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Excerpt for Insomnia by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Vladimira Sebova

Insomnia



Published in 2018 by Amazon KDP Publishing

© 2016 Vladimira Sebova

www.vladimirasebova.com

Originally published in Slovakian by Citadella Publishing in 2016

www.citadella.sk

Translation © Martina Sebova, 2018



All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, copied, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written consent of the copyright holder, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, or events is entirely coincidental.



Cover photography by svetlanamiku.

Ebook formatting and copy editing by Naomi Munts Proofreading.



www.InsomniaDiary.com



For all insomniacs.


Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35



Chapter 1

Midnight. I lay naked on a huge bed, a hand wrapped around me. His name is John. Or Josh? It’ll be something like that... Slowly exhaling as he falls asleep after the act, which was not as grand as I expected. And I deserved more, especially today.

My fifth book release for this year. My fourteenth book overall. And finally, the media are also curious about me. My editor sees me as his magic goose, which regularly lays golden eggs just for him. And I? I get to enjoy only the scraps of plucked feathers. At today’s launch of my book, he was smiling so broadly, I was afraid he’d eat me with joy. But then who would pay for his children’s tuition, huh?

“You’re leaving?” A mumble comes from behind me as I get out of bed and start looking for my dress on the ground.

“Yes, I’m working in the morning.”

“You could stay for the night...” And he’s asleep.

I put on my underwear and clothes, and grab my stockings in my hand. I sneak out of this huge bedroom of John, Josh or whoever. The marketing guys seem to be doing well these days. Or does he work in management? Who knows... It didn’t matter an hour ago, it doesn’t matter now.

The apartment is great. Furnished with a touch of luxury. High ceilings, low expectations for the intelligence of the women who follow him up here, I know it. The bright light of the full moon penetrates through the glass window; apart from that, it is darkness everywhere. And silence. The sound of my steps is muffled by the soft carpet as my bare feet bury themselves. I walk slowly past the walls, my fingers outstretched touching the cold white plaster, smoothing the surface until white dust builds up on my fingertips.

I walk into a large closet with dozens of tailored suits and hand-sewn shoes. I examine several drawers and cabinets. It’s safe, as I can hear his snoring. Lightly, I push against one of the drawers by my side. It pops open to reveal a collection of expensive watches. I try one on and observe the moonlight’s reflection. I know these types of men – expensive accessories, cheap talk.

I walk into the kitchen and grab an apple from the fruit bowl. Hopping onto the cold marble kitchen counter, I chew on it while rummaging through his opened letters that I found on the table. His account statement displays a nice amount, but when I see what nonsense items he spends his money on, I return the letters. I throw the apple into the trash and lick a few spoons and knives.

The living room holds a few dusty books on a shelf. I check the book titles – all crap. But the flat-screen TV is huge – well, well... If I could see the remote control, I would hide it. Or at least, I’d remove the batteries.

I sink into a comfortable designer chair and pull my stockings up, then sit for a while and watch the city through the big glass window. I can see the top of Big Ben and Tower Bridge. They greet me like old acquaintances. Maybe I will come today. The wall clock’s ticks echo within this quiet apartment. Each stroke of the hand sounds like it is mocking me.

Picking my purse up from the ground, where I had tossed it in a hurry on the way to the bedroom, I fling on my coat, put on my heels and head out. On the wall by the front door hang a university degree and several photos. He’s posing on a white beach in one of them, while the next one features him standing on a mountain slope. Perhaps he is actually an interesting guy. But he is not meant for me. And most importantly – I’m not meant for him.

Before leaving, I look at him for the last time through the cracks around the door. He is lying on his back with his mouth wide open. Sleeping. I walk out of the apartment and shut the door forcefully. I hear the pictures from the wall hit the ground.

London is truly alive, considering the late hour. It’s just after one in the morning. Young students are falling out of the doors of the local bars, along with all those who want to let their hair down at the weekend. What is that like? I walk through the familiar streets, that I roam so frequently. I don’t rush. There is no reason to.

Stopping at the curb, I wait for the red traffic light for pedestrians to turn green. I stand here all alone. The streets are empty; there are no cars or double-deckers on the roads. Nevertheless, I wait.

I hear laughter approaching from a distance. A group of about ten young people stops next to me. They are having fun, doubled over with laughter. They are definitely drunk or high. Although I can’t smell alcohol or weed, it has to be so. Who would be out late at night having so much fun? And besides, Halloween is months away, yet they are all wearing masks. One of them is dressed as a pirate, another as Dracula, and one of the girls is wearing a Catwoman mask. Some people really don’t know what to do with themselves.

They look to the right, then left, and quickly run across the road on a red light. Every time I see people doing this, I wonder what they do with all that extra time. About two seconds later the light turns green. I stroll across the quiet street.

I enter the residential area where I live. The nice part of London, lots of greenery. It’s quiet here; my steps on the concrete sidewalk echo between buildings. A dark-haired guy with a tattoo on his neck and a ring in his left ear walks past me. He often returns home late at night. He and his girlfriend have one of those expensive talking parrots. A red-haired woman exits from the building on the right. She lives on the third floor diagonally across from my apartment. She likes to cook late at night. The old man from the second floor is outside on the lawn with his poodle – health problems. The poodle, not the man. He’s out with the dog three times each night – at eleven o’clock, at two and at five o’clock. Then his wife takes over. I know them all. But they don’t know me.

It is a few minutes past two o’clock at night when I get home. My apartment is spacious, quite luxurious. I’ve lived here for several years, but I don’t have lots of furniture. The walls are decorated with pictures of places that I would like to travel to, and I have a decent collection of books. Otherwise, the apartment is furnished in a minimalist style. I don’t like all those stupid trinkets; they are just dust collectors. And you? Do you like to clean them?

I walk into my large office, where ideas are born to finance my little place. Although, sometimes I have helpers. I pull out a few letters from my purse, letters from fans and stalkers. The boundary between them is so thin it’s difficult to tell. Who is nice and who is creepy?

Lee often pays my rent. Gary sends flowers every Tuesday. But I don’t like flowers and I have to pay rent. So what is adequate and what is over the line?

David got the farthest. He writes to me every week. In the last letter, he proposed to me. I might send him my used socks – it always pleases him to get something in jail. I may even include my underwear. Some extra pieces – some for his friends, too.

I step closer to my big window, slide it open and sit back down in my reading chair. My apartment offers stunning views of London. It was the reason why I picked this place. I can see everything from here. The glow of the London Eye illuminates the dark sky. It faces Big Ben, whose bell can be heard in the distance on quiet nights. The city is slowly falling asleep. Lights are gradually disappearing. And I see everything.

The married couple living on the second floor in the building opposite me go to bed early; their apartment is usually dark by 10 pm. The yoga teacher from the fourth floor is in bed by one. She practices naked in her bedroom before she goes to bed. How can anyone be so flexible? In the apartment above, a woman leaves at half past eleven in the evening every other week to go to work. Only a few minutes later, her husband’s mistress comes in. They usually say goodbye around 2 am. Every Friday night, the window on the seventh floor opens, and a young girl crawls out and flees via the fire escape. Just like when I was young! She has my respect. She even manages in heels.

To reach the more distant buildings, I use my telescope. Every night, the guy on the sixth floor watches porn, the woman below him sitcoms. Next to her lives a young guy who smokes weed and plays video games late into the night. A woman below him has several cats and likes to paint with acrylics on a canvas until dawn.

Zoos around the world welcome the curious who want to see exotic animals. They press their noses to the glass, stretch out their hands through the bars. And when they are eager to see more, they visit the wild. They take a plastic water bottle, a backpack, annoyingly big shoes and binoculars; they crouch at a distance and wait. They want to see animals in their natural habitat. They are wondering what animals do when they think no-one is watching. That is exactly what happens to people behind the closed doors of their homes. In their natural environment, they throw away their masks and behave like who they truly are. I know it. I see them. During the night.

Slowly, all the lights go off. They depart to another world, which is not a place for me. Only a few shining lights remain in the otherwise total darkness and silence.

I sink down onto the couch, peel my stockings off, take off my dress and turn on the TV. My only company is a bucket of chocolate ice cream and a notebook. It’s just a few hours after the launch of my new book and the internet is filled with photos from the event. I glance at them all. I look nice, cute. Exactly how the media and my publisher want me. It’s a game that I enjoy. During the day.

Three o’clock in the morning. I consider whether to still go somewhere. Are you waiting for me? Do you miss me? There are sitcoms on TV; I have seen them all about a million times already. I know them by heart. On a laptop, I click on the website with the launch photos and live streaming webcams.

I have discovered streaming webcams during my long nights spent on the internet. I launch my favorite pages and I have virtually the whole world in front of me. Streaming live from places such as Paris, Madrid, Prague, San Francisco... The whole world is online. Within reach.

I cross a few of my favorite cities. As usual, I begin in Los Angeles, where it is still a hot and sunny day. I could get used to L.A. weather... Then I check out New York, the city that never sleeps. We would be the perfect fit... I visit a few white Caribbean beaches. At the end, I come back to my hometown – London. The webcam shows almost an empty city. Apart from him.

He has sat there every night for several months, watching the city. Primrose Hill, the top of Regent’s Park. He is sitting with his legs crossed, a hood covering his head. The webcam is behind him while he’s facing towards the center; I have never seen his face. He sits there every night for about three to four hours. And I watch him every time I’m not out for the night.

He draws my attention, piques my curiosity. Whenever I watch him, I get a strange feeling in my stomach. He is so far and at the same time so close. He is sitting somewhere out there in the night, watching the sleeping city below. It feels like we are spending the night together, even though we are both alone.

How strange is a stranger to you? When can you consider someone close to you? Where do you draw the line and when do you cross it? When you get to know his face? His name? His dreams? Or his fears?

Half past three. I’m out of ice cream. It starts raining. A clear sign that I will stay at home today. I’ll come tomorrow, I have plans.

I walk up to my library and choose a book to read. You might be thinking, “Who reads at this time? Shouldn’t she go to sleep?” No. Why? Because I have not slept for more than twenty years.

Back to top


Chapter 2

The Cat Princess is your fifth book this year, Sara. Where do you get your energy for writing?”

“You know, Mark, it’s mainly due to my love of children, and that I understand the importance of guidance during early childhood.” Crap, it’s all just crap. I am repeating phrases written on an index card prepared by my agent. Thank God I’ve got it. I’m better at writing on paper than talking on air.

“So can you tell our listeners whether you are writing another book?”

“Yes, I am currently working on a new story for children, but I can’t tell you anything else.” I cheekily wink at the morning show host. It is six o’clock in the morning; he is drinking coffee, which doesn’t seem to be helping that much. What is like to be drowsy?

Thank you for taking the time to come to our morning radio show. For all our listeners, again, this was Sara Nickson, children’s author. Her latest book, The Cat Princess, can be found right now in all bookstores. After a short commercial break, we’ll have a competition and you will have the chance to win a copy, personally signed by Sara.”

The host pushes the button, removes his headphones and turns to me. The dark circles under his eyes remind me of massive swings.

“Before you leave, Sara, can you please sign this copy of your book? It’s for the contest. Would you like some coffee?”

“No, thanks. I don’t drink coffee. I don’t like caffeine.”

He grunts loudly and takes a noisy slurp from his coffee cup. “So how do you look so lively and awake so early in the morning?”

I respond with just a smile. I’ve been keeping this secret for years now.

* * *

“Here it is: a breakdown of all the signings over the coming weeks. I finished it last night,” says Gina, my literary agent, as she hands me several papers.

We are passing through the radio studio, which is awaking in the morning rush, surrounded by presenters, technicians and administrative staff. People are chatting, passing papers around while holding on to their coffee cups with the radio station’s logo. It looks like chaos, yet everyone knows what to do. The smell of fresh coffee fills the hallway; the sun outside the window is slowly climbing up in the sky.

Gina seems to cope well with getting up so early. She is wearing one of her costumes and her dark curly hair is combed to one side. Despite the early hour, her makeup is perfect. Apparently, people pay more attention to women with lipstick – yet Gina doesn’t need it at all. For one thing, she talks quickly and incessantly, so she can’t be ignored, and secondly, her pretty face and thick hair almost always attract all eyes in the room.

I walk beside her, trying to keep up with her fast pace, typical of all agents, brokers and dealers, whose careers depend on time and contracts. She’s telling me about all my upcoming book signings; I just nod and pretend to listen. I know how it goes – I have done quite a few of them. They all seem to follow the same pattern. Mothers, children, smiles, autographs... you’ll see.

Gina hands me a copy of my latest book. I run my fingers across the hard cover. Eagerly I pop it open; I can smell the paper, the scent of a new book. Nothing smells more wonderful than a new book. I promise. Being freed from the past. A chance to forget today, a possibility of a better tomorrow. The escape from reality, a venture into a new world. It entertains, teaches and guides us... It stops time or makes it tick faster. It encourages us to laugh or cry, or forces us to think. And we let it.

I remember standing in the middle of the old dusty warehouse of my first publisher and holding my first book for the very first time. A few years have passed since then, but to me, it feels like it was yesterday. I tore the plastic of the stack of books on a huge palette, picked one up. I hugged the book like a newborn baby. I stood there like a proud mother, but luckily no one had to sew my intimate parts together after the birth of my book. Such a beautiful moment ... It’s that feeling that drives me to write on. Have you ever thought about writing a book yourself?

I sign the books, then draw a picture of a dragon. I’ll tell you why, when I have more time. If I forget, just remind me.

We pass through the busy reception and I quickly say goodbye to Gina, who is on the phone to one of the bookshops I have a book signing event with tomorrow. I’ll take you with me so you can see the madness. I push the heavy entrance door of the radio station and step into a brisk morning in London.

I’m surrounded by tired humans heading to work. Dark circles under their eyes, a smudge of toothpaste on their chins and a tiny coffee stain on the shirt of a young man passing by.

But I feel fresh and awake. Even if I didn’t want to be, I have no choice. I cannot be drowsy or sleepy. All words that have to do anything with sleep avoid my existence till – wait! My phone is ringing.

“Sara, promise me that you’ll come tonight. Almost all my furniture was finally delivered last night, and you have to see it. I’m only missing one cabinet that I ordered, but apart from that, the apartment is finally furnished.”

“Sure, but you own me one!” I say back into the phone wedged between my cheek and my raised shoulder.

I am standing in front of a newsstand, paying for a stack of magazines and a daily paper. The front cover of one magazine shows a young, pretty, smiling girl. Long blond hair is combed to the side, her hands holding a book. She looks nice, innocent. Oh, yes – it’s me!

“Oh, please! If it wasn’t for me, you’d be sitting at home with a bucket of ice cream in front of your PlayStation.”

He’s laughing. My brother Ben. Whether I had broken my favorite doll, or received a note from school, he was always laughing.

“Well, fine, but don’t try to set me up today, OK? No SINGLE mates or anything.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t put you through that. Have you seen today’s press? You’re on the front cover of a few magazines!”

“Oh, yeah. I just bought some of them.”

Young writer Sara Nickson publishes her fifth book this year. How does this girl do it?” he reads the headlines. “If they only knew, then...”

“Then my publisher would want me to write three more books each year.”

“Anyway, see you at eight o’clock. Don’t bring anything.”

“You know me, alcohol has no effect on me, and I wouldn’t try to get my brother drunk!”

I hang up, but I can sense there will be yet another of my brother’s friends who will try to hit on me tonight. It’s always like that. But I am alone. Sara is alone. “Sara is all alone” – I hear it at every family gathering. “And where is your boyfriend? Oh, you don’t have one?” If I had a pound every time someone asked me, I wouldn’t even have to write.

But they don’t understand. How could I ever be with someone? Just imagine. In the evening, your lover retires to bed and you watch soap operas and play video games until he wakes up in the morning. Or you try to hide it from him. But that wouldn’t really work. A real relationship cannot be built on secrets and lies. Especially not a secret that I keep to myself.

I have tested it over the past few years. There is no real option. I can’t tell the truth and I cannot lie. The only way out is to find someone for one or two nights and then quietly disappear. I simply cannot be with someone who needs sleep. And someone who needs sleep couldn’t bear to be with me.

Yes, I have had a few relationships – if you could call them that. It was never easy. Things were complicated, because of my insomnia. The older I get, the more often I ask myself: Does it ever make any sense? To try it out with someone and think it could turn into a serious thing? How could that work? So I end things before they even start.

Relationships are built on communication and trust. I read this in the book I got from Ben a few years ago (I’m sure it was a reference to my love life). I’m fine with communication – I have a bigger problem shutting up! But trust is not for me. Every person I’d like to get close to, I see as a threat. A threat to my secret and to my feelings. It’s thin ice that I would rather not try to cross. The ice has broken under me once before – years ago – and since then I’ve refused to get back on it. And honestly, I haven’t met anyone for whom I’d be willing to get back onto my feet, with the weight of my own body and my secret, and make the leap forward.

But I like you... You know how to listen... Maybe I can share a story or two with you... Would you like that?

Back to top


Chapter 3

I squeeze into a tight black dress and put on my makeup. My hair is down – it needs some freedom, right? I slip on my high heels, grab a thin coat. I’m heading out.

For many years, Ben lived just around the corner from me, but he found a bigger apartment not long ago, of course on the other side of London. He works as a computer analyst in one of the international companies with a London office. He’s been promoted recently so he decided to move.

Yes, I miss him and wish he was nearer by. We have been close since our childhood; he isn’t just my brother, he’s also my best friend. When we grew up we decided to live near to each other. But that’s how things go, right? Life just goes on. I simply have to get used to it.

“Sara, you’re here! What have you got here?” Ben greets me and grabs a bottle of wine out of my hands.

“It’s to celebrate your new apartment, Ben. For your guests, not just for you.” I kiss him on the cheek and walk into his apartment.

Everyone thinks we’re twins, but that is simply impossible. Ben is a year older than me. We both have blond hair and dark eyes. He’s no longer the little boy who used to pull my hair. He is a grown man now. Not only tall, but broad in his shoulders. Girls like him a lot, and every now and then one of them breaks his heart. And then it’s up to me to help him heal.

“Look, look,” he whispers in my ear, while he puts my coat aside, “that’s Jessica. She works with me.” He secretly points towards a brunette in his living room.

“Another one on your radar?” I say, and his face lights up with a cheeky grin.

“Well, what about you and Josh from yesterday? I saw you two leaving together from your book launch...”

So his name is Josh. And I would have wondered about it, haha.

“Well, you know how it goes.” I roll my eyes. “When I left, he was dead asleep.”

Sara, you have to forgive us, we’re just ordinary people,” he says patronizingly. “We need a bit of sleep, unlike some.”

“I don’t blame him. Just... how could that work?”

“Josh is a great guy, I’ve known him for years. You should give him a chance. Or anyone else.” He makes a hand gesture towards his new apartment, where several dozen people are having a good time.

Sure, that’s a great idea. Just imagine the dating. Hi, I’m Sara. I live in London and I’m a successful writer. And by the way, I was in a car accident as a child. I suffer from total insomnia, so I never sleep. But don’t worry, you can still close your eyes and go to sleep. I’ll watch you all night long as you sleep until dawn comes,” I say mockingly, with eyes wide open in a crazy stare.

Ben explodes with loud laughter, losing it completely while clutching his stomach.

“You’re terrible!” he says jokingly as he pokes me.

“As if you were any different.”

I leave him with that remark and look at our childhood photos on display. I can’t believe how quickly we have grown up. It feels like yesterday we were fighting over dolls and cars. I used to take his cars and he used to steal my Barbie dolls. It was a perfect trade based on curiosity. He was interested to know what was underneath the Barbies’ dresses, and I wanted to know what was under the hood of the cars. We haven’t grown up from those games.

Suddenly a tall dark-haired man approaches. His hair is slicked back and he’s dressed in a nice dark suit. His presence is followed by a sensual men’s scent. His wrist shows off one of those expensive watches, like the one I tried on last night – by the way, I did return them, OK? Just so you don’t think anything bad about me.

“Hi, can I offer you something to drink?” he asks me.

An ironic question, seriously. Offering me a drink in the apartment of my brother. My brother’s booze. And the worst part is that I can’t even get drunk. Not that I don’t want to, but I really can’t.

I was about seventeen when it hit me – alcohol does nothing to me. But really nothing. My record is four bottles of vodka – in one evening. I drove home that night in my friend’s car. The police stopped me and breathalyzed me. I blew 0 percent. So yeah.

“Uh, no thanks.” I shake my head. “I’m not drinking today.”

A big night last night?” He winks at me. He has nice facial features. “You’re Ben’s sister Sara, right? That writer. I saw you today on the cover of Right magazine. I’m Griffin.” He holds out his hand for a handshake.

Griffin. Another name that I will definitely not remember tomorrow morning. “Yes, you guessed right. What do you do for a living, Griffin?” I’m hoping that if I say his name more often, I can print it into my memory. Actually... I’m lying. I don’t care about his name. I’m more interested in his cheekbones. They don’t look bad at all.

But Griffin starts to talk and talk and I’m wondering if it’s worth it. He is saying something about his business and his projects, enthusing over his large house in Wimbledon Village, and I wonder if I would rather spend tonight with this guy or a bucket of ice cream. I have quite the collection in the freezer. To be safe.

I’m watching him as he speaks; I smile and nod at his empty words. All these men are the same. They try to dazzle me with what they have, what they own, what they’ve bought and sold. They invite me to fancy £100 steak dinners, yet they’d be better off spending £1 on a book about finance management. Oh, and I don’t eat meat.

C’mon, entertain me. Tell me something I haven’t heard before.

I have no interest in you bragging about how successful you are. I’m successful too. I don’t wanna hear about your big house with a swimming pool and tennis courts. I can break into those anytime I want. I don’t need to talk about old wines or new cars. I don’t care.

Entertain me. Make me laugh or cry. Raise my adrenaline. Make my blood boil. Awake in me something: an interest, fear, laughter or tears.

Nothing. I hear air passing from the lungs to the vocal cords, where it’s converted into sounds that have no meaning to me. Empty thoughts, empty words. I stand here with fake interest and a practiced smile and I’m considering whether tonight I’ll be cooled by ice cream or warmed by Griffin.

When you have as much time as I do, you start to wonder what to do with it. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Nonstop.

After the accident, my parents tried to find something to keep me busy every night. I remember as a child how they used to take turns to check on me in the middle of the night. As if they were expecting to find me sleeping. As if I was just playing along and insomnia was just a well-rehearsed hoax.

Nope. So I completed puzzles, read books, drew, played with my dolls and Ben’s cars. I was doing anything I could to pass the night so that morning would come and they would wake up and we could all live together in the same world.

A human being spends 25 years of his life sleeping. That’s how old I am. Get it? An average person spends as much time asleep as my whole life to this moment. My whole life... That’s crazy. I have experienced so many things in the past two decades... and I’m going to continue to do so. I don’t know what motivates me more: knowing how much more time I have, or how much I don’t have.

Time is like sand; when poured into our hands it disappears between our fingers, no matter how hard we try to catch it.

I meet people who live every day the same way. They get up, go to work, spend the evening with family and then go to bed. Every day the same story, with slight variations, such as celebrations and holidays. For me, the day never ends. It never stops. It’s one long never-ending journey. No stops. I have my foot on the pedal and I just keep going.

To tell you what I did yesterday and what I’m planning to do tomorrow is difficult, because for me there is only today. My whole life is one and the same day in which the sun rises and sets, which for the ordinary people borders their day. To me, it’s kind of a vague illusion in which I have to obey the clocks and calendars, so I don’t go crazy.

Months change, seasons change, my body changes too, yet it is still happening today. Are you keeping up with me?

“... And then the client called for the tenth time, of course totally pissed at me too...”

“Sorry, Griffin, I have to find my brother,” I interrupt him. I turn around on my heel and leave. Today the ice cream wins. Or someone I might meet on the way home.

But Ben is obviously doing well. He is blabbering into Jessica’s ear and she is flirting back with a giggle. I can see it happening again: next he will be crying into the phone that she blew him off. It always ends like that. And apparently, I’m supposed to try harder to find someone.

It’s incredible how people try to push you towards a relationship – they keep asking if you have anyone, and if not, they ask why. As if it was their business. And as if I had some expiry date, after which I will be simply dumped as trash. And then the same people cry because they are unhappy in their relationship.

“Ben, I’m about to leave, OK?” I say, tapping him on the shoulder, which interrupts his deep and (I bet) meaningful conversation with Jessica.

“Can’t you stay a bit longer?” he says, and his eyes point towards Griffin, who is still standing stunned.

“It’s already quite late. I’d better go and get some sleep.”

Ben looks amused and shakes his head. I enjoy making these jokes when we’re in front of others so he can’t say anything.

Nobody knows about my little insomnia secret. Only Ben. And my mom and dad. They have drilled me not to say anything for as long as I can remember. Apparently, it will be better this way as people wouldn’t understand.

I have worried about it for a long time. I couldn’t do sleepovers at a friend’s house because I wouldn’t be able to pretend to be asleep for a whole night. No summer camps, no weekends away or ski trips. Rather, I claimed that my parents were strict and they wouldn’t let me go anywhere. The only person I ever told the truth was my best friend from childhood, Shai. That was when the imaginary ice of my trust in relationships was broken. That experience has convinced me not to share my secret with anyone.

I’m on my own. Sara is alone.

I have vague memories of the car accident. I don’t remember exactly how it happened. I was only five years old. I just remember the white room, lots of light, people in white coats. They are no more than flashes of memories. The driver of the other car didn’t see us. He didn’t give way. After the collision, something happened to my brain. It damaged the part of the brain that controls sleep. And ever since that day, my body simply doesn’t need to sleep.

For some, it could be a gift, for others it could be a curse. For me, it can be either. I have my good days, and bad ones too.

Anyway, I owe my career to insomnia. I have already written several manuscripts of books a few months ago that are ready to be published. I have the time for it. But I can’t send them to the publisher just yet. I am already a workaholic. Then I would be a suspicious workaholic.

I live my double life. During the days, I give out my smiles and autographs and sign contracts for more books, and at night... at night I am someone else.

I’ll go home now – there is something I need to pick up – and then I will tell you more about the secret nightlife of Sara Nickson. Just don’t tell anyone, OK?

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Chapter 4

I am not sure if he’s homeless, a drifter, or what, when he spends the night sitting on a hill watching the city. Is he waiting for something? Or someone? Why doesn’t he sleep like everyone else? Well, except for me, of course. I am heading out as well. I have some urgent duties.

You’re probably wondering how I spend my nights. It varies. Sometimes I watch movies or TV series, or play video games on the PlayStation. I read a classic or work on my new book. And yes, sometimes I watch people – that much you know already, so I won’t pretend it doesn’t happen. This is the obedient part of my insomnia personality. However, I do prefer to go out.

At one point, I used to break into the public swimming pool and go for a swim. At night the water is clean and 100% purified, so I don’t have to worry that someone might share his verruca with me. And I have the pool to myself. Sometimes I go to the gym and sometimes I squeeze into the shooting range (seriously, dear people owning and operating a firing range, improve your security). From time to time I break into a nice house. I check out the family photos and even draw a mustache with my marker. Childish, I know. If their bookcases are filled with stupid books or if they have no books in the house at all, I hide their TV remote. (If you ever can’t find the remote control, buy better books. It was me.)

Sometimes I visit famous London landmarks, which are usually crowded with tourists during the day, and admire them from the outside or the inside. But most often I just wonder around. I’m good and then I rebel.

Sure, it can be a dangerous hobby. Young woman in the middle of the night walking around the city. People always think that nights are filled with murderers, deviants and such. But the truth is that we all sleep at night. Even the biggest freaks. It’s only me. Me and my city. My city and me.

My wanders began in high school. As a child, my parents tried to keep me busy in every possible way, but after a while, they gave up. To prepare nightly entertainment for your kid every day isn’t easy. So I started to look for entertainment myself.

At that time, we lived on the outskirts of London in a nice two-story family house. I was fifteen the first time I climbed out of my room through a window. I leaped onto a tree branch and freedom. That’s where it all started. At that point.

At first, I was scared. What if someone tried to rob me, or I got lost, or my parents found out that I was gone? None of this happened. So I wandered through London. I walked along the Thames and examined Tower Bridge, Big Ben and the London Eye. I jumped on a double-decker night bus and rode across the city. I headed into the city and sat down in Trafalgar Square. At night, this city is so beautiful. Quiet. And all mine.

Now it is just after eleven o’clock and I’m sitting on the bench by the Thames, watching Big Ben. The first time I climbed it, I wanted to know its height. A few years later, I was wondering about the depth. Those were the harder times in my life.

A homeless man lies silently on the bench next to me. He seems to be sleeping. Suddenly another homeless person approaches him – no, wait – it’s a woman. She sits next to him and they kiss. Awesome... Even homeless people have more romance in their lives than me. Maybe even the one on Primrose Hill is just waiting for his homeless beauty.

A gray cat jumps onto my bench and purrs at me. She looks neglected and a bit dirty. I reach out to her and stroke her. She purrs again. At least someone enjoys my company.

When you spend each night wandering the streets, you start to look for a hobby or fun. Most cities are poorly guarded at night. Over the years, I have learned when they change a shift, when and where you can find unlocked doors and which fire escape to use to get there. But don’t worry, I’m careful. I spend weeks observing the place, I assess it, and only then do I break in. I don’t want to get caught.

I have a map. I made it some years ago. I mark places I have managed to break into or where I have been naughty. My experiences vary. Walls sprayed with spray-paint, underwear stolen from a store, statues dressed in costumes from a sex shop. Sometimes I play the activist. I save rabbits from the laboratory where they are tested and bring them to the shelter. I break into the shop that sells furs and sprinkle their fur coats with red color. I steal from stores where I know they sell alcohol and cigarettes to minors and give a bottle to every homeless person I meet.

There is one mark on my map that I am extremely proud of. I snuck into a small museum and licked a few exhibits. Don’t judge me.

I’m working on a new mark. It’s a long-term mission – I have been planning it for a few months now. I have placed small boxes containing fireworks around buildings in central London. All the boxes have timers. They will go off on the same night at 15-minute intervals. They will start at midnight and last until seven in the morning. Finally, a night when nobody gets to sleep. The whole of London will come alive thanks to me.

To plan such a project took a long time. First, I had to get hold of fireworks and a timer, then work out where to place them so I wouldn’t leave a trace. I can’t afford to leave even an eyelash behind. But when you have all this time, it isn’t such a problem. Months of preparation – the climax of it all is in two days.

Today I carry another box to one of the buildings. Tomorrow I can place the last one. And then the night of fun shall begin.

The place I’m planning to break into today is a six-story-high residential building with very low security. Jeff’s on duty today. Apart from him, Ryan, Chris, and Kent work here too. Ryan is a young guy, too scared to do anything wrong, worried he might lose a job. Chris tends to be entertained by visits from his girlfriend, Kent by visits from his boyfriend. Jeff is the weak spot. The perfect ticket for me to get in.

He’s 40 years old with 40 kg extra weight in the form of a spare tire around his waist. He gets a phone call from his wife, who checks on him every night, then he turns on the TV to watch sitcoms, yet 30 minutes later he is asleep. This is my moment!

As soon as I hear him snore, I squeeze past him. It’s an old building, no security cameras anywhere. Not that I wouldn’t know how to bypass them, but it’s easier this way. I’m not very skilled in the webcam department, but I’m learning, trust me.

I head for the staircase, running up several floors until I reach the roof. I wedge the door, so I don’t get locked out. I would hate to have to explain what I’m doing here at this time. I place my fireworks box in the corner of the roof and set the timer. I step closer to the edge of the building. The cold wind blows into my face and hair. I look around to see the view of buildings nearby and enjoy the skyline of my city.

London is my lover. He knows all my secrets and I know his. I know every alley, every building, every tree and every graffiti. All of his glory and all his faults. I love him just the way he is. And he returns my love. It’s an unconditional love. We don’t expect anything from each other and yet we receive everything. We dance together every night to the rhythm of a tango that we want to keep to ourselves.

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Chapter 5

“My mummy reads your books to me every night before I go to sleep!” squeaks a child’s voice next to me.

“I am very glad.”

All of my books signings are the same. Lots of tired moms with small clingy kids. The kids scream and cry and laugh. Over and over.

Books for children are great business. Well, second to cookbooks, but I can’t really cook. I like writing for kids. I like to see the joy my books bring into the kids’ lives, and their moms too. Mothers hope the books will put their kids to sleep quickly so they can enjoy a bottle of wine. After a day spent with kids, every mother deserves that.

“And will the princess get her prince?” asks a little girl.

“Of course she will.”

I have been thinking about changing my genre for months. Something for adults. Without princesses, dragons and such. I have some ideas and suggestions, but somehow I still can’t move on. It lacks a deeper meaning. I just can’t see it. Ben says it’s my emotional detachment. He says I am a social skeptic and a cynic. On the other hand, he is ready to jump into anything. And then we cry together. He because he is alone again, and I because I am still alone.

“I’ve brought your previous books with me. Can you sign them for me?” One of the moms leans over to me and hands me my earlier books.

“Gladly.”

And then there’s the problem with alcohol. Ben gets drunk and passes out asleep. Double betrayal. I would like to ask a doctor why my body can’t get drunk, but my mom has banned me from doing so. Since my childhood, she and my father told me not to ever talk about it with doctors. Not even my doctor knows about it. He simply wonders about my top-notch health. When I saw him last time, he poked me in my thigh and said, “How can such a beautiful woman still be single?” That week, I rang him every night at three and four am. His house is on my map.

I sign a few books with a smile and head home. Everything is so different during the day compared to the night. As if they were two different worlds. In one I am a successful writer with a lovely smile; in the latter, I am painting statues in yellow, trying to figure out why I can’t get drunk.

After all my epic fails with trying to get intoxicated, I tried harder. The dark alleyways of London offer every kind of vice. Diazepam and Rohypnol, which usually satisfy all the ordinary people craving sleep – for me they were just candy. I was curious about what my body can handle, what will spark a motion or get my blood boiling.

I found a drug den, almost like in the story of Dorian Gray, where the ground was covered in dirt, garbage and stoned people in a euphoric state. It looked promising. One of the addicts gave me crushed morphine to snort. Nothing. Another gave me codeine, opium, and methadone. Nothing. It was like an all-you-can-eat restaurant, I just used my nostrils instead of my mouth. Nothing on the menu gave me the rush I was after. They all thought of me as a god. I cursed them.

“You won’t believe it – I’m going out with Jessica tonight. I mean, her and her friends and me,” Ben giggles into the phone.

“Wow, one woman isn’t enough, eh?”

“Stop it, Sara. We’re going to Club Seven. Will you come, please?”

My brother will end up hurt.

“You know that clubbing isn’t exactly my thing. Besides, I’m going to an event for writers.”

When you’re done there, come to the club. At least for a little bit, OK?”

“Fine.” I hang up.

You may be asking if I have a bed at home. It’s quite a logical question that you’ve probably thought of by now. Yes, I do. But mostly it is used for my “social interactions” that I have to kick out of my apartment before they fall asleep and drool all over my pillow. And also the bed is there just for the look of it when I have visitors who don’t know about my secret. I don’t let many people in, but just to be safe. If you came to someone’s house and there was no bed, you would be curious. Or wouldn’t you have noticed?

I turn the corner and sharply bump into someone.

“What the fuc-” I start, but I stop abruptly. Griffin from yesterday is standing in front of me, a guy with nice high cheekbones and dull speeches.

“Hi,” he smiles at me. “Sorry, I didn’t see you, I was buried in this book.”

I look skeptically at the book in his hands. Wuthering Heights. Well, fuck me. “Do you read while you walk?” I ask with a raised eyebrow.

He laughs and scratches his head. “Sort of. Is it weird?”

“Yes,” I smile at him. “I like it.”

“Do you need to be somewhere now?”

I look at him, my eyes following his from one eye to the other. Again, there’s that moment when I wonder if my time with him is worth my while. Wuthering Heights tips the scale.

“Not really.”

* * *

We sit in a nice Italian restaurant, choosing food. Griffin is dressed in a sleek, dark suit, his shiny watch crowning his wrist again.

Sooo, Wuthering Heights?” I start and throw my hands out.

“Someone recommended it to me and I liked it,” he says with a twinkle in his eyes. Maybe I judged him too early yesterday?

“It’s my favorite book,” I admit. “One of my favorite of all, actually.”

“Really?” He smiles widely at me. This information definitely changes the game. “What do you like about it?”

I am thinking about it as I look straight into his eyes. I risk it. I lean forward in my chair and whisper, “Her sinfulness.”

I can almost hear the dirty thoughts that run through his mind.

“What are you doing tonight?” he asks me directly.

“I have plans already.”

“You’re so popular...” He leans his elbow on the table and stares at me.

“No, I’m not,” I shake my head. “I have one work thing and then I promised my brother I’d pop into Club Seven.”

“What about tomorrow?”

* * *

Many people imagine the profession of a writer to be a piece of cake. You are lying on a sandy beach, the sun is warming your skin, your bank account is getting fatter with millions and you are merrily typing away on your laptop, thinking about how you are writing a new Harry Potter and everyone will shit themselves about it. But it is not like that.

You know, to be a writer, it’s lonely work. You sit at home in the middle of the night, the whole apartment is quiet or you are playing music at full volume, the only light shining is from the screen of your laptop and you are bogged under with hundreds of papers, notes of your background research, and you’re going nuts trying to figure out how to continue the story. The cursor is blinking, but you can’t think of anything. You get upset that your main character does what he does when you, the God of his life, the Creator and Lord, brought him into this world, and he stubbornly goes out of the ways that you have prepared for him. Wet laundry is sitting in the washing machine, you don’t know which day it is, and you aren’t sure if the dirty plate to your left has been there since dinner, lunch or yesterday. Yeah, that’s about right. It’s something you need to sit through, work through, and sometimes to yell and cry through as well. There are no shortcuts, sorry.

There is more to this job than just writing. For example, meeting with the same fools as you who place black letters on white paper and leave others hallucinating. These fools spend most of their time isolated from the rest of the world, but from time to time they venture out, they climb out of their protective shells to meet in the same place. Yes, I am talking about the gathering of authors.

I have been in the circle of book writers for years. It’s good to know what’s been written and how they’re all going. I’m a person who likes to be in the know. The more you work, the tighter and more exclusive circles you get in, ones it really pays to be in. You can’t get there just on a whim, you won’t find a ticket on the Internet, nobody is going to try and smuggle you in. Maybe someone will push you or pull you the right way, but that’s it. The only valid entry ticket is your name. It takes years to build your reputation, and you can lose it in a few minutes.

I’m standing in the conference room of one of London’s finest hotels. The atmosphere is quiet, almost inquisitive. The room is filled with the most successful writers from London and the surrounding area. I believe that this is the only opportunity for them to poke their heads out of their upcoming books and join the human race for an evening. Many of these thinkers believe that they are ahead of the game, and that the rest of us should roll out the red carpet and worship them. They exchange ideas, theories, but all the while they’re superstitiously trying to find out who got the biggest payout for their copyrights.

“Sara!”

Michael comes running towards me. His cookbooks are as successful as the taste of his cooking and his polished Bentley. He kisses my hand, almost bouncing with enthusiasm, like when a dog welcomes you home at the end of the day. “I haven’t seen you in ages; how is your new book going?”

“Oh, I’ve just published it, I can’t really tell... But so far, so good. How are you doing?” I caress his shoulder, wishing that my touch would change the color of his suit. Yes, many writers can write well and their books sell well, but when it comes to fashion, it’s a total disaster. Thank God I’m an exception.

“Excellent, excellent!” he nods as he adjusts his colorful suit, which seems to brighten the room among the sea of dark jackets and sleek dresses.

“Don’t brag, Michael,” says a voice behind me. A middle-aged man in a brown tweed jacket with patches on his elbows steps toward us with a long stride. Who still makes these ancient jackets?

“Larry Tavish.” He shakes my hand with a soft squeeze; certainly all his powers must be depleted by writing his sci-fi books. I know this man extremely well. He is the god of science-fiction in today’s age. He is idolized by his fans and his publishers alike. The smug expression on his face, along with his condescending look, clearly indicates that he is well aware of his success.

“Sara Nickson; I write children’s books,” I introduce myself. He twitches as I say it. Yeah, I get it. Many writers despise my genre. Well, they can go to hell. I will show them all.

“Ellie!” Michael screams at the top his lungs, and waves at someone across the room. A second later, a tall, thin woman with a large bun heaped on top of her head scurries over to join us. I know her too. She writes romance novels for women. She also receives the very same condescending look from Larry as I had had only moments before. They shake hands very briefly and you can see that the feeling is mutual.

“Michael, so you’ve changed your book-signing schedule just to be here?” Ellie asks, and hugs him. “That’s so sweet of you!”

“How could I miss such a wonderful evening?” he replies with a wide smile.

I stand there and produce my best fake smile; Ellie touches his hand, while Larry’s poker face gives nothing away.

“Well, well, looks who’s here,” a male voice sounds from behind us. Next to me stands a couple. A middle-aged man and woman. Both wearing suspiciously nice clothes for people who spend the majority of their time at home behind their keyboards. Betty Kent, author of books on psychology, and Aiden Walton, another science-fiction writer. Aiden looks maliciously at Larry, squinting with his right eye whilst swaying back and forth, ready for confrontation.

“Did you come here to ask why the pages of your books are used instead of toilet paper at gas stations?” says Larry with a raised eyebrow. Wow, these writers are terrible. The only way they can attack each other is when they spit out words that are too long and difficult to pronounce, that you need a dictionary to decode.

“Well, they said they only have your newest trash novel”, responds Aiden with a grin, pointing at Larry with a finger. “People don’t even want to wipe their ass with it!”

“C’mon gentlemen, we’re not going to start a fight here, right?” Michael steps between the two men, who stare at him as if he is interrupting an intimate moment. This is probably the only adrenaline that these men get in their lives. Well, not everyone spends their nights breaking into buildings like me, right?


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