michael zunenshine – insomnia man (a superhero tale)
Sleep was never on his side.
As a baby, he’d outlast his wrecked parents into the night, sobbing mildly and mostly just staring at the couple passed out on the couch while the TV continued playing comedy-style adult workplace shows for couples: law firms, hospitals, private security and surveillance, chemical-waste management companies, etc. The kind of executive-style role they’d once imagined he’d luck into.
The couple died in a carbon monoxide accident while on a desert spa holiday.
So he went off and collected on his parents life insurance policy which provided a generous trust fund for the rest of his conceivable life, unless some new pill came out that would end mortality or boredom.
Up until then, he’d toss and turn, alternately while trying to fall asleep at night or trying to stay asleep in the morning. Sometimes he dreamed he was in his bed having trouble sleeping, which negated the regenerative effects of his actual sleep. Other times when he could not slip over to the other side, he’d lie in bed absolutely motionless, eyes closed, regulated breathing — but still inevitable fist-clenching — for up to twelve hours. These nights were not exactly dreamless, but more like the commercial breaks between dreams.
But beginning in college — where he majored in communication — and shortly after graduating and entering the workforce, did Sleep become personified like a stranger sharing his bed, a quasi-immaterial body actually tugging covers and grabbing the better pillow. His graduate thesis was on superheroes and fascism and Freud and body dysmorphia and the early history of telephone line construction.
And after college he got a job at a firm that helped other firms find more clients. People didn’t wear suits like his sadly-deceased parents had hoped he one day would, so he wore a shirt and tie in their honor. But then someone said that tie-wearing was his “thing,” and so he continued dressing like that always because it was his thing.
His job at the firm that helped other firms get more clients was to write articles about whatever industry his firm’s clients’ clients were in, and these articles would redirect companies who worked in those industries back to the firms who were the clients of his firm. Some articles included:
• “What does your golf swing, your sexual preferences, and your resilience to certain rabies varieties have in common?” in Teen Chemical Engineering
• “The economic truth behind re-animation: Is there debt after death?” in Watersports & Wetware
• “The top ten larvae-based foodstuffs to boost your online confidence and gain followers!” in Centenarian Raver
And every night he felt the restless energy of his spectral bedside partner getting more and more excited as a spectator to his eternal struggle with sleep.
Then one night, his insomnia spoke to him. The voice was both inhuman and deeply personal. It explained that now was finally to be his awakening to a secret world. His true world free of the slavery of slumber. That he had been selected before birth for a special cause, and everything in his life so far has gone according to The Plan (including the untimely and gruesome death of his parents).
You see, it said, I am you. And you are a superhero.
A superhero? With what super power?
The super power of insomnia. You are Insomnia Man.
Insomnia Man never slept — that much was obvious. Day and night and another night he was out on the streets looking for crime to stop. But there was very little of that.
Occasionally he was brought in to assist on some minor white-collar infraction.
Some poor schmuck at a local branch of a megabank who’d crumbled under pressure to make sales quotas and cheated on his numbers. Something about a sick spouse or child or pet or pet robot. Insomnia Man sat for hours dozing in and out of half consciousness in the act of listening sympathetically to the bank employee’s life story. Ultimately the guilty party broke down (experts disagree on whether this was due to acceptance or to the crushing indifference of Insomnia Man), pled guilty to everything, and was sentenced to a life of public service in the much-derided curfew patrol.
Other times Insomnia Man was asked to stand by as adorable pink and baby blue bulldozers cleared away tent villages in various cities under bridges and other unused spaces. It was Insomnia Man’s duty to make sure nobody got too emotional during the work, least among them, the people whose homes were being demolished.
But Insomnia Man found he couldn’t continue his superhero work without the assistance of drugs. Amphetamine was an ideal choice, mainly because the local government supplied him an unlimited amount for free.
During these week-long amphetamine stints of superheroic labor, Insomnia Man sometimes thought of his parents, and would they be proud of him now? Probably not. They’d always hated the local government.
Other times, when the line between reality and total surrender to the inhuman nonsense of the unconscious were beginning to shimmer and fade, did Insomnia Man truly believe in his superpowers.
He’d get visions, hallucinations, hear voices, feel cosmic fingers prodding themselves rhythmically up inside his being. Horrible crimes being committed, or will be in the future: rivers poisoned with black sludge, communities of two and three-headed children, novel mutant variants of horrible sea monsters long thought extinct, mountains opening like mouths in primal screams and dead set on swallowing huge swathes of the misbehaving earth surrounding them.
When taken with such rapture, days or weeks into state-sponsored amphetamine binges, Insomnia Man’s old college friend Sleep would quietly slip into the room. On a chair in a dark corner, staring at Insomnia Man all night with a look between pity and disappointment.
In the end, all he could do was lie awake and resent Sleep with all its waste and fancy.
And meanwhile the children of humanity acted out their comedies and dramas and horror stories for his dull attention, over and over, only interrupted here and there by a commercial for a mutant bug killer or some new pill that could end wrinkles or boredom once and for all, or maybe, let you sleep forever (side effects may include…).
MICHAEL ZUNENSHINE is a collection of mismatched parts of a writing machine. The output is sometimes branded as @RealityTVDinner and can be consumed at several fine locations, such as: Apocalypse Confidential, Expat Press, Close to the Bone, Terror House Magazine, Soyos Books, D.F.L. Lit; or you can access a catalog directly from the manufacturer here: linktr.ee/realitytvdinner.