The smell as I came in, it was no longer tempting. A shame, since it was what I now recognized as rice and soy sauce. It emanated from the kitchen, where I saw my mom, her back to me, hunched over the sink. She was washing dishes, and because she liked to work with background noise, the TV in the living room between us was on. She hadn’t heard me come in.
I pushed the door closed, harder than usual to make my entrance louder.
She didn’t budge. Was I already that deep in the red?
“Ma,” I said, raising my voice over the TV. Still nothing.
“Ma,” I said again, this time louder. I hoped it didn’t seem like I yelled at her.
She finally turned to face me. She had no discernable expression.
“How was school?” she asked.
I shrugged. “It was good.”
She didn’t react.
“Sorry,” I continued, “We had a game today. We won.”
“Good,” she said. She let a short pause settle in, the sound of the TV coming in between us. Some cop show. “Have you eaten yet?”
“We went out to eat after the game.”
“Who were you with?”
“Katy… and some people from the team,” I made sure to neglect bringing up Brandon.
“Okay.” Another pause.
I took that as an opportunity. “Alright. Tomorrow’s Friday, and I still have a lot of homework, so…” I made a move for my room, walking through the living room, passing the TV.
“Come here,” she said, catching me off guard. I hesitated.
“I’ve really got a lot of-”
“Just come here.”
I set down my stuff, my sports bag and backpack. I walked into the kitchen, and found my mom facing me, water no longer running from the sink.
I was about to sweat. Worried about what could come next. A stern talking-to over this past week and weekend? Would I get grounded? From what, though? That shitty-ass phone? I guess I had my computer, but-
My mom extended her arm out to me, motioning me to come closer. “Come here.”
Really don’t want to. “What’s up?” I asked, trying to stay calm, casual. Wary, I got closer to her.
Her arm went around my shoulders, and she pulled me even closer. Tight. My chin brushed against the top of her head.
“You give me hug when you come home,” she said, completely serious. “You know already.”
About half of the worry fatiguing my body was instantly tossed away. But I didn’t show it on my face.
“Sorry,” I said.
My mom pointed to the food at the counter, placed in containers. “Why don’t you eat more?” She asked. “There’s still some soup and chicken.”
“Really, I’m good,” I answered, my voice scratchy. I coughed a bit. She was too close for comfort. Her neck was right there.
“Are you sure? You should eat more.”
“I’m sure,” I said as I broke away from the hug, and began sifting through the overhead cabinets for a glass. “I am a little parched though.”
As much fun as this was, I’d prefer to be back in my room. I got my glass of water, and headed out of the kitchen to get my bags and seek refuge.
I stopped, with doorknob right there. So close.
“Is everything alright?” I had already passed the kitchen, so I couldn’t see her anymore. I only heard her voice.
“Everything’s fine,” I replied. Despite the very clear fact that everything happening to me at the moment was absolutely not fine, I didn’t want to get into that right now. I’d deal with it myself. “Everything’s good.”
I retreated to my room.
That actually went a lot better than I expected.
But, could that mean a really bad lecture later down the line? I didn’t know. Definitely wasn’t looking forward to that. My vocal cords scraped together with yet another cough. Like a reflex to that fear.
Just have to take it easy, if that’s even possible.
To take my mind off of the past few hours, I settled with doing my homework. I was actually looking forward to doing it.
Although settling in was easy, it turned out that doing my homework was arduous. Not the work itself, just some pointless math worksheets and Spanish vocabulary, but just having to bring myself to do it. Something kept nagging at me, the feeling of needing to do something else.
I dropped my pencil, and took a swig of water. After a deep breath, I went for my computer.
Sure enough, I found it online. Footage of me, on that night of the accident. If I had never seen this before, I definitely would’ve called bullshit. I could see why Brandon thought it was faked somehow. The person in this video, they moved too quickly, like some kind of creature.
The dash cam, however, was positioned in a way that the image cut off at the roof of the truck. You couldn’t actually see me jump away. The rest though, me knocking away the officer, pulling myself up and leaping to the roof of the truck. That was all there.
There was no real upside. Nothing I could pull away from this that would make me feel better. I found the website of the local news program that ran the story, an online written version. An interview with the EMS officer I had dealt with. Girl this, female that. He kept confirming that it was indeed a girl he dealt with. Even if the video was taken at night, even if it was a little hard to see, the words were right there, for everyone to read. No room for speculation. Awesome.
On the other hand, he wasn’t be able to identify her, thanks to the dark and that she was wearing a hood.
Alright, there was one upside, I thought to myself, Just one.
I reclined in my chair. My thirst and hunger were nagging at my consciousness even more, now, to the point that it had to be addressed. Like an alarm clock that I couldn’t turn off. I tried drinking more water, only to find that I had but a few sips left. Already?
I wanted more water – as if that would help – but I didn’t want to bump into my mom, in case she was still out there. Was that a pathetic thought? Absolutely, but I also wanted to avoid any conflict as much as possible.
My head went to rest in my hands, and from the prickling feeling at the back of my neck, I knew I was about to heavily perspire. It was bad when I woke up this morning, getting worse and worse throughout the day. I had managed to fight through it for school and the game, but now, it was feral and impatient, clawing at my insides until it had been relieved of a certain, particular desire. All day, I tried to push it away, tried to ignore it. But I didn’t have that option anymore.
Dammit. I can’t take it.
Alexis. Slow, deep breaths. Try to stay cool, calm. Collected.
When I raised my head, and checked the time, thirty minutes had passed.
Dammit. I literally cannot even take it.
A knock on my door. I tensed.
“Alexis?” It was muffled from behind the door.
“Mom?” I sounded hoarse.
“I’m going to bed. I left the soup out.”
“Oh, okay, thanks.”
A handful of seconds passed with silence. Did mom head to her room already?
I don’t care.
Without hesitating, I grabbed for a hoodie and my phone, and went out to the balcony. I secured a grip on the railing, and vaulted over.
I walked until I was deep into a suburb. It was a neighborhood I wasn’t unfamiliar with, just from simply living in the area for so long. Being so late and all, I was all alone as I roamed. Back when I was younger – a little younger – us kids used to play around at even this hour, but now parents were calling their children to come inside earlier and earlier as the years went by.
Every few steps, I was basked in the artificial light of a street lamp above me. After a few more, I was back in darkness. The more I walked, the tighter I hugged my midriff. A type of ravishing pain that could only come about from a few days of improper eating. I hunched over to try and wind down the grumbling. Had anyone seen me, I’d probably be mistaken for a bumbling hobo.
I inhaled a deep breath, but coughed as I exhaled.
I wanted to go for a walk to clear my head, but I only confused.
The very thought, the concept itself was something I despised having to just think about. The fact that this was something I had to seriously consider and wrap my head around. I clenched my fists, infuriated, remembering what happened back at the restaurant. Back at the game, with Eve. Back at that truck, when I discovered the woman. This awful realization.
Regular food sucked now. And the only thing that seemed to whet my appetite was…
I clenched again, even harder, until my fingernails dug into my palm.
Blood. A bodily fluid that runs in humans and animals, transporting nutrients and oxygen to cells, giving them what they need to properly function in a living body. A fundamental necessity for life.
What was I, some kind of vampire? I didn’t even want to use the word vampire, since even that sounded more ridiculous than the situation I was currently having to deal with. And, didn’t vampires have an aversion to sun and stuff? I haven’t melted in the sunlight. Not yet, for all I knew. All food sucked now, and that would include garlic. What else? Anyone would die from a stake to the heart, and anyone would die from a bullet, whether or not it was made from silver. A shadow? If I didn’t have one, it would have been among the first things I’d notice. Counting rice? I used to count spare rice on my plate when I was bored at the dinner table. But that was due to me being a hyperactive kid, not due to any sprung-upon supernatural OCD.
The only similarity here was that I needed blood.
And even if I was a vampire, how was I supposed to get sustenance? Going after people was out of the question. I’d rather just starve to death instead. The day that happens would be the day I no longer considered myself a person. But then what? What were my alternatives? Maybe I could still technically eat regular food, but it was just really bad. Could I last a week eating like that? Could I last the rest of my life eating like that? I recalled the smell of food, now. The answer was a hard ‘no.’ But then what?
As though to answer my question, a shape moved in the dark. What I assumed was the dark, anyways, since it was sitting in the middle of the road, outside the range of the streetlamps.
Walk around for long enough, whether it was an apartment complex or a suburb, it was almost guaranteed that you’d eventually come across one. Annoyingly common. I used to chase them all the time as a kid, but naturally, they were always too fast to catch. Dumb but agile creatures. Cute, though.
A bodily fluid that runs in humans… And animals.
I didn’t like the direction my thoughts were going, but the idea came to me regardless.
I stepped onto the street. There shouldn’t be any cars at this hour, but I was still careful. Making sure every step made no noise, I walked closer to the animal. When I was about eight feet away, the rabbit’s ear twitched.
It immediately broke into a run, scurrying left, off towards a house. By now, I’d just let it run off, but that would defeat the purpose of me being here. I straightened my back, preparing myself.
I too broke into a run, attempting to intercept it as it went directly to a bush. I surprised myself, as I already made it in between the rabbit and its escape route.
“All righty,” I said, talking aloud for whatever reason.
I threw out my arms, hoping to catch it. It shifted directions instantly, juking me to get to a fence past me. It slipped under a small hole in the wood, and got to the other side.
“Tricky bastard.” But I wasn’t going to give up so easily. My stomach had already begun to twist into knots. I blinked away tears as my thirst spiked in pain.
I jogged to the fence, and performed the smallest hop I could. I recalled the time at the barn. And the truck.
This time, I underestimated it. I did get over the fence, but my foot got caught at the top, and I toppled over, my body thumping on dirt and grass.
Will I ever get the hang of this?
I got up, and dusted my clothes off. I was in the backyard of someone’s home. If I wanted to catch that rabbit, now was the time.
Searching the surprisingly small perimeter, I found it, still in a far corner. It probably calmed down, thinking it escaped me. Sorry, buddy, not this time.
I ran to its position, staying light on my feet, carefully observing the animal for any tells for where it would run.
It didn’t even look at me, but from the way it twitched, I knew it was going to go left.
I moved in accordance to it, shifted my weight properly, and crouched down, my knees pressed against my chest. From that position, I dove to intercept it.
“Gotcha!” I announced with some pride, feeling fur enter into my open hands.
I stayed on the ground for a moment, securing my hold on the animal. It wriggled and squirmed around, wanting to get free.
When I was sure I had a good hold, I stood up.
It continued to struggle in my hands, but I wasn’t going to yield so easily. “Ow!”
A sharp prick on my right hand. It bit me. I moved my hand away, and secured my grip elsewhere on its body. I watched as the small mark by my thumb disappeared.
What I had planned, I definitely couldn’t do in someone’s backyard. I leapt over the fence, properly this time, and returned to the neighborhood proper. I thought of where to go. I scouted over the different routes in my head.
The park. The only place that came to me. Not too far from here, and plus, there wouldn’t be anyone there. Shouldn’t.
Securing the rabbit in my arms, I jogged over there.
The park’s setup was simple. A simple playground, with a swing set on one side, and a playhouse made up of climbers and swings on the other. But I wasn’t here to play. I was more interested on what was past the playground. As I crossed the playground, woodchips crumpled under my feet.
I didn’t know whose bright idea was it to build a playground near a ditch, but there it was. The slope was steep enough that a wooden railing was built on the side that faced the playground to prevent kids from falling in, not that I ever heard of that happening. Like whoever put it here did it only to get any complaining parents off their back, and thought, ‘Good enough.’ The ditch itself was wide, and was filled with tall grass and a single tree. No one would see me here.
The railing went only up to my hip, so getting over wouldn’t be an issue. But I did have to brace myself when I landed on the slope, running to prevent a fall. I slowed down when I got into the waist-high grass.
When I was sure I was all good, I held the rabbit out in front of me. It still squirmed around, but it was more sluggish now.
“Tired?” I asked the rabbit. Why did I ask that?
I took a better look at it. It was so cute, with its fluffy white fur, and its round shape. There was some black on it, a splash of dark fur across the left shoulder. Other than that, it was wholly white. How it twisted and turned, looking for a way to escape, it broke my heart. But when another fine pang of pain almost caused me to bowl over, I remembered why I was here.
“Sorry,” I said, stroking its head. “I really am.”
While I stroked it, I brushed its fur, exposing what should be its neck. I stalled for a moment, watching as it no longer protested, and it just stayed still, breathing. It gave me second thoughts.
Was this even sanitary? I could heal from cuts and broken bones, but that didn’t necessarily mean I was immune to disease. I grimaced.
The now-constant pounding all throughout my body served as a decent reminder. I’d take the risk.
“Here I go.”
I bit into its neck. Immediately, my mouth was filled with blood and fur. I had to fight the urge to back away and spit it out, because, if I backed down now, I couldn’t bring myself to do it again. Plus, it was just gross. The feeling of the rabbit’s body writhing for a second, and then going limp, relenting all control, I’d never forget that.
I brought the rabbit away from my face, being careful to not get blood on my face or hoodie. I was now holding a dead animal. Probably a good idea to get rid of this.
Going further into the grass, I placed it down, setting it down in its final resting place. Silently, with all my heart, I thanked it for its sacrifice.
Walking back up the slope, I picked at my tongue, trying to get out every strand of fur. Some blood dripped down a corner of my mouth. A chill soothed the back of my neck. I was significantly less on edge than when I got here. I kept thinking back to the taste of that rabbit.
Like a thick raspberry jelly, few days old. Not exactly the best thing ever, but by god, it was better than literally everything else I had all day. All week. It disturbed me, just how much I was mulling over this. How good it tasted.
But I could drink it. That was the golden takeaway from all of this. I had an alternative. What a fucking relief. I nearly buckled down to my knees.
A vibration in my pocket. I went for the phone, checking the message. I read the message from Katy.
“How bad was it?” she texted.
Both hands were necessary to reply. I hated how I needed to press a number multiple times in order to cycle to the letter I wanted. Accidentally press it one too many times, and you’d have to cycle through it all again. It made texting slow and frankly, not fun. A simple reply that I could knock out in a second took me thirty times as long.
“Wasn’t bad, maybe bad later. L-O-L,” I said as I typed it, not bothering with punctuation and capitalization.
A reply already. “Good. Think you can take it easy?” I read.
A word was certainly easier than a sentence, my response coming much faster this time.
Katy left it at that, no longer responding. I put the phone away.
Elated. My thoughts went back to my newfound discovery. An alternative. I had an alternative.
I wiped the blood, and the smile, that was smeared across my face.
A smack to my arm almost led to me smacking my chin against the table. I caught myself in time, but it woke me up to where I was. Lone Star Chicken. Around lunch time.
“Get up, girl, we ‘bout to head out.”
“Huh, what’s going…” I mumbled. I faced the blurry images sitting in front of me. I pressed my wrist against my eyes, but that didn’t help at all.
“I said c’mon, I can’t afford another tardy no more.” From the Hispanic accent, I could tell the blurry shape to my right was Maria.
“I agree, let’s go.” And by process of elimination, the one on my left was Katy.
“Yeah, sounds… sounds good,” I said, still drowsy from my short nap. They both started coming into focus.
Katy was the first to voice her concern. “You okay? I’ll get you something.”
I raised my hand, the palm facing her. “Not hungry.”
“That’s not good. You can’t keep skipping lunch, you’re gonna get thinner.”
“Really, no need to worry.”
She pursed her lips, but arguing with me would be futile. After how many years, she should know that by now. She knew I was stubborn. Katy huffed out of her nose, and got up from the table, putting away her tray.
After we cleaned up, we headed out. When I got outside, I grabbed the sunglasses clipped to my sweater, and put them on. Maria drove us back to school.
Friday. As for now, my thirst, and appetite, had largely been curbed. I still got thirsty from time to time, but I could tell it was thirst for water, and not the ‘other’ thirst. Just somehow, within me, they were distinct sensations. And, I’ve also noticed that my other thirst was, in one way or another, tethered to my hunger for food. I was honest when I told Katy I wasn’t hungry. I hadn’t been at all since last night. Since I had rabbit for the first time. I did wonder how long until I had to feed again, though.
If I had known that I could never eat my favorite chicken sandwich ever again, I wished had I savored my last one a little longer.
We got to school in time, slipping into the mass of bustling students and making it into our respective classrooms. Just as the bell rang, I slipped into my seat, and put away my sunglasses. Made it by the skin of my teeth.
Thoughtlessly, my pen jotted down whatever it was my teachers said.
Classes ended one after another, with little homework for the weekend, which I liked. I didn’t want any more on my plate at the moment. The school day ended, and I left my English classroom with Katy, the bell ringing in the background. Between the two of us, we couldn’t look any less alike. She had on tight jeans and an even tighter red sweater, while I wore shorts, and a green and white striped long sleeve sweater. She had only her purse and a notebook, and I had my binder and my backpack slung over one shoulder. By looks, we were so mismatched.
Being on the second floor, it was always a hassle getting down, having to move with the mass of people who want to escape from the school and fall into the warm embrace of the weekend as soon as possible. It was Friday, after all.
“By the way,” Katy said, sparking up conversation, “Let’s go down to Braham this weekend. You never got to eat your birthday cake.”
I just kept looking forward.
“Sorry, maybe not this time.” I wasn’t ready to go back there again. Not so soon, anyways.
Katy pretended to stumble on the last step of the stairs. “Whoa, that’s not the Lexi I know.”
I rolled my eyes at her, and elbowed her in the arm. “And who is the Lexi you know?”
“The Lexi I know would have jumped at the chance to go anywhere, do anything.”
“I’m not that carefree. And what if I said I had some homework over the weekend? I still haven’t finished my project for Goldstein.”
“A paper and model representation of chemical bonding can wait.”
“What about my mom?” I brought up.
“What about her?”
“She’s not going to let me out the house that late. Not anytime soon.”
“You still have your rope, don’t you? We’ll go after she falls asleep. And we’ll be back before she ever wakes up. It’ll be fine.”
“You really thought this through, didn’t you?”
“Sure did. We don’t even have to invite Brandon this time around, keep your mind off of making a mess of yourself in front of him.”
“Wow, holding that over me?”
“Come on, it’ll be fun. Even more fun since we’ll be careful this time. I’ll hire a bodyguard, my eyes and ears.”
“Between me and Maria, not even germs will be able to touch you. Maybe we can even get Maria’s boyfriend for some extra muscle.”
“You’re definitely joking.”
Katy shook her head. “Speaking of which…” she trailed off, and let the conversation die.
We got to the front hall of the school, but we couldn’t make our way out. From the other side of the hall, two boys in letterman jackets came running towards us. We stepped one way, and they stepped to block us. We stepped another way, and they blocked us again.
“Let’s just leave through another hall?” Katy suggested. I agreed.
“Hey hey! Hold on now!” one of the boys said. Eric.
“Lexis, Katy, sup!”
Katy raised her shoulders, crossing her arms as she did so.
I gave the boys my own message with my body language, throwing my hands into my pockets, smiling.
Eric ignored my intended meaning, and winked my way. He was more brick wall than man, and I didn’t expect anything to get through his thick skull, anyways.
The thin, spindly blond beside him, Evan, nodded with a coy look. Whenever I saw those two together, something was about to go down. Those two were probably known more for their pranks than their actual performance on the football team.
“What is it this time?” Katy asked. Her voice was higher than usual. She raised her chin and tilted her neck.
Eric answered Katy with another question. “Either of you have cash?”
“Oh, nothing,” he said in a sing-song voice. It sounded off with how deep his voice actually was.
“You want money? You’ll have to earn it somehow.”
Evan spoke up. “We’re putting something together for Harry. Something of a little gift.”
My mind focused on the name ‘Harry.’
Harrian Wong. Some sophomore who had been in the sights of those two troublemakers for the past few months. Why exactly was he subjected to their practical jokes, I didn’t know. Was it because he was a foreign exchange student, just coming in from China? Maybe, but considering my being half-Japanese, they didn’t bug me about that.
They bugged me in other ways.
But, other than his ethnicity, I didn’t know much else about the guy. I only really knew him from his association with Eric and Evan. Meaning that this conversation wasn’t about anything good.
“What are you two planning this time?” I asked.
Eric winked. “Stick around, you’ll find out.”
I broke eye contact with him. “Nah.”
“Either way, I don’t have any money on me, sorry,” Katy said, her tone playful on that last word.
“Aw, I bet you can spare me something, babe,” Evan raised an eyebrow, reaching to stroke Katy’s hair.
Katy slapped his hand, but giggled anyways. On occasion, she still scared me.
“How about you?” Evan asked me, acting in much the same manner. Not that I didn’t want to play along, but I just wanted to go home. Coach let us off the hook for our performance at the game yesterday, allowing us a break. The stream of people leaving the school had already thinned out. These two were getting in my way.
“I’m with Katy. You’re not getting a cent if you don’t tell me.”
Evan dropped his shoulders, and his act. “We’ve been messing with Harry for a bit, and we wanted to make it up to him.”
Eric jabbed a thumb at Evan. “Yeah, that. We realized we were being assholes, we thought we were just joking around, but nah.” He shrugged.
“What is this so-called ‘gift’?” I probed. This seemed more like an interrogation than a casual conversation.
The boys glanced at each other. “That’s really between us,” Evan said, with no trace of any mischief. As he spoke, the bell rang. The last bell of the day, meaning that any students who had no legitimate business still being in school, academic or otherwise, they’d better get lost. Meaning I should already be out of the building.
Evan continued. “We’re only talking to you ladies since you were close. It’s really nothing if you don’t have nothing.”
I looked at the two of them, surveying them carefully.
They seem genuine enough…
“Ugh, here,” I fished into my backpack for my wallet, taking out a dollar and some cents. I held the money over Eric’s already outstretched hand.
“Hold it,” I said, pulling my hand away just as he was about to reach for it. “I don’t really get it, but I swear you better be serious.”
“No worries,” Eric said. “Cross my heart, hope to die, and all that shit.”
“And one more thing,” I said, pulling my hand away even more.
“What?” Eric asked.
“Brandon, has he said anything?”
Eric tilted his head. “Anything? About what? You?”
I was too embarrassed to say more.
“Hate to say it, babe, but no. Haven’t seen him around lately.”
I grunted, eyed him suspiciously, but the clock in my head began to tick louder. Wanna go home. I dropped the money into his grasp. Eric and Evan fist bumped, and they ran back down the hall, turning a corner, and they were gone.
Katy sighed. “Those two are just asking for something crazy to happen.” She turned to me, dropping the previous mask she wore for the boys. “And you. You’re coming with us to a party. This weekend.”
I exhaled. “We’ll see.”
“You mean we’ll see you there?”
She clicked her tongue. “Shut up. Saturday, Sunday, whatever, I’m going to pick you up, we’re going to get a cake, and we’re meeting up with Maria and we’ll party it up. This is happening.”