“You know, I was just wondering, when did you get yours?”
The receptionist’s question startled Yan; the clinic’s waiting room was silent and empty save for the two of them. The room was cold and smelt like most clinics do: the tang of disinfectant, air-conditioning, and a professional sense of despondency. Yan rubbed her calves together to generate warmth, not sure what exactly the receptionist was asking. “When did I get my what?”
Of course. Yan folded her fingers together and tried to remember. “Um.”
The receptionist held up a hand. “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. It’s a very personal question. I just wanted to ask.”
“No, no–it’s okay. Um. It’s just that I can’t remember exactly. I think I was about eleven, maybe? I was an early bloomer. Sort of.”
“Oh, that’s not so early,” the receptionist chirped. The placard on the table, Yan noticed, said that her name was Maria. “These days we have kids manifesting as early as nine. It’s just a sign of the times.”
Yan automatically smiled in return, the corners of her lips going up like a reflex. She hesitated before replying: that part of her life was really fuzzy, and she had difficulties talking about it sometimes. “I’m really not that sure of how young I was when the fangs erupted, actually. I didn’t tell anyone at that time. I was too scared.”
“Well, that’s perfectly normal,” Maria said. Her eyes were warm and human and had crow’s feet decorating the edges, not something that Yan had expected. “I flipped out when mine erupted, and I was a lot older than you, plus my big brother was already moulting away, making the transition to full vamp. I still found it terrifying. Are you the oldest child in your family, dear?”
Yan nodded. When she volunteered no other information Maria pressed on: “I noticed that you came alone. Do you live alone?
“Oh. No, I don’t. The friend I live with has some other appointment.”
“You don’t live with your family?”
Yan shook her head.
Maria nodded. “I see.” There wasn’t much else to say, not even for her. Awkward silence settled.
The nurse came out at that moment to rescue Yan by saying that the doctor would see her now. Yan gave an apologetic smile to Maria, and wished that she had half the confidence in the smile Maria gave back.
Dr. Shankar was middle-aged, soft-spoken and neatly kept. Every bit a doctor, except that he gestured a lot with his hands as he spoke, a habit Yan found unsettling. Right now they were making small unconscious circles in the air as he said, “You understand that there is no turning back from this, right?”
He raised his eyebrows as his hands momentarily stilled. “You do know what that means?”
“I do, I do. No more daylight, I have to take daily blood supplements…” She waved her hands, suddenly flustered. “Look, Dr. Shankar, I’ve
done all the research on induced moulting. I know what I’m getting into.”
“That’s good, that’s good. I’m obliged to ask, you see, because of the nature of the procedure. It’s a big deal, and as a doctor, and a member of society, I need to make sure that you’re absolutely committed to this.”
“You’re not doing this for the money, are you?”
“Cures for the Blight go for five figures, sometimes six, depending on who’s buying. There’s a very large but profitable black market that sells moulting serum from nymphs to those who can afford it.” His index finger fluttered like a dragonfly’s wing even as he pointed it at her. “You’re not caught up in any of that, are you?”
“No, no. Absolutely not.” Yan nodded as firmly as she could. “Trust me, Doctor, I know what I’m doing. It’s for a good reason.”
“Well, good. If you’re sure, then we can start.” He gestured her towards the door at the back of his office, leading to the procedure room.
“Please. This way.”
As she got to the door, she hesitated. “I mean, this was going to happen naturally at some point anyway, right?”
The doctor stopped in his tracks, surprised. “No, not necessarily. It’s not uncommon for a nymph to never go through the full moulting process. It varies from person to person.” His stare turned into a frown. “Is that going to be a problem?”
“No,” she replied quickly, even though her heart was pounding in the doorway like a quake in her chest. “It makes no difference to me.” And she moved into the procedure room before he could say anything further.
She found the operating gown already prepared for her behind a green curtain. As she changed she could hear Dr. Shankar and his nurse-aide prepping outside, a sound of running water and metal on metal. It was colder here than in the waiting room.
Dr. Shankar was giving quiet instructions to the nurse as she emerged, his gloved hands still making those little endless circles in the air.
“Why do you do that?” she asked, nervousness overriding years of being told to keep her mouth shut.
The doctor laughed at this. “I like to keep my hands moving. Just the feeling keeps me tethered to the moment. Keeps me feeling alive. It’s very important to me, especially in this line of work.”
“I know that sounds like nonsense now, but you’ll understand better after the procedure. Don’t worry, my hands are very steady.” He gestured to the operating bed. “Please, lie down.”
The bed was warm, at least–padded with some sort of absorbent disposable foam. Yan laid her cheek on the headrest and closed her eyes, wishing she weren’t trembling. The doctor’s hands moving across her back raised goose pimples on her flesh, like they were the touch of a metal instrument, or an alcohol swab. Or maybe that was what those light, cold touches were: she couldn’t tell which was which. She shivered.
“Try to relax,” he said.
Yan suddenly found herself wondering if she would miss all this: the cold, the shivering and the goosepimpling, the adrenaline, and then she realized in a moment of sudden panic that she wasn’t ready for this at all–
The first needle pierced her skin.
The taxi driver had the late-night Chinese talk radio on, and two ladies were having a garrulous argument about vampirism in today’s youth. The older one was insisting, very vehemently, that it was the fault of all the Western movies that young people were watching, the trashy music they were listening to, the decadent books they were reading. Yan wished she could tune her out, but the new hearing she had was filling her head with sound at an impossibly loud volume. She couldn’t block it out. Defeated, Yan slid lower in the PVC-lined seat and close her eyes. The streetlamps made her eyes burn if she stared at them too long.
Beside her Lisa muttered, “This is the stupidest debate I’ve ever heard. I can feel my I.Q. points dropping just listening. If they start raving about the Blight being karmic payback for vamps, I might have to kill something.” Then she looked over at Yan, noticed her silence, and stopped talking.
The taxi stopped just shy of the sharp glittering lights flooding the hospital lobby. “Shall I wait here for you?” Lisa asked. Yan nodded. She was glad for her housemate’s company, but she needed to do this alone.
Visitor hours were over, but her sister’s ward was on the second floor, and her window directly faced the road. It was time to test out her new abilities, to check that the procedure had fully worked.
Yan crouched slightly, and leapt upwards.
Soo Ling was only half-asleep in her darkened room with all the empty beds. The whirring of the ceiling fans drowned out the electronic hum of her bed monitor and the slow drip of the saline bag hooked to her arm. “Yan?” She asked, staring at the window, trying to push herself upright. “Am I dreaming?”
Yan clambered uneasily over the window ledge and landed on the floor with a complete lack of grace. She stood and dusted herself off. That jump hadn’t felt like anything at all– it reminded her of taking the standing broad jump tests years ago in school, just with a harsher landing. Nothing at all. “Maybe you are.”
“Why are you here?”
Yan reached into her pocket and retrieved the vial of serum. When she first saw it, she had been shocked at how small it was, but she’d gotten used to its tiny heft by now. “I brought a cure.”
Soo Ling’s brows knitted together. She was thin, so thin. “Are you here to kill me?”
“Why would I do that?”
Soo Ling watched Yan as she reached up to tap the half-empty saline bag. She had managed to convince Dr. Shankar to give her a sterile syringe head to use. Administering the cure wouldn’t be a problem.
“I’ve been talking a lot to my nurse,” Soo Ling said as Yan worked at the saline bag. “She comes in everyday to chat.”
“What did she say?”
“A lot of things.” Soo Ling sighed, and it sounded like a gale to Yan’s new ears. “Yan, you don’t have the Blight, do you? You didn’t give it to me.”
“No. I never got it. Still healthy.”
Soo Ling watched the serum swirl into the saline bag, spreading out in delicate curls, like new wings uncrumpling. “The nurse said I probably got it from the blood drugs.”
“I thought the same thing.”
“You knew I was taking them? How come you didn’t say anything? Ma and Pa blamed you for infecting me, you know.”
“I– I never told them that I was taking drugs. I didn’t want them to get angry. I didn’t know you could get the Blight from the drugs, if the vampire that made them was infected. I thought that wasn’t true.”
Yan sighed. “That’s because you never listen to anything I tell you.” She slid the needle out of the saline bag and sealed it with a transparent plaster. “You always don’t listen.”
“Is that really a cure?” Soo Ling asked, craning her neck to look at the saline bag, the liquid now a gentle shade of chrysanthemum tea.
Yan held her hand to the bag and squeezed it just the slightest bit, feeling the muscles move under her fingers. Dr. Shankar was right about the sensations. “It had better be.”
“Yan, the nurse told me that Ma and Pa were wrong. All the stories about vampires biting people are wrong. Vampires are born, not made. Not even taking blood drugs forever can turn you into one.” She hesitated. “She’s a nurse, so she should know everything, right?”
“Maybe not everything. But she’s right about that.” Yan started walking back to the window. It didn’t matter what her sister believed anymore. If the cure worked, it would work.
“Yan. I’m sorry I said all those bad things to you in the past. It’s okay if you are a vampire. Really.”
“Yan, are you coming home soon?”
Yan stopped at the window ledge. Maybe Soo Ling thought she was really dreaming, or maybe she didn’t understand the significance of seeing her older sister leap in through a window three meters in the air. Yan didn’t know if she would ever fully understand. “No. I’m not coming home anymore.” And she climbed over the ledge.
The landing wasn’t as difficult as she expected. Yan jogged back to the idling taxi, wondering if the taxi driver had seen what she did, and if so, what he thought of it. As she opened the door Lisa leaned forward over the seats to study her face. “Are you OK?”
Yan silently ran her tongue over the roof of her mouth, feeling the bumps of her fang canals. The sensation no longer felt strange to her. She nodded. “Yes. I am.”
Perhaps the start to something more, or a world I would like to explore.