My eyes settled for a second on one particular screen, a confusing tumult of greys and blacks that resolved into a stark scene of bloody violence in a dingy vestibule as I fixed my attention on it. As I watched, the camera lurched past a battered door with a grimy stained-glass window set into it. For an instant, a reflected blur of the protagonist was caught in that window, and the camera froze and then panned in on the image. It was a face. The reflection of a face.
I looked to another monitor: a street scene, streaked with blood in the gutters and bodies strewn about the sidewalk. The chrome of a parked car threw an image back the camera, which instantly halted and zoomed in on it. The same face, stark and washed-out by the low-quality film.
My eyes darted from one screen to another, and in each the same thing happened: the movement ceased, and the monitor filled with a single image taken from some small reflection in a puddle or a pane of glass. Soon every one of the bank of monitors was displaying the same thing from a multitude of different angles – a single face, the features all but erased in a blurry white mass, but still recognizably and irrevocably mine.
As soon as I came to this realization the screens all instantly snapped to black. The nameless muzak tinkled on in the background as I struggled to take in what I had seen.
Nothing seemed to make sense anymore. The sleep clinic had been my own private cocoon, like a warm and comfortable womb which had taken me in and shielded me from the storms of insomnia, but now… Even the walls around me and the soft carpet under my feet seemed as unreal and intangible as a dream. I had never felt more lost. Adrift in a sea of doubt, uncertainty and overwhelming confusion.
The sun was starting to rise. My shift would soon be over, and it would be time to leave. To venture out into the real world again. As if in a trance I moved over to the area of the staff room that served as a makeshift kitchen for preparing snacks and ready meals. I opened a drawer, and found what I was looking for: a long, sharp kitchen knife, shiny and barely used. It felt reassuringly cool in my hand – solid and substantial, a silver slash of reality that could cut through the fog of insubstantiality that surrounded me. It fitted snugly into my pocket, and without another thought I slipped out into the dawn of a brand new day.
Now I’m back in the sleep clinic again. It’s hard to imagine ever leaving. I still don’t sleep, but that’s okay – I get the feeling there are some terrible nightmares awaiting me on the other side of sleep, on the other side of these welcoming walls, so I’m happy to stay here and just wait them out. I pad silently down the softly-furnished corridors throughout the long hours of the night, that tuneless muzak tinkling away in the background like a babbling brook, safeguarding the slumbering patients from whatever terrors their dreams may hold for them. The voice comes back every now and again, but it’s easier for me to ignore it now. After all, I know what’s real and what’s not. And it’s getting easier for me to hold on to that now. Easier by the hour.