On Monday mornings, I send out a story via email: ultra-brief tales of 1,000 words or more, usually in genres including horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. Those stories collectively are called Once Upon A Time. I’ve also published several ebooks and compendium volumes of those stories so far.
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The Night Clinic
I sit here in the dark, sweating.
We feel the heat so much more than you, or rather the infrared and the ultraviolet. It’s pervasive during the daylight hours. And so I sit, or I pace, or I sleep, with every blind drawn. Every shutter closed. Every curtain pulled across.
They called it a cure, and in a manner of speaking it was true: a cure for the symptoms, rather than the condition itself. It was immediately made mandatory, and the uptake has been nigh-universal among us. Who wants to suffer with the symptoms, after all?
I’ve never been sure whether to be regretful or thankful that it only works for a short time, but it’s the reality of things. It’s so much better than the old days, when they would hunt us down and either kill us or imprison us. They were right to do so. It’s a testament to our shared humanity that the medicine was ever developed at all. Or perhaps just a testament to fear.
I’m not a biochemist, but of course I’ve read about how it works in layman’s terms. Our condition is the result of infection; a blood-borne disease. The virus causes changes in DNA, and a transformation which cannot currently be reversed. The attendant symptoms and resulting behaviours are literally legendary. When I think about people like myself in previous centuries, including the ones I met myself, I feel a deep sense of both pity and empathy. Monsters, from a certain point of view, but also human beings who were in constant pain.
The pain isn’t physical, though. All that is behind me and my kind, as long as we’re careful. But the hormonal imbalance causes its own special breed of madness, and of course the thirst. The omnipresent thirst, before the medicine was created.
I remember the first time I sought out the medicine. It was already past midnight, but the soldiers were vigilant as always. Their clever weapons were pointed at me the moment I appeared. Their guns have an attachment above the barrel which produces concentrated UV light, as do the enormous searchlights they have stationed around the entrance like artillery batteries. The weapons themselves fire fragmenting rounds of silver. A single shot would be fatal to me, and indeed to anyone — but especially to me.
The clinic looked like any other, but I could see the queue of my own kind. They make me nervous, I freely admit, even though it’s been more than a hundred years since I became one of them. Their overly bright eyes, seeing every detail even in pitch darkness, and their gaunt faces which can change so quickly into something different and horrifying. Many of them were in the grip of the thirst, their self-preservation being the only thing holding them back from an attempt to attack either the medical staff or the soldiers outside.
They leave the consultation booths open so that those waiting in line can see others being treated. So that they can see the relief on the faces of the poor souls, only moments after the syringe deposits the miracle compound into their veins. Their faces slacken, and for a moment they wear an expression of wonder. They almost look fully human again. Many of them weep with gratitude.
The substance slakes the thirst immediately, and the effect persists for a few days, during which we can at least have some peace by night and some rest by day. It removes the chemical madness that causes us to lose our control, and to seek out prey without any regard for the core of humanity within us. The medicine takes it all away, for a time. It lets us return to some semblance of normality.
We can’t go out by day, of course; not without impractical levels of protection against ultraviolet radiation. We’re nocturnal by nature, not by choice, but in our twenty-four-hour society, that’s not so bad as it once was. There are many jobs we can do, including answering phones during unsociable hours and for foreign customers in other timezones; we dislike such roles often being referred to as chase the sun. The sun chases us, in fact, and we always retreat from it.
Some of us take work as night watchmen, and while those jobs are not well paid, we’re exceptionally well suited to them. The medicine takes away none of our abilities. I can spot, and hear, and smell, a solitary mouse half a mile away. I can move with an eerie speed and in utter silence, even going between rooftops and the ground in moments. And of course there’s our prodigious strength. I could lift a small car with ease. Some of us work as night-shift rescue services, though we’re prohibited from being in the police forces or the military. The army would love to use us, I’m sure, but politically it has always been impossible.
Still, guarding a factory or an office complex between dusk and dawn is a simple task for any of us. No-one in their right mind would venture to risk an encounter with a watchman who’s a vampire.
It’s manageable, at least most of the time. But when the third night or so draws near, and the medicine is almost gone from my blood, I sit here in the darkness of my home, and I sweat. The sun burns outside, and I watch the clock, counting down the hours and trying not to think, and not to thirst, and not to kill. Not to become the monster that so many untainted humans believe us all to be.
I watch television sometimes, or read, or listen to music. I can’t sleep on the third day; I’m too warm and too uncomfortable, and my dreams are dark and counterproductive. I dream of entire lakes filled with blood, and I dream of allowing myself to succumb to the frenzy inside of me. I wake up feeling worse, so I choose not to sleep at all.
Gradually the sun moves across the sky and then towards the horizon, and I know that it won’t be long. My body screams at me to go out early, as soon as the sun sets, but I know I have to prove to myself that I can still retain control. So I give it an extra half an hour, or sometimes even a full hour, but that’s all.
And then I go, vanishing into the shadows, moving without sound, covering hundreds of metres in a heartbeat, daring to look nowhere but straight ahead.
I finally arrive, my mouth watering and the points of my teeth beginning to ache, and I join the line to wait for the syringe and the blessed relief of the night clinic.
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