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Empty and Endless

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Written by Christopher Maxim

Estimated reading time — 8 minutes

It was just past midnight. I had been driving for a very long time. The stretch of road cutting through the desert landscape was seemingly endless, and completely void of life. There weren’t even cacti on the side of the road where I expected them. Then again, it wasn’t exactly bright enough for me to see very far. Without any differentiation on an almost perfectly straight route, I found myself dozing off periodically. The only thing keeping me from falling asleep was an overwhelming sense of terror. I was being chased; chased by… something. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was gaining on me and I had to get away; but sleep deprivation outweighed my fear. I could feel myself losing the battle.

It was at this point that I woke up, drenched in a fear-induced sweat. My anxious and soaked state was caused by a nightmare. This was the same nightmare I had been experiencing for weeks. None of it made any sense. I had never even seen a desert, much less driven through one. I lived near the beach for crying out loud. I spoke to my physician about my state of affairs, but he just blamed it on an overabundance of stress. He told me to relax and take a few sick days off from work. Work, however, was the only thing keeping me awake. I found myself nodding off at odd times during the day, sometimes even while driving to and from my workplace. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense seeing as I was always well-rested. Despite my troubling dreams, I still managed to get at least eight hours of sleep each night. My doctor didn’t shed any light on this either; simply telling me to take some caffeine pills during the day to keep from drifting off at the wheel. It would seem the situation was my burden to bear and mine alone.

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After another long day of work, I ventured home to inevitably get some shut-eye. Before finishing my commute, I unsurprisingly found my eyelids growing heavy. I tried to keep my thoughts on the road, but my mind yearned for sleep, begging me to close my eyes and drift off. I wanted to pull over, but before the wheel could be turned, sleep took hold. These were anything but ideal circumstances.

In a seamless fashion, I went from driving home to riding along that empty stretch of road in my nightmare. Its usual pattern was broken up by a pair of lights off in the distance. I could barely see them, but they were definitely there. This had never happened before. I was still being chased, but something was off. I kept driving nonetheless.

After a long monotony of driving through unchanging landscape, the lights came into focus. They were headlights, belonging to a truck driving in the opposite direction towards me. As it drew closer, a loud horn let out. The sound grew louder, until finally, I awoke from my untimely slumber.

Without even a proper moment’s notice to react, I viciously cut the wheel, swerving to avoid oncoming traffic. My car had wandered onto the wrong side of the road while I was asleep. Upon narrowly escaping disaster, my eyes cautiously looked back to see if there was now a pile-up in the middle of the highway. To my relief, there was not. Even so, I was lucky to be alive.

This is when I took notice to my whereabouts. It was almost the exact same spot that I had been before becoming unconscious. My dream may have felt longer, but in actuality, it only lasted an instant. Thank goodness for that, otherwise I would have been a goner. With my newfound understanding, I drove the rest of the way home, successfully avoiding sleep’s unrelenting grasp.

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After getting undressed and putting my things away, I let my body fall into bed, completely missing the pillow. Still, I fell asleep almost instantly. My dream recommenced as I found myself driving down that same desert road. The lights were back, off in the distance. I again felt the fear instilled in my racing heart, knowing that something was out there, chasing me. After roughly ten minutes of driving, the headlights came into view, revealing the same truck. This was then followed by the sound of a car honking its horn. I then woke from the nightmare.

Upon waking, I found myself driving into oncoming traffic. I swerved, mimicking my motions from earlier in the day. After doing so, the confusion set in. What was going on? Where was I? After looking around and getting my bearings, I knew exactly where I was; back on the highway, driving past the same cars I encountered on my home. My next thought was to check the time. No, this couldn’t be. It was roughly the time when I almost crashed. How? Was I still dreaming when I woke the first time? I couldn’t be sure. Instead of dwelling, Albeit frazzled, I drove home and went to bed, hoping to forget the whole ordeal.

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My next dream housed the very same desert and road that I had now grown accustomed to. Sure enough, off in the distance were the mysterious headlights. I drove onward, giving in to my dream’s lackluster narrative. Though fearful, I was curious as to what would happen upon reaching the truck. Would I wake in the comfort of my bed, or on the brink of destruction on the highway? As it came closer, I heard the usual honking sound and woke up. What I awoke to was anything but alleviating.

I swerved again, almost hitting the same car for a third time now. This couldn’t be happening. There was no way this was a dream. Even as weary as my brain was, I could tell the difference between fantasy and waking life. I was stuck in a time loop, unable to escape from a constant cycle of the day’s events. But how could I break free? If I sought help, no one would believe me. Even if I had someone in mind, my eyes wouldn’t stay open long enough for me to reach them.

I drove to the “safety” of my home, managing to elude the clutches of sleep along the way. It was easier this time; anxiety keeping me alert but frightened. If only I could stay awake long enough to figure everything out. After undressing and putting my things away, I walked over to my bed, knowing I had no choice but to give in. Right as my head hit the soft blankets, I slept once again.

Just as before, I was driving down that same desert road, staring off at those ominous headlights in the distance. This was completely mad. How much longer would I have to endure this torment? In a fit of rage, I hit the brakes and the car stopped. I had never done this before, scared that whatever was behind me would catch up. I didn’t even know if it would work. Even stranger, once I stopped, the feeling of being chased vanished. How peculiar.

I was relieved to be without fear, but I still felt overtired, even while asleep. I needed answers too. I got out of the car, and looked towards the headlights in the distance. I estimated that I would have about twenty dream minutes before it caught up to me and jolted me awake in the middle of traffic again. Without a moment’s hesitation, I headed off into the desert scenery, hoping to find a solution. I didn’t know if it would harbor one, but I was running out of options.

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My hunt for answers would be on foot, as stopping the car seemed to render it immobile. As I walked, I saw rock formations in the distance. One in particular caught my eye; an opening carved into its side. Upon reaching it, I stepped inside, noticing a flicker from within. There was a small fire illuminating the stone dwelling. There was also a person, sitting on a wooden stool. I say person, but it wasn’t really. It had skeletal legs and hands, and wore a purplish cloak, hiding all of its other features. Not even the fire could light up its face, almost as if it didn’t have one. Before I could examine the being any further, it looked up at me and spoke.

“It’s about time.”

I didn’t even have a chance to respond. I awoke in the middle of oncoming cars on the highway. How marvelous. I must have run out of time. I violently turned  the wheel, narrowly avoiding a collision. With a new sense of motivation, I drove home again. I knew that whatever that thing was in the desert, it must have had the answers that I so desperately desired.

I reached my house once again, tired but focused. I went in, undressed, put my things away, and went to bed. Much like before, I fell asleep in an instant. My dreamscape remained unchanged. Thinking more clearly now, I took a sharp turn to the right and drove off into the desert. I reached the rock formation much faster than before. I got out of the car in haste and walked into the stone’s light. In arriving at the same spot I stood in before, I saw a familiar scene; a fire and the cloaked figure. Now was the time to get answers.

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“It’s about time,” he repeated.

“Who are you,” I asked, bluntly.

“I am an apparition of the mind and a warning of things to come.”

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“A warning of things to come,” I asked in confusion.

“Yes. You are vulnerable. The issue at hand must be confronted, otherwise you will cease to exist.”

“Cease to exist? Confront an issue? Isn’t that what I’m doing right now?” I demanded specificity.

“Not in here. Out there.”

I didn’t have the will to argue with it. Fatigue and exhaustion were taking over, and I knew the truck was getting closer. My time was running out.

“You must. Your brain is at fault. Look within. A solution will be found.”

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I didn’t say anything. I just looked at the creature in defeat, unable to comprehend its meaning.

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“You are very sick. Face this sickness and reveal its cure.”

I awoke, once again in oncoming traffic. I swerved automatically, relying on my muscle memory to do so, for I was preoccupied with my own thoughts. The creature’s words stuck with me, especially ‘brain’ and ‘sickness’. My dream was trying to tell me something, but I was just so tired. What was I to do? In a fortunate moment of clarity, the puzzle pieces clicked into place. Without a second thought, I sped to my destination. I wasn’t going home this time. I was going to my doctor’s office.

I peeled into the parking lot with so much ferocity that I scared a few people walking out of his office. I opened my car door and jumped out without even thinking to take my keys out of the ignition. I ran into the building and up to his office, swinging his door open, startling the hell out of him and his staff. I didn’t care. It was imperative that I spoke with him right then and there.

“It’s my brain!” I yelled.

“What? What are you talking about?” He asked, clearly looking angry that I had barged in without so much as notifying him first.

“It’s my brain! You need to look at my brain…”

I was told at this point that I collapsed in the middle of his office, though I can’t remember doing so. My doctor rushed me to the nearest hospital, and with my words in mind, asked them to order a CAT scan after the usual tests were administered. After doing so, it was revealed that I was suffering from a rare condition; one that caused my brain to overheat sporadically without cause. It naturally overheats when sleep deprived, but mine was doing so even when I slept. This explained why I was always tired. I needed sleep to combat the overheating, but the condition rendered it futile. My brain was unknowingly heating itself to death.

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***

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It’s been a few months now, and I’ve responded well to ongoing treatment. I feel refreshed every time I wake in the morning; my sleep void of nightmares. It would seem that my brain was trying to tell me something all along, through my dreams. Maybe I was being chased in the beginning; not by something tangible, but by death itself. Perhaps the time loop I was stuck in was part of the dream all along; the result of a mind on the verge of breaking. Who knows. Either way, one thing is certain. Whether molded by a higher power watching over me or simply the product of intense coincidence, my nightmares saved my life.


WRITTEN BY: Christopher Maxim (FacebookTwitterRedditContactDonateStoriesBook)

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