All Saints' Day

All Saints' Day

A Story by Zachary Jude
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Bernard, a sufferer of hematomania (or the "vampire disease"), struggles with controlling his dangerous desires.

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Bernard was full, but he was still hungry. It was no matter. He was used to the contradiction, yet that didn’t make the pain any more bearable.

One more bite and he was sure his belly would split open. The food writhed through his intestines, pushing his skin outward. An avalanche of cake crumbs spilled down his shirt as he passed the paper plate onto his desk, joining the empty bags of Lay’s and Doritos. His stomach gurgled uncomfortably. He hadn’t eaten this much in weeks. He’d made a pact with himself--no binging, no matter what. There were other ways to deal with the urges, and overeating wasn’t one of them.

Damn it! He balled his hands into large fists. He knew better.

It was finally dark outside. His one bedroom apartment was a mess, as usual: dirty clothes tossed haphazardly on the stained carpet, bed unmade, bills unopened underneath the lamplight on his desk. His small TV played Hocus Pocus on repeat--cable was boring on Halloween, but he didn’t mind. He’d watched Bette Midler tramp around Salem all day, trying to get into the Halloween spirit to distract himself. It was a cult classic, and it was a safe bet. There wasn’t a drop of blood throughout the entire film. Nothing to trigger his appetite.

The doorbell rang again and children laughed outside. He ignored them; he wasn’t taking the risk tonight. Trick-or-treaters were infamous for dressing up as zombies, vampires, and blood-stained ghosts. Real or fake, the sight of it was all the same. Last thing he needed was lashing out and risk ending up on the registry.

Bernard turned back to his laptop and read the ad again--quicker this time, as if he was afraid someone would catch him looking at it. “Dr. Flora Kim, MD,” it read. “Confidential therapy for hemiacs, including coping mechanisms and strategies.”

            The doorbell rang again. And again. Bernard looked up from his laptop toward his window. The curtains were drawn--well, mostly. A sliver of amber light from the streetlamps pooled onto the carpeted floor, and a shadow flittered by it. He stood with difficulty, his knees cracking, and peered through the crack in the curtains.

            A little girl stood in front of his apartment door, rocking back and forth on her heels, swinging her bag of Halloween candy eagerly. She couldn’t have been older than eight, and she was dressed in a ballerina’s tutu, her blond hair wrapped up in a bun, littered with sparkles. At first Bernard thought she was alone, but then she waved at someone down the street and a female voice called after her: “No one’s home! Let’s get moving!”

            The girl sighed and rang his doorbell again. She ain’t taking no for an answer, thought Bernard, and he smiled despite the rushing in his head. He glanced at the bag of Halloween candy on the counter, newly bought and already half-eaten during his binge. If he just opened the door a bit, dropped some candy in her bag and quickly shut the door, there wouldn’t be any time for his urges to take over. The little girl would be safe; he’d be sure of that.

            But he was more than uneasy as he grabbed the bag and shuffled to the front door. By the time he opened it, the girl was ringing the doorbell furiously, standing on her slipper-covered tip-toes and pushing it over and over again. “Finally!” she said as she stared up at him. “Trick or treat?”

Her voice was high in a candy-crazed, energetic way; and even in the street light, Bernard could see that her soft cheeks were pink with pulsing blood--and her knees were scabbed beneath her tutu--and the back of her hand had a Band-Aid on it, a pin-prick drop of blood having bled through it--

            He had to physically restrain himself, because already he was stretching his fat arms out to her, readying his fingers to grab her by the shoulders and shove her through the doorway. The little girl let out a shriek and jumped out of the way, and Bernard backed himself into the apartment and slammed the door behind him.

            He had to act quickly, lest the little girl ran back to her mother and told on him. He switched off the light on his desk, plunging his apartment into darkness, and threw himself behind the door to his bedroom, where he crouched on the floor and sobbed. The tears were right there, always lurking behind the eyes, waiting for the cold, comforting darkness to show themselves. He couldn’t keep living like this--he knew that now. He’d known it for quite some time, too. Something had to give, but exactly what… well, he didn’t know.

            He had very few options. The registry was one, and on some days, he thought it was his best. There would be no more lurking in the shadows. No more having to hide who, and what, he truly was. No more having to pretend he was like everyone else. No more denial. He’d be effectively turning himself in to the authorities, but in some ways, it would be liberating, and there was little doubt that liberation was something he wasn’t getting enough of.

And yet there was also little doubt that his life would change forever, and public, day-to-day living would be undeniably worse than it was now. Becoming a registered blood-offender was not something one aspired to be, hemiac or otherwise. Every move he made would be tracked. His neighbors would be alerted that a hemiac--a f*****g sicko vamp, as they’d see it--lived nearby. He’d become a pariah, a leper. Might even have to spend some time in jail if someone felt threatened by him. He couldn’t risk all that.

He stayed crouched behind the door for God knew how long, staring at himself in the full-length mirror hanging on the back of it. He was a fat, pimply mess, a blob of nothingness. His round face resembled a colorless beach ball, which someone decorated with pustules and acne scars. The rest of him was shaped like a pear, rolls of excess skin hanging off his arms and waist. Bernard was only twenty-six, and yet he looked--and felt--decades older.

            The weight was a side-effect of a much larger issue. He hadn’t always looked like this--in fact, his condition predated it by years. He couldn’t remember the first time he tasted human blood, but he did remember the first time he enjoyed it. He must’ve been eleven or twelve. He’d gotten a paper cut at home one day, and instinct had him sucking out the tiny bead of blood that leaked from his finger.

            It was warm and metallic, but there was something animalistic laced in that drop. Something deeply satisfying, which awakened a pleasurable force inside him. He could never truly describe the feeling blood in his mouth gave him; he used to try to describe it to himself to pass the time, but words never did the sensation justice.

            He kept that paper cut open for weeks, sucking on his finger when he was sure nobody was looking. And in school, during bathroom breaks, he sat in a dank, lonely stall and picked at his own cuticles until they drew blood, doing his best to keep himself from moaning as he drank.

            He knew there was something wrong, though. He knew that this… behavior, as he liked to call it, must always be his little secret. No one can ever know, he promised himself after every session. Ever.

            Bernard had his first taste of another person’s blood accidentally. It happened, strangely enough, at a family barbecue. He was sixteen and watching his four-year-old cousin as a simple favor to his aunt, but when the boy fell and scraped his knees on the backyard patio, Bernard kissed the wound at his request. His lips hadn’t been connected to the blood for three seconds before the overwhelming craving for blood--sweet, thick, hot blood--took over his mind. It was pleasure beyond imagining; the taste was different from his own, but so much better. His eyes rolled into the back of his head. He could only see stars; he had no real idea where he was or who he was with. All that existed was his own delirious urge, the inner voice within him calling for more, more, more. He latched his arms around the poor boy’s legs and began to drink.

            Strong, firm hands pulled him back a few seconds later; his cousin had been crying, and finally free, he scrambled off the ground and ran into the house. Bernard had looked up, cold shock filling his cheeks and prickling the back of his neck. His great-uncle Joe was gripping his shoulders, steadying him in a crouch, his wrinkled face watching him uneasily. The shock of seeing him was almost as alarming as what Bernard had just done; Uncle Joe was the family’s curse, as Bernard’s mom always said. But she never said why.

            “I--" Bernard began, but Uncle Joe shushed him. He didn’t know him well--hardly at all, in fact--but something in his gray eyes told Bernard there’d be no use running.

            “Not a word, boy. Not a damn peep.” He pulled him up on his feet, and his grip on his shoulders only tightened. “I think I know what’s going on with you, and I think you know it, too.”

            “I didn’t--”

            “The f**k did I just tell you? Now listen here, and listen good. You’re a damn vamp,” he said, whispering the word, “same as me. It ain’t your fault, either. How you’re born and all, and your age is when it develops. In fact, you probably been dealing with this s**t for years, I bet. You ain’t gonna mess around with this, you understand? I been down that road. It’s lonely and does nobody any good.”

            “You--you’re a hemiac?” sputtered Bernard. He couldn’t help himself; it was the first time he, or anyone else, acknowledged what was happening to him. Saying it aloud gave him an odd, terrifying relief.

            “You shut your mouth, boy!” Uncle Joe looked behind him, but no one was around to hear. “Now you better find someone to talk to, you understand? Someone you can trust. Someone who can understand. It ain’t gonna be me, so don’t come around looking. A professional, maybe. Someone who can help you learn to--to deal with it, if you like. The sooner the better, you hear? You’ll be better off.”

            “I put a spell on you, and now you’re mine…”

           The sound of the TV knocked Bernard out of his memories; he’d forgotten to turn it off in his mad rush to flee. He scooted across the carpet and dug under his unmade bed for his vial and syringe. He pulled up his sleeve, peeling the fabric away from his sweaty skin, and plunged the needle into his forearm; when he was done, he emptied the syringe into the vial and drank.

          The taste of his own blood was bitter to him now. It was a well-known fact among hemiacs: there was nothing else that could truly substitute the taste of somebody else’s blood once you tried it. But still, Bernard swallowed it in one gulp and sighed deeply. After another plunge and sip from the vial, he stood and ventured back into the main area of his apartment, finally switching off Hocus Pocus as he passed the TV.

            He opened his laptop again and, for the millionth time, typed in the word for his dreaded condition. Hematomania.

            The search yielded thousands of results on Google, the first being the definition. Hematomania is the strong, persistent, and involuntary desire to consume human blood… known for centuries, but first scientifically documented in the late nineteenth century… hematomania is one of the most stigmatized mental disorders… five percent of the population are known hemiacs, though the statistic may be inaccurate…

            He scrolled past scholarly articles and journals, some that he’d already read twice: “Hematomania in Prisons,” “Criminality Among Blood-offenders,” “The Psychology of a Hemiac,” and on and on they went. And then came the news articles (“Hemiac caught and arrested in Normanton…”) and the countless websites dedicated to “vamp hunting.”

Bernard’s stomach twisted. Police officers regularly monitored those sites, following up on leads whenever the conditions were suitable. He never dared click on one of those links. Instead, he perused discussion boards and forums, his favorite being VampsAnonymous. They were easy to find, if you knew what to search--and they always brought him some sort of comfort. Reading the thoughts and struggles of people like him--people he could relate to--was monumental.

“It’s my seventy-fifth day going without blood,” one read. “Nobody knows it, but I’m celebrating with a nice glass of white wine (never red, obviously!) and cake.”

Of course, there were the few desperate attempts to trade blood, but those were always quickly taken down. “This isn’t the dark web, a*****e,” someone commented under one, and Bernard smiled.

Yet it was a weak smile--a mere twitch of the mouth. His cursor hovered over the “Post New Discussion” button. After all the years scrolling through the forum, some nights in tears, he hadn’t made a single post. Too risky, he thought. If someone found out…

But someone did know, of course. Uncle Joe had caught him in the act, and for ten years he’d kept it a secret. No one ever said anything at the family gatherings in the following years; not even his cousin, whom he apologized to later that day, and certainly not Uncle Joe. Bernard noticed him staring from time to time at the occasional barbecue, and sometimes he’d catch an odd wink or nod, but that was that.

His gut felt heavy as he stared at the forum now, but Bernard didn’t think it had anything to do with how much he’d eaten. He was aware of every inch on his body, every slight twitch of a muscle, every breath in and out of his lungs… and he hated all of it. The emptiness of his apartment pushed toward him on all sides; it was suffocating. Shameful.

Children laughed somewhere outside: the last of the trick-or-treaters heading home. They had no idea, Bernard thought, how easy they have it. Not a f*****g care in the world… just candy for days… and people to talk to.

Bernard glanced up at the remaining tab and opened it. Dr. Flora Kim, MD. Confidential therapy for hemiacs… He scrolled down to the contact information: 24-hour hotline. Book now for an in-person appointment.

Uncle Joe had told him to seek help, and for ten long years, Bernard waited. He had run out of excuses, and tonight he’d almost attacked a little girl. What else was there to wait for? His pulse throbbed in his ears as he picked up his cell phone and dialed the number. The cool voice on the other end of the line asked for his name and guaranteed him an appointment at four o’clock the next day. “Thank you,” he said breathlessly, and hung up the phone. A sense of calm washed over him like a blanket. He felt lighter than he had in a very long time.

Bernard descended back into his chair and switched on the TV again; Hocus Pocus was almost over. “Thackery Binx, what took thee so long?”

The doorbell chimed. Bernard froze in his seat, his gaze darting to the curtained window, where the shadow of a young girl in a tutu rocked back and forth. His breath caught in his throat--surely she came back with her mom… the police were probably on their way… he’d be arrested and registered, and any progress he’d made just a moment ago would be lost--

The doorbell again. Well, thought Bernard, there’s nothing more to it. Either he answered the door now and went willingly, or wait for the police to show up and be taken by force. Neither was ideal, but if he had any choice at all, he didn’t want to put up a fight. He was too tired.

He opened the door only a few inches and peered outside. The little girl from earlier stood before him, gazing up at him with twinkling, curious eyes. Bernard kept his distance, not daring to stare at her scabbed knees. A few feet behind her stood her mother, arms crossed and shoulders slouched, the picture of exhaustion.

“I’m sorry to bother you, sir,” said the mother. “I know it’s getting late, but my daughter here insisted--well, she said you were about to give her candy, but she accidentally scared you or something--”

“I really didn’t mean to!” said the girl. She lifted her bag. “But I’m back for that candy bar. Trick or treat?”

Bernard nodded swiftly and gulped; from what he could see, there wasn’t a cop car in sight. “I’ll--I’ll be right back,” he muttered, and ducked inside for the bag of candy. When he returned, the girl was tapping her toes impatiently.

“Thanks,” she said as he dropped a piece into her bag, and she spun on her heels to face her mother.

“I’m really sorry once again,” said the mother, waving good-bye. “Take care.”

“Nothing to be sorry for,” called Bernard, clearing his throat. “I--I apologize for earlier…” But the mother and daughter had left, and he was alone once more.

He retreated inside. All was quiet and dark and still, but strangely, none of that bothered him. He was tired, so tired, and he had a big day tomorrow. The prospect of his four o’clock meeting was daunting, but like Uncle Joe had said, it had to come. The sooner the better, you hear?

Tomorrow would be a brand-new day--the beginning of something new. And for now, at least, Bernard was at peace.

© 2019 Zachary Jude


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Added on November 30, 2019
Last Updated on November 30, 2019
Tags: Halloween, vampire, vampires, blood, fiction, horror, short story

Author

Zachary Jude
Zachary Jude

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