SleeperA Story by Ron Sanders
I am he as you are he.
Devon passed out.
That’s what they told him, anyway.
He’d been waiting in line like everyone else, and next thing he knew he was the center of attention for a ring of bystanders, a pair of old ladies were rubbing his arms, and the bank manager was asking if he needed an ambulance.
worst part, initially, was the embarrassment. But on the drive home an icy fear
crimped the back of his neck, made his shoulders lock up and his elbows seize,
made his hands sweat all over the wheel. What if it happened again? What if it
happened while driving? He could be barreling along nicely, completely absorbed
in the intricacies of lane surfing, and--BAM:
dead man. Or find he’d unconsciously plowed though a crosswalk full of
horrified lunchtime toddlers. Splattered innocence, crippled joy. The image was
pulled over with excessive caution; using only the rear-view mirror lest, in
looking back for even a moment, some inexplicable mini-seizure should send him
hurtling into a compound bloody fireball. Perspiration bathed his face and
chest. He’d always been the healthiest of men; didn’t drink, didn’t touch
drugs, didn’t over-exert. Gradually the tremors passed. But not the terror; it
was a vital shadow in the center of his skull.
“Your scans are clean,” Dr. Goodman beamed. The clipboard, facing away, would not elaborate. “I think we can cheerfully write off the cause of this visit as one of those little anomalies that pop into our lives, shake us up a bit to give our egos some perspective, and then pop right back out as though nothing occurred. And who knows? Maybe nothing did. Sometimes nature just drops the ball for no apparent reason. I like to compare the body to a complex harp with one or more strings always out of tune, and hard work and healthful living as the elements that retune those--Mr. Devon?”
Goodman’s entire demeanor had changed. He tapped his pencil on the clipboard--thuda-thuda-thud--little alien heartbeats in rubber on pressed cork. “You’ve heard of narcolepsy, Mr. Devon? Once we’ve ruled out the obvious--epilepsy, tumor, arrhythmia--we have to rely on conjecture, which, in a mature practice, comes down to empiricism rather than guesswork. What I’m trying to say is: symptoms are templates. Narcolepsy is a known condition, but it’s not a common one--though I’m reasonably sure there’re plenty of cases going misdiagnosed. I won’t beat around the bush here. In narcolepsy, the brain’s steady-state waking electrical activity is abruptly interrupted--the subject goes to sleep on the spot, rather than drifting away naturally. Why? The current’s been cut off, the lights shut down. Why? We don’t know yet; and there’s that dreadful non-answer which seems, to the anxious layperson, an evasion rather than a helpful response. But it’s all we’ve got. That, and a medication I’m prescribing. Don’t worry about the endless string of Latin syllables. Although still in the experimental stage, it shows tremendous promise in the short-term. However, there’s a caveat: you must be prudent in your approach to everyday activities whenever a recurrence might prove injurious to yourself or to others, and you must curtail these activities any time you experience symptoms that are in any way out of the ordin--”
Devon?” Goodman’s smile was frayed around the edges. “Are you feeling all right
now? We were discussing your prescription when you appear to have relapsed
momentarily. I’ve checked your vitals and you’re good as gold. The episode was
very brief, yet it absolutely confirms my immediate diagnosis of narcolepsy.”
He nervously drummed his fingers on the clipboard. “Miss Aines is going to
administer a single dose of your prescription, and you are thereafter not to
approach the medication without my approval over the phone. As I said, it’s
experimental, but entirely safe. Then I want you to go home and take a load off--a
load off your mind as well as your feet. I’d prefer you walk rather than use a
cab or bus. Moderate exercise is always a precursor to healthful recovery.” He
pulled open the door, hesitating halfway. “If you experience a recurrence, or
become morbidly anxious, or entertain any weird, traumatic sense of alienation,
I want you to give me a call right away. Miss Aines will produce my home and
cell numbers as soon as you’ve received your medication and taken that single dose.”
He smiled genially while ushering
can a man know what’s going on around
him, behind him, within him--when he can’t see or feel a thing?
A thumb peeled back
Two strong hands gripped his biceps. It was the second paramedic, leaning over the first. “You’ll have to remain quiet, sir. Until you’ve been thoroughly examined you’re under our supervision. It won’t be long. There’s the hospital now. We’re pulling up to emergency. Try to stay calm.”
can’t be strapped down. That’s what they want.”
exchanged looks. The first rattled a prescription bottle. “The label reads
fifty. The count is forty-nine.” He looked back down at
The van stopped with the gentlest jolt. A moment later the rear doors swung open. The second paramedic climbed out, and the first, hesitating, said loudly, “You’re under restraint only for your own safety, okay? We can’t have you blacking out and rolling off the gurney now, can we, sir?”
The driver poked in his head. “What’s the hangup?”
“We’re fine back here. One of the straps is tangled. Just give me a second.”
driver’s head disappeared. The paramedic brought his voice down to a patter: “Look, fighting only makes it worse. They’ll
get in sooner or later, so unless you enjoy being K.O.’d out of the blue, over
and over and freaking over, you’re
just gonna have to play it cool. The more you resist, the worse it gets. But if
you go along, you’re in and out of the center and home free. So if you want the
skinny right up front, take it from a guy who’s been there. Read my lips.” He
strapped a small oxygen mask over
A hydraulic whine, a rocking and settling. A voice came out of the floodlights: “Okay to roll.”
bright assault of antiseptic fluorescence made
“Well, I’m taking him off the medication, at least for the present, and I don’t give a good holy crap what you or Lancet have to say on the matter, is that clear enough for you? As of right now he’s under our care. Your prescription arguably precipitated this patient’s arrival, and there’s absolutely no reason to believe it’s mitigating his condition in the least. Fine. You can talk to the coordinator in the morning. I’m presently handling Mr. Devon, and this conversation is officially concluded. Now go back to sleep!”
Devon, you’re doing great. You’ve been through a bit of a scare, but there’s no
reason to worry. Your provider has authorized any necessary procedures, though
I’m confident we’ve no cause for alarm.” He raised
Grant leaned in grimly. “And, like you told me, you’ve been riding a roller coaster ever since. Voices in your head; that kind of nonsense. A misdiagnosis of narcolepsy from some predatory quack who will have his license suspended, mark my words. Delusions of channeling aliens or whatever--you’re a victim of too many horror movies, Mr. Devon, plain and simple. Now I want you to stop fighting it. Please. You’re only making things worse.”
. . .”
“Would you listen to yourself?” Grant leaned back, his face troubled. “You never should have been allowed on the street in the first place; not without a guardian, not without a complete examination. I’m going to give you a little injection here, just something to help you relax, and then we’ll whisk you into the center and let the specialists have a go at you. You’ll be right back on your feet before you know it, happy as a clam and all set to embrace the bigger picture.”
Again Grant zoomed himself in. “I give you my word of honor it’ll be painless. These are some of the best men in their field, and they need to get a real good look at you right away. Now, I’d like you to just stretch out on the recliner, close your eyes, and make a fist. You’ll feel the tiniest pinprick.”
“No, please . . . give me something that’ll help me stay awake. They’re getting closer. If I fall asleep they’ll be right back in.”
Dr. Grant looked on quietly, his expression sour. “Who’s getting closer?”
of his identity were falling like flakes of dandruff. Memories were being stripped,
more you fight me,” snarled the security guard, “the harder I fight back. You got that?” He shoved
The guard sneered over his shoulder. “I’ll give you something. Now for the last time: Do--not . . . fight it!” He pressed the intercom’s call button. “Security on floor one, east wing. I have a disturbed patient who somehow got out into the hall. Not a biggie, but Riley and Forbes, I’d like you to assist. Johnson, ring up the center right away. Wills, call in a van and get straight back to me.”
feelers were in. He was going. A great company was in his skull; a kind of
delirious clamor and buzzing crescendo.
He was seizing. His arms were shaking wildly, his eyes bursting from their sockets. Liquid fire tore through his frame, spewed from his mouth and nostrils, set his fraying hair ablaze.
was rocking madly, his skin blistering, his organs swelling to bursting.
Devon! Somebody call the gate.
A number of men hit him in a compound flying tackle. An orderly snarled in his face, “Stay down, damn you!”
Now Dr. Grant’s pulsing round head became the moon-backed hub in a crazy wheel of arms and nightsticks. “Sedate him, for Christ’s sake! I don’t care if you have to use chloroform. Drag him over to the shack.”
sucked him up like a giant straw. Consciousness was a black wiggly thing, all-pervading,
all-encompassing, all--and a flashlight’s beam hit him right in the eyes. For a
long hazy second he was dazzled by the badge on the gate guard’s cap.
“I’ll tell you one
more time, and then I’ll brain you if I have to: stop
fighting it!” The guard’s eyes became compassionate, mentoring. “They’ll
take you to the center, and it’ll be over before you know it. Then you can go
back to whatever you’ve always been doing.” He gripped
From outside the gatehouse came the familiar voice of Dr. Grant barking orders, and the gentle rumble of an approaching vehicle. The sound of doors swinging on their hinges. A new voice called out: “Okay to roll.”
The guard looked
back. “There’s not a damned thing you can do anyway. So stop fighting it--just
let go and relax.” He passed a hand back and forth over
“Good.” The guard patted him on the shoulder. “It’s not the end of the world. Just another boss.” He placed the hand over Devon’s eyes. “Now sleep.”
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© 2011 Ron Sanders
Marina del Rey, CA
AboutL.A.-based novelist, illustrator, poet, short story writer. more..