There are things which humanity has often taken for granted unless it is an affliction which plagues them personally. Sleep and dreams are things which are so ingrained with the nature of humans they accept them as a simple reality that exists within their life. The ability to close one’s eyes and drift into dreams is a thing which occurs, and sometimes something fantastic occurs within such an adventure. Most times, however, it becomes evident that such concepts as sleeping and the dreams within it exist purely within the mundane. The most exciting thing most can often boast is a twisted perception of a parent or sibling, adrenaline coupled with the sensation of falling, or of being chased.
He wished he could remember how to sleep. He could not recall the last time he had dreamed.
It began slowly, that particular shift in his consciousness. A startle here, a night of fitful rest. It was initiated the night he wandered into a particular sort of pub; those places so often reputed to herald those of society brought low who would drink their own dreams away by the light of cheap candles, drowned in cheaper liquor. What led him there is anyone’s guess; he was a man of means who could afford the richness of drink within his own study. But, the rain on the streets turned a dim world into a fantasy landscape of shimmering promise and something hung upon the air which spoke of portents not yet revealed, oaths not yet broken.
The scents that assaulted his senses the moment he walked through the doorway were bitter and cloying: perfume worn too long on unbathed flesh, the acrid whisper of spilled alcohol yet to be cleaned from uneven stones. Desperation oozed from the cracks in the walls and the interior was possessed of a sinister hopelessness. This is where dreams came to die. Tapered fingers had moved automatically to remove his gloves and in equal measure paused before leaving the action uncompleted.
What drew him to that man seated in the corner would be a thing he would question for the long centuries his life would be destined to endure after such a chance encounter. He looked no different from the common fare often found within a place such as this one. A half empty tankard of drink teetered precariously upon the edge of a table which had seen better days and the man himself that sat as the beverage’s companion was wearing a threadbare suit which had likely succumbed to three owners previous to the frame which bore it now. He stood in stark contrast to his surroundings as he approached – finely dressed, his walking stick catching the glint of firelight from the establishment’s hearth and reflecting it, the only shining thing in a place like this.
His voice was eerily absent from him that night; such a strange predicament for a man who spent his days speaking at the university on the mechanics of surgery to students who filled the rows around him. If he had spoken, would anything have changed? Would the path before him have veered off in such a macabre direction? These are the questions asked by a man teetering upon the brink of madness…or perhaps a man who has already fallen beyond into that yawning chasm.
“You’ll do.” Such a strange statement and it echoed forth with a crisp clarity that matched the keen hue of the man’s eyes. He had brilliant irises that shone out of a face which had seen the abuse and rigors of a life badly maintained. No words were given in response, though lips parted as though to give utterance. It was over in a flash: a coin pressed into his palm, a searing sensation blistering with the bitterness of cold and long death across his nerves, the sound of laughter rich and heady filling his mind.
He did not recall how the man disappeared, or how the coin made its way into his pocket. Yet, he vividly remembered the scent of rain upon the air as he found himself outside that pub once more, dizzied and disoriented.
Rest was an elusive thing that night, though perhaps one could say such a thing was understandable. He gazed at the burn upon his palm for hours before the fire in his study, the strange symbols which seemed etched into the pale flesh which had not seen a day of manual labor, privileged with an educated, wealthy life.
Rest continued to be hard won.
He could not remember when he first started waking with gore on his suits, blood caked beneath his nails. Was he waking at all? To wake infers that one must first have slept, and sleep was something which had become an alien concept, a farce oft attempted and abandoned with repetitive dedication as days became weeks…then months. The servants began to resign without explanation. His cook shrieked at him when he stumbled into the kitchen one morning after having scrubbed the evidence from his skin as though she had seen of him a ghost.
The circles under his eyes continued to grow darker. Hair once a lustrous hue became something pale and dead, as though even color was slowly being leeched from him by the same nefarious force which stole his memory, silenced his dreams and turned him into a specter haunting his own halls. And the hunger. He could not place it and no amount of food seemed to quell it. No, it was something which went beyond the simplistic confines of lust or biological need. He could feel it scraping along his bones as though his skeletal structure was slowly being rearranged, turned into something that craved a thing he could not begin to comprehend, let alone feed upon.
He wished he could remember what it was to dream, or when it was he’d last slept. However, with such sacrifice and loss there were things he could recall with eidetic ease.
“Ghastly Murder in the East-End. Dreadful Mutilation of a Woman.” The print read starkly upon the top of the page.
Oh, that. He remembered that well…