When you barely sleep, you don’t miss much. And for years it was a burden. It became easier to rest when I stole a knife from some drunken scoundrel, and every night tucked it under the clump of rags and old newspapers that doubled as a pillow for a street urchin like myself.
At the age of five, I first overheard my parents copulating. Not surprising, given that we were piss poor and only had one bedroom between the three of us. On top of that, they were a pair of inconsiderate, opium-puffing, wretched arseholes. For years the sounds of grinding springs, rasping breath and high-pitched moans rang in my ears without a moment’s relief. As I approached adolescence, I learned to meditate into a deep enough trance so that I could tune out the sounds. The nights when I employed this strategy were the nights during which I slept the most. Some nights I lay still, caressing my rusty brown blade, contemplating whether I'd be able to silence the pair of them with a single strike.
Had my father been capable of refraining from entering my mother on a nightly basis, perhaps sleep would have been an enigma to my younger self nonetheless. The slums of London had their own orchestra of moans and screams, and there was many a night that a sweaty, bloated face would slap up against the window, before the person to which it was attached would turn and vomit on the cobblestones. The stench would linger for days after the face had vanished. And you never caught glimpse of the same face twice.
I’d witnessed six stabbings by the time I was thirteen, three of which resulted in some poor bastard being killed and left to bleed out and rot in the alleys. Without the use of telegrams the people had become so attached to, families had no way of finding their husbands and brothers if they were knifed in the streets, unless they were close to a well-known tavern when they bit the dust. Which wasn’t often. Men usually stumbled between the public houses and brothels in a drunken stupor, going through them like they were going out of style. The next morning would struggle to recall the names of their wives, let alone the location of each and every watering hole they’d encountered on their outings.
At the blossoming age of thirteen, I took the long way home, wandering the winding alleyways like a rat in a maze. Quite contented with myself, I was in fact returning from my first ever sexual encounter with a female. Her name was Flora George, and her family lived in an even more appalling unit than I. Hence, I had sucked her face and neck so hard that she'd never be the same, expelled so much bodily fluids inside her skinny teenage body that it was a wonder I hadn't died, and then hit the road before the epitome of filth and poverty could leave too large a scar on me.
Even then, when I shared my own waste, I was a ghastly child who looked down on those I believed to be below me.
I'd turned the last corner, and onto the wet cobbles of Greyhawk Street when I tripped over a piece of splintered, bloody bone.
I leapt back and slapped my back against the wall, eyes wide and fixed upon the horrendous creature slumped in a pool of vomit and blood. Human, I realised. Female, I then noted, eyes tracing over a sticky length of blonde and silver hair, and the smearing of cosmetics across her face.
"Millicent," the woman slurred, taking me aback. Her eyelids didn't even flutter in the slightest, nor did any other muscle in her face. Vomit rising in my throat, I turned to sprint the last stretch of the way home.
"My name is Millicent."
I hesitated. "Mine's Silus."
"You shouldn' be here." She was yet to show any sign, other than speech, that she was still living. If I hadn't been so sure, I'd have sworn the tingle of rotting flesh crawled around inside my nostrils.
"Yeh, I know. M'goin' home."
"Shouldn' be there either."
My weak teenage heart pounded, my guts churning and begging me to leave this dreadful woman. A light sprinkling of raindrops began to shower over my face, and over hers, streaking the matted mess of makeup on her monstrous face.
"Should be livin' somewheres better," she murmured. "I hurts bad, Silus, son. Have yer got a knife?"
My fingers twitched towards the extraordinarily deep pocket of my trousers. They were torn and wet and stained with blood and other bodily stains. Not all of them were mine either. My mother had collected them from some priest a while back.
"I have," I said.
"Pu' it in my heart. I'll look after it for ya. Might...." A grunt of discomfort exited her chest, and it heaved slightly. "Might need it later."
Time seemed to speed up like a hissing train; I watched in silent horror as my hands whipped the knife from its resting place, and inserted it in the burly woman's bosom. I stumbled back, as whatever demon had taken me in its grips released me, watching a spurt of lazy blood pop from the wound, and the body twitching horrifically as Millicent sucked in her final breath, and fell limp again. As though she'd fallen asleep. Except she had a knife in her chest.
She didn't speak again either.
A plump, veiny hand plopped into her lap. On it, a sparkling jewel on a beautiful, silky band of gold. Gosh, it seemed to be the only thing on the corpse that wasn't tainted by blood or pus or piss or vomit or filth.
My eyes flitted back and forth through the streets. Finding no one there, I swooped down and liberated the ring from her hand. I tucked it into the pocket that once contained my knife, and strolled home, the name of Millicent suddenly miles from my mind. My own name, however, gasped by the pale, thin lips of Flora George, was quite a welcome memory.
For years I gave old drunk corpses like Millicent little time of day, little thought, and absolutely no sympathy whatsoever.
In later life, women ran into my fourth-storey office in fits of crying, begging me to help them locate such drunken fools. Those were the kind of clients that (if I’d had them) I’d have asked my security to grab under the armpits and throw out onto the streets on their arses.
But I didn’t have security. I didn’t need any. I was already feared enough without adding muscle to the equation.
Silus Splendid, untouchable by all, excepting a very select few.
And those few wouldn’t dare. Even if they let on that they would.