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THE SKELETON KEY GHOST STORIES: WHY WE SLEEP

THE SKELETON KEY GHOST STORIES: POPEYE
November 18, 2002
THE SKELETON KEY GHOST STORIES: GHOST STORY
November 23, 2002

THE SKELETON KEY GHOST STORIES: WHY WE SLEEP


 Taggart-Zimmer Press Release for Somina (zolpidex celtrate), June 12, 2007

____________________


“Why does the human body need sleep?”

This is one of the most perplexing unanswered questions facing modern medicine. Perhaps a better question, however, is this one:

“Do we even need to sleep?”

Here at the Taggart-Zimmer labs, we have found the answer, and it is a firm and resounding “No!” Welcome to the new world of Somina, the first pharmaceutical designed to chemically simulate neural rest. In a 6-month, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of daily administered Somina, subjects remained completely awake for the duration of the trial without any of the common side effects of sleep deprivation, such as memory loss, nervousness, mood problems, or even drowsiness. Somina is here, and it works.

Imagine a world without sleep. Business productivity doubles (quite literally) overnight. Imagine the time spent with your family, or time spent on vacation. Imagine coming home after a long day at work without feeling even a hint of fatigue. Humanity has nearly doubled its lifespan thanks to Somina.

Contact your doctor about Somina to see if it is right for you. Common side effects include occasional headache, dry mouth, and slightly swollen hands.

Somina. Get ready to wake up, America!

——————–


“I need this because I can’t pay my bills anymore, and my friend at Intel can get me a night job at the wafer fab for twenty an hour.”

Mike wrinkled the waxy paper on the doctor’s examining table as he shuffled to the side. Doctor Chavez tapped his pen on the tips of his pursed lips.

“Mike, I’m just not convinced that Somina is the best plan of action. Not just for you, and not for anyone. There are simply too many unanswered questions about sleep and its biomechanical functions to go tampering with it in a massive way.”

“I know, I figured you’d be against it,” said Mike as he rubbed his eyes, “but hear me out. I can’t live on my income anymore. I think I may have paid too much for my new house. And I only have one income these days, and, well… I’m just not doing that great.”

Ever since his father’s funeral a month ago, Mike had been in what was often described by scientific types as a ‘shitfunk’.

“And you think that staying awake for extended periods and earning extra income will make you feel better?” replied the doctor.

“Yeah. I mean, at least I’ll be able to afford the house.”

“I think that instead of working yourself into a waking coma, you should think about selling your house. Move into an apartment until you get back on your feet, both socially and career-wise, Michael.” Mike flinched at this. Doctor Chavez felt uncomfortable giving advice like this, but he felt it necessary, given the circumstances.

“If you don’t write me this prescription, I’ll get it somewhere else. I just figured I’d go to you first.”

Doctor Chavez sighed, reaching for a thin brick of paper and scribbling down a prescription. “If you’re going to go through with this, at least be safe about it. I want you back here in my office in two weeks for a checkup.”

——————–


One week later, Mike returned home from his night job at 4 A.M. with a backpack slung over his shoulder and a six pack of Coors dangling from his fingertips. His cat Buster sat on a table in the foyer, greeting him with a lazy half-yawn, half-meow. Mike had labeled this feline phenomenon a ‘meawn’. The red collar around his grey neck read ‘Attack Cat’ in thick white letters. “Hi, Buster Brown. How’s life?” he asked the cat as he shuffled into the kitchen. Life for Mike had recently become much more lucrative and busy. During the days, he worked on the Air Force base doing contract software work, and his nights were spent at Intel in a cleanroom. He had three hours to himself every day, which he usually spent either watching television or tinkering with his computer. He hadn’t slept in over 170 hours, and the only noticeable side effect so far had been a strange taste in his mouth, which had cropped up only the previous morning.

After a quick trip to the fridge, Mike went upstairs to his bedroom to shower and change. He noticed that his bedroom door was open (hadn’t I closed it?) and his bathroom light was on. In his new state of being, Mike was frequently losing track of night and day, but not enough to forget to turn off the light. Mike was notoriously tight-fisted when it came to wasting energy this way, which was a trait he picked up from his deceased father, whose favorite phrase in life was certainly “WHO LEFT THE GODDAMN LIGHTS ON?”. Mike entered the room, tossing his bag on the bed as he kicked off his shoes.

Something shuffled quietly in the bathroom. Mike froze. The bathroom door was closed, but Mike could see a moving shadow in the blade of soft white light leading from the bottom of the door. He looked for Buster, but the cat was still downstairs.

“Hello? Neighbor?”

The shadow beyond the door paused for a moment. The shuffling continued.

I should have picked up that Doberman instead of the cat, thought Mike. Attack cat, my ass.

Mike crept to his bed, underneath which he kept an old aluminum baseball bat. He approached the bathroom door with bat in hand, offering up one final cry:

“All right, get out now! I have a FUCKING GUN!”

His voice cracked like an adolescent as he screamed. How intimidating, he mused. He reached out the end of the bat and pushed down on the door handle, ready for whoever was in the bathroom to spring out towards him, and as he heard the latch finally click free, he nudged the door open. As he did, a feeling of dread came over him, but this wasn’t the standard kind of dread that usually came from being under extreme stress, or even terror- this was a dark, depressive dread, like the feeling you get when a family member dies. Like the feeling you get when a voice on the end of the phone at 3AM tells you that you’ve got to pack for a funeral.

The door slowly swung open, and the figure was revealed. A black dress shoe, probably a Nunn Bush. Gray dress slacks. It was sitting on the toilet, leaning forward with a pile of toiletries in its lap; toothpaste, toothbrush, spare glasses, sunscreen. It was holding a can of shaving cream, caressing it, running his thin, white fingers up and down the sides. Its face, pale and stiff and sunken, was unmistakable.

Mike whimpered. “…Dad?”

The figure did not look up, or even seem to notice Mike at all. It kept caressing the bottle of shaving cream, its expression swelling with deep sadness. It carefully placed the bottle back on the sink, and, one by one, began touching the other artifacts in its lap. It clenched a little plastic box of dental floss and held it close to its chest, placing it lovingly back on the sink. Mike, still standing in the doorway, was frozen with awe and horror. There sat his father. He was even wearing the same clothes as the day he was buried.

This can’t be happening. My father is dead.

He covered his face with his hands.

This is obviously a hallucination.

Mike turned around, closing his eyes and rubbing his temples. He counted to five, and turned around.

There was his father, a corpse, caressing the marble edge of the sink. Murky tears flowed down his cheeks. Like mud.

“Dad, what the fuck?” Mike said, crying. “Dad, what in the fuck?” Mike took three steps forward and reached out to touch his father’s shoulder, but instead of feeling the soft fabric of a suit jacket, his fingers simply tingled. He pushed his hands further, and they sunk past the image of his dead father, settling onto the cool ceramic of the toilet. The image began to slowly throb and flicker like a bad television broadcast.

Mike backed out of the room. He ran downstairs and out the door, settling into the driver’s seat of his Volkswagen. He sat there for an hour, unable to emote, until the sun finally rose, when he headed to work.

——————–


“It’s been two weeks. How are you feeling?”

“Eh, so-so.”

Doctor Chavez grunted quietly. “Why? Have you experienced some of the side effects?”

“The ghost of my dead father is living in my bathroom.”

“Ah, so you’ve been hallucinating?” asked the doctor, folding his arms and nodding.

“No. The actual, honest-to-god ghost of my dead father is living in my bathroom. He’s been there for a week,” said Mike. “He spends time wandering around the house, but I tend to see him the most in the bathroom. At first, I thought it was a hallucination, but he can, uh, move things around the house, like books, clothing, or especially socks and keys.”

The Doctor seemed unfazed by this confession. He grabbed a clipboard from a small Anthro Cart beside him and began writing.

“Tell me more about this hallucination. Did you see anyone else? Maybe a dead grandmother?” asked the doctor.

Mike shook his head, paused, and scratched his chin. “Have you ever seen the movie Ghost Dad, with Bill Cosby?”

“No, I can’t say I’ve ever seen it,” Replied the doctor.

“Hmm. Well, this isn’t like Ghost Dad at all. This is way more depressing. In my version of Ghost Dad, the ghostly corpse of my father constantly wanders the house, picking up all kinds of stuff. He touches them. Caresses them, as if he’s missing them. And he weeps, all the time.”

“Can you interact with him at all?” asked the doctor.

“No. He doesn’t respond to anything I do. He might as well be in a different universe.” There was a long pause as the doctor wrote. “Oh, and one more thing- no one else can see him. I invited my neighbor Todd over for beer on Wednesday as a test, and when my Dad came lumbering down the stairs cradling a stapler, Todd didn’t even flinch.”

“That would be expected.” Doctor Chavez kept writing. He pushed up his glasses with his index finger and looked up at Mike. “When did you stop taking the Somina?”

“I never stopped.”

“Are you telling me that you were having hallucinations of your dead father for the past week, and you never stopped taking the drug?” asked the doctor, shocked.

“Yeah, and here’s why,” Said Mike. “I’ve been making six figures, easy, which is real nice, and I got used to the whole ghost dad thing after a few days. I only spend a couple of hours a day at home, anyway, so it’s not like I have time to get freaked out by anything.”

“I advise you to stop taking the drug immediately.” Said the doctor.

“I think I’ll be fine.” Responded Mike.

“Stop this, Michael.” The doctor put the clipboard down. “This is something I’m telling you in confidence now. Sit down.” Mike sat on the long examining table. “Nearly every person to whom I’ve prescribed this drug has told me the same story. Sometimes it’s a grandmother, or a mother, or an uncle. Sometimes it’s people they don’t even know. This drug is tampering with your brain, Michael, and there’s a good chance it might cause permanent damage. I will not write any more prescriptions for Somina. Not for you, not for anyone.”

Mike sat and thought about this.

“What if it isn’t a side effect?” he asked.

“What do you mean?” replied Doctor Chavez.

“What if, I mean… listen. We need sleep, but nobody really knows why, right?”

The doctor raised a finger to qualify. “We need sleep to rest our neurons so they can more effectively form new pathways to each other.”

“Now, wait a sec, I’ve been doing some research, doctor. What if this drug works fine, and does everything it needs to do, but if the real need for sleep isn’t for the neurons. Sleep is what keeps us from seeing them. I mean, the dead people, like my Dad.”

“I don’t follow you.” Said the doctor.

“The ability to fall asleep, and then to wake up- this is what separates the dead world from the living world. And since I haven’t slept in weeks, I’m looking through a sort of window into their world.” Said Mike.

“I don’t know about that, Michael. Actually, I doubt that very sincerely. But I am taking you off Somina, which probably won’t be on the market very much longer anyway.” Said the doctor.

After a short physical checkup, Michael left for home, happy knowing that he had a two week supply of Somina sitting on the bathroom sink. He pulled the Volkswagen into the driveway and walked through the garage entrance, and although no one was watching him, if they had been, they would have noticed something very peculiar about the way he looked; specifically, he was beginning to flicker. It was completely imperceptible to Michael, but his body was beginning to flicker in and out of existence, much like a bad television signal spits out images of clarity and static at random intervals.

He walked upstairs and into the bedroom, and, predictably, sitting on the bathroom floor was his father, eyes closed, wearing a pained grimace. Mike walked over to him, sitting cross-legged beside the sink.

“Dad, this is it. After two weeks, it looks like I have to kick you out of the house.”

His father’s dry, yellow eyes shot open. They shot in Mike’s direction.

“Dad? Can you hear me?” asked Mike, waving his hands. “Dad?”

His father let out a low moan, and cracked what almost looked like a smile. His eyes finally met Mike’s. The apparition reached out a withered hand toward Mike’s face, and Mike felt his soft, cool flesh against his cheek.

Mike began to flicker faster, and soon these periods of empty static overtook him, and he was gone from this part of the universe forever. Buster let out a semi-concerned meawn from the edge of the bed as he watched his master disappear.

——————–


CNN.com, September 13, 2007

Controversial sleep drug Somina taken off market

Somina, a controversial drug designed to eliminate the need for sleep, has been taken off the market after it was linked to nearly 71 suicide deaths and 23 unexplained disappearances.

The Food and Drug Administration requested that all patients currently taking Somina stop taking it immediately. The FDA acted after rising pressure from the Public Citizen Health Research Group.

Hailed by many as the potential savior of the American economy, the introduction of Somina was met with much resistance in the medical community. Patients soon reported experiencing gruesome hallucinations, driving some into deep depressive states. An FDA spokesperson reported Tuesday that “in many cases, the isolated nature of the affected patients’ lifestyles may have contributed to many of the complications.”

In a statement, drug-maker Taggart-Zimmer said that it still thought the benefits of Somina (known as zolpidex celtrate) outweighed its risks, but decided that it “was in the best interests of patients to discontinue use.” Taggart-Zimmer also made claims that “media sensationalism over the disappearance of several patients played a large role in the withdrawal of the product.” It plans to release a less dangerous over-the-counter version of the drug next fall.


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