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Fiction

The Sleeper

by Will Lasky

He was a champion sleeper and could knock off consciousness at a moments notice to descend into dreams thick with his waking joys and sorrows.  It was a skill he always had, ever since he was a child and learned to manipulate the clock through nodding off.  Although he had set aside those old pranks a long time ago.

The sleeper had worked in a glassy office on Madison since he was fresh out of Columbia.  He climbed the editorial ranks by virtue of his reading ability.  He read at a torrid clip, channeling his ability to slip into dreams into an ability to slip into a story.  The other editorial assistants simply couldn’t keep up.  By virtue of his page count, the city opened its social gates, requisitioning him as a representative of literature.  At one such gala, he met his wife to be.  She turned his so-so happiness into all out joy.  Married life brought new and unprecedented waking delights.  His wife was a beautiful woman in the way he preferred a woman to be beautiful.  She had all the right curves required to slip into the shoes of his dream composite.  The edges overlapped but little. 

Then, they discovered there was something wrong with the sleeper.  The sleeper could not reproduce.  Everything changed.  They visited several recommended doctors.  When the sleeper told the doctors about his only known health defect, his ability to drop off and stay asleep for however long he wanted, they tried to connect the dots.  The puzzle of his own eccentric physiology could not be solved. 

With little warning, on the heals of a complex verdict regarding the state of his reproductive organs, his wife suddenly left him.  So, the sleeper had riled her in other ways.  He had unconsciously turned the screw of her many secret dissatisfactions.  It all came out in a conversation like a healthy vomit.  He was not the image of her ideal.  He was not the man who, laid upon the image of her dream composite, created no overlapping edges.  She had always suspected this, but had managed to put the discrepancy out of her head because he was such a good editor.  While she was still young, she wanted to go on a quest to find her ideal lover.  When the sleeper asked her where she would go, she said that she would travel first to Spain and then to Italy.  If that didn’t work, she would take a different tack and journey to Iceland.

Several weeks passed until the fateful moment came when the sleeper put his head down on his desk at work.  He dreamed about India, fruit stalls in an outdoor bazaar beneath an evening oil canvas sky.  He sampled a delicious plum, chewy and endless like the plums from his childhood.  He dreamed of his ex-wife and her composite mate.  Her ideal was tall and dark.  He wore a tuxedo.  She hoisted him up piggy back, and he turned into a feathery white bird, flying her out over the dim and dangerous landscape.  As he dreamed, he became aware of the time slipping past, the day ending, people struggling to wake him, lifting him onto a gurney, carrying him to the hospital.  Fuck it, he thought as he explored a strange India, losing himself in a dream within a dream, the contented life inside a mansion inside blue eggshell. 

Midnight in the hospital.  He awoke, snickered to himself, got dressed, paid the whopping bill and went home.  He lay down and slept some more, ticking off the minutes in his sleep as he propositioned aloof dream women in a fictional Union Square. The rickety skeletons of dead and dying skyscrapers crumbled with the approach of a new year.

The following day, he needed to meet with a famous writer, a celebrated dissident, a legend of the south.  Throwing his gangling arms out wide, the legend told the sleeper that life was a joke.  The question was the punchline.  When the sleeper tried to turn the conversation to the legend’s forthcoming book, Veronika Decomposes, the legend changed the subject to Aspen, the only inhabitable American place outside of New York and San Francisco.  The legend was a bore.  That didn’t fully explain the bilious hate that arose from from the space his ex-wife’s detour had left in the sleeper’s gut.  Sitting on a park bench in Central Park, listening to the legend discuss Aspen, he rebelliously nodded off. He fell into a dream about losing his teeth. His gums were in an unhealthy state.  He was living in an igloo in a wife swapping Eskimo community, but none of the wives wanted him.  Instead, he presided over the transaction of other men’s exchanges.  He was the middle man of an arctic orgy.  He recognized his wife’s dream composite in the form of a tall Eskimo in a tuxedo who stood apart as if posing for a daguerreotype.  He set aside the urgency of the waking world, felt himself lifted onto the gurney, felt the world tilt its odd course toward the hospital.  He awoke.  He prepared to leave, snatching at the hydration i.v..

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” said the man sitting next to his bed shrouded by darkness.
“Why not?”
“Relax.  Talk to me for a little bit.”
“Who are you?”
“Me? I’m you.”
“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means I understand.”
“Understand what?”
“I understand your ability.”
“My ability?”
“I understand what it is to sleep your life away, only I now use my powers for good and not for evil.”
“Your powers?”
“Not everyone can put himself like that into an unbreakable state of hibernation.”
“Can you?”
“No, not exactly.”
“So you don’t exactly have my powers, do you.”
“No, but I understand them.”
“How do you know about my powers?”
“I read your chart.  My name is Doctor Nod.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Dennis, it’s actually Dennis Nostrand.  The Nod is an abbreviation.”
“So you’re actually Doctor Nos?”
“What would be the point of that?”
“I don’t know.”

Doctor Nod flew the sleeper to a facility on the outskirts of Washington DC.  He flew him there in a helicopter.  The sleeper mainly went for the helicopter ride, but the view stank.  The East Coast was a jungle interspersed with highways and factory outlets.  When they landed on the roof of a tan octagon, Doctor Nod told the sleeper that this was where all the biggest sleepers worked out, the goal being a state of suspended animation which would make deep space travel feasible.  This is where the sleeper met the larger-than-life personalities, the champion sleepers of the world.  They reminded the sleeper of the writers he met now and then, only they were all slobs.  Before the sleeper returned to New York, Doctor Nod reminded him that he always had a place at the facility.

“Only we understand you,” said Doctor Nod.  “Remember the mission.  REMEMBER THE MISSION!” He shouted from the octagon as the helicopter launched itself into the feckless blue sky. 
The sleeper snickered.  The mission.  There was no sense in staying awake for the flight.

Word spread in the office building that the sleeper was a narcoleptic and was nodding off in the middle of dinner parties.  An attractive woman named Joss came to his office.  Joss had the things the sleeper liked to see in women.  She gave him some of her Adderall which she took for a disease called Addison Reeve Syndrome which involved any number of minor seizures taking place in her brain making focus nearly impossible.  He thanked her, took the Adderall.  He began hacking and slashing the legend’s new novel.  He eliminated the first several paragraphs and then the entire first chapter.  He sent a new draft to the legend who did not respond.  That same evening, his propositioning of Joss didn’t go over very well.

The sleeper was put on leave from his work.  Several days later, he decided to see how long he could remain unconscious.  He went to the bathroom.  He went back to bed and slept all day and all night.  At the end of the following day, he began to receive urgent body messages.  He dreamed he was discarded for another man or else behooved to step aside in favor of a kindly ideal.  He sadly acquiesced, charitably acknowledging the way of the world before urinating in a potted plant.  When he couldn’t stand it any longer, the pain in his back, his massive dehydrated headache, his exploding bladder, he awoke.  He urinated.  He drank some water.  He was awake, alive.  After eating a large meal he went walking.  He never felt clearer.  The colors, sights and sounds, were crisp.  He went to a liquor store and bought a flask of Bim Black.  He walked around the city taking sips.  Later that evening, piss drunk on a train, he decided to wake the sleeping homeless and usher them into his waking vision.  They brushed him aside greedily clinging to their hard-won dreams.  He returned home.  He dreamed of being invited to a grand ball somewhere in Europe only to realize that he was actually the valet and that he had dinged up someone’s car. 

The sleeper figured his ability was good for acts of minor crime.  He could potentially express mail himself anywhere in the world provided there was someone on the other end ready to pick him up.  He could stow away on a ship and sleep until they had reached international waters.  He could attempt to become famous by sealing himself off in a glass box in a public space, a ticker counting off the minutes of his record sleep.  Only how would they know he wasn’t faking it?  He could get rid of all his worldly possessions and travel the world, a mendicant sleeper requiring little in the way of lodgings.  The sleeper would see the world. 

He flew to Paris.  He spent his first night on the street before being transported at early dawn to a hospital.  He awoke in time to be served brie on a baguette with a glass of wine.  He traveled to the south, spending a night dreaming in the misty Pyrenees before passing into Spain.  Walking the streets of Barcelona, he kept a look out for his ex-wife.  She would like this city of architecture and excess.  It was her kind of place, obvious and contrived like a dashing middle aged maitre d. 

As he drifted east, he let his beard grow.  He became familiar which each country’s hospitals.  France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Poland.  In Bulgaria, he was robbed of his good socks, but he didn’t mind.  A man who can sleep anywhere, for however long, required little in the way of attire.  When it got cold out, he bought a pare of felt boots.  He bought an old tank drivers hat at a street fair in Ankara.

In Armenia, a man wearing outdoorsey clothing unheard of in the region accosted him in front of a famous synagogue. The man in the green fleece vest handed him a card displaying his first name and last initial.  He said he wanted to recruit the sleeper to come and work for the Central Intelligence Agency. 

“How did you find me?” the sleeper asked.
“We have our ways,” said the individual in the incongruous vest.

Stanislaw B. purchased a room for the sleeper in the most expensive hotel in Yerevan.  They went shopping.  Stass could not be persuaded to part with his green vest.  They ate a great deal.  Stass was a compendium of knowledge on the ancient history of the Slavic peoples migrating out of dreamy legend ever further into waking misery. 

“We know about your unhappiness,” he said.
“You mean as a Slav?  Or as a CIA agent?”
“You could say that your unhappiness is famous with us.  We think we know what you need.”
“What do I need, Stass?”
“A true enemy.  It worked for me.  I was a man unhappy like yourself rejected by most women until I found my true enemy.”
“So who is your true enemy?”
“All those who hate us.”

That night in his brand new track suit, his face still smarting from the Armenian shave, the sleeper sneaked out into the street.  He boarded a train for Georgia.  After several days wandering around Tbilisi sleeping in church yards, he passed into Azerbaijan.  From Azerbaijan, he stowed away on a ship to Turkmenistan.  Traveling through Central Asia, he found it useful to be asleep most of the time.  In certain countries the sleeper noticed that rather than take him to a hospital, they bundled him off fast asleep toward the border.  So it was in Turkmenistan from where he was dumped in the dead of night onto a dirt road in Uzbekistan.  He woke from a dream in which he charitably acquiesced to sleep at the foot of his wife’s bed.  Her lover’s body was long, requiring a refined mattress to support his full deceptive heft.

In markets and bazaars on his way to India, through Pakistan and Afghanistan, he disguised himself as a Persian Dervish.  He often thought he spotted Stass B. out of the corner of his eye.  He was detained in Kabul and sent to a facility known only as Summer Camp, a place for questionable bearded individuals of American descent.  At Summer Camp, he slept most of the time, confounding his interrogators by dropping off beneath the oppressive heat lamps or in the middle of blaring music.  He thought about teaching his technique to the other inmates of Summer Camp, but he didn’t have a technique.  He could only drop off at a moment’s notice. 

Sitting in his cell one evening, he resolved that his issue was his endless charity.  I am too charitable, he thought.  He accepted the needs and desires of his dream characters, never once asserting his own will and bending their caprices to his own needs.  He resolved to be more aggressive. Finally one day Doctor Nod came to visit him.  It was just like before.  The sleeper awoke on his straw mattress to sense a shadowy presence. 

“Happy to see me?”
“I can’t really see you.”
“Is this better?” Dennis Nostrand moved closer into a stray sunbeam cutting through one of the wall slits.  He lifted up his heavy sunglasses revealing his hazel eyes.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’ve come to offer you a deal.”
“A deal?  As far as I know I’m being detained here because of my beard.”
“Maybe.”
“Could you explain to me what is going on here?”
“We want you back on the mission.”
Ah yes, the mission, the dream of deep space travel.  But what was the point?  To escape into a nothingness deeper than dreams? 
“I think I’ll pass.”
“Then my hands are tied.”
“But I haven’t done anything.”
“No one ever said you did.”

The sleeper felt filled with a sense of anger and pity for himself.  She had left him in search of her ideal.  Her ideal man had been discussed at length between herself and her mother.  It seemed that ideals were mapped out by the generations.  They were mere constructs, like tradition, holding no intrinsic virtue.  Meanwhile, he was a man of talents.  He lay his head back on the straw and fell into a dream of cloud piercing mountains where joyful children awaited, welcoming him into their secret mountain city.  He stayed in the city, offering his services as a teacher.  He felt the outside world using every means at its disposal to awaken him.  But no one could wake him up.  He worked in the mountain city of his dreams, setting up intricate games of nonsensical, free form basketball, lecturing on humanity’s drift out of legend and into a waking state which slowly-but-surly mirrored the truth, beauty and justice of an originating dream.  He felt his body demanding to awaken, his heart palpitating in his chest.  Just more demands.  He held imperious sway over his sleeping state and controlled his dreams development.  He suddenly realized he was in love with a caretaker, a faceless composite, the lost love of his early childhood.  She wore crimson and black homespun and cradled his head in her lap.  Her dark, glossy hair fell into her face as she laughed.  He felt his heart giving up, pumping the blood through his body ever more slowly.  He took a final walk through the darkness of the mountain garden, holding his beloved’s hand.  He felt his sleeping body lifted and carried.  He lay himself in the garden, let go, closed his eyes and opened them. 

He lay on a dirt road.  Next to him rested a canister of Gatorade and a Power Bar.  He shakily reached toward the Gatorade.  He restored himself to a sitting position.  He was in the forest somewhere on a dirt road in Pakistan.  So.  The sleeper had slept for 7 days.

The second life of the sleeper was different from the first.  Perhaps it was only a change in location and occupation that did the trick.  Then again, maybe his imprisonment at Summer Camp changed him.  He now gave himself to different occupations.  He taught children how to write.  Migrating south east, he worked in Indian hospitals reading Rudyard Kipling stories to people who cried out in the night, their love dreams cut by the pain of living.  At last he entered a Hindu ashram where one of its masters, M.S Ramchan Ph.D, taught him how to channel his sleeping ability to enter meditative states in which his conscious mind scanned his dream dialogues, as he used to scan manuscripts, piecing together humanity’s slowly awakening vision. 



Will Lasky' photo

Will Lasky has spent a great deal of time in the former Soviet Union on various jobs ranging from bumbling shepherd of American students to human rights advocate to journalist.  Lately, he lives in Brooklyn where he writes in his free moments.  Currently, he’s working on a draft of a young adult novel. 

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