Sleep Troubles

Gobrielle F., Elizabethtown College



David Williams cracked an eye open to the sun streaming in through the bedroom’s bay window. Another sleepless night. He lay there a moment, experiencing a tide of pain roll from his head down to his feet. The pounding in his ears was reminiscent of the tribal drums with which he was all too familiar. A shooting pain had him clutching his jaw and reaching for the breath strips sitting on the nightstand. The shrill ringing of the telephone on the bedside table shatters the calm of the early morning.

Steep the leaves until the water is a deep, earthen auburn.

The words of the shaman he had met on sabbatical back in 1976 floated across his mind more and more lately. He had met the Onondaga shaman during his last sabbatical in the autumn of 1976. A sabbatical he’d taken for research as well as health reasons. The medicine man had given him a small leather drawstring pouch filled with herbs and leaves. He instructed him to brew the leaves into a tea to cure his “sleep troubles.” He had schooled his face into a grave and serious mask; while masking his skepticism. Of course, back then he had only suffered a couple of sleepless nights a week. Nothing a strong cup of coffee couldn’t alleviate.

Looking back now on the last year, he couldn’t remember a night where he hadn’t woken up in a cold sweat, struggling to get air back into his lungs. Suddenly, that tea is looking better and better. Hell, a little more caffeine couldn’t hurt. Resolved to give it a shot, he rolls the pouch between his hands on his way down to the kitchen. He lays it on the counter as he goes about filling the kettle.

As he sits down at the counter to wait, he examines the pouch more closely. The worn leather was adorned with an intricate beadwork that had him, unconsciously, leaning closer and closer.


The shrieking of the kettle brings him out of his musings. With a quick shake of his head, he gets up and makes his way over to the stove. He pours the steaming water over the leaves; and as they steep, he brings the mug under his nose and inhales deeply; the spicy heady aroma comforting.

He tentatively takes a sip. Then another. And another until the cup is gone. His eyelids feel heavier and his hand drives the mug back down to the counter with enough force to make it rattle.

Wow, that stuff really hits you fast…

Creeping black tendrils skulk across his vision as sleep threatens to overtake him. He trudges into the living room and sinks down into the couch. His last words before slipping into the darkness,

Gotta be tryptophan or somet…

He blinks and finds himself on a desert plain on a path, bordered on each side by cacti. He is disoriented but not frightened as he thinks the tea to be some kind of hallucinogen. After musing a few moments at the strangeness of the dream, he begins to walk. Time itself seems to be moving much more slowly. After only about a quarter mile, David’s breathing becomes labored. Soon after, the heat becomes even more oppressive on his back and each step seems to require more and more effort. As if he was wading through molasses.

Further and further he trudges along the path until in the distance another form is visible. He holds up his arm to block out the offending sun and squints his eyes to make it out. He blinks once again and suddenly it’s right in front of him.

David blinks slowly as the turtle comes to a stop a few yards away. It opens its mouth and speaks, with a voice full of gravitas, reminiscent of James Earl Jones.

-“David, you must listen. You’ve come to me in this world for a reason.


-We don’t have much time, David. The troubles that you have been having, are not yours alone. I have come to charge you with a task. You have the tools to make it a reality. Our interaction is sowing the seeds in your subconscious, which will remain when you awake. You will create the technology to help others like you, David. A machine capable of restoring sleep to yourself and others. Our time is almost done. Don’t forget what I have told you. Go now.

David jerks back to consciousness with a start.


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