Pleasant Nightmare, Victoria Wraight
I met the vampire when I was high on cough syrup.
I had a nasty cold that night, the kind that makes you feel like you aren’t exactly yourself, and also like you’re too much of yourself. Then again, it’s entirely possible that I didn’t have a cold and instead drank so much cough syrup I somehow convinced myself I once had a cold, or was otherwise in desperate need of that medicine the flavor of bitter artificial cherry (or was it grapes? perhaps strawberries?).
With the taste of some indistinguishable but rather horrid fruit upon my lips, which may have been open and humming to myself, or rather closed and maybe drooling, or perhaps they were too dry for either, I found myself in the town’s cemetery.
Under the cloud-covered night, I stumbled upon a bloodsucker, much to my delight, for I was in no mood to deal with a middle-aged groundskeeper who was probably named Gary or Dave or Jim or something else you’d overhear at a car garage where they overcharge you for an oil change and a tire change and a steering wheel change.
The vampire—who looked as ill as I felt but may not have really been, because I never did figure out why I took the cherry-grape-strawberry medicine—reeked of death and cheap liquor.
I remember staring and being stared at. I remember milky eyes of red that lacked all spirit, framed by thick brows against pale and rotting skin that was covered in dirt and blood and wriggling maggots that occasionally tried to crawl in the vampire’s open and hissing mouth. It reminded me of my old cat Puff, bless her very dead heart. Maybe a vampire got to her.
I said, with cherries on my dry lips, “This is a pleasant nightmare.”
They snarled, with blood on their cracked lips, “This is a dream, and you should wake up.”
But it wasn’t a dream, since I don’t dream, or I forget them once I wake up after nights where I thought sleep was just a myth and everyone was pranking me each night by lying still in bed and not being plagued with odd thoughts like Where will the songbirds go when humanity is gone? Why do we worship paper and rocks? I am a simple creature, desperately living, my mouth free of maggots and screams. I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t at ease. I just was.
“Do you rest peacefully?” I asked.
“Between four wooden boards,” they said. “Perhaps you should try it.”
“Rest, or die?”
“Do as you please.”
I never did as I pleased. Whatever I did, I did to please others. It was all I could do in a life where my plans must precede my planning, where I must know what to do like an animal just born who can immediately walk and eat and fight and scream. I only screamed when I was born, which isn’t impressive, I’m told. Must I be impressive? Can’t I just be?
The vampire hissed, “Go home, human.”
I whispered, “Show me where you sleep. I’ll lay flowers upon it.”
They glared like a predator. Primroses, I thought, would do nicely.
“Do you expect me to return the favor?” they asked. “Treat you well after you take your last breath? How sad must you be to rely on the dead to lay daisies on your grave.”
“I would prefer lilacs,” I said. “Or forget-me-nots.”
A clawed hand was suddenly around my throat.
“Live your little life, human,” they said through clenched fangs. “I’m sure someone will remember you for those pretty eyes, or that pretty mind. Go home and sleep in your soft bed, and maybe you can dream of swimming in maggots and regret as I do. Maybe you can cough up that liquor, and thank God that it isn’t chunks of your decomposed lung. Maybe you can learn to appreciate your short little life while you still have the time.”
“What a nightmare,” I gagged. I almost threw up cherries. Maggots and guts didn’t belong in sweet dreams. “Must you always awaken to it?”
“Must you witness it, human?”
I couldn’t wake up. Sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you can only squeeze your eyes shut as the bad things pass you by. But nightmares end, right? They end and you notice that the bloodsucker had pretty eyes, too, and was probably once very beautiful. Then you recall how raspy their voice was, and how they reeked of death, a scent meant to drive the living away.
I was too sleepy to spit up cherries. I was too tired to go home. I was too exhausted to care.
“How about hyacinths?” I asked, my voice slurred. “I’ll lay hyacinths at your grave, so you can awaken to something nice that will chase your nightmares and regrets away.”
The vampire hesitated, then spoke, “If I wanted that, I’d drag you to my grave.”
“What’s stopping you?”
They went silent once more. I posed the question to myself, wondering what it was that stopped me from listening to my beating heart telling me to run run run. I didn’t want to run. I wanted an answer. For us both.
I never got one. Instead, the vampire told me once more to leave, their raspy voice quiet. I didn’t know what stopped me from leaving, what stopped me from living. Darkness closed around me like a suffocating embrace, and I awoke to unbearably bright sunlight streaming in through the pine trees above. Someone stood over me. A groundskeeper.
“Get out of here before I call the cops, kid,” he coughed.
I sat up, shaking the dirt from my clothes. Something light was resting on my chest.
Hyacinths. Dead, wilted, hyacinths, coated in blood as red as cherries.
Victoria Wraight is a senior college student majoring in English with a focus on creative writing. She is an avid reader of fantasy novels, and searches for the cryptic and strange in her hometown of Buffalo, New York. Her work is forthcoming from Miniskirt Magazine.