Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Red Sleep

This is an excerpt from a novel I wrote years ago that has been stuck in rewrite hell ever since. Right now it's near the bottom of the list of projects I'm working on, but I think it's worth a look as it is.



You don’t want to get caught up in the Red Sleep, the violence that spreads like a virus. When it happens, human assets are lost, valuable property gets damaged, vital resources for the endless war effort are wasted and feelings get hurt.  It’s the worst in the summer, when the thermal inversions come and the heat seems to drive people into it. But here it was in the early days of winter, a chill in the air competing with the comforting warmth of the air pollution, and I was walking right into it. All because of my busy fucking mind. Too much time, ticking away.

The thing is, you can usually avoid the Red Sleep, unless people fall under the spell right next you, in which case you’re basically in for it. The only hope then is to either fight your way out, meaning you become a part of the Red Sleep yourself for all practical purposes, or to try to find some safety in the eye of the storm, so to speak, as the punching, beating, killing and possibly even foul language spreads out in a radius in all directions.

If you’re not caught in the initial flare-up, you should be fine, since random mob brawls are still enough of a novelty even in this day and age to be easily noted from a distance. This is why the typical Sleep only lasts a few minutes. Everyone involved is either on the fucking cement bleeding out like a pig or simply has no one to attack. Then the safe, highly profitable and fulfilling life we lead in the D-Zone can resume. Industry for victory, friends. We are winning!

No problem at all. I can solve the world’s problems without even trying.

Expect I’d crawled up into my head and all awareness was gone. It was worse because it was morning, well early afternoon really, but I just woke up and perception is reality. I still had bleary eyes and the dream trance that follows you out of bed until you eat and get some of the old Vitamin C, that is caffeine. I could barely feel the concrete beneath the old burglar boots I was wearing. People passed like ghosts, faces a blur. My eyes lingered in the strangest of places. Trash blowing in the wind, a jet whistling by overhead, an ancient peeling poster blasted yellow by the endless assault of the elements. It could still be read, barely:

“You can smack a Jap with scrap!”

Or get fucking smacked in the Red Sleep.

Within that numbing haze was the old inner voice, babbling away nonstop about things that seemed so important before I found myself fighting to survive. Beauty, truth, meaning, the fucking face of God, all that shit. It was like letting a room behind my eyes to some stuffed-suit professor. Take good notes, you will be tested.

Even worse the beautiful music that is the soundtrack of my life was droning away on top of it. The songs that always seem to be playing in Ronny joints and from fucking stairwell speakers had burrowed their way into the well-folded gray soil and started spreading out roots, throbbing away deep below the surface. This time it was “Too Much Time on My Hands,” which was actually rather apropos. “I got nothing to do and all day to do it.” Tell me about it. No kidding.

In between the very cool and highly insightful popular music, my internal dialogue kept droning on. Thoughts about going no where, what the future would hold and what I needed to do to make it. Just worthless shit. It took a fist bouncing off my god damn skull to act as an alarm clock, if you can handle that. Back to a state of nature, back to the only real truth. An explosion of color was followed by a wave of pain washing everything away.

Everything was a blur as I acted on animal instinct, reduced from any high-minded introspection back to the part of the mind we share with reptiles and all of that.  With my vision blurring from the five to the face I managed to make a cowardly retreat from the field of diseased honor. Showing the mighty power of self-preservation that carried the human animal through ice ages and so on I ducked behind a very convenient door. I held it shut with my shoulder and arm, pressing against the cold metal and looking through the small heavily stained glass window to the outside. I felt a sliver of rust scrape off against my arm as I applied supreme effort for the cause of preserving the self. My heart hammered in my ears and my wind returned in painful gasps.

I didn’t ask for this shit.

The good news was none of the Sleepers even bothered to try the door. In that state anything except swinging, biting and ripping is pretty much out of the question. As I watched, rubbing the growing bruise on the side of my filled-to-the-brim head, it was already winding up. Three bodies lay in growing pools of blood, two on the sidewalk and the third near the center of the narrow street. A handful of walking wounded hobbled away. The bright red on the ground was so striking in contrast to the dull colors that otherwise dominated, as if it was a touch of an artist.

In the D-Zone you notice colors, or at least the lack thereof. Do you have any idea how many different shades of gray and brown there are? If you live in the D-Zone you do, because those are for the most part the only colors you see. I’ve been told the Eskimos had nine different words for snow in their language. We need some more words for brown and gray. Even the air here is a mix of those colors. The blood on the street is almost a refreshing break from it all.

You can call me Sid. My full name is actually Sidney, but I never use it. It’s too soft, don’t you agree? Here in the D-Zone you can’t afford to show weakness, any more than you can afford to walk down the street lost in your thoughts with eyes full of morning dew. Sooner or later, this place will kill you.

I want it to be later. That’s why I was dealing in Thremeron. That’s why I had soldiers fighting for me in this fucking sewer. Most importantly, that’s why I needed to shut up the voice in my head.

It just wouldn’t go away. Even after coming close to painting the street with my ruined body the internal voice was back at it. I almost wished I’d be attacked again, to silence it, to return to the level of a beast. Give me a sensation, any sensation. I want to feel something again besides the endless numbness and apathy that wraps around me like  a cloak, chilling instead of warming.

Is it any wonder I’m not a criminal? Is it any wonder…

I was still looking at the blood on the ground.

“If you ain’t buying, get the fuck out!”

Slowly normalcy returned as the pulse in my ears hammering out a message of panic to the rest of my body in Morse code slowed and the flash of heat that danger brings faded. I turned to face the interior of the building. As luck would have it, I was just where I needed to be, more or less. A brute of a man, all fur, leather and muscles, glowered at me. Beefy hands wrapped in yellowed tape and worn bandages told the tale of many non-verbal interactions with potential patrons.

“Yeah, I’m buying.”

One last glance at the used up shells of mortality. They were still there and probably would be for awhile. Crisis over, back to normal. What could be better than the sweet embrace of the routine?


Aaron Zehner's first novel The Foolchild Invention is available in e-book format at and Barnes & Noble.

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