There are plenty of reasons to sleep through a year of your life.
Health, sanity, and personal loss make regular appearances on the brochures. Testimonials from men and women who climbed into the rip chambers alone or scared, dying or depressed, and climbed out with smiles, ready to face the world again.
My grams slept for 19 months while nanotechs rebuilt sixty percent of her heart.
But I was just bored.
The hum of machinery woke me, my skin tingling from the thousands of tiny magnos readjusting the energy fields that held me a few centimeters off the pillows. Cool air hissed as I was lowered down. I blinked open my eyes.
I saw through the plastic lid of my rip chamber, through the panes of duraglass that were the ceiling of the hospital: blue sky devoid of clouds. Nothing of interest.
Then there was Mom’s face, her narrow eyes pinched. She put her hand on the lid of my chamber, her body-heat leaving a ghostly print. Hey, baby, she said, but I couldn’t hear her voice.
“How much longer?” Mom asked after the third tech ran my brainwaves through a hand-held decoder. We’d been in the resting room for two hours, and I was sick of the creamy paint and anipics of waving wheat and peaceful lakewater.
The tech pointed to the readout screen with a chewed-on fingernail. Shouldn’t the techs here have been as fake-relaxed as the décor? She said something insensible to Mom about serotonin before scurrying out.
Mom threw up her hands. “Leave it to my daughter to wake up cranky from the brain spa.”
She zipped open the carry-on bag she’d brought and threw my bra at me hard enough it stung my palm when I caught it.
We flew home on a jump-jet, right over the Catskills. Rings of clouds crowned the peaks and caught the edges of sunlight in the west. Almost pretty. I shut my eyes and tried to remember my dreams.
We were supposed to have them in rip sleep. Epiphanies. Spiritual awakenings. Sleep-memories of our futures. I’d read account after account from people who’d laid down in the rip chamber and woke up having seen God. It wasn’t God, specifically, I was looking for – growing up in my family didn’t leave you with much shred of faith. Dad told bedtime stories about Adam the Atom or the Five Mass Extinctions. Mom didn’t believe in anything she couldn’t verify through at least three competent sources.
I’d gone to sleep hoping to find my destiny. My purpose. What I should major in at university.
Just a little nudge.
But there was nothing. I’d closed my eyes and opened them again, snap-bang. Nothing in-between.
Dad greeted us at the door with his interface glasses pushed up onto his head. He kissed my cheeks and asked if the experiment worked.
I wished I could crow about our success. But Mom said, “It was a waste of money, Jonah. Though they might want to write a paper on her.” She pushed inside, skimming her hands along the entry console to start up her favorite media-jabber.
He put an arm around me. I could hear tiny voices from his interface whispering in my ear. “No eureka moment?” he said morosely, staring after Mom.
My voice was creaky. The only indication I actually had been gone for three hundred and sixty-six days. “I guess I didn’t sleep long enough.”
It was a deal we had, me and my parents: they let me get ripped for a year and a day, and I stop dicking around with school and vocations. I choose one and focus like I used to, get top grades, and support them in their retirement. We all laughed about it, and I promised them at least a room over my carriage house.
I was hoping for a dream to give me answers, obviously, but also I was glad not to have to live through that year since Brian the boy-next-door and Chandra my-former-best-friend hooked up. Being ripped was better than being a third wheel.
I couldn’t bring myself to lay down in my bed.
They’d kept it the same, and cleaned it. But I noticed little things like the lengthening of the crack in the corner, where the house’s foundation was shifting. One of the stars on an old collage had fallen away and drifted to the carpet. Right before I left, I’d torn down all Chandra’s pictures, but Mom had put up some family shots instead. Us in a hotel lobby. Us at the gates of a ski-interface. Us with Grams.
But those little things didn’t make me uncomfortable. I just couldn’t see the point of shutting my eyes again.
I toyed with my interface glasses, but didn’t want to start in on the news I’d missed. There’d be too much media to catch up on. I could remember my net schedule perfectly, but wasn’t ready to hear which of my shows had been cancelled. Mom and Dad went to bed early, arguing quietly about how soon to drag me to campus. I pressed against the door and as soon as I heard the whoosh of theirs sliding closed, I snuck downstairs and out the garage.
Since I didn’t have my interface glasses, I had to roll down the windshield and drive by hand. That relegated me to the manual lane, which was slower, but I liked it that way. Interface driving was hardly worth getting out of bed in the morning – ha, ha.
The neighborhood was the same, except for a few new cars, flower-boxes, yard art. I pushed past the LM school and grid park, annoyed as usual by the perfect rows of trees. They never changed.
It wasn’t until I hit the edge of town that I stopped.
I’d expected the edge to have pushed out even farther. This Hegemart should’ve been super-sized by now, and hadn’t they been planning a new strip mall past the interface tower?
But it was all exactly the same.
Only difference was the All-Hands Bowling Alley missed the neon G, as if the sign was talking to me with an accent. I parked the car next to the double glass doors and headed inside.
Instead of pods for hooking up your interface, this alley was all reality. It smelled like it, too. Popcorn, grease, old socks, sweat and sugar, in different combos as I stalked over the thread-bare carpet to the counter. Nobody stood behind it.
The high-pitched thunder of a strike startled me, and I slowed down as I rounded the corner where I could see all eighteen lanes. Beyond the bar and game-room a group of nine guys sprawled over the end two lanes.
“Hey,” called one of the guys, wearing a long brown trench coat. “Bring that box with you!” He flapped his arm at the bar, and I hung back. There wasn’t anybody else he might’ve been talking to.
Another guy shot his ball. I felt the rumble through the floor like it was urging me on. A cheer went up as every single pin fell, and I grabbed the box of cheap wine.
It sloshed as I hefted it down the aisle toward the guy in the coat. None of the other players paid me any mind. “Thanks,” he said. “I’m Hudson, and those are crap bowling shoes.”
I clutched the wine and glared at my sandals. “I didn’t come to play.”
He paused mid-reach, and then laughed at me. “Why are you in a bowling alley, then?”
My mouth fell open.
Hudson gently pried my hands off the box wine, standing close enough I could smell woodsmoke coming off his hair like he’d been standing too close to a bonfire. “Join us,” he said, jiggling the wine.
I wasn’t legal, but neither were any of them. Unless the drinking age had been the one thing to change while I slept.
I did not change my shoes. Hudson sat beside me in the plastic chairs, grinning while I found one that didn’t creak and wasn’t covered in mysterious sticky liquids. The thunder of his friends’ game shook me, rumbling in my ears like the machinery at the rip center.
They laughed and passed the box around, pouring thin pink wine into plastic cups. I held a flimsy one in both hands, watching the ripples tremble with every throw of the bowling ball. The poor yellow lights turned everything dreamlike.
Hudson touched my eyelid, and I jerked away, blinking. It was where my interface crystal waited, tied into my optic nerve and brain. “You haven’t plugged in for a while,” he observed.
“Well you don’t even have one.” I crossed my legs and tried not to be embarrassed that I’d stared at his face hard enough to notice the lack of crystal.
He shrugged, like it was no big deal. But getting your first crystal was like a right of passage. Nobody older than fifteen was without one.
“I interface the old fashioned way.”
It sounded so dirty I laughed and tore my gaze away from his mouth. I looked past him to his crew. I wasn’t even sure they’d noticed me at all, despite Hudson having abandoned them. “Is that why you’re here?”
He shrugged in his brown coat, and the whole thing shifted around him. For a moment I wondered if he had a body under it at all. But his hands were real, and his eyes plain and dark and too uninteresting not to be real. “I’m here because I like to bowl. Why are you?”
I leaned closer to him, checking the habit of drinking what was in my hand. I did not want this crap wine. “Not ready for bed yet.”
I told Hudson I’d been ripped. He managed to look impressed, but barely. “You’re so young,” he said.
“Yeah, well. I thought it might change things.”
“That’s the worst reason I’ve ever heard for ripping.”
The wine in my cup sloshed over the edges as I slammed it down. Hudson caught my hand. “Actions change things, not sleeping.”
“Rip Van Winkle slept for twenty years and woke up to a brand new country.”
“And a dead wife and friends. I’ve always thought that was pretty iffy.”
“He was free. His wife was a total bitch.”
“You want to be free?” Hudson leaned his elbows on his knees. His chin lowered and he looked at me as if my answer really mattered.
I hesitated. Then I shook my head. “No, I just want to know what to do.”
“Start!” he laughed. “Try! Go! Do! Bowl, for God’s sake!”
“Oh my God!” I leapt to my feet. “That’s it, that’s the answer! Bowl!
Hudson joined me. “You don’t have to make fun.”
“Oh, I think I do.” I poked his chest. “I really think I do.” I curled my finger around the lapel of his brown trench coat and pulled myself nearer. Smoke surrounded me, and the thunder of the bowling balls made me think I was outside with him, under dark stars and surrounded by a hundred perfectly spaced trees. Just where I’d been with Brian and Chandra, when I stumbled back from the compostoilet, and found them kissing in the warmth of our campfire.
Hudson put his hands on my waist, and the flaps of his coat floated around my thighs. But there was no wind inside a bowling alley. I closed my eyes and felt confined and safe, warm and floating. His breath hummed like machinery.
I didn’t wait. I kissed him.
I blinked open my eyes.
My skin tingling from the thousands of tiny magnos readjusting the energy fields that held me a few centimeters off the pillows. Cool air hissed as I was lowered down.
Through the lid of my rip chamber, I saw the sky.
*this month’s prompt is Rip Van Winkle.image by jetheriot via flickr creative commons