Prompt: “Be careful with that one,” she said, “it’s got blood on it.”
By Paige Duke
“Be careful with that one,” the nurse barked, “it’s got blood on it.”
Far from the horror Gen was intended to feel, a little thrill snaked up her arm as she took the crumpled sheet.
She kept her face impassive when she looked down at the bright stains, blooming in one place, splattered in others. “Blood? That’s impossible. Hasn’t everyone gone Anti by now?” She looked pointedly at the faded poster dominating the room’s one blank wall:
No blood. No beast.
Do your part and go Anti-Vamp today!
Her eyes were back on the nurse’s face, but her mind recalled those garish stains, her fingers itching to trace them. A fact that both astonished and terrified her. Going Ex meant giving up the hunt forever, didn’t it? “No going back,” the others had told her, even if they could find blood again. It was the only way to survive in a world of Anti-Vamps. The cowards were so enthralled with their discovery they never considered it might help the beasts they so desperately wanted to eradicate. And they had almost managed it. Almost. But the Ex revolution had come just in time to save a lucky few.
The nurse’s voice tugged her back from her bloodthirst. “You’ll be seeing a lot of impossible things around here. If you want to stick around, you’ll learn not to ask.” She paused and looked hard at Gen, “Double wash after you dump that thing. Can’t be too careful.” Then she was gone, on to the next patient.
Gen sealed the door and set to work. Unfolding the sheet as if it were priceless silk, she let her fingers hover over the blossoms, as fragrant as if freshly spilled. She touched them. And she trembled, the frenzied thirst so long denied racing through her, a pulse of another kind. So alive in a way she thought she could never be again. The nurse was right, she should be careful. She would lose control if she weren’t careful.
Though it pained her, Gen peeled her fingers away. Reason immediately returned, and she took a minute to think. This was crazy. She was risking everything. We can still make a life, but this is the only way, they’d told her. But what if? What if they were wrong and there was blood . . . ? The patient would still be in the building somewhere, whether dead or alive. It would be risky . . . but it would be worth it.
She’d turned a corner in her mind, made her decision.
Gen went to the console on the far wall that housed the instruments. Swiping her badge beside the largest one, the clouded glass yielded to her. In another moment she was standing over the sheet again.
The laser made quick work of the largest spot, cutting a clean line around the blood. Gen held the oval in her hand, light as a feather, red as a garnet. She didn’t dare press it to her face as she wished to do. Not here, not now. She would lose her shit for sure.
Instead, she tucked it into the pocket of her uniform. Instantly she could feel the thing beating there, against her hip, as if it still pumped through a heart, a navel, a neck. She had to get out of here. She was going to get herself into trouble.
Gen forced her legs to move, forced her hands to do what they must. She found the room’s single biohazard bag, blood red, and folded the ruined sheet into it. Then she was out the door, blending into the business-as-usual of the hospital hallway. She slipped unseen to the incinerator shoot and dropped the bag in unnoticed. She smiled at all the busy little Anti-Vamps bustling around her, unaware an Ex-Vamp still lived and breathed among them. Satisfied, she turned to go.
She had prey to hunt.
The Blood Tally
By Dani Nicole
A thin line trickles down, into the pit.
A single drop.
Ripples, ridging towards the edge of the pool.
The Watcher does not flinch. She only tallies the drop on the cave wall. Seventy-four thousand, three hundred and five.
Evra has never died before.
All of her friends have. And of course they woke up the next day, with hangovers and migraines. Xen told her it feels like you come back with less of yourself.
But Evra has never truly considered her own death until now, as she stands in the woods hunting on her own for the first time. Not that she has to worry; everyone who dies wakes up the next day.
Except… well there are legends of the Vanished.
But Evra doesn’t believe in fairy tales.
The toll drips by the hour now, coming faster than ever before.
The search continues.
With each drop, the Watcher tallies.
The bear comes closer, landing on damp earth in front of Evra. He sits on his hind legs and roars into the midnight sky, the whole world shaking in response.
Evra steps backwards, moving slowly and keeping eye contact, the way her father always told her. Hunting the Great Bears is dangerous, but Bearflesh can feed her family for weeks.
Evra’s skin prickles as she reaches for her spear. She grips it in her slick palm and readies her body to throw it. She’ll only get one chance to land it in the bear’s heart, else the bear will land his teeth into Evra’s.
She inhales and starts to launch the spear, just as the bear shows his teeth. Evra freezes.
There between his sharp incisors, is a single speck of blood.
The names are whispered.
They are sung.
The Watcher waits for the one she wants.
Evra has never seen blood. She has only heard of it in the stories of the Vanished—the fairy tales about people who die and are never reborn.
They are said to bleed before they disappear, just a single drop.
Evra is backed against a wall, and the bear stares at her with ravenous eyes. It will protect its cubs as Evra would protect her family. Her hunt is the bear’s hunt, and the bear’s is hers.
They are still for a moment; then they are moving.
Evra drives the spear into the bear’s heart, but the bear clamps his teeth on her arm.
The single drop of blood travels from the bear’s tooth to her skin, and trickles to the ground.
The Watcher counts the next drop — a large glob of shimmering burgundy. It thuds into the pool and the surface shivers.
The name carries across the Vanished.
And the Watcher stops the tally; for it was the name she’d been wanting.