Thursday, 4 August 2011

The Unsleepers by Jonathan Pinnock

Carlos had been working in the Sleep Deprivation Unit for six years – longer than anyone else, in fact. According to rumour, he’d joined only a few months after it had started up.

“So did you know Jeffreys?” I’d said. In the silence that followed, I learnt the golden rule of SDU: you don’t talk about Jeffreys. Ever.

After a while, Carlos forgave me and became a kind of mentor to me. Obviously in those days I couldn’t aspire to the kind of times he was putting in – none of us could – but I tried my best. And every now and then he would give away – as if by accident – one of his secrets.

“Surrender to the dreams,” was one of his sayings. He’d been awake for just over a week.

“What do you mean?” I said.

“Let me introduce you to my friend here,” he said, jerking an arm to his left.

There was no-one there.

“Go on,” said Carlos. “Say hi.”

“Hi?” I said. For a moment, I thought I really did imagine someone but it passed in an

instant. Then again, I’d only been up for a day and a half myself.

“This guy has taught me everything I know,” said Carlos.

“OK,” I said. “But – ?”

Carlos looked me straight in the eye. “He’s a fucking genius,” he said. “He’s … he’s …

what’s the word? I dunno … it’s … yeah, and you can shut it, you can, motherfucker!” This was directed at the empty space on his right.

“Are you all – ?” I said.

“I’m fine. Fine. Gimme something to work on. I’m ready.”

Some of the things Carlos came up with were extraordinary. He found cures for all kinds of obscure conditions, solutions to long-standing mathematical conundrums and some of the most exquisite fashion designs I’d ever seen. His capacity was immense, his value to the corporation incalculable.

But one day – night? – whatever – he suddenly stood up and said, “Enough.”

“Enough?” I said. The word wasn’t in Carlos’ vocabulary.

“I wasn’t talking to you,” he said. Then he turned to me and said, “I have had enough of this place, though. Time to go.”

“You can’t mean it.”

“I can. And he says so too.” He gestured with his hand. The guy on his left nodded. It was nice to meet him finally. “He’ll show you what to do,” said Carlos.

I’d been warned about this moment, but Carlos was too quick. He pushed past me and raced over to the window. In one movement he’d opened it and leapt out. I caught up with him just in time to see his body vanishing out of sight.

“So is flying really like sex?” I called down to him.

“Too fucking right!” he shouted back at me. It was the last thing I ever heard him say.

I went back and sat down. It was only much later that I remembered we were on the ground floor. My training was complete, and Carlos knew it.

About the author:

Jonathan Pinnock has had over a hundred stories and poems published in places both illustrious and downright insalubrious. He has also won quite a few prizes and has had work broadcast on the BBC. His novel "Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens" will be published by Proxima Books in Fall 2011, followed not long after in 2012 by his Scott Prize-winning debut collection of short stories, "Dot(.), Dash(-)", courtesy of Salt. He blogs at and he tweets as @jonpinnock. Mrs Darcy's own much nicer website may be found at

Photo: Bazylek