Mom's words floated up the stairs and found Stephen working on a baseball player he was modeling out of clay.
"Just ten more minutes, Mom! Please?"
"Ten minutes it is, and not a moment longer young man!"
Stephen returned to shaping the bat his figure would be holding.
Time passed quickly.
A shadow fell over him and his mother's stern words had their desired effect.
"Now, Stephen! Your time was up five minutes ago. I don't want you starting school this year with bags under your eyes!"
"Right!" he said as he hurried off to the bathroom for the ritual face washing and teeth brushing. Returning with his pajamas on, Stephen turned back the bed covers and climbed in for what he knew would be a long sleepless night.
The bedside lamp was off. His eyes adjusted to the darkness.
As he lay in the darkness his mind began picturing what the following day might bring. He saw other students laughing at him for dropping his books or going into the wrong classroom. These visions gave way to thoughts of a bully stealing his lunch money or picking a fight.
As he turned on his side, Stephen tried to think about more pleasant things. He imagined the baseball player coming to life and being his best friend, teaching him all about the game, and going with him to the other kids' houses. He thought about how jealous they would be. Then he relived the moment that summer when he had made an impossible catch and won the game against the team from Oakridge. Sounds of cheers were ringing in his ears and he could still feel the hands of his teammates slapping him on the back and their excited voices as they told him what a great catch it had been.
Now lying on his back, Stephen didn't think he would ever go to sleep. It seemed as if he had been lying there for hours and yet, when he looked at the clock with the lighted dial that sat on his nightstand, he saw that he had only been in bed for half an hour. He sighed.
The moonlight on his covers seemed to have become a little brighter. Stephen figured it was just another trick his mind sometimes played when time seemed endless. Restless, he turned on his left side and faced the wall.
"What seems to be the problem?"
Stephen opened his eyes, sat up, and looked around. Had someone said something to him, or had his mind invented a voice? In the moonlit room he didn't see anything unusual.
"I've done everything I can to help you sleep but it doesn't seem to do any good. Don't you think you could learn to relax a little?"
The voice was faint, but sounded like it was coming from the foot of the bed. Surely, this was his imagination! He didn't feel scared; the voice didn't sound threatening.
"Where are you?" whispered Stephen. "I can hear you but I can't see you. If you don't show yourself I'm going to turn on the light!"
"If you do I'll disappear. If you close your eyes and breath slowly you might be able to see me. Go ahead, try it!"
Stephen closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths and then slowly opened them as the air in his lungs quietly escaped. As if looking through a piece of gauze he could barely make out the form of a tiny man dressed in an old-fashioned suit and a stove pipe hat sitting at the foot of his bed.
"I think I can see you now," said Stephen. "Who are you and what are you doing in my room?" Stephen looked around to see if he could make out the forms of any other night visitors. Only his stuffed animals and a few figures he had made could be seen in the moonlight, looking down on him from their usual places on the bookshelves that lined his room.
"My name is not important," the little man said, "but if you must call me something you can call me Arthur. I'm here because you are having such a hard time going to sleep and it is distracting me beyond belief!"
"I don't understand," said Stephen. "Why do you care if I sleep and, more importantly, why are you here?"
"All right, perhaps it would help if I started from the beginning rather then the middle. I've been watching kids for hundreds of years, helping them get some sleep when it looked like they needed it. You, though, are impossible. I whispered in your ear for an hour trying to get you to relax. All the old methods just didn't seem to work. I've only allowed myself to be seen by a few other kids over the years. Tommy Edison was one, Micky Mantle another."
"Is sleep all that important?" asked Stephen. "It seems like someone here is over-reacting a little and it isn't me, if you know what I mean!"
Arthur rose to his feet and began pacing back and forth. "If you don't sleep, you don't dream," he said, waving his hands above his head. "If you don't dream, you don't get ideas. Getting ideas can make the world a better place, and that's what it's all about. Besides, sleeping clears the head and gives you a clean slate to start with each day. It's so important that over a thousand of us have been assigned to watch just the kids in this country. My job is extremely important and I do it with pride. You were threatening to break my record tonight. I couldn't let that happen, so I made it possible for you and I to have this little chat. There's a safeguard built in so you won't remember any of this when we're done. Deep down, though, below your active thinking level, you'll remember."
As Arthur talked, Stephen watched him walking back and forth on the foot of the bed, and was entranced by the small glowing footprints on the bedcovers that faded away after a few seconds.
"...different technique if you don't mind."
"What?" Stephen asked. "I'm sorry I must have been day-dreaming."
"That's cute, kid. I'll have to remember that one for the annual convening. I was saying that I'd like to try a different technique with you and see if it works. How about it? Are you willing to give it a try? Nothing painful, I assure you. Strictly mental."
"Sure, let's try it," Stephen said. "For all I know, I'm dreaming now."
"Wouldn't that be nice. Here's what I want you to do. Get in the position you're most comfortable with and breath deeply, letting the air out slowly."
Stephen lay on his side and took a deep breath, letting it out as directed.
"Now, I want you to pretend your feet are made of stone. They're so heavy you can't move them. Close your eyes and concentrate."
After a short while, Stephen actually began to feel that his feet were two rocks attached to his ankles.
"Now it's your legs that are the heavy weights, then everything below your waist. I want you to continue with this until everything from your neck on down is immovable."
Stephen did as he was instructed, and by the time he reached his neck he was very tired and relaxed.
"All right, kid, the next one's your eyelids. There's no way you can open your eyes."
After a few moments Arthur knew that his task was finished. Stephen was asleep. A small smile appeared on Arthur's face as he gently faded from the foot of the bed. All that remained were two glowing footprints bathed in moonlight.
In a twinkling, they were gone as well.
There was a knock on the bedroom door. "Stephen, you're going to be late if you don't get up soon!" The sound of his mother's voice awakened him.
"Did you sleep well, honey?"
"Sure did, mom! I feel great! I was so tired I didn't even dream. When does the bus get here?"
About the Author :
Jon Gilbert is a resident of Fort Collins, Colorado whose career with the postal service spans 25 years. Jon and his wife, together 29 years, are proud parents of two grown children and grandparents of one. Jon is about to graduate from The Institute of Children's Literature in West Redding, CT. You may write to Jon C. Gilbert at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The illustrations for The Sleepmaster were done
by Michael Paul. Michael has a Bachelors degree with departmental honors in
Political Science from University of Kansas and a Master's in Russian & East
European Studies (REES) and Political Science. He has been an editorial cartoonist
for the college paper, as well as for his hometown paper The Manhattan Mercury.
Contact Michael Paul at: BPAUL@BUSINESS.CBA.KSU.EDU