There was an accident on the freeway on my way in to work tonight. Third one this week. I couldn't do much of anything, so I just kept driving, and hoped that everyone was all right.
I can't sleep again. I lie there in the middle of the day, staring at the plaster in the ceiling, counting the spots and the cracks. I haven't slept right in days, weeks, months -- it's all caught up with the dreams, and the light, and the darkness. I fall asleep and it's like I didn't sleep at all. I'll wake up, and the clock says it's an hour later, but I have hazy memories of being awake and alert through the whole intervening space. The doctor says that I should try going to sleep a little earlier, that I try hot milk, that I get blackout shades for my room. I try to tell him that it's not the light that's keeping me awake -- really, the light's the only thing that makes it possible to sleep at all. Usually at about that time, he starts looking at me strangely, and that's about the time that I shut up. I don't really need to spend any more time talking to the men in the white coats. Three weeks in the loony bin when I was in college is enough for me.
I took this night shift job hoping that if I tried to sleep during the day, that if I tried to sleep during the brightness and the sunlight and the daylight, the dreams would stop. They haven't. If nothing else, they've gotten worse.
I don't believe in ghosts. I don't. I don't believe in magic, or hauntings, or demons, or any of those ten thousand mystical mumbo-jumbo bullshit New Age kind of things. I'm a practical man.
It's 2AM. Everyone else has gone home; it's just me and the radio in the server room. It's cold in here, the kind of cold that only comes about when you've got an industrial-strength air conditioner running full blast. I guess it's better than the heat that I'd be suffering if they didn't have the a/c; we've got over a hundred machines. That's a lot of spare heat. I think I prefer the cold; makes it easier to stay awake. Keeps me from nodding off in front of one of our desktop machines and waking up an hour later in mid-sentence.
Fugue, they call it. Or, if the person's been through a few abnormal psych classes, depersonalization disorder: "persistent or recurrent experiences of feeling detached from, and as if one is an outside observer of, one's mental processes or body." I live in present tense. Everything that happens to me is all part of one giant now, with no forward and no back, no past and no present. I'm dissociated from my own history. All I've got is me. And the server room. And the dreams.
The backup on PLAZD43 failed again. That one fails more times than not; I think it just doesn't like me. Oh, I know that's insane, but anyone who works with computers would say the same thing: machines have personalities, they're more than just simply collections of nuts and bolts. I guess I just take it a little further than most. Sometimes I just walk through the server room, talking out loud, to myself, to the machines, to the walls. I get the feeling that someone, something -- the servers, whatever -- is listening, is talking back to me. Sometimes I imagine that I can hear them answering me, but I learned a long time ago that I just shouldn't mention that sort of thing to anyone. I've made money for enough psychiatrists in my life, heard enough whispers of schizophrenia that I've learned when to keep my damn mouth shut.
I remember reading once, when it was late and cold and quiet, that there was supposedly a time when there was magic in Valendia, the kind of magic we only see talked about in books and games and movies these days. I remember the faery-tales, the ones about how the Church sponsored mages, and it was possible to do all sorts of things with magic that we, with our technology and reason and science and rationality, say are impossible. I remember my mother's campfire ghost stories about Lea Monde, and Valendia the way it used to be. I wonder if maybe, just maybe, I was supposed to have been born then, instead of now.
I was nineteen, I think, when it all started to get a little weird. My life, that is. I was in college -- we all do crazy things in college, that's my only defense. I don't really remember much of that night. I think I smoked something, or drank something, or got slipped something that just made it all a little fuzzy. That's all I remember. I try not to think about what I do remember of that party -- the darkness and the haze and the screaming, oh God the screaming -- I woke up in the hospital with no clue how I'd gotten there, and when I saw the news reports about the dorm fire and the people who were dead, I went a little nuts. My girlfriend had been at that party with me. My only consolation was that she hadn't lived long.
I dream of Diane, sometimes. Except it's not Diane. It's some other woman, dark-skinned, beautiful, dancing in front of the fire as the dorm burns, with her dark green eyes staring right at me.
That was when it all started. That was when I started leaving the trail of destruction and misery behind me. I'm sure you all know people like that, the people who just have a perpetual cloud of mayhem following along five feet behind them. I'm like that. I don't do anything to cause it, not intentionally, but it happens. I'll brush up against my neighbor's car in the parking lot, and the next thing I know, she's gotta have four thou in engine work done to make it start up again. I'll stop in a pizza place for dinner, and the next day I'll read in the papers that the place was held up at gunpoint and four people were killed. That sort of thing.
The only time that doesn't happen, it seems, is when I'm working with computers. That's why I've stayed in this bullshit job. I'm the local curiousity; I never move on, and the average length of employment in this place is a year and half. I like it, though. It's calm and peaceful in the machine room at night, and if I turn the radio up high enough, I don't even hear the voices anymore. I can sit here and read the history books, and dream about what it would have been like if I'd been born then, instead of now. It's okay when I'm working, for some reason. I don't have to worry about anything like whether or not the plane I just got off of will crash on its next flight, or if the police officer who just gave me a ticket will get killed in his next routine traffic stop, or if the staff at the hospital I visited one of my friends in will fall prey to some strange new deadly disease. I don't have to worry about anything but whether or not D43 will need another reboot or if the backup drives need cleaning.
It takes a certain kind of person to work the night shift, I've always thought. It takes the kind of person who doesn't mind the peace and quiet, the kind of person who can sit in the darkness and stand the feeling of being disconnected from the rest of humanity. I guess that's why I'm perfect for the job. I've been disconnected from humanity for years.
It's quiet out on Broad Street at four in the morning, except for the sounds of sirens a few blocks over. There are people sleeping on the street, but they don't bother me if I don't bother them, and I don't bother them. I'll just stand out here and smoke my cigarette and occasionally lift a hand in greeting to one of the people who are walking by. Live and let live.
My mother always wanted more for me. She insisted that I was smart, and creative, and funny -- all those things that mothers say about their sons. She was the one who wanted me to go on to college; it's kind of funny that she died before I graduated. My college years were a bad time to know me, I guess. The body count was impressive.
Sometimes I think I'm cursed or something, before I remember that I don't believe in any of that kind of stuff. They've all died, all the people I've loved, in these past few years. Mom, Dad, Diane -- all gone. And I'm left. Me, the loser who sits in the middle of the night with his coffee and his attitude and his history books, just left here alone with the radio and the machines.
"The Dark is sleeping," she says to me, the woman with the green eyes and the clothing of flame. "The Dark is as powerful as it ever was, but humanity cannot hear it."
And I wake up, and I'm sitting in front of my PC again, and I'm alone in the room.
I don't know what the hell I believe in, anyway. The city is a slum, and the world isn't much far behind it. People are just assholes to each other; it's all gimme, gimme, gimme. I keep thinking that there should be something I should be able to do to make it a little bit better -- and sometimes, I feel almost like I should be able to -- I don't know, reach out and tap into that, control it, direct it. Point it somewhere that will make sure it won't hurt anyone who doesn't deserve to be hurt. If I could only figure out how to reach out my hand.
Delusions of grandeur. I know. You don't need to tell me.
7AM, and my shift is ending. I pick up my gym bag; might as well lift some weights before I go home. I need to shower anyway; the hot water is out in my apartment again.
People are starting to trickle into the gym when I get out of the showers. One of the guys looks over at me, casually, as I step out of the shower wrapped in a towel. "Nice tattoo," he comments, idly, as he washes his hands at the sink.
"Thanks," I say automatically, glancing over my shoulder at the intricate design on my back. To be honest, I don't remember having it done; it was just there when I got out of the hospital, back in college. I like it, though. Somehow, it makes me feel almost like I'm special.
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