By Chef JRHEvilInc/Joel R. Hunt
//Source. This is part four and the finale of a series.
I’m so tired.
Two days ago I bought some sleeping pills. Something – anything – to help me get through the night. Things can’t go on as they have been doing, these constant nightmares about Gus. I’m struggling to function properly. I’ve started calling in sick at work. I don’t trust myself to drive anymore, in case I fall asleep at the wheel. I’m just fortunate the pharmacy is in walking distance.
After my last post here I decided to make Gus an outdoor dog. I don’t know how he got in my room. I don’t know what he was doing while I was asleep. But I knew I wasn’t comfortable with him being around me while I slept anymore.
Or while I tried to sleep at least…
I had a friend come over and whip up a temporary dog house for him. She was raised in the countryside, and she’s always said dogs belong outdoors. Not in a horrible way – she said it’s more in keeping with their nature. I pretended to agree. I wasn’t going to tell anyone that I was having nightmares about my new dog. The tiny mutt who never bore his teeth, barked or growled at anyone. Of course, that led to its own string of conversations that I blearily tried to fill in my half of.
“Dan, have you tried letting him out off the lead? Dan, have you tried putting a splash of milk into his water? Dan, have you tried-”
I promised to do all of it. Even the stuff I’d already done fifty times. It was easier to get to the end of the conversation that way.
Once the doghouse was built and my friend had politely refused to be paid for her work, we had dinner, said our goodbyes, and it was time for me to acquaint Gus with his new doghouse.
I did this by picking him up, placing him inside, then going back into the house and closing the door quickly behind me. I didn’t look out into the garden again. I knew I’d just see him sat out there, staring at me with that expressionless face of his.
After an hour of mindless television that I didn’t really take in (changing the channel to avoid anything with a laugh track), I got myself ready for bed. Just before settling down, I peered out into the garden.
Gus was sat out there, staring up at the window.
Good. Better out there than in here.
Climbing into bed, I quickly swallowed a couple of my sleeping pills and rested my head on the pillow.
The next time my eyes eased open, it was to the sound of birdsong. Gentle morning light trickled in from between the blinds, warming my face like the caress of a lover. All of the tiredness that had plagued me for the last few days was gone. Everything seemed at peace.
I wanted this feeling to last forever.
At that moment, the world seemed to shift around me. With glacial slowness, the bed began to wrap itself around my form, the covers holding me more tightly than before, the morning light whispering lullabies into my ears. I sank down, down, far away from the worries of the previous days. Far away from doors and dogs. Far from the waking world.
It felt like months that I floated there, wrapped in the safety of the covers, warm and soft. And as I lay inside, the sheets began to hug me – really hug me – in a way I hadn’t been hugged for decades. Caressed like I was a newborn.
These were my mother’s arms.
Heavy lids peeled back, and were met with light too harsh for unused eyes. I pulled back into the shelter of my mother’s arms, scrunched my face tight and turned away. I didn’t want the pain. I didn’t want the suffering that the waking world could bring. I wanted to stay here. Stay here and never wake, never grow up. If I was a baby forever, then she would never leave.
Her. My father. Me. Together again.
Yet somehow, I knew the figure looming against the light would try to tear us apart.
I opened my eyes again, looking out beyond the fortress of my mother’s arms. We were in a hospital, the ward stretching away forever on every side. There were no creaking doors here. No footprints. No dogs. Just my family, and the glaring lights, and the doctor.
Its face was covered with a surgical mask. Lumpy in the wrong places. Its gown was loose, as if hanging on a wire frame, and at every second it shook from within. And the arms… no human arms looked like that.
I plucked at my mother, desperate to get away from this masked thing. It wanted to tear me away. Drag me from the comfort, from the safety of my dream world. I needed her to stop it. But my grip was so weak. The doctor began to shift, to loom closer. I clawed up at my mother, crying out to her.
That was when I saw her. Properly saw her.
Her face was gone. Nothing but skin, stretched taut over a mockery of her features. A distorted reflection of a half-forgotten photograph.
This was not my mother.
The doctor was so close now. An arm with too many joints hovered over me, bones grinding together as it got into position. I was a mouse being stared down by a snake. I couldn’t look away from the ill-fitting glove inches from my face, bulging in a way no hand could cause, one finger flapping empty and unused. I reached out to push it away, to try to escape this awful doctor, but I had so little control of my body. Somehow my hand fell on its surgical mask. With the effort of heaving away a mountain, I tore the mask from the doctor’s face.
The Gus-creature’s jaw fell slack from behind it, like guts from a slashed stomach. It lashed out its disfigured hand. Clasped my throat. Choked the life from my fragile body.
“DON’T! WAKE! UP!”
My eyes shot open as I screamed. The room was dark now, and I was lying in a sweat-soaked bed once more. It had been another dream.
Except Gus was still inches from my face.
The real Gus – the small dog rather than the hideous, misshapen monster – was standing on top of my sheets, his watery eyes locked on to mine, a paw pressed firmly into my chest.
My bedroom door was wide open.
I decided right then that enough was enough. A few hours later, when the dog shelter had just opened for the day, I bundled Gus into the car and I took him back. I shouldn’t have been driving; the sleep deprivation and the after-effect of the pills were causing me to swerve on the simplest of roads, and I definitely ran at least one red light. But I couldn’t stand another day stuck with that dog.
The staff was visibly shocked when I returned him. I’m sure my brusque manner and refusal to answer questions didn’t help, but by that stage I was beyond caring. The moment Gus was in the hands of the staff, I turned and walked out of the building.
I know Gus watched me the whole way.
When I got home, the first thing I did was smash the dog-house to pieces. It was supposed to feel cathartic, but when I finished I was just painfully out of breath, still angry, and now also burning with a strange sense of shame as I looked out over the mess I had made.
Heading back inside, I spent the next hour cooking a massive meal for myself. It was a complete mix of whatever I felt like having; onion rings, naan bread, chicken drumsticks, a full tin of beans, a ready-meal lasagne. By the time I was finished, half of it was burnt, and the other half got chucked in the bin after a few bites. Turns out I wasn’t hungry.
The rest of the day was spent trying to distract myself, so I started watching about five new shows online and didn’t get through a single full episode, then got changed for a jog I ended up not going on, and dusted off a book in time to remember why I hate reading. Furious at myself, I went to bed a few hours earlier than I normally would.
Before I got under the covers, I took out my bottle of pills and looked at the label.
‘Max. 2 daily’.
I took four.
I needed to sleep.
Obviously the effects weren’t going to be immediate, so I had time to make myself comfortable. I was hopeful that this would be the night I could finally get some proper rest. I finally wouldn’t be disturbed by that damn dog. I could finally sleep.
I fluffed my pillow and pulled my duvet close around me. Then I lay back and let my eyes trawl over the ceiling. I wanted my eyes to be open so I’d notice them getting heavier as the pills kicked in. Somehow that was a reassuring thought, almost like it would prove to me that they were working.
It was strange, though, once I started to reflect on it all. As silly as it seems, I really do feel that Gus was intentionally having some impact on my dreams. That the words he was screaming at me were an active message, something he desperately wanted me to do.
Which didn’t make any sense. Because what he’d been telling me all this time was not to wake up. And every night, he was the one waking me. How could I possibly not wake up when I was getting screamed at? It was like being told not to think about breathing. Once someone’s said it, you become hyper-aware of each breath you take. The statement defeats its own purpose.
I noticed my blinks becoming slower. My thoughts starting to seem sluggish. The same ideas running through my head over. And over. And over.
Why would Gus tell me not to wake up?
I felt like I was sinking down. Unable to work out where I ended and the bedding began. I was so tired.
What if I’d misheard him?
The thought sent a pulse of panic rushing through my brain, but it dulled as my awareness drifted into the comfort of oblivion.
So tired. I just needed to sleep.
But perhaps, all this time, Gus hadn’t been saying “Don’t wake up.”
The quiet sounds of the night faded away into nothing.
Perhaps what he’d really been screaming at me was… “Dan! Wake up!”
All my muscles were still. My breathing slowed. My eyelids sank down as the room around me turned black.
As I drifted off into a heavy sleep, I heard my bedroom door creak open.