We didn’t want to take Rosie to the hospital. The trip could very well kill her. But as Sharon and I watched my sister’s fever steadily rising and coughs racking her little body for three days straight, we knew we had no choice.
If the vampires didn’t get her, the chest infection would.
“Get the car to the front door, Maya,” Sharon told me, “and I’ll bring her out.”
I was yet to pass my driving test, but I drove all the time. As I opened the front door, my heart pounded. Could they tell? And why did it have to be night-time? I’d have felt much safer if it had been mid-day, sun high in the sky. Even though sunny days in Dunrovia’s capital happened… ooh, once a month if we were lucky.
I parked the car side on to the house and up on the pavement to minimise the distance between the front door and the vehicle. Sharon stumbled out minutes later, Rosie wrapped in a blanket, clutched to her chest.
She dived in next to me. “Go!”
Nothing. Thank you, universe thank you thank you thank you.
I drove through several red lights to get to the hospital. Just as well I looked like Sharon. If the cameras caught me violating so many traffic laws, we would pretend she had been the driver. Otherwise, we’d be in deep shit. No licence. No insurance. And no money to pay fines.
The doctor gave Rosie a course of antibiotics and kept her in overnight. We returned the next day—Sharon driving this time—to pick her up. Our healthcare did not run to extended hospital stays, even if Rosie would have been better off there for a few more days.
“All we need to do is get her home and I’ll sort her out. I’m a nurse after all,” Sharon said.
I caught her eyes in the car mirror, wide eyed and frightened. The way she always was around Rosie.
I did the grown-up reassurance thing. “Yeah, she’ll be fine. Once we’ve got her back home.”
Both of us glanced up. The skies gave no clue. This time, it was broad daylight and all around us were the sights you might expect at that time of day. People making their way to work or the college. Black security vans taking up too much room on the roads, beeping horns. Shops and businesses shoving open graffiti-covered shutters.
I spotted logos for some of the illegal terrorist groups—a slogan Stake ‘Em High!—and sighed. How could the State blame people for the protests, the demand for change and tighter restrictions? When this, me and Sharon forced to scurry between buildings protecting our precious, vulnerable Rosie, was the norm for the many people like us who were unable to afford immunisation against vampires?
“She’ll need to take the antibiotics for another five days,” the paediatrician told us. We stood in the reception area, the signs above directing people to different wards. Doctor Ellwood looked as if she wanted to collapse on a bed and sleep for a week. Hospitals here catered for far too many people and were under-funded. Our healthcare insurance covered diddly squat. Rosie’s overnight stay was thanks to the doctor’s kindness. The itemised bill Sharon held did not include it.
“Can you tell us if Rosie has moved up the emergency immunisation waiting list?” Sharon asked, ever hopeful. The doctor closed her eyes briefly, pulling out her phone and typing Rosie’s healthcare ID number into it.
“When’s her fifth birthday?” Dr Ellwood asked, shaking her head when Sharon said the date. If vaccination was to work, Rosie needed it before or on that day.
“I’d love to rush her to the top of that list, but it’s months long. I’m so sorry. When the public funding ran out, I joined the protests about privatisation. Not that they did any good.”
She tipped her head to the side. “Sunshine Health offers plans for—”
“Not eligible,” Sharon muttered. Her job and my student status disqualified us from any of Sunshine Health’s care plans as we didn’t earn enough. The costs for vaccination once children passed the two-year stage skyrocketed. Without the proper healthcare plan, we were fucked.
The doctor chucked Rosie under the chin. Medicated and happier, Rosie giggled back at her, blonde curls framing her face. Rosie got all the looks in our family. Sharon and I shared dark hair, swarthy skin and squat bodies.
“Thanks anyway,” Sharon said, and we headed out.
Like all public buildings, the hospital had a drop-off point in an underground car park patrolled by security guards. If you wanted to use the internal drop-off point, there was a charge. I tipped out the last of what was in my jeans pockets to pay for it.
Sharon wanted to sit in the back and cuddle Rosie, so I drove home. “Shall we put on some music?” I asked, slotting an old cassette tape into the music player. Yes, our car’s ancient music system meant we ought to flog the car as an antique. Maybe it would help cover some of Rosie’s late-stage immunisation costs.
“Yes!” Rosie shouted, much happier now her infection had cleared up. We all sang along to Old MacDonald Had a Farm.
E I E I O.
Back at our narrow-terraced house slap bang in the middle of the Garshake Estate, a car had parked outside ours, blocking the front door. I couldn’t get close enough to it. Sharon swore, although she chose a milder word than I did. We waited it out but after an hour, I needed to pee desperately, Rosie moaned about being hungry and Sharon was late for work.
“Where’s security?” I asked.
Sharon shook her head. “I phoned them this morning and told them we would be bringing an unvaccinated child back to the house. They said they would do their best.”
Their best was never enough.
We planned our route. I would get out of the car and open the front door. Then, I would return, armed with one of our home-made stakes. Sharon would slide out of the car with Rosie and bolt to the front door. Shouldn’t take longer than thirty seconds, I said. Easy-peasy.
“Easy-peasy,” Sharon repeated. “Whatever.”
I edged the car closer to the other vehicle, swearing when I bumped into it. Another bill to pay.
Outside, I scuttled to our front door and dropped my keys, hands slippy with sweat. The door’s lock was stiff, and we had three of them because of Rosie. The seconds ticked away as I struggled to open it. Job done, I grabbed a stake and went back to the car. More fiddling with keys and they were out, and then…
The scream, part-human, part monster. The skies clouded over, and the birds rose from the nearby trees. A chill in the air. The stillness. My breath came in raggedy gasps. The neighbours’ doors remained firmly closed. If they heard anything amiss, they chose to ignore it. Under my breath, I called them everything and more. But most of our neighbours were in the same position as us. Desperate to protect their own.
We froze, paralysed by fear.
Above me, a blur of darkness hastened towards us.
“Get in the car,” I yelled at Sharon, yanking open the back door, sticking my hand on her head and pushing her in. She hit her forehead on the top. Rosie, giggles for the doctor long gone, wailed.
It came for me. You can tell yourself, again and again and again, “They can’t touch me. I’m immune.” But when a monster flies at you, arms spread, hands claw-like, lips drawn back and razor-sharp canines all too prominent, who doesn’t get scared? Frightened enough that you feel the trickle of warm water run down your leg.
Vampires. Guaranteed to make you soil your clothes.
I’d done the compulsory safety training. “Aim for the heart. Ten out of ten, folks, if you know what side of the body it’s on?”
Our safety trainer had a fine line in sarcasm. But it helped now, reminding me vividly of the class.
The man’s voice: “Stand back half a metre. Grip the stake two-thirds of the way along. Picture that grizzled, blackened old heart in your head, draw your elbow back and thrust as hard as you can. I mean it; your fist should hit the chest so that the stake goes all the way through.”
My hand tightened around the stake. The monster knew what I planned, and it changed course, hurtling towards the car’s back window where Sharon and Rosie cowered. I shifted, stake held close to my ear and it halted, hovering in the air a few metres above me.
Blood-shot, red-rimmed black eyes fixed on mine. A man. Late 20s, or at least in his 20s when converted to the Dark Side, pallor-skinned and thick hair falling forward on his face. The stench of decay all too detectable.
Hatred radiated off him. I sent it straight back. Determination replaced the fear.
Did it show? The monster and I were locked in a stand (fly?) off. Seconds ticked by. The safety trainer told us we should never waste energy thrusting unnecessarily. “One chance; one chance only.” His voice rang in my ears.
Sirens. Me and it/him twitched our heads in the sound’s direction. In the back of the car, Sharon waved her phone at me. At last, our level 3 insurance had kicked in. Ten seconds away, I guessed.
I smiled at the monster. “Woo-hoo. Vampire Security is on its way and they will blow you to kingdom come. I’ll be cheering when that happens.”
He lost it, coming in for me, teeth bared. I tipped my head to the side. “Bite me! Go on. Can’t wait to see how that works out for you.”
A black van screeched to a halt at the top of our street, the doors opening to tip out guards who ran towards us. The vampire paused and then rose into the air once more. He flew off, fast enough to dodge the flurry of silver bullets that accompanied his flight. The second van took off after him.
One of the remaining guards approached me.
“You took your time,” I said, putting my stake down. “My mum phoned you this morning and said we would be out on the streets with a vulnerable kid. When we got back you were supposed to be here.”
The black cap he wore shaded his forehead and eyes. Didn’t matter. I knew he glared at me.
“You’re okay, aren’t you? Thank us the next time.”
He pushed forward his electronic reader for me to sign. I sprawled my signature.
“Oh, and this call-out? It affects your premiums. Which will be more expensive next year.”
The smirk made me itch to whack my fist into his face. I settled for flicking him the bird when he turned to walk back to the van.
A vampire and the wank outfit that called itself Vampire Security all in the space of fifteen minutes. Peach of a day.
I let out a sigh. Sharon handed over a small fortune every month already. It didn’t look as if we’d ever get Rosie on the emergency immunisation programme. How much would it cost to protect Rosie month after month the span of her lifetime?
In the meantime, we couldn’t afford for Rosie to get ill again. Venturing outside with a human whose blood vampires were able to smell from miles around was begging for trouble.
And hope and pray that somehow we managed to scrape together the huge amount of money needed for Rosie’s late stage immunisation before she blew out the candles on her fifth birthday cake in just over two months’ time.
Copyright Emma Baird 2021