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art by Steven R. Stewart

Blink

Carol Hassler loves fantasy and science fiction and usually dreams in the genre. She is a master at walking down busy sidewalks while reading and could go to the Olympics for it one day--if it was ever admitted as a sport. You can follow her sporadic updates at twitter.com/dreamysusan.
"Sleep. Six to eight hours a day, three hundred and sixty-five days of the year. Adds up to a lot of time, right?" Diana Tregald swung her hand up like a conductor and her audience murmured its assent. "But if we have learned nothing from SleepNote's meteoric rise and crash these past two years, it is that we need sleep. It is, in fact, a biological imperative. Essential to rebuild ourselves both physically and mentally."
She paused the presentation on a collage of headlines: Sleep Drug Blamed for Office Shooting; Elephant Made Me Do it, Man Claims; 1.5 Million Dead from Stress-Related Disease; Memory Loss Treatment at All-Time High.
"We evolved on twenty-four hours and the cycle of night and day." The screen featured a breathtaking animation of the Earth spinning slowly under a half-curtain of darkness.
"But there is still time to be found. Time we can take back."
The screen froze on an image of a woman's tilted face, lips slightly parted and eyes closed as though in ecstasy.
"The average blink," she said, "is one two-hundredth of a second long." The audience tittered and she smiled serenely. "Doesn't sound like much, does it? Blinking closes your eyes for only a handful of seconds out of every minute. It's pennies."
An analog clock superimposed over the woman's face began to slowly tick. "But it adds up. Every hour, you'll lose at least six minutes of active sight--active awareness--to blinking. And why do we blink? Is it to moisten the eyes? Does it aid in memory? International studies have come up empty. But still we blink and as we do, we lose nearly two waking hours every day to darkness."
At this the lights in the room dramatically cut. Gasps, and even a little scream erupted from the audience.
The lights came on again. "One two-hundredth of a second," Diana said in her sultriest voice. "Of darkness. And your mind," she snapped her fingers, "edits it out. Gone."
The audience sat absolutely quiet and still, even when the upbeat background music began to swell from the sound system. Attendants dressed in the trademark chartreuse strolled down the aisle with baskets of free samples.
"But there is a way to reclaim that time." She lifted her hands like a priestess. "With LiteTime supplements, you can finally find more time for work. For enjoying the day. For family. For fun. Get out of the darkness. Step into the light. With LiteTime."
The crowd erupted in applause.
Later, as the investors and press milled happily at the reception, Diana slipped through a side door into an empty corridor. Everyone still left at LiteTime would be at the reception or locked away in their offices. She reveled in the quiet respite of the empty hallways after the crushing crowd.
SleepNote had enjoyed one full year of prosperity before it was taken down by its ill effects. If Diana was lucky, LiteTime could stay hot for another three years on top of that. After all, side effects only seemed to happen in a tenth of a percent of the population. Diana would be out of the company by then, relaxing on her own private island.
A twisted red beast appeared in the hallway, gilded horns glinting from a bulbous, bristly head. It grinned at her in the flash of a second during which it appeared, and then it was gone.
Diana politely side-stepped around where it had hunched and continued on to her office to get her purse. She, like the other small minority of early adopters, found that there could be such a thing as seeing too much. Fortunately, those side effects faded the farther she was from other people. Until then, she was prepared to keep a firm, but polite distance from the demons that slunk around their world unseen.
Besides, it wasn't every day that the next big industrial boom revealed itself. Diana grabbed her purse, turned out her office light, and made her way to her car. As she did so, she toyed with brand names. Demon-B-Gone? Exor-Rite? She shrugged and began to hum lightly to herself. She had some time to figure it out.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, July 6th, 2011


This story was written all in a rush one night but it rattled around as a daydream for a few days beforehand. This is the first of several intended writing exercises inspired by the excellent Radiolab podcast (radiolab.org). Those who like their science with a good dose of story should definitely check it out.

- Carol Hassler

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