Ryan climbed from his car, thankful that the drive from Brooklyn to Suffolk County was nothing more than the usual rush hour traffic jam. He made his way up the paving-stone pathway, drawing comfort from the chirping sparrows and crickets. They sounded happy, peaceful. The dying sun painted the sky brilliant hues of lavender and pink. He breathed in deep, hoping the scent of freshly mowed grass and roses would calm him further, as he unlocked his front door.
Ryan remembered a time when he looked forward to coming home to his mid-century colonial. No matter how tough his day, he could always count on the solitude of this house to settle his nerves. Maybe because of all the renovations, he felt as if he'd built it himself, given birth to it.
But that comfort was long gone. Now he dreaded the end of each day, dreaded the night.
After a quick dinner of tomato soup and a roast beef on rye, Ryan sat in front of the TV and sipped iced tea. He flicked through the channels, searching for a show that would hold his interest. There wasn’t much on. The Mets were off tonight, and any program worth watching he’d already seen.
He knew what lurked on the other side of consciousness.
With the narrator detailing the shootout at the O.K. Corral for company, Ryan searched through the stack of books he’d yet to read. Sci-fi, mystery, thrillers. He longed for the escape, but reading usually made him sleepy.
Then his eyes shifted to the chess table he’d built years ago. What was once the most used piece of furniture in his home, hosting many hours of friendly competition, now sat gathering dust.
Just like his life.
The old grandfather clock in the entranceway chimed one, then two. Ryan chugged down his coffee. It burned his throat. He drank more.
The panic attacks hadn’t been this bad in years, probably because of where he’d been working. He’d thought he’d be ready for a job in that part of Brooklyn Heights by now.
His eyes burned. He rushed to the bathroom and splashed cold water on his face. Drying off, he stared at his eyes in the mirror. Haunted, lifeless, devoid of the mischievous sparkle they once held.
He looked older than his thirty-nine years, mostly due to stress and lack of sleep. His doctor had offered sleeping pills, but he’d refused. He didn’t want to sleep.
Around three-fifteen, he could fight it no longer. His eyelids grew heavy. Sitting on his couch, his TV blaring, overhead lights shining on his face, he relaxed his grip on the coffee mug and it slipped from his hand. He finally gave in.
It started almost immediately. His body convulsed as blurred images rushed toward him, growing sharper with each passing second.
Ryan fought to break away from his nightmare’s grip. Sweat soaked his body until he violently sat up, falling off the couch with horrified screams.