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“Man, you look like shit.”
“Nah, I’d say ‘corpse’ fits better.”
Ah, yes. My best friends, being my best friends.
“Thanks guys, really appreciate being insulted first thing in the morning.”
They exchanged a look. Was it worry? Maybe it was. Too tired to think.
“Sorry. We are used to you looking like you just escaped your own grave, but…” “But you look even worse than usual. Are you okay?”
Was I okay? What kind of question is that anyway? Right in the morning. Why are you asking me such a philosophical question? It’s exhausting to think about.
They stared at me. That was the moment I realised I hadn’t said it out loud. Another worried look. Definitely concerned this time.
“No, yeah, just not getting enough sleep lately, you know?”
I shrugged and laughed it off. Though they didn’t look any less worried. What a shame. It takes so much energy to convince other people you’re fine…
“Ya should get some sleepy pills, ma friend.”
Miles brought out his bad accent again. That was a good sign. I nodded.
“Your accent still sucks.”
And they started arguing again. Of course in that friendly way, but I drifted off.
What did I do last night to make me look so awful?
First things first. After noticing my first struggles with sleeping, I started getting ready for bed at 8 pm.
Turn off the electronic devices, prepare my bed, put the book next to it.
Then prepare the next day. My backpack is ready, same are my closes.
Bathroom routine. After I opened the window, I was ready to climb into my bed.
To be honest, I felt way too exhausted and yet too awake. A weird state to be in. Everything my body asked for was jumping into my bed and rest. And my brain liked the idea too. I couldn’t think of anything else but laying in my bed and finally closing my eyes.
I sit down and take the book. Reading before sleeping should not just make me more tired but also keep my thoughts off not so pleasant things.
I know it was a fantasy story but I don’t remember the details any more. It’s relieving to dive into a completely different world.
It is already 9:30 pm when I start to read. That’s okay. I go to sleep at 10 pm in the end. Which is completely appropriate when I stay up at 6 am.
I stay up a little longer than 10 pm. The chapter is exciting. I think. I know it was 10:15 when I went to bed. Not too bad at all. I put the book away, switch off the reading light, close my eyes and lay down to sleep.
I am very tired but I can’t fall asleep right away. My thoughts wander to the next day.
Had I done my homework? Did I forget something else? Was there a presentation?
Wait- no. That is no good to do.
I think of the day that had just passed.
I was at school. And after coming home, I tidied my room, ate something and relaxed. That was very good. Self-care and stuff, very important business.
What did I think about next? It was… a fight I had with someone.
Ah, yeah, the continuing or changing parts of a discussion. ‘I should’ve said/done’-scenarios.
It is 11 pm when I checked the clock again. But my thoughts don’t change. I think of very unpleasant memories, which are terrifying me in the depths of night.
Eyes wide open. I sit up. Looking around. I am alone.
Breathing deep in, and out. In and out.
There is nothing.
What’s that sound? That’s nothing. I shouldn’t think about it.
I lie down again. I don’t feel well any more.
My breathing goes faster and faster.
What’s that at the other side of my room? Is there something?
I should turn on the light. I can check.
But I can’t move. I don’t dare to move. It hasn’t notice me yet, why should I push my luck?! Just pretend to be asleep and it won’t do anything.
Although I keep my eyes open, I manage to control my breathing again. To the outside world, it would appear that I am asleep.
My head feels light from the panic but everything else feels like stone. Did it just move?
Did it? —
“Earth to, Cathy, the bell rang. Let’s go.”
Trevor waved his hand in front of my face. Right. I drifted off into thoughts.
“Sorry, was lost in thought.”
And off we went. I shouldn’t worry too much about yesterday. It probably was nothing anyway. This night will be better.
That’s what she thought, but it was the fifth week in a row.

by Kimberly Sommer

The jury comments:

  • A quite successful attempt to put the feelings and moods of a sleepless night down to paper. You try to catch the intensity and it leaves a feeling of authenticity behind. Nice!
  • A really vivid and relatable portrayal of a restless mind at night. I love the interior monologue in present tense, full of exclamations, questions and ellipses. Your last sentence suggests a twist which is reinforced by changing the narrative perspective. This creates suspense– is there going to be a sequel?
  • This short story gives a really vivid account of insomnia and its consequences which is also entertaining to read because of the first- person narrator’s slightly ironic perspective. I would have left out the last sentence, because it makes the ending sound a bit indecisive.

Head held high

Two a.m. said the alarm clock. It was late, but not the first restless night for Sarah, for she worried about work every night. However tomorrow was the meeting with her boss, Mr. Adams. Sarah knew she was going to be sacked. It had been a long time coming. „Don’t get too involved,“ Mr Adams had barked on her first day working at the job centre. Sarah was not a person to take any notice of orders though. Her parents had all but given up on disciplining her as a child, her school likewise. She would do whatever she felt was right, ignoring any attempts to persuade her otherwise. Now at forty-four, her personality remained unchanged. If anything she was even more determined. For Sarah the people entering the job centre were not the spongers from the suburbs as her boss frequently referred to them. For her everyone mattered, everyone had needs and time was no object when dealing with a client. Sarah looked at the time again. It was half past two in the morning. Sarah desperately wanted to sleep. She was going to face her boss the next day and tell him what was what, but the intense thoughts about her soon to be last day at work kept going around in her head. What were her colleagues going to say to her? They looked angrily at her, every time she turned up. They had even complained to her boss, because she took too long with clients and they were left to sort out the remaining clients. This was the reason why she was having to meet the boss tomorrow. Wide awake, her heart pounding and not being able to sleep in this state, Sarah decided to turn on the telly. Not the news with all the dreary economic forecasts, not the boring soaps running on repeat, but instead a wildlife documentary. Sarah watched as the herds of buffaloes crossed the river, as the geese migrated and as the dolphins swam majestically in the sea, but tonight this did nothing to calm her down. Two hours later, Sarah looked at the time. It was half past four in the morning. „Shit,“ she blurted out loud. Sarah realised that even if she got to bed right now, she would only have two hours sleep and hurriedly went to bed. She dozed off after about half an hour, but only got to sleep for an hour and a half, before being awoken by her alarm. After getting dressed and drinking several cups of coffee, Sarah got her work bag and headed for the door.
As she arrived at work Zainab the secretary smiled at her sympathetically. Zainab was kind and wise beyond her years. Sarah had even tried to persuade Mr. Adams to let her train as an advisor, but Zainab was from the suburbs. Her boss only wanted Zainab’s advice on what coffee would be right for the next meeting or on where he might have accidentally displaced the records of the HR-department. As Sarah went further inside, the atmosphere quickly became less welcoming. Her colleague Isabella was giving her funny looks from her desk. John came out of his office. He shook his head at her disdainfully, then said „The boss is wanting you“. This was the moment Sarah had been waiting for. She would tell the boss everything he was doing wrong and most of all she would make him realise how his arrogance had blinded him. However when she arrived at the boss’s office, she realised she was so exhausted she could barely find her way to the seat to face him and couldn’t conjure up the words she had been waiting to say. Before her mother had passed away, she knew Sarah was going to get sacked. “Walk out with your head held high,” she had told her. If only she could remember all the other words of wisdom her mother had given her on this topic.
The outcome of the meeting with the boss wasn’t surprising. „See you again as a client,“ her boss had joked as she left. She knew he wouldn’t be able to resist saying something like that. After coming home Sarah felt awful. „Why didn’t I say something? What was I doing?” she thought to herself and was on the verge of tears. Then she remembered her mothers words which were now echoing in her head, “Sometimes taking a stand isn’t the fairy tale that everyone imagines it to be. Sometimes you don’t get to have the last word and sometimes it’s simply about fulfilling your duty, while those around you are failing to do so”. Shortly afterwards Sarah lay down and went to sleep. She didn’t sleep well, but she slept.

by Reuben Potts

The jury comments:

  • A solid story, a nice read, which is, especially towards the final part, quite wise and touching. All in all, it is stylistically well done and a good choice to spend your time reading. 
  • The reader can relate to the emotional roller coaster of the protagonist very well. Who hasn’t dreamed of resigning with a bang or at least setting limits with annoying people? Sarah finds her peace instead – and some sleep. Tone, point of view and character motivation are consistent throughout. A beautifully written story in which you skilfully combine clarity and subtlety.
  •  In your story about someone who tries to assert himself and in the end realises that it is sometimes wise to concede, you have used the motif of sleeplessness and the image of the „head held high“ in a very skilful manner. It has been a pleasure to read your story.

Conquering the Night

As the clock ticked away, Sam stared at the ceiling, trying to will himself to sleep. It was no use, though. He had been lying in bed for hours, but his mind was racing and he couldn’t shut it off. He felt a wave of frustration wash over him, and he let out a sigh.
Sam had been struggling with insomnia for as long as he could remember. Every night, he would lay in bed, willing himself to drift off, but it never came. He would toss and turn, trying every trick in the book to fall asleep, but nothing worked. He had tried sleeping pills, warm milk, white noise machines, but nothing seemed to help.
As the hours passed, Sam began to feel more and more hopeless. He knew that if he didn’t get some sleep soon, he would be a complete wreck the next day. He had a big presentation at work, and he needed to be at the top of his game. But as the minutes ticked by, he could feel his energy and focus slipping away.
Just when he was about to give up, Sam heard a gentle knock on his bedroom door. He looked over and saw his wife, Jen, standing in the doorway. She looked concerned, and she came over to sit on the edge of the bed.
„Hey, honey, are you okay?“ she asked. „You’ve been up for hours. Is there anything I can do to help?“
Sam shook his head, feeling a wave of frustration and embarrassment wash over him. „I don’t know what to do, Jen,“ he said. „I just can’t seem to fall asleep. My mind won’t shut off, and I feel like I’m going crazy.“
Jen reached out and took his hand, giving it a squeeze. „I know it’s hard, honey, but you’re not alone,“ she said. „I’ve been there, too. Insomnia is a tough thing to deal with, but there are ways to manage it. You just have to be persistent and find what works for you.“
Sam nodded, feeling a little bit of hope. He knew that Jen was right. He had been letting his insomnia control him, and it was time to take control back. He decided to try something new.
„I think I’m going to try meditation,“ he said, tentatively. „I’ve heard that it can help with insomnia, and it might be worth a shot.“
Jen smiled and gave him a hug. „That’s a great idea, honey,“ she said. „I’ll do it with you, if you want. We can find a guided meditation online and do it together.“
Sam nodded, feeling a little bit better. He was grateful for Jen’s support, and he was determined to do whatever it took to get some sleep.
Over the next few weeks, Sam and Jen tried out different meditation techniques, and slowly but surely, Sam began to see results. As he focused on his breathing and cleared his mind, he found that he was able to relax and let go of the worries that had been keeping him awake.
At first, it wasn’t easy. Sam’s mind would still race from time to time, and he would have to start over. But with practice, he began to get better at it, and eventually, he was able to fall asleep more easily.
As the weeks turned into months, Sam’s insomnia gradually began to improve. He was still dealing with it on occasion, but he had found a way to manage it and get some much-needed rest.
Sam and Jen continued to use meditation as a way to manage Sam’s insomnia, and over time, it became a part of their daily routine. They found that they were both able to get a better night’s sleep, and they felt more rested and refreshed in the morning.
As Sam’s insomnia improved, he found that he was able to focus better at work and be more productive. He was also able to be more present and engaged with his family and friends, which made him feel happier and more fulfilled.
One day, Jen came to Sam with an idea. She suggested that they start a support group for people who were struggling with insomnia, to provide them with resources and support to help them on their own journeys to better sleep.
At first, Sam was hesitant. He didn’t want to be seen as someone who was still struggling with insomnia, even though he had made progress. But Jen convinced him that it was a good idea, and that they could help so many people by sharing their experiences and insights.
So, together, they started the support group, and it quickly grew in popularity. People from all over the city came to join the group, and they shared their own stories and tips for managing insomnia.
Sam and Jen were amazed at how much they were able to help others, and they were grateful for the opportunity to make a difference. They continued to lead the group, and they found that it provided them with a sense of purpose and fulfilment.
And even though they still struggled with insomnia from time to time, they knew that they had found a way to manage it and live their lives to the fullest. They were grateful for the journey that they had been on, and they were excited to see what the future held.

by Arja Imme

The jury’s comments:

  • You seem to be experienced with the problem of insomnia and you describe it in a very realistic way. It is a story which itself can help people to think about solutions and haven’t believed in any yet. Well written and nice to read.
  • An uplifting story on how to overcome insomnia. With the protagonists helping each other and then later even more people, your narration shows elements of an encouraging and motivating self-help book. We all need a Jen and/or Ben in our lives.
  • A well-written, modern fairy-tale story which might provide the reader with useful advice on how to overcome insomnia.