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Draws Her From This Sleep

JT is a 22 year old who lives in Virginia and writes in worlds of his own. His work has appeared in Nanoism, Cease, Cows, Every Day Fiction, and The Molotov Cocktail, where he won the 2015 Flash Fool contest. You can follow him on twitter @jt3_gill. This is his first professional sale.

They hug for what will be the last time.
Her feet dangle in the air as he takes her in his arms on the brick steps out front. He tries not to cry, to bring her down. Instead, he buries his face deeper in her shoulder, savoring the smell of her hair. She wants this more than anything, he knows. More than him.
Finally, she gets in the dark Cadillac parked in the driveway. The window rolls down as they cruise away, and he can see that she is smiling, waving from the passenger seat.
Commitment begins, he thinks.
Inside the house, he runs his hand over the sleek glass of the jump-pod. This is the vessel that he is supposed to spend the next forty-five years inside.
He wonders whether it is harder to commit to skipping a lifetime for another, or waiting a lifetime.
In her mind, the plan was simple.
After the launch, she would climb into her own pod and skip the journey, along with the others on board. Time travel is impossible, but time jumping is simple. An engineered unconsciousness over a period of time, allowing a person to sleep for years. Their dreams would be tweaked along the way. That is how they would receive their training.
And in order that the pain would not be so hard on him, he would climb into his own pod and wait. Wait for her.
It is easy for her to ask so much of him when she understands so little.
His tears land with little patters on the glass door of the pod. He wipes his eyes and walks away.
Commitment registers pain. It doesn't avoid it.
His faded blue pickup hits ninety miles an hour on the highway after he hears the news.
The ship, the one that was supposed to usher in a new age of space travel, her ship, did not even make it into the air.
At the hospital, they tell him only one survived. They're not yet sure who.
He waits outside, running his hands through his hair, praying, waiting, and registering pain.
Finally, a thin man in blue scrubs emerges.
The doctor tells him that she is the one who is alive, barely. It is a miracle. He is overcome with joy and sadness as the family members of the others are reduced to tears and sobs.
He hugs the doctor, crying into his shoulder, but the doctor pries him away. There is something else to say.
She will never be able to fly again.
He stumbles to his knees and cries, because he knows that her heart will be broken. And therefore, his heart is broken.
There is nothing she wants more. Not even him.
A year passes. She does not awake from the coma.
He visits her every day. Reads to her by the side of her hospital bed. Sings to her. He cuts her hair. After a year, they watch the ball drop on TV.
He kisses her on the cheek, and realizes how much older she has grown after so long.
And he cries at home, watching the tears streak down the sides of the glass.
When she wakes, there is little that she recognizes.
The ship is gone. She sits in a hospital bed alone. When she sees her reflection in the blackness of the dead TV mounted on the wall, she screams.
For so long, she expected to be older. She had prepared for it. The training. They had plotted what she would look like, and she had stared at the pictures for months.
But this reflection is not her. This reflection is still young.
The nurses come running in. She's awake. They call him.
The explaining takes hours. She cries through all of it. The tears stain the blankets.
She does not understand why he is awake. He was supposed to sleep, she says. She screams at him. He was supposed to sleep.
He does not tell her that she will never be able to fly again. Not yet.
He can't.
She recovers quickly, though it is painful. The burns on her legs have left nasty scars. The physical therapy is difficult, but she is determined.
Within a month, she comes back to the house with him.
And she starts training. In a year, she will be able to fly again, she says. She fills the house with books, and she reads all of them, training, preparing.
He watches her every day, and he cannot sleep at night. A letter arrives at the house. A letter of dismissal from the space program. He hides it.
Sometimes, he wishes he would have slept.
It is not long after that he cannot bear it any longer, and he shows her the letter.
At first she thinks he is joking, and does not look up from her books. But when she realizes, she screams. Screams at him for everything. Collapses in her screams.
He cries himself, knowing how much she wanted to go. He tries to take her in his arms, his little girl, tries to hold her close. But she will have none of it.
She runs to the jump-pod inside the house, and before he can stop her, she is inside, and threatening him. She'll set it for a thousand years ahead. She'll never wake.
He beats against the glass. He cries aloud. He begs her not to, but she only shouts back from the other side. She blames him for not sleeping. He would not have to endure this pain if he had just slept.
So he tells her that commitment is love, and love is pain, and risk, and strength, and growth, and sacrifice, and living for another. To skip those things is nothing.
To suffer them is everything.
And he tells her that he loves her.
What force it is, irresistible, that draws her from this sleep.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

Author Comments

The idea for this came to me while I was in class. I worked out some of the main points of the story in my notebook and then typed it up when I got back to my dorm. I'm sure it looked like I was taking studious notes on the lecture, but I was actually listening to my muse.

- JT Gill
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