'The Fever Dream' by Wendy Chard

In a stout wooden box, packed deep beneath moist earth-wormy earth and six feet from the moonless night above, you are having a nightmare.

It is a roiling, boiling fever dream in which you are standing in your childhood bedroom with the mud-drip walls coming in fast. The world gets small and tight, and sluggish trails of sweat tremble down over the Welsh mountain slopes of your cheeks. In your sunlit childhood room a coaxing man appears, peering, his snail-shell eyes fixed on you from behind the TV screen. He's a weathered-looking American, telling a story under a wide, blue sky. You watch from your bed, nine years old, ill and slick as slugs.

"I call 'em sleepers," he says, chuckling. "Deep sleepers." He points out humps of earth on the great flatland, each one marked with a date.

"Do they wake?"

"Eventually." His eyes shift. "Most of 'em."

"There's a risk?"

"There's always a risk. Some types jus' don't mind takin' it. I accommodate those types."

There's your dad, by the window, swinging the family cleaver down into the carcass of a pig. He doesn't look at you, just goes on ffffwapping with the cleaver in heavy, fast strokes. Light glints off the dulled blade and the room gets smaller, smaller, smaller. H. K. Hunter and sons, reads the name on his brownly-smeared apron. Fwapp, fwapppp. "You're a lazy boy," your dad says, slamming flesh from bone. "You're lazy."

"I'm a..." You don't know what you are. You have a lot of dreams. "I'm a dreamer."

"You're a sleeper."

You curl up at the end of your childhood bed like bent toes in a sock. You shiver and shake wetly, and crane a set of snail’s stalks out from under the sheets, blinking.

"Deep peace of the quiet earth to you." At the end of the bed is your mother's sinking coffin and the robed vicar, reeling off his solemn farewell. “Deep, deep peace.” An older you remembers the American and his tilled soil, humped over sleepers. "No, no," he assures you over the telephone. "You'll not have nightmares. Only deep, deep peace."

It’s six months underground for fourteen hundred. A year for two grand.

“Ahh, but the dreams you’ll have,” the tilled American voice drawls as the money slips quietly from between your fingers. “I’ve had men sleep for six months and come back aboveground with the Great American Novel.” He nods, his face a landscape of grazes and whiskers. “The dreams you’ll have.”

You lie yourself down, a reverse Dracula. You think of a girlfriend you had once (“All you ever do is sleep and read”). You cross your arms, feeling the blue breeze coming soft across the plateau. In the distance there’s a farm, and you can hear the pigs squealing as your lid comes down and you sink.

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