December 2, 2011

How To Be Nocturnal

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Human beings are traditionally a daytime species. They don’t see well in the dark, they require sunlight to synthesize certain vitamins, and most stores close at 9PM. In fact, scientific studies show that people who work night shifts — airline pilots and convenience store cashiers — sustain mild brain damage due to long term tampering with their internal clocks. If this is true, I’m probably experiencing the conclusion of Flowers for Algernon, the slow decline into not knowing what a synecdoche is, a nocturnal process we shall henceforth refer to as Gollumization.

I live in a basement. There are no windows. Occasionally, the lights go out due to poor wiring, and I am plunged into darkness. The only sounds are the scampering of rats that live in the crawlspace above the ceiling. Like the underground caverns of the Misty Mountains, this is a fertile location for rapid Gollumization. The transformation from pale skinny ghostman into slightly paler slightly skinnier ghostman was one that occurred with shocking speed, and once it’d taken place, I no longer walked but slunk, no longer ate but gobbled, no longer looked at things but stared ominously. I go whole days without ever seeing a ray of sunlight. It’s like living in a post-apocalyptic underground city like Zion or Ember. It’s like the movie Descent, only much longer and with wifi.

The problem is that, when left to my own devices, I naturally shift my hours up further and further until I operate solely under the cloak of darkness. I always want to stay up past bedtime, an hour later than the previous night, a little later, just a little later. This is probably an impulse planted in my subconscious by a childhood spent desperately trying to stay up past bedtime only to fall asleep at eleven because I had to wake up at 8 for school. To push past sleepiness, I’ll put on a movie or start reading at a time I should fall asleep, and I will do so while guzzling chocolaty coffee beverages and devouring sugary baked goods. I imagine Batman did something similar when he first established his crimefighting hours — he is the night and so am I.

When I die, my transition to “life” as a ghost will be so smooth as to be nearly imperceptible. Already, my roommates often catch me wandering aimlessly through the apartment at 4AM, banging into things and moaning—“Why are you moaning?” “The wifi’s down again, and I need to look up the Wikipedia page for incel.” Sometimes I bang on the pipes running along the ceiling for no reason. I’m pale, nearly translucent. I rarely eat. When daylight comes, I vanish like smoke. And people often wake up to find all the cabinets mysteriously left open, the oven on, and objects rearranged in enigmatic configurations. When I die, I will be the King of Ghosts or maybe the ghost other ghosts come to for advice on haunting like the old chain smoking lady from Beetlejuice.

A nocturnal life is a solitary one. Everyone reasonable has departed for dreamland, and the only ones left awake are the homeless people and weirdoes, wandering the streets like the last survivors of some worldwide holocaust. I like it because no one bothers me with questions like, “Why don’t you have a job,” or “Are you going outside sometime today?” or “What’s that new article you’re writing called? ‘Huff Your Own Poop’. Oh. Yes, the internet has a void that needs to be filled with that one.” I don’t need to hear these things. They are provoking unnecessary anxiety. My ego is made of glass and these people carry rocks. It is a delicate butterfly fluttering above a sea of molten lava. It is a one legged cat dropped into a kennel of ravenous pitbulls. Once these people disappear into their bedrooms, any behavior — no matter how strange and unhealthy — is unquestioned and uncriticized.

On my way to purchase caffeinated beverages, I sometimes see other nocturnal people, my fellow vampires. There’s a bum who fist bumps me every time I see him and yells, “There’s my buddy!” Sometimes he asks for money, but not always. Recently, it was his birthday, and I saw him shouting to passersby about needing money for birthday crack. ‘Would his drug dealer gift wrap it?’ I wondered. Another time, I thought I saw a ghost, but then when it turned around, it was an old lady in a gigantic white robe, watering her plants at 4AM. Once, I saw a cat eating a rabbit on my neighbor’s front lawn. The cat spotted me, froze, stared, and then resumed eating the rabbit.

I often go running along the shore of Lake Michigan at night. There’s no one there except cops patrolling for sleepy bums and, on rare occasions, another weirdo who runs at 3AM. The only sound is the waves hitting the concrete wall next to me — no cars honking or people yelling. When you look out at the lake at night, it’s so black, it seems like your eyes are closed — until you glance to the right at the Chicago skyline, jutting out of the lake like a giant neon wonderland. I run all the way down a pier that extends a few dozen yards out into the lake, and then when I turn around, I can see the shore far in the distance. I imagine how strange it would seem to someone looking out from the beach: me standing here, motionless, a tiny speck in all that blackness. I imagine he/she would think, ‘What an interesting and unusual person, standing way out there,’ or ‘I’m not running down the pier tonight because that guy will definitely murder me.’ But there’s no one watching. Except me. I’m watching. TC mark

Brad Pike

Brad Pike is a writer and performer in Chicago. His writing has been featured on The Sixth Wall, Thought Catalog, The …

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