This is a very rough piece for Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge this week. We had to “figure insomnia” into our stories. It was fun coming up with the idea, and I did a little research. Probably still got some facts wrong.
The Insomnia Project
Valley was a nobody. A meth-addled, low life, scum of the earth loser with jacked up teeth. She was the skeleton in skin sheets that everyone tried hard not to look at. As far as anyone was concerned, she’d be better off dead than walking among them, breathing their air and drinking their water. No one could have guessed she would be the one to save the human race.
Five years after its discovery, BOZ-1 had claimed the lives of over two million people. The parasite caused extreme fatigue, eventually leading its victims to sleep until they died. Nothing worked. Treatments were useless. Hospitals were overwhelmed. The CDC had thrown up its hands. Researchers were at a loss. And now the parasite was spreading faster.
Valley hadn’t thought much of it. People die. She watched both her parents overdose; one from heroine, the other from cocaine. Her best friend was shot in the back during a foiled up robbery. Her boyfriend was killed in a car accident. Valley had completely given up on forming bonds with anyone. Fuck it. They’ll just die anyway.
She stepped into the clinic’s doors, a back pack slung over her shoulder, wearing a dress three sizes too big for her. The straps kept falling down, and her nipples played peek-a-boo with anyone who noticed her. It was time for her HIV check up. She got one once a year—not really for herself. The one good thing about Valley was she refused to be responsible for anyone’s death, and that included passing on a deadly virus.
The nurse peeked up at her over the front desk and nodded without a word. She reached for a clipboard, slapped a pen on the top and shoved it over to Valley. “Fill this out. We’ll call you when the doctor is ready.”
“Miss Dempsey, your test was negative,” Doctor Venner said. “But I need to speak to you about your condition.”
Valley scowled and crossed her arms. “I ain’t got no time for you to be tellin’ me how ta live my life. It’s my fuckin’ body. I’ll do what the hell I want with it.”
Doctor Venner shook his head and reached for her chart. His office was tidy, a bit Spartan with a few rewards and honors hanging on his walls. From the looks of things, he might have once been a star in the medical field. Instead he was stuck working at this dead-end shit hole. “No, I think you misunderstand.”
“Oh really?” She rolled her eyes.
“Yes. See,” He cleared his throat and pushed the chart toward her. “you have the BOZ-1 parasite. Do you know what that is?”
Valley looked down at the chart, her frown deepening. “I can’t read none of this. What’s it mean?”
“It’s a parasite that attaches itself to your hypothalamus…er…the region of the brain responsible for sleep and waking.”
“Oh yeah. Heard about that one a few years ago. You mean I’m gonna die? Shit. I didn’t pass that on to anyone did I?”
Doctor Venner shook his head. “It’s normally passed through contact with an infected person’s blood, or from drinking tainted water. If you’ve been passing needles around—”
“Hell no. I don’t do that shit. I’m not some dirty bitch who wants to fuck everyone with my infected blood.” Valley started chewing the nubs of her fingers, her leg bouncing so fast it made the floor shake. “So what am I gonna do? Do I need medicine or somethin’?”
“There is no cure, Miss Dempsey. I’d like to ask you if you’d consider further testing. As far as I know, you are the first person carrying the parasite with no symptoms. There’s a research facility two miles from here focusing on developing a cure.”
Valley shrugged. “They gonna pay me?”
“Miss Dempsey, at this point, I’ll pay you.” Doctor Venner leaned back in his fancy, high-backed leather desk chair and sighed. “People are dying. It’s time we stop it.”
A year after Valley offered herself up to the BOZ-1 research project she was all over the news—Former Meth Addict May Save Us All. Doctor Venner had even paid for her to have a new set of teeth so she could smile for the cameras.
The Insomnia Project was implemented a year later. The cure had been in the human brain all along. Researchers had long ago discovered that sleep was necessary to flush out harmful toxins that built up in the brain during the period of time a person is awake. To BOZ-1 these toxins were lethal.
Amphetamines were unscheduled, and for several weeks, no one slept. Not even children. The world was a wake, and while a few patients suffered heart attacks and strokes, the parasite all but disappeared.