2012 Flash Fiction shortlist: Sleep

Each day this week we will run one of the shortlisted stories from our 2012 Fash Fiction competition. Look for the winning piece in our end-of-year issue - on news stands 22 December. We've already published two: Digital Eyes and S3xD0ll. Below is the third of the five shortlisted pieces.

What our judge Alice LaPlante had to say:

This short piece packed a wallop with its economic language and compressed timeline.


By Richard Clarke

Sheri Francis, the new health minister, had one large priority for her tenure: sleep. Science repeatedly stressed the adverse effects of not enough sleep - a problem that Francis, in her first white paper on the matter, branded "undersleep".

"Studies demonstrate that a majority of the UK population are undersleeping, endangering our health and our economy,” the paper read. “The Government’s measures will free people to live fuller lives."

The curfew came into force the following month. Thousands of curfew officer jobs were created to make sure that citizens were indoors after 11pm. Power was to be switched off fifteen minutes later. Public transport was to stop service until 10am, giving citizens the chance they needed to get the correct amount of sleep.

There was resistance of course, and confusion. Protests against the policy were limited and quashed. Many of the protestors were bankers and businessmen. Workaholics, 'high-fliers', the depressed: the patterns of all of these groups were interrupted.

After a period of time, new collective habit began to settle. The nation's citizens were nudged into line. That natural craving - previously discouraged by social shame - to linger in bed was returning and, surveys suggested, it felt very good indeed.

Productivity was up, surveys reported large increases in happiness. The minister was feted. But the nation wanted more. Groups were formed to agitate for even longer periods of sleep. Extensions passed into law: almost everybody was in favour. But no amount of sleep was enough for the restless citizens. The second law specified a minimum 12 hours of sleep. Newly formed pro-sleep political parties secured increases to first 14, then 16 hours of sleep. But people found that they were unable to sustain this growth. Disaffection grew and the disaffected sought solidarity.

Eventually the sleepers were overthrown in what became known as the Wake Up Revolution. They came during the night. Sleep laws were rolled back and society gradually began to function as before. Now, only a small group of dedicated super sleepers remain, their activity illicit as before. At night they dream of counter-revolution.

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