a. he has a bed, but chooses to sleep against the wall in his closet, and in the morning thousands of crabs are pried to his spine. he tells his parents that it's an experiment. he laughs. their permanently arched brows do not.
b. an experiment, he says, but never what for. his bones know the answer; they are trees getting hacked away at. they cry like a whiny child over going to bed, and he has to drag them, kicking and screaming, to the closet. he wakes up to coat hangers and boxes crushing his legs and forgotten toys fallen on him in the night. he wakes like he's waking from a nightmare: suddenly, in a cold sweat, and with a screaming heart. he wakes disappointed.
c. next he tries under the bed. he has to lie flat on his back like a corpse in a coffin to fit. he likes to stare up at the wooden underside of the bed and pretend that he is a corpse in a coffin. at least then he won't have to worry about it anymore. the dust under the bed turns to adrenaline when he exhales it, and there's a pressure against his chest, a pressure that wouldn't go away, like he's a mummy wrapped too tight.
d. sometimes, when you're drifting into the gentle infinity of sleep, your heartbeat gets too slow too fast, and your brain gets scared that you've died. it jerks you awake, and you sit up, gasping, with warm, salty sweat dripping down your face and neck and spine, and your stomach drops, and you're falling, until your bones jolt back into place and your blood starts to flow again. an unpleasant experience, but necessary to reassure yourself that you're not falling, that you're not dying.
e. that is how he wakes up every morning. and in a morbidly ironic way, it's killing him.
f. he thought it would help, but it's the same as the closet. he closes his eyes, and it creeps up on him. his blood goes first--- he can feel it, in the way you definitely should not be able to feel your blood, flowing through his body, circulating, thick and dark red, rushing in his ears, and he can taste it, too. hot metal in his mouth.
g. next go his bones. as he lies in his coffin, screaming to be buried, he's horrifically aware of every bone in his body. strong but all too breakable, and they're all wrong. like the bones for his legs and the bones for his arms have been switched, like his shoulders are now supporting his hips.
h. he never told a soul. when he was a kid, it was less severe--- he would wake up with a knot in his stomach, or stupidly gasping for air like a goldfish, or with gruesome words caught in his throat, but the bad nights were few and far in-between. well. he told them about the faces in the dark and stinging eyes and counting the hours of sleep he got on one hand. sleep problems, the doctor said. scared of the dark. overactive imagination. normal childhood issues that he would grow out of. he didn't.
i. finally, his skin. skin. even the word makes him writhe. this is the part he dreads most: the blood and bones he can stand, but this is what he'll be met with when (not if) he goes to hell. it's like a thousand centipedes are biting into his skin, chewing the flesh, and crawling underneath. every minuscule hair on his form stands, every nerve feels it. they're breathing down his neck, on his hands, into his torso, a breath that is hot and cold, that feels thousands of flies swarming around him. they stroke his skin. their fingernails bite him. their teeth bite him. their tongues lap at his tissue, and they begin to rip out his organs and muscle and eat it in front of him. he shakes. he is a living carcass.
j. the centipedes eat him from the inside out, and they finish the job.
k. he has never had a nightmare. his dreams are neither pleasant nor unpleasant, they simply are; sometimes mundane, sometimes bizarre, but never bad. once, his fifth grade lunch table started talking about the worst nightmares they'd ever had. they spoke of mothers telling you not to look up, a face that's not your own in the mirror, hands under the bed and in the closet. it was then that he realized he wasn't normal. because that happened to him when he was awake.
l. i would tell you what he does, but there's nothing to tell. so what he doesn't do: move. cry out. open his eyes. call for his parents. scream. open his eyes. push them away. touch them at all. open his eyes.
m. he does not open his eyes. this is the most important thing, the only rule he has for when this happens. once he closes his eyes, he resigns himself to his fate. he presses "go." opening them would break the contract, and who knows what would happen then?
n. somewhere in this, he falls asleep. the shapes in the back of his eyelids swirl together and he falls into them, falling, falling. like alice down the rabbit hole. falling. sometimes, during the drop, he fabricates stories, and colors weave together in front of him. sometimes it's just a void. falling. and then he wakes up, and the sun is streaming into his room, and he's gasping for breath, and his insides are shaking. like when you climb a ladder and miss a step, in those moments before the plummet but after the fact. like when you tip your chair back a little too far. a miniature heart attack, people say. he disagrees. this is worse.
o. the most interesting aspect about this ordeal is that he can't remember any of it when he wakes up. he knows that something is wrong, that something happened the previous night, and will happen again this night, but he has no idea what it is. sometimes there are smoke shapes on the ceiling, imprints of what was and what will come. sometimes he tries to grasp them, but they're just that: smoke shapes. he only bats them further away.
p. he gives up. he had thought, well. the monsters in the closet and under the bed couldn't get to him if he got there first. now he just tries to stay awake, keep his eyes open, even when they feel like citrus and burning tears. it's not a matter of whether he can make it through the night, but rather how long he can make it. concoctions of coffee and energy drinks sit by his bed, and his hands shake so much that he spills half of them on his sheets.
q. he is terminal. he accepted this from the moment of his birth, when he arrived pink and fragile and covered in blood in a hospital at midnight. he may not know that he accepted this, but that doesn't change it.
r. like weeds growing in the crack of a sidewalk, they seep into his daytime routine. it's imperceptible at first: a glint in the shadow of a friend's eyes, a shape in the clouds that might not even be a shape, the steady dulling of his taste buds. his heartbeat growing louder. he realizes when he wakes up and the panic, the shaking, doesn't go away.
s. and when he realizes, when his bones don't jolt back into place, it's everywhere. it's in a snide remark, or a red check mark on a test, or seeing himself in a mirror. over time, his face becomes something unrecognizable. the angles are awry. the skin and hair are too loose, while the eyes and nose and mouth are too tight, like a nail hammered in too hard or a jar lid that won't budge. there are bags now; all the colors are too gray. this is not my face, he decides. this is not me. he knows it's not true, but likes to believe it. one night, he pulls a hair from his head and holds it up to the window. it's gray, and it's not just the moonlight.
t. he's drifting away. a shell, that's what writers always say. "a shell of a person he used to be." it's not wrong, but it's definitely not right. it's more like dying. you know you'll be gone soon, so you do everyone the favor of disappearing in advance. before, he was jealous of the other kids. he was scared, but he wanted to know what a nightmare was like. he wanted to know what he would see, and he wanted to see them, not just feel them. he wanted to know what they looked like. it never occurred to him that he didn't need to get nightmares when he was asleep--- he was already living in one.
u. one night, he comes home and slips into his room to find his mother crouched on the floor, gazing at something. his breath tightens, and she hears it. she turns and stares at him, and her eyes carry a weight. she found them. she found the notebooks.
v. ever since he was younger, he's collected notebooks. he thinks that they get him a step closer to the smoke, that if he can draw what's in his head, it might become more solid. because it is in his head, somewhere. he just needs to find it. his mother stays there, on her knees like a widow, and the silence in the room is the only thing that's real.
w. she stands, and there are piles of his paper homes in her arms. i don't need them anymore, mom, he wants to say. i know what they look like now. you know too, don't you? he half expects her to answer, though he only said it in his head. she doesn't. she only drifts out of the room, a Victorian ghost, and he doesn't have to follow her to know what she's doing. later, he catches a glimpse of a year-old sketch crumpled in the recycling. his fate is sealed, and that night, he doesn't bother to stay awake.
z. his blood goes first.
This is my latest short story. I just started writing it, and it went this way, so it definitely needs some revision. It's kind of a metaphor. I wanted to use an alphabet instead of numbers because numbers can go on forever, but the English alphabet only has twenty-six letters, and I wanted that to sort of overlap with how the ending is inevitable for him, if that makes since? Please give feedback; a like is nothing if you don't tell me what you think.