05 Feb Why We Need Sleep
“Why We Need Sleep”Written by R.E. Dressler Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 23 minutes
There are dozens of unexplained scientific mysteries. We still ponder thoughts about what might really exist in the next galaxy, or perhaps, lurking in the deepest depths of the ocean floor. Unknown diseases encircle us daily, waiting for the day when there’s an opening of opportunity to come manifest inside patient zero. One of the eeriest mysteries of them all is something we all need: sleep. Scientists still don’t fully understand why humans, or any other animals for that matter, really do need sleep to survive. It is only validated that, without sleep, humans can die. Psychologists have spilled out numerous theories based on what has been validated. What we do know is that the brain needs to recharge. It has been recorded and observed that there are legitimate changes in the brain wave activity during our sleeping cycle compared to being awake. In fact, it has been argued by some scientists that there is actually more brain wave activity going on when we sleep compared to our conscious state.
How, then, is this mechanism recharging our brains? Rest and recovery of brain activity is certainly ideal for a person to perform optimally. However, the mystery still puzzles us as to why sleep is an underlying determinant of our survival, just as important as food or water may be. Also, what is the brain actually doing during these snippets of high brain wave activity while we are sleeping? There must be a purpose beyond simply recovering from the stress of a day’s hard work. What we also don’t entirely understand is the phenomena of quantum physics. It is the set of laws that defines nature itself. Quantum physics explains how each and every atom reacts with one another. How humans, animals, and the rest of our surroundings are essentially made up through a chaotic process of random interactions between atoms. There is, however, some sort of order to this chaotic energy. Otherwise, humans wouldn’t exist. We’d essentially be piles of mush.
This constant buzz of energy is what separates our dimension of existence and reality from another worldly dimension. In other words, our reality might be running on a parallel timeline alongside another. When our dimension’s energy crosses paths with a parallel timeline of another dimension, we may experience aspects of that alternate reality. For instance, I could be living life in one worldly dimension, while a mirrored image of me could be living in an alternate dimension. Both our timelines would exist simultaneously, but we would never come in contact with each other because, in essence, there would be a wall between our realities. But if the chaotic energy of the universe somehow got frazzled, my dimension and my doppelganger’s dimension could overlap, rubbing elbows with each other. The wall, in this example, would develop a hole. I could then experience a portion of my doppelganger’s reality. Oddments of his world would become apparent in my own reality. My memory would then grab hold of these details from the other dimension that I had been exposed to. Yet, the hole in the wall that separates our dimension from the next would eventually close again. I would then simply be left with just a memory of a small detail from the other dimension. The details in my reality would subsequently not quite match up to what I remember as a result. When dimensions overlap, it might not just be me who observe the small details, but a large group of people could be exposed to this time period of overlapping dimensions.
One well-known phenomenon that explains this concept is the Mandela effect. You might have always remembered Looney Toons spelled out as Looney T-O-O-N-S. If you think that is correct, you are wrong. It is actually Looney T-U-N-E-S. Another notorious example of the Mandela effect is the Berenstain Bears. You might remember these childhood characters spelled out ending in an S-T-E-I-N. If you think that is correct, though, you are also wrong. Grab any book, and you will see, now, that Berenstein has changed. It ends in S-T-A-I-N. You can try searching for proof of Beren-S-T-E-I-N but will never be able to find this spelling on any of the books you had when you were a kid.
Some scientists try to explain away this eerie effect by claiming that people are simply remembering things wrong. People then collectively convince each other that a certain spelling or image from the past was indeed correct, and that now, the branding has changed. This, in turn, leads to massive amounts of people all believing the same “false” memory, that the Berenstain bears really did end in S-T-E-I-N. When our brains tend to fill in blank spots in our memory with things that make sense to us, it could lead to a false memory, even if we are completely convinced this memory is correct.
The alternate explanation for this phenomenon can be explained by my previous example: Overlapping dimensions, where our dimension has merged with another dimension, both running along the same timeline. For a brief moment, our dimensions fused, then reverted back apart. But some fine details of our realities became mixed. These “wrong” memories we may have, like Looney T-O-O-N-S and the Beren-S-T-E-I-N bears, may actually have been correct. The group of people who remembered these details could just have experienced an alternate reality. We had witnessed the portion during our timeline when our dimensions merged with one another, and now we have those lost memories embedded in our consciousness. No matter how hard we search, though, we will never be able to find proof that these memories are valid because this reality is no longer in existence in our world. But it’s still out there…replaced with the elements from the other dimensions.
Throughout my research in school, I can tell you that the latter is more plausible. I have done extensive research, and there are some things that just don’t make sense. For example, it makes no sense to spell Looney Tunes the way it is currently in our reality. The cartoon is not a musical, and it is, obviously, starring colorful toon characters. Therefore, it would only make sense for the show to be called Looney Toons. I also did some digging around on the internet to trace back the name origins of Berenstein and then Berenstain. The books were, after all, named after the Jewish author’s last name. Unnervingly enough, the last name Berenstein dates back hundreds of years and is much more common in the United States than its replacement last name: Berenstain. In fact, during my public record searches, I only found a few relatives with the last name Berenstain, who only existed in the United States during the last 100 years. Those books were started not too much longer after that time period. What are the chances that the children’s books we grew up with had authors with a last name that is so rare and only apparent in the United States within the past 100 years? Furthermore, as I looked into the origins, having a last name ending in S-T-E-I-N is also of Jewish descent, not a last name ending in S-T-A-I-N.
The replacement “truths” we are living amongst just don’t line up or make sense. Hence, there must be some validity to us remembering these “false” facts to be true. It only makes sense that, originally, Looney Tunes really had been Looney Toons, and that Berenstain really had been Berenstein. Quantum physics will tell you that our universe had crossed railroad tracks with an alternate, yet parallel, universe. Their dimension…the other dimension…tweaked our reality permanently. Nobody recalls when this change had occurred, but it did. The truths are still living in our memories.
So, what do sleep and the Mandela effect have to do with one another? Normally, when we experience this so-called Mandela effect, we cannot recall when these changes to our reality have occurred. And, only small snippets of our realities have been swapped and lost with the other dimension. So, in essence, you don’t really notice when the Mandela effect is occurring, nor do you take much notice of the forgotten memory or a small detail until somebody points it out to you. Although eerie, the Mandela effect doesn’t seem to affect any event majorly…or at least one in which we are aware. Nobody really knows what is happening as we sleep, either. In theory, the overlapping timelines between our universe with another could be happening right as we’re sleeping. Our natural circadian rhythms might be exactly what is keeping the universe lines from crossing, resulting in mixed up information between timelines.
The decision I made to disrupt this delicate circadian rhythm is one that will now haunt me for the rest of my life. It was made the days right before Thanksgiving break. Nearing the end of the semester, I was forced to participate in at least three mandatory psychiatric experiments, which the graduate students would perform on volunteers so that I could pass my psychology course. It was part of our lab credit requirements for the curriculum. So, naturally, the procrastinator I am, I signed up for experiments that looked easy and didn’t require me to really go out of my way to get it done. I wanted a quick in and out, as minimal lab participation that I could get away with. I didn’t have time to waste with a little, easy elective when I had bucket loads of coursework in stuff like physics. The commute alone, being outside of my regular class hours, was enough in itself to suck up my precious time of socializing with friends, grabbing drinks and bars, and so forth. I had to focus my energy on partying as much as I could during this time before I’d be forced to buckle down, studying for finals, immediately after the Thanksgiving break.
Despite the efforts of our professor encouraging us to get our laboratory participation hours out of the way in the beginning of the semester, I, like many others, waited until the last minute. Boy…now I wish I hadn’t made that mistake. Experiments were closing the days right before Thanksgiving break so that the graduate students would have time to finish up their final projects after the Thanksgiving break. No grad student wanted to still be conducting experiments during finals week. I applauded myself for at least having gotten two of my participation experiments signed off. There was just one study left that I had to attend. Unfortunately, the only easy study I could manage to find was a sleep study.
My only thought at the time was, “this is awesome; I get to sleep as much as possible!” I eagerly signed up for the study before other students would start snagging up the open spots one by one. But when I collected the waiver sheets and read further into the study, I realized it was the complete opposite of what I was expecting. The graduate students were examining the negative effects that having no sleep for several days would induce. I was instructed not to sleep for three days straight. I don’t exactly know how ethical this experiment was; after all, I had heard that sleep deprivation could be used as a method of torture, as exemplified in the Russian Sleep Experiment. However, it was too late to withdraw from the study; my signed waiver had already been turned in. I don’t think I would have withdrawn either, even if I hadn’t yet signed the waiver. I needed this last credit to pass the class.
After signing, I did some quick research on the subject matter, just to see what I would be getting involved in, and to my horror, I found rather disturbing experiments on sleep deprivation. Amongst the several bone-chilling accounts I investigated, all study results pointed to a common link: that the victims were never the same. Their personalities had changed. Some sort of deep psychological element had shifted or distorted within themselves after acute and severe sleep deprivation. I tried to shake off the unsettling findings by convincing myself that these results were after a week of not sleeping. Surely three days of no sleep would not be enough to have any sort of severe psychological trauma on me. After all, most of the architecture students I knew had pulled a couple of nights of all-nighters in a row, and they all seemed fine. Nothing that a bit of caffeine couldn’t cure.
I was commanded to not sleep for a total of 72 hours, at least, and then to report back to the psychology lab before I went to sleep to turn in my report notes. The first night didn’t seem so bad. In fact, it gave me an excuse to hit up the end-of-semester frat parties. By the next morning, although a bit lethargic and hungover, I managed to bounce back enough to function for class that day, all thanks to the energy drink and electrolytes I had injected into my system. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but I was coherent enough. It wasn’t until the second night that I began to feel exhaustion settle in. My movements became sluggish and drunken. A subtle fuzzy ache, almost like white noise, began to settle into my temples. I increased my caffeine dose by two more energy drinks, but the effect only seemed to last for about thirty minutes. It was as if it didn’t matter how much caffeine I drank or how many times I massaged my temples; I couldn’t shake the feeling that my head was slowly being crushed. By the end of the day, static buzzing had permanently consumed my ears and was radiating out a dull pain in my head. My muscles grew tender and stiff, and a deep heaviness began to inhabit my joints. It felt a bit like I had a cold, yet, without the fever, congestion, or sore throat.
Into the second night, I really had to fight the urge of wanting to lie down. I had guzzled down two cups of coffee and one extra energy drink, giving me the end result of a racing mind, but everything else appeared to be moving slow. The way that people talked, my surroundings as I walked…just everything around me seemed to be in slow motion. Somehow, I miraculously made it into the third morning. That last day of sleep deprivation felt as if I was living in a throbbing shell, passing through motions and fighting to keep my drooping eyelids open. Thoughts were no longer racing, but it was as if somebody had turned off the lights in my brain. I couldn’t recall what I had said about five minutes ago to people. My body dragged on like a sack of potatoes. Time no longer seemed like it was moving slow. Nor did it feel fast. It was like time was just…existing. It simply passed without me having any recollection of what had happened. I don’t know how I was able to make it through classes and to that last night, to be honest. Lines of reality were becoming blurred in my mind. I couldn’t remember the things I had actually done or said, or if I were simply just thinking these thoughts to myself, walking around like a zombie. Nevertheless, I knew for a fact I was awake because I would not stop moving around my tiny dorm room. I did everything I could think of to keep me awake: pushups, jumping jacks, singing, video games, you name it. Anything to fight the urge of allowing myself to lie down.
The final morning, I staggered onto the bus for it to finally haul me back over to the psych lab. An extra cold chill held stagnant in the bus air. November had finally turned into a crisp, cool autumn temperature. As I stepped off the bus, I felt the nip rush past my cheeks. My toes were now throbbing slightly from the frost that had ingrained between them. Hurriedly, I shuffled into the building, forcing my brick legs into a brisk trot. Sleep and getting warm were the only two things I could focus on right now. The hallways were vacant and dark. Lights had been dimmed so that only a narrow slit of yellow guided the path to the psych lab as if I were following the guidelights down a pitch-black row of movie theater seats. Of course, the graduate students’ laboratory door was shut and locked. I slammed my numb hand against the sturdy glass of the dark window.
“Hey,” I mumbled incoherently. In fact, my voice sounded so inarticulate that I questioned if this was even my own voice at all. I sounded…deeper for some reason. Scratchy. It wasn’t like that voice I would get with a cold, either. This was like I had a completely different accent. Writing my uncomfortable feeling off as an effect of the sleep deprivation, I continued my rap, “Open up. I got the final notes for your sleep study.”
After what felt like an hour, the metal lock clicked, and the door abruptly swung open, nearly hitting me in the forehead. A small Asian student, probably late twenties, peered out of the crack. “You completed our sleep study protocol?” she demanded, eyes narrowing at me as if I were in the wrong location.
“Yes, the name’s Eric Gutten,” I muttered impatiently, shoving my sloppy notes into her stomach. She looked down at the wrinkled, ink-smudged pages unenthusiastically. Examining the script for a minute or so, she reluctantly collected it from my frozen hands. Just as I turned around, about to dart back to the bus, I heard her strike onto the paper with a pen.
“Hey, wait a minute…you spelled your name wrong.” She sounded annoyed at this point, as if I shouldn’t have even bothered to turn in my notes.
“What?” I rolled my eyes, spinning back to see what she was pointing at. Glancing at the paper, I raised my eyes to meet hers with a definitive glare. “That’s how I spell it. Eric. That’s correct. Can I go back to my dorm now and finally sleep?” I snapped.
She shook her head objectively and whipped out a clipboard from behind the door in an authoritative manner. “No, we have you here as E-R-I-K Gutten here on the list, not E-R-I-C.”
“That must be a mistake. I might be sleep-deprived, but I definitely know how to spell my name. I’ve always spelled it E-R-I-C. Just like most Erics spell it out,” I retorted, holding my hands up in protest.
“We have a copy of your student ID. Says right here, you’re E-R-I-K Gutten. Very funny. Now, if you could please correct this and sign your name as it appears, I can let you go on your merry little way,” she bit, shoving the papers back into my chest.
“No way,” I argued, refusing to grab the papers and pulling out my wallet from my back pocket instead. She was beginning to waste my time now and I was growing irritated. Flicking open the leather wallet angrily, it made a crisp snap sound as it flung. Right in its usual place, my student ID was intact, peering back at me through the transparent plastic pocket. In the process of flipping around my badge, like a cop, and shoving it into her face, I stopped as my eyes caught a glimpse of my name appearing in bold lettering at the top of the card. I paused and brought the wallet closer, trying hard to focus my bleary eyes. My focus was now at the point where it was going in and out. Pressure throbbed from behind my eyes as if somebody were pushing them out of my skull. Blinking hard in an attempt to regain any moisture from my tear ducts that I could muster, I glared in disbelief at the print. Erik Gutten. The image of the name burned into my eyes with the similar effect a car headlight would have driving toward me in the darkest of nights.
I have had this same damn ID for three years, never needing to replace it. Although I never took much notice of how my name looked at the top of my picture, I was positive it had not been misspelled. There would be no way I’d miss something that obvious for three years.
“Hey, come on. I want to go home too. Don’t got all day,” the grad student interrupted my baffled trance. “Please just sign your name correctly, and you can go.” She shoved the papers back into me again. Hesitantly and disturbed, I grasped them clumsily and erased the name “Eric” I had written on the heading of the paper, replacing it with “Erik.” I didn’t feel like arguing with her, especially since I just wanted to get some sleep. It would have been useless putting up a fight with her seeing my name spelled out that way on my ID.
“There,” I muttered, illegibly writing out the misspelled version of my name and then abruptly turning away, racing toward the exit doors. A wave of heated embarrassment flushed over the back of my neck. Just twenty minutes, I told myself, then I’d be back in my comfy dorm room, snoozing away. You can make it.
It took all my willpower trying not to fall asleep on that bus ride back, but somehow, I was able to keep my eyes open, fixing my gaze on the blur of objects passing by. At last, I stumbled into my dorm room, threw off my jacket, and collapsed on the bed. I nodded off almost immediately.
I awoke in a daze, rubbed my eyes, and glanced over at the clock to see that I had slept for nearly twelve hours. It was now nine pm, the night right before I would have to fly back to visit my parents for the holiday. Grogginess was deeply ingrained in my body, but I forced my weak limbs to gather enough momentum to stand up and begin packing my bags. I hadn’t seen my parents since the beginning of the semester. Most of all, I was excited to see my twin sister, Remi. It’s hard to describe, but having a twin is almost like having a sixth sense. Despite the fact that she was going to college literally across the country from me, we could just sense when each other might be going through turmoil or even, something great.
Speaking of the devil, just a few weeks ago, I had this gut feeling that I needed to celebrate. There wasn’t any particular reason for this feeling; it was just something I felt like I had to do right then and there. Go out to a party for that night or something. It was definitely a spur of the moment, fleeting type of emotion that I had to share my random joy with Remi at that instant moment. Before I went out, I gave her a Facetime call. Sure enough, she had landed a competitive internship spot that day and was also going out to celebrate. It was almost like we have some sort of telekinetic affinity for each other. There have been stories of other twins having the same type of connection.
I couldn’t wait to catch up with her. As I placed my plane ticket and driver’s license on top of the packed bags, I took a double-take glimpse at the name, which was printed on my license. A pounding whoosh through my head flooded me through my temples, and my knees suddenly grew weak. The pit of my stomach lurched with shock. Erik Gutten, it flashed, almost mockingly. “What in the hell?” I murmured, teeth clenched. A bead of sweat dripped from my brow and onto the license. The weariness hadn’t completely surpassed, so rather than mull over the oddity I collapsed on my bed again and dozed off, surrendering to the terrifying speculation.
Blaring guitars from the tune of my alarm screamed in my ears, the cellphone vibrating simultaneously on the desk next to me. Startled, I jolted into an upright position then rolled over to turn off the alarm. 5:30 am. Despite the fact that, at this hour, I would normally be crawling off to bed after a weekend night of partying, I found myself waking up much more refreshed than I had been at 9:00 pm. The lethargic ache had subsided in my muscles, and my eyes no longer felt the pressure of bags, which had been forming below them.
No trouble getting to the airport on time and passing through TSA quickly. There was no question brought up when I flashed the driver’s license to the TSA personnel. The officers simply looked at my photo, verified my name—the misspelled version of my name, that is—but then beckoned me through as if I had always been called Erik. Not a chance I could have that same misspelling on my driver’s license by chance. Whenever you register for a new state license, you have to spell out and sign your full name correctly, given to you as it appears on your birth certificate. No way would I have filled out a misspelled version of my name from years ago. A sudden out-of-body experience came down upon me for a brief moment. At first, I thought I was about to faint, but I was quickly able to collect myself and head toward my plane as planned.
When I finally landed in my hometown, stepping off the ramp and into the airport lobby, I instantly spotted my parents anxiously looking around for me from the windows of the waiting area. I galloped over toward them, handing Dad a couple of my bags and giving them hugs. Mom and I shared the same curly, dark auburn hair and slender physique. There was no doubt we were related. However, my bright blue eyes were inherited from my Dad, who was of a much stockier and shorter version of myself. “Hey, buddy, it’s good to finally have you back in town,” exclaimed Dad, slapping me on the back.
“Yes, Eric, we’ve missed you lots. Still haven’t changed your room since you’ve left,” added Mom.
“Thanks, guys,” I forced an innocent smile, trying to cover up the tiredness that was still pressing up from behind my skull or any residual effect of alcohol in my system they could sense. “Hey Mom,” I started once we slammed the car doors shut, securing ourselves and having escaped the chaos of public noise. “How on earth did they spell my name wrong on my driver’s license?”
Dad started up the car as if he hadn’t heard my question. But Mom turned around and motioned a hand for me to turn over my license so that she could have a look. I surrendered my wallet and placed it into her leather-gloved hand. She opened it curiously. After a moment, she flashed her brown eyes back up at me from behind her iconic horn-rimmed glasses. “Very funny, Eric. It’s not nice playing jokes on your parents,” she chuckled sarcastically, handing me back my wallet.
“Did you even read it? It’s spelled E-R-I-K. Like, how could I have missed that when I was filling out the paperwork for my license?” I interrogated, breaking eye contact and deciphering the license over again, more closely, attempting to find some sign that it was a fake ID. Maybe one of my buddies had actually pranked me this whole time, replacing both my student ID and driver’s license with fake ones, and now Mom was playing along. My mother’s answer sounded authentic, though, and made my stomach churn uneasily.
“Honey, I don’t know what you’re getting at. That’s how we’ve always spelled it. It’s on your birth certificate. All growing up, we never called or spelled your name any other way,” she responded insistently. Her expression suddenly grew more solemn as she gave me a quick look down. A sincere look of concern washed over her eyes. “Are you feeling okay?”
Trying to shake off the jolt of anxiety that was currently pulsing through my system, I impulsively ripped my knit hat off and ran my fingers through my course curls uneasily. I then tore my gaze away from the distorted driver’s license, forcing my eyes to meet hers once again. I replied uneasily, “Yeah. It’s just…I’m tired. A lot of studying lately…finishing up final projects. Didn’t mean to joke around like that, sorry.” I flashed a nervous smile, masking the intense heat that was building up from beneath my skin. It wouldn’t be long before I’d start sweating in this damn car. Maybe it was just the heat of being wrapped up in a sweater and jacket, now with the car radiator blasting into my knees. The familiar slight dizziness came over me again. I stared blankly at Mom until a warm smile returned to her lips. She patted my knee before turning back to look out her side of the windows.
My heart was twice its resting heart rate for the remainder of the drive home. I lost my motivation for conversing and could only lean my forehead against the cold pane of the car window, watching the frosted, leafless trees fly by in the background like gray blurs. Had I always spelled my name like that? There was no way I could simply forget how to spell my own name. I’ve always been Eric. Was this all just some kind of dream? Was I still asleep, back in my dorm room?
Yet, I was unconvinced I was dreaming. Everything happening right now was much too real to be a dream. I could feel the damn cold against my forehead right now as it began to numb my skull to a dull ache. Okay, so I might be awake, but my mind was playing horrible tricks on me, at least. I was still a bit sleepy, after all. When we finally rolled up our paved, suburban driveway, I gazed up at my childhood home. It looked just as I had never left—the same yellow siding along with perfectly aligned blue shutters encompassing each window. Five of the same large bushes lined the walkway up to the front door. That same large window on the oak wood front door was still smiling out into the street, welcoming any stranger into our home, just as it always had been.
Desperate to search for some item of proof that I had indeed written “Eric” on a past homework assignment or something, I rushed into the house and trampled up the stairs immediately to my bedroom. My bags slammed onto my twin-sized bed, which had been neatly dressed in blue sheets, creating a clattering sound off the bedboard. Then, I paused as my eye caught a glimpse of the Little League medal hanging delicately above the bed frame. I had won it back when I was in the first grade, and it had remained hanging above that same oak headboard ever since. As I got closer to the metal, a lump knotted tightly in my throat. There was no baseball behind the two crossed bats. I’ve looked at that same metal every damn day growing up, and there was a symbol of two baseball bats, in an X formation, overlaying a large baseball in the background. That large baseball depicted the lettering, which read: Little League Baseball.
The metallic object gawked back at me, now, with no baseball. Just the two bats in their X configuration and those words “Little League Baseball” above them. The lettering had been curved as if it were artistically bent to flow with the shape of the baseball. However, there was no baseball to compliment this pattern. That wasn’t the most disturbing thing about the metal, however. Below lettering read: Erik Gutten. I traced a couple of shaky fingers along the protruding letters as if I were reading braille. Glaring deep into the gold reflective surface, I studied the distortion of my own reflection as I would looking at a funhouse mirror. My nose and lips were out of proportion. My heart suddenly leaped, though, as I looked at the shape of my eyes. They weren’t the same bright blue I had always had. Shaking my head to myself, I muttered, “It’s just the lighting. You’re losing your freaking mind, Eric.”
I ripped off my jacket, suddenly realizing how hot I had gotten after only having been in the house for a few minutes and tossed it to the floor of the room. Placing my initial mission of scavenging for a genuine documented signature on hold, I went into the bathroom to assess my reflection more closely. When I flicked on the bright light, my stomach heaved, and I nearly crumbled to the floor from a sudden plague of weakness. Dizziness seeped through my head like toxic gas. My eyes were…green! And my freckles? Where were my freckles?! My face was as white and flawless as a porcelain doll. Fumbling into my back pocket and tugging out my driver’s license, I now inspected the picture. Too blurry to tell if I had freckles or green eyes in that. My mouth was hot and dry, and the lump in my throat tightened further up as I read the black ink, recite: Eye Color: Green.
“Dad!” I screamed, dropping my wallet in horror to the bathroom floor.
“What?” he called back from downstairs.
“Could you come here?” my voice quivered in dread. I felt utterly insane. Heavy, slow footsteps soon approached the staircase. Desperately, I staggered over to meet him, steadying myself against the wooden door frame of the bathroom, then stopped when saw a pair of bright green eyes glimmering back at me. Dad and I always had bright blue eyes! There were never any green eyes within the family! What in the hell was going on? “Hey, are you…” I started, but was forced to stop so that I could draw in a few deep breaths before continuing. I sounded as if I had just run a sprint. “Did you get contacts? Like the colored type of contacts?”
He chuckled heartily, “Well, that’s kind of random. No, of course not. Why would I do something like that? You know I’m the least fashionable type of guy.” The familiar look of concern then washed over his face as he studied me, just as Mom had done. “Are you okay?”
“I…uh. Just—where’s all of the papers you saved from my childhood? You know…homework assignments, art projects…that sort of stuff. I know you guys saved a whole bin-full of it,” I was incomprehensible at this point.
“Right in your closet, bud, just where it’s always been. Haven’t touched anything in your room since you’ve left,” he reiterated. “I’m going to help your mother with dinner now. We’re making chicken teriyaki, your favorite.”
I stood there, motionless and sweating. “Is that a joke?” I snapped, sounding more irritated than I had intended to. Dad instantly looked stunned by my tone. “Dad, I hate teriyaki. Both me and Remi do.”
Dad’s expression eased, and he forced out a nervous laugh. “Get out of here, Eric. I know you’ve been away for a few months, but your taste buds don’t change that fast. It’ll be done in a few minutes,” he confirmed as he turned back down the stairs. I hated teriyaki, ever since I was eight and had puked from having it in a Chinese restaurant. Since that incident, every single time I’ve tasted chicken teriyaki, it would just saturate my mouth with a putrid taste, always bringing back that memory and forcing my stomach into a queasy sensation.
The longer I muddled through the scattered assortment of papers within the bin, the closer I grew to being on the verge of tears. Every single paper I could find was signed: Erik Gutten, Erik Gutten, ERIK GUTTEN, ERIK GUTTEN! My neck had grown clammy, and sweat was now soaking through the back of my grey sweater. Throbbing heartbeats slammed loudly in my ears like a timpani drum. A sensation of heaviness latched onto my shoulders, crushing me and pulling me down toward the Earth.
“Eric! Dinner!” Mom called from downstairs, forcing me out of my frenzied thoughts. I rose to shaky knees and stumbled down the stairs to the kitchen table. A bowl of chicken teriyaki stared mockingly up at me. The smell was repulsive. I grasped the table edges hard for stabilization, shaking the entire display as I took a seat.
“Dig in,” Dad announced. “It’s the ‘welcome home’ dinner.” I had lost my appetite a while ago but knew I needed to get something in my system, so I automatically loaded my plate with the repulsive concoction. Hesitantly, I brought the steaming fork to my lips, blew on it lightly, and shoved it into my mouth. The…pleasant…taste melted into my tongue’s taste buds and warmed my mouth in a welcome. It wasn’t just pleasant though; it was delicious. I scarfed down the rest of the plate, temporarily forgetting about my previous hatred for it. After finishing, I leaned my elbows onto the table in confusion and disgust with myself. What was wrong with me? Then, I did the only thing left my mind was able to process: I crumbled and cried.
During my breakdown, I told my parents all the things that had changed since I had done the sleep experiment. No one remembered any of these details except for me. Worst of all, I was no longer myself. I could no longer identify who I really was. This eye color wasn’t mine, and I had always had a nose full of freckles. Of course, they acted as if I had never had blue eyes or freckles. They wrote it off as an effect of sleep deprivation and told me to head upstairs to get more rest.
I wasn’t exactly tired, though. Now, I’m just sitting upright on my bed, tensely clenching my hands into fists as I waited for the proof that I wasn’t insane. I really had blue eyes and freckles. That Little League metal had a baseball on it. My name was Eric. That is, back in my original dimension. Just like nobody remembered that Berenstain was spelled with an E-I-N or that Looney Tunes was spelled T-O-O-N-S. Snippets of my own reality had been forgotten and replaced with subtle yet unfamiliar substitutions. Was it really the lack of sleep that had permanently messed with my psyche? Had sleep deprivation permanently damaged my memory recall? Was my brain simply filling in information that had been lost over time, and was I simply remembering bits of information wrong?
Or is the real reason for sleep so that we don’t fall victim to the nature of quantum physics? Sleep is one of the biggest mysteries scientists are still exploring. Perhaps, the true necessity for sleep is so that the atoms, which make up our brain matter, do not become frazzled, meshing in a chaotic particle frenzy with the other dimension. Does this random particle energy open a gateway for our timeline to overlap with another dimension’s timeline? Had I completely transitioned from my home dimension over to the next? My brain had not been properly rested and was put through a large amount of stress. It was possible that these atoms in my brain became confused and that a new channel of energy had opened up as a gateway to the next dimension. In other words, I had entirely switched train tracks. The timeline was still the same…but the dimension was different.
A gentle knock on my bedroom door ripped me from my thoughts. My heart leaped with hopeful anticipation. Behind the door peered Remi, tentative to come in. “Hey,” she began, opening the door completely. Her smile quickly faded as her brown, speckled eyes studied me up and down. Redness drained from her complexion, and she adapted a stone-grey coloring. She withdrew a couple of steps backward, grasping the door frame as if she were going to collapse. At that moment, I knew the latter theory had been proven. “You’re not my brother,” she uttered in a low, horrified voice. My gaze settled on her shirt, which had a picture of Bugs Bunny, reading: Looney Toons.
I had completely transitioned into a parallel universe.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableCraig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A