I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in six months. Sure, I’ve slept twenty minutes here, an hour there, but not enough. Nowhere near enough. My eyes burn, bloodshot like a drunk’s, and I don’t drink. My bones are heavy, and everything’s hazy. It’s sort of like when you have jet-lag, but instead of delightful vacation memories, there’s only endless TV and phone scrolling.

     I should take a vacation.

     I’ve tried many, many things to sleep, including:

*meditation

*strenuous exercise

*gentle exercise

*coloring with crayons in a coloring book, like a child

*warm milk

*chamomile

*masturbation

*staying awake as long as I can, in a sort of “reverse psychology” ploy.

*eliminating blue light

*eliminating electronics

*listening to music

*earmuffs and sleeping masks

*fung shui

*sleeping pills

*weed

*masturbation

*heavy meals

*massage

*lavender scented everything

*warm bath

*hot shower

*self hypnosis

*therapy

     My point is, I’m not one to ignore the situation. I’m trying my best, but it’s so far been an intractable problem.

     So, tonight I’m trying something new. My buddy Zack recommended that I try “chow”. Technically, chow is an illegal drug, one that creepy men use to drug ladies in clubs. Like roofies, for the new generation. The etiology of the name “chow” is disputed. Some say it’s because the easiest way to use it is to put the drug in food or drink — it is an odorless and flavorless powder. Some say it was invented by a shadowy figure named “Mr. Chow”. Regardless, it is illegal as hell, but I’m going to take some tonight.

     What can I say? I need sleep, and I’m desperate.

     Zack brought the chow over to my studio apartment while I was at work, and left it on the counter for me, with a little note that said “Good luck!”. I don’t know where he got the drug, nor to do I care to know, but I’m grateful to have such a winningly sketchy friend. Frankly, if I don’t get some sleep soon, I’m going to be a danger to others and myself.

     I take the powder, which is in a little plastic baggie, and I examine it, opening the bag and taking a sniff. The powder curls up into my nostrils, making my wheeze and cough. This is why no one inhales it.

     Anyway, after my coughing fit, I settle down and decide to mix it into a mug of hot cocoa. Hot cocoa is an inherently soothing beverage, reminiscent of childhood snow days and fireplaces and Christmas.

     I head to the stove and turn on the burner. I get out the ingredients: cocoa powder, heavy cream, sugar, cinnamon, marshmallows. The act of making cocoa is, in and of itself, meditative, and I enjoy it. I’m looking forward to sleep the way prisoners look forward to cheeseburgers and sex. My body aches for it. I am ready.

     There’s no sense in doing this half-assed. I decide to add some sprinkles and whipped cream, and I get those out of the fridge and pantry, respectively. I get my bed all set up. I put on fresh, crisp sheets. I fluff the pillow. I dust, so everything is polished and perfect. By the time I’m done with this, my cocoa is boiling, and I pour it into a large, squat mug.  I stir in the chow, topping it with the whipped cream and sprinkles.

     I bring it with me and sit on the bed. I have a small end table next to the bed, and I set the mug on the table, and turn on some music. Soothing jazz, mellow and slow.

     And just as I’m ready to take a drink, I hear it. A loud, ball-clenching scream, from outside.

     Well, I can’t ignore a scream like that. It sounds like a lady scream. If I ignore it, I’ll never be able to sleep again, because every time I try, I’ll be thinking about the poor girl who got attacked outside my building, while I sat inside drinking hot cocoa with sprinkles.

     I set down the mug and rush outside, forgetting a jacket, which I immediately regret, as it’s freezing-ass cold, everything coated in ice.

     I recognize the girl immediately. She’s a teenager, fifteen or sixteen, and she lives in the building at the end of the street. She walks by my building every day almost, usually with a few friends, or her little sister. I think her name is Anna. Annie. Something like that.

     But that doesn’t matter right now, because right now she’s bleeding profusely from the head. She’s stumbling around, holding her face.

     “Hey, are you ok?”

     That’s a stupid question, because obviously she is not ok; she’s bleeding from the head.

     “I got hit in the head,” she moans.

     “Someone hit you?”

     I look around. I’m not a small man, but I’m not a large one either, and I’m not armed. I’m sleep deprived. I enjoy whipped cream and sprinkles. If a terrifying thug is hanging around somewhere, I’ll do my best…but I’m not confident in my fist-fighting abilities.

     “No, it was this…thing. Something fell on my head.”

     She points at something on the ground.

     I move closer and examine it. It’s a rock. Not a huge rock, about the size of a half-dollar, but not round. It’s an odd shape, with lots of dents and dimples. Still, it would hurt if it hit you in the head. I pick it up and examine it. It’s heavy for its size, very dense.

     I know what it is immediately. It’s a meteorite. This girl got hit with a meteorite, outside my apartment, of all places.

     I love meteorites. I put it in my pocket.

     “It just, like, fell out of the sky.”

     Anna or Annie stumbles and falls to the ground.

     “Ok, hey, let me help you.”

     I help Anna or Annie get to her feet.

     “You want me to call your parents?”

     “NO!”

     Her shouting startles me.

     “Ok.”

     “I’m not supposed to be out of the house,” she explains. And I remember that it’s 1:30am, and a school night, and of course this child isn’t supposed to be wandering around the city by herself.

     “Ok, well you’re bleeding pretty badly. You need to get that looked at. Can I call an ambulance?”

     “NO! They’ll call my parents!”

     “Ok.”

     I think for a minute.

     “Alright. Come inside. I’ll get you an ice pack or something, and you can figure out someone to call, who can come get you.”

     She looks at me with such suspicion, I almost wonder if I AM a sexual predator.

     “I’ll wait out here, it’s ok.”

     “You have a head injury, and you can’t even walk straight, and it’s like ten degrees. I’m not leaving you out here by yourself. Just come inside. You can get cleaned up and wait for your ride.”

     She looks at me for a moment, then nods.

     Together we walk into my apartment, and I shudder, both from the cold, and from seeing the apartment through a pretty, vibrant young girl’s eyes. It’s a three-hundred-foot studio, shabby, and mostly undecorated. When I was a teenager, I would have judged a forty year old man who lived in a place like this. I would have wondered what shitty life choices he must have made that brought him to such a low state. I would have sworn to do better than this sad, sad guy.

     I would have been a total asshole about it.

     Anna or Annie doesn’t seem overly concerned about my living quarters though. Anna or Annie is clutching her head and moaning. Blood is dripping onto her thick winter coat.

     “Ok, just have a seat,” I tell her.

     “Where?” She asks, and I realize she has a point. The only furniture I have that can be sat upon is the bed. I do not want to tell a young girl to sit on my bed.

     “Just…wherever. I’m getting you a towel.”

     Anna or Annie takes off her coat, and I’m scandalized by what she’s wearing – or not wearing – underneath. Where the hell was this child going dressed like that? Not to sound like an old man, but Jesus Christ. What looked like ordinary leggings in the relative dark of the outdoors, are in fact made of some shiny vinyl material. Her top is basically just a bra. There is a half-nude child in my apartment, aaaaaand now she’s laying on my bed. She has covered herself with her coat, like it’s a blanket, making herself right at home, so at least she’s not exposed.

     I hand her a bunch of napkins that came with the Thai takeout I’d ordered for dinner.

     “Do you have someone you can call to come get you?”

     “Yeah,” she says. “I’ll call Carrie. She’s got a car.”

     “Ok, great. Call Carrie.”

     She fumbles around in her coat, looking for her phone.

     “God I’m so dizzy. I can’t…”

     “Here, let me help.”

     I grab her coat and search through the pockets. There is no phone.

     “There’s no phone in here,” I tell her. “Did you leave it somewhere?”

     “Shit,” she says. “Maybe it fell out of my pocket.”

     “Ok. No worries. You can use my phone.”

     “I don’t know Carrie’s number.”

     “Ok, who else can you call?”

     “I don’t know anyone’s number!”

     These Gen Z kids. Seriously. I wonder if she knows her social security number, or her blood type, or her home address. Is all that stored in her phone? Does she use her memory for anything at all?

     I sigh.

     “Alright, I’m gonna go outside and see if your phone fell out on the sidewalk when you got hit.”

     It seems conceivable. She was stumbling around and falling a lot.

     “Thanks,” she says.

     And then she rolls over and vomits. All over my carpet. The carpet isn’t exceptionally clean anyway, but still.

     “Sorry,” she says, and starts to cry.

     “Don’t worry about it,” I say, worried about it.

     I head outside, remembering my jacket this time. The street lights provide enough illumination for me to see, and I carefully examine the sidewalk, walking around until I find it! A shiny pink case, with rhinestones all over it. YES!

     I grab the phone and head back inside.

     And see Anna or Annie. Drinking my mug of drug-laced cocoa.

     “NO!”

     I grab the mug from her, but it’s obviously too late. She’s already downed over half of it.

     “Shit, shit, shit,” I say.

     “Sorry. My mouth tasted gross,” she said.

     “So you just pick up a drink and drink it? Don’t they teach you kids these days about not drinking drinks poured by strangers?”

     She starts to look properly alarmed.

     “Did you drug this?”

     “I mean.”

     Here’s the tricky part. Should I tell this girl that I drugged a mug of cocoa? What if she runs out the door before I can fully explain? She’ll tell everyone about the creepy dude who lives down the street from her, and how he lured her into his apartment and gave her drugged cocoa.

     But she’s gonna find out anyway, one way or another.

     “Ok, yes. But I wasn’t planning on you drinking it. It wasn’t for you.”

     She gets up off the bed, angry.

     “Well who was it for, you sicko?”

     She falls onto the floor, on her hands and knees.

     “OH god, everything’s spinning.”

     “I’m calling an ambulance,” I say. “Enough is enough.”

     “NO!”

     She screams so loudly I’m sure my neighbor, Jen, hears. She hears a half-naked child screaming in my room, and she’s gonna call the cops, and they’re gonna find a half-naked child in my room, bleeding from the head, drugged on chow. They’ll make the appropriate big deal about it, and I’ll go to prison for a very long time. They will not feel sorry for me because I’m an insomniac.

     “SHHH!” I shush. “Be quiet, ok? The thing is, we need you to puke that cocoa up.”

     “Ok,” she says. Her words are slurred. That’s not a good sign.

     “I’ll get you a bowl.”

     I get her a bowl from the cupboard and set it down next to her.

     “Ok, just puke up as much as you can.”

     She sticks a finger down her throat and tries. She tries so hard to vomit, and nothing comes out.

     “Try harder!” I screech, and I can hear how high-pitched and panicky I sound, and I hate it. “You just puked all over my carpet. Do that again! Do it!”

     But it’s too late. I watch, and it’s the worst moment of my life. Her eyes close. Her hand falls out of her mouth. She pitches forward, her head landing in the perfectly clean bowl, her butt stuck up in the air, shiny in her vinyl pants. She’s like a giant toddler giving in to a nap, after fighting it all afternoon. A giant toddler sent here to ruin my goddamn life.

     I pick up my phone, prepared to call an ambulance. After all, this does seem like a medically important situation. I can’t imagine the chow is good for her head injury. That’s what I should do.

     But.

     Images of myself flash in my mind. Handcuffed. Beaten by giant criminals. Forced to shit in front of those same criminals. Losing the only good thing I have going in my life; my relative freedom.

     And when I get out of prison, if I ever get out, it’s not like I’ll have an awesome life to look forward to. I’ll always be the creep who drugged an innocent young girl. No will will hire me. No one will be friends with me. No one will date me. My life, if the cops get involved, will be over.

     There’s only one thing I can do. I contact Zack.

                              ###

     Zack is here in a flash, bursting through the door in a haze of cigarette smoke and cold winter air. He examines Anna or Annie, as if he’s a doctor or something, which he most definitely is not. He crawls around on the floor, listening to her back, opening her eyelids with his thick, pokey fingers.

     “She’s breathing. She’s ok, for now.”

     “Good.”

     “Let’s get her on the bed.”

     “The bed?”

     “Do you wanna leave her like this? Face down in a motherfucking bowl, her ass up in the air?”

     He makes a good point. I’m not a monster. Together we manage to get her up onto the bed. She’s a tiny thing, but she’s unconscious, which makes it harder to maneuver.

     “What the hell happened?” Zack asks, sitting on the floor, breathing heavily. He’s wearing his black leather jacket,  and that strange air of authority he has. Immediately, I feel a little calmer, just having him here. He’ll know what to do.

     “She got hit in the head with a rock. I invited her in, to call someone to come get her, and she drank all my cocoa.”

     “You put the chow in cocoa? That’s fucking adorable.”

     “Shut up.”

     “Well, why’d you let her drink it, man?”

     “I didn’t! I went outside to look for her phone, and when I came back, she’d drank it.”

     Zack takes out a cigarette and lights it. I don’t bother telling him not to smoke in here. It’s not the time.

     “That’s fucked up, buddy.”

     “I’m aware of that, yes.”

     “Where’s her phone?”

     The question takes me aback for a moment.

     “Her phone?”

     “Yes, her motherfucking phone.”

     I find it, where I’d dropped it on the floor,. I hand it to him.

     He sets it on the ground and smashes it.

     “Whoa! What the hell?”

     “What? If her parents are looking for her, they’re gonna track her phone. Then they’ll find her here. You want that?”

     Shit. I hadn’t thought of that. I’m so glad Zack is here. I take a deep breath.

     “No.”

     “Right.”

     “Now we gotta film this.”

     “Film it? Film what?”

     “Film us sitting here, just like this. We’re gonna record her on the bed, and us here on the ground, and us not touching her. At all. That way when she wakes up, we can show it to her, so she knows we didn’t fuck with her.”

     Zack is a genius.

     I get my phone and set it up to record her. I plug it into the charger, so it’ll record as long as necessary. I set the camera on the end table, aimed at Anna or Annie’s sleeping body.

     “Now we’re gonna watch her. If her breathing gets weird, or she starts puking or whatever…we’re gonna have to call an ambulance.”

     Zack looks at me closely, gauging my reaction.

     I nod.

     “I really hope it doesn’t come to that,” I say.

     “No. Me neither. But if it does…you’re not gonna tell them where you got the chow, right?”

     “No! Of course not.”

     Zack watches me for a few beats, then nods, satisfied, I guess.

     “You’re a good guy. But Jesus, you get yourself into some weird situations,” he says, dragging on his cigarette.

     “I know,” I say. And all of a sudden, I’m exhausted. Bone-deep, real exhaustion, the kind you get from working hard and vanquishing your enemies.

     “Zack?”

     “What?”

     “I think…I think I’m tired.”

     “Really? NOW you’re tired?”

     “Yeah.”

     “Shit, I don’t think I’m gonna sleep for days. But…ok, I guess. Go to sleep.”

     “Is it ok with you? You’ll keep watch?”

     “Yeah, man, I’ll keep watch.”

     I grab a pillow from the bed, and lay it on the ground. I’m gonna savor this. It’s gonna be the best sleep I’ve ever had. My head is fluffily numb, and full of fatigue.

     I lay down. And am promptly annoyed by the lump in my pocket.  What is it? Right. The meteorite.

     I take it out of my pocket and set it down next to me.

     Zack picks it up and looks at it.   I don’t care. I close my eyes.

     “Why is there blood on this?”

     I open my eyes.

     “Oh. That’s the rock that hit Anna. Or Annie. Her,” I say, gesturing toward the girl.

     “This is your meteorite.”

     “It’s a meteorite yeah.

     “No, this is YOUR meteorite.”

     I’m awake now.

     “What are you talking about? It fell from the sky and hit her in the head.”

     “Dude. This is the exact meteorite you showed me when I was here last week. You said you bought it on eBay.”

     “What? I’ve never bought anything on eBay in my life.”

     Zack peers at me with narrowed eyes.

     “Are you fucking with me right now?”

     “No, I’m not fucking with you! I don’t shop on eBay. And I wouldn’t buy a meteorite.”

     “A week ago. I was here. You showed me this exact rock. You said ‘look at this crater. It’s the exact shape of a star’. I remember that shit.”

     There is a star shaped crater on the meteorite. I hadn’t noticed until he said something.

     “Zack. I have no idea what you’re talking about. I think you’re mixed up.”

     Zack is on his feet.

     “I gotta get outta here.”

     “What? Why?”

     He spins and looks at me.

     “I don’t know man. This is fucked up.”

     “What’s fucked up? This?” I gesture to Anna. Or Annie. “It’s not my fault. This is all a huge mishap. Like Three’s Company or something. We’ll laugh about it later.”

     He holds the meteorite in his hand.

     “Why is there blood on your meteorite?”

     He asks it calmly.

     “It hit her in the head.”

     “And how did it hit her in the head?”

     An images flashes in my head. Me standing on the roof, shivering.

     I immediately banish the image. That wasn’t me. That was my imagination. I would never.

     “It fell from the sky. She said so herself.”

     Zack nods.

     “Look, I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know why you asked me to come here. I don’t know what you’re trying to get me…involved in. But I’m out. I’m sorry.”

     He shakes his head sadly and turns to leave.

     “Zack.”

     He stops.

     “I didn’t do anything wrong,” I say. I can hear the pleading in my voice, and I would do anything to make myself sound confident and brave. Like Zack.

     “Ok,” he says. But he leaves, taking the meteorite with him.

     Shit. I take a deep breath and sit on the ground. The delicious fatigue that blessed me earlier is now gone. My best friend suspects me of…what, exactly? Why would I drug a girl on purpose and then invite him over? What kind of plan is that? Does he think I bludgeoned her? Does he think I’m crazy?

     I’ve never bought anything on eBay in my life. Maybe he’s the crazy one.

     On impulse, I grab my phone. I need to look up my search history. I need to prove, to myself if not to Zack, that the meteorite isn’t mine, that I never bought it, that it fell from the sky and hurt this child. It was an act of God. Not an act of me.

     Sirens wail in the distance.

     I bring up eBay, and am surprised to see that it logs me in immediately.

     I have an eBay account.

     All my blood drains into my feet, and I break out in a sweat. What the hell is going on?

     I click on the purchase history.

     There is a knock on the door.

     “Police, open up.”

     I scroll. There are a number of purchases, all for things I don’t recognize. Did someone create an account in my name? I’ve never seen any of these things. There is a paint set, the kind a child might use, with bold primary colors, in a plastic case. A “No Soliciting” sign, printed on light-colored wood. I don’t have a sign like that. My neighbor Jen does. She put one up recently, right under her front window.

     The door bursts open and two police officers enter my apartment.

     I look up at them, knowing this is the end for me.

     “I didn’t hurt her. I have insomnia. None of this was on purpose.”

     On the bed, Anna or Annie moans.

     The cops, who are a men a little older than I am, see the girl and then glare at me, eyes full of hate. They have daughters, I’m sure, the same age as Anna or Annie. They are protective of their girls, and if any guy lured them into his apartment, and drugged her with sprinkle-and-chow-laced-cocoa, that guy would be dead.

     In their eyes, that guy is me.

     I hold out my hands, and wait for the inevitable.

Dana Hammer is the author of several short stories and novellas which have been published in various journals, magazines, and anthologies. She recently signed a book deal with Cinnabar Moth Publishing for her adult novel, The Cannibal’s Guide to Fasting. The novel will be released in 2022. She has won numerous awards for her screenwriting and playwriting, and one one of her screenplays has been optioned by EMA Films. You can find links to some of her writing at www.danahammer.com.

Jim Phoenix

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