Sleepless

Flash Fiction
Written August 2011

They received the call on a Thursday afternoon in late March.  Theo answered the phone.  Samantha was busy preparing dinner.  Theo wasn’t sure if it was a prank call or not.  Then again, how could it be?  They had never told anyone that they had filled out all the necessary paperwork to become a contender.  Alongside millions of others, of course.  They never thought that they would be picked.  It was simply a thrilling adventure that the newlyweds took up in their dreams.

That was two years ago.  Back then, life was little more than an adventure where they would get lost and find each other all over again.  After two years, much had changed.  They were starting to settle down.  For the past four months, they were even trying for a baby.  By the time Theo hung up the phone, he wasn’t quite sure whether he should be ecstatic or frightened.  Why did he have to choose between the two when they were so obviously inseparable?

Samantha called out to her husband from the kitchen.  Dinner was almost ready.  Theo tried to respond, but his body told him that he needed to sit down.  Samantha found him there—worried that he was having a heart attack.  He laughed her off.  She was angry at him for scaring her.  But that anger quickly melted into curiosity.  What was going on, she asked.  Who was on the phone?

He told her.  Two years ago, a pharmaceutical company announced a major breakthrough in one of their drug trials.  It had started off as a cholesterol medicine.  When the side-effects were studied, however, its purpose morphed.  The animals that were tested never seemed to tire.  They never even slept.  Yet, their body did not deteriorate.  The scientists eventually came to understand that the medicine allowed the body to heal its cells without sleep.  Since cells repaired themselves in the waking hours, sleep was rendered obsolete.

The government, understanding the importance of such a discovery, created an oversight committee to bring the drug into human trials.  The process needed to be gradual.  They would not release the drug to the general population until every short term and long term side-effect was caught and evaluated into oblivion.  The meaning was simple: generations would pass before the drug would be available.  Everyone alive today would be dead.  The only way to try it was to get in on the trial.  Theo and Samantha didn’t miss a beat.  Neither did much of the population.  The preliminary trial would consist of only 1,000 people.

Theo told Samantha that they were two of the lucky thousand…if they wanted it.  They had twenty-four hours to accept or reject the offer.  Samantha froze with the spatula still in her hand.  They stared at each other wordlessly for the next few minutes.  Every once in a while, one would start to say something and fail.  They did not break from their stupor until the smoke detector screeched to life.  Dinner was burning.

A burst roast would normally accompany a string of swears from Samantha.  Still a child at heart, she knew it was a bad idea for her to be the cook of the household.  Her experiments almost never succeeded.  There was no burst of playful anger that day.  Samantha removed her failed experiment from the oven, put down her spatula, and joined her husband in the living room.  She curled up next to him on the couch.

Theo was the first to talk.  His mind had drifted a bit further than hers had.  He asked her if there was any possibility that she might be pregnant.  She laughed a little at the seeming non-sequitor.  Then she understood.  If she were pregnant, they would have to say no.  It didn’t matter what the parameters of the study were.  They wouldn’t endanger their child’s life for a chance at some obscure freedom.  She thought back and started counting days.  She shook her head so that Theo would understand her.  She could not be pregnant.

Without the fear of endangering a child, their imagination soared.  They had hoped to start something new together in the form of a family.  That was not working out.  It was almost as if someone were watching them.  They knew their plans weren’t panning out.  Instead of helping them, they carved a different path altogether and presented it to them.  How could they turn down such an opportunity?

How could they?  That was where their collective thoughts had drifted.  They spent the next three hours trying to come up with a single promising reason to turn down the offer.  Fleeting thoughts were given a voice before they were laughed out of existence.  The truth was there was no real reason for them to turn down the trial.  How frightening it is to not have an excuse to upend your life.

They went to bed hungry that night.  They held each other close as they drifted off to sleep.  They knew full well that their nights of rest were limited.  They drifted off thinking of sleep as the rare luxury it would soon become.  How would it change them?  Could they still sleep and dream if they wished to?  The questions hung in the air as they drifted off in each other’s arms.

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