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The Sleeper – Part 9

It was starting to snow in the city. Jeremy was hopping nervously from foot to foot as he scanned the crowd. He snorted gently when he caught sight of his father struggling towards him with 2 polystyrene cups of coffee. Daniel flinched as a group of people surged towards him, laughing and bustling as they made their way towards the Christmas market. His grey beard and oversized jacket made him look far more like a tramp than he deserved. Watching him, Jeremy stroked his own stubbly chin and winced as he looked down at his coat. Wrinkling his nose against the heavy smell of BO he sighed as his Dad reached him, proffering coffee and grumbling about cities.

He still took the coffee gratefully, wrapping both hands around it and inhaling the steam. His face relaxed for one happy instant. He gulped the hot liquid then he swore, arching his body away from the spillage.

“Careful, might be hot.” His Dad advised gruffly, his smirk spoiling the dead-pan tone. Looking away from his
coffee-sodden son, he turned to gaze at a large, corporate building across the road from where they stood.

“Any sign?” he asked but Jeremy didn’t reply straight away.

“Dad, look at us. We’re a mess! Maybe this should wait until tomorrow. It’s been years, one more day to let us clean up won’t make any difference. Besides, I could do with a sit down on the tray. My head’s spinning.” Jeremy was dabbing at his trousers with his sleeve, tension etched into his face. Daniel snorted.

“Your head’s spinning because you’re nervous. Face it, Jem, we will never be ready for this, but it’s taken years to find her and we’re finally here. We can’t back down now; that’d just be tragic.” He shook his head, downcast as he contemplated his coffee.

“D’you really think you’d recognise her?” Jeremy asked quietly, his gaze suddenly fixed on a two people walking towards them on the other side of the street. The couple were chatting happily and hadn’t noticed the 2 dishevelled men watching them from across the road.

“Obviously YOU do” Daniel responded with quiet emphasis. “Yes. I think that’s her.” They stood staring at the woman and her partner until the pair stopped their discussion and looked over at them. The man was short and slim, but his stance became protective when he noticed them watching. For her part the woman went rigid, all the colour draining out of her face.

She stood stock still for a moment, staring back at them staring at her. Suddenly she shook herself awake and turned to talk to the man, moving away from him and towards them as she did so. Daniel shuffled uncomfortably as the man grabbed at her arm, pulling her back and arguing with her. She didn’t try to escape but instead turned towards him caressing his face, talking urgently, reassuring him. Still he held on to her, shaking his head, looking over at Daniel and Jeremy. Eventually they crossed the road together.

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The Sleeper – Part 8

“Jeremy, you have to give this a try.” Daniel pleaded as he walked over to stand behind his son, “If you never fall into a deep sleep the time won’t jump like it does. There might be a hiccough when you drop the stones and wake yourself up, but compared to what we’ve been living with? That would be nothing! We could cope with that and, if it helps, I could do it with you.” Jeremy didn’t move. Daniel hesitated and then tried again, pouring weak jokes and reassurances into the vacuum that had once been his son.

“She’s probably fine you know.” He eventually sighed. For the first time Jeremy reacted, turning away from the window to face the wall. He settled with his back to his father and became still once more. Daniel sagged and rubbed his face, but stayed where he was.

“Seriously; if they believed her we would have heard about it by now, even hiding out up here. She doesn’t know how to contact us though, or she might be worried that they’d follow her. She’ll still be protecting you. That’s why we’re here – we needed to keep you safe…” He tailed off, choking back a sob as he sat down and lifted his unresponsive son onto his lap. He held him tight for a long time until the boy began to fidget slightly.

“Jem?” Hope rose and fell on that single word and he pulled his child deeper into the embrace. “Just sleep.” He murmured into the mass of blond hair, trying to settle him into a position where he might give in. “We can try the tray thing later. But right now, just sleep.”

Jeremy struggled out of his father’s embrace and regarded him with heavy eyes that eventually slid over to the chair. As though he was watching a wild animal, Daniel held his breath and stayed still. Then he gently slid his arms back round the boy and lifted him. He carried his son into the centre of the room and set him down there, putting the stones into his tight little fist and then backing away cautiously.

It took a long time but Jeremy finally surrendered. Daniel had fallen asleep in his chair for an hour or so, but that was a while back. They had fallen into an eerie companionship after that, each caught up in his own thoughts. Until the stones fell and time stumbled.

Daniel actually screamed that first time.

The change wasn’t as disorienting as the bigger leaps had been but the sudden lurch left him stumbling for the door. Gripping his belly he rushed to get outside before he threw up. Behind him, Jeremy collected the stones and, regarding them thoughtfully, settled back down into the chair. Hands gripping them tight, he dangled them over the tray and closed his eyes to try again. He ignored his father vomiting in the yard. He had been ignoring his father since he they had slunk away three months ago in the middle of the night, leaving his mother to her fate.

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The Sleeper – Part 7

Outside the small, abandoned cottage that had become their home the sun was shining. Jeremy was sitting at the window, staring into the cloudless sky. Daniel looked over at him, frowned and shook his head. He reached over to the small, wind-up radio and picked it up as he moved to leave the room.

“Do you want me to leave it?” He asked but the boy didn’t respond in any way. Sighing, he walked back into the room and set the radio down on the floor beside Jeremy’s chair. He sat down close to his son and laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Go to bed, please. This isn’t doing anyone any good.” Jeremy remained motionless, staring silently at the sky. Daniel stayed with him for a few minutes, gently massaging his shoulders. He tried a couple of times to start a conversation but Jeremy simply sat, lost in his own mind. Eventually Daniel got up and, moving like an old man, he collected the radio and left.

When he returned the sun was lower in the sky but Jeremy was still sitting, monitoring it’s progress through the window. Daniel ignored the fact that his son had not moved and bustled into the centre of the room with a big, old-fashioned oil tray and some stones. He set the tray in the middle of the room and hauled over one of the old, worn out seats. He wrestled with it apparently unnoticed by his son, until finally it fell into position on the tray. Grasping the stones, Daniel snuggled down into the seat as though he was sleeping, and allowed them to fall from his hand with a clatter that made even Jeremy flinch. The boy looked round, watching as he repeated the action.

“Jeremy, come try this!” Daniel cried out when he turned back to the window. “There was a man on the radio talking about Salvador Dali. Apparently he used to go to sleep in an armchair on a hard floor. When he lost consciousness and fell into deep sleep the stones, or whatever he had, would drop and wake him up. The theory is that all you really need is the 20 minutes or so before you lose consciousness altogether and that’s enough. On the radio they’re suggesting everyone tries it. They think we could start to function properly if we all started sleeping like this, but I think that if you did it…” He stopped talking. His son hadn’t moved, was still staring aimlessly out of the window. “Jeremy, if you do it, the rest of us might not have to.” He smiled glassily, framing the chair with his arms as though it was a prize on a TV game show and he was looking gorgeous in a low-cut dress. Jeremy stared out of the window.

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The Sleeper – Part 6

“You really think it’s me?” Jeremy asked in a small voice. Marina nodded dumbly, blinking hard against the tears.

“I’m so sorry” she gasped, her arms moving as if to embrace him from across the room. “It has to be you though, Jeremy. It happens every time you go to sleep, and only when you go to sleep.”

“I just thought that’s what it’s like for everyone. I didn’t understand the fuss.” He hid his face in his father’s chest and cried. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to do it.” Marina rushed across the room to join their embrace, kissing her son’s hair, holding her family close. But Daniel pushed away from her slightly, pulling Jeremy with him as if to protect him from her.

“Of course you don’t!” He lowered his head so that he could easily look into the boy’s eyes. “I’m not sure I believe that it is you. But I know you would never do this on purpose. You’ve done nothing wrong.”

“But you said people were dying!” Jeremy protested.

“I did, and they are. It’s just that half the world misses the daylight that it would normally get while you’re asleep. It’s changing the weather because nothing is getting to warm up on one side while on the other it never cools down. There are a lot of worries about food and about insects and wild animals, but it is not your fault.” Daniel emphasised this last, looking deep into his son’s eyes as he spoke but Jeremy was not convinced, he argued with them, trying to understand. If this wasn’t his fault, why had they been fighting? And why did they say that the time went missing while he was asleep? Jeremy stood, small and shaking in his Batman pyjamas, as he tried to take in what his parents were saying.

It was Marina who answered his questions. Daniel just watched, rigid with anger and misery, unable to deny what she was saying. When Jeremy announced that he was going to take himself off to the police station, it was Marina that shouted out and objected.

“Jeremy, you can’t go!” The boy screwed up his eyes and fists and shook his head.

“No. I heard you telling Dad this is more important than I am. If I can do something about this I should just do it.” He stuck out his chest as he spoke and tried to control his breath which was coming in hard sobs by now. He kept clenching his jaw, forcing his face to stay rigid but failing to hide his fear.

“No, sweetheart, you shouldn’t.” Marina said gently, tears running down her own face as she stroked his fringe out of his eyes. “I’ve thought about this long and hard and I’ve been keeping a diary for weeks now of all of this.” She ignored Daniel’s outraged yelp and ploughed on. “You and your Dad need to go. You need to get somewhere safe, away from people and hole up. Don’t tell me where. I’m going to destroy all the pictures of you that I can find and all traces of who you are. Then I’m going to turn myself in. Between the diary and my DNA, they should be able to get what they need without you. We need to get ready quickly. You should go tonight.”

This time Daniel grabbed her, shouting out in objection, but she ignored him. “It has to be me.” She told him. “You’re stronger than I am, and fitter too, he stands a better chance of survival with you. Without that it’d all be useless anyway.”

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The Sleeper – Part 5

Marina pushed the door open, allowing light to spill into the warm, dark room. There were no sounds apart from the soft grumble of Daniel’s snoring. He snuffled and grunted as he rolled over to bury his head under his arm when she switched on the light.

“Come on, handsome.” She chirped, tugging the covers so that they pulled free, exposing his head and shoulders. “My turn!”

Rolling onto his back, Daniel uttered an inarticulate complaint at this unwelcome intrusion. Marina, however, stripped off her clothes and snuggled in beside him, kissing his chest and biting playfully along his collar bone. She pulled away, giggling, as he began to respond.

“Ah, sorry, loverboy, but it’s your turn to look after Jeremy, remember?” She pushed at him, trying to get him over to the edge of the bed, but he pulled her close instead, sliding his hand over her naked flesh.

“Come on” He kissed her, trailing seductive fingers along her thigh. “I’ll let you lie in later”

“Now that’s tempting” she admitted, arching against him “But Joshua’s wide awake and just next door.”

“He’s always awake” Daniel grumbled, kissing her neck.

“Yes, he is.” Marina’s mood abruptly changed. “You honestly don’t think that’s weird?”

“How could it be him?!” Daniel released her in exasperation “How could it possibly be him? He is a 6 year old boy,
for god’s sake. I know mother love is supposed to be blind, but how could the whole world spinning; how could time itself depend on him being awake?” She slid off the bed and reached for her nightdress, tugging it angrily over her head.

“It does, you know it does. Every time he goes to sleep, time disappears! We need to tell someone.”
“Really? Can you imagine what would happen to him if people thought he did this! People are trying to cope and hopefully we’ll adapt, but just look at the mess we’re in right now – half the world’s in permanent darkness, there’s talk of war and famine, and thousands of people are ill or dying and you want to dump it all on the shoulders of your own son. They would kill him!”

“Of course they wouldn’t kill him!” They were screaming at each other by now. “If him sleeping is causing this much bother, imagine what it would be like if he died. The whole world would stop.”

“Oh, now you really have lost it! What’s happened to you? What good do you think it’ll do?”

“At least they would know where to start! Do you really think I want them to hurt Jeremy? Of course I don’t, he’s my son! No mother would want that, but this… this is huge Daniel and you know as well as I do that there’s a correlation. Every time he goes to sleep the world jumps ahead to him waking up. You can’t deny it any more than I can and sooner or later people will find out.”

“How!” Daniel cut across her angrily. “If we don’t say anything, how could they ever find out? They don’t need him to work this out!”

“Maybe they do.” Jeremy’s small, frightened words ended their fight as swiftly as gunshot. Daniel glanced in disgust at his wife and then rushed to his son, scooping him into his arms and mumbling reassurances into his hair. Jeremy crumpled into the embrace and clung to his father for a moment before wriggling away to look at his mother, who was watching them with tears streaming down her face.

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The Sleeper – Part 4

The supermarket was a frightening place, like a trusted friend who had suddenly become violent. Jeremy huddled in tight against his mother as they pushed forward into the throng. The aisles were packed with people, all fighting and shoving to get to the shelves. As they got near what was left of the dried pasta a man surged past them knocking Jeremy to his knees. He grabbed the last bag from an old woman who had been struggling to liberate it from its box.

“I have a family” he snarled before disappearing back into the crowd. Jeremy clung closer to his Mum and tried to hide between her and the trolley. He yelped as she suddenly pulled it into him, twisting it away from a woman as she tried to grab the food out of it.

“That stuff’s ours” she snapped and abruptly surged forward, pushing on down the aisle and hauling stuff off the shelves at random as she went. Jeremy tugged at her coat, whimpering and trying to get her to give up and leave. Marina twisted out of his grip, forcing him forward and hissing at him to behave; he could see what was going on, he must realise that this was bad, they needed to buy the food now. While there was still some left.

“Why would there not be any food left?” he was shocked, as though the magnitude of what was happening had only just occurred to him.

“Because some idiot Minister has just been on telly talking about crop failures and telling everyone not to panic!” She rubbed her face wearily but quickly snapped back to alertness, pushing yet another hand out of the trolley. “Here – put these in your jacket” she whispered urgently and began bundling sachets of flavoured rice and pasta into Jeremy’s clothes, “and zip it up so no-one can see.” Stuffing her own clothes with everything she could manage, she abandoned the trolley and pushed Jeremy towards the door. Thrusting what money she had at the nearest cashier Marina stalked out with her haul. The security guard was trying to break up a fight and barely glanced at them as they passed.

Once they got outside Marina grabbed Jeremy’s arm and ran, dragging him to the safety of their car. People watched as they ran and some started towards them. Marina searched desperately for her keys.

“I didn’t think it’d be so bad!” she sobbed, moving so that she stood hopelessly between her son and the mob. The nearest man was almost close enough to touch them when she finally found the key. Bundling Jeremy into the car she sat on him in her panic to get away. She swerved hard to avoid hitting the man as he came up behind them and then frowned as she suddenly recognised him.

“David?” Her relief was mixed with fear as he pulled open the passenger door and jumped in.

“Just go!” He told her, punching at the door lock, “Just get out of here!”

When they were far enough away to relax slightly he looked over at Jeremy, unhurt but afraid, and still squashed under his mother’s weight. He took the boy’s arm and pulled at him while Marina, not stopping, arched her back just enough to allow him to escape. Jeremy tumbled onto his father’s lap and stayed there till they got home.

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The Sleeper – Part 3

Daniel yawned and rolled over, beating the clock to silence it’s alarm. Sagging back into the pillows for a moment, he rubbed at tired eyes before moving to shake his wife awake.

“Time to get up,” he told her, “Come on, the boy’ll be up soon.” She grunted and shifted position. Eventually, they both climbed out of bed and began to trudge through the routine of getting ready for the day. By the time they got into the living room Joshua was there, eating breakfast and watching cartoons. Marina raised an eyebrow at Daniel.

“Up first as always” she observed “and he still isn’t tired.” Daniel snorted, ignoring her as he sat down to gulp his coffee.

“I have to get to work.” he snarled once the last spoonful of cereal had been scooped out of the bowl. He hauled himself to his feet, scrubbed his hand through Joshua’s hair as he passed, and left the room. Marina scowled for a
moment at the space where he had been, before looking back at her son, who was looking at her.

“Still tired, Mum?” he asked sympathetically.

“Yeah, I’m still tired and I don’t understand why you aren’t.” She snapped, looking away. “There definitely seems to be some sort of link” she murmured and the boy wrinkled his nose.

“What’re you on about?” He sighed, turning back to the television.

“Probably nothing Darling” she smiled brittley “I just worry about you, that’s all. Now, I think you’ve probably had enough TV and I want to watch the news.” She reached past him for the remote.

Joshua whined, turning to her in appeal against this latest unfairness, but she wasn’t listening. Her attention was fixed on the newsreader as she ran through the headlines. Looking tired and suitably glum, she listed the most significant of the current natural disasters and then tried to end her litany on a high, with a humorous reference to Selena Williams. The Portuguese medium was currently gaining momentum with her claims that she could talk to aliens who were stealing our time, and that she was the only one who could convince them to stop. Joshua stopped whining and stared at the television.

“Someone should make her do it” he stated firmly with the conviction of the very young. “Mum,” he pulled at her jumper, “We should talk to someone. If she can make everyone stop being grumpy, she should do it, why wouldn’t she?” His face contorted with the effort of trying to understand. “Why do the aliens even want our time anyway? Don’t they have their own?”

“There are no aliens, Joshua, why do you want our time so badly anyway? What good is it to you? You don’t seem to be missing it at all.” She rounded on him suddenly. “Is it you? Are you stealing my time?” Joshua stepped back, shrinking into himself somehow as he fought to hold back sudden tears.

“Mum?” he asked in a small voice. She glared at him, tense and angry so he backed away “Mum, I’m sorry. I didn’t do anything!” Tears flowed down his face now and Marina suddenly rushed to gather him up in her arms.

“Of course you didn’t, sweetheart. Mummy was only joking, I’m sorry. Of course I didn’t mean it.” Stroking his hair, she held him in a tight embrace until the tension left both their bodies but when she moved away to tell him to finish getting ready for school, she didn’t meet his eyes.