I didn’t get into this work easily, or willingly. Not to say that I was coerced, or that I’m mistreated, because honestly, I’m not. I do question the ethics of it sometimes, when I return back to my apartment, a bite mark or two upon my neck, and a need for a cold shower.
I am a resource for them. Like a maple, tapped for its vitality, like water pulled from the river. Its business. I have what they need, they give me what I ask in return.
It seems like a fair deal, right? But then you get comfortable with them, and the pay is nice and the perks are not bad either. But in the back of my mind, every time I go to them, I’m acutely aware that this time it could go wrong, I could die.
Or worse maybe, fall in love with them.
I was in my second year at university, in pre-med, and the money was running painfully short. Not an uncommon student lament, that one. I wasn’t a profligate spender. I just didn’t have much. And my courseload and work was piling up and there wasn’t really many jobs going spare. The options were limited.
It was a classmate who pulled me in to this line of work. She argued against it at first, of course. Her clients were a secretive bunch, and she didn’t want to risk their safety.
I’d seen Hanna come into the lecture hall and sit down beside me, looking a little more tired than usual.
“You feeling ok? You look a little pale. The midterm’s next week, you didn’t pull an all-nighter did you?” I asked as she unpacked her tablet and notebook and readied for the lecture. She shivered in the hall. It wasn’t that cold in there, it was chilly outside though. I grabbed my jacket and wrapped it around her shoulders.
“Thanks, Nolan. I wasn’t up late last night studying. I was at work. Late shift,” Hanna shivered again, and looked at me. She didn’t look well at all.
“Lecture doesn’t start for another fifteen. I could go get you some coffee. I could use one myself,” I said. I hurried out of the hall, dodging incoming classmates as they came in from the cool fall afternoon for another long lecture on biology.
The line-up at the coffee kiosk was mercifully short and I bought two large coffees, and returned to the lecture hall, now filling up. Hanna was in her seat, almost dozing, huddled under my jacket.
“Hey. Wake up. This will help,” I said, handing her the coffee. “It tastes like boiled socks, but it’s all there is, they know they have a captive market. It might get you through the lecture.”
Hanna took the cup. “Just wake me if I snore. I should have stayed home today.”
I’d known Hanna through most of our first year of university, when we were thrown together as partners in chemistry class. Now, I considered her my closest friend.
“If you’re not well, go home. I take good notes,”I said.
Hanna looked like she was trying to wrap herself around the thin paper cup of coffee to keep warm.
“I might do that,” she said quietly, and packed up her things. She reached into her pocket and handed me two twenty dollar bills. “Bring some lunch back to my place for both of us. You can tell me all about Professor Anderson’s meandering lecture then.”
I looked at the money. I didn’t have that sort of cash, and I didn’t argue with her. Hanna left the lecture hall huddled under my coat before I could retrieve it. I was facing a slightly chilly walk to her place after class, in my t-shirt and no jacket.
After the lecture, I stopped to get food, and hurried my way across the campus to catch one of the shuttles that circled the university campus. The wind had picked up, and I shivered as I ran for the stop, careful not to drop the hot food in the thin plastic sacks.
Hanna’s apartment building was at the farthest end of the campus from the Biology building. I settled in my seat and watched the scenery, the leaves in golds and browns, the rapidly dropping sun in the late mid day. The smell of the ocean got stronger as we approached the end of the route. Hanna’s apartment. I pulled the cord to signal for my stop, and left the warmth of the bus once it pulled up.
Hanna buzzed me into the lobby of her building, and came down to greet me.
“Nolan, thanks. I got some sleep. I’m starving. Come on up.” Hanna paused at the front desk to sign me in. I’d never been to her place, she’d always met me at the library or at my place.
“Its a secured building, Nolan. Just a formality. No need to worry,” Hanna said.
She looked better for the extra rest, more color in her cheeks and her green eyes looked less tired. She’d tied her blond hair back in a messy gather.
“I brought soup and sandwiches. The cafeteria was closing by the time lecture wrapped up. You didn’t miss much. Just an overview on the circulatory system. I’ll email you my notes.” I unpacked the food as we talked, and we sat down to eat before everything turned completely cold.
“Are you calling in sick to work tonight? You should.” I asked.
“It’s fine, I’m not working tonight. I only work on call,” Hanna replied. She tore into the sandwich like she hadn’t eaten in days.
“Slow down before you choke. On call? I thought you had shiftwork, nights.” I replied.
“Something like that. I don’t like talking about my job.” Hanna said. “So how many people got kicked out of lecture today for playing on their laptops?”
“Only two. I think people are starting to get the idea. I’ve never asked what you actually do. I assumed it was some kind of data entry or night clerk job. I’m terrible at being nosy.” I said. I looked around the kitchen. It looked nicer than my student apartment. I was envious. A bit.
“Its what I love about you. I work in biological research. Private company. A support job of sorts. They’re not hiring.” Hanna said, a bit evasive.
“Wasn’t asking if they were,” I replied. “Does it pay well? It looks like they do.”
Hanna nodded with her mouth full, and gulped.
“Well enough. They’re not hiring. Stop asking questions, Nolan.”
“One last one?”
Hanna sighed. “Fine. Then we’re going into the other room and watching a movie.”
“What do you honestly do that leaves you looking so pale and tired? Research? The marks on your neck and wrists, I’ve seen them. Are you working as a test subject in some medical lab?” I asked.
Hanna sighed, and pushed her plate away, her food unfinished. “If I tell you, and you talk, it could cost me my job.”
“I swear on my life, I’ll keep it hush.”
Hanna led me to the living-room and sat me down. She handed back my jacket and rolled up her sleeves, and sat down next to me.
“Don’t think terribly of me, and don’t freak out. Its biological research support after a fashion. I work as a source for vampires, twice a month. I show up. We have dinner. We talk, they bite, I go home,” Hanna said, holding her wrists out to show me the fading marks. Two round puncture dots, smaller than a pencil tip, ringed a little pink from healing.
“You’re joking. Come on.” I replied.
“Serious. They pay me well. Its not an easy job though, and they don’t take just anyone. They don’t harm me, I don’t blab. We get along fine. I normally do these sessions on weekends so I rest, but this was an unusual situation. Now forget I said anything.”
“Someone was just hungry and his fridge was empty?” I joked.
“No, they had, oh never mind. Its not for you to know.” Hanna said.
The movie forgotten, I took her hands, and looked closer at the marks.
“I’m guessing you’re pretty familiar with the circulatory system then.” I joked.
“Pulse points. That’s where they bite. We might as well talk, you know this much already. But if any of this leaves the room, you’ll be in a world of trouble with them and me, and I’ll lose my salary, my tuition and my apartment. I can’t afford my degree if I lose this gig.”
I sucked in a breath. “Sweet perks.”
“Fair price for what I sell.” Hanna replied. “I’m not selling my body, only a resource. They call us Sources.” Hanna went to the kitchen and I followed.
“Coffee? Better than the campus swill. I don’t know how they can legally call that stuff coffee.” She asked. “I’d offer you beer, but I think this needs to be a sober discussion and I really shouldn’t drink so soon after a session.”
I leaned on the dark marble counter next to Hanna as she worked.
“How’d you even get hooked up with this? They actually bite? Vampires, like fangs and Dracula and the rest? Don’t tell me, you tuck them in your coffin when you leave.” I said. I think I might have been in shock, not so much at the presence of vampires in our midst but I really needed a job that didn’t interfere with classes. I was broke beyond words.
“Very funny. Yes, fangs. They bite. And no, not like Dracula. They’re smart and modern and polite, and they sleep in normal beds.”
“How would you know?” I said.
Hanna blushed, and turned to prepare the coffees. “I might have been in one a time or two. I swear, it’s not like you’re thinking.”
“Hanna, I’m not sure what I’m thinking. You get an apartment, tuition and salary for your blood? And apparently you get laid. Sign me up. Not judging. I’m envious.”
Hanna handed me a mug. “There’s risks. And there’s protocols and screening and you just don’t saunter in and offer yourself up. Remember Andra and Julia, from last year? Yeah, they got me in, they still work there, and I started work I think three months after all the screenings and checks and training and counselling.”
“Still not seeing a downside,” I replied as we sat down in the living-room.
“Slight risk of death.” Hanna replied, matter-of-fact.
That gave me pause. “Only a slight risk?”
“They’re generally very careful. Asher, and Stefan are very gentle. It’s just an inherent risk when you’re dealing with vampires.” Hanna replied.
“They have names.”
“Yes. I have two main clients, though mostly I source for Stefan. He runs the security for the facility. Blab outside this room and I guarantee you’ll not want to meet either of them.”
“They don’t hurt you though.”
“Not really. No. There’s a clinic and doctors on site, we get checked on a pretty regular basis. They keep an eye on us.”
My head swum. “Ok. So twice a month you go to this place and show up and what, watch movies, you’re the snack, you say good-day and skip off into the sunrise.”
Hanna nodded. “And a paycheck shows up, and I get a screening with a clinic and I go about my life for another two weeks.”
“Okay,okay. How long have you been doing this then?” I asked. “And where is this place, can you at least tell me they put you in a cab after they’re done, not make you walk home or take a bus.”
“I’ve been doing this for about a year. They live next door. At this point, you might as well come see. Meet Stefan. That’ll go well. I promise he won’t bite.” Hanna grabbed her keys and gestured for me to follow.
“He’s a vampire. He bites.” I joked.
Hanna led me back to the lobby of her apartment and then I started to notice just how much nicer her place was. She paused at the front desk.
“Hi, I’m taking a guest into the House.” Hanna said to the clerk. The clerk looked at me closer than before and handed me a form.
“Sign this. Nondisclosure and a waiver.” The clerk said, handing me a pen. He watched as I skimmed the document. If I talked beyond these walls, I would be held liable. If someone bit me, I could not demand payment. I was at their mercy.
“You’re not a guest, technically. You’re a chaperoned intruder. So behave.” Hanna said. I signed and hoped I wasn’t signing off on my own demise.
She led me not to the front doors but to a side door, that I missed, blocked from view by a large shrub in a planter. Hanna pressed her thumb to the keypad and swiped a tag, and the door opened.
“My work. Welcome to the House.”