Screams in Fine Print

My first Long Winter wasn’t a horror, and I suppose that’s how they sucked me in: it was a benign experience, unfolding more-or-less per the government’s propaganda, the only surprise a memorable one. Needing cash, and not wanting to spend another fucking Christmas starving and cold, I’d signed up the first time I saw the new float ad with its beckoning kaleidoscope of warm colours appear at the freezing cold bus stop, mushing through dirty slush to get close to the hovering translucent image, peeling off my glove, and scanning my ID code without hesitation. I wondered why no one else did.

Two days later, I trudged through deeper, dirtier slush toward my appointment. Normally I’d be grumbling about the goddamn bus stops never being near places that people had to go to, and how the city never cleaned sidewalks anymore, even though thousands of people needed jobs. But today was not normal. I felt patriotic, answered the interviewer with sincerity, not belligerence.

“Why did you volunteer for REST?” said whitecoat-clipboard-lady, glitter frame glasses hanging around her neck like one of Aunt Edna’s gaudy tree ornaments.

I kept it general, not getting into the pending rent payment with no money and only one thing left to sell.

“Well, aside from being broke, I like the concept. Why not have people sleep through winter, save resources? The idea feels good, like I’m doing my bit.”

She reached down, grabbed the half-glasses, plopped them onto the end of her nose, where the nostril flares provide a rest spot, started jotting notes.

“This is a new procedure, few are volunteering. Worried?”

“Nah, I’ve got nothing to lose.”

“So, you’ll sign?”


The paperwork was fast. Who’s got time for scads of fine print filling pages of legal mumbo-jumbo? I’m no lawyer—show me where to sign.

I was in. Rent and bills paid for the winter—yes! She escorted me through security, asked if I needed to say any goodbyes, just until spring, but I didn’t. Just Tiffany, but her drug-fueled anger was a swirling whirlpool I didn’t want to get sucked into.

I blushed at getting shaved—everywhere, even my nuts—I guess the cold storage temperature makes the hair follicles so dormant they release, and they don’t want loose hairs whizzing about, clogging the air system.

Sleeping pod. Tubes. Wires. Before I knew it, I was… drifting… away…

That first winter it was a deep sleep. And the memorable part was—I’m presuming it was some kind of dream—I floated in an obsidian void, and met other deep sleepers, felt them, felt each other, and the synergy filled me with warm shudders, like we were all linked in a multi-animal mind meld. One time it was a black bear cub, warm with layered fat, curled up, snuggled by its mother, dreaming of rooting for bugs under logs and pouncing on flopping fish and frolicking with its brother. Another time, it was a queen wasp tucked beneath the soil, belly full of fertilized eggs, incomprehensible hive dreams buzzing in her head. Next came a salmon deep within a lake, metabolism sluggish, feeling nothing but cold and dark, floating, just like me. Kind of cool. Kind of eerie.

The REST lingo says it’s just for the winter, but that’s not quite true. Afterward there’s physio, psych tests, and all that itchy hair regrowing. But hey, no biggie. Winter without suffering, money banked—I had a brilliant summer. I reconnected with Tiffany. Fed her, helped her, got her cleaned up, so it didn’t feel like I was having sex with a drug-addicted prostitute. Most important, she was smiling.

That fall we both signed up for the Long Winter.

And I discovered: because nature didn’t design humans for hibernation, you might fool the body and brain once, but never twice—beware.

Ever have a jam-packed dream that seems lengthy, even though you just fell asleep for another few minutes after hitting the snooze button? Imagine that perception of time drawn out for five months. That’s why I call it the Long Winter—if you do it more than once, it feels like years.

I felt awake, wandered in the dark, alone. I found slumbering animals, but their cuteness had worn off. I walked for a long time, seeing nothing, hearing muffled echoes of my steps, feeling a flat hard surface beneath my feet. Finally, I found Tiffany, but her deep doze resisted my voice. I kept plodding.

What is that way ahead, hovering in the dark?

I walked and walked and walked, came to a bright hospital room. In its centre was a bed, and in the bed a teenage boy. The boy’s eyes blinked open.

“Who are you? How did you get here?”

I told him.

“Come closer. I’m paralyzed, can’t see you.”

At his side, I looked down. He had pale skin, blonde hair and eyebrows. Maybe the start of a moustache, but the white-on-white made it hard to see.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” he said.

“What makes you say that?”

“I’m in a coma. Have been for years.”

“Oh well, like I said, I’m just here for the win—”

“No! You don’t understand! This is the land of the undead. I’ve been here for years. Listening to your footsteps.”


“Your endless wandering—what I heard the nurses saying makes sense.”

“What?” I asked, filled with foreboding.

“They said too many people were starving, food riots out of control. The government had no choice. People in the Resource Extending Sleep Time program are being left in suspension until the situation improves.”

“They couldn’t do that.”

“Apparently it was in the contract.”

I’ve been screaming for a long time now. I guess how long doesn’t matter.

Kevin Gooden is a Canadian speculative fiction writer who also enjoys random forays into other writing, sometimes timed with when he sees a squirrel. Unless the squirrel has red eyes and bloody lips and is speaking Latin. He has words online at The Sirens Call, Versification, Dwelling Literary, and The Daily Drunk, and in a printed anthology that raised funds for his local food bank. He’s on Twitter: @KevinGooden


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