Sleeping and waking had never been a problem for Nick. One followed the other, at reasonable intervals. Now, in contrast to the way these things were supposed to go, he lay in a restless bed at an indeterminate hour, arguing with himself over what time it might be and would it exacerbate his wakefulness if he were to raise his head and look at the clock. Back and forth he went in his head, nagging himself like a fishwife, growing bitter and alienated from his preferred state of gentle slumber, wondering what the hell a fishwife actually was and why she nagged so incessantly.

Wendy slept peacefully at his side, oblivious to his rabid, furious internal monologue, indifferent to his imagined dilemmas. She was often like that. Wendy floated through life, doing easily what others struggled to accomplish. She leapt off forbiddingly high precipices and landed as if on feather beds while others crashed and splattered around her. Pausing to run her manicured fingers through a neat, tightly trimmed haircut, she would lightly step to the next inconceivably hazardous episode. She wore frilly, colorful, lacey skirts and blouses and smiled to see herself swiftly promoted over her wool suited and power colored sisters. She criticized her boss and was praised for her clear thinking and courage.

And she was impossible not to love. From tawny skin to sweet disposition, she brought Nick's heart to a standstill every time she breathed, and as long as he was awake, watching Wendy breathe was preferable to harsh encounters with fishwives and the like. Her shoulder projected from the top of the sheets and stirred as her steady breathing halted, she started quickly, inhaling as if deprived of oxygen for a fraction of a second. He hoped that she would wake, open her eyes and share his spasm of wakefulness, fold into his arms and then perhaps begin the dance of half sleeping lovers.

He thought of how different she was from her sister. When they had first met, he had entertained risqué fantasies about having both of them at the same time. Jill, the sister, had a robust, athletic quality with firm taut breasts, firm, taut everything, really, and black, black hair. Her hair was "blacker than the heart of a pedophile" he had joked once. No one laughed and he found himself mumbling that anyway, it was really black for someone from a family of sandy blondes and redheads, like Wendy. Still, Jill held a forbidden excitement for him, as his masculine delusion translated icy silences into smoldering stares, tacit promises of illicit release. She had that effect on him, but it seemed self-destructive and perverted in some way, as if he were lusting for dungeon frolics of dripping candle wax, whips, chains and dwarf love, or bestiality. Not so flattering to Jill, but that was how he felt.

Jill was what his mother referred to as a "touch-me-not." She drew away and stiffened whenever he offered a friendly hug, or a hand on her shoulder. He wondered if she somehow knew about the leather and the dwarves and his secret casual fantasies of her, and found him disgusting. But fortunately, by the grace of the twisted gods who bothered to concern themselves with his sexual proclivities, Wendy was not Jill. She knew about his inner life of aggressive heat and imagination, and she never pulled away. He considered waking her, knowing that she would be willing, but fearing that she would be resentful in the morning as she blamed the night's love play for disarranging the neat cubbyholed ordering of their lives. There were supposed to be carefully assigned packets of work, sleep, work, sleep, play, work, sleep and the unbalancing of those verities was a twisting of the ground beneath her feet.

So he quietly turned his gaze back to the empty parchment ceiling, studying each textured bump, wondering what tomorrow would throw into his already bulging sack. Wendy would be fine, he'd make certain of that. He would hold back waves for her, threaten the sky and demand that the earth yield flowers to lay at her feet. He would fight the leather clad whips of the sexy dwarves and the cold anti-embrace of her sister. He would dance for her, spinning and falling, weaving tales of a past that would never be, a future that had been once and could be again. He leapt and crashed, pierced by searing bolts of pain, razor needles and the numbing burns of ice racing, from his eye sockets to his curled iron toes.

His mind flipped about in narcoleptic spasms, falling into sleep for a crashing second until a cricket, a moth on the window, a silent scream in his head resurrected his consciousness. Each new awakening was a greater torture than the last. He felt as if the bed had become a coffin, buried and holding him inside, still breathing, still thinking, and still wanting. But there was nothing to claw at, no mourners above to rescue him. Somehow, he had buried himself in this sleepless grave at an hour when no one was about. Stray dogs barked and ran about, seeking diversion, a warm place, and maybe a bone or two. Birds passed overhead, the shadows masking their brilliant feathers as they flew heedless beneath a sliver of a cynical moon.

About the author:

Chad Stevens is confused about how he got mixed up into all this writing stuff, but he has other work soon to be revealed at www.sweetfancymoses.com and www.kittenpants.org. He also wishes it to be known that this story is almost entirely not autobiographical. That is to say, there has been no dwarf love.