When I awoke, I was lying on my side, foetal on top of the sleeping bag with a blanket wrapped around me. The first thing I noticed was the faint sound of breathing; sweeping through the room in soft waves of slumber. The second thing I noticed was Nathaniel’s face just inches from my own and I immediately shook off the last remnants of sleep and sat up quickly, feeling embarrassed and more than a little uncomfortable at the thought of him sleeping so closely by my side. I could see the colourful cover of The New Creatures sticking out from under his sleeping bag. I frowned and stole a glance at his sleeping form.
He had pulled his tousled hair back into a loose pony tail but one curled lock lay gently across his cheek and I noted how he looked even younger when he was asleep. With long dark lashes that would make any girl jealous, the shadows under his eyes only made his complexion even clearer and almost disguised how young and perfect his skin was. Eyeing the grey stripes that swept through his hair, I wondered how old he had been when the ashen streaks had appeared. I knew them for what they were: residual tattoos of a tortured existence. They were like the ghosts of loved ones that had been ripped from his world.
Climbing carefully to my feet, I could see the bodies of seven other members of the group, all shrouded in their sleeping bags, like little cocooned bugs. Someone let out a small snuffling snore and turned, eliciting the faint ruffle of nylon as they strove to get comfortable. Out in the corridor, I could see a faint light emitting from the far end and I tiptoed out of the room like a wraith creeping through the night shadows. The lights were out in the rooms lining the corridors and peeked inside as I passed, seeing no one within. Where were the others? Nathaniel had said there was always two people on watch when everyone else slept but four members of the group were seemingly on duty tonight. Was that because I was here? Surely they didn’t fear reprisals from Marina, Vincent and Damien? The sensors would outnumber Michael’s friends significantly unless of course my housemates had decided to once again seek the help of Sebastian. I shook that thought free from my head immediately. I doubted very much they would go down that road again. It wasn’t a path towards anything good.
Reaching the end of the corridor, I stepped out onto the metal staircase and cast my eyes around the warehouse. The non-descript white van was where it had been. The shutters were down, barring entry to the dark of the summers night outside. The door however, was slightly ajar and and I descended the stairs as quietly as I could and crept over to where I could see a glimmer of the moon-soaked sky seeping through the gap in the door. As I got closer, I could hear faint whisperings coming from outside and then a soft girlish giggle.
Peering cautiously out, I could see Jared and Louise entwined just a few feet from the doorway and oblivious to everything apart from each other. His arms were wrapped tightly around her waist, with his fingers interlocked at the small of her back and she was looking up at him with her arms flung around his neck. Their fervent whispers stilled and made way for even more fervent kisses which culminated in stifled giggles as Jared nuzzled his face into the crook of her neck. I watched, feeling the flush on my cheeks spring forth immediately at the sight of them in their tight embrace. Finally, feeling ashamed of my Peeping Tom activities, I stepped back and left them to it.
So much for sensor security! I wondered if Nathaniel knew that the people on duty to guard his warehouse fortress were in fact more engrossed with each other than they were interested in keeping the vampires from their door.
As I headed back towards the stairs, I was startled by a door opening at the far side of the warehouse and even more surprised to see Cam and Matthew appear, both looking tense and sweating profusely. Dark patches seeped through their t-shirts at the chest and armpits and Matthew was busy wiping his glasses with the hem of his tee before placing them back on his glistening face. They stopped briefly outside the door and fumbled with something as they stood with their backs to me. When they finally turned around, they both looked suitably startled themselves when they saw me standing near the bottom of the staircase. Cam in particular, noticeably bristled when he saw me.
“What are you doing down here?” he said gruffly, looking me up and down. Matthew stood, slightly behind the bigger man as if seeking protection, although from what I wasn’t sure. I was hardly mean and menacing.
“I couldn’t sleep,” I said hesitantly.
He frowned under heavy knit brows. “Probably planning on running back to your vampire friends, no doubt,” he scowled. “Which would be a good thing if you ask me.”
“Come on, Cam, leave her be,” sighed Matthew. “It’s been a long night, I need to get some shut-eye before sunrise.” He nudged Cam gently in the back and the big man sort of snorted derisively at me and walked past, with Matthew trailing close behind.
As he started up the stairs, he stopped and looked down at me, shaking his head. “Nathaniel must be mad. We don’t need vampire sympathisers round here.”
I stared at him, feeling my mouth go dry; not at the venom in his words, but at his huge hand that gripped the handrail. Fresh stains of blood glistened on his fingers and when he went upstairs I was still mesmerised by the slick prints he had left behind on the metal rail. I swallowed hard and turned my head slowly to look at the door from where they had appeared.
It wasn’t just locked. It was padlocked. The heavy black padlock hung ominously on the door and I felt the hairs on the back of my neck tingle. Rubbing a palm across my neck, I gave the door one last, longing look and turned away, ignoring the curiosity that burned inside. After all, it never had done me any good to look behind door number one.
Back at the top of the stairs, I decided not to head back to the dorm. I had no desire to lay down next to the strange Nathaniel and hear the soft sounds of his breathing in my ear. Instead, I turned into the doorway of the main room in which I had first met everyone and immediately let out a gasp as I spotted the shadow of someone standing by the window, where the piece of cardboard lining the pane had now been moved revealing a ragged peep-hole through which to view the outside world.
He still had his hair pulled back from his face, as he had when he had been asleep and I noticed how he now wore a hooded jersey fleece which was open at the front. Nathaniel stood with his hands thrust deep into the pockets of the fleece, legs crossed at the ankles as he leant up against the window, peering out through the fissure in the glass.
For a moment, I stupidly thought he hadn’t seen me as he carried on looking out the window even though I stood hovering awkwardly in the doorway, but just as I was trying to decide whether to try and sneak back into the corridor, he turned and I could only just make out his features in the shadows.
“What did you think of the book?” he asked, softly, his voice barely above a whisper.
I hesitated, feeling embarrassed that he had caught me out reading his book.
“Um, actually I thought it was … beautiful. But weird,” I murmured.
He titled his head slightly. “Weird?”
“Yeah, all that talk about lizard women and snakes. It’s pretty dark in places too,” I shrugged.
“What’s life if it’s not dark?” he replied.
“True,” I agreed solemnly. “I didn’t know Jim Morrison was a poet. I thought he was just a singer in a band.”
Nathaniel sighed and shook his head. “He was never just a singer. In fact, he was anything but. He was a poet first and foremost. The whole music thing, well, that was just a side line. He was a wordsmith, an artist. He could paint great landscapes of pain and passion, sex and death. He could conjure up beautiful scenes of love and suffering, just with his words. No, he was never just a singer. People think of Jim and they think of leather trousers, groupies and drugs. They don’t see what he really was underneath all that crap. Maybe they don’t want to. People rarely want to be confronted by death and he spoke about it more openly than anyone ever did.”
“Is that why you like him so much? Because he confronted death?” I said.
“I like him because he never shied away from anything. He spoke the truth, even if the truth was hard to hear. I think that’s important. Life isn’t an easy ride. It’s not all candy floss and walks in the park. It’s merciless and cruel. When all’s said and done, you live and you die. How you chose to live your life between those two events is up to you, but there’s no point pretending the end isn’t going to happen. Jim Morrison understood that. He said people fear death even more than pain. It’s strange that they fear death. Life hurts a lot more than death. At the point of death, the pain is over. And he was right. Life does hurt.”
I stared at him in a speechless stupor. His words made me feel even more uncomfortable. I wasn’t often rendered mute as you very well know, but this talk about death was making me squirm inside, as if millions of tiny bugs were running just under the surface of my skin. I had the urge to scratch at the invisible critters or scrub at my skin until it was raw and bleeding. The most awful thing about what he was saying, was that it was true and I think that was the hardest part of it all.
“Do you wish you were dead?” I said and regretted it as soon as the words slipped free from my lips.
At first, Nathaniel didn’t say anything, he just looked back out through the the window again. When he spoke he didn’t look at me.
“Sometimes yes. Does that sound terrible?” He didn’t wait for me to answer. “Sometimes, just sometimes, when I wake up, you know those first moments when you’re just pulling yourself back into reality? When your dreams are still clinging to you and just for a few blissful seconds, you forget. You forget what you are. You forget what happened the day before, the week before, the year before even. It’s like you’re this other person and everything is different. Everything is how you wished it could be. And then you remember. You remember everything. That’s when I wish I was dead. Right at that moment.”
Copyright (c) Lindsey Clarke 2012