Peeling the curtains, I click the tinted window of my bedroom open, allowing blue moonlight to pool on the floor. The streets of London are foggy at nightfall. The moon is a big silver coin in the heavens. The pink swing set in the backyard rocks back and forth to the ghostly autumn breeze. It’s that time of the night again. That feeling. Neither sweet nor painful. It courses through me, flowing through my veins and marrow.
“Catalina! Come downstairs!” Mother calls from the kitchen. “Your papa is home!”
I pay her no mind. She doesn’t know the feeling. She will never understand the sickening sense of unease I feel whenever the sun rises at dawn and its golden rays slant through my thick curtains. She will never know the eternal thirst eating up my throat. My feverish dreams and trapped days. That cold chill continuously spreading through my soulless body.
I can smell Mother coming up, the stairs creaking against her slippers. I can perceive the tangy cinnamon caught underneath her fingernails. The drying sweat on the nape of her neck is pungent. Now I can hear her heartbeat—it keeps rising, pounding as she walks down the hallway. She is scared. She has always been scared but manages to hide it with her motherly smiles and hugs.
I stick my head out the window, feeling the cold draft burn my eyes. I don’t want to see her. Not now. The house is only two-storey. Not that it really mattered. Without fear, I jump, landing gracefully on the backyard lawn. Brown leaves crunching under my barefoot. Tonight marks one year since my humanity was stolen from me. It was on a night like this one, and it happened right here while I was sitting on this swing. I was just a girl of eleven, a happy child without a care in the world. Until he came from the darkness, sweeping through a mist of evil, and sank his fangs…
No. I will not dwell on that.
I can sense Mother’s gaze on my back. She is standing by the window, peering down. Her blonde hair is a sheaf coiling over one shoulder. The ghost of a tear twinkles in her lashes.
She has been home-schooling me since the “incident,” as she would like to call it. She quit her job at the bakery and devoted her time to me. Gone were those days we would go for picnics in Hyde Park, the aroma of homemade cakes and biscuits filling our nostrils. Papa’s silly jokes sending fits of chuckles into Mother’s ribs. The two of them happy and oblivious to the rotten darkness that has always been sheltered by this sun-washed world. Gone were the days we would dance in the living room together to old records, running in circles like carousels with mirth and goodness in our hearts.
It all stopped when their daughter became a vampire. A monster pulled from the nightmares of the innocent. The first time I manifested my fangs was on Christmas Eve; Papa collapsed and passed out.
Mother, on the other hand, puked for days when she found me hunched behind the kitchen counter, sucking the life out of our neighbour’s cat. My eyes were sweltering then, blood smeared all over my mouth, and my face wild with the primal need to survive.
The morning after the incident in the backyard had been the most terrible. I don’t remember how I got back to my room or how I returned to bed. However, I do remember Mother’s horrified wail, shrill and grief laden. I opened my eyes instantly, feeling a scalding pain consuming my right arm. The skin of my arm, exposed to the sunlight breaking into the room, was bright red and sizzling. I cried, my voice like the roar of many claps of thunder, and jumped to my feet. Mother ran toward me, tripped over my dollhouse, and fell facedown…
It became clearer each day as I grew into something non-human. No more gym class and algebra and school bullies. I don’t miss school that much. I never really had any friends, except Norman, whom I barely see anymore. But it made perfect sense to me. I was no longer human, so I could no longer have human friends. Save for my parents, who were now stuck with me.
During the initial weeks of me being holed up in my room, they pondered on what to do. They spoke in hushed tones, but I could hear them clearly. Papa, a devout Catholic, wanted to bring home the priest. Mother was strongly against it. “My child is not possessed,” she whispered with venom. The next day they settled for holy water. They came to my room when they thought I was asleep. Papa read the Psalms and sprinkled water from the white plastic bottle around my bed. When a drop touched my forehead, it was fire—brutal and corrosive and seeping into my brain. I screamed, clutching my head and baring my fangs.
“Toss that thing away! It’s hurting her!” Mother ran toward me, taking me at once in her embrace. “I’m sorry, child,” she said, “but I don’t know what to do.”
“Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!” Papa yelled, awkwardly dancing around the room and carrying the bottle like an unpinned grenade. Eventually, he flung it out the window, his chest rising and heaving.
I wanted to tell my mother then that I was sorry, that it was all my fault for playing alone on the swing after sunset, but I couldn’t bring myself to say it. As she hugged and squeezed me, the lavender scent of her hair pouring into my senses, I could feel her lifeblood pulsing through her neck. I wanted it then. I wanted a taste…
Now I am standing in my backyard and looking across the deserted street, not knowing who I am anymore. I long for past years when I was just a normal girl who loved pancakes and skiving off school with Norman. The girl that played football with the brutish Peckham boys on Saturdays and enjoyed a little brawl when a goal was disagreed upon.
A figure scurries into view along the street, breaking my chain of thought. I walk to the fence to investigate. Walking past my house is this cloaked entity. An old drunk, drenched with the stench of booze, is staggering and wavering.
I listen to his heartbeat—weak and sick. He is dying. Perhaps cancer. His body is wasting away. He looks at me, smiles—his teeth brown and few—and says,
“You are Mr Mason’s wee lass, aren’t you?”
I nod, suppressing the urge to spring onto his thin, sickly neck.
“Cat! Catalina! Come in now!” Mother is calling.
I turn to look up at the window, but she is no longer in my room. She is coming to the backyard. When I return my attention to the man, he is already gone. I shrug and start back to the house. That’s when my eyes catch something: a little blue box, poorly tied up with red ribbons, had been carefully placed on the swing seat. A big smile crosses my face as I pick it up and rip it open. There is a note inside, scrawled in familiar handwriting.
Happy 12th birthday, Cat. You’re my favourite monster. Love, Norman.
Under the note is a colourful plastic bracelet, etched with fanged bats. I tuck the bracelet and paper slip inside my pocket, smirking. I wouldn’t want my parents finding out someone else knows about my “condition”—as Papa prefers to call it.
Mother is standing at the doorstep when I enter the house. Papa is seated at the kitchen counter. He smiles wanly, but his brown eyes are tired. He is a nurse in the city clinic; he is still wearing his blue scrubs.
“Come here, my Cat.” He gestures to me.
I stroll toward the kitchen, listening. His heartbeat is steady. His pulse is calm. I study his face. His black beard is starting to whiten. His laugh lines, the ones I was raised with, are already starting to fade.
“Hello, Papa,” I say, when I am close enough to touch his knee.
He extends his hand, and I hold it. My flesh is pale, almost dead white—a stark contrast to his tanned own. I feel his warmth trickling into my essence.
“I love you, Cat. You know that?”
He arose and took me to the refrigerator. He opens it, the chilly air and white light blasting on my face, and gives me a blood bag. Papa has been stealing them from the clinic since I killed the neighbour’s cat, Mr Mittens. I sink my teeth into the bag and drink, allowing the liquid to run around my body and renew my needy yet immortal flesh. I sigh, enjoying the sweetness of plasma. Mother is standing behind me, keeping a safe distance.
“Happy birthday, Cat.” She says finally.
I can hear her pulse—it’s a dangerous hammering.