Night terrors

Sleeplessness comes in many guises, some of them pleasant, some of them benign, some of them simply mundane. When sleeplessness is combined with impotence the whole experience takes on a slightly ethereal air.

It has happened before, though I suppose each time it feels like the first time, and the feeling is exactly the same. It’s one of those problems which is more prey to the power of thought than most. The more one thinks about it, the more impotent one feels, so the more one thinks about it. It happens randomly, invariably when least expected, and definitely when least welcome. It never seems to be a zero sum game, either. It comes, it goes, it ebbs, it flows … but once it’s started, there is almost nothing that can be done. You simply have to give in. Allow the feeling of utter powerlessness to wash over you, and try not to try not thinking about it. What happens, happens. It’s natural. It is the way of things, the order of the universe is as it is, and it simply seems wrong to intervene. After all, in saving one party, one automatically deprives the other.

I’m not sure what time it was, but it’s happened twice in the last week already. The strange screaming, screeching of a fox as it somehow corners some poor, soon-to-be-dead avian creature one the road, under a car, in a secluded alley. By the sound of the flapping, last night a seagull met its end. I awoke, and almost immediately realised exactly what these noises meant. Now seagulls are quite intimidating birds, and their beaks are more than capable of taking out an eye – and a one-eyed fox is a soon dead fox. So the fox simply will not charge in. It takes stealth, guile and no little guts to take out a seagull. This is why when I first hear the noise, I listen carefully to ensure the aggressor is not my cat. He’s taken out two gulls before, but they were juvenile, if fully grown.

The urge to rush out, to shoo the fox away and save the gull is almost overwhelming, but there is always a voice in the back of my mind, a small yet powerfully insistent voice which tells me that some processes, once begun, simply must run their course. The fact that the gull is still flapping suggests that while alive, it is injured, and though I have seen one-legged gulls exist happily if precariously, an injured gull is a dead gull, sooner or later. It is best to let the fox have its way.

Predator and prey enter into a tacit understanding, and the ebb and flow continues until something, somewhere, snaps. And it’s never obvious when it happens. But whatever happens gains a power beyond its obvious nature, because it is at that point that both predator and prey understand that the end has begun. They clasp each other closely until one lets go, and either the predator accepts that the prey must escape, or the prey accepts that its time is up. There is an instant of recognition of this point, followed by frantic flapping as one or both parties try desperately to delay or even reverse the inevitable.

But the inevitable is just that. Slowly, the flapping becomes less frantic, more pitiful, and the silences between the confrontations become shorter and shorter. And when both parties accept the inevitable, as they must, the fox moves in for the kill.

And then there is the howl, part victory, part despair, part pity. But it is the howl which signifies death. And then you know that impotence is just that. An utter inability to change the inevitable. And sleep comes, fitful perhaps, but sleep comes.

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