Leary’s high already. “I’m writing something,” he says to me.
“Not yet. Anyway, tell me what you think. Ok, so there’s this guy. He’s a low-level fellow for a company, bottom of the barrel, right. You like sci-fi?”
“Sure,” I say.
“Good. So this fellow’s bad-off looking, real pale. He’s always tired, and skinny as hell. Guess why.”
“Shit no. His name’s Noah, like on the ark, and how it’s sci-fi is that there’s this technology we come up with to let people put off sleeping. Give it to someone else. Like I could sleep for you, so you’d get more shit done. And Noah, he works low-level for a company selling it. Refresh, Inc.”
“Hours of it,” Leary says.
“It’s sci-fi. Anyway, they call them sleep technicians, and folks’ll drop loads of sleep hours on them, doctors, truckers, lawyers, old people putting the end off, whoever ain’t got time for shut-eye.
“Noah’s a technician, and he gets hourly pay for the time he sleeps. Not his regular sleep. Transferred, you know? But, he doesn’t get much of his own, really. I’ll work that out later.
“So, Noah meets this girl Cindy at the office, ’cause she’s got loads to transfer, and he’s her technician. Right off, Noah wants to fuck her, ’cause her body’s like a high-schooler, real tight like that, you know. And she’s got short hair like a waitress, and blonde—short, spiky and blonde. She doesn’t do eye contact real well, either. Noah likes that. Secrecy in a face.
“But this girl’s different than most of his clients. Of course, right? She drops six or seven hours on him every other night. What Noah suspects, but hasn’t got settled yet, is that this whole damn deal is bad for you. Like he’s getting sicker and sicker, and what else could it be? Lack of sleep, too much sleep, both are bad, right? So this fake snooze business has to be double bad, maybe more.
“After a while, Noah gets to having a real crush on Cindy. I mean heavy. He figures it’s probably from their transfers, that kind of sharing links people in ways we can’t guess. Knowing her dreams, dreaming for her. Every hour he’s asleep, she’s there with him. Dreams of fucking in cafeterias, garages, airport bathrooms and pre-school playgrounds. Everywhere.
“Finally it all gets too much for Noah, so he calls her in to his cubicle, tells her it ain’t working out. Then Cindy, she flips her shit. Says since the whole thing’s started, she never felt better. What Noah didn’t know was how Cindy was an insomniac. She was looking for a cure.”
“Sleeper and the Sleepless,” I say.
“Right. But now it gets worse. Noah’s coworker’s just died. What they found after looking was this guy used to be a speed-head. And ’cause of that, an insomniac.”
“Exactly. So Noah’s got to figure a way to work the sleep trade out, thin it down maybe, ’cause what killed this other guy was the overload of forced sleep, after living so long without it.”
“But Cindy’s not getting the sleep,” I say. “Noah is.”
“Right, so they’re both in danger.”
“I don’t get it.”
I nod. “There an ending yet?”
“No. I’m thinking someone’s got to die.”
“Not a story without it.”
“So who gets the axe?”
“Well, they work on the surviving thing together. Fuck each other good the whole way, and wind up beating it. They break the transfer addiction and all. But after that, I don’t know. Maybe Noah kills Cindy. On accident, of course.”
“That’d be a surprise.”
“Yeah, and it’ll fuck him up, so he’ll take some painkillers. A shit load. Fall asleep forever.”
“What’s the title?”
Leary turns to me with a wide grin. “‘Sleep When You’re Dead.’”
“Damn right,” he says, chewing at a fingernail. “Hell. And then he could be a ghost, or something. That’s the thing, there. Just anything at all.”
-Josh Eure (from Raleigh Review )