and when one of them fell amazingly close, blazing overhead and lighting up the sky, the neighborhood released a collective gasp.
* * *
“You talked in your sleep last night.” Naomi was sitting across from me at the kitchen table, warming both hands against a large mug of steaming coffee. Her hands were always cold. She looked tired and less than pleased.
“I did?” I asked. “What did I say?”
“Nothing I could understand,” she said, stretching her back and squeezing her shoulder blades together. “But you woke me up.”
“Sorry?” I offered with a shrug. “That’s so strange, though. I don’t think I’ve ever talked in my sleep before.”
“Yeah, well, you do now,” she said with a hint of impatience in her voice before raising her mug of coffee slowly to her lips.
“It’s a beautiful day outside,” I said, looking out a kitchen window. “Looks like spring.”
“If you say so,” she mumbled.
* * *
Two nights later at bedtime, Naomi handed my phone to me. The screen was filled with a logo I didn’t recognize. An app was loading that was called “Sleeptalker.”
“What is this?” I asked, although I already had a good idea what it was.
She climbed into bed beside me. “It records any noises you make while you’re asleep,” she said.
“Hmm,” I said.
“Just put it on your nightstand on the edge closest to your pillow,” she said. “You’ve talked in your sleep for two nights now. I want you to hear it.” She gave me a peck on the cheek and turned over. I did as instructed, placing my phone on the edge of my nightstand. Turning off the light, I gave my pillow a punch and fell asleep.
The next morning, Naomi was already at the kitchen table when I came downstairs, another large mug of coffee in her hands. She gave me a dirty look as I entered the kitchen. I went to the counter and poured myself a cup of coffee.
“Again?” I asked.
“Again, Chatty Cathy,” she said. “Do you have your phone?”
I handed it to her. She turned it on, launched the Sleeptalker app, and tapped on a file. The first sounds to be heard were a series of random grunts and groans. There were no words, yet my voice was recognizable. At one point I made a sound like I was clucking my tongue, and we both burst out laughing.
I sat down across from Naomi and we looked at each other, continuing to listen. There was the sound of stirring, of bed covers being shifted, and then there was my voice, speaking clearly and slowly.
“Yes,” I said.
I gave Naomi a bemused smile. She returned my gaze but not my smile.
The recording continued: “No… No… Yes, I tried… Maybe three more days. You? …OK.”
The recording ended. Naomi and I stared at each other. “So you heard all that last night?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “As soon as you started talking I put a pillow over my head.”
“I don’t remember saying any of that,” I said with a chuckle. “It’s so weird.”
“Weird and annoying,” she said, slurping her coffee loudly. “Do you remember dreaming anything? It sounded like you were having a conversation.”
“No,” I said. “I don’t remember dreaming at all.”
* * *
On the third morning, I once again found Naomi at the kitchen table nursing a mug of coffee, her face a sagging mask of exhaustion.
“Bad night?” I asked with some trepidation.
“You could say that,” she said.
“Did I talk in my sleep again?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I’m not sure. I actually woke up because of a nightmare. It scared me so bad that I sat up in bed.”
“Wow,” I said, sitting across from her. “I slept through that. Do you remember the dream?”
She paused, thinking. “No,” she said. “When I woke up it was so vivid that I knew I’d remember it. But it’s gone now.”
I pulled my phone from the pocket of my pajamas and set it on the table between us. I launched the Sleeptalker app and hit “play” on the newest recording. We listened to the recording of my voice. My words were slow and monotonous.
“Yes… No… No… Yes, a shifting of the hands and feet… Two more days… You? …OK.”
“That sounded a lot like what I said the night before,” I said.
Naomi nodded but said nothing.
* * *
That night, I was awakened from a deep sleep by the sound of Naomi screaming. She was making jerking movements in the bed beside me. I rolled over toward her, spooning her back. I rubbed her shoulder and made shushing sounds in her ear. I whispered her name. Slowly she calmed down and became still. My heart pounded.
After a few moments, her breathing became calm and steady. I assumed that she had fallen asleep. But then I felt her shift her legs and press the soles of her bare feet against the tops of mine.
She groaned. “Your feet are cold,” she said, her voice sleepy.
I touched my right big toe against my left foot. Normally my body radiated heat while I slept, but instead I found my feet were as cold as ice.
“No,” she said, more awake now. “Your feet are wet.” She pulled her feet away from mine.
I reached down with one hand. She was right. My feet weren’t just cold; they were wet, the cuffs of my pajama bottoms soaked with water.
I didn’t sleep much the rest of that night. In the morning I sat up in bed, picked up my phone, and tapped on the Sleeptalker app. I was surprised to see that there was a new recording.
Naomi stirred beside me and opened her eyes, staring up at the ceiling. I hit “play.”
“Yes… Yes… Yes… Almost completely now… Tomorrow… You? …That is unfortunate… I understand.”
I put my phone down and yawned. When I looked back at Naomi, her eyes were wide and she was staring at me.
“What?” I asked.
She sat up and took my phone from me. She turned the volume up completely and hit “play” again. My voice filled the room as the recording played again at full volume, surrounded by the hiss of ambient noise. I was confused, unsure why Naomi was playing the recording again, but then I heard it. A quiet, barely discernable sound between each of my recorded statements.
I looked at Naomi. “Daniel,” she said. “There’s another voice on that recording.”
We played it a third time. There was indeed another voice, but it was too quiet and muffled to be understood.
“Daniel, what’s going on?” Naomi asked.
I had no answer.
* * *
When I walked out the front door after breakfast, the morning light was painful against my tired eyes. I walked toward my car in the driveway, briefcase in hand, and unlocked the driver’s side door.
“Good morning, Daniel!”
I jumped and turned around. I was greeted by the wide smile of my neighbor Randy, who was standing on his front step dressed in a white terrycloth bathrobe, a cup of coffee in one hand, the morning paper tucked under one arm.
He chuckled. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“It’s ok,” I responded. “Good morning.”
“Rough night?” he asked.
“You could say that,” I responded, turning back toward my car. I paused, then turned back to Randy. “Wait, why do you ask?”
“I saw you last night,” he said. “Out here on your lawn.”
“What?” I asked.
“Yeah, must have been about 2:00 in the morning. Really strange. You were just standing there, looking up at the sky. What were you doing?”
I shook my head. “I have no idea. I don’t remember doing that.”
“Really?” he said. “Do you sleepwalk?”
“Not that I know of,” I said. “But I have been talking in my sleep lately. Naomi’s about ready to kick me out of the house.”
He raised his eyebrows and smiled.
“Well, I guess neither one of us had a good night’s sleep then,” I said.
Randy’s smile faded. “What do you mean?”
“If you saw me out here at 2:00 in the morning, I guess you weren’t sleeping so well either.”
Randy gave me a confused look before dropping his eyes. I could tell he was thinking, trying to remember. “Huh,” he said, looking slightly amused. “I guess I didn’t.”
* * *
Work that day was a blur. I fought to keep my eyes open, and I made frequent trips to the employee lounge, quickly losing count of the number of cups of coffee I consumed. I found myself on the edge of sleep numerous times as I sat at my desk, my computer screen a blur through my half-lidded eyes.
Near the end of the day, about an hour before I would have gotten off work, my phone rang. It was Naomi. “Daniel,” she said, her voice full of panic. “You need to come home.”
Within the hour I pulled into our driveway. The neighboring house, the one that belonged to Randy and Pamela, was surrounded by yellow police tape. Two patrol cars were parked outside, as was an ambulance. The front door was open and several uniformed people were taking turns going in and coming out. Two officers watched me as I exited my car.
Naomi burst from the front door and approached me.
“What happened?” I asked her.
“Pam is dead,” she said, and began to cry, collapsing into my arms, her chin resting on my shoulder.
“What?” I said.
“I went over to ask her if she wanted to come over for coffee. The door was open.” Naomi’s voice hitched in her throat and she swallowed hard. When she spoke again, her breath was hot against my ear. “Daniel, she was tied to their bed. There was blood…”
“Shhhh,” I said.
“There was blood everywhere,” she sobbed. “And they can’t find Randy.”
“Daniel Wilson?” said a voice behind me.
I turned around and faced a uniformed officer. “I need to ask you a few questions,” he said.
I opened my mouth to speak, but then I was distracted by the sight of two officers leading Randy, still dressed in a white bathrobe, out of the door of his house. His hands were cuffed behind him. As he was led down the sidewalk toward one of the patrol cars, he looked over at me, raised his eyebrows, and smiled. Naomi gasped.
* * *
That night in bed, Naomi and I were lying flat on our backs, staring up at the ceiling in the darkness.
“I don’t want to go to sleep,” she said.
I reached over and held her hand. “I know,” I said.
“I just can’t believe it,” she said.
“Me either,” I responded. “I just talked to Randy this morning. He seemed fine. He looked happy.”
“Daniel, he was somewhere in the house. When I went in there and found Pam, he was still in there.” Her voice trembled. She turned toward me, burying her face into my chest. A hot tear penetrated my shirt and created a warm spot on my sternum. I consoled her, and eventually she slept, but her sleep was restless.
Despite my exhaustion, I couldn’t sleep at all. Eventually I gave up and went downstairs. I turned on the TV and stared at the screen, not really focusing on what was playing. At some point during the night, I was startled by the sound of Naomi screaming. When I checked on her, she was still.
* * *
I was at the kitchen table the next morning when Naomi came downstairs. She looked at me with trepidation, then glanced at my phone, which was resting on the table in front of me.
“There isn’t a new recording,” I said, answering the question she didn’t ask. “I didn’t sleep at all last night.”
She said nothing, but walked toward the coffeepot on the counter. She poured a cup of coffee. “I had another nightmare last night,” she said, her back to me as she set the coffeepot back down. “I remember it this time.”
“I know,” I said. “I heard you scream.”
She added sugar and cream to her coffee. When she turned and looked at me, her eyes were bloodshot and red-rimmed.
“What was it?” I asked.
She shook her head, stirring her coffee. She was fighting back tears. She didn’t answer my question. Instead she said, “I think I’ll sleep in the guest room tonight.”
That night, I pled with Naomi to join me in our room. She quietly refused. She would barely look at me when I spoke, and eventually I relented. After changing into her pajamas and brushing her teeth, she shuffled across the hall into the guest bedroom. She shut the door behind her, and then I heard a click as she locked the door.
This morning I woke up at the kitchen table. My neck was stiff from sleeping there, and the bright light of the morning sun blazing through the windows stung my eyes.
The first thing I noticed was that I was dressed in a bathrobe. I had no recollection of taking off my pajamas and putting the robe on. The next thing I realized was that my palms were pink and raw, as if I had just scrubbed them thoroughly.
My phone was in the pocket of my robe. I turned it on and launched Sleeptalker. There were two new recordings. I tapped on the first one and it played.
“Naomi?” I said. This was followed by the sound of knocking on a door. “Naomi?” I repeated. “Let me in, baby. Let me in. I promise I won’t hurt you. I would never hurt you, baby. Just let me in.” There was a pause, a click, and then the sound of a door opening. The recording ended.
I sat back in the kitchen chair, puzzled. I couldn’t recall any of this.
I tapped on the second recording and was surprised to hear not my own voice, but Naomi’s. Her words were slow and flat. Her voice was low and almost unrecognizable.
“Is the process complete?” she asked. Her speech was slurred, her tongue sounding heavy in her mouth. Even her words were oddly pronounced, the emphasis ever so slightly on the wrong syllables.
“Yes,” I said.
“You now have full control?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Full control during the unconscious hours. By morning it will be complete. You?”
“No,” she said. “She is too resistant. This is proving to be the case among all of the females. We can do no more than to infiltrate the subconscious. Physical control is limited to speech alone.”
“That is unfortunate,” I said.
“We have no choice but to eliminate,” she said.
“I understand,” I responded.
The recording ended. I looked up from the kitchen table to the bottom of the stairs. I considered going up but already knew what I would find if I did. Images flickered suddenly through my mind: a shining blade, a voice raised in horror, a splashing of red, all of them the remnants of a fading dream. I picked up my phone and began to dial 911, but then my thumb froze, hovering above the screen.
My heart clenched with the terror of realization and I felt my body shudder. I stood up suddenly, knocking over the chair behind me. But just as quickly as the sensation overtook me, it drained from me completely. I found myself standing, my shaking hand placing my phone on the table in front of me, and then I walked to the front door.
I opened it and stepped outside. The warmth of the morning sun spilled across my face. The sensation felt comforting yet oddly unfamiliar. My bare feet touched the cold, wet grass as I walked across my lawn and stopped. It was a gorgeous spring day.
I looked up at a crystal clear blue sky and smiled. My ears were filled with the songs of birds. A pleasant breeze moved my hair across my forehead. And when I attempted to scream, nothing happened.