I snatched the plastic bag of blood out of the cooler and slipped it into my purse. My hand hovered over a second bag, but I pulled it away, my sigh heavy with longing.
As much as I wanted to fix the numbers on the donor inventory sheet to account for another bag, I couldn’t force myself to be greedy. These people thought they were saving lives, not feeding a monster.
After locking up, I left the Donor Center and headed for the elevator. I had to get to Mrs. Hannon’s by nine, and I still had to eat and take care of one other errand. I crossed my fingers for a quiet exit, but my hopes that no one would stop me for a chat were shattered as I stepped off the elevator into the hospital’s lobby.
Forcing a smile, I turned to greet Brit, a nurse I regularly ran into. She would call me a friend, had even invited me out for drinks a number of times, but I didn’t have friends. It was for the best. For them and me.
“Hi, Brit. How are you tonight?” I asked politely as she jogged to catch up with me.
“I’m going out of town this weekend, and I haven’t been able to find someone to feed my cat. You think you could swing by and check on him for me?”
“No problem. I’m off this weekend. Where are you going?” As soon as the question left my mouth, I regretted it. Trying to be distant yet polite could be as tricky as walking a tightrope.
“Brian and I are going to Salem!” She smiled brightly. “We’re going to do the tourist thing. I’ve always wanted to go to Salem at Halloween. It’s going to be magical.” She giggled at her own joke. “Get it. Salem and witches? Magical?”
“Yeah, I got it. Funny,” I chuckled, though inside I was itching to run away. Not that I didn’t find Brit to be pleasant company. But I was so hungry, my teeth ached.
“Hey, we should go together sometime!” she suddenly exclaimed. “It would be so fun.”
No. No, it wouldn’t.
Her face was lit up with excitement as my stomach squeezed uncomfortably. Just the thought of going to that town, only thirty minutes away from us here in Boston, scared the crap out of me. It wasn’t a place for someone like me. Not that I’d ever been there to know, but if my existence was possible, then other things were possible. And if recorded history held even a speck of truth, then Salem housed witches. I had a feeling they might not take too well to my kind, seeing how we were dark beings and all.
“Maybe,” I told her, not committing either way. I’d find a way out of it if it came down to a real invitation. “But don’t worry about your cat. I’ll look after him.”
“Thanks, Kassy. I owe you one.” She looked down at her watch and frowned, then opened her purse and pulled out a key. “Here’s my key, in case I don’t see you before Friday. I’ll text you the address. Sorry I can’t stay and chat. My shift starts in five.”
I took the key from her and nodded. “Yeah, I’ve got to go, too.”
“Doesn’t the night shift suck?” she exclaimed then took off, speed-walking back toward the elevator.
“Yeah,” I whispered to myself. It did suck. Too bad I didn’t have a choice in the matter.
I put on my coat, buttoning it up to my chin, and threw a scarf around my neck for good measure. Though the fall night had turned brisk, and the people entering the hospital from outside all wore matching red noses, I didn’t need the coat. But I liked the feeling of being one of them.
Seeing my little friend from earlier that evening waiting on me, I crouched down to get closer and held out my hand. “Hi again, little guy,” I said softly.
He purred as he bumped his onyx-colored head against my hand. Smiling, I rubbed my palm over his soft back. He didn’t have a collar, and though he looked fairly clean I could see his ribs showing, he was so thin. “Are you hungry, boy?” He wrapped around my leg in answer, and I laughed as I scooped him up in my arms. “Then let’s get you something to eat.” I was starving, but my hunger could wait. This guy probably hadn’t seen a decent meal in weeks.
After a stop at the grocery store for all the essentials he might need, I rushed home to my condo. Though in a hurry, I still took the time to fill a bowl with cat food and another with water. While he chowed down, I set up the litter box, and by the time I’d finished I couldn’t ignore the ache any longer.
I pulled the blood bag from my purse, put it in the microwave, then pressed the quick thirty-second button before grabbing a glass out of the cabinet. Warm blood was much more satisfying. Before the microwave dinged, I pulled out the bag and cut open the top with my kitchen shears. My mouth watered as the fresh, metallic scent reached my nostrils, and a small moan squeezed from my lips.
Careful not to spill a drop, I poured the thick red liquid into the glass before tossing the empty bag in the trash. I could have pierced the bag with my teeth, as they had already elongated, ready to feed, but I had the need to do things a more human way. Drinking from the glass made me feel like less of a monster.
As usual, I started off by sipping leisurely, as though it was a fine wine I’d purchased for pleasure, but as the sweet coppery flavor burst over my tongue, my hunger seized control, and the glass was empty less than a second later.
Staring at the thin red film that coated the inside of the glass, I licked my lips. I had the insane idea to use my finger to scrape off every last bit. Not a good sign.
Feeling eyes on me, I turned to find the cat sitting next to his empty bowls, watching me. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he looked curious, maybe even a bit anxious. “Don’t worry, boy. You have nothing to fear from me.” I could have sworn he nodded before he stalked out of the room.
Shaking my head, I rinsed out the glass, breathing a sigh of relief when it was clear of all blood. “Not classy, Kassandra,” I said to myself. I hadn’t been feeding enough, but how could I justify taking another’s source of life? These bags of blood would save a human life. At as little as one a week, that was fifty-two deaths a year I could potentially cause.
It was bad enough the donor center was amidst a shortage. The possibility that my necessary feeding habit would cause issues had guilt eating away at me. But it was better than taking from the source. I’d never do that. Never again.
“I have to go back to work,” I said to my new roommate as I made my way toward the door. The cat barely glanced in my direction as he licked his paws. I chuckled to myself, liking the idea of having someone to talk to. I hadn’t had a pet in years. They were just as easy to get as attached to as humans.
“We’ll need a name for you.” I scratched behind his ears, smiling as he purred. “How about Snow?” He slanted his eyes at me, causing me to laugh. “All right. That one does lack a bit of originality, doesn’t it?” He purred again as he wrapped around my leg. “I’ll think about it some more. Finding a respectable name takes time and patience, hmm?”
With my belly mostly full and the cat happy, I left for my second job. Because Mrs. Hannon lived only a few blocks from me, I decided to go on foot, but because I was running late I didn’t take the leisurely stroll I usually enjoyed.
When I got to the door, Karen, the afternoon nurse, was pulling on her coat. She gave me a relieved smile as I walked in. “I knew you would be here,” she said. “She’s sleeping right now, but she had a good day.”
Locking the door behind her, I let the grimace I’d held back for Karen’s sake surface. The smell of death had grown stronger. It was almost time.
Mrs. Hannon suffered from heart disease, and as a hospice nurse, I knew her death was inevitable. But knowing it and experiencing it were two different things. People often asked me how I could tolerate such a job. Truth was, it was hard. I wasn’t sure how anyone else tolerated it. Each and every one of those nurses was brave and strong. Not me, though. Many people were too afraid of their own pain to stand by their loved ones at the end, turning their backs in grief. I didn’t begrudge them that. I understood. And it was because of them that I took this job. Being there, especially when family couldn’t, or wouldn’t, made me feel like I was righting some of my wrongs. Selfish, I know. But I did the best job that I could, and in the end I was thankful they had allowed me to be one of the few to spend their last moments with. A true honor.
Peeking in on Mrs. Hannon, I made sure she was comfortable and still breathing. Asleep, her breaths were shallow but strong. Her heart, however, had weakened. I expected her to pass in the night, or sometime the next afternoon at the latest. She’d signed a DNR, so there was nothing for me to do but wait.
Keeping the door cracked open, I had just stepped out of her room when I heard her.
“Kassy,” she said, so softly a human probably wouldn’t have heard her, but I had.
I walked to the bed and gently took her weathered hand. “Yes, Mrs. Hannon?”
“I thought that was you.” She coughed just once and relaxed. “Did you eat tonight, dear?”
If you only knew. I smiled to myself and nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Good. You’re too skinny,” she whispered.
I wanted to laugh, but knew it was her kind heart talking. She didn’t have to worry, though. I would never get skinnier. Or fatter. Some might have thought it was a blessing, but looking the same for centuries got old. So did watching everyone I loved die while I never aged. Never changed.
I shook off the sadness that had come over me and asked, “How about a story? Your favorite?” Without waiting for an answer, I slid the well-loved book off the shelf next to her bed. She had a tendency to wake in the middle of the night. Reading soothed the both of us. And I never got tired of reading Sense and Sensibility, a favorite for us both.
Sitting down in the soft leather chair, I kicked off my shoes and curled my legs under me as I carefully opened the cover.
“Not, tonight, dear,” she breathed softly.
“Okay.” I closed the book. “Maybe a different book?”
“Will you tell me your story?” she asked, her voice not quite as weak as before.
Looking into her faded blue eyes, I saw a knowing look that sent an ominous shiver down my spine. Feigning confusion, I shrugged. “There’s not much to tell.”
“Don’t treat me like a child.” She coughed, winced, then struggled to take a deep breath.
“Do you need more pain meds?” It wasn’t time for her next dose, but at this stage I was willing to give her more.
“No. I want you to tell me about…” She stopped to catch her breath before continuing. “Tell me about being one of you.”
One of me?
The way her shrewd stare held mine made me want to fidget, though I couldn’t tell you why. This old woman knew nothing about me. She didn’t know what I was, or what I had done…
She nodded slowly, and my eyes widened with a mixture of fear and fascination. How?
I had been so careful.
The only thing I couldn’t control was my need to work nights. Just as myths suggested, I couldn’t go out during the day for fear of becoming a fried corpse. All I could do was tell my employers that I had another job during the day and would never be able to work before six at night.
I didn’t usually need to arrive at a hospice patient’s house until around eight or nine, but I also worked part time for the Blood Donor Center, coming in only a few hours a week to help with inventory. Being a hospice nurse paid the bills, but the donor center put food in my belly.
I’d worked with the sick, the mentally ill, and the dying for many years, but I’d never had one figure out what I was. How should I proceed?
As I thought about her request, I could hear her heart weakening more and more by the second. She would be gone soon. There was no one on this earthly plane she would be able to tell. My secret would die with her.
Coming to the decision to give her this last request, I asked, “What would you like to know?”
“Everything,” she whispered.
And so I told her. Everything.