Counting Sheep by Karissa Cole [original post]
Not “nothing”. Half a gallon of orange juice, a jar of pickles, leftover chicken from last night – the fridge wasn’t empty. There was just nothing in there that would cure my insomnia. But for some reason I stood there staring into the cold, bright void anyway. Perhaps I was hoping I could will something useful into existence if I stood there long enough.
When after three minutes nothing with high amounts of tryptophan magically appeared, I swung the refrigerator door closed and glanced at the clock on the microwave. 3:07 AM.
I leaned back and shut my eyes. Letting loose an exasperated sigh, I tried to figure out why decent shuteye had been so elusive lately. My neighbors hardly ever made a sound, so they were not to blame. And I’d always been mostly healthy with no medical history of sleep-impairing dysfunctions. Things were the same as always. So maybe I just had a lot on my mind and with my head so preoccupied with keeping things sorted and straight, it had no time to shut down and sleep. I thought about that for a moment and decided it was highly unlikely. Lately my brain seemed to have about as much going on as a TV with no cable connection; every channel portrayed nothing but static.
On the third night of no sleep I’d said to myself I was tired of it, and chuckled at the silly little pun. I had figured it would pass soon enough and my REM state would again return to me. But now on night number eight with sleep still not anywhere in sight, I was really starting to fall apart. I rubbed my forehead trying to get rid of the fuzzy little headache between my eyes. It was then that I heard a soft creak come from the far end of the kitchen. I felt a sudden spike in adrenaline but quickly tried to stamp it down. It was probably just the house settling and I just needed to chill. I had been on edge lately anyway. But still. . . I wearily opened my exhausted eyes and looked around the dimly lit room.
I saw nothing. . . at least at first.
As I looked I suddenly saw something moving near the front door. Fiercely I rubbed my eyes, hoping that I could rub away this rather frightening delusion I must be having. Opening my eyes I looked around the room once more, and it again looked normal; the deep shadows cast by the kitchen table, the chairs, and the counter did nothing to create a calming atmosphere, but I could no longer see anything moving within them.
Sighing again I pushed myself off the fridge I had been leaning against and started back toward my bedroom. Hearing things, seeing things – clearly my sanity could not take many more nights without sleep. I’d crawl back into bed and try for the thousandth time to drift off to sleep.
But trudging down the hallway I thought I heard more noises, little tiny shuffling sounds or whispers. I started to walk faster, trying to outrun them, but the faster I went the louder the noises got. It was as if they were following me.
Completely unconcerned about how crazy I was most certainly becoming I whipped around as I got to my bedroom door and flicked on a light to confront these noises. But when I turned around I saw nothing. And now the only sound I heard was my own heart beating at much too fast a pace. Shaking my head and telling myself it was all just my imagination, the result of an overly tired little brain, I was about to turn the light back off and collapse into my bed when I heard:
Stunned, I slowly looked down to see standing just a few feet in front of me were three small, slightly anthropomorphic sheep. No more than a foot tall, they were all sorts of cute, with their big brown eyes and great fluffy bodies, standing up on their two back legs as easily as any biped.
“Pardon me,” the one sheep who had spoken before said. His little helium voice was just about the cutest thing I had ever heard, which I might have in other circumstances commented on. But right now as I stared at the three little home invaders, mouth agape, I had other things on my mind. How did three sheep get in my house being one of them.
I tried to talk but I couldn’t seem to get my mouth to form any words. It must not have gotten over the shock yet. Thankfully Sheep Number 1 had something to say anyway:
“You’ll have to forgive us. We didn’t mean to frighten you.” he said. “It’s just that we’ve been out of work for a long time now, and we were a bit nervous is all.”
It was then I noticed that the other two sheep were standing close together behind Sheep Number 1 with, for lack of a better word, sheepish little grins on their black faces.
“Out of work?” I asked, as my mouth had apparently gotten over itself and managed to say something.
“Oh yes. It’s been a terrible shame, really. Years ago people would always come to us when they needed to sleep. But since the advent of those darn sleep aids,” all three of them shuddered briefly at that before he continued, “or even worse, people just not wanting sleep at all, well, there’s been no need for us. Some in the family have had to seek other means of employment. Cameron, Al, and I were so glad to hear that someone needed us though! I do hope we’re not too late.”
“Too late. . . for what?” I couldn’t help but think that had my brain been firing on all synapses I wouldn’t be having such a hard time processing this. Then again, I thought, since this is clearly an hallucination, if my brain were firing on all synapses I wouldn’t be having a conversation with miniature sheep.
“Too late to count us!” he said cheerfully in his adorably squeaky little voice. The two other sheep behind him -Cameron and Al he had called them- seemed to be warming up and stepped out, beaming brightly.
“Counting sheep. . .” I muttered, finally wrapping my brain around things. Sort of. “But there are only three of you.” I said pointedly.
“Ah, yes.” Sheep Number 1 said. “It’s true in the past there would be more of us. We’ve figured out a way around this, though.” He held up a waiting hoof as he and the other two got down on all fours and formed a neat line. When they were all in formation the first sheep leapt quite gracefully across the hall, shouting out “One!” as he went. As soon as he landed he scurried back to the end of the line while at the same time the second sheep leapt and shouted out “Two!” and then also scurried back to the line. They did this a few more times: sheep three yelled out “Three!” moving sheep one back to the front of the line where he then leapt and shouted out “Four!” followed, of course, by sheep two who yelled out “Five!” and so on.
When done their demonstration they gathered back together in front of me, slightly out of breath. Still on all fours they all looked up at me expectantly.
I fumbled around a bit for something to say. This was ridiculous. Wasn’t it? There was no way counting three little sheep jumping on repeat would help me sleep. Then again. . . I thought back to early yesterday morning when, due to my lack of sleep, I had left the stove on after breakfast and nearly burned down the house. I also thought about the day before when, drowsy from being unfortunately wide awake all night, I had left my tea atop my car as I headed to work and had to face a chorus of angry commuters wailing on their car horns as they had white tea and lemon spritzed all over their windshields.
Eight days. No sleep. Maybe it was time to give ridiculous a shot.
“So you’re here. . . to help me fall asleep?” I said.
“Yep.” Sheep 1 replied matter-of-factly.
I shrugged. “All right. I’ll give it a shot.”
The sheep bounced with excitement and smiled widely to each other.
“I’m Ned.” Sheep 1 said lifting a hoof. I leaned down and shook it. “Pleased to meet you, Ned,” I replied, almost positive I meant it.
“Just so you know,” he started quietly, “we won’t be booked up for quite a long time. We’d be more than happy to stick around here so that whenever you need some shuteye you’ll always have three sheep ready to help you out.”
I looked at each of their sweet, hopeful faces in turn.
“Ned, Cameron, Al,” I said. “I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.” I smiled at the gleaming little sheep, suddenly overcome with a great warm fuzzy feeling – that is, the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes with three little sheep bestowing happy hugs.
They could finally do the job they wanted to do. And I would finally get some sleep. All in all, a win-win.