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Mauri sat quietly in the doctor's office, twisting her fingers through a strand of her dark hair. Her mother had been particularly vague about what the appointment was for, but Mauri had a sinking suspicion that she already knew.
The doctor opened the door and gave an amiable smile as he noticed her waiting impatiently in the chair. "Hello, Mauri," He said, taking a seat in his desk chair. "I'm sure you must be wondering what you're doing here."
Mauri took a deep breath and slowly shook her head. "I-I think I know actually." She told him. "It's because I'm always keeping my eyes closed, right?"
She couldn't decipher the strange look in his eyes, but he nodded. "That's correct." He answered.
Mauri's lip wobbled and she blinked repeatedly to hold back her tears. "I'm sorry, that I close my eyes, I really am! I try not to but I just can't help it, no matter how much I try and-"
"It's perfectly alright," He interrupted her. "That's why I'm here- to help you understand how and why this happens to you and to try and prevent it from happening again."
Mauri leaned forward expectantly.
The doctor leaned back in his seat. "This is something that I've never seen before in all of my medical career," He explained, an almost undetectable note of excitement in his voice. "The odds of this happening are about one in five hundred thousand."
Mauri shuddered. "What is it?" She asked.
"You have what is medically known as 'dyssomnia'," He informed her, beginning to type something furiously in his book-pad. The touch screen page flipped automatically for him before he continued his note taking onto the next one.
"I don't understand any medical terms," she mumbled, wishing that he would get to the point already.
He paused his typing and glanced up at her, before going back to staring intently at the paper-screen. "What you're experiencing," He replied, "Is most commonly known as sleep."
She frowned at him in confusion. "I just said that I don't know any medical terms."
"Ah, but 'sleep' isn't a medical term." He said. "It's an old-fashioned english word for this problem of yours. Of course, with the lack of use in the past century or so, the word has fallen out of most people's vocabularies."
"Sleep," She repeated, testing the word out in her mouth. The word itself sounded strange and unfamiliar... But then again so was her peculiar habit of closing her eyes for hours at a time, so perhaps it fit. "Is there a cure?"
"Not a cure," He replied, pressing his thumb against a lock pad on one of the desk drawers. "But a treatment." Mauri craned her neck to see what he was pulling from the drawer, but it appeared to be just a plain white object, one that could easily fit into the palm of her hand. She frowned to herself, wondering absently why her mother hadn't taken her to the doctor before if there was a way to fix this. Then she remembered that her mother had been too ashamed to tell anyone about her condition, and tried to move away from that thought.
"This," He said, gently placing the box in front of her. "Is your treatment."
Mauri slowly reached out and opened the box, turning it upside down so that two thin, clear objects landed in her palm. "Contact lenses?" She asked, studying them skeptically. "My problem isn't with my eyesight."
"No," The doctor agreed. "But these will prevent you from sleeping in the night. They're not ordinary contact lenses- they've been altered, so that the chemicals in it will hopefully be able to stop your eyes from closing."
She squinted at the lenses, examining them closely. At first glance they appeared to be like any other contacts one might use instead of glasses, but on closer inspection there was one huge difference- thin black lines traced their way all across the surface, almost like a very small, sloppily drawn grid.
"What are these things?" She murmured.
"Some of us have nicknamed them dreamcatchers, although I doubt you'll recognize that word any more than 'sleep'. It's another outdated phrase that has fallen out of practice." The doctor went back to typing in his book, not meeting her eyes. "They'll do their job best if you wear them at all times, but they should work almost as well if they're only worn when you feel yourself falling asleep." Mauri carefully put the contacts back in their box and left the room.
"Well?" She asked impatiently. "Is your problem solved?"
Mauri glanced down at the small, white box clenched in her hand. "Yes," She answered. "Yes it is."
Mauri was hesitant to put on the dream catchers, so she decided to put it off until her eyes felt like closing again. She watched the wall-pad with her sister. She helped her mother input the code for dinner into the kitchen monitor. After the monitor had cleaned dinner up, her older sister took out her book-pad to do her homework and Mauri did the same.
She caught herself just before she started drifting off- the contacts couldn't be avoided any longer. She went into the bathroom and carefully put them in.
Everything was cracked. Broken. It was like the world she was seeing had fallen apart at the seams, only staying solid because someone had taped it back into place. She turned to look in the bathroom mirror, leaning in close to stare into her own eyes.The same wobbly lines were woven across them, making them look more like shattered pieces of glass that had been expertly put back together.
Mauri frowned. Would she really have to where these things all day? But still... However weird the contacts made her eyes look, it was even weirder that for part of every day she had the urge to lay so still and soundless that most people that saw her that way assumed she was dead. No, she couldn't give up. Mauri was determined not to sleep.
By the time the hour hand on the clock reached one, Mauri's eyes started to hurt. They didn't exactly make her want to shut them, like they usually did, but they felt irritated and she kept scratching them. She tried her best to keep her eyes open but eventually it was too much, and she felt herself slipping away.
Mauri was in tears when the bus dropped her off in front of the hospital. At the desk she requested the doctor, and was directed to his room. She barged in without knocking and threw the box of dreamcatchers onto his desk. "You're stupid treatment didn't work!" She screamed.
He didn't even seemed fazed by her outburst and he met her gaze calmly.
"What's wrong with me?" Mauri yelled, her voice shaking. "Why does this happen to me? It's not natural!"
The doctor sighed and took a seat, gesturing for her to do the same. "I suppose I at least owe you an explanation," He said, raising an eyebrow.
Mauri took the seat across from him. "Yes."
The doctor sighed again and swiveled in his chair so that he faced a large window looking out at the clear, sunny sky. "Almost a full century ago, sleep was a normal process of life," He began. "Every living person slept on a daily basis and it was completely socially acceptable." The doctor must have noticed her skeptical expression because he laughed. "Oh, it sounds ridiculous alright, but it's true! They even built objects solely for the purpose of making sleep comfortable- beds, they were called- and every person that could afford one owned one.
"Back then they only had vague theories and ideas about why people slept- even today a proven purpose of sleep has yet to be discovered. But one day a scientist thought, what if people didn't have to sleep? How much faster could things be accomplished if no one ever had to stop? How much better would things be? Time is the one thing, they say, that no one ever has enough of, but the average person back then spent a third of the entire year sleeping- just imagine adding a third onto a year, how much extra time that would give people!
He turned back to face her, and when she didn't speak he went on. "Everyone loved his idea; it was truly ingenious. A project was funded, to try and train people how to never sleep, through drugs and therapy. Those experimented on could never stay awake for more than a week or so without nearly dying of exhaustion. So they began to think outside of the box. What chemicals in the brain induce sleep? Can they be countered with anything? And finally the answer was found: a way to stop the brain from producing melatonin and adenosine and all of those other hormones that caused us to sleep. People everywhere rushed to get the shot. And it worked. For the first time ever, people had eight extra hours in their day to spend doing whatever they wanted. Just imagine that kind of change in the world..."
"Stop it," Mauri said shakily, standing up in her seat. "I don't want to hear anymore." At first she'd thought that he was just playing some kind of trick on her, but the more he spoke the more she started to believe that it was all real, and the more horrified she became.
The doctor just ignored her and continued on as if she hadn't said anything. " Oh, there was some mild chaos in the beginning of course, but it was all solved quickly. Schedules were rearranged, traditions altered- everyone was adjusted in a flash."
And when those who'd taken the shot had children, those children didn't even need to get the shot themselves! The alteration in their parents' genes had been passed on to them, and now the rest is history. Today people can hardly remember time when they had to rest for a fraction of their day, when they had to dream. It was all just a silly waste of time. There's hardly a human left alive today who still sleeps, except perhaps in the more uncivilized regions of the world."
"Stop it!" Mauri screamed, backing away from his desk now. "Stop talking!"
He grinned at Mauri's aghast expression and stood up, slowly walking towards her as she backed towards the door. "There are exceptions, like you, of course. For some reason or other, the gene was not passed into your DNA and you instinctively have the human urge to sleep. But the thing is, when people like you were given the original treatment, it didn't work. Perhaps there's also something passed down in your genes that makes you immune to it, but no matter. The best we can do for you is the dreamcatchers, contacts with chemicals that will at least prevent you from sleeping for a few extra hours."
Mauri felt frozen, but she finally managed to speak. "That's awful," she exclaimed. She closed her eyes and recalled the tired expression of her parents when they arrived home from work every day, how her sister went from school to sports to hanging out with friends and back again, sometimes without even coming home. Did any of them even realize when one day turned into the next? Or was it all just one interminable moment in time to them? "Awful..." She repeated quietly.
Mauri was across the room now and she opened the door- a man and woman stood in the doorframe, blocking her way.
"I've already alerted the authorities," He explained as she took in the military uniforms they were wearing. Mauri tried shoving her way past the two people, but they grabbed her arms and held her where she was.
"Such a shame," The doctor said, as if he was truly disappointed. "I thought that perhaps you'd be willing to aid us in the search of finding your cure?" Mauri didn't reply and instead continued to thrash in her captors' arms, but their strong grip held her in place. The doctor began to pull something out of his sleeve and Mauri stopped for a moment to see what it was.
She stared at her reflection in the syringe's glass tube for a moment before resuming her struggle to escape harder than before. She couldn't stop staring at the glinting needle as he brought it to the skin on her arm.
"No," She gasped out. All her life Mauri had hated how she was always sleeping, always different, but now she was finally starting to understand it. Would this shot cause her to never sleep again, or cause her to fall asleep one last time, never to wake again?
The doctor pressed and the needle sunk into her skin.