Storytime with KBC: Sleeping Sickness
Sorry! Sorry, everybody! I know this was supposed to be up yesterday, but I got so caught up in the April Fools’ Day Festivities, what with all the whoopie cushions and joy buzzers and fake vomit, that I just plain overslept. Hey at least I eventually woke up! Not everybody has that luxury.
The tiny town of Kalachi, in Kazakhstan, has been in the news a bit lately. Seems it’s citizens can’t manage to stay awake. People walking down the street are zonking right out with no warning and no soft mattress to land on. And we’re not talking cat naps here. They’re sleeping hard! Two, three days straight without waking up. So far, scientists are baffled, which seems to be an emotional state that scientists have cornered the market on. Until they figure it out, it looks like the people of Kalachi are just gonna keep superslumbering their way through life.
This sort of thing has happened before, and on a much larger scale. How large? How about worldwide? From 1915 to 1926, people all around the world were diagnosed with something called encephalitis lethargica. It might as well have been called no&#@$ing clueosis, because that’s what it boiled down to. The infected were left in a near-catatonic state, drained of energy and sleeping for days at a time, and—as is their wont—scientists were baffled. The disease eventually disappeared just as suddenly as it showed up. It still pops up every now and then, but in isolated cases. Nothing like the epidemic of the early 20th century.
So what’s the deal with all the nappers? Any ideas? Come on, give it a guess! I’m betting you can get this one without my help. It’s pretty obvious if you think about it.
Did I hear a “sandman” out there? Good job! You get a smiley-face sticker!
Now get that Neil Gaiman crap out of your head. Don’t get me wrong, dude can write the hell out of a comic, but your typical sandman isn’t exactly gonna pass as lead singer for a Cure cover band. Sandmen are a specialized class of Fae. These little guys love to help out humans by regulating our sleep. A little sprinkle of mystical faerie sand and we’re down for the count. Sandmen are pretty territorial, and they take their work seriously. Which is why it can suck for a whole lot of people when a sandman goes rogue.
Maybe he’s overstressed. Maybe the pressures of being responsible for the sleep of a whole town finally got to him. Maybe he’s just a total dick. Whatever the case, the sandman of Kalachi has clearly gone off the deep end. The Brotherhood has agents combing the area, but it’d be a hell of a lot easier if the little bastards weren’t invisible to humans.
It’s sad, but it happens. After all, that’s what the encephalitis lethargica epidemic was all about. That one was way worse. That wasn’t one, bat$#&@ sandman going postal. We’re talking full-on mass faerie hysteria. As for what caused that, your guess is as good as mine. Humanity as a whole was on sketchy footing with the Fae around that time. Blame that blowhard Conan Doyle and his whole Cottingley debacle for that one. In any case, the sandmen in question either got replaced or got better, and in time the people of Earth returned to their regularly scheduled sleep.
Sleeping too much is definitely a problem, but there are people out there with the opposite problem too. People who just plain don’t sleep. People like Thái Ngoc, from Vietnam, who claims to have been awake since 1973. Or Paul Kern, a Hungarian soldier during World War I, who lived for 40 years without sleeping. Or Al Herpin from New Jersey, who died in 1947, claiming to have never slept a day in his life. The guy didn’t even own a bed! There’s plenty of people with stories like this throughout history, and they all seem to have something in common: an injury or illness that occurred just before the insomnia kicked in. Ngoc had a nasty fever. Herpin’s mom took a spill just before he was born. Kern took a bullet to the dome that took a chunk of his frontal lobe with it. So why did they all stop sleeping? Near as I can guess, a clerical error. Their sandman wrote them off for dead and never checked back. Fortunately they didn’t suffer for it. They just stopped needing sleep. Some people have it way worse.
Fatal familial insomnia is a nasty bastard of a disease. Doctors say it’s caused by prions; little loose bits of protein floating around in your brain. There’s no telling when it’ll kick in, but once it does you’re dead in a matter of months. Not fun months either. Apart from the insomnia, you’ll be dealing with panic attacks, hallucinations, rapid weight loss, and ultimately dementia and death. Fortunately it’s not contagious, but it does get passed down from parent to child. If you’ve got it there’s a fifty/fifty shot of your kid getting it too. Thankfully there’s only been about a hundred cases of it ever recorded. It’s a horrible disease, and sadly there’s no cure. How could there be? It’s a curse!
Back in the mid-eighteenth century a Brotherhood chapter was dispatched to investigate an outbreak of sleepy Italians toppling unconscious into the canals of Venice. They found the sandman responsible and killed him; standard operating procedure. But then they…went off script. I’m not sure if they thought they could save themselves a return trip or what, but the Brotherhood agents went on a rampage, snuffing out every sandman they could get their hands on. It was a massacre, and not one that went unnoticed. The Fae have some funny ideas about justice. The Venice Chapter had waged war against sleep, so sleep would be denied them. Not just the Hunters responsible, but their children, and their children’s children, and so on for twenty generations. They would live their lives knowing that one night they would find themselves unable to fall asleep, and would remain awake for the rest of their short, wretched lives.
So while you’re laying there tonight, tossing and turning in your usually-comfy-but-not-tonight-for-some-reason bed, wondering why you can’t fall asleep, try not to think about whether or not a distant ancestor of yours might have gone on a sandman-slaying rampage. Sweet dreams, kiddos! Ol ‘Tuck’s gonna call it an early night. Wake me when it’s the weekend!