Chapter 1: A Dangerous Place to Wake Up
Did you ever go on vacation, wake up in a strange bed, and struggle to remember where exactly you were? Well, twelve-year-old Alfonso Perplexon had never gone on a vacation, but he often felt this very sensation. For him, waking up was always an odd experience, and today was no exception.
As he woke up from a late afternoon nap, Alfonso blinked open his eyes and discovered that he was perched at the top of a gigantic pine tree — some two hundred feet above the ground. The view was spectacular. Alfonso could see for miles in every direction, and he could even make out his house in the distant hamlet of World’s End, Minnesota. Unfortunately, there was no time to enjoy the view. The small branch that Alfonso stood on was covered with gleaming snow and creaked dangerously under the pressure of his weight. Icy gusts of wind shook the entire treetop. Alfonso looked down grimly at the ground far below. If he fell, he would most certainly die. “Oh brother,” muttered Alfonso. “Not again.” This wasn’t the first time Alfonso had woken up in a tough spot. He was always doing crazy things in his sleep. Of course, there were times when he enjoyed a good night’s sleep in bed, just like other people. But often enough, within a few seconds of drifting off, Alfonso’s eyes would flutter back open and he would enter a peculiar trance. Although technically asleep, it was the strangest type of sleep anyone had ever seen. While in this trance, he ran, cross-country skied, climbed trees, cooked fantastically delicious pancakes, walked tightropes, read Shakespeare, and shot deadly accurate arrows. These trances had begun a few years back, and lately they were happening more often. In recent weeks, Alfonso had been waking up from his trances in this particular tree, which was in the middle of an old-growth pine forest known locally as the Forest of the Obitteroos. Very few people had the skill to climb a tree in the Forest of the Obitteroos and no one ever attempted to do so in the depths of winter. No one except Alfonso, and even he wasn’t sure how his sleeping-self did it. He simply woke up and there he was at the top of a tree. Of course, his immediate concern was his own safety. Although his sleeping- self was an expert at climbing the most dangerous of trees, Alfonso’s waking- self had no aptitude for it whatsoever. He was quite short and skinny for his age, and when awake, he didn’t feel particularly athletic. His large green eyes and thick, dark eyebrows were the only outsized parts of his body. In every other regard, he was very small.
Alfonso stared down at the ground below and felt so dizzy that he almost threw up. A small clump of snow fell off the branch on which he was standing and he watched it plummet down for several long seconds before it finally hit the ground. Cold gusts of air continued to blast fiercely from the north, and the icy branches of the tree swayed and crackled in the wind. Then, rather suddenly, he heard a high-pitched scream. Alfonso glanced to his left and saw a two-foot-wide mass of sticks and mud sitting on a nearby branch. It was a bird’s nest, and the current occupant — a brown falcon with white-tipped wings — was staring at him and moving restlessly around her nest. Underneath the falcon Alfonso could see three trembling balls of downy fur. They were baby falcons, no more than two weeks old. Strangely enough, Alfonso wasn’t surprised by this turn of events. His sleeping-self seemed attached to falcons and eagles and, consequently, he often woke up near these fierce predator birds. Very slowly, Alfonso reached into his coat pocket and took out a handful of raisins, leftover from his lunch. He sank into a crouch and whispered “Kee-aw, kee-aw, sqrook!” He was imitating the sound that baby falcons make. It had taken him weeks of practice to do this properly. Basically, whenever he spent time near a falcon’s nest, he listened carefully to the noises that the baby falcons made, and then later practiced imitating their cries. He had gotten very good at this. In fact, this was one of the few things that he did very well when he was wide awake. Alfonso made his cry once again: “Kee-aw, kee-aw, sqrook!” The mother falcon circled nervously around her chicks but soon moved to a branch on the far end of the nest. Alfonso leaned in closer. Below him, the three baby falcons looked up and opened their tiny beaks. Alfonso tore the raisins in half and carefully dropped them into the three open mouths. Meanwhile, the mother falcon stared unblinkingly at him. As soon as Alfonso had finished feeding the chicks, his thoughts inevitably returned to his owwn predicament. For Alfonso, the task now at hand was getting down from this tree, and the key was to fall asleep. Unfortunately, it was far too cold and windy for Alfonso to feel the slightest bit tired. He was left with nothing to do but sit and think. As usual, Alfonso wondered what was wrong with him. It was a question he had pondered a great deal lately. Doctors at the big hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota, claimed that Alfonso suffered from a very rare sleeping disorder known as Morvan’s syndrome, which made it impossible to sleep in a normal fashion. Morvan’s syndrome was once common during the Middle Ages, but nowadays the disorder was exceedingly rare. Indeed, the doctors in St. Paul claimed that only a handful of people in the entire world had it. One well- known case involved a man from Mongolia named Ulugh Begongh. Apparently, Mr. Begongh had been awake for thirty-eight years, or 13,870 consecutive nights. Yet every evening, between nine P.M. and eleven P.M., Mr. Begongh’s eyes closed halfway, his breathing softened, and he appeared to sleep — only during this time Mr. Begongh actually experienced increased amounts of speed and strength. His wife claimed that on one occasion her husband lifted a one-thousand-pound ox cart above his head. Doctors in Mongolia, and elsewhere, believed that Morvan’s syndrome originated from a rare form of cholera, known as the sleeper’s cholera, which supposedly swept through Central Asia sometime during the seventh century. At that time, it was called quiesco coruscus, which is Latin for “sleep shaking.” The doctors had no idea how Alfonso had developed this syndrome. Some thought it was due to a childhood fever, but neither Alfonso nor his mother could remember him ever being sick. It was a mystery. Of course, the kids at school loved it whenever Alfonso fell asleep. They had taken to calling him the sleeping ninja and had been clamoring for him to join the fencing team, the cheerleading squad, the spelunking club, and the society for amateur tightrope walkers, as long as he agreed to participate while asleep. For a while, Alfonso was immensely flattered. What twelve-year-old wouldn’t be? There were just two problems. The first was that Alfonso never remembered anything he did in his sleep and, as far as he knew, he had absolutely no control over what his sleeping-self did. As a result, he never felt any pride in his sleeping accomplishments. The second problem was that his sleeping-self appeared to be quite a show-off. Inevitably, every time that he fell asleep, his sleeping-self would do whatever it could to grab the spotlight and impress everyone around him. There was, for instance, the time when he climbed out of the third-story window of his social studies class and tightrope-walked along a set of power lines to the top of a telephone pole where some baby falcons were nesting. This had nearly gotten him expelled fr...