The following are the final excerpts from the journal of Dr. Arnold Richards, who, at sixty-seven years old and in perfect health, was found dead in his bedroom, lying in a pool of his own blood, a single sleeping pill in his hand. The incidents surrounding the events reported in his diary were investigated thoroughly, but the case was never solved.
She was a frail old woman, gaunt and thin, with sparse, feathery, white hair and baggy, sunken eyes. The faded, loose shirts and pants she wore made her seem even more skeletal than she probably was. I never heard her speak, and every time she came in Dr. Yates would quietly usher her into a check-up room without saying a word to her or anyone else. While this was strange, it didn’t affect my work directly and so I did my best to ignore it.
May 13, 1996
On this bright Wednesday I arrived at the hospital to the news that Dr. Yates had died peacefully in his sleep the night before. I was surprised. The man and I had never gotten particularly close, but we were friendly, and while old, he seemed to have been in perfect health. I was informed that his heart had simply failed in his sleep and he had died quietly and gracefully. I, along with the other clinicians and a few town members attended his funeral that Saturday.
May 19, 1996
Today one of our secretaries told me that a new regular was to be added to my patient list, a woman who went solely by the name of Sybil. The next day, at 12:00 noon Sybil shuffled her way through the door, and I went up to introduce myself. I said hello and offered my condolences for Dr. Yates’ death as obviously the two had become somewhat close. Sybil only looked at me with a hollow, empty gaze, and turned mechanically towards the hallway that lead to her check-up room. As we entered the room she sat down softly in a chair and watched me, unblinking. I smiled awkwardly at her and opened up a folder containing her charts and medical records. Sybil was an impressive 96 years old, and seemed to have been in perfect health all her life, considering her name and age were the only things written on the record. She had no listed place of residence, exact date of birth, references or birth certificate. The only thing on her official record was a case of chronic insomnia, which explained her tired appearance. Groping inside the folder for any extra information, my hand touched a small notecard. In hastily scrawled capital letters, all it read was “ONLY THE PILLS.”
Reaching into the folder again, I pulled out a small plastic bag with a few powder capsules, which I quickly recognized as soporific drugs; sleeping pills. I glanced at Sybil whose gaze had not left me. I felt uneasy. Something didn’t seem quite right about the mysterious situation, but trusting the late Dr. Yates’ judgment I smiled and joked, “well, at least you make my job easy,” offering the baggie to Sybil. The woman retained the exact expression she’d kept for the past fifteen minutes, and, with a swiftness unexpected at her age, snatched the pills from my fingers with a silent yet stern, “thank you, Dr. Richards.”
I walked her to the door and watched her leave. As I returned home I felt strangely exhausted, and went to bed early. Falling asleep I remembered something that struck me uneasily. I had never told my name to Sybil. Dr. Yates must have mentioned me in passing at some point to her. I brushed the thought aside and nodded off.
May 28, 1996
At noon sharp Sybil walked through the clinic doors once more. I greeted her and walked her to her familiar room, where she sat once again in the chair and stared at me. Remembering my uneasy thoughts from last week, out of curiosity I mentioned how I’d never introduced myself and asked her how she’d known my name. Without turning her gaze she simply lifted her wrist and pointed towards the desk in the room as a response. I followed her finger to the folder I’d left there from last week, with the notecard laying on top. Only the pills. I turned to Sybil and told her childishly that I had no pills. I didn’t know her dosage, nothing was written on her chart. She only continued to point at the folder. A foolish thought struck me. I picked up the folder and, with a furrowed brow reached inside. I pulled out her papers, and as they emerged they brought a baggie of pills identical to the first along with them. I was positive there had only been one bag of pills in the folder the week before, and the folder had been left in the exact same place; no one had touched it. I stared at Sybil cautiously and she stared back as always, extending her hand. I gave her the pills, and she responded, “thank you, Dr. Richards,” in the exact same fashion as the previous week.
Suspicious, I took the folder home to make sure no one was doing any tampering. Tonight I felt not only exhausted, but very weak. I had no motivation to do anything. All I wanted to do, all I felt like I could do was sleep. I’m to bed at 6 PM.
June 4, 1996
Before I went to the clinic today, I checked the folder. All it had inside was the notecard, which I left on my nightstand, and Sybil’s papers. No pills. Sybil’s visit went exactly as usual, and as we entered the check-up room I told her that I was concerned she was abusing the medication and told her to try a week without the pills. She only stared at me and pointed again to the folder I had been holding in my hand the whole time. I peered inside and, like a sickly apparition, the bag of yellow pills was resting neatly on the bottom, atop a square piece of white paper. I angrily removed the pills and read, horrified, the notecard they revealed. Only the pills. I turned to Sybil and thrust the bag toward her, yelling, “fine! Take your damn pills.” She only returned her usual “thank you, Dr. Richards,” and left me standing in the room, frightened and angry.
Tonight I got violently ill. After an hour of intense vomiting I crawled into bed, nearly unable to move. As I reached to turn out the light on my nightstand my eyes strayed to a square, white piece of paper. I didn’t have to read it to know what it said. I was confused and terrified. Mustering all my strength I tore the paper into pieces and flushed them down the toilet. Exhausted, I fell into a deep sleep.
June 11, 1996
My sickness left me unable to work for exactly a week. This morning I woke up with the realization that I had only felt strangely on the days after I’d taken care of Sybil. I was frightened to return to work. Perhaps if I was late, she would get tired of waiting and leave. I waited until two o’clock, and nervously went to the clinic. My hand paused on the doorknob, and as I slowly entered, I breathed a sigh of relief. Sybil was not in the waiting room. When I asked, the secretary told me that Sybil had not arrived. This day, I decided, I would find out who the woman really was. I walked to the check-up room to retrieve her papers, and opened the door to find Sybil staring directly at me, as if she had been waiting. I was frozen. No longer did the woman’s gaze seem empty and passive. Now it was devilish, laughing, taunting me, daring me. I didn’t want to look at her, and tried to ignore her, but her presence permeated the white room. I felt her gaze like a hand perpetually on my shoulder. Walking towards the desk, I picked up the folder and noticed there was a wet spot in the lower right corner. I opened it up to find the pills and the notecard once again. The pills were the same sick yellow, in the same suffocating bag. The notecard was torn into pieces and soaking. It had dampened the corner of the envelope and the papers inside. I screamed at Sybil. “Who the hell are you? What do you want with me?” She pointed only at the folder. “Fuck you.” I responded. “Fuck your pills!” I threw the envelope on the floor, feeling the capsules crush beneath my shoes. “Looks like you’ll be awake for a while now,” I said spitefully. Sybil stared with her hollow eyes for what seemed like years. Finally she spoke, with a voice that was not of a 96 year old lady. “Goodbye, Dr. Richards.” She got up, and left.
I was fuming, and terrified. Why had she told me “goodbye?” What’s more, how did Dr. Yates put up with this woman for two years, when I had been pushed to the edge in under a month? Suddenly I remembered. Dr. Yates was dead. He had died in his sleep. I raced into the secretary’s office and demanded Dr. Yates’ medical records. The secretary looked startled and handed them to me, and I promptly drove as fast as I could home. I dumped the contents of Yates’ folder onto my kitchen table and, rifling hastily through the papers I found another, smaller envelope labeled with the words CORONER’S REPORT. Inside the envelope my horror was embodied. Pictures of Yates on his deathbead revealed a terrifying truth. Dr. Yates had not died peacefully. His body was contorted from seizing, his face twisted into an expression of horror and pain, blood leaking from his mouth and nostrils. I had to cover my mouth and hold back cries. His expressions were horrific, eyes rolled back, joints turned backwards. In all my years practicing, I had never seen someone frozen in such pain. On his certificate, the coroner had listed his cause of death as undetermined. That failed to satisfy me. I needed to know. I examined the pictures long into the night, and in one photograph of his mangled face I noticed a square, white corner poking out from underneath his pillow.
June 12, 1996
Mustering up all my courage, I grabbed a flashlight, got in my car and drove to Dr. Yates’ house. It was about four miles away and isolated. I knew it would be empty. The night was strangely cold and damp. I walked up to the front door and, turning the knob with shaking hands, opened it and stepped inside. Only moonlight filtered in through the windows. Light switches failed, the power had already been cut off. Assuming I knew where his bedroom was, I stumbled up the staircase to the second floor. Adrenaline pumping in my veins, I reached toward the first doorknob my flashlight reflected off of. Hesitating only for a second, and before I could change my mind, I twisted and pulled. It was a small bathroom, and smelled sickly of vomit. The mirror/drug cabinet above the sink was flung hastily open, revealing a mess of capsules spilling off the shelves. The same capsules I had been giving to Sybil for the past three weeks. The cause of my terror. I slammed the door closed and looked around the landing with my flashlight. There was only one other door at the end of the hallway. I could hear the blood flowing past my ears as I walked toward what I knew was the bedroom. Again, my hand stood still over the doorknob for only a second before I hastily turned it and swung the door open. The bedroom frighteningly resembled my own, with a queen sized bed and two nightstands on either side. The pale moonlight desaturated the colors of the room into stark black and white; I could clearly see the bloodstains from Yates body, vivid on the pale sheets of his mattress. Remembering the picture, I gathered myself and walked towards the pillow, which was a bloody mess. Sure enough, the white corner was jutting out, daring me to grab it. I lifted the pillow to reveal a familiar looking folder. I shined my flashlight to reveal one word scribbled on the front. Sybil.
Suddenly, I heard a creak and a door open, the sound of a hundred pills falling to the floor. The noise shocked me out of my reverie and I snatched the folder, ran out of the house, and got into my car as fast as I possibly could. There was much more inside this folder than I had in my measly papers at the clinic. I scoured Sybil’s records. She had hundreds of different charts from hundreds of different doctors, and each said the same thing. Sybil was a victim of hyperinsomnia. She never slept. I rifled through the records as quickly as I could. Hyperinsomnia. Sleeping pills. Hyperinsomnia. Sleeping pills. The oldest chart was from 1912. Diagnosis: hyperinsomnia. Prescription, sleeping pills. I set the paper down, my forehead dripping in cold sweat. If Sybil’s charts were correct, the woman had been awake for 84 years.
Suddenly I was emboldened. The woman no longer frightened me. I had figured her out. I would confront her. I would maybe even try to help her. If she never slept, I could even go to her house now. It was one thirty in the morning. Finding Sybil’s address in her records, I wrote it down on a slip of paper and got into my car a third time. I drove for about two miles, and then realized things were starting to seem familiar. As I turned onto her street my confidence shattered like a bone. I realized in utter horror where the address I had written down had brought me. Bringing my car to a slow halt, I stepped out and made the now terrifyingly familiar walk up to the clinic doors. In a last ditch effort to resolve the mind I was sure I was slowly losing, I checked the paper I had written the address down on once more. Three words showed themselves to me. Only the pills.
I can’t bring myself to reveal what happened when I entered the clinic that night. All I can tell you is that it is the last time I will leave its doors. It is the last time I will see Sybil, and that I am about to go to sleep for what will be the last time in my life. I hold a small yellow capsule in my hand that could save me. But I can’t. I refuse end up like her. I would rather die than stay awake.