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Perchance to Dream

Forrest Brazeal is a software engineer, writer, and cartoonist based in rural Virginia. This is his second story for Daily Science Fiction.

"Tell me your secret," I said.
Mara smiled. "I don't sleep," she said. Sun streamed through the windows of the library, turning her hair to fire.
"We're college students," I pointed out, thumping my textbook shut. "None of us sleep. But you're the one with the good grades."
Mara regarded me calculatingly for a moment, then reached into her purse and drew out a small white bottle. "Sleep pills. I bought them on the Internet. They're not totally legal here." She tucked the bottle away again with a deft motion of her hand.
"Sleeping pills help you study?"
"Not sleeping pills, dumdum. Sleep pills." She enunciated with wide-stretched cheeks. "One caplet contains eight hours of rest. All the benefits of a refreshing night with none of the time commitment."
"So they're caffeine pills."
"No--it's nothing like that. They make the stuff from some hormone. It's literally sleep in a bottle."
"That can't be healthy," I said.
She shrugged, letting out a small cackle. "I haven't been to bed in six weeks, and I feel great. I'm so far ahead on my classes."
I stared at her. Her eyes looked a little sunken, her cheeks a bit drawn, but that could just have been the late afternoon shadows. "If you're so far ahead, you can quiz me," I said finally.
I caught up with Mara in the quadrangle. She was walking a little more rapidly than usual, her book bag whacking against the backs of her legs.
"Hey," I said, a bit out of breath. "Are you still not sleeping?"
She flinched at the sound of my voice, half turned, and laughed. "Who needs sleep?" she said. "I'm the most productive I've ever been. I've finished all my homework for the semester, and now I'm working on grad school applications. Do you think I should learn Chinese?"
I lengthened my steps as she continued to hurry along. "Don't you miss... you know, being asleep?" I asked. "Just the fundamental experience of it?"
"No," she said. Then, after a pause: "I miss dreaming. A little bit."
She turned a corner abruptly and disappeared.
"You look terrible," I said frankly.
We sat with our backs against the stairwell in the student commons, sharing almonds out of a bag. Mara's eyes were red and puffy. She glanced constantly from side to side like a jittery forest creature, huddling close against me as she scrabbled in the bag.
"I think I'm going to quit the pills," she said. "Or at least cut back. Save them for a few all-nighters."
"I thought not sleeping was the greatest thing ever," I said.
"The thing is," said Mara, "when you don't sleep, your dreams come out to play."
I thought about this for a minute. "Like, daydreams?" I asked.
"All kinds," she said. "Nightmares, mostly. They don't stay in my head anymore. They follow me around, on paw feet and claw feet."
"You're hallucinating," I said.
"Of course," she agreed. She fumbled in her purse and came up with a single white capsule. She sliced it in half with her thumb, popped one piece in her mouth, and held out the rest to me. "Catnap?"
Mara didn't show up to her lecture class on Monday morning. She didn't answer her phone, and none of her roommates had seen her in more than a day. I got scared and called campus police.
They found her at the bottom of a ravine behind the practice fields. Dew had soaked her hoodie and washed the dark stains from her head. The police say she jumped, and that given the amount of unidentifiable junk in her bloodstream, she probably never felt a thing.
At the top of the ravine, in the loose gravel, were tracks of some kind--pawprints. The police don't know what she thought she was running from. Neither do I.
But I've dreamt about it.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, July 12th, 2018
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