05 Oct When Little Sally Falls Asleep
“When Little Sally Falls Asleep”Written by Richard Saxon Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 13 minutes
There’s an orphanage situated in northern Pennsylvania, in a small town so isolated from the rest of the world that it might as well not exist. Why in God’s name anyone decided to put “Dawson’s Home for Special Children” here, I’ll never know. But, without any other opportunities in life, I’m stuck here until the day I draw my last breath.
Don’t get me wrong. Now that I’ve been here for well over a decade, I’d never leave. If I can give even a single one of the children a better future in life, this pain will have been well worth it. But the kids they send up here aren’t exactly ordinary.
They’re the ones abandoned on our doorstep, left behind by their families without anyone to care for them. They usually move from orphanage to orphanage, acting in ways their caretakers just can’t understand. It’s not like they’re bad kids, but rather odd… It’s a fickle thing, to describe beings that don’t abide by the laws of science and physics.
To most, these kids might sound like mythical beings, or just deluded stories told by someone suffering from mental illness. Honestly, that was my first impression as well. But then they showed me Laura, the girl that never aged. She’d been ten for generations, but even her mind never matured; because her memory kept getting wiped on her birthday, leaving her in a perpetual cycle that never ended.
Even she wasn’t enough to convince me. Next, they showed me Alexander. He was a boy without a face, born flawless skin replacing each feature of his head. How he could breathe, of how he navigated the house without bumping into each and every wall was an amazing feat. It was as if he had eyes, a nose and a mouth, but he couldn’t talk. By the time I arrived, he’d already been there for three years, unable to effectively communicate with anyone.
Then there were less severe cases, like Daniel. He looked and acted like a normal child, but whenever he fell ill, every single person in the orphanage got infected with the exact same ailment, even if it wasn’t infectious. Or James, who just spoke a language no one had ever heard before, incapable of learning anything in English.
Not a single one of them were evil, and they sure as hell weren’t the monsters I’d been led to believe. They were just victims of various curses thrust upon them by an uncaring universe. I wanted so desperately to help them, to give them a chance at life, but for each year that passed, they kept dying; either from their own curse, or that of others. Those that fell to an early death were quickly replaced by new, abandoned children.
After my first year at Dawson’s Home, I wanted to leave with every fiber of my being. I’d tried too hard to help the children, but I just couldn’t. Even though I didn’t have enough money for a bus ticket, it had all gone to helping the kids. Still, I needed to get out, to find a new life before I turned suicidal.
But then I met little Sally…
She was the most wonderful girl, a perfect little child that just happened to wander onto our doorstep. I was the one to find her, standing outside the orphanage in dirty clothes after having wandered the streets for days. Without hesitation, I brought her inside; feeding her and giving her a fresh set of clothes. She was only six, but she was so extraordinarily thankful, polite and i intelligent well beyond her years.
As I put a bowl of hot stew in front of her, she just stared down at it, waiting for permission to start eating. My heart immediately broke once I noticed the hunger in her eyes, but she just sat idly by, waiting for me to tell her it was alright. Once I gave her the go-ahead, she basically inhaled the bowl, at which point I gave her a second serving.
I tried to figure out her name, but she couldn’t remember. All she knew was that her parents had called her “Little Sally,” but where they’d gone, she didn’t understand.
After she’d finished eating, she just started talking. She never mentioned what happened to her before we found her, but rather about her favorite animals, the climbing tree in her backyard, and the playground near her school. I did my best to decipher the clues, but at her young age, she didn’t give me much to go on.
It was starting to dawn on me that whoever she belonged to, they might not want her.
When I tried to ask about the parents again, she fell silent. She just refused to talk about them, but based on the bruises and malnourished form, we suspected abuse. Despite all that, she was the perfect child, and though we couldn’t quite figure out what had happened to her, we were happy to have her by our side.
On top of it all, I almost let myself believe she wasn’t cursed with strange abilities. At least until the first night she spent at Dawson’s.
We always give the newcomers a separate room for the first night, to adjust them to the new settings. Sally was no expectation, and we fully intended on integrating her into our large family once morning rolled around. She just needed time
As day gave way to night, I led her into her temporary room. The walls inside were filled with drawings from the previous children, each creating their own piece of art on their first day at our place. I explained to Sally that she’d be allowed to draw anything that came to her mind, a useful exercise both for us, to figure out how her mind worked, but also one to help her relax.
She seemed to like that idea, and with that, I left her alone for the night.
That night, I felt a modicum of happiness for the first time in months. I felt like I’d finally have the chance to help someone, to bring them into the real world, a task beyond just keeping them alive.
But despite my enthusiasm for our new family member, sleep would not grant me the rest I needed. My dreams quickly turned to nightmares, filled with worry and uncertain pictures of death. I knew the images I saw weren’t real, leaving me with a hint of lucidity, yet I could not wake until the alarm finally jolted me back to reality.
Exhausted, I went to check on Sally, to see how she’d fared during her first night. When I opened the door, I was greeted by a full new wall covered in paper. In the span of the single night, she’d produced just under a hundred new drawings, and they weren’t bad either. Most of them were scenic drawings of the woods, always taking place during the sunset.
“Sally, did you do all of this?” I asked in shock.
She nodded, and gave me a gentle smile. “Yeah, I can’t sleep.”
It was an odd answer, because she didn’t look tired. She was as fresh as she’d been the night before. I sat down next to her, as she went onto her next drawing of a princess riding a dragon over the treetops.
“You like trees, huh?” I asked, not sure what to say.
“M-hm,” she agreed enthusiastically.
Then I turned my questions back at her odd lack of rest.
“Was something wrong with the room? Was that why you couldn’t sleep?”
“No, I just can’t sleep very much.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. When I sleep, I have really bad dreams. They are even badder than the dreams you had.”
I was taken aback by her last statement. “My dreams?”
She put her coloring pencils down on the ground and looked up at me. Her eyes pierced me, and I could sense a hint of pity in them.
“You were scared, I saw it.”
“How did you know I had bad dreams?”
“I always see other people’s dreams, but only the bad ones. Then when I sleep, I have them too.”
That’s the day we realized just how special Sally truly was. She was the girl that almost never slept, which meant it wasn’t a coincidence that she ended up on our doorstep. She was an outcast, abandoned like all the other children. Though her curse was minute in comparison to many others. Rather than help her deal with the curse, I wanted to teach her to embrace it, to be proud of who she was. That was a lesson I always tried to teach the others, to accept themselves, or at least the things they didn’t choose to be born with.
I gave the talk about her being special like the other children, which seemed to improve her mood. She was happy, as if she wasn’t alone for the first time in her whole life. She hugged me, and together we went to introduce her to the other kids.
* * * * * *
In the end, Sally didn’t need a bed to sleep on, as she could just stay awake. Still, we wanted to give her a place that belonged to her, among the other kids. They all embraced her with open arms, and went on to show her the different places in the building.
She quickly became one of us. Every now and then she’d come running to me when the other kids were having nightmares. They scared her, but she was always more concerned about them. She wanted me to help comfort them, to let them know they weren’t alone in their bad dreams.
It became a part of my daily routine, one I came to appreciate. Sally would let me know about other’s nightmares, and I’d come to the rescue. Things were going well, but as all things eventually must, the good times came to an end.
About one year after Sally came to us, I found her unconscious on the ground. It was the first time I’d seen her so still, as if all her energy had left her tiny body, and it terrified me beyond words. She didn’t seem wounded or anything, and she was definitely breathing, albeit a tad erratically. In a way, it looked as if she was dreaming, running away from something terrible.
I picked her up in my arms and carried her to the nursing station as we awaited a doctor. The orphanage was too far out in the countryside for an ambulance to reach us, which meant we didn’t have much in terms of help, apart from the single, local doctor.
Once I put her safely down in bed, she started wriggling around, and mumbled something about Daniel needing help. As she spoke those words, I heard multiple, horrified screams emerging from the playroom.
The staff rushed towards the scream, to find Daniel getting fused with the wall. His entire body had gotten entangled in the concrete surrounding him, and we could hear his bones crack under the immense weight. He screamed in agony, but trying to pull him out proved a futile task. All we could do was stare as he sank deeper into the wall.
“The sledgehammer!” I yelled as I held onto his arm.
One of the staff ran out of the room, heading towards the basement where the tools were kept. All the while, Daniel’s bones kept cracking, and his organs were turning to mush within the concrete. By the time they brought the sledgehammer back, his chest had been destroyed, making it impossible for him to breathe.
He died inside that wall, in agony, and never understanding why his life had to end.
It wasn’t until we dug his body out, until we saw the true extent of the damage. He had become a mangled bag of meat without the faintest hope of survival, and none of us understood what had just happened. We were just lucky the damage hadn’t affected us in the same way his diseases had.
As they cleaned up the blood and crushed chunks of flesh, I went to check on Sally, who had woken up again, and was crying.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to fall asleep. I killed Daniel,” she cried.
I tried to comfort her, but she wouldn’t have it. “It wasn’t your fault, Sally,” I said, though I didn’t fully believe it.
“I saw the wall smash him, I dreamed it.”
“You dreamed about Daniel?” I asked.
“What did you see?”
Then she went on to explain the dream in excruciating detail, each matching the manner of Daniel’s death. And that was it, the innocent girl I’d known for the past year was gone, and the true nature of her curse had been revealed. I gave her a hug and told her that it wasn’t her fault. Of course I meant it, because she couldn’t control her dreams. Still, it had been her.
We decided not to tell the other kids about what had happened, but even then they realized something about Sally had changed. Her previous happy persona had vanished, only to be replaced by something colder, more distant and broken.
The next year was spent mostly trying to figure out how Sally’s ability worked, a difficult task for someone who we’d only seen sleep a single time.
During that time, I also tried to pry deeper into her past. It took a while, but with the little details she shared, I could sort of create a picture of what had happened prior to her arrival at our home. She’d been sitting in the back seat of her parent’s car as she suddenly drifted off. Then she simply dreamed that her parents never existed, and with that, she woke up alone on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.
“I don’t wanna fall asleep, but it happens anyway,” Sally would say.
It would take another year before she started hanging out with the other children. It was around the time of her eighth birthday, and she was playing hide and seek with Alexander. He was oddly good at the game, at least for a kid with no face, but on the sixth or so round, Sally never came to look for him.
Once it became apparent that Alex would never be found, he decided to go look for Sally himself, only to find her fast asleep in the corner he’d left her. As we figured out what had happened, we started escorting the children into the bomb shelter in the basement, figuring we should get everyone as far away from Sally as possible.
Then, as we shut the door, it simply vanished from existence, replaced by a concrete wall that wouldn’t yield. We were trapped with no way out in the dim basement. Then the lights went out as well, and we were plunged into darkness. There was a flashlight in one of the closets, but it hardly helped illuminate the room, it was simply too old and the batteries were close to death.
We were all standing around in horrified silence, and I was just praying that Sally would wake up before someone died. After a few minutes, the ground started feeling wet. I shined the light down at the ground, only to realize it had turned crimson red. The air reeked of metal, and I quickly figured out that we were all standing in a pool of blood that was rising rapidly.
The screams the kids let out were heartbreaking, but they were muffled by the thick concrete walls around us, meaning no one on the outside could hear us.
Within minutes, it swallowed us. We tried to swim, but moving around in such a thick liquid proved a complicated challenge. Once the blood hit the ceiling, we were all pulled under, unable to breathe. I held my breath for as long as I could, trying to find the children while under, but my eyes were blinded by the blood.
I must have lasted two minutes before my body gave in, and just as I inhaled a lungful of blood, the entire basement reverted back to its native state, meaning that Sally had finally awoken from her slumber. The blood vanished in the blink of an eye, and the door reappeared.
Once I’d regained my senses, I looked around at the kids and staff. Most were fine, coughing up chunks of partially coagulated blood, but James wasn’t breathing. I rushed to his side, still struggling to catch my breath. Then I started CPR.
The others cried as I pushed his chest in, desperately trying to fill my lungs with enough air for the young boy. I felt his ribs crack beneath my hands, but I had to keep going. Then, on the third set, he finally coughed up the blood, and started breathing on his own.
Sally was devastated, but despite the nightmare-inducing event, not a single person had died. That time though, we couldn’t keep Sally’s curse a secret; the children put two and two together, and Sally once again became an outcast, even among her own friends.
I decided then that the best way to help Sally would be to help her control her dreams. Working on inducing lucid dreaming, reality checks that could help her snap back to reality, and for a few years, it actually worked. Each time Sally would fall asleep, she’d realize what was going on, and wake herself up.
But on the rare occasion that it wouldn’t work, people had a tendency to get seriously wounded. On her tenth birthday, Sally dreamed that the building was on fire. Luckily, everyone got out in time, mostly suffering light burns and some smoke inhalation. Once she woke up, the building was fine, as if the fire never happened.
Then a few months later, Sally fell asleep twice in the same day. The first incident took place in the morning during breakfast. She’d created a new entity that she referred to as “Mr. Syn”. To us, he appeared as a normal, middle-aged man in a suit. He sat down with us in the dining hall and made casual conversation.
It wasn’t until someone asked about the briefcase, before the horrors began. It was filled to the brim with human skin. He said he needed it for his home, and tried convincing the children to come observe his room of flesh. Once he realized we weren’t letting that happen, he just got up and left.
Sally woke up from that dream relatively quickly, but she’d fall asleep again that very afternoon. That time, we just caught a glimpse of Mr. Syn walking down the hallway, blood dripping from his briefcase filled with skin.
But he’d come from the kitchen, where we found Mrs. Ingridson lying on the floor. The entirety of her skin was missing, stripped from the underlying flesh. She still writhed around in pain when we found her, but her body wouldn’t last long. Before we could even try to get help, she’d died from shock.
That was just the beginning of our living nightmare, because as Sally hit puberty, her slumber increased drastically in frequency. It went from being a once a year occurrence, to two, then three… Before she even hit fourteen, her dreams had become a bimonthly occurrence. Ones that were wounding, or even killing, both the staff and children.
She knew it herself, that her dreams would inevitably end up killing everyone she loved, and we couldn’t deny that fact. But, running away wouldn’t stop the dreams; neither would locking her up. She tried using different drugs to keep herself awake, but her efforts were all fruitless. Nothing could keep her awake.
Eventually, I was hit with the only possible solution available. The only thing that could end Sally’s hail of nightmares… was death itself. It wasn’t like the thought hadn’t struck me before, but I’d forced it so deep into the darkest corner of my mind, that I’d never truly considered it.
To save everyone else, we had to kill Sally…
Since I was the closest to her, I was chosen to do the deed. Our doctor aided me in choosing the most humane way of ending her life. He gave me an injection I could only assume held morphine, but he promised it would be a painless death. With that, I would lull her into an eternal slumber.
I chose a Saturday to end her life. She’d asked me to take her out of town for the day, just the two of us, to her favorite hiking spot out in the countryside. It was a beautiful place, filled with endless fields only bordered by vast forests. I’d brought a picnic basket full of her favorite treats, a final meal to end her existence among us.
After we’d eaten, I told her what needed to be done. I didn’t want it to be a surprise, and I needed her to know that it wasn’t her fault. She didn’t even seem surprised. In fact, she almost seemed relieved that no one else would suffer as a result of her curse.
That’s why she’d asked me to take her out to the fields, because she wanted one final moment of happiness, to just pretend that everything would be fine. She’d considered ending her own life on numerous occasions, but couldn’t find the strength to do it.
We sat there for hours and just talked, made plans for a future she’d never have, and joked about the good memories that still lingered from her past.
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled.
“It wasn’t your fault Sally. Your dreams might leak into reality, but that wasn’t your choice. Life is not a balance scale between good and evil, it’s a chaotic mess filled with random events. You just got the short end of the stick, but that doesn’t make you any less of a person.”
“I just wish I knew why. What was the meaning of all this pain?”
“I don’t know.”
With these words, Sally fell asleep on my shoulder. I pulled out the syringe, ready to strike before her nightmares could end me. Tears were welling up in my eyes, and my hands trembled as I pointed it at her neck. But, despite her slumber, the world around me didn’t change. There were no horrors pouring out from her unconscious mind, nor any evil presence in the vicinity.
That’s when I realized that Sally hadn’t just fallen asleep. She’d actually stopped breathing. I let her down on the ground easily, and checked her pulse… She was dead. She’d taken her last breath before passing over to the other side, just like that.
Whether she dreamed about her own demise, or if it was a random stroke that finally ended her, I’ll never know. I gave her a funeral in the forest as she requested, dug her body deep underground so she could rest peacefully among the trees.
I failed Sally, like I’ve failed so many of the children at the orphanage before. But I keep trying, because if I just save a single person, it will have been worth it.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available