A Little Midnight Flash Draft for #NaNoWriMo–Empathizing with my character

Can’t Sleep (940)


Around me the tent was filled with even breathing and soft snores. Ben had fallen asleep before we even finished our ‘Can You?’ story. Jake was snoring minutes after it ended.

I was staring through the mesh at the top of the tent. It was so late even the stars were winking out. Ok, clouds were drifting across the sky and blocking them. Also I had no way of knowing what time it was.

I rolled over in my sleeping bag as quietly as I could. But every sound seemed amplified–louder in the deep quiet of this summer night. Still my feet sounded gargantuan as they wriggled around inside the sleeping bag.

How could they sleep through this noise?

I tried to stay completely still. I held my breath and counted my heartbeats. One bu-bump. Two bu-bump. Three.

The more I thought about being still, the more my body felt like it had to move.

Outside the tent were other sounds. A constant chirping buzzed in my brain. Were those crickets? Could you really tell the temperature by counting their chirps? Or were they cicadas? I remembered that cicadas could completely cover trees and leave their dead bug bodies littered along the ground. Were we having a cicada invasion? I didn’t really think so.

My eyes burned from feeling tired, but every time they slipped closed my brain jolted them awake.

If I couldn’t count heartbeats, maybe I could count stars. It seemed like I’d tried camping out as many times as there were stars left to see.

I always told my mom that I was cold when I crept inside during the night. She would be curled up asleep on the couch. I don’t know why she fell asleep on the couch. Every time she’d tuck me into my own bed and pull the covers up to my chin.

When she kissed my nose she never said, “Get warm.” Instead she always said, “Here you are in your very own room. Sleep tight. I’ll be right downstairs.”

Sometimes my pillows were still in the tent and she’d give me her pillow from the couch. The pillow would still be warm from where she had been leaning on it.

I stuck my arms out the top of my sleeping bag and folded them behind my head. I wasn’t really cold.

Tonight mom didn’t remind me about an extra blanket. I brought one anyway. But she did check the batteries in my flashlight.

What was that in the bottom of my bag. Something was near my feet. No wonder they were so restless. I squirmed until I could pull out the soft lump. It was too dark to see colors, even with the bathroom light on inside the house.

But I didn’t need colors to know this was Baby Jaguar. The stuffed cat was usually under one of my pillows. I’m not sure how it got into my sleeping bag….Maybe it was left over from the last time my grandparents had visited and slept in my room.

Since they were asleep, Ben and Jake would never know that he was here. I guess I might as well let him breathe instead of suffocating down by my feet again. I tucked Baby Jaguar under my arm and closed my eyes.

Gradually my breathing slowed down.

My heart kept beating the same restless rhythm, though.

A few minutes might have passed, my brain was feeling fuzzier.

‘I’m so tired,’ I thought.

I just want to fall asleep.

I just want to wake up in the morning and still be here in the tent.


Then a noise jolted me awake again. Where was it? It sounded like it was near the back of the garage. Did I forget to close the gate? Could someone have opened it after I checked it so carefully?

Now I was certain I was hearing footsteps. I clutched Baby Jaguar to my chest, squeezing so hard neither of us could breathe.

What had footsteps like that? A fox? An opossum? Oh, please don’t let it be a skunk.

Alex and his friends swore they heard a bobcat last year when they were camping in his friend’s yard. He said it sounded like screaming.

These were just sneaky footsteps. Were they coming closer to the tent? Could I get out the back and slip around the tent to the house? Would I really leave my friends here to the beast?

I needed a plan.

Just then, I heard the whine of a zipper!

Whatever it was was trying to get into the tent! I sat straight up.

The zipper opened wider and a shadow fell across me. I blinked a few times too be sure what I was seeing.

“Hey,” he whispered. “I thought I’d sit out here for a while.” He must have noticed my mouth hanging open. Alex went on, “I just got home and my room is too hot.”

“I’ll just borrow this extra pillow and stretch out over here near the door. Do you mind?” Alex asked casually.

“Whatever,” I replied a little gruffly.

“Don’t feel like you need to stay awake for me. I closed the gate behind me. It’s latched. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Fine,” I muttered as if I hadn’t just been wondering about the gate.

Alex fluffed the extra pillow and leaned on his elbow. He was already ignoring me, too busy looking at his phone.

I rolled over with my back to him. Baby Jaguar was tucked in next to my cheek.

I barely heard it. It might have been, “Sleep well, Will.”

My eyelids were drooping.

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