by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam — yes that is her real name, and yes, she’s OK with it — lives in Texas with her partner and two literarily-named cats – Gimli and Don Quixote. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program and curates the annual Art & Words Show in Fort Worth, Texas. Her work has appeared in magazines such as Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, and Goblin Fruit. You can visit her on Twitter @BonnieJoStuffle or through her website: bonniejostufflebeam.com.
The newscasters say that the sleepers came without warning, that one day they weren’t here and the next, they were. I don’t believe them. There must have been signs we were too wrapped up in our busy lives to see.
The first time I see a sleeper I’m smoking outside the hospital. It’s four in the morning. I’ve stepped out for a break from the beep beep beep of my father’s monitors. The so-called experts say the sleepers only come at night, when the rest of us are sleeping. I want to argue with the people — the journalists and the biologists and the paranormal fanatics — who say this. I want to say, what about people with night jobs? What about the strippers, the tweakers, the night owls, the insomniacs? What about me?
But I don’t argue.
I hardly sleep anymore. When I find myself alone in a room with the lights off, the panic begins, a tightness in my chest like a stress ball squeezed to the point of popping. I press my finger against my neck to feel my pulse. It’s always too fast.
My father’s heart beats too slow. He’s dying. My mother died two years ago, and I hear that it’s common for men to lose hope after their partners are gone. He won’t wake up. Never recovered from the anesthetic used during his open heart surgery. The doctors don’t know if he ever will. I, his only daughter, his only child, stay at the hospital as much as I can, leaving only to man a desk at a real estate office or, like tonight, to smoke. I need these breaks like I need water.
The sleeper is white, just as they said it would be. So few people have seen them up close, I think at first that I’m imagining it. A white blur, the slight shape of thin, bellbottom legs — thick at the bottom near its hooves and covered in matted white fur — galloping through the otherwise empty street. I half expect the billowy skin of the legs to lift and reveal a person under there, in control, like those Chinese New Year dragons. It runs in a graceful hurry right on past the bench where I sit. I stop smoking and stay still until it disappears around the corner of the street. Stunned, I slip the e-cigarette into my pocket and go back inside.
There’s no one to talk to about what I saw. In my chest, I feel the familiar constriction, like persistent heartburn, and with it, this sense that I have forgotten something. The experts say the sleepers don’t mean anything. That it is dangerous to try and call them omens, to assign meaning to a phenomenon they cannot yet explain. But I never asked for a sign, never wanted one before now. If the universe is trying to tell me something, I think I missed the message.
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