I wasn’t able to sleep, so I figured I’d try for a night time job at this sleep clinic as a security guard. They offered the job and I accepted straight away, filled in a couple of forms, and that was that. It seemed perfect: if I was going to be awake anyway, I might as well get paid for it.
I got into the swing of things right away. It wasn’t difficult: my duties consisted mainly of walking through the softly carpeted halls every hour or so, checking that the security doors were locked, and helping myself to as many free cups of coffee as I could. There were always two nurses on call in case of a medical emergency, but they mostly slept through their shifts so I barely saw them.
My contact with the patients was limited. There seemed to be perhaps fifteen or twenty of them, with some there for extended periods and others coming and going on an almost daily basis. I only ever saw them when they were asleep. It was strange seeing them like that, robbed of all context. They could have been bankers or beggars for all I knew.
In the staff room, watching over the half-drunk remnants of other people’s coffee and dog-eared magazines was a bank of CCTV monitors wired up to the patient’s rooms, so that the staff could keep an eye on them whenever they needed to. I spent most of my time there when I wasn’t patrolling the corridors. It was oddly relaxing to watch all these strangers sleeping peacefully in their beds throughout the night, stirring gently every so often as they dreamed their unknown dreams. It gave me great comfort to watch them all lying there, dead to the world with me as their silent custodian.
Then there were the sleepwalkers. The clinic had a policy of leaving them to their own devices as much as possible, provided they weren’t in any immediate danger (which they never were: the windows were bolted and made of toughened glass, and all external doors were kept securely locked). I used to come across them often in the halls and corridors, strange lost souls acting out their own private, intangible dream roles, murmuring to themselves while they performed odd and unintelligible actions.
One night I was walking down one of the usual corridors, the faint sounds of snoring echoing through the air like waves rising and falling on a beach, when I came across one of the usual sleepwalkers. A middle aged man, swollen and red-faced, wearing powder-blue pyjamas and and incongruous pink dressing gown that flapped open as he walked. He seemed utterly oblivious to the world around him.
As I approached, however, he stopped dead in his tracks and turned to face the wall, standing as motionless as a statue with his face only millimetres away from the pastel-shaded brickwork. A dry, papery voice emanated from him as I passed.
You’re going to do a terrible thing.
I stopped myself, and gazed bemused at the thinning hair on the back of his round head.
You’re going to do a terrible thing, he repeated, in that same thousand-year-old voice.
“Are you talking to me?”
There’s no-one else here.
That was true. But usually the sleepwalkers are too wrapped up in their own nocturnal preoccupations to register other people, let alone speak directly to them. This was something of a novelty. My curiosity was piqued.
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