“So, what, is she your girlfriend?”
Maeve can hear his voice in the antechamber despite the closed door, the double-paned glass, and the insulated walls. His breath stinks—she knows by the way Cara wrinkles her nose—and when she tastes the residual sour in Cara’s mouth, Maeve shudders. Old beef. She glances over her shoulder and looks through the glass. He’s a big man, dressed in his paramedic uniform like the rest of the gathered crowd. He has a yellow smear on his left breast pocket. What’s his name…Huxley? Anderson? Maeve always forgets Cara’s coworkers. She’ll call him Mustard. Maeve sees Cara shoot Mustard a look that would turn blood into ice, then turn back to the training room. Ok…they are not on good terms. Noted.
Maeve feels a sudden pressure in her chest. She can’t tell if the pressure is from Cara’s nerves or her own, but she knows everything is riding on her performance. There are two full-grown pigs in front of her: a pink boar with a tattered ear, and a larger sow with a black spot across her back, both guzzling oats from plastic buckets. The select group of assembled paramedics has assigned Maeve to the sow. Maeve tries to engender some empathy. But the pressure on her chest just gets worse.
“Ready?” says a voice over the intercom. Female…must be Wilson…or Schwartz. “The shooters are getting into position.”
The whole room smells of the pigs’ stench, wet oats, and mud, but Maeve’s nerves are keyed up now: Maeve can smell the sow’s distinct scent. Earthy, bitter. Raw. She has no curiosity as to the flavor. Pigs are similar to humans, their thinking goes. Similar weight, total blood volume. Their livers filter blood just as fast.
Pigs aren’t the weirdest creatures to have been inside this precinct, according to Cara. But there is a reason the cameras are off, and the shutters are closed.
“Yes. I’m ready.” Maeve tries to sound like she means it. Two rifles poke through a slot in the glass. It doesn’t matter if one shooter misses and hits her instead: Maeve already has enough creeahqua in her bloodstream to kill a rhinoceros. A dart to the throat. Lucky pigs. Cleaner than teeth. Maeve pushes down the memory before her chest begins to seize. She rubs the sheath she’s gripping in both hands. Rubber talisman. She grits her teeth.
It is three o’clock in the morning, and Maeve must slap this sheath to the sow, suck her blood faster than the 1.8 milliliters of active creeahqua, administered by dart, can Turn her into the swine equivalent of a bloodsucking monster.
Which is what I am. I am a bloodsucking monster.
Maeve reminds herself every day.
Her competitors are Randy Aston, the best paramedic in the precinct, and the DiaBlue 3600, the fastest blood dialysis kit on the world market. The DiaBlue 3600 waits beside the smaller hog, its suction ports primed and ready. It is a squat, black, portable machine, with sleek sides and fat clear plastic tubes running up and down its middle. A machine. This is what they want me to be. Maeve doubts she will ever convince them.
Cara passed her paramedic qualifier’s exam last month: she studied for six weeks, it was all she ever talked about, so Maeve can tell you the specs of every blood dialysis kit in circulation. If you ask her. Not that anyone would ask her. Her own father doesn’t speak to her, anymore.
There is only one DiaBlue 3600 in all of Lincoln County. It is property of the Six-Five, the central branch. The Four-Eight—where Cara works, wherein Maeve now stands, waiting for two darts to hit two full-grown hogs—has it on loan. For “training purposes.” Ha! The Four-Eight’s ambulances are stocked with DiaBlue 800s, Maeve knows— ten years out of date because the whole fanging industry is underfunded —what a boon for public health. Neither kit has prevented a victim from Turning. But the 3600s filter blood at three times the rate of the 800s. They’re the best shot any paramedic has to save a life, after a vampire assault.
Sure, the DiaBlue 3600s are fast. But Maeve is faster.
And yes, I am her girlfriend, Mustard Stain.
Maeve dreams she is at the beach with Cara. It is high noon. For a moment, the full sun above her head makes it too bright to see anything. But then, her eyes adjust. Her father, Lionel Shapiro, is serving peach cobbler in a glass Tupperware. Cara turns cartwheels at the shoreline.
Lionel puts down the knife. He picks up his camera.
“Maeve! Get in the picture, too!”
“I don’t want my picture taken.” It’s a lie. Maeve wants her picture taken more than anything, but the photograph will show a vacant space where her body is supposed to be, and Maeve can’t bear to watch her father see it.
Cara runs up behind Maeve, grabs her waist, wrestles her into the shot.
“No—please.” Maeve feels the words leave her mouth, like something released, something with wings. But her feet are pulled, magnet-like, through the sand. Soon she is feet from the tide.
“Sweetheart.” Lionel puts his camera down. “You’ll want to remember this day.”
Cara flips herself onto both hands. Lionel takes the shot, and the flash goes off. It’s an instant Polaroid, so there’s the ritual shaking—“Don’t get sand on it, Cara!”—and, then! What? It’s impossible! How is it possible?
Maeve is in the picture.
The image has emerged on the photoreactive square: Cara in a handstand, covered in sand; Maeve, holding Cara’s knee, mid-laugh. Her head is thrown back. Her mouth is wide open. Lionel has captured the moment just before Cara falls.
Maeve stares at herself in wonder. Am I ever this happy? But of course, it’s in a photograph. She has to be.
There is a moment before she wakes when Maeve forgets what she is. Her chest rises by habit, then falls of its own accord. Her throat is dry—she sleeps with her mouth open—and when she closes it, her mouthguard feels heavy, tastes sour.
Mouthguard! Teeth! Vampire.
Her eyes snap open. Something rattles in her chest. Her breathing weakens until she lies on her back as still as stone.
She can taste everything in this house. There are so many flavors on the air: paper, dust, sugar, chamomile, cologne, cinnamon, and coffee. Noises rush in like a flood. She has too much knowledge, with sudden clarity: there are racoons in the park two streets down; there is a murder of crows overhead; a car door opens, three streets away.
Maeve hates everything about herself. Especially when she dreams about her Pa.
Maeve’s father, Lionel Shapiro, bakes the best fruit cobblers. He bakes peach, apple, pear, blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, and rhubarb cobblers in a six-inch circular ceramic pan that is worn rough and black around its edges. When Maeve was a child, Lionel baked a cobbler every morning before leaving for the public library, where he worked the late-morning-till-evening shift, five days a week. Every afternoon when Maeve arrived home from school, the cobbler would be waiting on the counter with a note. Love you, kiddo. Eat your vegetables first. Wash your hands. Practice piano. Pizza’s in the freezer.
It was always just Maeve and her father.
He was right to cut ties. Who wants a vampire for a daughter? I’m a sick creep, I’m a sick fanging creep, thinks Maeve.
Maeve tries breathing again. She tries to calm down. She’s so hungry. She’s so fangdamn hungry. She stretches her chest. She sucks in cubic liters of air. The air goes willingly, but then it sits there, dead and stale. She releases it. She smells the cavity of her lungs as it escapes.
She hardly recognizes her own scent anymore. She tries breathing again. Faster, this time. Maeve gulps down three breaths in a row. Maybe the feeling will come back.
But air is a foreign body. It just isn’t the same.
She looks around. She is lying on an old single mattress with a spring jammed into her side. It’s night. It’s dark outside. The restless hour just past curfew, when streets are quiet and crickets chirp from the gully behind the old house.
The bookstore café, Crosses and Carafes, spans the two floors below. Maeve worked as a barista here. Before she Turned. The benevolent proprietor, David March—Maeve’s old friend—still lets Maeve work nights. She shelves and sorts merchandise for the price of her room and some cash. So, she lives in this attic, with the overstock books and whatever new shipment has arrived.
Cardboard boxes are stacked on three sides of the old wood room, labelled in black marker. Vampire Literature, Defense Guidebooks, Self-Help, Poetry from the Damned. There’s a single window above the mattress, which Maeve has covered with a heavy wool blanket. It’s drafty. A single pane of glass. Drooping floorboards. Maeve doesn’t feel the cold, but Cara says it’s fanging colder than a ghoul’s tit. So Maeve has bought a space heater, which collects dust under her desk table.
Leering at Maeve in the center of the room is a large, pale blue ceramic lamp. The lamp is broken at its base, missing a hand’s width gouge. It leans, south of Maeve’s mattress, at a thirty-five degree tilt. There are seventeen black-and-white photographs of this lamp, taken at strange angles, hanging with clothespins from a string along the back wall. The photographs are dry, now. If Cara sees them, she’ll say what the hell? Or, are you fanging kidding me? The lamp saved her life. Cara doesn’t like to remember. So, Maeve unpins the photographs and places each into the drawer of her desk table. They add to the eight-inch stacked pile. Self-Portraits, Maeve calls them.
She rolls the wool blanket, opens the window, and climbs outside.
Night air tastes like pollen, cut grass, and wet metal. Then alcohol, electricity, and gasoline. Then the tar from the rooftop tiles. Then pine sap, roadkill, spilled coffee, old grease, burnt rubber. Maeve climbs to the top of the roof. She lies on her back under a weathervane. A drip of water collects at its lowest point. Each drip hits her forehead, then dribbles to the base of her neck in tingling little rivulets she imagines must feel cold.
She breathes again, tries to make it feel natural. She’d take up smoking if it wasn’t an expensive habit. Anything to ease her nerves.
Maeve hears Cara’s car door slam! a full twelve minutes drive away. She tracks her girlfriend’s progress with the old sedan’s various sounds. It’s a countdown. She hasn’t eaten in twenty-four hours. She takes inventory. The sheath is a folded wedge under her pillow. The stopwatch is perched on her desk table. Yes, she put the photographs away, why have another row?
At last, Cara’s Aveo pulls onto the shoulder of the residential street below. Cara runs to the café’s front door. The lock clicks open. She is inside the old bookstore café in twelve seconds flat. Maeve is counting.
Being a paramedic, Cara is permitted to be out past curfew. But it’s dangerous—so fanging dangerous, Maeve pushes the memory down—so, Cara has the car-to-door-entry routine down to its minimal risk, even though the whole block is alarmed.
Now that she is inside the building, Cara moves slower. Maeve can hear each footstep, thump-thump-thumping up the stairs.
Maeve swings back through the window, closes it, pulls the wool blanket into place. The door creaks. “It’s fanging colder than a ghoul’s tit.” Maeve snorts and plugs in the space heater. The electricity snaps, then it whirrs hot air into the dusty attic. Cara drops her bag in the corner. “Hi.”
Cara steps over the lamp with a scowl that says why do you keep it? Old pain and exasperation. But the lamp is a constant reminder, for Maeve. She refuses to throw it away.
Cara sticks the rubber sheath to her neck. A thrill shoots up Maeve’s spine. With a sudden and incapacitating urgency, Maeve is hungry. This hunger is practiced. Pavlovian. It isn’t real, she tells herself. It isn’t real. I’m a trained dog, I’m a trained bloodsucking dog.
How can a demon be hungry? Hunger is for the living. Maeve isn’t alive.
Cara sets the stopwatch to twelve seconds. Which means thirty-six milliliters of blood, give or take.
But blood is rich, and wet, and tastes like a million metallic scents, and Maeve dissociates as she bends her head, as she bites the sheath and pierces Cara’s neck, and sucks Cara’s blood up through it. Creeahqua gets stuck at its borders, she knows: the sheath sterilizes her teeth. It blocks Maeve’s poison and prevents Cara from Turning.
I almost Turned her, I almost Turned her, I almost fanging Turned her. Whenever Maeve and Cara are this close, and whenever they are touching, Maeve can’t push down the memory of how fanging close she once came.
Maeve’s guilt doesn’t stop her from drinking. Hard gulps, pure force, as fast as she can. Cara’s gasps are no more than odd rituals, these days. Rituals. Strange but necessary. Just like everything else in Maeve’s life. Maeve is haunting the living. Maeve is on borrowed time.
The stopwatch beeps. Cara rips off the sheath; Maeve pulls herself away. She feels Cara’s hand on her chest, firm pressure on her sternum. Cautious barrier. Ineffective. Just a warning. Like a sharp word, keeping her at a distance.
Engage, take what you need, step away.
She forces her feet back. She takes two steps. She stares out at the blue ceramic lamp. Its broken base calms her by inculcating the familiar cadence self-loathing.
Cara takes one shaking breath that she tries to smother with the palm of her hand, but it remains the loudest thing in this room. Maeve hears it. Cara sits down on the mattress. She wipes the sheath with hand sanitizer and a rag. Her motions are mechanical. Maeve frowns.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” Cara keeps her head down. Maeve doesn’t believe her. None of this is enough. It’s not enough blood; it’s not enough touch. But it’s what Maeve can count on. With a sudden, painful passion, Maeve hates every part of it. How long can they do this? For the rest of her life?
“If I was rich, I could buy blood from the CDC.”
“Stop,” says Cara, looking up.
“It hurts you,” says Maeve.”
“We’ve been over this. It doesn’t hurt too much. I can take the pain.”
Maeve sits down, her right knee brushing Cara’s left. “You shouldn’t have to, Cara.”
Something tells Maeve she is starting a fight. Because she doesn’t want to show up, tonight. Because she doesn’t want to meet Cara’s coworkers and be tested, be laughed at, be scrutinized.
“Can you stop feeling shit about yourself? I agreed to this. It’s my responsibility.”
“But it shouldn’t be.”
Cara scowls. Maeve hears the change in her heartbeat. Thud-thud-thud-thud-a-thud. “What are you saying?”
I’m saying I’m a fangdamn mess. Maeve says: “I wish I was better for you.”
“You’re good for me.” Cara’s eyes flash in the lamplight. “Can’t you see that?”
Stop lying. Maeve looks away. Why does Cara keep telling herself that? I’m a bloodsucking monster. I’m not good for anyone. “Cara. You still have blood on your neck.”
“Oh, whatever!” Cara wipes the blood with her sleeve. It’s no mystery she’s angry. Maeve has broken their code. Cara picks up her bag and stalks to the door.
Maeve stomach drops. “You’re not going to sleep here tonight? The trial is in six hours.”
“Yeah. I know what fanging time it is.” Cara opens the door. “I’ll see you at the precinct.”
Maeve shakes her head. She glares at the ceiling as the attic door slams. She could yell Cara! Wait! She could catch up in a heartbeat, dash down the stairs. Apologize, self-deprecate. Get down on both knees. Is that what Cara wants?
Maeve’s body feels heavy. She can’t muster the energy. Maybe it’s good that Cara is angry. We haven’t touched in six weeks. Except feeds. Maybe we’ll get to a breaking point. Maybe we’ll just stop pretending.
Maeve takes out her Yashica Rangefinder. She opens the hatch and adds a new cartridge of 35mm film. Her last. She sits down beside the broken lamp. She points the camera lens at her face. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Maeve scowls into the shutter as it flies open and shut. Then she bares her teeth. Then she flips it the bird; then she sticks out her tongue. Then she mimes a scream.
Maeve leaves the attic at quarter to three. Her worn sheath is clutched in her hand. Security blanket. She runs. She catches up with Cara’s car around Bayou and Jasper and jogs beside the old grey Aveo. Cara is blasting the radio—“In recent news, the White House has issued Cease and Desist orders to ‘Armageddon Blood Right’…the CDC is tightening their legal requirements for registered supernaturals.” She checks her blind spots. She scowls at the road. Her passenger window is open a crack: Cara opens it to defog the windshield, and always forgets to pull it closed. Maeve smiles, despite herself. Her mood has improved since the feed. She tastes salt, vinegar, potato starch from the residual air on Cara’s tongue. Chips in the glove compartment, she guesses.
Cara’s car picks up speed. Maeve runs faster. Air pushes back against her chest, buffeting her. Maeve’s face and arms tingle. Night is bitter cold, she assumes. Cara doesn’t look out the window, but Maeve knows, when jogging at fifty clicks, her vampiric form is a slip of wind and shadow. She doubts Cara would see her. She feels invisible, but not like in a photograph. In a guardian angel, unseen-yet-tethered sort of way. Besides. Maeve likes to run. It isn’t the worst thing, she concedes.
She can tell Cara is still angry by the way her heart pounds in her chest, by the rate of her breathing, by the way the air around her smells like anxious sweat, and how she pushes a tape into her tape deck with too much force, and how she doesn’t nod her head when “Like a Moonwalker” begins to play.
Cara is counting on me.
Everything will ride on Maeve’s performance. The fact that she is even welcome at the paramedic precinct is a godforsaken miracle, but Wilson is a moderate and Schwartz trained in public health, and Jeffers-the-anti-vamp-radical was fired. And fang it, Cara vouched for her. Cara found the sheath. Cara fed Maeve, when she was days away from (a second, more permanent) death. This is all Cara’s idea. There’s a new pressure in Maeve’s chest, now. She doesn’t want to be here. She can see the illuminated red roof, the sign, “Paranormal Medic Precinct 48,” at the end of the road.
She isn’t going to let Cara down. Not after everything she’s done to her.
Will she be able to save a pig? With her teeth and her repressed bloodlust and her insidious hunger…Can she save a victim from her fate? Is it even possible?
Maeve is already mid-run when the dart hits the sow’s left jowl. She reaches the animal before its squeal peals across the room in a wet scream, checks the dart cannister (empty), pulls it, throws it across the room.
The sow flings her head. Squeals, again, with the sting.
Maeve jump back. Stands by. Guarding; cautious. This stinging is going to get worse, unless we do this. Like cold fire in your veins. Is that what you want?
The sow returns to the oats at hand, but she’s nervous, now. There’s a sick tension in her haunches Maeve can’t help but see. Maeve’s heart wrenches. Did I shake like that? She swallows something in her throat that tastes like bile.
She moves behind the oat bucket. She slaps the sheath over the sow’s puncture wound with supernatural speed and fastidious precision. She imagines, to the paramedics in the window, her arms are a vague blur on the air.
She smells Randy burst through the door before she sees him. Deodorant, sweat, adrenaline, that burnt-metallic taste of nerves. He runs to the boar, grabs the suctions ports, and jams them into the boar’s seeping puncture wound. The poisoned blood at the boar’s neck is extracted, transfused. The sleek machine hums. The boar hasn’t even flinched.
Did they sedate him? Fanging cheaters.
Rage focuses Maeve’s jittery nerves. She looks down.
Her sheath looks wrong on the sow. Only Cara has worn it, before this moment, and there’s something grotesque about the way the rubber covers the sow’s hairy skin, catching in the bright lights overhead. The way it ripples. The sow looks so vulnerable, now. Her head is shaking, back and forth, as if trying to swat bees at her neck. Creeahqua is running up her veins. Maeve has to work fast. She doesn’t want to. But this is a test. Only a test.
Who else might wear the sheath, in the future?
Some human. Some human dumb enough to get bitten.
Self-loathing overwhelms Maeve. She uses it. She lunges down.
She puts two hands on the sow’s front haunches, pushing her to the ground. She could force the pig down—she can lift a car, she’s done it before—but the sow gives in. Like she knows.
Firm pressure, Maeve tells herself. Don’t spook her. Engage, take what you need, step away.
Maeve puts her mouth to the rubber. It feels so fangdamn wrong. Unsettling. She draws out the blood. It’s snake venom, Maeve tells herself. It’s venom. Just venom. Humans do this too.
The sow is bleating, now.
Pig’s blood has a particular flavor, something akin to young grass and tar. Maeve gulps the poisoned blood and memories flood her. After she Turned, before Cara found the sheath, Maeve survived off a half-liter of pig’s blood from the butcher, twice a month. It was never enough. She was sick every day. She tries to feel grateful for the additional meal, but the taste just makes her nauseous. Her nerves feel electric. Fangdamn it, she needs to calm down.
Maeve watches the sow. Her whole body is shaking. But she’s bleating less, now. That’s good. The creeahqua—the heaviness of it, the distinct, bitter pitch—tastes dilute. Almost gone. Maeve doesn’t want to be here, drinking this blood. She closes her eyes. She hears voices.
“Bite load is gone from Pig B. That’s under three minutes, Wilson.”
“Two minutes ten. Fanging hell. Is the machine broken?”
“It’s perfect. It’s scanning Pig A without a hitch. Randy’s only siphoned off thirty-six percent.”
“I told you! A bloodsucker is faster than dialysis. It’s what they’re made for. Why haven’t we thought of this before?”
“Don’t call her that.”
“You heard me, Jacobi. Her name is Shapiro.”
“Stop! Look at Randy!”
Maeve smells the cascade reaction overpowering the boar’s blood. She can smell it before Randy sees the symptoms—“Run,” she shouts, to Randy. “Run.” Then, his wide-eyed terror. Sweat beading up his brow. The quaking; the ramrod-straight limbs; the high-pitched squeal.
Randy’s scream is pure terror. He drops the tubing and runs. No mystery why. It is said cross-species transfer has a Turn rate of 1 in 10. The best dialysis kit in the world: not fast enough. The boar has Turned, anyway.
He makes it out the door. There’s a siren overhead. “Get out,” says the voice on the intercom. Get out. But she’s a bloodsucker, too. What does it matter? There’s a sow beside her, with a still-beating heart. Have they all forgotten?
Maeve pulls the sheath from the sow’s neck as the boar runs at the sow. Poor sow, lying on the ground. She’s in a dream state. The boar lunges. What uncanny speed. She throws herself in its path. She grabs the boar at the throat. She wrestles the animal to the ground. His body is a squirming, rearing, crazed mound of fat, muscle, dirty flesh. Then there’s a shot from the window. A piercing squeal. Another shot. There’s blood everywhere. The boar goes slack beneath Maeve’s body. The pressure in Maeve’s chest explodes.
She sees her body convulsing with sobs from a vantage point a few feet above her own head. She’s on her knees. Maeve can’t cry, there are no tears, but this is as close as she can come to it and it’s a violent, painful approximation. Her shoulders shake. Her chest is heaving. Her throat emits strangled sounds.
The sow’s squealing and the siren fade into a dull hum, but Maeve hears Cara’s voice behind the glass, cutting through it all. “Fang it, let me in there!”
“Are you crazy? It isn’t safe.”
“Let me in the room, Wilson! Let me in the goddam room!”
“Oh, the boar’s out cold! Just let her through!” Mustard pushes his weight against the door. Cara sprints inside. Now, the vampiric boar—what’s left of him—is splayed across the concrete floor. He’s bleeding from the head wounds. The sow, shrieking, runs full speed in tight circles around the room. Shtick, another shot. The sow bowls over, too.
“Breathe, Maeve. Breathe.”
“I can’t.” Maeve’s chest feels physically constrained. She can’t open her lungs. Her skin is on fire.
“Maeve, look at me.” Cara’s hand presses hard on her sternum. “Breathe, Maeve.” This pressure, outside her, pressing inward; this perfect, painful constancy. “You can do anything.”
“There’s pig hair on the sheath.” Maeve lifts it, like an apology.
“We’ll wash it.” Cara swallows. “You did it. You did so well.”
“I need to leave. I need air. Are we done?”
Cara looks confused. Does she expect me to be happy? There’s blood everywhere. There’s blood on her face, Maeve can smell it.
“I’ll tell Wilson we’re leaving, okay?” says Cara. “I’ll drive you home.”
When she leaves the room, she feels pressure release. She smells old wood, the day-old sweat on dank clothes of the precinct—spilled soup, pen ink, a bleach-based cleaning product—and these smells are ten million times better than the smell of death in the training room. She grabs her sweater from a bench. She wipes her face. She sees the sweater smeared with boar’s blood. Another dead bloodsucker. These paramedics are heartless and cruel.
They part as Maeve walks past. They stare shamelessly as she picks up her things. Somebody murmurs, “well done”. When Maeve reaches the door, she hears: “Shit, that was nuts. I’ve never seen one move, before.”
She steps outside. Fresh air on her skin. It isn’t hard to breathe, out here. Open air is better than that trapped, suffusive hell. Why can’t people see that?
At least the the sow is alive. She thinks it, bitterly.
She waits by the car. She stares into the night.
“Who was the man who let you in?” If Maeve talks first, Cara might think she’s okay. “The big guy. With the mustard stain. It was good of him.”
“Andrews.” Cara drops her bag in the back seat. She looks at Maeve as she buckles her seatbelt. “He really came through in there.”
It was dangerous of you. The boar was still moving. How could you? Maeve doesn’t say it.
“I was worried about you, Maeve. You freaked out.” Cara turns on the ignition and starts to drive. It’s four o’clock and the roads are empty. Cara’s A19 curfew clearance badge swings from the rearview mirror. The mirror that only sees Cara.
Maeve doesn’t say anything.
“Are you going to talk to me about it? Are we going to drive home in silence?”
Cara’s voice is rising, now. Maybe she’s angry because she’s scared. Cara is often one or the other. Fear and anger are stalwart companions. Maeve can never tell them apart. “I just…I don’t know what to say.”
“You proved you can do what our best equipment can’t, Maeve. You can save a victim from Turning, after an attack. You can draw out the poison fast enough. Even with the sheath.” Cara looks at Maeve. Maeve keeps her face blank. “God, should I be pushing for this? Do you even want to save people?”
“I’m going to screw it up.” Even tone, Maeve tells herself. Level voice. That’s the key. “You know I will.”
“Why would I think that? Why would you say that?”
“I almost Turned you.” Maeve’s voice is too loud, but the words are out of her mouth. There’s no retrieving them. “Before we found the sheath. When I was living off pigs’ blood. From the butcher. Remember? If David hadn’t heard you scream. Fang it, Cara. If David hadn’t come running…” If he hadn’t knocked me out with the blue ceramic lamp. “I was so close to it, Cara. Don’t you care? You’d be dead right now. You’d be hunger-crazed. You’d be searching for your next fanging meal.”
“You were starving.” Cara’s voice is quiet. “You weren’t yourself.”
“How do you know what I am?” Maeve is almost shouting. Why doesn’t Cara understand? “How can you trust me to be around all those people? Your colleagues, Cara. Schwatz, Wilson, Andrews. How can you even be in this car with me? You don’t love me anymore, you just…feed me. I’m a burden. Why don’t you just leave?”
“You’re spiraling, Maeve.”
“I’m not spiraling! You’re the one with the problem! I’m a bloodsucker, Cara. How do you even trust me?”
Cara pulls the car to the side of the road, pressing the brake. They decelerate with a slow deliberateness that seems too thought-out to be emotional. Forty clicks. Thirty. Twenty. Nine. Five. The Aveo stops. Gravel crunches beneath the wheels.
“I do trust you. I’ve trusted you from the minute I first saw you, serving coffee. I trusted you after you Turned. I know it’s naïve. I’m a fangdamn trusting person. But it’s true. You’re going to have to live with it.”
“I’m a monster, Cara.”
“I’ve known you long enough to know what you are.” Cara glares. The ferocity in Cara’s expression takes Maeve aback. She rarely sees Cara this angry. “What? I should hate you as much as you hate yourself? Is that what you want?”
Maeve looks at the floor. They haven’t talked about this before. “Didn’t it…hurt? Weren’t you terrified?”
“Yeah.” Cara takes a breath. “Yeah, Maeve. I was terrified.”
“I can’t forgive myself,” says Maeve. “I just can’t. Ok?”
“I wish things were different,” says Cara.
Break up with me, leave me, save yourself, Cara. But Cara looks up. Cara is still here, watching Maeve. Maybe she doesn’t want to leave, but how can she sacrifice her time, her blood, her youth…and for what? For Maeve? God, is Maeve worth it? After everything?
“I wish things were different, too.” Maeve says it, miserably.
They sit in the silence, and the night feels heavy. Anything could be outside this car. Maeve believes, for a moment, that this is the only place she has ever been: sitting, with Cara, in a car on the roadside. The two of them, in the silence. Losing heat.
“All I’ve ever wanted to do is to save people,” Cara says. “I don’t understand why this is a hard decision for you.”
“I’m not like you, Cara. I don’t want to save people.” It sounds so selfish, admitting it. Cara is such a selfless person. What Maeve wants feels trivial in comparison. But she says it, anyway: “I just want to show up in a picture.”
“What do you mean?”
“I just…I want to see my face again.” Maeve’s voice cracks. Fangdamn throat, she can still taste the pig. She closes her eyes. She smells the car and everything in it. She smells the mucus in Cara’s sinus, mixed up with the salt from waiting tears. She wishes she still had tears. “I don’t know who I am, anymore. I don’t know what I look like, now.” If she says it, the words will be outside of her. Isn’t that a good thing? What else can she do with them? “Sometimes I can’t even remember my own face, Cara. God, I miss my Pa.”
Cara takes a long breath. She wipes her mouth with one hand. She is thinking. “Look. I don’t know how to make you see yourself, Maeve. I wish I could. But…you know, I see your face, every day. I promise you: you’re not a monster. You’re just a girl. Okay?”
Maeve doesn’t know how to believe this, so she just takes Cara’s hand. The pressure of Cara’s palm feels like something akin to warmth. It doesn’t tingle like the night air: it feels constant. If Maeve closes her eyes, she can almost imagine they’re sitting in Crosses and Carafes, in the chairs behind the Geography section, in full daylight, surrounded by people. She can almost believe she’s alive, again. Like she was, once. When Cara first touched her.
“Hey.” Cara’s voice is gentle. “You should call him.”
“Hello, this is the voicemail of Lionel Shapiro.” A ‘beep’ sounds, and Maeve presses the phone to her ear. She takes a breath of air.
“Pa, it’s Maeve. We haven’t spoken in a while. I understand if you don’t want to see me. I understand if you hate me. Or if this is too painful.” God knows I’ve been hating myself too. “I…just wanted you to know that I’m…still here.
“You gave me a funeral. It was a nice one. I watched from the vestry. The lilies were perfect. You gave the most touching eulogy. I never knew you kept the Christmas card I made in sixth grade that began ‘felicitations, father.’ I didn’t know it made you laugh like that. Fangs, I was such a strange child.
“I guess that I’m a strange adult, too. I take pictures of lamps. I spend all my money on film, photosensitive paper, and fixation chemicals. But I’m still here, okay?” I didn’t starve on the streets. I didn’t kill anyone. “I have an opportunity, now. To save victims. Like me. I can stop them from Turning, after being bitten. At least, it seems like I can. I’m faster than the paramedics’ dialysis equipment. In Lincoln County. They want to take a chance on me. It’s a risk, and…fang it, every bigot this side of Sycamore is going to have an opinion. But I’m going to try, Pa.” You sacrificed so much of your life to raise me. “Maybe I can save some other Pa’s kid. From the same fate. If you catch my meaning.” I want you to be proud of me. Even though I’m…something different, now.
“I know it’s not your fault I was bitten.” Maeve stops talking. The insistent, urgent memory presses on her chest. It’s trying to crush her. A sudden wham; riptide force. Her back, on the concrete ground. Cold sweat-gooseflesh prickles up Maeve’s skin. She has to keep talking, or she’ll never get this out.
“You couldn’t pick me up from work that night. I knew that. I made the choice to walk home. It could’ve happened to anyone. You couldn’t have known. I needed somebody to blame. It wasn’t fair I said those things to you, Pa. I’m so sorry.”
I miss you. You always took such good care of me. You always cared. Maeve takes another breath. Air is foreign body, but for this moment, it is hers.
“Cara’s well. She’d love to taste another one of your cobblers, sometime. You know she always did love the peach ones.” I miss you, Pa. “I hope you aren’t lonely. I hope you’ve…been keeping well.”
Maeve presses on the telephone switch. The dial tone beeps, reminding Maeve of her feeding stopwatch. Engage, take what you need, step away. She replaces the receiver. She takes a step back. She doesn’t know if her Pa will hear it. She doesn’t know if anything will change. But at least the words are out there. As least Maeve has tried.
“I want a tight run, alright?” says Wilson. “Efficiency and speed. Who knows what could be possible, tonight? But I’ll say this: in all my years as a paramedic, this is the first night I’ve ever believed that we might have the chance to save a victim from Turning. I never thought this day would come. So, whatever happens just…give it your best shot. Okay?”
A cheer rings out through the precinct. The paramedics gathered are giving Maeve the side-eye. Cautious, tentative looks. There’s excitement in this room. Everyone is buzzing. But there are hushed whispers, too, when she’s close. Nervous laughter, like she’s easy to spook. Rumors fly.
Maeve is dressed in black, with red neon stripes up the side of her pants, and a GPS tracker under her skin. It’s not how the paramedics dress, but Maeve is the DiaBlue on the team. Why complicate things? She is just their machine. The GPS tracker forms a small ridge under her wrist. It smells like newly soldered metal. It makes Maeve feel exposed. How can a machine trace her when she can’t even see her own face? Life is full of these jagged little ironies. At least Cara is here. At least Cara is coming with her. She climbs into the ambulance. She sits down in the back of the van. She grips the clean-again sheath in both hands.
“This is it,” says Cara. “No more drills.”
Cara is nervous. Maeve feels it, in the pit of her stomach. Cara’s nerves feel like Maeve has swallowed something alive, and it’s bounding around inside her gut. But she smiles at Cara. This is a big day. Maeve embraces her nerves.
The ambulance pulls out of the precinct parking lot. Maeve hears the throng of anti-vamp protesters before she sees them. “Die, vampire! Starve them out!” Their voices are raucous, unbridled. Vicious. Filled with hate. When the ambulance passes the chain-link fence beyond the Four-Eight, protest signs come into view. “Hear No Evil, See No Evil” catches Maeve’s eye. Chanting cuts through the walls of the ambulance. “Die, fangs! Starve them out!” Their terror smells like puke and Maeve feels infected.
“Do you think you can do this?” says Cara. Her eyes narrow. Her heart races, Maeve can hear it. Cara knows what is at stake. If Maeve is employed, she’s legitimized. If she saves victims from attacks, she is a hero. She debunks those anti-vamp slogans; she upends their campaigns.
“Bloodsucker! Starve the Fangers Out! Die in a Gutter!” Maeve imagines attacking the throng. How long would it take to bite every protester? To Turn them into the monsters they hate? Three minutes, tops? Maybe four. But staring at the signs, Maeve realizes it doesn’t hurt as much as she thought it would. If anything, seeing the words on display—actually reading them—feels like a strange relief.
“Devil Incarnate! Vampire scum.” They aren’t in her head, anymore: they’re outside of her. They’re somebody else’s words, now.
Maeve takes Cara’s hand. She squeezes it. “I’ve been told I can do anything.”