I was out on a date with a man who had an insomniatic parasite. He was very embarrassed by it all and had leaned in to tell me within the first ten minutes, ‘I think you should know; I have an insomniatic parasite.’ Charles was a Cambridge boy with shoulder-length blonde hair, pushed back in a way that seemed to defy gravity. He was so clean-shaven, that I wondered if he had in fact ever shaved, despite being in his early thirties. I had scouted him out on Bumble, as a talent agent does a Hollywood actor or cruise ship entertainer. While not my usual tortured-poet type, my housemates had persuaded me to come out with this slightly older, corporate sort. ‘What have you got to lose?’ They had said.
‘A what?’ I remarked, sipping my cranberry and vodka, which had cost £15 for the privilege. He went on to tell me a little, but not a lot, about the parasite that inhabited his mind, and how it tortured him every night with sleeplessness.
‘I didn’t know parasites could cause insomnia.’ I stated, inquiringly.
‘Oh yes.’ Charles nodded, enthusiastically. ‘It’s the worst sort of insomnia imaginable. Completely debilitating.’ He then pointed at a small cut on his cheek, just below his eye, that I hadn’t noticed before. ‘This was from the beast, during a midnight brawl.’
I met the insomniatic parasite a few weeks after. I lay awake next to Charles because Charles was restless, and I could never sleep next to someone who was restless. All of sudden, Charles let out a massive snore that made me jump. He was asleep. I turned my head towards him and met the insomniatic parasite, strolling out from under Charles’ ear and across the pillow towards me.
It wasn’t quite like how I’d pictured. It looked like a caterpillar, but with yellow, marble-sized eyes on the end of its antennae, and bat-like wings that were folded into its sides. Slithering across the white bedding, it left a trail of slime behind it, glistening in the moonlight that trickled through the crack in the curtains. It was all very David Lynch.
It looked inquisitive for a moment, smiled briefly, and then swiftly launched itself towards me. I had barely a chance to breathe, let alone move, when I felt the slithery demon wiggle into my ear, down the ear canal and into the auditory centre of my brain. Here, I felt it set up camp, promptly beginning its work.
For several unrelenting, torturous hours, I was at the mercy of my sadistic parasite. I lay awake, but with my eyes closed and unable to move. My body burned as the parasite engulfed it in flames, the skin melting away from the bone, dripping onto the cream carpet like an accidental fondue. Bald vultures flew through the open window, landing on my paralysed face and pecking ferociously at my exposed eyeballs, eyelids long flaked off. Body still burning, and vultures still pecking, masked soldiers stormed the doors and began their gruesome tactics. They ripped off my fingernails one by one, they broke my bare bones as though they were candy sticks and they launched rats upon my decaying carcass to mop up the remnants of my fried organs. I was awake for it all. I felt it all. It was the insomniatic parasite, playing with my mind, but it was real. And it was hell on Earth.
The following morning, I woke up. I was confused and surprised, as I hadn’t remembered falling asleep. Looking over to Charles, who was shaking and sweating, I realised that the parasite had evacuated my body during the early hours, returning to its former host and leaving its holiday home to collapse with exhaustion.
‘I feel amazing.’ Charles beamed, munching down his bacon and eggs while I scowled at him, nursing my woozy head with cheap instant coffee. ‘Okay, hear me out, hear me out.’ He continued. ‘What about if we shared the parasite? Every other night, we’d take turns. Then we’d both get at least some decent sleep. And I tell you, after last night, it’s totally worth it.’
I stared at him in disbelief.
‘Charles, before last night, every night was a decent night’s sleep for me. This is your parasite, don’t bring me into it.’
At this, he scoffed and shook his head, but then the conversation was over and we moved on to discussing Artsakh and global politics.
I didn’t see Charles the following night. I was out for a friend’s birthday. Over more vodka mixers, I dished the dirt on my parasitic night to my dearest girlfriends. They empathised with both mine and Charles’ situations. ‘How terrible for him,’ they remarked, ‘dealing with that every single night.’ They all understood my unwillingness to share parentage to the creature, ‘You’ve only been dating for a few weeks, far too soon to take on that sort of responsibility.’ I left the bar feeling secure and proud of my actions from the previous evening, but with a renewed understanding and pity for the tortured soul of Charles.
I returned to his flat the following evening and we had a wonderful time. We ate and we laughed and the insomniatic parasite didn’t come up in conversation even once. I forgot all about it, which was a mistake.
I woke up in the middle of the night tied to the bed, with Charles looming over me. To the right of my head was the sadistic beast, salivating over my untouched dreams. Before I could speak, Charles did.
‘Look, I’m really very sorry to do this. But I’ve had to put up with this for almost ten years and it’s really not very fair. You don’t understand what it’s like.’
‘Ch-Ch-Charles.’ I whimpered, pulling at my hands and feet, which were strapped firmly down. ‘What are you doing?’
‘It’s hell, it’s complete hell. And what wouldn’t you do to escape hell? This isn’t my fault. It’s, it’s that things fault. I haven’t slept in a decade.’ He rubbed his hair, troubled and panicked.
‘Please, whatever you’re doing, just stop, just stop.’ I cried, pulling hopelessly at my heavy limbs.
‘I’ve made a bargain with the insomniatic parasite. I’ve made a bargain with the devil. My own body, for yours.’
I cried, because I had no words left.
‘Unfortunately, the parasite wanted a better deal. Something more exciting to make it pack up and leave it’s faithful old home.’ He sat down next to me.
‘You see, it’s been rather kind to me. Letting me go about my daily business, only plaguing me in the solitude of night. But it’s lonely and gets bored during the daytime. Understandable, right? And so, I’ve promised it residence in your brain, day and night. There’ll be no break, as such. I’ll keep you here, tied up, so the parasite may thrive as I’ve promised. You needn’t worry, you won’t get ill or die or anything drastic like that. I’ll wake you up for feeds, for showers. I’ll look after you. I promise. It’s the only way I could persuade the thing to leave me. You see, it’s really not that bad. And just, I really just need this, you know?’
Before I could say another word, the insomniatic parasite launched itself like a rocket, straight down my ear and into my brain. And my hell on Earth, the hell that existed in my brain and my brain alone, began.
Emily Castles is an MA English Literature graduate, having completed degrees at the University of Manchester and Durham University. She is a Brummie with a taste for metal music and the macabre.