Sleeping is the easiest, most natural thing in the world. Babies do it all the time without even being taught. It’s so easy people even do it by accident, but not me. I suck at sleeping, which sometimes feels more like I suck at being human since I’m so freaking tired all the time.
It’s the same battle every night. Even looking at the clock and knowing I should be in bed is enough to make me feel restless. I’ve tried keeping a rigid sleep schedule, and burning soporific incenses, and popping pills, but nothing seems to make a difference. You’d think my body would just get so tired it shut off automatically, but it seems like the less I sleep, the more agitated I get thinking how much I need to, and the harder it is to make love with sweet oblivion.
Anyway a friend of mine named Anu told me her grandfather was this Indian guru who had a remedy for insomnia. My hopes were flying about as high as an iron pigeon, but I figured there wasn’t any harm. Even if I couldn’t sleep, at least I could impress the girl by being “spiritually open to new ideas” and “respecting her culture” and all that shit. (Is it wrong that I pat myself on the back for not being racist just because it seems like everyone else is nowadays? Yeah just thinking that is probably racist too.)
Point is she gives me this album of Indian music that I’m supposed to listen to in bed. She says it’s an instrument called the ravanahatha, which is some kind of ancient precursor to the violin. It’s made from a resonating gourd covered with goat hide and strings stretched across a bamboo neck. Legend has it these particular songs were written to appease Shiva, the destroyer of worlds in Hindu scripture. Its supposed to be super calming and meditative though, so I took it home with me to give it a go.
The only weird thing is, right before we parted Anu also said:
“Oh I almost forgot. He said not to try and stop the music before morning, because Shiva will listening too.”
In hindsight, “Is Shiva a babe?” was probably not the most culturally sensitive question, but Anu still smiled. As a whole, I think the whole interaction was good for our chances of making beautiful, caramel colored babies down the road.
That night I gave the music a go. It was legitimately beautiful: kind of a longing, soulful sound, but not in a sad way. There was just enough lively melodic lift that it felt more like the serenity of seeds buried deep beneath the snow, just waiting for their chance to bloom.
Next came the part where I try to trick my brain into sleep. It feels like playing that “did I put the poison in my drink, or yours?” game as I alternate between thinking the music will work or not, and whether even having expectations will influence the results. Next, surprisingly enough, came a deep and peaceful sleep.
And the strangest dream I’d ever had in my life, almost more like an out-of-body experience. I was only aware I was sleeping at all because I was looking down at my body while it slept. I could even still hear to the music down below: like I was watching myself in a movie. It didn’t take long to discover my consciousness was free to move around my house, leaving my sleeping body behind.
That part was a lot of fun. I just sort of drifted around, shifting my focus like I was just imagining different perspectives, but everything was so clear and perfect that it felt exactly like I was actually seeing it. I could even count the number of dishes in my sink (6, mind your own business) and see the minuscule detail in the wood-grain floor. I was just about to float over to the living room and see if I could watch TV when I heard the first sound other than the music.
The rattle of a handle, and then the opening of my front door. I startled so badly that I woke up immediately, seemingly teleporting into my bed. Frantic reality checks — the texture of my blanket, my phone beside my bed, the clock reading 2:31 — everything seemed normal again. That’s why I flinched so bad when I heard the front door slam closed.
Panic. Hyperventilate. Lie flat and pretend I’m asleep. I really need a better defense plan. I held my breath for a full ten seconds, but I didn’t hear any other sounds. Creeping out of bed, I sped through my apartment in a commando crouch, flipping on every light I passed. It didn’t take long before I cleared the last room — all empty. The front door was closed and locked. I couldn’t help but count the 6 dishes in my sink and congratulate my dream-memory on its accuracy.
Figuring I’d just heard a neighbor’s door slam really loud, I turned off all the lights and went back to bed. Seconds later I was hovering in my room again, watching myself sleep. Except I wasn’t the only one in the room.
Someone was sitting in the chair beside my bed (also known as the “I haven’t decided if these clothes are dirty” chair). My clothes had been moved onto the floor to make space for it. Naked bone white skin, androgynous yet strong features, and long strings of prayer beads characterized my visitor, but nothing stood out more than the pair of living green snakes which sinuously writhed around his throat.
He was watching my sleeping body at first, but ponderous and implacable as a flowing glacier, he turned his gaze to meet my perspective. He watched me through heavy half-closed eyes, nodding his head in time with the music. Seeing his tranquility, I allowed myself to drift closer to get a better look.
Approaching him was the most disorienting experience of my life. As I drew closer his body seemed to grow larger as normal perspective dictates, but his eyes grew at an exponentially larger rate as though they were gargantuan celestial bodies that I was speeding towards. Soon my room and his body and everything else became insignificant to the cosmic eyes which stretched from horizon to horizon. I had to pull myself back for fear of falling in, at which point everything returned to normal.
Almost normal. His necklace of snakes was gone. They’d slithered up my bed, their thick coils sliding effortlessly over my corporal body’s legs.
It was enough of a start to wake me up again. I immediately began my reality checks — blanket, phone, clock — then I noticed the pile of clothes on the floor. The ones that used to be on the chair. My heart was beating so fast and the music was so loud that I couldn’t hear myself think. I numbly shut off the music, trying to catch my breath for long enough to figure out if I’d somehow knocked the clothes onto the floor myself.
Something touched my foot under the blankets. So cold and smooth, almost slimy touch. A wave of tension ran up my body, overflowing into the thing touching me whose rigid coils loaded like a spring. I couldn’t hover anymore, but shit could I jump. Tangled in my own sheets, I flopped and lurched through the air like an Olympic slug. I hit the floor hard, but I didn’t slow down until I’d wriggled free from the blankets and raced to the light switch by the door.
Two long green snakes with black and yellow markings emerged from the blanket on the ground behind me. They recoiled momentarily from the light, but one them launched back at me, striking sinking its fangs into my calf. I swatted at it and it immediately let go and backed off again, but it stung like a thousand bee stings one right on top of the other.
I ran from my bedroom and slammed the door shut. A forked tongue darted out beneath, swiftly followed by the head of the serpent which easily slipped through the crack. I stomped and it withdrew, but the second snake was already halfway out — far enough to rear its head and tense for another strike. I turned and ran.
My leg was on fire as I hobbled out of my apartment in my boxers and dashed toward my car. The place it bit me was swelling by the second, and I knew I had to get to a hospital ASAP.
By the time I got there, I was almost blind. My throat had swollen to the size of a pinhole, and the pressure in my chest was excruciating. I parked right up on the curb and managed to tumble out of my car, and I was vaguely aware of some people helping me into a wheelchair after that.
When I woke, they told me I was bitten by an Indian Pit Viper, which confused the shit out of them because they don’t exist anywhere in the Americas. I had an animal services guy sweep my apartment before I got home, but he didn’t find anything. He did have this helpful tidbit of reassurance to give me though:
“Of course snakes aren’t going to be found when they don’t want to be. Shit, I knew a lady who had an ten-foot boa living in her house leftover from the last tenant. Was over a month before she even saw the bugger.”
If I don’t play the music, then all I can do is lie awake listening to the approaching slithering and agitated hiss in the darkness.
If I do play it, the dream comes again without fail and I’m forced to watch the stranger enter my room and sit down beside my bed.
Like I wasn’t already having trouble getting some sleep.