It was nine-past-one. I had just finished writing a short story about an alternative world where people live in chaos, barely surviving a despotic government. I call this fictional nation the United States. Although I liked to write realistic fiction, I felt my story was too bleak and depressing this time around.
I sat down at the edge of my bed, then looked up at the ceiling, staring blankly at the silhouette of a stack of books—remnant of my favorite pastimes. I then grabbed a glass of water on my bedside table, ready to shove a bright cobalt nightmare pill down my throat.
A year ago, RestWell co. invented sleeping pills which induce instant drowsiness, followed by intense REM sleep a minute or two after digesting one pill. Compared to other sleeping pills, RestNow, possibly the most uncreative name I have ever encountered, has way fewer side effects—claimed and documented. More importantly, it conveniently wakes you up after six hours. You could literally plan to wake up at eight in the morning and as long as you take the pill before two, you would not miss your morning business appointment.
However, there are still few downsides of taking these pills. RestNow consists of red- and blue-colored pills—they induce vividly pleasant dreams and nightmares respectively. As such, people called them pleasure and nightmare pills. Apparently, we are supposed to take different colored pills, two nights in a row. Otherwise, the first pill you take, whichever color it is, will create a chemical disturbance which may result in many serious complications. The other-colored pill we take the following night, as we were told, balance the disturbance of chemical substances in our body after taking the first ones. To avoid misunderstanding, RestWell has made it their personal goals to make the directions to use the pills clear by spending billions on thirty-two seconds segment of TV ads on the most congested traffic hour. It explains how to properly consume RestNow.
Public outcry happened when RestWell first publicized its groundbreaking drugs. Ethical concerns—how it could be misused to inflict pain through nightmare among other potential misuses—were the main issues many pharmacists, as well as other scientists, and competing drug companies brought up. However, once desperate insomniac consumers had their hands on this new candy in the store, rave reviews on RestNow began flourishing main pages of many health magazines. I was one of these maniac insomniacs who was in desperate need to get a six hours sleep. “Having vivid dreams increases our creativity,” some experts said. “Even nightmares are sometimes fun,” consumers commented. Soon after, John McKinnay, CEO of RestWell, joined the elite rank of Top 50 Prose richest, and RestNow brandishes every single drug store in Toravele.
Gulp. One nightmare pill traveled down my esophagus. I quickly set my alarm for seven out of habit, then turned off all the lights in my bedroom. I slid myself inside my thick Polka-dot blanket, expecting to fall asleep in the next minute or two.
“Shit.” I stepped on my father’s favorite bougainvillea near a rustic, simplistic pond in front of my old house. I used to live in a small, dilapidated house on the outskirt of Galia. Galia was now a ghost town after the bombing in 2031 destroyed one-third of the town population, including my beloved grandma Lina and my sadistic aunt Ryda. The sun was up. I looked up at the clear blue sky and reminisced how life was like before a series of tragedies fell upon my family.
Three years later, my parents followed suit. They were at the C-store near the highway connecting Galia and bordering small town, Shelley when the robbery happened. A man went by the name of Connor was desperate to pay his debt to local drug dealer who was also Connor. Connor A shot my dad three times in his chest for trying to be hero, an act of heroism which saved my mom from physical harm that day but eventually mentally scarred her for life. My dad passed away an hour later not once regaining his consciousness back. Before I could even comprehend how such predicaments continuously haunted my life, I lost my mom too. She lost her sanity and was treated on mental hospital ten miles out of Galia.
I could never forgive the Connors. I subscribed to every online newspaper I could get my hands on and found out that the police had successfully captured Connor A when he was getting high on his apartment a week after my dad was shot. In the court, Connor A mentioned how Connor B threatened his life, and he plead guilty for reduced sentence as long as he informed on Connor B and his little gang. And he did. I could never understand how low-lives like them could take everything away from you. I knew then the world was painfully unjust.
I gathered myself to walk inside the house. I swiped my entry card and the door swung open slowly. As I entered, I took off my ergonomic yet old-fashioned walnut brown shoes. I went to the kitchen and made myself a quick ham sandwich with overflowing mustard. Before I was able to have my first bite, the door bell sounded. “Jerry!” Hayley shouted.
Hayley was the only person left I had in this world. I met Hayley about a year ago, maybe. I could not quite remember when and how I met her. The one thing I know was that Hayley was the love of my life, no doubt about it—at least until I found out she cheated on me with the bully from my high school.
Hayley and I were engaged a month ago, there was no big celebration. We invited some of our closest friends, mostly Hayley’s. Hayley disappeared on the night of our engagement and she only came back four hours past midnight. She told me that she was drunk and she made an honest mistake by sleeping with Finnes. How could it be an honest mistake? I was dumbfounded and felt utterly crushed and betrayed. Although her willingness to admit what she did was the sign of love towards me and hatred towards herself, I just couldn’t forgive her. I began ignoring her and after few days, I completely stopped talking to her.
“Jerry, I am truly sorry and I wished I didn’t make the mistake I did. I loved you. I truly did, but I can’t do this anymore. You don’t want to talk to me after all this time. I gave you time, but but…” she began crying.
I was in complete silent; a part of me wanted to hug her, forgive her and apologize to her but the other part of me was cold, ruthless, and vengeful, begging me to not say a single word. I stayed silent while she incoherently mumbled sorry again and again. I had forgotten how her dimple cheered me up the day I found out my dad had died. I had forgotten how gorgeous her hazel eyes were. Yet none of these mattered anymore. Any last fragment of trust left in me had now fully dissipated.
Perhaps Hayley wanted to make amends, perhaps she wanted me to apologize and tell her she was forgiven, perhaps she still loved me. These maybes crossed my mind for a split second before they slowly faded away.
“Get out and never come back,” as I turned my back on her. I was cruel and remorseless as one could be. To my surprise, she scurried out of my house instead of waiting to see if I would change my attitude. Maybe she was really done with me, maybe she was with Finnes now. It didn’t matter anyway. After all, time heals all wounds.
Sun set and dusk approached as night welcomed itself to the party. I went to bed early that day.
My alarm was still screaming when I woke up. “What a nightmare,” I mumbled to myself. “Ouch.” My neck was extremely sore. I quickly massaged my neck with my index and middle fingers, rubbing it for ten seconds before the pain magically disappeared. It was twelve-past-seven in the morning. I jumped out of my bed and did my daily routines. I brushed my teeth, shaved, showered, changed to my favorite white trim-fit pinpoint dress, and looked myself in the mirror for about thirty seconds before taking out my bicycle to work, always in that particular order.
I worked as a catering manager at downtown Toravele. My childhood best friend, who was also my girlfriend, Jenna, also worked there as one of the supervisors. As much as I loved her, she had been aloof lately. Lately, I had been noticing how she called me less frequently during weekdays, texted me with shorter sentences, and gave me that fake smile whenever she saw me. Maybe I was just being paranoid. I wished it weren’t true.
My phone’s ringtone broke the quiet atmosphere of my office. I picked it up and heard my mom’s breathy and strangled voice from the other end of the line, “ple please. Oh God. Your dad, he, he…” My mom couldn’t finish what she said. I stopped breathing for a second. Pang. A surge of mixed emotions flooded my mind. I felt a sharp pain on my forehead as if I was hit by a hammer.
“He is at Toravele General Hospital emergency room. He is…” My mom paused to catch a breath, “in critical condition. Oh, Jerry.” I had never heard her speak with such sadness and fear in years. Last time she cried in this much anguish, my grandma’s death crushed her soul and left her eyes swollen for months.
I grabbed my coat and ran towards the exit door. I cycled hard as if my life depended on it. I reached Toravele in an hour and a half. When I arrived there, my estranged aunt Jasmine was there trying to soothe my mom. Years of hatred turn into gentle and loving family moments. It was sad to see how tragedy sometimes mend once-broken relationship, not happiness.
I let aunt Jasmine calmed my mom down. After all, I never wanted them to go their separate ways. I couldn’t wait patiently for the nurses or doctors to tell us dad was okay. I walked back and forth along the hospital corridor to ease my impatience. Suddenly I remembered to text Jenna to let her know that dad was in hospital. She didn’t respond till lunchtime. By then, it was too late.
The news was surprising to everyone in the family. Dad didn’t have prior condition. The doctors mentioned how his secondary sudden cardiac arrest followed by his untimely death was rare and unexpected. They did what they could to restart dad’s heart, to no avail. Personally, I didn’t really believe in doctors saying they tried everything they could. Perhaps they made a judgment error somewhere along the line and were just not courageous enough to admit it. Either way, it didn’t matter, I was ready to hold my mom’s hands through her grieving once again.
At the same time, I was mildly annoyed at Jenna for not responding to my text promptly. I knew it wasn’t reasonable to expect swift response, but I didn’t care. I held it against her.
She came back late to our apartment. I had forgotten that she told me she would be working extra hours for late wedding event. When I saw her that night, I lashed out on her. She yelled back at me, telling me how in the past few weeks, I had been nothing but a douchebag to her. I was indeed what she accused me of. My love for her withered and I no longer paid attention on what she had to say.
When we first met each other, it was love at first sight. No, it was lust at first sight. We were intimate. We kissed, we had sex, we cuddled. Repeat the process. It was a superficial relationship. We needed each other physically, not mentally. There was a bit of love in our relationship, but we didn’t talk as much outside our physical exercises. Unsurprisingly, we grew distant as time passed by. My dad’s death became the catalyst I needed to blame her on crimes I committed, negligence.
I decided to sleep on the sofa and Jenna was glad I did. It was nine-past-one. I wasn’t thinking at all and I took one nightmare pill. I swallowed it so that I could forget the nightmares I had today, how ironic.
My mind began to wander. I looked up at the ceiling—exasperated and exhausted I was, my body gave up to the point I should not need the pills to force myself to sleep. As I was about to fall asleep, I remembered something I should have earlier. I took the wrong pill. I reached to the table next to the sofa and squinted my eyes to read the bolded warning information on the side of RestNow pills bottle. It said,
Beware! DO NOT take the same colored pills two days in a row. You may suffer life-threatening and permanent damage and side effects.