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THE SLEEPING

By SatansRobot

All Steven Worth heard was the humming of the fluorescent lights. “Did you hear me Mr. Worth? I know this is difficult to hear, but it's important you listen. Sally's going to need your support. It's very important,” were the words the doctor was saying, but not registering with Steven. Along with words like “neurofibromatosis”. How was he going to tell his daughter? How was he going to let his thirteen year-old Sally know her life was as good as over? The doctor's lips were moving but all he could hear was the humming of the fluorescent lights.

#

“No way! He told you that?” Sally Worth grilled her friend over what she had just said.

“He likes you stupid! Jim Murphy actually likes you. Yeah, I can't explain it either. The jock every girl in Paragon Junior High wants and he comes up to me and asks me if you've got a date to the formal.” Sally's friend Jenny got a far away, wistful look on her face. “Face it Sally, some people are just destined to lead charmed lives. You're one of them.”

Sally rolled her eyes. “Yeah, that's me alright.” The girls tried to give each other a very serious look. It lasted a second before collapsing into giggles. Suddenly Sally stopped and put her hand to her forehead, wincing.

“You OK Sally?” Jenny had grown tired of having to ask so often.

“You know me and my stupid headaches. Too much excitement. You know, I hear that can happen after...you know,” Sally winked.

“Uh, actually no, I don't know. And neither do you. And gross!” Another attack of giggles set the girls off to their next class.

#

“Mom, I'm home!” Sally threw her backpack on the couch and raided the fridge for the chocolate chip cookie dough she had squirreled away there. Maybe it's just being thirteen, but I can eat this crap and never gain any weight so I must be charmed. She thought sarcastically to herself. You are, Sally. You are. Startled, she looked around. “Dad? Is that you?” Going into the kitchen she saw her father sitting at the kitchen table, face covered by his hands. He quickly lowered them, apparently surprised by Sally's presence.

“Oh honey, I didn't hear you come in. How was school?”

Sally knew he really meant, “Any headaches today?” but chose to ignore it. “Fine. What are you doing home so early?”

He got a pained expression on his face, but only for the briefest of moments, to be replaced by a smile. “I decided to knock off early. I need to start spending more time with my girls, your mom and you. There just isn't enough time. There never seems to be enough.”

A bit creeped out by this, but not knowing why, Sally made an excuse about needing to get something from her room and headed upstairs. As she climbed the stairs she felt the left side of her hair being gently brushed. She looked over to her left shoulder. There sat a little toy panda bear. The sweetest smile on it's face. “That was you back there, wasn't it Mr. Panda?” We must be grateful for what we have now but might one day lose, my Sally. Don't you agree? Her question was spoken out loud, but Mr. Panda's response was heard only in her own mind. “What's that supposed to mean?” No matter what happens, I'll always love you Sally. Mr. Panda will always be your friend. “Oh, you're just being silly. As usual,” Sally said with a laugh, tickling the panda's tummy and eliciting a laugh from its high pitched voice. Mr. Panda crawled around and disappeared behind Sally's back. Sally learned people thought it was strange a girl would still have an imaginary friend at thirteen, so never mentioned Mr. Panda to anyone anymore. Somehow, that made having him around more fun.

Passing her parents' room on her way to her own, she heard sobbing coming from it. Knocking on the door she asked, “Mom?” with concern. There was no response so she opened the door and saw her mom put her drink down and hurriedly wipe away the tears. “Mom,” she repeated, “What's going on? What's wrong?”

“What's wrong? What's wrong! You're dying Sally! My baby is dying! That's what's wrong!”

Sally steeled herself with grim resolve. Mr. Panda told her this day would come and that it would be a lie. He was the only one who cared. “That's not true. I'm fine. I just recently started my period and that's what's causing the headaches. That's all.”

“Oh?” her mother said cynically. “And the fainting? The sleeping most of the day on weekends and during too many classes to count? Is that your damn cycle too?”

“I'm just tired, mom. Just tired. Especially tired of you.”

“Your father told me. He saw the doctor today. Your results came in. Neurofibromatosis. You know what that means? Cancer Sally! Brain cancer! You're going to die and I'm going to lose my baby and there's nothing that can be done!”

“You're a lier,” Sally whispered, “And I hate you.” She calmly began walking out then turned and with pursed lips said, “I have a date with the most handsome, popular guy in school. I have a 4.0 grade average and I'm young and have my whole life in front of me. And I'm going on that date. You can't stop me. You can't say I'm too young.”

“I wouldn't try to stop you, Sally. I do love you. I would never try to stop you. Not now. Not knowing there's not much time left.”

Perplexed, Sally stormed out. In her room she found Mr. Panda sitting on the floor setting out her tea set. She knew he knew that would cheer her up. “She hates me Mr. Panda.” Friends forever Sally? “Friends forever,” Sally smiled. She thought she was too old for tea parties too.

#

The formal was just an awkward dance in a barely-gussied-up gymnasium. But for Sally and Jim, it was the most beautiful place in the world. Every junior high dance is composed mostly of children still too young to be comfortable with touching each other during a slow dance. Most of them maintaining an almost arm's-length distance. But every junior high dance also has that one couple who dance like old lovers. At Paragon Junior High, that was Sally and Jim. Sally whispered into his ear after the end of the most recent song, “It's hot in here. Can we go outside and get some air?” Jim didn't need any further coaxing.

The night air was pleasantly cool. The stars shown twinkling through wisps of clouds illuminated by a crescent moon. Sally moved closer to Jim, looking up at him. “You're the most beautiful girl I've ever seen Sally,” he said, and Sally somehow knew he really meant it.

“I want to feel alive, Jim. I want to live. Live everything there is to live in life. Don't you?” Sally said.

“Yeah, I guess.” Jim was a typical boy after all. And Sally loved that.

“Then kiss me,” Sally said, closing her eyes. Jim was slowly moving his lips to hers when she went limp in his arms.

“Sally? Sally!” Sally was breathing slowly and lightly. She had suddenly fallen asleep. “Sally! If this is a joke, it isn't funny. Sally! Wake up!” He tried shaking her.

She began to speak, just like someone speaks when asleep and dreaming. Slowly, softly, with a great tiredness. “We need you now. We need you to break and die.”

Out of the corner of his eye he saw something black and snakelike entwine on Sally's shoulder. Something snakelike yes, but with a twisted, disgustingly distorted human face. A very angry face with red eyes, and a mouth reaching out for his. He dropped her. It was gone. She lay on the pavement, in a deep peaceful sleep. Terrified, Jim ran inside. They thought he was a crazy man with his ramblings but soon an ambulance came and took Sally's unconscious form away.

#

The humming of the fluorescent lights once again accompanied Steven Worth to tragedy. Bald from the cancer treatments, Sally lay in what was now an unrecoverable coma. A decision had to be made. Time to turn the machines off. Time to let Sally go. “Just do it. Get it over with,” he chocked out. Then ran to the bathroom to puke. Sally's mother just sat in the corner, staring off into space.

Imagine their surprise. Imagine the surprise of the medical staff too, when after life support was terminated Sally, inexplicably, lived on. Days. Weeks. A month. No nutrients. No water. And still she lived.

The expense of the hospital stay too great, and the medical staff too dumbfounded, Sally's parents took her home to wait for the inevitable, however long it would take.

#

Sally's mother spent every night from then on sitting in the hallway, staring at the closed door to Sally's room. Her husband would always come along and collect her and put her to bed. Strangely, they had both taken to staying out of Sally's room. Never even opening the door a crack to check on their catatonic daughter. Steven wondered why this was? What were they so afraid of? She might still wake up. His daughter might still wake up, in the middle of the night, wondering where they were. Needing them. Needing him.

He was overcome with the urge to look, terrified of what he might find, but having no choice. He had to check on his child, he had to see what was there. He threw open the door, and looked. There he saw Sally, eyes peacefully closed, breathing softly and slowly, the breath of deep sleep. He didn't know if he was reassured or sickened. He turned away and slowly closed the door, trying to make as little noise as possible. Habit, he supposed.

#

Steven tossed and turned. Few nights held any rest for him anymore. Sleep no longer favored him. He suffered too much from a tortured mind. And then he heard something that made his blood freeze in his veins. He could swear he heard the door to Sally's room creak open and then closed. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Oh god, what now?

#

Dudley. That's what his friends at the Hero One Memorial Shelter knew him as, and what he'd tell any social worker who bugged him. Idiotic busybodies as far as he was concerned.

Warming his hands over a trashcan fire he started to fight off winter's chill, he pulled his raggedy sweater around him tighter. “Tonight's gonna be a bad one, ol' Dud,” he told himself. Usually Paragon's homeless were drawn to a good 'can fire like ants to honey, but not tonight. Dudley would've preferred company, especially on dark nights like this. The old codger had seen far worse.

Then he heard a noise. There it was again. What was that? It was...a little girl? Crying? Dudley looked down the alleyway, into the darkness that took over away from his fire. He heard it again. A child! Out in this alley? On a cold night like this? Unfortunately he had known it to have happened. You see all kinds of human ugliness when you're homeless. And abandoned children, though uncommon in Paragon, did occasionally happen.

Depending on what she was wearing she might not last long in this weather Dudley knew. He'd find a hypothermia corpse every now and then to prove it. Especially in one of Rhode Island's winters.

“Little girl?” he called out. “You down there? Don't worry about a thing, ol' Dudley's gonna take you to a shelter so you can be safe. This ain't no proper place for a little girl like you.”

Cautiously walking down the alleyway, his eyes adjusted to the dim light away from his 'can. And there he saw her. A young girl who couldn't have been more than 12 or 13, dressed only in a pink puffy jacket and gray skirt, with no shoes or socks on. “Don't you worry, little miss. Ol' Dudley never hurts kids. I just want to get you to a shelter so you don't catch your death out here.” Emboldened by the now-confirmed fact that it was just a little girl, he came close to her and bent down to her eye level.

The first odd thing he noticed was her eyes were closed. Her head was bald. Not a trace of hair on it. Her breathing, slow and regular. She looked and sounded every bit like she was asleep. But she was standing up. “Sleepwalking?” Dudley whispered to himself. He wondered if it really was dangerous to waken a sleep walker?

In a voice that sounded just like the girl was muttering to herself in the middle of a dream came the words, “Shhh. Come now. Let us play.” And out of the corner of his eye, he saw on her shoulder a toy panda bear, but with a horrific grimace on its face revealing a maw of pin sharp teeth. “We will give you such pain the angels themselves will weep, and sweeten the meat of your mind.”

Dudley's screams shattered the night, but there was no one to hear.

#

Steven stood shaking. Still holding the door to Sally's room open, he looked on in horror. Where his daughter had once lain for months, her bed was now empty. The crumpled covers telling the tale of the one who had once been there but now was gone. He somehow knew he would never see his daughter again. He knew she was gone forever.

He wandered aimlessly into his own bedroom. His wife had awakened and sat on the bed, holding the bedsheets over her chest like her life depended upon them. “Where Steven? Where's my Sally?”

Steven thought a long while, then looked up at his wife and said...

End

Epilogue

On an inspection visit to the Ziggurat Prison facility, Ms. Liberty walked down the last hallway with the Warden looking at the list of new Villains that had been captured and added to the prison's collection. She always hated this duty, but drew the short straw this time and being a Hero, was ready to do her duty no matter how much she hated it.

One particular entry caught her eye on the list: Alias The Sleeping; real name unknown; real age unknown; apparent age 13; top-level psychic threat; physical restraints unnecessary but psycho-chemical suppression therapy recommended. Pointing to it she said, “This one. I'd like to see this one.”

Leading her to the proper cell, the Warden slid the view port open on the huge iron door that enclosed it. “You sure you want to see this Ms. Liberty? Perhaps you'd like to see The Grand Impaler instead...”

“No. I'm sure. I need to see this. I need to know what we're dealing with here.” She looked into the cell, and gasped. What she saw was an emaciated little girl, clad only in a dirty, worn pink jacket and equally bad-off gray skirt. Her head angled to one side, eyes closed, as if she had just fallen asleep there on the cot in the middle of the room just moments ago. Tears welled in Ms. Liberty's eyes, and she put her hand to her mouth. “How long has she been like this?”

“No one can say for certain, but we believe, based on historical news clippings, The Sleeping's been operating in Paragon City since the late 1950s. No missing children reports from that time match her, so we have no idea who she is-- that is, used to be.”

“My god,” Ms. Liberty whispered.

“We both know he has nothing to do with this Ms. Liberty. And what does, we probably don't want to know.”

“Is there nothing we can do for her?”

“I'm afraid not. We don't even know if what we're seeing in there is real or just some psychic projection. Frankly, I tell myself it's the latter, and if you don't want any sleepless nights, you'll do the same.”

#

The alarm bells of the Zig rang out and red emergency lights flashed. The Arachnos attack on the prison facility had been completely unanticipated, The Freedom Phalanx along with Paragon's many other Heroes kept busy elsewhere with a masterful misdirection.

Arachnos personnel were freeing as many prisoners as they could in the time allowed. Wolfspider Huntsman Tourney had been given a special order by Ghost Widow herself to free the one known as The Sleeping. Lord Recluse was interested in all these Villains for reasons he kept to himself. But Ghost Widow had a special interest in this one. He like all Wolfspider Huntsmen had special mental training making only the most powerful psychic attacks effective on him. The Sleeping would probably try to destroy the first mind she was exposed to after being administered the antidote for the suppressive chemicals she had been on, so a Huntsman was necessary.

Tourney blasted open the cell door with a maximum power mace blast and stepped inside. “I knew you were coming,” she said in a sleepy little girl's voice.

“Of course,” Tourney replied as he jabbed the needle into her forehead as hard as he could.

#

“You have been years in the making, Sleeping. You survived the Rogue Isles just as you have now survived my tests. You now belong to me, and my power to you,” Ghost Widow proclaimed as she stroked The Sleeping's cheek with a cold, gloved hand, kissing her lightly on the lips. She spoke not to Sally, but to whatever darkness had been evil enough to destroy the life of such a young innocent. “My horrific, painful child, I am now your Patron, and you are my servant.”

“And what is my reward?” said The Sleeping.

“Aside from power?”

“Of course. After all, what's power without pain? Without the ability to kill the helpless and revel in the grieving?”

“Delicious! You truly are an agony upon the world. Beautiful agony. I give you this. Your mother's soul.”

A figure stepped out of the shadows, wearing the all-covering blood red outfit of a Fortunata. But instead of a human Fortunata, this costume housed only a soul. The soul of Sally's mother.

“She will do as you command. She can be temporarily destroyed, and every time she is, she relives her suicidal death all over again. And again. And again,” Ghost Widow explained.

“And her pain will delight me anew each time. Thank you for this gift, my Patron. Come mother, let us cause the world pain on a legendary scale, let us destroy the innocent and the helpless together.” With that, The Sleeping went into the world with her mother's tortured soul in tow.

END


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