By Ranita Raha Paul
“Do you believe in ghosts?” My husband asks, as ominous music played while Regan vomited pea soup and turned her head 180 degrees. We were into 30 days of Halloween and there was Exorcist on TV. “Certainly not,” I reply, gazing out at the gathering thunderstorm. I shudder seeing myself in the bathroom mirror. I am exhausted, my skin looks pasty, washed out with deep red veins running around my eyes. I haven’t slept in days and I am starving. “You need sustenance; your canines are showing,” jokes my husband, handing me a syringe. “For appearance sake?” I ask. “Nah, I’ll pass.” We both know I am dying. We choose not to dwell on it. This decaying body that I inhabit, is this my reality? And does this agreement with reality define my life?
Although not too keen on going to work today, I ramble downstairs towards my car. Scrapping the snow off the windshield, I climb into my Civic and turn the car’s ignition, heading towards Children’s Hospital Colorado North Campus. The landscape is beautiful yet rugged. The road is flanked with towering white windmills, with their skinny metallic unresting arms poised high up in the sky, as if challenging the very gods above. The Rockies loom ahead, craggy and precipitous, with snowcapped peaks. The snow trucks have cleared the roads earlier, but the wind chill advisory was still in effect, and it cut like a knife. The radio crackles to life as I switch on KUVO. 89.3 FM, and Norah Jones’s Chasing Pirates fill the air.
I arrive at my destination, check the doctor’s roster, sign a bunch of papers for chemotherapy and test orders, before changing into my blue scrubs. These days, I have often found myself questioning my decision of becoming a pediatric oncologist. Seeing a very sick child suffering from leukemia, and trying to interact with the patient’s parents keeps optimism at bay. The emotional and the physical rigor of this job is harrowing and relentless. I have known death. I have tasted death. The smell of death has settled in my skin. Sometimes it threatens to engulf me whole. Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, neuroblastoma, leukemia, I have seen death in different forms come to claim its victims and the big dreams in their tiny bodies: aspiring astronauts, scientists, chefs, singers, basketball players. To feel everything so intensely, it’s overwhelming, and yet, this is the agreement I made with reality.
I am weary and fatigued, and the tell-tale signs are showing. I need to lie down, I need to recuperate. Nurse Kathy gives me a concerned look and hands me a cup of coffee. I take it along and navigate towards the blood bank. En-route I dunk the coffee in the sink and drop the cup in the garbage bin. The mechanical hum, the quiet coldness and silence that welcomes me as the metal door of the blood bank silently clicks shut, offers respite and peace. Everywhere around me are tall shelves carrying refrigerated blood broken up into different components and sealed in bags, preserved for emergency. There’s a thin metallic smell, almost an aroma if you will, of blood that’s faintly rousing to me. But such little respites are short lived and I hurry back to complete my rounds.
Evening steadily approaches, and as I gaze out, the greenery has already taken a charcoal hue. Mist rises, almost devouring the hospital driveway. Resolving to head home quickly, I make my way to my car. A bone-weary fatigue envelops me. I know I must feed, and as if on cue, my tummy rumbles. I wonder at the random meaninglessness that is life, and idly consider if I should end it right here. There is not a soul in sight, just the occasional passing motorist, and rain lashing relentlessly against my windscreen. My reverie is broken by a sharp ringing, it’s my husband, wanting to know if I could swing by Jason’s Deli to pack some rotisserie chicken for dinner. “Anything else?” I ask, as I take a turn towards the intended location. I pack some rotisserie chicken and sandwiches from Jason’s Deli, and six packs of beer from Kroeger’s. Heading towards my vehicle, I happen to notice a man lurking in the shadows. He approaches me, all the while studying my expression. Is he capable of inciting terror? Am I worried he’ll whip out a gun? I am nonchalant. He asks if I can drop him off Jefferson county. Although that’s not on my way, I remain silent. “You’re a regular hitchhiker then?” I ask. “I most definitely am not,” he retorts, slightly shivering. “The temperature is constantly dropping, lady, yay or nay? I need to know.” “Get in,” I say, “and don’t try any smart moves.” He gives me a beguiling smile and slides in the passenger seat.
The man is all bundled up, but his neck is exposed, and I could almost hear the throbbing, palpating jugular, gorged with blood. I don’t care what they look like, but it’s their aroma that is potent and stirring, and it takes every ounce of my strength to continue driving. We make small talk, while I think of ways to dine undisturbed. I could feel his eyes constantly flicking towards me. “Is he checking me out, or does he discern something suspicious,” I ponder, amused.
My skin starts tingling, I start losing focus. I can’t take it anymore. In an instant, I kill the ignition, and sink my teeth in his neck, drawing in the life sustaining nectar, the original vintage: blood. I drink from the fountain that is my elixir, and suddenly it’s electricity coursing through my veins. I am coming back to life. For I am the undead. I am a predator. I am Dracula’s descendent. I am immortal. I am a vampire. This is the absolute reality, and my agreement with reality defines my life. Before you crucify me with your malevolent puritanism, know this: I am a by-product of mutation. I am a survivalist. I didn’t choose this life, I just am. I hunt only after a significant period of time. Mostly I am partial to my husband’s blood, feeding on it, after he draws it out in a syringe. But occasionally I must indulge in a total feeding frenzy. This is my sustenance. How am I able to drink my fill off someone, and not rip the head of someone else? Because I am more human than you will ever be. Eventually, I will abstain from feeding and ultimately die, but today is not that day.
Ranita Raha Paul is a former anthropologist with a penchant for human cultural variation and participant observation. She is currently employed as an IT professional with SAP, and in her spare time, she reads, hoards books, writes, knits, sings, and binge watches serial killer documentaries on Netflix. She loves horror and hates spiders. Every once in a while, she indulges in demon summoning and white water rafting.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City and India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Travel: Cities, Places, People’, edited by Nishi Pulugurtha, academic, Kolkata, India.