Saloman Boyle sat in the quiet near dark of the suburban night and reached out as far as his mind could touch. It was three hours past midnight, his most beloved time and he was in no doubt that he would feed well tonight. Sometimes it was just right. That was more than just the comfortable humidity, the optimum temperature, the absence of noise, the near lack of light; it was the sense of rest that lay over every body.
Every body but Saloman’s.
Saloman never slept. He never had and he never would, nor could. It wasn’t that he didn’t need rest; in fact he craved it. It was simply that he couldn’t take it for himself. For Saloman, sleep came second hand.
He reached out into the somnolent night and stole what he needed. A little from him, a little more, perhaps, from her. At most he might nudge his victim into sudden but short lived wakefulness – the kind with the heart thumping as if from an unremembered nightmare. Who, other than the likes of Saloman, could say they had never felt that?
It rarely went even to that. Saloman had learnt through harsh experience that he needed to take only a little from each individual. In any case once they were awake they were of no use to him.
He felt his mind skirt over men and women, adults and children, all of whom unwittingly offered up their morsels of respite to him then drifted back to a state he could never truly know.
Saloman lingered over a nearly newborn baby, holding himself back, tempting and teasing himself with the delicious treat to come. The sleep of the newest born was so pure, so precious, so…delicious. It was also incredibly delicate. The sleep of an infant was a maddening pleasure that disappeared almost before it could be tasted. It was to be savoured, then treasured. Saloman breathed in, then held the breath, and held. It was dazzling in its texture, its strength, its depth.
He held it too long.
The child woke with a scream that Saloman could hear, physically, three hundred yards and two wall thicknesses away. All around him disturbed sleep rippled away from that frantic mewling. Saloman’s feeding was ruined for the night. Even those who had not actually woken were useless to him, offering not much more than the smell of sleep to taunt him. He stood, cursing a moment’s greed. It would take him too long now to find a new spot – conserving rather than consuming energy became the new priority.
Moving carelessly, for him, Saloman directed himself home. It was small consolation that he reached home before the waking world began its daily assault on him. For someone whose connection with the human race’s consciousness was so finely tuned being amongst waking people was like being pelted by ten thousand tiny pebbles of awareness. For someone just a blink away from total exhaustion it was a perilous torture.
As he stood in the tin block that slid up the spine of his tower block Saloman lay his face against the cold metal. It neither cooled nor warmed him for he was the same warmth as it. At least the waking world was falling away below him as he reached the twenty first floor. That cut him off from the (unlikely) possibility of feeding but at least it left him in peace.
But he found no peace. He spent the day itchy to track down whatever morsel he might find but knew it would cost him more than it gained. The agony clawed at him throughout the day, right into the evening and by night he barely knew if he was alive or not – which helped a little.
His instinct on leaving home was to feed immediately but he knew that was useless. Too many lazy grazing trips round here had left a tired and fractious community that never knew why rest was beyond it. A good night’s sleep was a rare event around here but that state had existed for so long that it had become the norm. Saloman knew that he had to travel further. Quality was the issue as much as quantity and quality sleep was a fast disappearing commodity. Saloman might have been a rare breed but his prey was an endangered species.
He let his senses guide him. Like an Eskimo feeling the wind on his cheek, he didn’t question his skills, he just obeyed them.
If he had thought about it, rather than using his mind as it was intended to be used, he might have been led to a hospital or hotel but that would have betrayed him. In those places, despite many beds, there are as many awake as asleep and what quality is there is often tainted by clouding chemicals, as much in one place as the other.
Suburbia again, where whole lifetimes are passed not far from sleep. That’s where his hunter skills took him. He found himself under a tree in a park backed onto by a row of houses. It wasn’t just his best hope, it was his only one. He couldn’t go hungry another night.
Saloman knew what it was like to reach the point where exhaustion killed. He also knew what it was like to pass that point. That’s how he knew that he couldn’t die from it and that’s why he wished he could. To die must be the ultimate sleep but it was a bliss denied him.
Despite his hunger and impatience, Saloman knew he had to take his time. The theft of sleep is an inevitably stealthy business. Eventually and carefully, he began to feed. His mind moved with great care and delicacy from person to person, taking less than he would have liked but, more importantly, taking no chances. He had to be careful. He would feed lightly off each house and only return if he really needed to. That was a calculated risk but there were dangers. Any disturbance would leave him more empty than strictly necessary.
It was while he made his calculations that he stumbled across her. At first his mind leapt away: not another baby. Desperate as he was for fine sleep, it was far too great a risk. But at the same time…
He knew it was greed that brought him back, sniffing around, and he knew only too well where greed could lead him. Even so.
This was something that couldn’t be ignored. Whatever flowed from this source was as pure as any baby could produce but so much more, literally so much more. There was too great a stream even for most adults. In any case no adult ever slept as blameless and pure a sleep as this. What did it mean?
Saloman knew himself well enough to know that debate was pointless. Yes he knew the risk, yes he should have fed elsewhere first, but none of that mattered. He had to find the source of this most luxuriant and precious honey. To do that meant moving and even though the sensible thing would have been to wait until his strength was greater before moving, to wait and see if the anomaly was still there later, Saloman moved.
Tracking down the house was easy enough. For Saloman it seemed to be marked out in a vivid beacon as bright as light. Getting to it was less easy. The garden wall that he had to scale was garnished with broken glass. If he had been less driven he would have allowed that to stop him but some improvisation with his coat and next door’s washing saw him through, or rather over. He cut his hand slightly but squeezed it hard to stem the trickle of blood, which he couldn’t stomach.
Conveniently, if peculiarly, the sleeper was downstairs. Saloman moved closer to the house, approaching the softly glowing window (though softly glowing for him alone) silently. He stood a moment before looking in. It was rare for him to ever physically see who he stole sleep from and even though he would never admit it there was part of him that was embarrassed about the theft, however necessary it was.
There was no question of not looking in though. Up close the gliss of energy that pulsed through his ravenous body was almost painfully perfect. For one moment, though it made no sense, he thought it might be a trap. By whom and for what purpose was beyond him though. He was a predator with no enemies that knew he existed so he shook his head and steadied before peering into the room.
What he saw was a young woman, a girl maybe, perhaps not even twenty. She was asleep in a bed set in a fairly ordinary sitting room. The bed wasn’t just incongruous by being a bed in a sitting room but by being on wheels, metallic and functional – in other words by being a hospital bed.
At first Saloman stared just at the girl who in his eyes glowed with an invisible quality that he could almost taste. He understood some things about her immediately, even if he couldn’t fathom others. Her sleep was so fine and infantile because she had never known any other state. This one had not cried aloud when slapped by the midwife – she had never woken from the womb sleep but she had not been allowed to die. The tube in her arm helped see to that.
Finally he allowed his eyes to move away from the sleeper, who was as beautiful to him as any sleeping creature, more so perhaps than most. He looked around the room, trying to piece together a history for this soft breathing mystery. There was a well worn armchair by the bed which spoke of long vigils where both watcher and watched had been deep asleep. There was a TV, a bookcase, stereo and so on, nothing unordinary but none of it for her benefit, judging by positioning. This room was a living shrine, he guessed, to a dear departed one who somehow refused to depart.
He might have been wrong in his conjectures but he knew he wasn’t.
Further examination revealed medical equipment stowed discreetly, a sketch pad and some flowers by the head of the bed; not the soon wilting ones normally found by quickly vacated hospital beds but flowers in their pots, given years to grow in this parody of a recovery room. Hung around the room were photo’s of a slowly ageing couple; some taken beside a bed – (first in a hospital, then in this room), in another, given pride of place, the mother was cradling the sleeping infant in her arms while the father stood proudly behind. This had been no hastily grabbed snap before the napping babe awoke. A similar photo could have been taken any time in the last two decades with as much time as any photographer could ever need to frame the perfect image.
Saloman looked back at the girl.
Just as she opened her eyes.
His heart jumped momentarily until senses better than eyes told him that she was still asleep, at least physically. The sea of sleep around her had barely been rippled by her acknowledgment of him. But she did know he was there and something profound told her what he was.
Saloman watched her eyes and read what he could from them. What he saw there was what she saw of him. She saw someone who could take the weight of this endless sleep and make it bearable, someone who might allow her to breathe just a little. Saloman knew all of this the way anyone who is loved might know; he knew because she smiled before she closed her eyes again.
Saloman found that he was weeping. His tears were of both joy and sorrow. He had met his mirror image and guessed that she suffered misery akin to his; alien but just as deep. What was night to her was day to him but no less painful or strange for that. There was joy too. The vampire beyond sleep had found the angel beyond waking-
He stopped, disturbed from his thoughts. She was trying to communicate with him. Her eyes were closed and she was, in almost every way, asleep but still she was phrasing a question to him, a plea that she didn’t have the words for (because she had no words at all – not even a conception of what words were). Nevertheless he understood her because he had intruded upon her mind and now they shared that space, where privacy was almost impossible.
She was begging him, in her way, to help her. He could wake her. He was in the room of her mind so would he open the doors and the shutters, let some light in? If he couldn’t do that perhaps if he could rattle around in this space enough he could make sufficient noise in her mind to wake her body up?
All she wanted was release and he could give her that.
He could give her that. The thought thrilled him. It was in his power to wake her. He knew that was in his gift. Saloman’s wandering’s had finally provided him with the opportunity to give shape to this existence that for so long had seemed to linger in the pale guise of surviving. He knew also that waking the girl from her coma would free not merely her, it would release that mother and father from the grinding burden they had toiled under for so long. He had the rare chance to do good.
From being a creature of subtle disturbance and unease, Saloman could become a life giver, the answer to an unspoken prayer. It was the kind of opportunity that many lives never chance upon.
Saloman saw all that as he looked upon the sleeping beauty but that was not all he saw. He saw something, something only one who had known endless thirst might have seen; he saw a fresh spring pool that he could bathe in and drink from at will. To wake her would be to free her but it would be to doom himself to more of this half-life. He might have been greedy, he might have been impatient and he might have been impetuous but he wasn’t a fool.
Saloman smiled as he drank deeply from pool of the girl’s sleep but he did not empty that pool; he left plenty for every day and night to come. His life would be different now; though hers would be as it always had been; empty and unlived. If the despair of the lost girl tainted his draught, it was a taint he could learn to ignore, perhaps even enjoy.
(c) Tom O’Brien, All Rights Reserved
Tags: 'Sleep', 'Tom O'Brien', Bloodlust-UK, Dracula, Short Story, Vampire, Vampire Fiction, Writers
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