Sleepless

The alley was gloomy but the red sky prevented it from being truly dark. It was never really dark in Las Vegas, the sleepless city where saner people journeyed in pursuit of their dreams. Still she herself had come here in mindless flight from her own. When closing your eyes means reliving the end of your world, the screaming, the blood, the silence afterwards, the best place to be is somewhere that will stay awake with you. Or so she had thought.

After spending several nights, all her money, herself and her final resolve on this her aimless vigil she had done more than to change her mind about the city. It never slept, yes. And it was cold and heartless and anonymous enough for her to consider it a fitting purgatory for what she had done. But these nights in wakeful self destruction had also made her realize that even coming to this place had been pointless. She might deserve this agonizing emptiness and all the terrible things she let happen to herself here, but in the end all she really wanted was for the memories to go away, for everything to go away. And finally there was only one bullet proof way to do that.

She had decided to kill herself three days ago when she had awoken in an echoing stairwell to a stranger touching her, and had realized that she did not care. The man had pulled away when he met her eyes, maybe shocked by the emptiness he saw there. She had just looked at him as he scrambled away, hadn’t said anything. She had known then that there was nothing that other people or she herself could do to her that would drown out the numb pain that grew and grew inside.

Since that morning she had found some solace in preoccupying herself with planning how she would go about ending her own life. After considering several options she had come to the conclusion that shooting herself was the way she’d prefer to go, and for that she needed a gun. And so here she was, in this gloomy alley that was denied total darkness by the light pollution of the distant Vegas sky.

When a dark shape emerged from the shadows at the other end of the alley she found herself almost hoping that he was a psycho killer, here to do her job for her. When he approached, however, it soon became clear that he wasn’t. His age, probably only a year or two older than herself, and his sympathetic looks even made her doubt that he was the fixer she had expected to meet here tonight.

“You’re the one they call Aiden?”, she said.

He nodded. “And you’re looking to buy a gun.” It was not a question.

“Yes”, she said and produced the stolen wallet. “How much?”

He laughed quietly. “Don’t you want to see it first? Decide if it’s any good?”

“Does it fire bullets?”

“Yes.”

“Well, then it’s exactly what I’m looking for.”

He shrugged and walked up to her, closing the gap that separated them. She stiffened but did not move. When he was standing right in front of her he stopped and produced a small package from inside his jacket. It was wrapped in newspapers and from the headlines she could tell that the packing had been done today. He started folding the newspapers back but then seemed to catch himself.

“You’re not a cop, are you?” He shot her a sly smile.

“Do I look like a cop to you?”

He thought about it. “Nah, way too young. What are you, fourteen?”

“Fifteen”, she snapped. “Look, are we doing this or not?”

His smile broadened as he made a face of theatrical defeat. “Okay okay, take it easy sister”, he laughed and resumed the unwrapping of the package. “Looks alright to you?”

In the dim light she could see that the gun was old and worn, but of course this did not trouble her at all. She took out the money and threw the wallet aside. She didn’t need it anymore. “Yeah. As I said, how much?”

He named the price and she started counting the bills, realizing that she could actually hand him the whole bunch but still having some idea about fair being fair. Besides, if she was going to give away her last money in this world, it should not be to some lowlife criminal like this guy – no matter how nice he looked. She handed him the money.

“I’m curious, what are you going to do with it?”, he said as he accepted the money.

“Kill myself”, she said flatly and nodded towards the package. “Now give it to me.”

He made a shocked face and started to reply, but then his eyes went to something behind her shoulder and the shock turned into fear. He backed one step. “Who are –”

She turned around, frightened by his reaction, but only got halfway before something struck her hard across the back of her head. Before she hit the ground, however, she heard the fixer scream in terror or pain.  Then everything went truly dark.

***

A warm summer night, junior high graduation done and the world at their feet. She has been kissed tonight, kissed for the first time. She doesn’t know if she should tell Indiana, it seems like one of those private things that make her separate from her twin sister and she kind of likes that feeling. Besides, Indiana would of course counter with having gone a lot farther, a lot earlier.

They have all been sitting on the roof of Dennis’  mom’s house for hours now, drinking and looking at the sky. She is lying on her back, smoking a cigarette and listening to her friends talking drunkenly about their dreams and hopes for the future.

This will be their last summer together. Most of them will start new schools next semester and even though they all promise to stay in touch they all know that is just words. They have to make the most of this time and tonight’s party is supposed to set the bar high. And thus they have been drinking and smoking tonight like there was no tomorrow.

Then Dennis’ mom gets a call from one of the neighbors and rushes home from wherever she has been. All hell breaks loose and everybody runs for their lives – except for Dennis of course, who has to stay and face the consequences.

Indiana shakes her sister and wakes her from her drunken thoughts. Reminds her that they have taken their own parents’ car to the party and that they are dead if it isn’t back by morning. She cries and says that she forgot about it, that she has been smoking weed and can’t drive.

She herself looks at her sister Indiana and says that she can drive, she will get the car and the both of them home before their parents notice anything. They can hear Dennis’ mom calling the police from inside the house as they drop down from the low roof and laughingly rush to the car. But they  don’t come home that night.

The impact is sudden. Either she fell asleep behind the wheel, or something jumped into the road. She loses control. The car crashes into something. The noise and the fear and the pain are terrible as the windshield breaks and the universe explodes.

Consciousness returns in flashes. Pain. Confusion. Hard to breathe. Blink. Indiana lifeless. Not breathing at all. Blink. Feels for her pulse, finds nothing. Only blood. Blink. Shocked. Nauseous. Terrified. This cannot be real. Blink.

She is walking down a road. Walking. Walking. Walking. No shoes, torn clothes, broken mind. Half of the time she can’t remember what she’s doing here or why her whole body is hurting. No cars here at this hour, no one to ask for help. Help with what?

She sees a building suddenly. A gas station. Her feet leave bloody footprints on the brick floor as she enters. A worried face says something she doesn’t hear. She needs to borrow a phone. Knows the three digit number by muscle memory only. Tells the voice on the other end that something has happened. Her sister Indiana won’t wake up. The car is ruined. She has lost her shoes. She doesn’t tell the voice that she was kissed for the first time that night or that the world is at her feet, because those things don’t matter anymore. Nothing matters now.

She puts down the phone and doesn’t know suddenly what to do. She doesn’t want this to be true. Doesn’t want to see the sirens when they come to get her sister. Doesn’t want to face her parents or her feelings or the cold truth. So she exits the gas station and continues walking, as if refusing to return to the car wreck can make all this go away. But deep down she knows that it can’t. Her sister Indiana is dead and it is her fault. And nothing can make that go away. And still she walks and walks and walks.

 ***

Her eyes blinked open slowly. Her head hurt and everything was spinning. The world was awry, she was lying on her side and could feel the hard concrete against her face. She blinked again. It was hard to focus and she couldn’t make sense of what she was seeing in front of her. The fixer was lying on his back farther into the alley, arms outstretched and eyes closed. A dark shape was sitting on top of him, seemingly tearing at his throat with its bare teeth. She gasped in terror and the creature turned towards her.

It was a man, but judging by his pale skin and dead eyes he might as well have been a walking corpse. Blood poured from his open mouth as he smiled manically, revealing rows upon rows of razor-sharp, deadly teeth. She screamed and tried to crawl away, but her back hit the wall and then the creature was over her.

It was fast and strong. She tried to break free, she tried to call for help, but everything she did only seemed to make the man-shaped monster all the more eager. Her head was forced to the side as it tore at her clothes to get to her neck. The terror she felt when its teeth broke her skin made her realize that she did not want to die after all. It pressed her head against the wall as it drank, and all she could do was to stare at the body of the fixer who lay just a few steps away from her, blood still pouring from the wound in his neck. He was not moving at all and soon neither would she. And then she laid eyes on the gun.

The fixer must have dropped it as he tried to flee from the monster, and now it lay glistening in the shadows just within her arm’s reach. She tried to ignore the weakness and pain as the monstrosity on top of her killed her slowly by draining her blood, and she tried to refrain from giving in to the panic that was growing inside of her with every slowing heartbeat. She reached for the gun, the gun with which only moments earlier she had been planning to take her own life. She felt her fingers go numb, her consciousness slip away. And then she felt the cold metal in the palm of her hand. She grasped it desperately, hoping with the last remnants of her waking reason that it was loaded.

The darkness at the edges of her vision covered almost everything now and she could feel her body shutting down. With her final strength she raised the heavy piece of metal and put it against the creature’s head. More than anything else it was the muscles in her fingers acting reflexively that made her succeed in pulling the trigger. Then an explosion of sound and recoil blew away the remnants of her senses and she finally lost consciousness.

***

Heavy steps approaching. She blinked, felt terrible, weak, wanted to throw up. She didn’t know how long she had been out.

“Holy shit, you sure made short work of that motherfucker.”

Her eyes had been resting on the worn, black boots moving towards her through the alley. Now she struggled to look up. As she did so she noticed the bleeding corpse lying collapsed across her legs. Before she could react the big man in the black leather jacket bent down and pulled the creature away. Drops of warm blood spattered across her face from the crater in the creature’s head. She was too weak and shocked to do anything else than to stare as the man routinely stowed the body into a trash bin, sprinkled it with liquid from a pocket flask and lit a match. The smell was terrible as the corpse’s hair caught fire and the rest of it started to burn.

“What…” She tried to speak but realized that she didn’t know what she wanted to say.

“Hank Hooligan. Pleasure.” The man took a sip from the pocket flask and lit a cigarette with a match from the same box. “You freelance?”

She shook her head, confused. “What, no, I –”

“Nah, never mind. I know this guy. Real good at getting things done, this kid.” He had walked over to the body of the fixer and was now checking his pulse. “You with him?”

This was getting more absurd by the minute. “No… He, I, he was selling me a gun.”

“Ah”, the man called Hank Hooligan said and threw the lifeless body over his shoulder. “Well, you made good use of it at that, didn’t you? Anyway, can you walk?”

She wasn’t sure. She wasn’t sure about anything right now. Who was this man? What had just happened to her? Was she going mad? Somehow she managed to climb to her feat and then stood there, leaning heavily against the wall as the world spun all round her.

“That won’t do”, Hank said. “I have to get this Aiden kid help quick as fuck if he’s not gonna die. Would be a waste. Either you get your shit together or I leave you here.”

That did it for her. She definitely didn’t want to be left alone in this dark alley with a burning, bloodsucking corpse as her only company. The mere thought of it almost made her panic. Hank nodded as she took a deep breath and started walking after him, using the wall as support for every step.

“Good”, he said. “I left my ride just down the street, you don’t have to walk far.”

“Who are you?”, she breathed strainedly while fighting not to collapse onto the ground.

“Told you, I’m Hank”, he said. “I hunt vampires and you just did my job for me. Means I owe you some help in return, don’t it? Looks like you could use some.”

She stopped. Only hours earlier she would have thought him mad. Now she didn’t know what to think. She looked back at the gun that lay dropped and forgotten on the ground next to a drying puddle of her own blood. She realized that she didn’t want it anymore, had probably never really wanted it.

She had come here looking for a sleepless place with terrible shadows to cut herself on. Tonight she had found exactly that, but also something else. She had found that the purgatory she had come here seeking for herself went so much deeper than she had ever dared dream of, and that the shadows concealed more than saner people realized. This could be more than a punishment for her – this could be a new start.

“You coming?” Hank had turned around at the end of the alley.

She nodded and struggled to catch up with him. He seemed to realize now the bad shape she was in, and offered her his free arm. Together they walked towards his car that stood parked further down the street. Hank put Aiden’s lifeless body in the back seat and she caught herself wondering if he would actually survive. He then opened the passenger door and helped her inside.

As he started the engine he turned to her again. “What’s your name, by the way?”

She was tired. Didn’t have the strength to come up with a lie. “Samantha”, she said. Nobody had called her by that name since the night her sister died.

“Samantha”, Hank repeated. Seemed to taste the name. “Nah, it’s too long. I’ll call you Sam.”

Samantha nodded. Might as well leave her old name behind as well. And as Hank Hooligan pulled out from the sidewalk and started driving at high speed through the city, she made a decision. The old Samantha might as well be allowed to have died there in that alley tonight. She had gone there to end it all, and that was what had happened. It was the old Samantha who was burning in that metal bin. Now remained only Sam, and Sam was not going back to the world of sane people. She was going to see just how deep this rabbit hole purgatory went, and she would never look back.

And as the car sped through the streets the sun rose upon Las Vegas, a sleepless city where saner people journeyed in pursuit of their dreams, and a new world started.

 Chris Smedbakken, 2016-12-03
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Digital Drawings

This is a gallery of my (more or less) finished digital drawings to date. I will add to this page when something new emerges. Some of the pics are speed works, others I have put more time into. The gallery begins with the newer drawings and progresses with older ones. Most of them are drawn on-screen using my old HP TouchSmart TM2 or my newer Microsoft Surface Pro 2. I’m still learning and would really appreciate your constructive feedback, so please comment away. 🙂


The Sound of Silence

When Sarah Johnson woke up it was well past noon – she could tell because the sun was already up. This far up north that didn’t happen early in the day during winter. She groaned as she moved and felt how stiff her arms and legs were. Her head hurt like hell and she realized that she was lying on a flight of concrete stairs. One of the steps pressed painfully against her right temple and as she drew closer to her senses a heavy nausea grew alongside the pain. Somewhere in the distance she could hear traffic passing but where she lay sprawled only the ringing in her ears broke the silence. Fuck. She had done it again.

The palms of her still numb hands slipped on a thin layer of ice as she tried to rise. With clumsy movements she managed to maneuver herself  into a sitting position on the stairs, and that’s when she saw the blood. She shivered. Where her head had been, the ice coating the concrete step was tinted a dirty, dark red. Her hand moved to her temple and the nausea rose as she felt the jagged edges of the cut there. The blood had coagulated or frozen and it was impossible to know how deep the wound was – but what she could feel of it was enough to make her flinch. Being drunk and falling asleep in stupid places was not entirely new to her, although most often it at least happen indoors. It was stupid, but usually it had ended well. This time however, she realized with a pang of fear, she was actually lucky to still be alive.

She dragged herself up with the help of a metal handrail running alongside the stairs. For several seconds she just stood there, panting heavily and trying to get her pulse to calm down. No matter how much her lungs worked, she couldn’t quite seem to get enough air into them. She felt lightheaded and the ringing in her ears persisted as she took in her surroundings. Below the stairs was a walking trail emerging from a tunnel running beneath a now silent railway track. She realized that she actually wasn’t that far from home. This was not the road she usually took from the bus but occasionally she did. It was a bit shorter but ran through a somewhat bad part of her area and was not the smartest choice after sunset. Drunk, badly dressed for the cold and unconscious in a bad part of town at night. She understood that she should count herself lucky to have woken up at all, even not considering the nasty cut to her head.

Using the handrail for support she managed to climb the stairs and ended up on a small yard surrounded by unkempt tower blocks. A chill wind tore at her sparse clothing and she hugged herself as she started staggering homewards. The prospect of a hot shower and a nice cup of tea afterwards kept her moving forward even as her entire body protested violently. That, and a promise to herself that she would never get so drunk again. At least not soon.

***

There was something wrong with the thermostat. She had turned it little by little until it was now all the way towards red, and still the water was lukewarm at best. She stood under the shower head and shivered like a leaf, desperation kicking in. This was the third shower she took tonight. The first one had managed to warm her, but once out in the living room and wrapped in four blankets before the TV she had quickly begun to feel cold again. Her lungs ached and her throat and mouth felt dry and sore. Spending the night out in the cold had certainly left its marks and she had understood that she was running an increasing fever. It had not been long before she was back in the shower again, but by then the real shivering fits had already begun kicking in.

Now she stood here for the third time. It was almost midnight and she was freezing like hell despite her best efforts to turn up the temperature of the running water. She had to call somebody, get them to fix this. But first she needed to take something for the fever. She stepped out of the shower and tore a dry towel from the rack, desperately draping it around her shaking body. When she turned to shut off the water she suddenly stopped dead with her hand on the tap. The soap bar resting on a plastic shelf right beneath the water spurting from the shower head had shrunk to an unrecognizable size. Like it had somehow melted away. She stared, blinked and then quickly turned off the water that to her trembling hand did not feel hot at all. Resolutely ignoring the heavy steam that had formed on her bathroom mirror she then hurried towards the kitchen, desperately hunting for aspirin.

***

When she awoke it was already dark outside again. She had slept through the entire day and the fever had given way to a numb and weak feeling in her entire body. She had expected her sheets to be all sweaty and damp but they weren’t. Instead, a disturbing, sweet smell had filled the room as she slept and she sighed as she looked over the edge of the bed to see if she had thrown up during the night. When she couldn’t find anything on the floor or in the bed she settled for opening up the window and hoping that it was just her illness-wrecked senses playing tricks on her.

Down on the street people were going about their business as usual, cars and pedestrians filling up the winter darkness far below her. She was struck by a strange feeling of unreality, as if she were watching everything through a thick two-way mirror, unable to be seen herself. This illusion was suddenly broken, however, when she noticed a person standing on the other side of the street with his eyes fixed on her building – staring straight at her. There was something deeply disturbing about his whole character and she began feeling sick again. Shivering she hurriedly closed the window, ignoring the putrid smell that still clung to everything in the room – especially to her. It was nothing, she was seeing things. She should call somebody, but the reception at the hospital had closed already and she didn’t feel ill enough to call the A&E.

***

Three sandwiches and a large glass of orange juice were staring accusingly at her from the low living room table between her and the television set. She knew she should be hungry but still couldn’t bring herself to eating or drinking anything. Instead she focused on the TV screen where the third season of Gilmore Girls  was served in marathon by her old and struggling DVD player. She really loved that series, had re-watched it four times already over the years. Laughing at the witty dialogues made her temporarily forget that something was very, very wrong with her.

She opened her mouth to burst out laughing at yet another absurd situation in the fictional family, when sudden panic struck her. She couldn’t make a sound. She tried screaming, but there was no air in her lungs and she realized that she had not been breathing for a long time. As if she had simply… forgotten to do it. She drew a deep breath and finally the noises from the TV were accompanied by her own sounds as she started sobbing uncontrollably – but no tears came. She then sat there in the couch, fixedly breathing deeply and rhythmically for a long time as if that could somehow erase the strange experience she had just had. Could a person die from forgetting to draw breath? She had never heard of it. Didn’t the body do those things on reflex?

She jumped as the phone rang. She didn’t recognize the number, but wanted so badly to hear another person’s voice that she answered anyway.

“Hello?” Her voice was rugged and dry. She was surprised at how hard it was to form words.

Silence. The sound of… not breathing, something else. Maybe a faint backdrop of traffic. Then, suddenly, a voice.

“Have you realized yet?” And somehow she knew. That guy on the street.

She dialed off, more frightened than her internal logic could account for. She got up and frantically closed the curtains. After hurrying through the apartment and turning off all the lights she wrapped herself in blankets and curled up at the edge of the couch, listening and shaking in the darkness and silence. Her pulse didn’t go up, however, and she realized that she had once again forgotten to breath.

***

She knew that she must be dreaming, but still she didn’t wake up. It was night. She was on the concrete stairs again, but facing their base. The frozen blood from the cut on her temple still glowed dark against the icy white covering the steps. She knew she should be freezing in the cold air, but she felt nothing. Below the stairs the narrow walking trail begun, barely illuminated by a flickering street lamp. The circle of its light didn’t stretch far from the base of the stairs, and beyond it reigned darkness. At the edge of the visible world she could see the mouth of the tunnel gaping at her. For the first time she shivered, but it wasn’t from the cold. She knew that she should be able to see light at the end of that short tunnel, but she saw nothing but blackness in there.

Despite herself she started walking down the stairs, step by step and fear growing inside her. She didn’t want to know what waited for her in there and still something beckoned her closer with its terrible silence. She stepped down onto the walking trail but stopped in the middle of the light circle cast by the lamp, feeling herself shrinking as she stared into the pitch dark. There was something very wrong about everything. It looked exactly like the tunnel she had walked through on so many ill advised night strolls, but she knew from the bottom of her very being that it was nothing like it. This was something much older, darker, deeper, something masquerading as the well known just to draw her in. She realized that there was faint sound echoing from deep within the tunnel and she knew that she had heard it once before. In the background of a strange phone call. She turned and ran, but the staircase was dark and slippery and before she could do anything the sharp concrete steps rose up to meet her.

 ***

She woke with a start to a dark room filled with silence. Not even the sound of frantic heartbeats pulsing in her ears broke the eerie calm anymore. She got up, almost retching from the putrid taste sticking to her tongue and to her teeth. The smell was everywhere now but she didn’t even dare open the windows. What if he was still outside?

Her entire body felt stiff and almost didn’t obey her command to move into the bathroom. On the way there she glanced at the answering machine. She had been away from work for three days now and people were starting to call. She was desperate to talk to somebody, but somehow she was too tired to reach out. As if it would require a tremendous effort to penetrate the two-way mirror she had imagined earlier.

She tuned on the light in the bathroom but was instantly blinded and had to turn it off again. Her eyes didn’t seem capable of adjusting to the light anymore. She splashed some water into her face, hoping that it would make her feel better. It didn’t. She met her own eyes in the mirror and drew a shocked breath. She was so pale. Dark rings under her eyes and in the hollows of her cheeks made her look almost… dead. The insight frightened her and she hurried to turn on the light. And then she screamed.

It was not the mattness of her hair and her eyes, or the blueish tone of her skin. No, it was the sight of the scar at her temple. It had not healed at all and the edges of it seemed to have stretched and torn, as if the skin was beginning to come off from the skull. Reflexively her hand went to her mouth, and she stared into the mirror in horror as she realized that only two of the fingers on her right hand had their fingernails left. She bent over the toilet to throw up, but nothing came out. Nothing moved inside of her. It was as if all her organs and processes had actually stopped.

She screamed, a rough, parched scream that scared her even more, and dug her fingertips into her scalp as she staggered away from the mirror. Large bits and pieces of hair came off without her even tugging at it. She screamed again and ran into the living room.

She grabbed her phone and frantically dialed the emergency number, failing two times before her trembling fingers got it right. They left a viscous, sticky residue on the blinding screen but she didn’t care about that right now. She was falling apart, she couldn’t breathe and when she brought the phone to her face she realized that the putrid smell was actually emanating from her.

She almost couldn’t hear the operator’s voice as they took the call – were her ears shutting down as well? She groaned inarticulately, unable to make her tongue obey her.

“Miss? Can you hear me?” The operator’s voice fought its way through the two-way mirror and Sarah made another desperate attempt.

“Aheullph ghe”, she screamed and then realized that she could not close her jaws anymore. A guttural sound escaped her throat, but now she could barely hear herself. The world was growing silent. Even her vision was fading by the minute. Desperately she stared at the screen of her phone as it went from blurry green to an even blurrier red. The operator had ended the call. She tried to find the redial function, to find any function, but all she could see now was light and darkness.

Sarah screamed again, but this time there wasn’t even an attempt at coherent language. She didn’t know what was happening, but her body was shutting down all around her and there was nothing she could do. She didn’t even know if she was still sitting on the floor or if she had fallen over, all her senses were an ambiguous mess of dull impressions now and even her thoughts were sinking into a thick, clammy fog.

Then suddenly: a sound. The doorbell. The small vestige of her that could still feel panic and hope started kicking and screaming, forcing her near numb body to crawl towards the front door. She had heard the doorbell ring, she was sure of it. Or at least as sure as she could be of anything in this state. It must be someone from work, come to see how she was doing. They would help her, drive her to the hospital, everything would be alright, she would not die, she would not fall apart, she would not… She could not reach the door handle. Panic. She started scratching at the inside of the door. Faintly, uselessly, like an old, weak cat. She heard the doorbell ring again, closer this time. Don’t go away, she thought. Don’t leave me. I’m in here, I need help…

“Ah, fuck it”, a voice muttered on the other side of the door. She somehow recognized that voice. Then there was another sound, a scratching and then a click. Warm light flooded over her as the door opened towards the stairwell, blinding her again and making her try to shut her eyes. She realized that she couldn’t. A dark shape towered over her where she lay on the hallway carped, its silhouette a blurry blackness against the yellow light from outside. The shape stepped over her and closed the door, then bent down and looked straight into her dry, half seeing eyes.

“Well, there you are. You are a terrible hard one to reach, you know that?” Then she knew who he was and all she could feel suddenly was fear. What has this man done to me?

She tried to scream at him, to accuse him, to plead with him to leave her alone, to let her live, to help her…

“What was that?”, he said and she could have sworn that there was an unpleasant smile in those words. “Oh no, you’re not dying sweetie”, he said in a voice that didn’t try good enough to actually sound kind or caring.

She tried to protest, but his blurry silhouette just shook its head and put a finger to its lips to silence her. “No, not dying. Dead already, rather. Matter of fact, darling, I’m kind of surprised that you haven’t noticed. What with that smell and all. But what do I know, people never cease to surprise…”

He was silent for a moment, seemed to be eyeing her over. Sarah made a final attempt at speaking, but only succeeded in making the last trace of air leave her lungs in a tortured groan.

“Come, come, none of that now”, he said. “Being dead is not that bad, there are many perks to it actually. But yeah, you have obviously let yourself go way to far. But no worries”, he added and rose to his feet, “Vincent’s gonna fix you right up.”

She could hear his steps retire as he walked into the living room. She couldn’t even draw breath anymore. “Vincent, by the way, that’s me”, he continued from the other room. “In case you were wondering. But I reckon you’re not doing much of anything right now. Dead and walking for three days without feeding, well, that must be considered a rather crazy feat.” He was doing something over there in the living room, but it was not until he reemerged in her field of vision that she realized that he had removed the carped from the floor.

“People will probably talk”, he breezily continued, as if this was the most normal thing in the world. “Sure, they’ll say that it was mostly my fault for not reaching you sooner, but as I said honey, you’re a terribly stubborn specimen to say the least! Anyway, enough about that now. We have to get your rotting ass out of here so that my people can clean out the apartment. Can’t leave it stinking like this now, can we. Oh, is that your finger on the floor? Never mind, I’ll have someone bring all your parts later. Now, I hope you’re not offended if I do this…”

She could only stare blankly, flaccidly, as he bent down, put the carpet on the hallway floor and started wrapping her in it, rolling it around her layer by layer until all she could see was darkness and all she could smell was her own rotting body.

He lifted her up and carried her away, closing the door behind him as he went. He might have put her in a car, because soon she could hear the faint sound of an engine. All the while he kept on talking in that jovial, carefree tone of voice. She could hear him distantly through the thick fabric of the carpet.

“Don’t worry, sweetie. You’re no Miss Universe right now, but as soon as we figure out what your vitae is we’ll get you right back on track, you count on it. We’ve all been like you once, nobody’s judging. Or, well, maybe some, but not I. I’ve seen worse, I tell you. Having died and still not being able to, you know, leave the body… Well, I’ll tell you this. The first couple of weeks will be quite rough on you, I’ll be honest. Eating human flesh or souls or whatnot, I’ll admit it’s a bit different. But you’ll get used to it. I sure did. ”

The man called Vincent kept on talking, but Sarah had stopped listening. Something was drawing closer, she could feel it. Something old, something dark. The car stopped and he picked her up again, started walking. Entered a door, passing through an echoing corridor and then descending some kind of stairs. And that’s when she heard it, that sound. A sound she had heard only two times before, but which she had learned to fear more than anything. It was the sound of silence, the sound of darkness. The sound of beyond. And the terror she felt at the realization of where he was taking her awakened finally the last remnants of faltering force within her and she screamed.

***

Vincent stopped talking as the muffled hysteria from within the carped made it clear that she was not listening to his friendly explications anymore. He sighed and glanced around to make sure that nobody was close enough to hear her. Of course nobody was, he was too good to make sloppy mistakes like that.

“Now, now”, he said tonelessly and realized – not for the first time – that empathy and reassurance were not his strongest points. “No need to panic, darling. We’re just going home.”

Then he jumped down onto the subway tracks and started walking into the crossroads darkness where things were not as under the sun and where people like him – and her – could live in secret and shadows and madness. “Welcome to Dusk”, Vincent murmured, half to himself, as he crossed the line where the light from the platform couldn’t reach them anymore, and they were gone.