Stephen Steindecz suffers a rare and complicated condition known as Kleine-Levin syndrome (KLS), and can’t stay awake. He falls asleep at the drop of a hat and may stay asleep for weeks and months at a time. There is no known cure. The fear for his parents is that he would fall asleep one day and never wake up. From age 6, Stephen gets visits from a ghost, who he calls the Shadow Man. And every time he sees the Shadow Man someone dies. Stephen enters a prolonged sleep episode which seems so real to him that he doesn’t know whether he’s awake or asleep. And finds himself going through strange adventures and different ages until he wakes up a young man living in London.
Waking up in the Great Ormond Street Hospital for children, he meets Melanie Goethe, his latest carer. He soon falls in love with her, and the pair plan on cohabiting while he undergoes research by Dr. Silvia O’Hearn. But he is haunted by the past, and can’t learn to be happy in his world, unsure when he’ll sleep and when he’ll wake. And the Shadow Man seems to hold the key to understanding the past, if he can just get the Shadow Man to talk. Thinking the Shadow Man has finally stopped following him, he builds himself a life in London with Melanie. But the Shadow Man eventually appears in London, and his paranoia grows; he knows that if the Shadow Man has come, then someone will die. But before he can figure out who, he falls asleep. If he dies in his sleep, he will never wake up. But he must, if he wants to live.
Read an excerpt:
He woke in puzzlement. Something was different. Not just himself. He always felt different when he woke, but something else was different. It was the bed. It wasn’t the same bed he had woke in as the one in which he’d gone to sleep. He looked around and saw that the room was different too. Lemon coloured walls, a door, a cupboard, a cabinet beside the bed, and a tall window with long cream curtains that dropped from the ceiling to just above the tiled floor. And a person hovered, fussed. A young woman. His eyebrows rose high, for a second, and then furrowed. She hovered at the end of the bed; the different bed. He saw how she soon realised he had roused, looked at him intently and then smiled at him.
‘Hello, Stephen. You hungry?’
She spoke pleasantly. A happy enough soul, it seemed.
‘I know who I am,’ he said, and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He scanned the room again, eventually settled on the young woman, a wavy-brunette, slender, wore a white uniform with a silver fob watch that hung from her chest area, on the left-hand side, stood at the foot of the bed with her hands clasped before her.
‘I’m Susie Dubois,’ she said enthusiastically. ‘But you can call me Susie.’
‘It’s a nice enough name,’ he countered. ‘Where am I?’
‘You’re at Longwood. This is your new home.’
Longwood? Where in the blue world was Longwood, and thought it too was an interesting enough name. ‘Where exactly is Longwood?’
‘The Children’s Hospital, Longwood,’ Susie said, and chuckled.
He realised she was being humorous, but he still wanted to know where on earth he was. ‘I mean, where exactly am I? Which city?’
‘I’ll give you a hint,’ she said. ‘Patriots.’
‘Ah, Boston, Massachusetts.’
‘Yes,’ she said, spoke in a lilting contralto. The s elongated and hissed.
He felt he had remembered his geography rather well, for someone who had slept through summer break. It must be fall, he thought.
‘It’s fall,’ she confirmed, ‘and the trees are producing a lovely coloured quilt.’
He knew she’d simply follow protocol. Like his previous carers, she would have been told to engage his mind to ascertain the extent of decay. Some doctors thought his mind would slowly go while he slept, others just said it would be interesting. What they meant by that, he hadn’t a clue. He was a rare individual, others said. Entropy (the word they used), however, didn’t happen to him while he slept. And that puzzled them. Though entropy was the norm for others who experienced a similar sleeping syndrome, as they called it. Others called it a disorder, a condition; whatever. He was different. His sleeping episodes were different. In fact, the thing about him that was different was that he remembered everything, prior to the next sleep episode. And upon waking, he felt as if he’d just had a good night’s sleep. He behaved normally. There had been no memory entropy. No cognitive impairments. In fact, oddly enough, he gained experience and knowledge while he slept. Which was positively weird. And no one knew why or how. Least of all him.