It's sometimes best not to disturb the sleeping.
You were sure that you were on the verge of discovering why your wife was sitting with an odd smile on her face. Why do dreams always make so little sense? "Keep your arm steady, darling, while I put it in," keeps ringing in your ears, as if the words had just left her sweet rouge lips. How inconvenient to be dragged back to reality just when things were getting interesting.
Something taps against the wall close to your ear. Is some damn idiot trying to throw stones at the window? If they're the same schoolkids who keep slinging empty fast food cartons over your garden fence, you'll be dealing with them soon enough. If only you could sit up and turn on a light. The odd bout of sleep paralysis was never quite like this. Usually, such occurrences involved total loss of muscle usage with the sole exception of weakened eyelids.
As it is, reaching for the bedside lamp requires an effort like shifting heavy furniture. And even then, you only succeed in getting your knuckles rapped as your fist collides with the wooden panelling of a wall. You plant a reminder in your head to reposition the bed as soon as you have managed to properly rouse yourself from this infernal uselessness.
"Awake," calls the female voice that sounds distant and oddly deep for your wife's usual squeaky tone. Then follows the creaking of floorboards. You lift your head which feels like it's been strapped to the pillow, except it can hardly be a pillow, unless pillows usually feel as solid as wood. Perhaps the headboard had fallen down while you were turning in your sleep.
"I command you, awake," comes the voice, now close enough to be the other side of the bedroom door. Well really, darling? There's no need put it so bluntly. Even if you have overslept, where are her manners? Is that why she was looking so peculiar before you fell asleep? Was she in a dire mood because of it?
When you try to speak your jaw feels numb and as vague as a lost memory. You curse the dentist who must have overdone the anaesthetic before removing the bad tooth. Then you puzzle over the recollection, which surely happened months ago! And exactly how many teeth did he remove? Too many, judging by your tongue's slug-like attempt to check. Or was it just gum? If only you hadn't been chewing so much when you fell asleep.
Your head sinks back against the hard bed as you try instead to bend the stiffness from your knees. A loud crack forces you to scrunch up your eyes, as flecks of wood and dust sprinkle over you. What in the Hell? Is an elephant trying to open the door? You shield your eyes as the sound of splitting timber drowns out the insistent voice.
More loud creaking, followed by cracking, comes from somewhere in front of you, and daylight streams into the... . But of course! You never really woke up at all, did you? This is merely a continuation of the dream that you were having, which seems to have taken a turn for the worse. That would certainly explain why your bedroom is so small. No. Not bedroom. How could you call it a bedroom? No bedroom could ever be so small.
"Arise! I command you!"
You try to remember at what point your wife became so arrogant, but the gaps in your memory feel like endless cavities in an enormous chunk of rock. Does she think you can't decide when to get up, when to lie down, when to speak, when to breathe? Some women sure do like to be in charge.
You reach out into the light which is illuminating dust as it pours straight towards your face. Very dirty dust, by the feel of it. Big chunks, almost like dirt. At least the paralysis in your arms and legs is subsiding, which is more than can be said for your mouth.
As you pull yourself into the pale glare, it's the moonlight that's bathing the scene with a milky sheen, rather than the sun. A breeze curls around your ankles like icy fingertips, the nails pressing to the bone. Only in a dream could your bed have sunken into the ground like an image from a horror movie.
Your wife scrambles out of the muddy hole, pulling at tufts of grass. Why is she so insistent to keep her distance, after going through all the trouble of waking you up? Can't she see it's still night-time? Can't she see how rudely she's disturbed you? If only you could tell her you love her and persuade her to come back to bed.
You desperately want to spit the gum from your mouth, but however much you try, it sticks to your tongue like a twisted blob of hot rubber. Yet, as you chew, it feels strangely insubstantial. Clearly, the anaesthetic hasn't given up its persistent deadening of your jaw.
As you try to speak, saliva spills down your neck. You really must remember to close your mouth when you sleep. The best you can manage is to mouth words up towards her as she stands on the edge of the grass. Perhaps she is still angry about the argument you had. If only you could remember what it was about.
Keep your arm steady, darling, while I put it in. Why do these words keep churning around and around your sleepy head? Was it something to do with the illness you'd been diagnosed with? That might explain what the arguing was about. You were told by the doctor that you had diabetes and would have to change your diet or face the consequences. Less sugar, less fatty food. But a lifetime of fried breakfasts is hard to give up.
If only you could tell her not to worry, that finally it's time for a change, that now you know you can do it. As if the thought itself were imbued with magic, you can feel the life-force flowing back into your body and the strength returning to your limbs. As you claw at the edge of the pit, mud clings to your ragged shirt sleeves as they dangle and flap about. The mud doesn't bother you, because you've always hated pink and can't understand why you would be wearing it. But of course, it's only a dream.
Darling, come to me -- is what you struggle to slaver from the lips that you still can't feel. I can change. Hold me, my love.
But as you squirm over the edge of the grass and slump onto your belly, she lurches back with a soft squeal. Her voice grapples with hesitant words. "Stop where you are. You have been called to work. Stand and obey."
You can tell from the pallor of her cheeks and the unusually long face that she isn't her usual self. Perhaps it's the shadows or the moonlight that makes her nose seem more aquiline and her eyes look so much darker than ever before.
You stretch an arm to beckon her closer, perplexed by the pale grey glove that fits your hand so snuggly, apart from where the fingers are torn and hanging loose. Clearly, your peculiar state of dress is just as startling to your wife, judging by the way she keeps staggering back as you try to get close. Perhaps, if you show some restraint, you can try to use charm alone to lure her into your arms.
You reach up to scratch your chin, but discover only an accumulation of warm, sticky, congealed mud where a chin should be. A shower is all you really need. And to remember. That would be a bonus. But darling, I promise I'll do whatever the doctor said. Diabetes isn't the end of the world. I just need insulin -- isn't that right? But only more saliva comes out, adding to the stickiness of the mud.
You stand your ground and hunch your shoulders in the hope of showing submissiveness. It seems to be doing the trick.
"I am your master. You are my servant and shall follow my every command," her strangely deep voice asserts as her feet brush through the grass. Just a little more and she'll be all yours. Then you will hold her close and show her how much she means to you, how much she has helped you in times of need.
If only you could remember why her oddly grinning face stuck so strongly in your mind. And what did she mean -- Keep your arm steady, darling, while I put it in. Of course! The insulin. She had agreed to give the injections because you couldn't quite bring yourself to do it. That is all.
But why did it hurt so much as it coursed through your veins? Why did your muscles stiffen and feel like lead?
As you stand in burning anticipation of holding your love in your arms, a small man emerges from the shadows of trees. Then you remember the other voice that called out as you lay in your sunken bed. Who is this man? And what does he have to do with your wife?
But the man seems even more shocked than your wife by the raggedness of your clothing or the mud that's covering your hands and chin. He's no match for you. Now you can seize the moment.
When at first your wife screams and stumbles back, you feel unsure whether to release your grip of her wrist. Is it something you said? But you haven't yet managed to speak a single comprehensible word. Are you in that much need of a shower? Yes, there's a bit of mud, but even that is starting to fall away from your chin. Yes, you can feel it. It's gone. It's just a bit strange that your chin feels so small and... uneven and... cold and... and as smooth as bone. Nothing a doctor can't fix.
It only takes a moment to have your wife in your embrace and a moment longer to wonder at how much her face has changed. But of course it's only the terror that is tightening her face into a white mask. And that it's only a dream. But what really matters is why that insulin injection was so painful and why she grinned so horribly. And why that is the last memory you have before falling asleep for what seems like forever.
Darling, what have you done? If only you could speak to describe the rush of anger that strains your every muscle and fibre into rigidity. You try to scream to match the wailing of your wife, as she tries in vain to struggle free. But your own scream is just a gurgle which sloughs free a sticky lump.
Strands of pulpy, grey fibre cling to her fingernails as she gouges at your rags. Her flailing about only helps to bring down more earth into your sunken bed as you slide back down into the pit. One hand is enough to scoop the rest until once again you can enjoy the cosy comfort of a dark and peaceful sleep, the love of your life snuggled in your arms.