Sleeping Beauties

by Stephen King

In the impoverished town of Dooling, part of the fictional Tri-Counties region of Appalachia, a bizarre murder occurs when two men running a meth lab out of their mobile home are beaten to death by a mysterious woman, who then sets fire to the lab before allowing herself to be arrested by the local sheriff, Lila Norcross. At the same time, reports start coming in of a mysterious sickness spreading across the world, which causes women to fall into a deep sleep, cocooned in a strange material. Dubbed "Aurora", the disease also causes the sleeping women to enter into a homicidal rage, attacking and brutally murdering anyone who tries to open the cocoons.

Lila's husband Clint, the chief psychiatrist at the Dooling Correctional Institute for Women, begins noticing Aurora occurring among his patients at the same time that the woman, who is given the name "Eve Black", is incarcerated in the prison. As the disease continues to spread throughout the town, the local women become desperate to keep themselves awake, leading to looting and riots. Lila herself falls victim to the illness, and is replaced by her alcoholic chief deputy, Terry Coombs, who in turn appoints Frank Geary, a former animal control officer with a short temper, as his second-in-command. Clint's superior, Warden Janice Coates, fires one of her guards, Don Peters, for sexual harassment; he drugs her with Xanax, leaving Clint to protect the dwindling number of still-awake female inmates.

Clint interviews Eve, learning that she is an "emissary" sent by an otherworldly being who believes that women are capable of building a society free of war, abuse, and other evils she says are caused primarily by men. Clint, according to her words, is "the Man" whose purpose is to protect Eve for "a week or so", when she promises to cure the women of Aurora. Meanwhile, Frank and Terry deputize several new recruits, including Peters and a juvenile delinquent named Eric Blass, and gradually restore order to Dooling. Rumors of Eve's ability to sleep and wake without trouble spread throughout the town, leading Frank in a quest to start manipulating Terry to take her from the prison to somehow save the sleeping women. Clint's son Jared and his friend Mary manage to hide Lila and three other women in an empty house, worrying that Frank will use their bodies as hostages.

Meanwhile, in an alternate dimension, the women find themselves in a post-apocalyptic Dooling, which they refer to as "Our Place". Lila and Janice assume leadership, and the women begin to re-establish themselves, even as many mysteriously vanish (due to their bodies having been destroyed by men in the real world). A group sent to look for other survivors instead come across a magnificent Tree, which turns out to be the portal between Our Place and Dooling. Elaine Nutting, Frank's wife, tries to burn the Tree down because she doesn't want to return to the real world, but Eve sends an inmate, Jeanette Sorley, to stop her; Jeanette has a young son whom she desperately wants to see again so she agrees to stop Elaine. Jeanette finds Elaine in the process of setting fire to the Tree portal and wrestles the lighter and a gun away from her. Jeanette then throws the lighter away and picks up the gun to put it in her belt. Before she can do that leaves rustle behind her. Jeanette turns with the gun in her hand and Lila then shoots and kills Jeanette by mistake.

Clint and his allies steal weapons from the police station, prompting Frank and Terry to assemble a posse to assault the prison and capture Eve. During the attack, two criminals whom Lila had arrested based on an inmate's testimony use a stolen bazooka to blow up the station and part of the prison, killing fifteen women before Vanessa Lampley, a former guard, shoots them dead. Terry commits suicide out of grief and cowardice, Peters and Blass are killed, and most of Frank's men desert him, but he manages to reach Eve's cell. Clint, Jared, Janice's daughter Michaela, an inmate named Angel Fitzroy, and an elderly volunteer, Willy Burke, try to persuade him to spare her life, even as Eve herself promises Frank that killing her is the only way to save his family. Realizing that Eve is trying to prove that men are inherently violent and should be allowed to die out, Clint uses guilt to force Eve to use her power to save Willy when his heart suddenly stops. Seeing this, Frank and the others allow Eve to return to Our Place, where she gives the women the chance to decide whether to return to Dooling or stay put. Ultimately, all of the women vote to return.

As sleeping women around the world awake from their slumber, life slowly begins to return to normal. However, Lila and Clint's marriage, already on shaky ground, falls apart, and they decide to separate, with Clint resuming his old job at a prison in a neighboring town and Lila resigning as sheriff. Haunted by Jeanette's death and seeking forgiveness, Lila drives out to where the Tree used to stand and asks Eve for a sign of her presence. A single brown moth (one of Eve's forms) then lands on her hand.