Ryan didn’t stop driving until they were safely out of London. Once back on the motorway, he continued towards Havenmoor. He was so tired, he could barely keep his eyes open. Howard had already fallen asleep next to him. As Ryan continued to drive, he began to feel his eyelids droop. Then the sudden sound of gunfire brought him back to waking consciousness. He quickly turned the wheel and narrowly avoided ploughing into the central reservation of the motorway. Once again he realised that the gunfire had only been in his mind.
Suddenly Howard’s eyes jolted open. ‘Mental projections!’ he exclaimed.
Ryan nearly jumped out of his seat.
‘Jesus, Doc, don’t do that!’ protested Ryan. ‘What’s a mental projection anyway?’
‘It’s a theory from the fringes of pseudo science,’ stated Howard. ‘An idea that when we sleep, our souls can leave our bodies and wander around as astral beings.’
‘Riiiiight,’ said Ryan.
‘Well, don’t you see, that’s what the shadow people are,’ said Howard. ‘The mental projections of the sleepers, made flesh by the power of the Black Knight satellite.’
‘But if that’s the case, why are they so keen on stopping us?’ asked Ryan. ‘Don’t they want to wake up?’
‘Perhaps they don’t,’ pondered Howard. ‘Maybe the shadow people actually represent the unconscious minds of the sleepers. When we sleep, it’s our unconscious mind that’s in control. It’s therefore in their interest to keep us asleep forever.’
It was still dark as they reached the outskirts of Havenmoor. To their surprise, they found Sophie and Alice standing by the roadside waiting for them.
‘You see,’ said Alice and she and Sophie climbed into the back of the limousine, ‘I told you they’d be here. Take us to Osbourne Hill please driver.’
‘Now just hang on a minute,’ said Ryan gruffly. ‘What’s going on? How did you know we’d be here?’
‘Oh Ryan,’ huffed Sophie, ‘there’s no time to explain that now, we need to get to Osbourne Hill like Alice says before any more sleepers die.’
‘No way,’ said Ryan. ‘Osbourne Hill is miles from here, in the middle of nowhere. We need to get to Holly and Derek, make sure they’re OK.’
‘Why do you want to go to Osbourne Hill?’ asked Howard. ‘Isn’t that where the ancient stone circle is?’
‘Exactly,’ said Alice. ‘The ladder into the sky. We must go there so that I can return my heart to my body, and bring about the awakening.’
‘No way,’ repeated Ryan.
‘I think we should do as she says,’ said Howard. ‘It could be the solution to everything.’
‘My heart will lead the way,’ confirmed Alice, pulling the orb from her dress.
‘The orb!’ exclaimed Howard. ‘So that’s your heart? Where did you find it?’
‘Derek,’ said Sophie, ‘he had it all along.’
‘Of course,’ sighed Howard. ‘Right, come on Ryan, Osbourne Hill it is.’
‘But...’ protested Ryan.
‘Don’t argue soldier, just drive!’ exclaimed Howard.
‘Yes Sir!’ relented Ryan.
A short while later, the car finally ran out of fuel and the four passengers were forced to make the remainder of the journey on foot. As they began to trudge up the freezing slopes of Osbourne Hill, Howard took the opportunity to question Alice further.
‘So, if you are some kind of personification of the alien satellite,’ said Howard, ‘why has it taken you so long to find the orb?’
‘I can only see through the eyes of humans,’ said Alice. ‘It was only when Ryan found it that I knew where to come. But things always take longer when I am sleeping.’
‘If all this is true,’ interjected Ryan, ‘and you are somehow inadvertently putting everyone in the world to sleep once a year. Then what are awakers? Why aren’t we affected?’
Alice smiled. ‘Even a sleeping mind still has some small sense of the outside world around it. The awakers represent those small aspects of my own mind that continue to remain active and monitor the world, even during the hibernation cycle.’
‘Um, OK,’ said Ryan, scratching his head.
As they finally approached the summit of the hill where ancient people had built the stone circle, they were suddenly stopped in their tracks. Ahead of them, only just visible in the newly emerging morning light, was a barrage of shadow people. The beings were encircling the stone circle and therefore preventing the four climbers from entering it.
‘What do we do now?’ asked Sophie.
‘Pray,’ replied Howard.
‘Exactly,’ said Alice.
Then she held the orb aloft in her hands and it began to glow.
‘Oh Nine Fathers from across the heavens,’ said Alice. ‘It is I, your lost child. I speak to you again at last. The humans are in great danger, we must be allowed to enter the portal. Oh Fathers, please hear me.’
Suddenly a strange burst of green light appeared in the sky and travelled down towards the ground at high speed. It hit the summit of the hill and there was a sudden explosion of multi-coloured light. The shadow people scattered and ran in all directions.
‘Quickly run!’ said Alice.
As tired as they all were, they started running towards the top of the hill. As they finally entered the stone circle, another beam of light, this time a bright white light, shone down onto them.
‘The portal is open,’ smiled Alice. ‘Now my heart can finally be reunited with my body. Which of you will sacrifice yourselves for this great cause?’
‘Um, what?’ asked Howard.
‘I am only a dream,’ said Alice. ‘I cannot return my own heart. One of you must do it for me. But it will be a one-way trip – you will not live to return.’
‘And you didn’t think this was worth mentioning before?!’ asked Ryan angrily.
‘I thought it would have been obvious,’ said Alice innocently.
‘I’ll do it,’ said Sophie standing forward. ‘I have nothing, I have nobody. No-one would care if I didn’t exist anymore.’
‘That’s not true Soph,’ said Ryan. ‘I care about you, Howard cares about you.’
‘Oh yeah?’ said Sophie dismissively. ‘Ryan, you care about me so much that I’m only good for a shag once a year before you go back to your precious girlfriend. A gap filler, that’s all I am. Give me the orb Alice.’
‘No wait, don’t,’ said Ryan. ‘If anyone should sacrifice themselves it should be me. I’m a lousy boyfriend, a lousy friend, and a lousy son. I don’t deserve to live.’
‘What do you mean, lousy son?’ asked Howard.
Ryan sighed, and his eyes began to fill with tears.
‘I shot my own father, I shot my own father in Afghanistan,’ sobbed Ryan. ‘I killed him.’ He stared at the ground in shame. ‘That’s the thing I couldn’t tell you about. That’s the thing that’s been keeping me awake, night after night, year after year. Happy now?!’
‘No not really,’ said Howard. ‘How did it happen Ryan?’
‘He was my superior officer in the SAS, and we were doing some covert manoeuvres. I got scared, OK? I got scared and I got mixed up. I thought he was the enemy...and I shot him.’
‘So then it wasn’t your fault,’ said Sophie, taking his hand.
‘I was cleared of the charges, eventually,’ said Ryan as the tears fell from his eyes. ‘But I was pushed out of the forces soon after. I never wanted to be there anyway, it was him who got me into it in the first place. So you see, I should be the one to sacrifice myself.’
‘Yes,’ said Howard, ‘I can see who it should be. Then he walked over to Alice and took the orb from her hands.
‘Tell Derek I love him,’ he said. Then he nodded to Alice.
‘NO!’ cried Ryan and Sophie.
But it was too late, Alice and Howard had already vanished and the beam of light had gone.
It had been a split second decision, but Howard somehow knew it was the right one. Throughout his whole life there had always been something missing, some sense of purpose that had eluded him. Now he had a purpose, to save the human race, and if that meant dying in the process, so be it. Besides, there was no way he could have lived with himself if he had let one of the two youngsters go in his place. And maybe, just maybe, there could still be a way out.
After the beam of light went out, Howard found himself in a very different place, an alien place. There was a strange throbbing, almost organic pulsating sound all around him. He was in a dark circular tunnel full of strange round nodular objects on the walls. The nodules lit up and darkened again in tandem with the pulsating noise. Howard touched the walls and found them to be soft, almost flesh-like.
‘Welcome to my body Doctor Rutherford,’ echoed the sound of Alice’s voice. ‘Please follow my voice and I will show you where to place my heart.’
Howard cautiously followed the sound of Alice’s voice down several winding tubular corridors until he reached an intersection, a large circular area where several tunnels met in the middle. The intersection was full of the same nodules as before, but there was also an odd hump in the centre of the area.
‘Please place my heart on top of the hump Doctor Rutherford,’ said Alice.
‘And then what?’ asked Howard.
‘Then my full power will be returned, and my hibernation cycle, and the Hibernation on Earth, will finally come to an end.’
‘And so will my life, right?’
‘I will not be able to stop the energy release from destroying your body,’ confirmed Alice. ‘But do not be afraid, this is not the end.’
Howard sighed. ‘I’ll have to take your word for it,’ he said as he nervously stepped towards the hump. ‘Oh well, one last surgical procedure then.’
Howard took a deep breath and then gently pressed the orb onto the top of the hump. It began to glow brightly, before being absorbed into the material of the hump. Then it was gone.
The room around him suddenly lit up as if it was being illuminated by bright colourful flood lights. The pulsating sped up and the colours began to dance around him. It was beautiful.
‘At last,’ whispered Alice. ‘I am whole again. Now, the awakening can finally come to pass. Thank you, Doctor Rutherford.’
‘Glad to be of service,’ said Howard with a sad smile.
Suddenly the light around him became so bright that he had to shut his eyes. The energy flooded into the room and instantly atomised Howard’s body. He felt no pain as he died.
Ryan and Sophie sat holding hands on the top of the Osbourne Hill as the sun rose over Havenmoor. They could see the whole town from their vantage point. Suddenly they noticed what seemed like signs of life. Lights started to switch on across the town, and a while later they spotted a small handful of cars travelling along the motorway in the distance.
‘Ryan...I think the Waking Time has begun. Six weeks early!’ exclaimed Sophie.
‘Howard must have done it,’ smiled Ryan sadly.
‘Does that mean, he’s...’
‘Maybe,’ replied Ryan.
They sat in silence for a few minutes watching the sunrise.
‘How are we going to explain this?’ asked Ryan eventually.
‘Well I’m not explaining anything to anyone,’ said Sophie. ‘They don’t need to know.’
‘Someone should know,’ said Ryan. ‘Derek should know.’
‘We’ll go and see him together,’ said Sophie.
They sat quietly for another few minutes.
‘So what happens now?’ asked Sophie.
‘Well,’ sighed Ryan, ‘from now on I’m going to start being a bit more honest with everyone, starting with Holly. And then, well, we’ll see what happens.’
‘Sounds like a plan,’ agreed Sophie.
And as they stood up and prepared to walk back down to the town, they knew in their hearts that nothing would ever be quite the same again.
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