But this past Saturday (on March 28) one of the prompts we did was "What if nobody slept anymore"? I read a book last year, Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun, which I guess stuck with me more than I thought. It was about an insomnia epidemic. It influenced my piece, I'd be lying if I said it didn't, but I think my as yet undetermined cause, and the progression of events, would differ considerably.
But. Nobody can sleep. Here's what I wrote:
I thought it was only me at first. I'd try to sleep, for hours I'd try, getting into bed earlier and earlier, lights out, shades drawn, the most comfortable clothes and bedding I could get my hands on. Even before the insomnia, my thoughts would always chase each other, constant "what if" scenarios, constant analysis of the day and days which had gone before. Did I do the right thing? Had I done something wrong? What would fix it? Was there a problem to be solved. The way it used to work was eventually, the thoughts settle down to a low grade static buzz, and my breathing would slow, and I'd slip off to sleep.
Now, though, I can't. Even though I'm exhausted, I reach that last step, that cotton headed slide over the precipice to dreams and get hung up. Then my thoughts wake back up, and my heart kicks into a more frenetic rhythm again, and eventually I get up, pulling a blanket with me, and go to curl up into an armchair beside the window, staring out into the unquiet night. No sense keeping him awake if I don't need to.
But that's when I realized it. The birds aren't sleeping anymore either. You used to occasionally hear a night bird, or a regular daytime songbird which had reached unaccustomed wakefulness for reasons unknown. But now it's all of them, a subdued chorus beneath the stars.
And he was just pretending to sleep, or maybe was more sluggish when rebounding to full staring into the night wakefullness. He came to find me, slipper abandoned by the bed, glasses and hair askew. "You okay?" he asked, voice containing no trace of sleepiness.
"I can't sleep."
And what did you say after that? We put on soup and got out the Scrabble board.
There's an event horizon one crosses into madness after not sleeping, but I don't know how many days or hours that takes. Maybe everybody has a different threshold. We don't know what caused it, the news doesn't know, the others in the neighborhood don't know. But everything is a sense of wakeful, bated breaths, waiting for the next event.