Liam steadied his slippered feet under him and stood up. On a normal day, standing would be a minute-long ordeal. Any other day, he wouldn’t be able to do what he was about to do–or care enough to want to do it. This was his only chance.
He would ask a question.
The sound of his feet moving along the floor was strange. They weren’t the swish-swish of dragging feet, but actual steps. He had purpose. He was lucid. He marched up to one of the attendants and said, “Hey, mind if I have some of that coffee?”
The attendant’s heavy brow lowered. The man hadn’t a hair on his head, and his cheeks were heavy. He didn’t wear a nametag–none of them did, and none of the subjects cared to ask–but he was always there. Always. He must have gone home when the subjects slept (admittedly, most of the day and night), Liam reasoned. Yet not all of the subjects had the same sleeping schedule, and according to the others, the huge bald Chinese dude was never not attending.
“Not for patients,” the large man said, though it could have been a question. He was confused by Liam’s interest.
“Just a sip. I won’t tell.”
A jello-cheeked shake of the head.
“How do you take it?” Liam asked. “Not black, I guess.”
“Lots of cream,” the attendant said. He looked at another attendant across the room, who was busy.
“See, I prefer it black as–oh!” said Liam, hand-talking into the bottle in the attendant’s fist, sending the bottle splashing over the man’s light blue jumpsuit. Glue-looking white liquid spilled all over, including on Liam’s wrist.
The attendant swore, and Liam apologized profusely. When he saw other attendants heading his way, he knew the trick–act placid, sleepy, ready for bed.
“What happened?” “Liam, are you okay?” “Liam! Return to your table!” “Here, I’ll wipe that up…”
And so on. Liam let his eyes glaze over and his lids to appear heavy. He wandered off, like he was sleepwalking. The attendants sighed, but let him go.
He sniffed his wrist. That same copper-grain scent. His wrist was dewed with white. Curious, he licked the stuff. It buzzed on his tongue, and his eyes widened despite his attempt to look tired. His heart rate picked up. The fog of sleepiness that hung over him dissipated, and for the first time in a long time he felt awake.
The white coffee. It wasn’t being put in to the subjects. It was being extracted from them. Processed into a beverage. Did it cure sleep entirely? Was that why the attendants never seemed tired? Why they worked all hours of the day and night?
Jesus. This wasn’t a research station. This was a sleep farm. People were being kept perpetually sleepy, the energy that they would normally gain from a night’s rest drained from them and processed and (no doubt) sold in a bottle.
At first, Liam thought about telling the others. But as he looked around the room at all the half-asleep, zombie-like subjects sitting with their faces in their hands, or their heads folded over their arms, catching sleep where they may, he knew they wouldn’t listen. They wouldn’t have the energy to care. No, he had to tell people who were capable of stopping this. Did the world know? No–it couldn’t have. They wouldn’t allow this, not even for 24-hour wakefulness. Right? They wouldn’t.
Liam eyed the door where the two doctors exited earlier. The attendants that normally guarded the exit were talking to the bald man with the stained suit. Liam began his zombie-walk, making for the door, careful not to move too fast, too hurried. But slowly, like suspicious gazelles, the attendants rose and looked at Liam. They spoke his name–softly at first, then demanding. When Liam heard their boots move towards him, almost deafening in the otherwise slipper-filled room, he kicked off his slippery footwear and ran.
The place was like a hospital maze. One hallway, then another. Doors that led to shelves full of white bottles. Surgical-mask-wearing doctors, surprised as Liam ran past, syringes in their blue-gloved hands, sleeping patients in bedroom-like conditions. Oh, God. The prick on Liam’s neck tickled, and he ran some more.
Boom boom boom–boots, shouts, closer, closer. Boom boom boom. So loud, little explosions. Pain. Fatigue. No escape.
He ducked into a seemingly empty bedroom. It looked much like the one he slept in, but it was clearly meant for another group of test subjects. How many groups there were in the building, he couldn’t know. All he knew was that all that running left him exhausted. He wasn’t used to that kind of exercise. His breaths were short. Shorter and shorter.
He was so tired. More tired than he’d ever been in his life. But it was okay. He was alone. And he could sleep as long as he wanted.
Day 215’s three random prompt categories were, “Professional sleeper,” “Lab coat,” and, “Running late.”
End of the three-parter. I would definitely love to be able to stay awake 24 hours a day without penalty. But maybe not at this cost…