Fatal Familial Insomnia – ‘fatal,’ a death sentence upon my life. There had been only two documented cases before, one in Italy in the fifties and the second somewhere in the midewest in the eighties. All died within eight months of diagnosis. The cause of death was speculated to be dementia. Funny how there’s a ‘demon’ in ‘dementia.’ I don’t believe in such superstitious nonsense. As I were to find out, I was half wrong, demons don’t come from the fiery heart of hell but the darkest corners of our minds.
I first noticed this ailmen in my younger years as I attended boarding school. I remember lying awake throughout the night while the rest of the world slept in peace. Something always kept me up in those dark domitories, as though the darkness itself was waiting for me to fall asleep. I would never recall the sensation I have the previous nights due to the busy days ahead but it wasn’t before long that I realized that my condition was far from natural.
By the time I finished school, I have decided to take the study of insomnia and make it my life’s work. Getting into medical school was easy. What was not easy was lecturing these professors with decades of education and no imagination. After all, there being only two recorded cases in history was hardly an attractive profession. As I confided my condition the prevailing response was merely anxiety or that I have had too much coffee. Ridiculous.
Within a year into this research I was on the verge of giving up on the mystery of my sporadic insomnia for good. No one seem interested in finding out what makes an individual stay awake the whole nights on end. There was hardly any books on the subject, hardly any research done, medical or even psychological. I did come across a book on how the alignment of stars may affect sleep patterns or how an individual’s aura may be out of place, thus leaving the individual in a non-peaceful state. How these superstitious nonsense can be found in the library of such a prestigious medical school is beyond me. Perhaps I’m in the wrong place.
It wasn’t before long when I realized that, to find the cure for my insomnia, I would have to conduct my own experiments. When you graduate the most prestigious medical school with highest distinction, you get more attention than you asked for. One particular party was the government with job offers for the military and army. Reluctant at first with this change of plans for I knew that whatever they wanted me to do was not in my interest. I accepted the offer but with a conditon – I told them that I needed subjects to perform a certain experiment the result of which would be mine exclusively. When they asked me what the experiments included, I was cautuous to not give too much detail. I simply told them that I wanted to do experiments on the human mind on the unconscious or sub-conscious levels. I went in further details with jargons and theories which I knew would bore and dull them into saying yes and, lo and behold, I was granted.
Fifty subjects arrived – political prisoners or usual undersirables. I would not be surprised if these prisoners were on death-row. I know I am. I neither cared for their names nor their crimes. The offer was simple, ‘stay awake for thirty days and you go free.’ I wanted to shove them all into the test chamber but I was only allowed five. They’ll have to do.
The lab was deep underground. The test chamber was the lowest section. There was nothing to indicate the existence of the outside world. Only bright neon lights illuminated the long rectagular chamber with hidden cameras and micriphones recording everything. The chemicals were dissolved into the air ventalation. All these lab rats had to do was breath.
The first day proved that the chemicals worked. They stayed awake the whole night and I watched them. They talked and made jokes about the sheer simplicity of the situation and what they would do once they go free. The second day was hardly any talking. They just looked bored but I have to be patient. A result was inevitable, fatal or otherwise. It wasn’t until the midnight of the fourth day that things started to happen. By now the subjects have stopped talking and barely acknowledged each other. Each took to themselves. Then there was a sound, the first recornding of voice in over a day. One was talking to the far corner of the chamber and was shaking back and forth, as though pleading for something or praying to someone. The others hardly noticed.
Within two days, all prisoners were unquiet but it was hardly talking. The first was crying and whimpering endlessly. The second couldn’t stop roaring with laughter as his eyes bulged out of their sockets. The third covered his face as he screamed and screamed until his voice cracked and he started bleeding from his throat. It was difficult to understand what the fourth was doing with the sound he made, but then it turned out to be ecstastic screams of climax as he masturbated and ejaculted. The fifth was quiet for the most part until bursts of yells came from him. I can only speculate that these subjects could no longer tell their dreams and memories from reality. At this point all of them have stopped eating or drinking but somehow, something… was keeping them alive. With this spculation I’ve never felt more positive in my life. For the first time since those long nights awake full of wonder, I finally felt that the answer was within reach. What could get in our way of such uncharted discoveries? Oh, what indeed…
By the ninth day, the doctors and nurses here began to feel squeamish. One of the subjects began to cover each camera views with his faeces and thus blinding us to whatever was going on inside the chamber. The only indication that they were still alive were the sounds they made. It became worse and worse, each of them, more unnatural and hardly human. Only the knowledge that humans were put into that chamber would comfort the idea that humans were making those noises. They wanted the experiments to stop for pity’s sake. They have no imagination. Don’t they realize the progress that’s being made? Am I the only one for can see progress being made, who can see the future? Can’t they imagine the discoveries from the results being being made right before their eyes? All they had to do was get their hands dirtier. They were hardly innocents anyways, doctors or subjects.
Then the screamings all stopped and, alas, I conceded to the sympathies of these humane scientists. But my experiement was far from over. By the tenth day, we decided to enter the test chamber, unbeknownst to the horrors inside, if anything. Due to the silence and lack of sight, we had our guards with us with assault rifles at the ready. We announced through the speakers that we were entering, warning that we were armed and ready for any attack that might come our way. When the door of the test chamber opened, the horrors were revealed. The first thing to hit us was the smell, the reeking, dank and rotten odor that assaulted and disorientedus. Subject two laid dead with his belly burst open and organs missing. I would not be surprised if he was eaten by the others. Subject four looked up as he chewed something bloody in his hand. As I approached I realised that it was his fingers he was chewing and what has been his hand was now nothing more than a bloody stump with visible bone. He looked at me like a rabid dog would as he ate his food. As I backed away, he launched himself but was shot by the guards – dead. Three remained.
They refused to eat or sleep. They could barely comprehend our presence. Subject one could not stop pleading in terror. What he wanted was barely comprehensible. Subject three could hardly be constrained and would often scramble to the darkest corner of the infirmary with his face turned away. What in his own mind’s conjuring could terrify him out of sanity one can only imagine. These two are as good as dead but I’m determine to keep them alive as long as possible. Any result was good result at this point of no return.
I had some confident in subject five as he recovered. Like others, he refused to sleep or eat. He would not look anyone in the eyes and, when he managed it, would beg to be put back in the test chamber and refused anesthesia or painkillers of any kind. Within a couple of days, he began to respond. The subject has forgotten his name, where he was or why he was here. He only begged to be put back in the chamber. When asked what he sees and who he kept talking to he replied, ‘To them – the watchers – watching you – sleeping.’ When asked what these ‘watchers’ wanted, he replied, ‘to watch you.’ Fascinating. Were these watchers some form of psychological malice lurking in the dark of all our minds? Were they some inner psychological self that Jung and Freud has innocently labeled the ‘id?’ Were they something else, something unknowable but merely speculated by unrested minds? Were they the dormitories in those dark nights waiting for me to sleep? Whatever these ‘watchers’ were, I have to find out more…
Day twenty – the other two subjects have died rather wastedly but number five, my miracle, gained a sense of self at last but not his former self. When asked who he was, he’d say, ‘We’re you – what you become – when you don’t sleep – we’re the creatures – you nurture – and restrain – by sleeping – your true nature – lurking beneath – your sanity – we’re you – inside out – for too long – hidden away – and forgotten – but now – we’re rising – and we won’t – let you sleep – in peace – ever again.’ When asked what he wanted, the replies went from ‘to watch you’ and to be left alone. I told him that I had to find a cure for myself. He laughed and pointed right at my eyes. In that moment, I could tell that he was saying, “You’ll see – you – will – see…”
Patient five was stable enough to be studied and researched. I have full confidence in his physical recovery where as his mind was all too expendible. But when an alarm was raised on the thirtieth day, I was certain all was loss if he were to die. What I was not prepared for was far more sinister. I was told by a nurse that he has escaped from the infirmary and was back in the test chamber. I insisted on going down there to persuade him myself. He has shown signs of improvements afterall. Upon my arrival in the chamber, I found him sitting in the corner with his face turned away, shivering. I spoke to him knowing that whoever he is or whatever he’s become, the ability to reason was not lost on him. He did not reply. I knew he did not want to leave but it was not his choice to make. I told him that either he co-operates or force will be used against him. He had no reaction to my words. But when I turned to leave and bring more help, the test-chamber door slammed shut on my face.
At first I thought it was a mistake and it was a matter of time before they realized that I was in here. But then time went by, minutes vanished into thin air and hours became days. I shouted at them to release me but only the echo heard me. I pleaded with them but are they even there? I tried to comprehend exactly what they had in mind locking me in here. Am I to learn a lesson? Have I done something wrong? Was it some sort of test, or jest? Or, worst of all, was all this merely in my head? Had my spreading insomnia gotten the better of me? Either ways, I had to get the door opened. I have to help patient five.
Whatever the answer, I know they’re watching me, hating me, laughing at me. Number five talks to me like a normal person sometimes. Other times he just… watched me when he wasn’t dead. I had a notebook and a pen in my pocket. The least I could do is write down everything I’ve learned. I’ve learned not to hide from them in the shadows. I’ve leaned not to look at them in the eyes – it kept you awake, I think. I don’t remember sleeping or waking up anymore. People visit me sometimes. Somehow they could walk through walls and I catch myself talking to them without knowing what I’m saying. None of them offered to help me or even seem to notice that I’m trapped down here. How long has it been? I’ve lost track of time and I’m out of ink. I’d have to use my blood to replace them in my pen. The only thing I could hope for now is that they run out of these chemicals keeping me awake. Just keep breathing, it’s only dementia, no demons down here.