Freebie Mondays: Night’s Disruptions

Freebie Mondays: Night’s Disruptions

This is an indirect follow up to Mirror, Mirror On the Wall, which tells the story of what happened to the evil queen’s magic mirror after the events of Snow White and The Spindle of a Spinning Wheel, which features a follow up to the item post Sleeping Beauty. Possibly my favorite installment, If the Shoe Fits, involves Cinderella’s glass slipper. I followed that with The Singing Shell, a mashup tribute to both the Disney and Hans Christian Andersen versions of The Little Mermaid.

This newest darkling faerie tale is based on The Princess and the Pea.
– – –

Heaving a deep sigh, Lise rolled onto her side. After a moment to settle deeper beneath the covers, she pushed onto one elbow and tested the filling inside her pillow. A few sharp punches rearranged the stuffing into a more favorable configuration, and she flopped her cheek against it.

She had spent years perfecting her bedtime routine so that the complex dance of adjusting her bedding, the room’s ambient temperature and all the sounds flowing around her took a matter of moments to complete. Yet she could only lay still a few endless, agonizing minutes before discomfort or anxiety forced her into a new position.

She closed her eyes, momentarily blocking the dim outlines of all her furniture, plunging her consciousness into near total darkness. She counted the seconds as she filled her lungs with air, focusing on the steady balloon-filling sensation deep within her chest.

As she released the breath through her nose, she counted with more determination. But she could only repeat the cycle a few times before it slid from the iron grip of her mental fingers, giving way to frustrated thoughts.

She couldn’t spend another night like this. She didn’t want another week where she collapsed on Saturday afternoon – the only day she ever got to spend on herself – because she simply hadn’t cobbled together enough hours of rest to sustain her throughout the week. She couldn’t be a zombie when she showed up at the coffee pot at work again. She had important reports to file this week for high profile clients whose accounts simply could not be messed up. And she absolutely would not let all of the hard work she put into building her career flush down the toilet because her brain refused to turn off during the quiet portions of the night.

Stop! she ordered as she rolled onto her back and thrust her eyes open to stare at the dim outline of the tiles lining her ceiling. Anger never got her anywhere. She should know that by now.

Soft breaths this time. She focused on her limbs as she drew them, trying to clear her mind of every other thought. It was harder than it seemed because the more she wanted to avoid thinking about something, the deeper it wormed into her brain.

To make matters worse, laying flat on her back always managed to inflame the lower portion of her body. She achieved only a few minutes of stillness before agony lanced through her right leg, forcing her to arch her back and roll, begrudgingly, back to where she started.

She closed her eyes and gripped her heavy blankets, pulling them close around her until they formed a protective cocoon. She knew the cycle, recognized its inescapable grip. Rather than counting the hours she had left to sleep – quite a few if she could only summon rest to her now – it was better to simply accept the inevitable. She could work while tired. She had done it before, every day for almost the last five years. And though her personal life suffered from a desperate lack of energy, she knew she could nail those client files if she scraped together everything she had left when morning finally arrived.

Fatigue might not be a welcome visitor, but it was a familiar one that she had been dealing with far too long to accept simple defeat.

Bolstered by this small measure of confidence, Lise finally managed to relax and enjoy the soft, warm press of her blankets as she melted into her pillow. The gentle pitter patter of false rain spewed by her white noise generator formed a soothing lullaby, finally lulling her brain into a state of calm.

It was tenuous state at best. The smallest sound or stray thought could easily shatter it. But Lise accepted the moment for what it was, living by the philosophy that if she couldn’t sleep, she should at least rest.

Sleep, when it came, was shallow and tumultuous. She bobbed like a buoy on a storm-tossed ocean, never able to descend into the calm depths beneath the waves. Dreams clawed at her brain, leaving deep impressions of faces and voices she couldn’t identify when she drifted back toward consciousness.

A dozen times she became aware of her body in her bed and the room surrounding, but she strained desperately not to glance at the clock or trace the time. She threw herself back into the storm-tossed water of night’s ocean, clinging to what little oblivion entered her brain.

In the morning, she felt hollow and strained, like a rickety wooden bridge stretched across an ever-widening gap. Her head pounded and her eyes burned. She felt as if she’d spent the entire night jogging, though she knew from the dreams she had managed to snatch a few hours of rest from sleep’s unforgiving grip.

Raking sweat-tangled hair from her face, Lise reached for her nightstand. After deactivating the alarm she no longer needed, she snatched a small stone from a polished wooden case. She squeezed it between her fingers, reveling in the soft, cool sensation of the smooth surface rubbing against her skin before she finally parted her hands and peered at it.

It was a small thing, barely bigger than a pea. No less than three shades of green swirled across its surface, tinged with hints of smoky grey and a few streaks of brilliant blue. Lise couldn’t remember anymore where she found it. It seemed that it had rolled against her foot one day while she strode through the shale of a parking lot, but it had certainly become her lucky charm.

Since she found the stone, her career had been on fire. Sleep might have abandoned her, but ambition and determination certainly filled in the gaps. Sooner or later, she would get over this strange affliction – whatever it might be. And she had no doubt she’d have the little pea stone to thank.

It was the only thing that gave her comfort anymore. In the wicked light of early morning seeping beneath and between the gaps in her curtains, the stone soothed her weary soul and offered some measure of the calm that eluded her during the night. Holding it had become her morning ritual, the only way to keep the looming shadows of overwhelming madness at bay.

When her body felt calmer and her mind sharper, she lifted the stone to her lips. She gave it a quick kiss, though it almost disappeared into the folds of her flesh, then she set it back in its protective casing while she prepared for her day. She only prayed that when night returned and she held the little stone between her palms again, it would grant her the same peace for the evening that it always provided her days.

*   *   *

The witch blinked as the first light of day stole through the windows of her palace to assail her eyes. She woke slowly, her eyes clinging to the last lingering weight of sleep though her mind was untroubled by thought or care.

Her nights were always peaceful, a blessing for one who spent her days chipping at the foundations of chaos itself. Magic demanded a heavy toll of the mind, body and soul. Sleep was the only way to ensure she could continue to fulfill those rigors at pace.

Slowly, gently, the witch drew breath through her lips until her chest was so full it felt it might burst. Then she released the air at a measured pace while she wriggled her limbs to wake them.

As soon as she sat up, she would have to return to her arcane studies, to the charts and calculations that allowed her mystical endeavors to manifest physical forms. She had only the short span of night’s darkness to enjoy freedom from her burdens, and she intended to savor this last fading moment.

Her blankets fell away from her as she pushed into a sitting position. In one smooth motion, she cast them aside and rolled toward the ladder pressed to the side of her many mattresses.

Up here, at the top of her haven, there was no one to trouble her. But down below, at the base of her mountain of bedding, servants scurried like ants to tend the day’s chores, waiting for the witch to dismount so that they could clean the mattress mountain’s summit.

The rungs of the ladder were cool beneath her hands – a stark contrast to the bed she abandoned – but it was sturdy and didn’t protest beneath the slightness of her weight.

Down and down she climbed, kept nimble from the daily ascent and decent. Though she had long since lost count of the number of mattresses stacked one on top the other, she knew they measured some five stories tall. Long had she been tempted to add another several layers of height and support to her sleeping den, but she did not want to sleep pressed against the roof of her aging tower, and she wasn’t sure it could survive another of her mad renovations.

The moment she stepped free of the ladder, a nimble servant scurried up the wooden rungs, checking each of the mattresses for signs of wear and decay. When the fabric started to fray or the support showed signs of sagging, the offending mattress would have to be pulled from the stack and replaced by another.

She had all measure of mattresses in her collection from spring to feather to memory foam – though water and gel had to be eliminated many moons ago. They didn’t stand up to the pressure, unfortunately, and provided none of the benefits unless they rested near the top of the stack.

Satisfied that by the time she returned, her sheets would be clean and the rest of the stack would be crisp and fragrant, the witch abandoned her bed chamber to make use of her bathroom. She paused only briefly in her wardrobe to place her hands atop a polished wooden case which held a singular pea-shaped stone.

“The vessel is growing troubled,” she murmured as her power flowed between her fingers and the rock’s smooth surface. “Weak.” This last was almost a curse, and she spat it before shaking her head.

The transference of troubles that long prevented her from seeking rest had done wonders for her productivity. But humans were silly creatures, unable to stand up to the rigors of a little extra distress. Unfortunately, none of her sturdier targets could be persuaded to keep the receiving stone in their position for any length of time.

“No matter,” she murmured as she swept into the next room. “I shall simply have to find another.” There was no shortage of humans, after all, just as there was no shortage of mattresses and pillow pads to keep her sleeping area soft, comfortable and free from all possible nighttime interruptions.

Comforted by this reassurance, the witch hummed lightly to herself as she prepared for her day.

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