1. From Sleep

What do you read, my lord?
Words, words, words.
What is the matter, my lord?

Words have power.

A blackened tower of cracked and broken stone, whose vines have turned to rusted iron, a lone finger reaching out to brush the face of god.

It seems almost disingenuous for a person to pen those words themselves, to express that idea in the medium, as though to satisfy some yearning need for the man who writes to be as important as the man who shoots or the man who fights. Words having power is no new idea – it’s a notion that has lasted as long as sand has, and sand, if you ask it, will tell you that it has been around for a very long time.

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And in each teenager there is the memory so dim as to go unremembered, is the time when every single particle of their bodies lived in the heart of a star. Thoughts of when fire danced all around and everything was light – these thoughts are rare, in the doldrums of a society and a life which rubs and erodes, slowly and steadily, against everything that you do.

Consider if you will the word sleep.”

Holland’s head slowly rose up off the desk, heel of a hand finding eyesocket with a blind groping motion that bespoke a morning bed rather than a midafternoon class. Almost as if Mrs Cale was quite pointedly directing that sentiment at her sleeping student. What had been overlaying English lessons in the background track of a student’s dreams became words, pulling a brown head up from its desk and letting green, dull eyes blink into wakefulness.

“Oh, well, hey there, Holland. Are you okay?” Mrs Cale asked, hunkering down slightly. She was being nice – just nice! – and kept her head canted to the side, surveying the look of a student. “I mean, if you’re falling asleep in class, maybe you should head to the nurse’s office-”

“Mfine,” the blurt came back. “Mean…” Around in the classroom, a low rumble of laughter flowed. It was the same as it had been back in grade school, and the only real change was the pitch of the laugh. It was just an adolescent voice of mockery, a primal sound that spoke without words and merely gave an intonation through the scraps of syllables that wafted to the top of the soundwave. “I mean, I’m just tired.”

“You really should get some more sleep at home, you know? It’s important at your age,” Mrs Cale repeated, reaching out to pat Holland’s arm.

One of the strangest things for a teenager was to encounter absolutely genuine sincerity. Mrs Cale wanted Holland to be okay, and unlike say, Mr Hopper, didn’t say what she said because she was trying to ridicule, or to use that familiar sting of adolescent embarrassment to underscore a valuable lesson about not falling asleep in class and managing one’s schedules.

Shrinking back, collar of school uniform shirt brushing up beneath ears, Holland considered the black t-shirt with its decepticon logo that was a lone splash of individuality against the school uniform code. Outside, the incessant drone of cicadas faded in over the top of the quieting students and Holland tried to remember the thought process that had chosen to wear two layers of clothing even when the first steps outside this morning had spoken of oppressive summer heat that would make the last weeks of school all the more toxic. Heat settled in the demountable classroom like a large wet sock, draped over the collective of students, with not a boy or girl amongst them able to sit truly comfortably.

As though perched between a desert and a sea, the school seemed to have precisely no shade, and fans that did nothing but send hot, fetid air in pyrrhic cycles. To stand beneath one as it started was a brief respite, something Holland could enjoy for its fleeting moment, then remain disappointed beneath as the experience got worse. In this regard, it was a lot like drugs, which made the entire experience seem a lot less interesting than that Heath Ledger film had made it out to be.

To stand in a school room in 2012 and watch a movie from 1999, in the last weeks of English class before Mrs Cale, full of enthusiasm and misplaced faith in her students’ abilities to focus this close to Christmas, was a mirror of every other school year-end Holland had experienced. This year, instead of making trouble, though, thanks to finally graduating to a bedroom with a door that closed and a computer that connected to the internet overnight, Holland’s school days were spent catching up on sleep that had been ignored when it would normally be seen as appropriate. An lifestyle as a system administrator or night shift manager seemed to be rolling out into the future, and Holland wasn’t sure how much the idea appealed.

Mrs Cale was still waiting for her answer, concerned face tilted, moonlike, radiating that same sincerity that still had most of the class completely baffled. Mrs Cale was in her thirties, wasn’t that old, and had apparently, an XBox 360 box in her car which was normally full of craft supplies. Yet she carried herself like a schoolmarm in some of the older books they had to study, and English class never seemed to feature something other than an old classic.

“Mfine,” Holland murmured, sitting up straighter. Focus on doing something with your hands, said the defensive hind brain, adjust your shirt, tug it forwards. Make sure you’re not just sitting here like a lemon.

Mrs Cale stood up, smiling. “Alright, alright, then, everyone. So, we were talking about – hahah, how appropriate, Holland, we were talking about sleep. Now, in most classical fiction, sleep was used as a metaphor for death, such as in the Bible, or in the Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. Sleep is used as a way to describe death -”

“So Holland died?” Called a voice from the back of the class.

Holland shifted uncomfortably. Lank brown hair fell into green eyes that had always been called ‘enchanted emerald’ by mum, and green by Holland. Swimming gave those shoulders a shape underneath the shirt that complemented the sharklike hips and profile. In many ways, Holland was a decent human, but much better as a fish. Yet, nobody seemed to notice what summers, springs, and autumns full of exercise had done for Holland, because of the big chunky black glasses and that expression that permanently set at the emote “: \” Fact is, none of the swimming had given Holland the shape that everyone else in school thought it should.

“Now now, be nice. Besides, death is sometimes a metaphor for a great change – such as in the Tarot, and when we talk about the ‘death of the Roman Empire.’ I mean, Rome’s still there, and the Roman people are – we just call them Italians, now. We bring ourselves back from that death when we wake up – and thus we can see how death connects to life, which connects to major, amazing changes – revolutionary changes, even.”

Holland ran one hand through that brown hair, tugging it backwards, resetting the ponytail and trying to adapt to the unpleasant state of being entirely awake. It was embarrassing when Mrs Cale stepped into the realm of history or geography, because she always got something wrong… and hell, with the weather the way it was, nobody was willing to correct her. Really, the class just wanted to mimic Holland, put heads down and let the day end so they could be one more day closer to the end of term.

Outside, the heat and humidity’s work of the day had finally hit its feverish peak, where the skies turned blue-black and started to churn with weight. The breaking of the afternoon brought with it a fresh new load of hot water to add to the mist, but for the moment of walking, the water was going to cool things down.

“What, uh,” Holland paused, biting a pencap and looking to Mrs Cale’s face. “Um, we were doing the review, and you quoted Hamlet,”

“Yes,” Mrs Cale said, nodding. “Polonius and Hamlet discussing-’

“Yeah, yeah, and Ozymandias,” Holland said, brown hair dancing with a headshake. Something rattling around between the ears wasn’t quite connecting properly.

“Mm-hm, and then I started on about Sleep.”

“Hm? Nothing about… about a black tower?”

A laugh from the class, a this time with more of a relieved sound to it. This was as good a way to eat time in the class – the clock’s arms reached for the bell, getting oh-so-close that a few minutes watching Holland revise was as good a way to fill them as anything.

That’s when the sky tore asunder and a purple brooding eye rent the fabric of the horizon, blinking for just one long instant, closing, and pulling the clouds back in, against the space it had been, yea verily, even unto the seventh sign.

Holland sat up sharply at that. Standing up fast enough to send a chair bowling back into a classmate’s goofing hands, hands pressed to the window and face up at the sky, Holland whipped around to look at the arrayed, silent class, who were now staring with strangely patient eyes.

“Um.” Holland murmured. “Did… did anyone else see…?”

“Holland, mate…?” Called one of the … the black-haired ones, with the spiky hair who wore his collar popped like he could make himself into a Jersey Shore contestant by force of pretentsion. “You… you know you woke up, right?”

Holland stood, eyebrows knitting together, still staring up at the clouds, as Mrs Cale brought that reassuring presence wobbling back around, outside of Holland’s clear field of vision. “Uh, Mrs Cale, can I-”

“Yeah, I think… I think you should go talk to the nurse, Holland. Do you want me to come with you?” A snigger ran up around that. “Or are you okay to get there on your own?”

“I… think I’ll be okay, Mrs Cale.” Holland offered, stepping out of the demountable, leaving behind schoolbag, books, homework, and starting a staggering path off to the central office. The first spits of rain came down, and that brought with it a burst of speed. Glasses began to stain with watery droplets as Holland swallowed down the strangest of thoughts.

What if the world woke up, and nobody noticed?

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