A Story by Ron Sanders

Not for insomniacs



            The night rears, and I sag.

            Seize and recover, seize and recover. Headlights burn my eyes, but I don’t dare close them; no way. Got to stay upright.

            There’s Oscar loitering in the half-shadows. I know he sees me:  his left eye gleams and drops. But there are no unnecessary movements, no increased tension. We’ve dealt before.

            Oscar gives a discreet toss of the head, and I follow him down the stairwell, where a pool of pitch obscures us from the sidewalk above. Oscar glares.

            “Like I told you, S.A., don’t come shuffling around here like the walking dead. Put on some decent clothes, wear something casual. Jeez.”

            “I need a dime,” I mumble. “Just a roll.”

            “Yeh, yeh, yeh. You need a dime, I do the time. Don’t play with me, dog. Make this worth my while.”

            I grip the twisted steel handrail. “I need a dime. I’ve got to stay awake. Got to.”

            Oscar backs off, sneering. “Then do some espresso, man. Get off my turf.”

            “Please . . . if I fall asleep it’ll happen again. My rage . . . will escape. I can’t keep letting it happen.”

            “S**t, homey. What do you mean, your ‘rage’? Are you gonna start on me again? We all got rage. You keep that stuff at home where it belongs.”

            I hang my head. “No, man. I can’t control it. If I fall asleep again, I’ll go off again. It’s that simple.”

            Oscar backs away melodramatically. “Simple? That’s some heavy bullshit, brother. And it’s the same crap you ran by me last time. Read the papers, man, we got enough nut jobs around here. You don’t need no more whites. What you need is a good headshrinker.”

            “F**k you.”

            “F**k you too, b***h! Get your homeless a*s out of here. Don’t you be disrespecting me, chump.”

            I cling to the rail. “Please. I’m sorry. Just this once.”

            Oscar appears to seethe. Finally he says, coldly, “Where’s my dime?”

            I stuff my free hand in my left front pocket, pull out a few crumpled bills and a mess of change. “Eight dollars and thirty-nine cents. It’s all I could manage. I’ll make it up to you next time.” In a moment I feel the handful scraped away and the slim foil-wrapped roll take its place.

            “There ain’t gonna be no next time,” Oscar mutters. “Now split, fool.”

            I climb the steps like an old man and stagger down the sidewalk, streetlight to storefront. My mouth is caking dry, but it doesn’t matter. Tear open the roll. Pop the little handful of pills without washing them down. Next thing I know I’m sitting on the curb, gagging, tears squeezing from my eyes. Saliva rushes into my mouth but I refuse to vomit. The bitter, bitter mouthful dissolves and peristaltically works its way down my esophagus.

            The sound of brakes. A spotlight’s beam hits my eyes. The officer’s voice is icy.

            “Are you all right?”

            I wince and turn my head, nodding. “Something,” I manage, “caught in my throat.”

            “Do you need medical assistance?”

            I shake my head and make a great show of swallowing. “Better,” I say, and open my mouth wide.

            The beam breaks from my face, searches the curb and gutter. The light is switched off. “Move along.”

            I stand and raise a grateful hand, walk down the sidewalk with forced aplomb.

            But now the night’s an iron heel. How much longer before the uppers kick in . . . the cars hum a sick street lullaby, the library steps dribble and pool. Stumbling, cinching, weaving--sit down, m**********r, or fall down. An alley, dark and dank. A plywood slat, leaning against the wall. The amphetamine will work; it must, if only I can rest. Sit.

Tucked behind the plywood is a bed of flattened cardboard, stained by booze and pee and God knows what. A bum’s crash pad. My arms tremble uncontrollably, a burning flash takes my chest. Recline, behind the wood, out of sight. Close your eyes or they’ll fry right out of your skull. Just for a minute, just for a breath.

Just rest.



            There he is, on the move. I must have slept, and well:  my juices are flowing, my mind sharp. We’re creeping down the alley, one shadow after another. He’s intent and resolute; he doesn’t know I’m on him.

            I follow him over a sagging fence; a fence that fights me, like everything else. He’s looking, looking. And now he’s far ahead, inching around a corner to study the street. I can sense what he wants. He’s found a man walking alone; a man in a nice suit, tapping a silver-knobbed birch cane. His excitement rises with the sound of the approaching cane. Can’t reach him, can’t stop him; my limbs are in a web. I can only scream silently as he grabs the man and drags him headfirst into the alley, bashes his skull repeatedly against the cold brick wall, chokes him to death and hurls the body back down. I holler for him to stop, and he seems to glance up for a second before bending down to frantically root through the dead man’s clothes. He leans back on his haunches, analyzing something important in the fractional glow of streetlamps. He peers around, and his blank eyes squint when he looks my way. But he can’t, or won’t, see me. In a minute he drops back out of sight, ravaging his prize as the night caves around us.



            A bed. An unlit room. A smashed-out window framing a dirty false dawn. I must have broken in, must have sleepwalked here. Dank and smelly, but familiar.

            The uppers didn’t work; that son of a b***h Oscar. Still, there’s a residual effect:  jazzed jaws and fingers, teeth grinding for the pulp. My eyes burn like snapping embers . . . this is an old abandoned hotel; rats on the floor, cobwebs in the corner. A half-memory challenges me, and I reach under the mattress to pull up a billfold stuffed with cash and credit cards. The driver’s license reveals a distinguished, elderly gentleman smiling pleasantly for the D.M.V. Just a face in the crowd. But he knows me, and he fears me. I cram the bills into my trousers pocket and my palms begin to sweat. My fingers itch like crazy. Who am I?

            Outside are scrub-peppered hills. A strange landscape, yet I feel I’ve known it all my life. Climb out into an overgrown alley--this section has been going to sod for years, but once I’m on the road there are plenty of small businesses, even some nice homes. And I glimpse a pursuing figure just to my left--a raggedy, disgusting creature who looks like he just crawled out of a cave. Christ, it’s my reflection in a waking storefront window. The image is so disturbing I refuse to look again.

            An open doughnut shop; only a few customers before the morning rush. The amphetamine must still be circulating:  the thought of food makes be want to puke. I smooth my wad of bills before purchasing a large black coffee. The clerk and customers regard me strangely, but is it only my wild appearance? The coffee is burnt motor oil--I have to get it down, have to keep it down. I can’t allow myself to faint.

            On a tabletop covered with crumbs, the local paper’s banner headline screams up at me:


Canyon Killer


Half-memories swirl like falling leaves:  a jogger . . . a wandering bard . . . a young photographer. Victims mangled and mutilated. Tension razzles my nervous system in little electric waves. Dirty whites. Have they found the old man yet--the bills are burning in my pockets. Wolf down the coffee, ignore the pain. Too paranoid to order a refill. But I’ll have to do some more caffeine; anything that will help me stay awake.

            Dawn is breaking as I grope along the sidewalk. I’m gonna swoon, man. What is it that makes a man fall asleep on his feet? Oscar won’t be out until dark. Even a******s have rhythm.

            Helicopters sweep the hills in the semi-darkness, their searchlights’ beams jerking this way and that. You can make out the call of their rotors as they move between crests.

            To my left, an old woman sits slumped against a market wall. She raises a languid arm and smiles gummily. What does she want:  money . . . company . . . sympathy? I blow her off until I see a sheriff’s car climbing the hill, then instinctively sit behind her, away from the road. She grabs my hand and jabbers her psychedelic whatnot while I peer around her, see the car slow and continue up the road. My mind refocuses.

            “I read you,” she’s saying, gripping my hand with passion. “Sleep. Sleep is your problem.” I try to pull away but she only clings tighter.

            “What do you want, man? Money?” I pull out a twenty and hold it in her face. She snatches the bill like a bullfrog catching a gnat, shoves it in her bra with one claw, takes my paused hand with the other.

            “You are hiding,” she drones. “You are on the run.”

            “F**k you, lady. Let go of my hand.” I push myself upright. She’s trying to haul me back down when her eyes shoot open and her jaw drops.

            “No! It’s you!

            “I said,” I snarl, “let . . . go!” Pull myself free, bang around the wall and slump down the bricks, my head brimming with sleep’s cement. Pedestrians pop out of nowhere. Traffic picks up. It’s all a buzz, man, I can’t stay awake. Feel my way around the shop . . . a space behind garbage bins. Don’t close your eyes, jerkoff, stay awake! Don’t close your eyes.



            He’s slinking ahead, but not so hazily, not so irresistibly. I could reach him, if only I could break free of this mucus. And I know where he’s going; I can feel his want.

            He moves like smoke, seeping between buildings. Just a shape:  a head and torso impelled by four liquid limbs; a spectral spider. He doesn’t look back, though I scream myself hoarse.

            Down a broken walkway to a gutted cottage, stripped black by wildfire. I’m almost on him when he reaches the sleeping old woman, but my arms and legs lock into a slow-motion spacewalk, my long howl of protest splinters and fades.

            He has her by the throat now, he’s lifting her up the wall and choking her for all he’s worth. I can’t stop him, but for one crazy moment he pauses to look behind. I’m drifting back out of reach, my fingers cramping, as the woman’s head bobs and bounces, as her arms slap left and right on the wall. Then, with one final, impassioned squeeze, the nosy old witch is silenced.



            Kicked in the bathroom door in the hotel’s lobby. Shaved and hacked off hair by the handful. A little pomade and a found baseball cap and I look almost human.

            The sporting goods store provides striped jogging sweats and running shoes. More important:  I’ve purchased a programmable alarm device. Once I figure it out, I’ll set it to vibrate at ten minutes, before rapid eye movement can take hold.

            Everybody’s staring at me. Or am I just paranoid; everybody’s staring at everybody. How long before they discover the old lady’s body.

            Christ, I’m swooning. Coffee does nothing, NO-DOZ is no help at all. I almost passed out leaving the store. It’s coming on dusk; got to hang on for Oscar. I’ll buy the cocksucker out. The whole wad, man, for just one long, electric white, bitter rush into night.



            This time that savvy eye glints rather than gleams. Oscar, leaning insolently on the railing, drops and sardonically wags his head.

            I shuffle up with my hand patting the running brick wall, trying to not stumble.

            “What did I tell you, fool? Didn’t I say you wasn’t to come around here no more? Now split.”

            I show him a handful of bills. “I want quantity this time.”

            “What did I just say, a*****e?” Oscar shows his silver caps. “I told you to split. You ain’t welcome, you ain’t wanted. We don’t do business no more. I don’t know you.”

            “Listen, man. I can barely stay on my feet. You don’t understand. I can’t keep falling asleep. I just can’t.” I start down the stairwell.

            “You go down those steps, boy, and you won’t be coming back up. You hear me?”

            I whirl and climb, my rage rising with me, but the moment’s passion leaves me drained. “Please . . .” A loud burring comes from my left pocket. You can see the fabric vibrate.

            Immediately Oscar is a live wire. “What’s that!” A hand finds his back pocket and I hear the characteristic click of a switchblade. “You’re one dead narc, m**********r.”

            “No, no. It’s an alarm. I’m still learning to program it. I keep telling you--I can’t let myself fall asleep.”

            I feel the blade’s tip poking my belly. “Back off,” he says.

            “Please. Just this once.”

            Back off, Sleepy, and I don’t want to see you no more. If I catch you on my street again I’ll kill you.”

            I backpedal down the walk, turning to see a police cruiser nosing around the corner, recovering in time to force a shuffling jog. The spotlight’s beam hits me before swinging onto Oscar, now leaning casually on the railing.

            At the corner I stop to look back. Oscar is talking jocularly with the officers, who haven’t left their car. It’s obvious they’re looking for something bigger than pissant dealers. The car moves along.

            Slip back into the alley. There are more official vehicles about tonight, and the helicopters, as always sweeping the hills, appear closer to town.

            Passing out. I’m going, man; I know it. Dead on my feet. Pull out the alarm. The LED winks cheerily. Set it for ten minutes, and for five-minute repeats thereafter. Back in the pocket. Clinging to a fire escape ladder, the rust breaking off in my fingers. Letting go. Slipping like silt, as the black ground rushes up to meet me.



            Through the alley and across the road, between the parking lots to the main street--I know where he’s going. One deep shadow in the lesser darkness, he flits in and out of the streetlights, makes straight for the railing and stairwell. The web has me again, and it’s too late anyway--he has Oscar in a chokehold and he’s fighting him, dragging him back to the walk between lots. He drags him right through me, Oscar struggling and gagging all the while.

            There’s a strong sound beneath me--a hum and vibration. He turns and looks all around, flagging in the dark. And I’m being pulled out of sleep’s murk like a fish on a line. The vibration ceases; rapid eye movement is renewed. He drags Oscar’s body all down that bisecting walk and across a haunted road, frantically bashing the skull on asphalt. I’ve almost caught up. And now he looks back, arches like a cat, and redoubles his efforts.

            I’m making headway, closing in. He hauls the body down the alley, snarling back at me.

            Another burring of the alarm, somewhere on the line between grogginess and complete insensibility. Five minutes have passed; it seems like five years. He collapses with the body. After a pause he pulls himself upright, grabs the corpse and, with gathering ferocity, repeatedly smashes its head on the ground.

            When I cry out he stops and turns like a cheetah at the kill. His eyes, two white holes in the night, widen with mine. He grabs Oscar by the hair and drags him along, weaker now, slamming back and forth down a reeling alley bordered by leaning buildings.

            Another burr and he collapses, just outside the old hotel’s window, then drags himself inside. I haul myself along the brick wall, yelling in a vacuum, as Oscar’s body passes through the frame.

            Pulling myself into the room is like fighting quicksand. He looks up, rips his nails out of Oscar’s eyes and goes for mine, even as the alarm shocks us back into alignment. I tear a sheet from the bed, wrap it around his neck and squeeze my way out of slumber. His hands find my eyes, but I have leverage:  enough to stand on the bed, enough to loop the sheet round an old wall fixture, enough to use my body weight to draw the sheet tight. I sink back down until we’re face to face. And my mouth spews a mantra while I watch his black lips writhe in sync:

Die, you son of a b***h, die. Die, you son of a b***h, die. Die, you son of a b***h.




            All data regarding the Canyon Killer Murders point conclusively to derelict Owsley Martin as the perpetrator and sole concerned party. Martin was a vagabond living since his late teens in the hills of Laurel Canyon, drifting down to the populated areas when he required sustenance:  one of those hit-and-run relics of the hippie era known colloquially as “coyotes.” He was discovered hanged by his own hand in an abandoned hotel room off of Deep Ridge. The instrument of his demise was an old sheet taken from one of the ground room’s beds. The body of a petty drug dealer, one Oscar Benecito, was also discovered in the room, but forensic analysis shows he expired before Mr. Martin, and was therefore not a party to the actual hanging. This was a murder-suicide.

            Long-time Canyon residents remember Martin as intense and highly antisocial, prone to bizarre behavior and empty nights spent talking to himself while walking the hills. According to several locals who had spoken fleetingly with Martin during the three weeks of murders, he had complained of an inability to stay awake, and these witnesses received the distinct impression that Martin suffered from acute narcolepsy.

            However, the autopsy reveals that Martin was a victim of pineal gland damage involving the body’s circadian regulator--that aspect that controls the sleep-wake cycle in healthy beings. Blood sugar and serum albumin indicators demonstrate that Martin was not a narcoleptic--that he had in fact functioned without sleep for an astonishing twenty-six days. The tax on his mind and body must have been incredible, producing delusional psychopathia and a complete inability to differentiate between reality and fancy. Owsley Martin was a man who, paradoxically enough, only dreamt he was asleep.

            One major footnote demands appending in this case. Although fingerprints, DNA analyses, and hair-and-clothing vestigial evidence prove beyond contest that Owsley Martin was the sole culprit in the Canyon Killer Murders, there were three additional deaths in the city, and two in the hills and canyons, that have been attributed to a so-called Copycat Killer, due to their striking similarity to the Martin slayings. The victims--a tourist, a shopkeeper, a hitchhiker, a deputy sheriff, and a deep canyon squatter--were murdered and mutilated with Martin’s trademark ferocity, and were forensically determined to have been dispatched, one by one, in an erratic line leading from the city to the hills. No indications of a perpetrator, outside of the immediate signs of struggle, exist to cast light on the identity of this mystery figure.

            A massive operation was undertaken in the depths of Laurel and Topanga Canyons. Some two thousand squatters and derelicts were rounded up, fined, and physically expelled through the highly commendable efforts of Los Angeles County Sheriffs, CalTrans, L.A. Firefighters, various citizens groups, and, eventually, one regiment of the 43rd National Guard out of nearby Santa Monica.

            Over a period of two years the entire area was segregated by electrified fence, in the locally famous Hands Helping Hands project, a County-funded enterprise that, ironically, provided strong temporary employment for those very evicted squatters.

            The Canyons are now indigenous plant and wildlife sanctuaries, rigidly protected by officials and citizens alike. They are off limits to all civilians, and are rigorously patrolled by County inspectors and by periodic helicopter runs. No unauthorized person has ever entered the sanctuaries.

            Yet there are scores of residents, still shaken by the grisly murders, who whisper of an odd nightly phenomenon. It’s just human nature:  urban legends are born in the imagination rather than in fact. Still these dwellers lock their windows and doors, still they clamor to congressmen and councils, still they swear of a black figure roaming the hills, raving to the night of an elusive slumber, and screaming at the moon of an insurmountable, of an unknowable, of an unimaginable rage.




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© 2010 Ron Sanders

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Author's Note

Ron Sanders
Ignore grammar problems, what do you think of the dialogue, etc.

My Review

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Pretty interesting, I must say. I did enjoy the struggle between the sane Owsley, if you can call it that haha, and the psychopathic killer Owsley. You did well at interpreting the feeling of a distorted psyche. I almost felt sorry for the poor sod the entire read.

I did find some of the dialogue a bit forced, but I can also see how it might have been done with purpose, as far as Owsley's speech goes. Other than that, I did not have any problems with the story.

I felt like the last section which mimicked an outtake of a newspaper or police report. I thought it summed up everything well and shed light on the few details that we did not know.

Great job, keep writing.

Posted 8 Years Ago

I will admit, I do have a little bias here - because your broken reveal and odd writing style mixed with an interesting psychological horror story is exactly my type of read :)

The dialogue was good, with few strong characters which were painted with different speech and differenciated well all over. The narrative voice was strong and as disjointed as the character, and while I had a little struggle to figure out what was happening at parts, the end summed it back up to clarity very well.

My major suggestion would be to (perhaps subtley) just add some more description at the start to set the scene. Where are they? What sort of area / time period. What features does Owsley have? This can all be suggested rather than just said.

I think setting up the visual imagination like this would allow the story to impact even more on the reader and is almost all I can suggest. Thanks for sharing, very muhc enjoyed :)

Posted 8 Years Ago

wow, another great one.

Posted 8 Years Ago

You told me to read this if I enjoyed weird stories, I certainly haven't lead me astray.

I loved it personally.

I think the dialogue was very well done. Oscar, in particular, was a believable character. The way he talked just reeked of smiley drug dealer

Owsley's stream of consciousness narration was also well done. I really got a sense of his paranoia and in fact actually jumped at a noise in my house while reading this, which I'm going to go ahead and attribute to your work.

Also the afterword at the end to wrap everything up was really cool. If I could offer any suggestion at all how to strengthen the piece for further drafts, I would have like to seen the ending summed up as maybe a police blotter or an article in a news paper. That would be a style choice and the only reason I suggest it is because when I first started reading the end it was a little jarring because everything else to that point had been in the narrator's voice.
If the end was presented as a police blotter or news article that might ease the reader into a different style of narration. Of course all of this as I said is style choice, the way you have it works as well and I really enjoyed the end.

Very well done, because of this piece I will be subscribing to your work.

Posted 8 Years Ago

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4 Reviews
Shelved in 2 Libraries
Added on October 16, 2010
Last Updated on December 10, 2010
Tags: Contemporary America's best writ


Ron Sanders
Ron Sanders

Marina del Rey, CA

L.A.-based novelist, illustrator, poet, short story writer. more..

Norm Norm

A Story by Ron Sanders