The Night of Souls
Daphne woke to sirens blaring through the evening air. She nestled into her blanket, wanting to shut out the world. Pressing a pillow over her head for added silence, Daphne pulled her legs up to curl in on herself. Her hands were clammy with sweat, and she squeezed her eyes shut until colored spots danced in the dark.
It was almost time.
Another ambulance drove past her building, sending her jerking upright as her pillow tumbled off the mattress with a feathery sound.
“Goddamn it! Tell me again why we decided to squat five blocks away from the hospital?” Daphne looked down at Rufus, her pet rat, whom she obviously didn’t expect to answer. He twitched his nose, making his whiskers dance, and used the edge of her blanket to climb onto the low-lying mattress before scuttling over to burrow into the crook of her elbow.
“I know. I know. I should get up. It’s the night, after all.” She ruffled his beige fur, then placed him gently down before climbing out of bed with a grimace. “You’ll have a cake ready for me when I get back, right?”
Rufus vanished into a fold of her duvet. Cheeky rat.
She cracked her knuckles and yawned, then cursed and headed over to the small kitchen while the floorboards creaked with every step. She splashed some water on her face and brushed her teeth, belly rumbling all the while.
She didn’t need her stomach telling her it was time; Daphne was unable to ignore the acute hunger steamrolling its way through her every cell.
There was no point in prolonging the inevitable, but by all that was good and holy, she hated taking what she needed. The “Night of Souls,” as she’d come to call it, was an ordeal—one she was forced to reenact every year.
And of all the days the year had, the Night of Souls had to be on her damn birthday—something she already dreaded. She was getting older but not particularly wiser. Sadder maybe. More jaded.
On the upside, she didn’t have to kill someone every night, just on her birthday. One life exchanged for another year of her own.
What a pitiful existence.
Daphne meandered past her mattress and opened a small cupboard in the corner of the room, one that contained the few clothes she owned. She quickly got dressed, throwing on some jeans, a sweatshirt, and her old, sturdy boots.
She grabbed her Luckies from the nightstand, nearly knocking over the old computer speakers sitting on her laptop in the process. Cursing her jittery hands, Daphne pushed the cigs into her back pocket. Blowing out a long breath in a pathetic attempt to calm herself, she looked around her room.
The last golden-red rays of sunlight flooded through the large windows. The room wasn’t that big, but it contained her whole world and was safer than almost anywhere she’d lived before.
Countless paintings lined the walls, and every part of uncovered drywall was drawn on as well. Drawing calmed Daphne; it took her away from the grim reality she could never escape. It kept her sane. Apart from that, it was her only source of income. She sold pictures over the internet—granted, not as many as she would’ve liked but enough to keep her and Rufus fed. She’d tried working as a waitress once, but just as it had been with school, being around people had made her crave them, their energy. It was better not to put herself in tempting situations like that lest she lose control.
Daphne drew pictures of landscapes she’d never seen, of skylines she had, but mostly she drew feelings. The dark red of anger, the black of hopelessness, the gray of loneliness, and the dark blue of melancholy were frequent and prominent ones in her work. Here and there were remnants of lighter feelings: specks of light yellow to symbolize optimism and warmth, mingling with the beautiful green of hope. Yes, she had hope as well.
And then there were her masterpieces. The last light of the day illuminated them beautifully, making memories that were not her own erupt and crawl through her mind. Foreign and yet a part of her, like ants beneath her skin.
Twelve large canvases stood before her, filled with the twelve souls she’d taken. Most were dark and distorted, but her first one stood out, just as the soul itself had. A harmonious swirling of gold and orange, yellow and light blue, silver and white. She loved that painting, even with the despondence it brought every time she looked at it.
Her gaze wandered to the empty canvas in the kitchen, the one she would fill soon. It would hold whomever she had to kill tonight.
She sighed deeply, trying to muster the courage to go outside. Outside meant pain. It meant feeding, killing, and hurting. Her fists clenched at her sides, and she shook her head.
There was no time for dallying.
“Fucking hate this.”
Daphne made sure Rufus had enough water and food to last for days, then kissed him between his small ears.
“Love you,” she whispered before leaving out the door that led to the fire escape.
Daphne grabbed hold of the rusty handrail, focusing on its frail, familiar sensation beneath her fingers as she began her descent. The run-down building had been an office complex once but now stood as a thirteen-story abandoned structure with smashed windows and graffiti-covered bricks.
Daphne loved it—she adored her little one-room home on the top floor and the fact she got to enjoy an incredible rooftop view for free.
It was scheduled to be demolished in a few months, but the owner and the building firm had gotten in a fight, and Daphne doubted the dispute would be resolved anytime soon. It had been all over the newspapers and was what had drawn her to the place originally. She hated to think of leaving, but it would happen sooner or later, as Daphne had learned all things did.
Daphne shivered as she reached the bottom and released the handrail. Letting go marked the severity of tonight; when she touched it once more, she’d have company. Another soul banging around inside her, fighting for room.
She hunched her shoulders and made her way to the hole in the fence. It was fully dark now, and the bustling traffic, blaring horns, and smell of hot asphalt were constant companions as she approached the downtown area of Trinity. Her hunting grounds.
Soon bars and restaurants lined the sidewalk, and Daphne wrinkled her nose. Loud and smelly, the scent and feel of the emotions worming their way into her senses were not her own. The people walking past her mostly tasted stale, the ones whose faces were illuminated by the glow of a screen that was. Lost to the digital world, numbed by it to the point of their minds turning as blunt as the edges of their phones.
Warm happiness like thick, fragrant honey assaulted her nostrils: a pair of lovers passing by.
“Let’s go to that little Italian place down the street. I heard they have excellent wine,” the woman said, beaming at her man.
“Sure thing, darling. I’ll follow you wherever you want to go,” came his answer.
It was genuine. His love was warmth on Daphne’s tongue, the power it held heavy, yet elating.
She huffed and turned away, trying to get them out of her system. “Fucking losers.”
Honestly, she was green with envy, hungry for that honeyed happiness and warm love herself. It was something she’d never have, not in real life and not by stealing it. She stole the vile stuff, took from vile people. It was the only way she could justify what she had to do, justify who she was and how she was forced to survive.
It angered her that she cared. It angered her that she pressured herself into taking darkness, but it had always been like that. Clinging to compassion, clutching at the humanity inside her and trying to keep it alive at all costs. If she lost it, then who would she be? Another shadow in the night, preying on helpless souls.
Daphne’s strides became longer, and soon she’d left the busier part of the city behind. The smells became pungent: waste, sewage, and smoke. Anger, red and spiky, tickled the back of her throat, wafting from a man who’d just noticed his wallet was gone after bumping into a stranger a block away.
She could smell the dark and heady lust coming off another guy who ogled a scantily clad prostitute. Harsh and dark. Quick lust, not the satiating kind. It was the type that left a stale taste in her mouth and weighed on the conscience. Not worth it.
A wave of desperation and fear hit Daphne, and she spun around. A boy not more than twelve was crawling into the back seat of an older man’s expensive car, his tired eyes never straying from the cash in the man’s hands as they sped off.
She knew that look, that fear; she’d seen and smelled it countless times before, and the intensity with which she felt the boy’s despair nearly brought Daphne to her knees.
Fear flashed across her body, hot and cold. And pressure so strong it made her whole being shake. The need to do something about it. She gasped, only to have her airways clogged with the greed and malice of a thief passing by, eyes already on his next target.
Too much. Way too fucking much.
Daphne jogged down the street, limbs stiff and shaky as sweat beaded along her forehead. She dove into an alley and sank down against a wall, craving solitude. She hit the back of her head against the stone, once, twice, a third time. It did jack shit to calm her but did give her a sense of her body. Pain had a way of doing that; it always seemed to ground her.
“Fuck!” Her lower lip quivered as she gripped her arms and dug her nails into her skin.
It was all she could do—hold on to herself until the desire for vengeance passed. Otherwise, she would go back there, rip that sleazy fucker out of the car, and suck out his soul with pleasure.
And what good would that do? Where he comes from, there are plenty more.
She knew that. God, she knew. She owned a soul just like him, one that still gave her nightmares and memories sickening her to the point of vomiting. Her victim had liked little girls though—little girls just like she’d been. Daphne had gotten one pedophile off the streets, but she couldn’t handle another one.
Daphne refused to get pulled under by this panic, by the flood of memories assailing her. She closed her eyes, focusing on her breathing and the roughhewn, solid stone behind her head. After endless counts to ten, Daphne checked her watch.
“Shit!” It had taken too damn long to get a hold over herself, and it was almost ten o’clock. She only had two hours left. “I fucking hate this,” she whispered, tapping the heel of her worn leather boot on the ground. The staccato sound echoed off the alley walls, wearing on her frayed nerves.
She didn’t want to go into the streets again. Any other night was tolerable; she could handle the crawling, putrid tendrils of feelings she fed from nightly. But taking a soul was different. It filled every crevice of her being, consuming her as much as she was consuming it. Tufts and breaths of feelings were scratchy, raw and biting, but they filled her belly. A soul was… a whole ’nother thing.
Daphne sighed and patted her pockets for the Luckies. She located the smashed pack and stuck one in her mouth, then flicked her lighter open. The red glow eating away at the tobacco and paper had a calming effect on her, its soft crackling like a lullaby. She exhaled slowly, watching the smoke twist and twirl in the cool night air.
Suddenly her sensitive ears picked up some footfalls on the pavement nearby. They were dragging, unsure. Someone was coming her way, and by the sound of it, they were drunk.
Daphne stubbed the cigarette butt on the sole of her boot and pushed up from the concrete, yanking the sweatshirt’s hood over her ashen-white hair. Was the contender coming to her tonight?
The figure appeared at the far side of the alley, and she raised her delicate nose to sniff the air. Male, late forties, unwashed. Apparent weakness for vodka. He steadied himself against the wall as he came closer, and with each step, Daphne could taste, smell, and feel his emotions. His sadness lodged painfully in her throat. His anger became acid on her tongue. She nearly buckled under the force of his hopelessness.
It was the cocktail of feelings she usually went for.
But was he the right soul?
Closer. He needed to be closer. As the man stumbled and lurched forward, she readied herself. She stretched her arms out and breathed him in. Like a stench, something lashed out and she recoiled.
She sniffed harder. Feelings for a daughter taken away by her mother after a divorce gone sour.
Shit. She couldn’t take him.
Daphne stepped back into the shadows of the alley. As the man went right by her, she siphoned off a bit of his sadness, a considerable amount of anger, and most of the hopelessness. Like a steady stream of air, it passed from his soul to her own, hissing and tingling in her throat before funneling down to her stomach and out to each limb. She held her breath and steadied herself for what was about to come.
The rush of energy felt great, but it wasn’t all that was coursing through her veins, shooting up into her brain, and filling her up.
Anger simmered in her chest, a mimic of the feelings she’d just stolen. Why was she so weak? He’d walked into her alley, all but offering himself up to be taken. But soppy, weak, worthless little Daphne couldn’t finish the job.
Hopelessness. She was bound to do this over and over again until the day she died.
And finally, sadness. She wished she had a dad who cared for her as much as the vodka-riddled man loved his daughter.
Cursing loudly, Daphne shook her head. The stolen feelings hadn’t even taken a chunk out of the hunger that continued to claw its way through her insides. Her fingertips prickled, a sign that the stolen goods were already dissipating.
She shook her hands, then clenched them into fists, trying to dim what felt like little sparks of electricity under her skin. It was no use; she tried every time regardless of the same outcome. Which showed how far along down the road of madness she was.
Daphne glanced at her watch again. Ten thirty. An hour and a half to go; if she didn’t have a soul by then, things were going to get really bad.
She tried not to think of the first time she’d taken a soul, a night when she’d had absolutely no idea what the hell was going on inside her apart from the pain, but the memory flooded her regardless.
Darkness, a street too busy, buzzing with excitement and impatience, courtesy of the festival going on. A forest of legs and feet around her, too close to get out, too close for them to spot her. Pain in her belly, a fire roaring within, eating her up with each passing second. Her throat scorched and raw, longing for something… Too weak to get up, too many legs surrounding her. And then a voice. Soft, as its owner bent over her, creating space, keeping the legs and feet at bay.
The voice, old and worn around the edges, making her look up. “Are you all right, honey? Where’s your mom?” Something sweet and heady flashing out. Caressing Daphne’s throat, soothing, soft, right. A blanket of concern, pulling at something inside, making it hard not to pull back. Time ticking by like feet stuck in mud, the pull growing, growing until instinct took over. Until warmth raced down Daphne’s throat, filling and comforting. Sweet air, coupled with safety, knowledge, the memories of years and life.
A body hitting the ground beside her, tall enough to get noticed. Screams echoing, ringing in her ears. A large hand grabbing her shoulder and pulling her away.
It had been a good soul, a kind one, and very strong. Daphne had felt almost high on the essence of that old lady’s soul for months afterward, and her happy memories were ones Daphne still clung to on especially difficult days.
That night she had turned ten years old. Her birthday present had been the knowledge that in order to survive, once a year, she had to kill. She had found her way back to the orphanage changed. Her once-brown hair had turned white, and the deep-seated fear of herself she had brought along had grown roots.
Daphne lengthened her strides, as if walking faster would grant her escape from the memories. She hurried through the streets of downtown, speeding past a group of strung-out junkies whose highs made her nauseous. The frustration radiating from the drivers stuck in traffic was hot and stung the back of her throat like a lit match.
This was her turf. She knew every hidden corner, every side street. This was where she fed nightly.
She’d tried once before to avoid taking a soul, instead gorging herself on the stolen feelings of the city’s derelict. They were a seconds-long solution to an undeniable problem, vanishing momentarily whenever it was time for her annual soul consumption.
With her hands deep inside her pockets and her hair covered by the hood, Daphne slouched and looked down as she walked. At nearly twenty-three, she barely had a feminine figure to show for it, and what little curves she possessed were concealed by baggy, dark clothes. Strolling those alleys by night as a lone woman wasn’t a good idea, and Daphne did whatever possible to avoid attention.
Everyone she passed was unfitting. She stole some grief, some rage, and some disgust out of habit, but none of the owners were the type she was looking for. Daphne scanned the people around her, searching for someone besides that sicko who’d taken the boy. She couldn’t choose him; she’d completely lose it if she did.
Frustrated, she hiked up her radar, angling her face into the breeze. There was a hint of something on it: the stench of a truly dark mind. Daphne turned her head, determining the person’s location.
There. She smiled, relieved. Like a bloodhound on a trail, she followed their scent, soon locating the person who would be her next kill.
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