by Jessica M. Cochrane
It’s normal for children to sleepwalk. Their minds are still growing and adapting, you see. They’re much more vulnerable to small bouts of activity, like sitting up in bed or walking to the bathroom. They usually grow out of it.
Uncle Al never grew out of it.
That’s why he lives with us now. Mum says we have to be patient with him, because it isn’t his fault. Dad says he’s a nutcase, so we should just stay out of his way.
Of course, it’s difficult to avoid a man who comes into your room at three in the morning, sits on the end of your bed, and won’t leave until he has finished reading you Hairy McClary from Donaldson’s Dairy.
I don’t really mind. He’s my uncle, and I love him. So I listen patiently when he reads me my picture books as though I’m five years old again; I gently guide him away from the oven when he has a hankering for pancakes in the middle of the night; and I defend him when Mum and Dad discuss putting him into nursing care after he is found walking down the road wearing nothing but his pyjamas for the eighth time this month.
During the day, he is Uncle Al—a polite guest and beloved family member. But during the night, he is a danger to himself and, apparently, to us, too.
No, I don’t mind Uncle Al’s sleepwalking. I just wish it wouldn’t put him in harm’s way.
_ _ _
“Everybody on the ground, now!”
In a petrol station at midnight, ‘everybody’ consists of the guy behind the counter and a young couple who are now regretting their decision of purchasing a midnight snack. However, with the click of a cocked gun, two of the everybody’s fell to the floor, while the salesperson stood frozen behind the desk, hands quivering near his ears.
The armed man pulled nervously at the balaclava on his face, shooting fervent glances at the small black and white television in the corner; on the screen was another armed man, looking decidedly more nervous than one would expect from a robber.
Focusing back on the salesperson, the robber lifted his gun, shifting it awkwardly into a sturdy position. “Okay, man, you’re just gonna put the money in a bag for me, and no-one’ll get hurt.”
With a frantic nod, the man ducked down behind the counter and tried to open the safe; his hands, slippery with nervous sweat, fumbled over the lock.
“Move it!” the robber snapped. The sound of shuffling footsteps startled him. He turned and shot a glare over at the two customers, but they were huddled together in a frightened cocoon by the industrial freezer. They had not moved since he had entered.
There was a loud snort and the robber jumped as a blast of warm air hit the back of his neck. Spinning sharply and raising his gun, the man was stunned to find another customer standing directly behind him, eyes glazed and impassive.
“You’re in the way,” the stranger droned.
The robber blinked, stunned in the face of this stoic figure before him. This was the first he’d seen of the newcomer, which meant he had entered after the robbery had begun. What kind of man would march up to an armed robber in a petrol station and tell him that he was ‘in the way’?
The stranger snorted again. “You gonna move, pal?”
The robber swallowed nervously; his gun nearly slipped from his hand as he tried to adjust its height. “Back off and hit the floor, a’ight? I don’t wanna hurt ya.”
The stranger stared at him without a glimmer of fear. He took a step forward and, instinctively, the robber stepped back. This wasn’t how it was supposed to work. Get in; get the money; get out. It had seemed so simple! But now, the salesperson had stood and was staring hopefully at this newcomer, while the safe and its money sat securely locked by his feet. The stranger was still advancing, cool as you please in the face of death.
“Move out of the way, would ya? I need to pay.”
‘Pay for what?’ the robber thought frantically.
The next ten seconds happened faster than he could comprehend. The stranger stepped forward and reached out a hand. The robber, startled, stepped back and collided painfully with the counter; his gun slipped from his hand and landed neatly in the stranger’s palm. The man smiled oddly and said something like, “How ‘bout I just pay for you?”
The last thing the robber heeded was the young man by the freezer leaping forward in a mighty tackle. His head hit the floor with the solid thud of a skull bouncing off linoleum, and he surrendered to the mercy of sleep.
_ _ _
The robber was safely seated in the back of the police car as the salesperson and the two customers stood before the interviewing officer.
“I’m sorry,” the police woman interrupted. “But which of you entered after the robbery had begun?” She looked between the three of them, but each shook their head.
“We told you, it was the old guy,” the salesperson repeated.
“And he left?” she confirmed, frowning at her notepad.
“And when exactly did he leave? Can you take me through the final moments again?”
The young man volunteered for the explanation. “I saw the guy was distracted, so I pushed him to the floor. We were all freaking out a bit, and then we saw the old guy was just walking away with a packet of instant pancake mix. We called out to him, and he just said, ‘It’s okay, I put the money on the counter’ and he left.”
“And?” the woman encouraged.
The salesperson turned to his companions, seeking confirmation, before adding, “Well, it was the strangest thing, He was wearing pyjamas and slippers, and—I’m not sure—but I could’ve sworn he was holding a Hairy McClary picture book…”