Chapter Two: The Sleepers

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I knelt and tried to shake her, but she didn't stir. She was curled up with her arms folded under her head, like she just fell asleep.

"Mum, are you okay?"

I listened for breath. I checked her pulse. I felt her head to see if she banged it.

She didn't seem hurt. Her breathing was normal. Her heart rate was normal. She wasn't bruised or bleeding. As far as I could tell, she was in a very deep sleep.

I prodded her. I shouted at her. I grabbed her shoulders and tried to jostle her awake. I splashed her face with water.

Nothing worked.

So, she was in a coma. Or she'd had a stroke. Or it was a gas leak. Or...or...something was wrong.

I turned off the gas main, opened the windows, and grabbed the phone from the counter to dial emergency services.

No dial tone.

I tried my mobile again.

No signal.

I raced out the front door, in search of help.

The street was eerily quiet, free from the keening, cat-like screeches of the seagulls. (You can always hear seagulls in Hastings.)

As I turned down the street, I saw one of our neighbours, an old lady with wiry grey hair, propped against the wall of her house, surrounded by shopping bags, snoring gently. Mr. Rivers from the next house over was face-down on a garden lounger, his hand wrapped in the cord of his lawnmower. And now I was terrified.

I ran down a passage between the houses in the hope that I would find someone awake on the next street, but it was the same story; neighbours curled up on their lawns or on their doorsteps; passers-by lying flat-out on the pavement. One man was lying on the side of the street with three dogs asleep around him, all on leashes.

Cars were parked in the middle of the road, their drivers' heads tipped back and their mouths open, and their kids in the back seats, propped against each other. Three bikers from the rally sat slumped over their handlebars, their engines off, their kickstands down.

The town was out.

All at once, everyone had stopped what they were doing and...taken a nap.

I went from one person to the next and tried to shake them awake, but it was useless. No-one would even open an eye.

I headed for the seafront, hoping to find a police officer, or even a traffic warden. I didn't know what else to do.

And then I came upon the seafront, and the May Day parade.

All the people who had lined up to watch it were now piled in huddles, like there was nothing more normal in the world than to fall asleep on a dirty street with a thousand strangers.

In the middle of the road was a marching band. A sea of bodies lay knotted together in blue serge uniforms and golden tassels, clinging to brass instruments and big red drums like they were their teddy bears.

Ahead of them were the papier-mâché folk gods, the snapping horse-head men, and the folk dancers in their bells and ribbons. And at the front was the Jack-in-the-Green, a tall ivy-strewn tower that poked up from a mossy hill of dozing bogies.

The entire town was asleep, and completely quiet, apart for the whistle and snore of the sleepers.

It felt like a dream.

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