Two days in the future
I ran. As soon as I heard that hiss from beside me, I pushed into a blinding sprint. My hair whipped around my cheeks, then my terrified face as I checked over my shoulder. From the mouth of the laneway, I could see a shadow darting my way.
I jerked my head back around, a few tears staining my chin. “Just leave me alone,” I begged, my breath coming out in choppy pants.
The guy didn’t leave me alone. He ran faster until I could hear his breath, rhythmic, controlled, and only a few meters behind me.
But who was I kidding? He wasn’t a man. He was a vampire.
I could smell him from here. As my nostrils widened ever so slightly and I turned my head over my shoulder once more, my fear getting the better of me and my heart trembling in my chest, I saw a slice of the side of his face. I caught the light and magic playing in his eyes. Then he parted his lips, and I saw a sliver of his canines, glistening with saliva, ready and waiting to plunge into my neck.
I reached a small intersection in the laneway. I’d never been to this part of the city before. I didn’t know whether to head to the left or right. My decision was made for me when the vampire came swooping in from the right. He shunted me toward the left. I continued to run, but I slipped over. I snagged my stockings on an old can and cut right through them. Blood trailed down my knee. I desperately clutched at it so it wouldn’t engage the vampire’s senses further, but it was too late. I could hear – almost feel – as he sniffed the air once more. It was like he was tasting it with his entire body. I swore his greed now played through every mote of dust, every molecule of oxygen and nitrogen. And it was all reaching out to my tender neck.
I screamed again. I was way past asking people to help me, shrieking at the top of my lungs to get someone, anyone to hear. The vampire had shunted me down here. This would be his hunting ground. He would have prepared the place with strong magic. I’d be able to shriek with all my might, but the sound would not travel, no matter how desperate I became. That didn’t stop me from blubbering, more tears raining down my cheeks. They were so fat and drenching, they could’ve flooded the earth.
The laneway curved around. I got ready to put on a burst of speed – to run into a main street. I didn’t care if I was struck by a car. The only thing that mattered was getting away from him.
But there was no main street. All there was was a dead end and an old, overflowing dumpster rammed right up against it. The rain we’d had earlier this morning had drenched the thing, and unsightly puddles of grime were spreading out from beneath it. I skidded down into one, losing my footing as I desperately tried to change direction, but it was too late. He was right behind me. He grabbed my shoulder in a cast-iron grip, his bony fingers like swords. I had a chance to shriek as he turned me around and rammed me up against the wall. I saw his eyes, glittering brightly, charges of magic chasing around his pupils, outlining them against his shadow-encased face.
“You should’ve made it easy for yourself,” he snarled. He spoke with his lips pressed all the way back so I could see the saliva glinting off his teeth – so I could watch as he practically unsheathed them from his gums.
He pressed forward. His teeth got half a centimeter from my throat when something happened inside me. This jolt – this bolt of power. It rose up from my depths, coiled through my blood, and saw me snap forward until the next thing I knew, my mouth was on his neck.
He laughed. “There is nothing—”
I pushed my lips up, only just clearing my teeth, speaking mostly into the nape of his neck as I growled, “There’s nothing you can do.” My own vampire canines pushed forward, and I drank from the bastard. He was right, though. There was nothing I could do to stop myself. No matter how hard I tried.
Two days in the past
I sleepily got out of bed that morning. It was hard to drag myself from the warm covers. I’d had some pretty wild dreams. It wasn’t the dreams that made me languidly walk down my stairs. Nor was it the dreams that made me almost trip on the fourth stair and swan dive down to the ground level. It was my condition.
It felt like it was getting worse by the day.
By the time I made it down to the kitchen, my flatmate was already there. She had a practiced frown marching across her lips. It was one that got a lot deeper the second she saw me. “I heard that – you almost fell down the stairs, didn’t you?”
“Klutzy, I guess,” I muttered as I struggled through another yawn. I hooked an old chipped chair out with my foot, pulled it free from the equally old and chipped table, and sat roughly. I placed my face in my palm, moving my fingers up into my hairline. It was knotty, and it was right in front of my face, scratching my nose. I didn’t have the energy to push it out of the way, though.
My flatmate, Sharee, took a deep, rattling breath. It was the kind of long beleaguered sigh a parent might give at the sight of a child who simply could not pull themselves up by their bootstraps, no matter how hard they tried.
“Can you put some toast on for me?” I asked hopefully.
“No. I’ve made you a healthy smoothie. And you’re gonna drink it.” She pulled open the fridge, produced the smoothie, and banged it down on the table in front of me.
Though I didn’t want to be rude, I had to make a face. The drink was this unsightly green color.
“It’s spirulina. It’s meant to be packed with iron and all sorts of micronutrients. Which you clearly need.” Crossing her arms, she leaned back against the bench. She gave my pasty white features a once over.
I patted my cheeks. It was a distraction from having to drink the green sludge in front of me. “I’m not that bad. Honest. I mean, I slept heavily—”
“You look like you’re the walking dead.”
I seized up a little. “Are you accusing me of being a vampire?” I was trying for a joke. Anything to lighten the mood – not just her mood, but mine. I needed to chase away the heavy feeling descending through my limbs. If I didn’t, I was certain it was going to throttle me.
“Of course I’m not talking about a vampire,” she snorted derisively through her words. “They’re not technically dead now, are they? How do they define it again?”
“They’re on the edge,” I whispered. We both studied vampire lore in university. That was something our lecturer had repeated all the time. It was the favorite saying of vampires, apparently.
I’d met a couple of their kind over the years. They weren’t on the edge. Their bodies weren’t half rotting out from underneath them like mine felt it was. What they were were super powerful magical creatures that pretty much got to do whatever they wanted. Did they sleep in coffins? I bet a couple of them did – the more dramatic ones. The rest of them were just walking amongst humanity like kings. As for the nonsense about living on the edge, that was their brand. They were all about mystique. If you asked me – which is precisely what I wrote my thesis on – it was more so humans couldn’t pry into their traditions and learn too much about them.
“Stop thinking, for one,” Sharee suddenly snapped.
I made a face. “I can’t even think anymore?”
“You look strained when you’re thinking. You should look after yourself,” her voice dropped, a note of real fear shaking through it. “You’re getting whiter by the day.”
“I didn’t really choose to have a rare blood disease,” I whispered. I’d been trying to keep it light, but I couldn’t anymore. I shoved back in my chair. I was cold, and I had to wrap my arms around my middle. I shuddered against my fingers.
She sighed, walked over to her own chair, grabbed her dressing gown, and furled it around my shoulders. “I forgot. The post is here. There’s something for you.”
I made a face at her smoothie, scrunched my lips around, and decided to take the slightest gulp. It wasn’t as disgusting as I thought it would be. She trotted back into the kitchen with the post under her arm. She flicked through some letters and handed me one.
I assumed it would be a bill. When I saw it, it was much too official for that.
As soon as I saw a symbol on the side and recognized the coiling snake that was synonymous with medicine, I grabbed it off her. I wheezed slightly, incapable of controlling my breath.
“What is it?” She crunched in close over my shoulder.
“It’s from one of the medical firms I petitioned.”
“You mean the ones you reached out to for free treatment of your condition? I thought they all came back and said they weren’t gonna help you?”
“So did I. I—” My hope was rising through my throat, shaking through my belly, trying to lift me up out of the doldrums. It had a chance to make me sit straight in my chair at least before it came crashing down again. I pulled the letter out with an excited twitch of my fingers only to see the words “we’re sorry.” I didn’t even bother to finish reading it. I crammed it back in the envelope and set it down. I had to clench my hands tightly not to let them shake.
Sharee had been standing close enough that she’d seen what I’d seen. She straightened up and clamped a hand on my shoulder. “There are others. Just keep petitioning.”
“I’ve sent my blood samples to every single medical firm I know of in town. None of them are interested in my condition.”
“All I’m saying is you shouldn’t give up hope. And you should definitely finish your smoothie,” she said through a growl.
I clutched it up and drank it without further complaint.
She bustled around. She made me toast and set it down in front of me. Then her phone rang. It was her boss. She backed off out of the room, waving while shooting me one more worried frown. She at least tried to make her lips tick up at the end. Though I wouldn’t tell her this, while I appreciated her concern, whenever she looked at me like that, I felt like I was on the edge of death, and it just made my reality even harsher.
I kept that to myself as I waved her off.
She quickly marched off, grabbed her bag, and left the house.
We lived right out on the outskirts of town. We couldn’t afford any place closer. It didn’t really matter. The public transport was great in these parts. That was about the only good thing that could be said about the city, though.
Reinforcing that as I glanced down at the letter then shoved it right off the table petulantly, I realized I had to get to work, too. I wondered if I’d manage to last the whole day this time. And I wondered if I didn’t, whether I’d finally be sacked. It was only a matter of time. I worked retail – in a big electronics store. I had to be on my feet, dealing with customers, but that just made me dizzy. I’d already fainted three times at work. My boss was understanding, but there was only so much he could do.
I had to clutch the banister as I walked up the stairs to my bedroom. Sharee already had a plan. If it became too dangerous for me to use the stairs, then we were going to convert the lounge room into my room and cordon it off with some curtains. She’d already bought the fabric. She was industrious and had a sewing machine. And I was, “Useless,” I said out of white, stiff lips.
I dressed and headed out of the door.
Shoving my hands in my pockets, I saw that rain was on the way. It usually was. That was my life, ha? No sun for me. Just rain clouds.
I took a step, but I didn’t distribute my weight properly. My knee took that exact moment to buckle.
I managed to shove to the side. I grabbed the railing that led down beside the steps. Fortunately I did not face plant the concrete, but as I was twisted to the side, I saw a flash of paper.
I frowned. Leaning down safely, I clutched it up. It was a letter. It looked as if someone had shoved it under our door.
Frowning harder, I turned it around. And right there, right on the front, right in front of me, I saw another medical symbol.
My heart didn’t even leap. My breath was perfectly even. If anything, my stomach sank. I really didn’t want to have to put up with another dose of disappointment. I almost scrunched it up and shoved it back into the bushes, but at the last moment, I slackened my fingers. With a breath slicing through my clenched teeth, I tore it open.
And there, the first words on the page were not “we’re sorry.”
My knees really did buckle out from underneath me this time. I fell hard on my ass. As the jolt traveled up through me and snagged my hips and lower back, I didn’t care.
I almost began to hyperventilate as I clamped a hand over my mouth. I breathed hard through my fingers. “This… this can’t be real.”
I turned the letter over several times, almost to check if it was actually paper and it wasn’t an apparition.
Right there on the page it said that they could help. They were keen to. They could offer me an appointment anytime I wanted one. And right there on the page it promised me this – they had experience with my condition. And they knew exactly how to cure me. It would be free.
I finally had hope.
But hope always comes at a cost.