Once upon a time there was a country whose people accrued an enormous collective sleep deficit because they were always at work, willing to endure perpetual bleariness to keep productivity high.
But when their fatigue finally became so intense that they would occasionally find themselves drifting off into the sky, it became clear to the Committee in Charge of Emergencies that something had to be done.
And so a retrieval team trekked to the Storehouse of Sleep and braved its darkness, only to find that the great mounds and drifts of unused slumber were not only rotting but had metamorphosed into tiny translucent worms.
In the face of this disaster, what could the travelers do but scoop up samples of these creatures and carry them home to be placed in a viewing tank?
The citizens, all hanging onto each other in case of sudden buoyancy, waited in line for a glimpse.
“Alas, our sleep, our dear lost sleep,” everyone sobbed, as the worms shriveled as though ready to die.
But after a brief season of this apparent desiccation, the specimens began sprouting what seemed to be thread-like tendrils or filaments, also translucent, which grew swiftly until the tank was webbed with this substance that could not be identified as vegetable, animal, or mineral.
Now the people began to be afraid.
After all, no one truly understands the nature of sleep, and this mutation that had sprung from it—very possibly comprised of all their undreamt nightmares—was even more mysterious.
Contained, the stuff was probably harmless enough, but what if it were to break through the glass to send out toxins or smother the population?
The suggestion arose—and was quickly suppressed—that perhaps they all deserved such a fate, having thwarted sleep’s purpose, interfering with the natural order.
After agitated deliberations, the Committee in Charge of Emergencies decided to take preemptive action: the substance would have to be destroyed while still in this nascent phase.
As if the tank was filled with incubating flames, it fell to the fire-fighters to unseal it and reach in, no doubt because of their enviable, state-of-the-art protective gloves.
The webbing itself was so silky they could scarcely hold onto it, but as it slipped from their fingers, instead of wafting off into the breeze, it plunged to the ground, emitting an eerie keening sound and attempting to burrow into the soil, for it experienced this alien freedom as a kind of torment.
The crowd took a few steps back, horrified, but the head of the Committee cried out in jubilation: suddenly, he had a plan!
And now the sleep-webs are cultivated, harvested, and processed, so that clumps of it can be stitched into fabric casings which are then attached to the citizens’ shoulders.
Ceaselessly questing downward, the web-stuff counteracts the anti-gravitational effects of chronic exhaustion.
Its uncanny lamentation continually fills the air, but nobody minds, since any noise one hears without respite soon becomes, for all practical purposes, inaudible.
Thus, everyone remains both permanently awake and successfully terrestrial, maintaining quotas.
Wings to keep people on the ground! See how even the most intractable problems contain their own solutions?
Claire Bateman | Mudlark No. 44 (2011) Contents | Pre-Headache