Sleeper

by E.M. Killaley

Derrick wriggled his arms free first, then felt for the buckles around his legs.  Sometimes when he woke up in the morning, he forgot where he was.  He would open his eyes in the darkness and ponder going back to sleep, just for a little while, until the sun came up; then he remembered he wouldn’t see it, and he would feel the confines of the sack around his body.

He straightened his clothes and pushed the cubby door open.  ‘Hello?’

The sleeping quarters were oddly empty.  He hadn’t noticed when he was behind the door, but now the silence seemed too obvious to not have.

He reached up for the door way and pressed against it, lifting himself up the corridor to the communal area, which was also vacant.  Through one of the windows he could see they were passing over India.

‘That place gave me the shits like you wouldn’t believe,’ Ed had said when they had gone by the first time.  That was the night Karen had switched Ed’s toothpaste with a tube of meat paste, a trick he’d apparently pulled on her before.  Ed had already started brushing before he realized, and grinned a wide, meaty smile.

Derrick pushed himself down the next passageway, to the main control area.  He could feel the panic beginning to curdle his stomach.

‘Hello?’ he said as he floated into the room.  A panel on the far wall was blinking red.  He pushed off for it, and read:  AIR LOCK RESTORED.  He hurried back to the window, before he remembered you couldn’t see the ship from there.

Ed swore he never missed the sun when he woke up.  But he’d been on the station before, slept suspended for weeks in another time.  ‘Just like being on a cloud,’ Ed would say.  Derrick thrashed in his sleep, hanging encased like a sausage in his booth.  Before long his ankles and knees were bruised, and Ed slipped him a bottle of pills with a sympathetic smile.

‘Oh, I’m fine—’ he tried to protest.

‘No, these will help.’  Ed’s eyes seemed to say, We’ve heard you.

The hours between sleep were easier.  They did their work, exercised, and ate.  When the conditions and timing were right, they video chatted with people back home.

‘Don’t oversleep,’ Ed had reminded him the night before.

Derrick stared around the empty station.  ‘Hello?’ he said, more quietly this time.  They couldn’t have.  Outside the world was passing, remote and distant.  He knew there was no sound, but in his ears there was a rushing, like water, a river coursing by, leaving him behind.

A sigh of air resounded from the control room.  Derrick turned slowly towards it.

‘Gotcha!’ Ed cackled, hands held pointing at him like guns.

Derrick stared back at him.

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