The next night, I woke up to a cool breeze in the room. Chicago must be greeting its first day of winter. I was the only one left in the room, as everyone else had already woken up before me. I stepped outside to see Jenn and Summer sweeping the warehouse. It felt strange, to say the least. After spending what seemed like an eternity in the brothel, I would never imagine them holding a broomstick, no pun intended.
“Good evening, sleepy head.” Jenn called out to me. I never noticed how friendly she could be, even in the darkest hours at the brothel, she still managed to give me a warm smile whenever we talked. Now that she has escaped to the free world, Jenn’s smile seemed to get even brighter.
“Hey, are you guys… sweeping?” I asked, trying to not sound condescending.
“Duh! If we want to call this place home, we might as well make it look nice. Besides, everyone got to pull their weight around here.” Summer said.
Right, pulling our own weight. With that thought, I looked around, trying to see what I can do. I began to pick up the empty boxes around the edges of the warehouse. The wind from outside must have blown them off when we entered.
“Smart! We can put stones in those boxes and line them up around the perimeter, making a barricade of sort.” Jennifer agreed.
The three of us formed an impromptu work party since we were within earshot of one another.
“Where’s Rachel?” I asked.
“Oh she and Jimmy went off to catch up on old times. If you asked me, I think that was just an excuse. They must be making out to make up for time lost hehe.” Jennifer joked.
“They were a couple?” I asked, a little surprised.
“Couple, friends with benefits, comrades, family of last resort… what’s the difference! After an eternity in darkness, you kind of have to hold on to someone for sanity’s sake. Trust me, loneliness can push you over the edge.” Jennifer answered.
The word “family” struck a chord inside me. I thought about Eugene, and my Mom. They must have gone crazy looking for me. Did my Dad feel any remorse? Did he maybe, just maybe for once, regret hurting me the way he did? Did it ever occur to him that I would never have fallen into this darkness if he had just treated me with an ounce of human decency?
“Do you guys … you know, think about the life you left behind?” I asked.
“I do, every single night in that brothel. Even before I became a vampire, I would miss my family so much it hurt. But the shame prevented me from coming back. How foolish of me back then! To think I had all the opportunity to come see them, yet, because of my stubbornness and self-righteousness, refused to do so? And now… now it’s too late. I will never be able to see my parents, my little sister, or any friends I care about back home.” Jenn began to tear up.
“Home in Nebraska, right? But what’s stopping you? I mean, a bus ticket is only twenty bucks, last time I checked.” I pressed on, hoping to somehow encourage her to go home, thereby giving me an opportunity and the courage to do the same.
“No, I can’t. For their own safety, Rain! The life we have fallen into, it’s so dark, and it’s going to devour us whole, along with any loved ones standing even close to us. So I have to let them go, forever. But knowing they can live in peace and away from danger is the biggest consolation for me.”
“Danger… what do you mean?” I asked, half knowing the answer already.
“What do you think the brothel would do once they saw what we did? Do you think they will just let it go? No! There’s a reason why we are in hiding. And if they knew, even just for one second, about any emotional ties we had out in the world, they would not hesitate to reach out and use those ties against us, to lure us out, torture us, and kill us and our loved ones.”
“I made the mistake of reaching out to my human life before… It didn’t end well.” Summer chimed in, looking into the distance as if to reminisce about the dark past behind her.
I didn’t probe any further. Who am I to ask? It’s her rights to either reveal that part of herself, or not.
“I had a happy family once. My Dad was a farmer in Iowa, and my Mom a traditional housewife. Back then, I used to be bored out of my teenager’s mind. But looking back, I now know what a blissful heaven I was living in. Every night after a long day of hard work, my whole family would sit around at the dinner table, saying grace. I can still feel my Mom’s warm hand as she took mine, and my Dad’s drab and dry palms from labor. My little brother would poke at his food until Mom scolded him. Eric, stop playing with your food. Appreciate what God gave you. She would say. Every morning, I would wake up to the scent of fresh honey and hand-picked raspberries for breakfast. What I wouldn’t give… just to have one bite of her home-made pie again…” Summer drifted off into a dream. She looked so happy just reminiscing about her past life.
“One fateful day, my Dad came home. I could tell that he was stressed. It was very unusual for him to be. They had a long and heated talk in the kitchen. The farm wasn’t doing well. They were trying their best to shield us from the harsh truth, but to no avail. Foreclosure, that word was too complicated at the time for my little brain to comprehend. And soon, men dressed in black suits started coming in hoards. They took everything from us, first our house, then our furniture, Mom’s jewelry, my toys, Eric’s crib… anything they could sell for money, even if just for one cent. What was one cent to them, was actually priceless for me. They didn’t just take away my house; they took my home away, my only place of sanctuary, my safety, my childhood and innocence…”
Summer took a bit gulp of air, and swallowed hard. The pain seemed stuck in her throat, as she struggled to keep talking.
“My Dad took a handyman’s job in a mass plantation by the suburb of Illinois, and we followed him. Mom no longer had time to bake pies. She worked from 5AM till midnight at a landfill, coming home every night exhausted and filthy. I became the caretaker of the house. At age fourteen, I washed clothes, made dinner, changed Eric’s diapers, and repaired the cracks in our floor. I was learning fast, but not fast enough to prevent my family from crumbling. Stricken with guilt and exhaustion from his work, my Dad passed out and fell head-down into a wood-chipper one night. They couldn’t separate the wood chips from his remains, and so we had to bury whatever was left. Mom pretty much lost her mind after that. I picked up Eric from school one day, only to find her dead, hanging by a rope from the ceiling. Her suicide note only had three words in it: I am sorry. After spending the last pennies we had on their funerals and Eric’s tuition, I was desperate for a job, any job. Then one night, a scout came through our suburb, with an offer too good to refuse. They were looking for a go-go-girl for a club in uptown Chicago. I didn’t know what a go-go-girl was. Nor did I even bother to ask what kind of services I would be expected to provide. I love my little brother so much that I would sacrifice everything, even my life. And so I did.”
Summer’s shoulders were now shaking from the painful memories. The story of how she came into darkness, it broke my heart!
“It was thirteen years ago. Can you believe it? I never heard about Eric from then on. Gosh, he must be so big now, and so handsome. The scout did use the money to pay for his tuition. And he promised me he would make sure that Eric graduates. I really hope he became something.”
Both Jenn and I were speechless. We didn’t know what to say after Summer’s story. The three of us just sat there in silence, wallowing in our own sorrow.
“Hey, you guys look like you just saw a ghost.” came a voice from behind us. Rachel and Jimmy came back from their little rendezvous.
“We were just chatting. Nothing worth mentioning, really.” Summer said.
“So, Jimmy and I were talking. And we figured we should get some new clothes and supply for us girls. The warehouse had some stuff, but not enough for all of us. And at least we should get rid of these customer-service uniforms, if you know what I mean.” Rachel suggested.
With that, our gang headed out into the streets of Chicago, searching the donation bins for some clothes.
“Hey watch it!” An Asian guy bumped into me as we were strolling about on Michigan Avenue.
“No, you watch it, punk girl!” His bigger friend shouted right back at me.
“It’s ok, Max. Let it go.” The Asian guy told his friend.
“No, Jun, this dumb blond totally bumped into you without even apologizing.”
“Hey, who are you calling a dumb blond? I’m going to rip your throat out.” I felt an anger surging through me, my hands ready to strike.
But Rachel and Summer pulled me back in time, before I was about to do some serious damage.
The Asian guy dragged his friend around the corner, trying to avoid an imminent conflict. They’d better not show their faces to me again!
I was still huffing and puffing when we reached the Goodwill donation spot. Summer and Jenn were quick to dive in, literally. Jimmy just stood by and watched out, as we were pretty much robbing from the poor. Hey, we are the poor! Rachel tried to calm me down:
“You know, anger directed towards others is really just your own insecurities and dissatisfaction projected out. What is it really that you’re so mad about?” Rachel asked.
“I don’t know. I guess I just have problems with authority figures, especially males. My Dad… he never really protected me. Instead, he used his authority to…force me to do things.” I left it at that. I don’t know why I was hesitant to share. Maybe after being betrayed so many times, first by my own father, then by the boy I gave my heart to, I have learned to be cautious.
“You know I get that. I used to hate my older sister too, for being so much better than me at everything. She was the pride of my family, the brag of the town. Every single contest, prize, she won it all. Always at the top of her class, a beauty queen, life of the party. And worst of all, she got a kind heart! If she were mean, I could have sworn her off as a jackass. But even I found it hard to hate her. I still did anyway. I hated her for leaving me in her shadow. I hated her for enjoying the showers of compliments so much that she forgot I was hurting. But I was just being a baby. It wasn’t her responsibility to lift me out of my misery. She tried to help, but the main person in charge of my life was me.”
I was surprised to see Rachel sharing. After all, she wasn’t much of a talker like Summer, or a bragger like Jennifer.
“I would have killed to have an older sister to protect me.” I told her, now thinking about Eugene. I was supposed to be his protector, right? It hurt just to think about him.
“Trust me, it gets old! No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t surpass her. Just when I found a new area of interest, she always got better at it much faster than I could. At first, I thought she tried to compete with me and put me down. But I later realized she was just being supportive and sharing my interest with me to encourage it. That didn’t douse the fire of bitterness inside me, however. The more my parents paid attention to her, the more I hated her. I screamed out in my head: I’m your child too, you know? I crawled out of you just the same. I was so sick and tired of playing the support role, of always having to be the background to boost her confidence. So I did something that I would regret for the rest of my life…” Rachel paused. I could sense an extreme pain lodged in her throat like a bullet.
I kept quiet, just letting her collect herself.
“One night, I was out by the lake, sitting alone and smoking, just wanting to forget everything. A very pretty boy approached me. He had this demeanor that set him apart from all the other human boys. This aura, this air of confidence, almost cockiness, as if he could make the world disappear with just a flick of his finger, as if he were above them all, life, mortality, the rat race. He could sense the pain within me. And he asked me if I wanted him to give my sister a lesson…”
“I didn’t think too much of it. I said yes. I thought he was going to seduce her and then dump her, like your typical high school drama, you know? Or at least give her a good talking to, for neglecting her baby sister. I guess hatred really blinded me. I wasn’t thinking straight. And so, I led this stranger back to my house. My parents were on a business trip. I stood outside, as he entered my sister’s room. At that point, a sudden panic flooded my chest. I suddenly realized what a precarious position I just put us both in. I grabbed my phone, about to call 911. That’s when I heard my sister scream out loud. I barged in, to find this stranger sinking his fangs into her neck, draining the life out of her. Petrified, I picked up a chair and started smashing his head in hysteria. He finished draining her, and turned his attention to me, his eyes dark red. That night, he took both our lives and crossed us over into darkness.”
I didn’t expect this turn of event. Speechless, I just sat there and stared at Rachel.
“We were lucky my sister closed the blind at night. Or we would have been roasted by sunlight. My parents came home two weeks later, to find us bloody on the floor. But they could see our bodies twitching from the pain of transformation. They called the best doctors they could find. But no one could wake us up. Finally, they put us on bed rest until…we woke up. My sister and I, we tried to find that stranger by the Pier, but we never saw him again. He introduced himself to me as Trevor, but that could easily be a lie. I told my sister what we had become, and we took off running. We didn’t want to endanger our parents. For the first time, I was the one guiding my sister. I tried to keep my composure as best as I could to calm her down. But my knowledge of this world didn’t really exceed hers by much. For the first time, I saw my sister confused and lost. Back in daylight, she had guidance, expectations, authority figures like school and church to keep her grounded. But in darkness, where big fish eats small fish, she was completely and utterly clueless. There was no standard of measurement, no contest, no applause to let you know you are on the right track. It was pure survival, raw and basic animal instincts. And she didn’t have that. I did.”
Rachel took a second to suppress the pain and regret inside her, and continued:
“I learned how to lure strangers into the dark using our teenage beauty, and we fed on them. But my sister didn’t take well to this life. She was disgusted with what she had become. She couldn’t tolerate the new dark image of herself, how she had fallen from grace. She constantly tortured herself, thinking God must be severely condemning her for such atrocious acts of murder. In the end, she couldn’t take it. She let herself free fall from the roof of a twenty-three story building, and impaled herself on a fence.”
“For the longest time, I blamed myself for her death. And rightfully so. I basically took her life away. And she had such potential. She could have made my parents so proud, so happy. She would have been the perfect mother, the perfect wife. But my envy took over and turned me into a monster. I’m nothing but a monster, Rain! I am. And I tell myself that every single day in darkness. Even in that brothel, I knew I deserved whatever pain they were inflicting on me. Every single whip, cut, and bruises; I deserved it all and more”
God, if this is how Rachel felt when her sister died, I can’t begin to think how much it would hurt if Eugene were to…
“I have to go.” I stood up quickly.
“Wait, where are you going? It’s almost daylight!” Rachel yelled after me, but too late to turn me back.
With my new vampire speed, my determination and urge to see Eugene again, I made it to our house in a flash. It was 3AM. The entire neighborhood was deep in their sleep. Outside, you could hear a few vagabonds strolling around, some nocturnal animals looking for food. But no one and nothing dared to bother me. They knew I was a much more dangerous predator.
My brother’s room was lit softly with his night light. I could tell from the shadow it made that it was the star-shaped night light I bought him for his birthday. I could see him now in my head, wrapped around in his blue superman comforter; he always loved those. I saw my parent’s cars in the garage, and knew they were both home. Good. Let them be.