Humanity and Hemoglobin

Blood dribbled across my lips and down my chin. The metallic tinge in the liquid rolled across my tongue, and I wondered at its ability to sustain life. However, I was very careful to not let too much of it fall into my throat, spilling most of it over my front. I didn’t like the taste. Never had. But right now, it was a necessity, because that’s what vampires drank, and that’s what I needed to be.

I tried not to look at Bill’s body as it hung in the vampire’s secret kitchen, draining of blood and lifeless. Only hours before, he had been doing cannon balls into the house’s pool and splashing the girls in the hot tub. Like the rest of us, he had been overjoyed at receiving the invitation to join the new reality TV show One Big House, hoping it would rocket him to stardom. Now we would be lucky to leave alive, let alone be famous.

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I’d had the good fortune of a warning when I saw the “producer” lady make the first attack on one of the other house guests in what we had thought was an interview room. However, I didn’t have much time after that before the screaming began. The only person I’d come across to warn was Karen, and she’d laughed off my story like I was a drunken lunatic. I knew my luck would run out sooner or later, and they would find me no matter how stealthily I crept around the house.

Sneaking back from the secret kitchen behind the hidden door in the pantry, I poked my head out for a split second to take in my surroundings. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Well, nothing but the dead silence. Only two steps out, and a hand appeared from nowhere, grabbing my shirt and slamming me against the refrigerator. When my vision cleared, I saw what I had thought was the cameraman baring his fangs at me.

“A little mouse, squeaking around to find a way out of the trap, huh?” 

Now was the time to see if my bluff would work. I put a hand on his chest to hold him back as much as I could. “Do I look like a mouse to you?” I indicated the blood around my mouth and down my front.

His thick, brown eyebrows wiggled in confusion, and he sniffed me. “You smell like a human.”

I scoffed and gently pressed on his hand that held me. He reluctantly released me as I explained. “Of course, I smell human. I’m soaked in human blood, and I’ve been cozying up to them for days.”

He shrugged. “I guess that makes sense. I didn’t know we were gonna have anyone on the inside.” He leaned back against the island countertop.

“It’s a good way to ask them about their background; figure out which might have people come looking for them,” I said, thankful that this monster had basically handed me my cover story.

The cameraman chuckled. “Then I guess we have nothing to worry about since Mistress Georgia gave the order to take them.”

“I guess not,” I agreed, though I wanted to ask more when his words struck me, hinting that the others might not all be dead. But asking more might give away that I wasn’t actually one of them. “Is this the only one we are allowed to snack on?” I pointed back toward the pantry and Bill’s body, trying not to gag as I remembered the buckets that were collecting his blood.

“For now,” the cameraman confirmed. “We’ve got the rest in the basement, screaming and whining. It’s pathetic. One even tried threatening us, saying that her father will come and get the lot of us thrown in jail.” He laughed as he turned to walk away. “I don’t think she realizes what we are, or that you were making sure nobody would look for them.” I was sure he was talking about Karen. “Come on. The Mistress has called a meeting, and you know how she gets if someone is late.”

If I went to that meeting, I would be found out the moment the producer, who was apparently their leader, Mistress Georgia, saw me. “Alright,” I said, as I grabbed a wooden spoon from the kitchen counter and followed. I prayed that some of the lore about vampires was true. As quick as I could, I snapped one end of the spoon handle to give it a point and jammed it into the monster’s back, hoping it hit the heart. 

He spun around with a snarl that cut off in a faint whimper. As he fell to his knees, his skin turned an ashy grey with red cracks growing through it. Before I knew it, he was just a smoldering pile of dust and clothing.

My heart, which had decided to pump into overdrive, began to slow, and I calmed myself by doing something normal, like sweeping up a pile of dust and folding clothing. I hid the clothes and retrieved my weaponized spoon, but it was obvious that I would need more. Unfortunately, it seemed like the vampires had done a decent job of avoiding using wood in their mansion of a house. After a few minutes of searching and sharpening, I only had my original spoon stake, a couple more broken off a cutting board, a longer one from one of the cupboard doors, and a kitchen knife.

And with my new arsenal, I took a step into the hall only to realize that I didn’t know where I was headed. The obvious choice at this point would be to escape. The longer I stayed here, the more likely it would be that I would end up very, very dead. But the words of the now pile of dust echoed in my head. We’ve got the rest in the basement, screaming and whining. The conversation with myself went back and forth for too long.

What could I do for them anyway? I could go get help. How many would die while I was away? Maybe none. Maybe all. Why would I risk my life for them? I hardly know them. They are just random people I met here. I don’t even like some of them. So, who would care or blame me if I just escaped? They might. Their families might. Naturally, they would have at least some people that loved them, even if they had cut ties to one another. I had family and friends I didn’t talk too much, but I knew we loved each other. Each one of the people who had come here had completely different lives that had never touched my life until now. What made my life more valuable than theirs? It’s mine.

Then one question came to mind that I couldn’t ignore. What if your positions were switched? I would hope that anyone who could help would decide to do so. I would pray that anyone human would show up. Because at this point, all humans were in this together, to live. That common strive to live was what linked us, and the undead couldn’t share that.

I was halfway to the presumably locked front door when the guilt and sudden connection to my housemates turned me around. 

It didn’t take long to find the door to the basement. While I figured the meeting had occupied most of the vampire/TV crew, I assumed they weren’t dumb enough to leave the humans unguarded. I went over several scenarios of what I might encounter down there, along with how I would deal with it, but the uncertainty of the next few minutes made my hands shake as I concealed my improvised weapons about my person and stepped down the stairs.

Everything looked normal down in the basement, with the huge couches, ping-pong table, pool table, and stocked bar. However, the door in the back, which had always been locked, was now open to a shadowy room. I walked toward it, strolling as casually as possible, and stepped in. My eyes adjusted quickly enough to take in the cement floors and iron bars which penned the rest of the humans in the back half of the room. They all looked up at my entrance, as did the boom operator on my side of the cage door. She leaned against the wall, filing her nails.

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Scenario 3 it is, I thought.

“What the…?” the vampire started.

“You?” That screech came from the cage as Karen slammed her hands against the bars. “You’re one of them?”

Good, I thought. Help me play the part.

Tossing her anger aside with an annoyed huff wasn’t difficult to fake, and I turned to the guard. “They want one of them for the meeting. Can you open the cage?”

She looked at me for a second, clearly confused from remembering me as a guest at the house. But after a moment, she shrugged. “Sure. Can you save some for me?” she asked with a glance and the blood covering my face and shirt.

“I’ll do my best,” I assured as she pulled out a key and turned to the door in the iron bars.

The door swung inward and the humans huddled into the corners. I followed the guard inside and slipped one of my wooden stakes from my sleeve.

“Any volunteers?” she asked the group with a chuckle.

I lifted my arm to make the strike.

She, however, turned around very quickly, and I was too slow. She locked my arm in her hand, digging into it with her newly sharpened nails. I dropped the stake to the floor. 

“Looks like we have a little trickster trying to be a big hero,” she said with a hiss before pushing me to the ground and pinning my arms to the ground with her knees. “I’ve heard that bravery adds some good spice to the taste.” Her fangs elongated and she descended to drain me of life.

I closed my eyes, accepting my death, only to hear a grunt and gasp. I peeped out, seeing my attacker turn the same ashy color with red cracks. Before I could push her off, she crumbled and covered me in dust that tasted like moldy bread. Coughing and choking, I tried to get back to my feet.

More weight suddenly fell on top of me, and I felt a splintered point against my throat. When the dust cleared, I saw Gary grimacing above me.

“Get off, Gary,” I said, trying to push him off. 

He tilted to one side then righted himself on top of me, returning the point of my own weapon to my throat. “You’re covered in blood. You’re one of them.”

“The guard attacked him after he tried to kill her, Gary,” Pat whispered. “He’s one of us.”

The point lifted from my jugular and Gary frowned in thought. “Where’d the blood come from?”

I hesitated in answering, but when I did, I couldn’t meet anyone in the eye. “Bill. They drained him dry.” I heard a gasp and sob in the darkness.

Gary nodded, satisfied at my remorse, and helped me back up. I dusted off the dead vampire and looked at the group. 

Nine of us left. Nine of us together. Nine of us alive with hopes and futures outside of this house. I took a deep breath and promised myself that we would see those futures.

“Who’s ready to fight?” I asked, wondering who to give the spare stakes to as I pulled them out. I let Gary hold onto the one I had dropped, which he had used to save me. 

Karen was the first to step forward and I handed her a weapon. “This doesn’t mean I like you,” she sneered. I chuckled inside at the ridiculousness of the thought.

Once those with a fighting spirit had been armed, I looked at the group. “Apparently, they are in a meeting, so now’s our best chance to escape.” I flipped my stake in my hands. “Nobody gets left behind.”

With a few determined nods, those strangers I now considered closer than some family joined me in the fight to escape that house of death.

 

***

 

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be get onto one of those reality shows where a bunch of overdramatic people are put together in a house. I don’t think I would fit in very well in the sense that I would try to lessen the drama, which apparently doesn’t make for good television. Either way, I don’t think it would be fun to go on a fake one run by vampires looking for an easy meal.

The reason I chose to look more into this dream is because of something I’ve been contemplating lately, which is the incredible variety of people in the world and what connections we have with one another. 

For example, I was at work the other day, seeing stranger after stranger pass by. Normally (and I know this is a common attitude of many), people annoy me in general, so my thoughts only turn to them when it also involves me. I know this is a selfish attitude to have, and I try to fight it when I become aware of it, but it seems like an extension of the natural inclination toward self-preservation. I worry about myself first, and then others if I’m taken care of. However, on this certain day, my mind went to wondering what these strangers were thinking about. What kinds of experiences have they had in their lives to make them the people they were? What hardships have they endured? What are their priorities, and how do those affect how they act? And what brought them right there, at that time, to be in the same place as me? And should that mean something? Will I never have the chance to get to know this person ever again?

Many more similar kinds of questions pass through my mind, but in the end, it awakened an emotion that I usually reserve for other situations. I felt an outpouring of fraternal love for these people, almost as if they were my own family. I realized that each one of them were living their lives the best they could, just like me. They might have different worries and thought processes, but every one of them was striving for some kind of happiness or contentment, just like me. I know this is also a feeling shared by many, but I didn’t know what to do about it. It was slightly overwhelming. 

Now, whether that feeling of love was generated by an innate sense that we all share some kind of spiritual heritage or by the simple realization that every single human being is sharing the same struggle that we call life, I don’t think it matters. What matters to me is that I realized that everyone has their reason for doing things, and in the end, that reason is because we are all striving for happiness. Knowing that, and as long as I keep it in mind, I find it easier to try and understand others when they act in a way that seems wrong or absolutely stupid to me. For whatever reason, they think those actions will help them in their quest to complete or fill their lives. With this, communication then becomes the key for true understanding of one another, but that is a discussion for another time.

Don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean that I like everyone. People can still rub me the wrong way and I might dislike being around certain people. But I try not to jump to conclusions and judge the person. They are sharing this struggle of life just like me. We are just on different paths, and I only see where our paths have crossed.

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So, in a situation where a bunch of strangers are thrown together in a house, I am proud that my dream-self decided to try and help the others that had been captured instead of just saving my own skin. I was able to see that we were all in the same situation, and not one of us were more valuable than the other when it really came down to it. Though I can only hope I would actually have that kind of courage in real life.

Vampires, on the other hand, are not human. Screw the undead.

Perplexing Perspectives

"So, he says, 'I found a hair in my food.' But the cook says, 'Then you shouldn't have ordered the rabbit stew.' Get it?" The voice worked its way through the thick fog of buzzing in my mind.

"Yeah. It just ain't funny," another voice growled.

Sounds gradually became clearer and clearer. Soon after, I felt the loose ropes binding my hands behind the chair beneath me, and the pounding in my head lessened bit by bit.

"You just don't like jokes to do with hair, baldy," the first voice said. I cracked my eyes just enough to let in some of the blinding candlelight and get a glimpse of my guards.

"Then why would you tell them?" The squat, balding guard sat at a circular table a few paces away, picking through a few scraps of food on a plate in front of him.

The jokester tapped out a few dance steps on the table right in front of me and struck a pose. "Just to see if you have a sense of humor about yourself. You gotta crack a smile sometime." His tall frame looked to be made of stick that wore clothes, and the size of his nose made his head look comically top heavy, as if he would tip upside-down at any moment. 

The spacious dining area in which I found myself disappeared into dark corners beyond the candle's glow. But the floral-carved embellishments on the pillars and framework glittered a dull glow with red highlights.

"Don't count on it," the grumpy guard said through a mouthful of chicken.

"You know what your problem is? You don't..."

I drowned their bickering out as I focused on getting my hands loose. Luckily, it seemed like these guys practiced their comedy more than tying knots. With a few calculated wiggles, I pulled my hands free and let the rope drop silently to the wooden floor.

I knew I would have to be careful. I'd never tried this before, but I hoped I failed this attempt. Ever so slowly, my hands came around to my front, and I grabbed the tablecloth of the table were the funny man stood.

"Now take Lady Cam, she–"

I stood up and jerked the tablecloth toward me. The tall guard's feet came with it and he fell, face first, onto the table and rolled to the floor.

The balding guard jumped to his feet surprisingly fast, threatening me with a fork and knife. I lunged at him with the off-white tablecloth and wrapped it over his head and torso. Before he could stick me with the fork, I kicked at his legs and brought him to the ground. A wooden chair soon crashed over his covered head, and the lumpy cloth stopped struggling. I held the chair legs ready to defend myself against the tall guard, but his fall must have knocked him out cold. He breathed deeply on the floor of the dining area.

Where are they? I had been asking myself that question for a while now, and I was sure my search had led me to the answers. I found the door and took my leave of the two guards. As I entered the hallway, the floor shifted and I bumped into the wooden planks of the wall. The floor righted itself, and I knew I was on a boat. I crept through the passageways as silently as possible, careful of more guards, but nobody was there to challenge me.

Soon enough, I made my way to the deck where moonlight bathed the large ship and the surrounding river in bouncing silver rays.

I found the gangplank that led to the docks on the opposite side of the ship and made my way toward the city that lay beyond. But before I set foot on solid land, they stepped into the light of a lantern near the edge of the river.

“Angel!”

Both of the women’s faces turned up toward me. I sighed in relief at the sight of my wife, unharmed, holding our baby in its basinet.

“Get away from my wife, witch.”

The smooth, black cloth of the stern woman’s long coat barely ruffled as she leaned to the love of my life and whispered something in her ear.

To my horror, my wife extended her arms beyond the retaining wall and over the river, supporting the white basinet with her pale fingers. Before I could say a word of protest, she let go. The child fell to the rushing water as a cloud passed in front of the moon, obscuring any view of my infant’s fate. 

The sound of the splash was swallowed up in the roar that erupted from my throat. 

As I ran at them, my wife walked away to disappear in the darkness. The witch, posing as a professional woman of business, stood calmly to confront the rage I had become. I grabbed her by the collar of her coat and shoved her against the stone wall that came up to my waist. Not a single hair in the tight bun on her head ruffled out of place.

“What did you do to her?”

“Nothing.”

I slammed her against the stones again, leaning her farther over the water. “That wasn’t nothing!” I peered into the dark streets of the city behind me. “Angel! Where are you?”

“She can’t talk to you right now,” the witch said with a smirk.

“Did you cut out her tongue or something?”

“I misspoke,” she corrected with a nod of the head. “She won’t talk to you right now.”

“What are you talking about, demon?” I spat. “She’s my wife. Why wouldn’t she talk to me? Why would she drop our baby in the river?”

“She does what must be done. She understands much more than you will ever be capable of.”

“Bring her back. Bring back my child.” My trembling legs almost collapsed as sadness sapped my strength.

She fixed me with a haughty stare. “I will not. I do what must be done.”

Defiant determination exploded from my chest. “Then I will as well. If you won’t bring back my baby, you will help me find him.”

With one last shove, I drove the grinning witch over the edge of the wall. But I didn’t let go, and we both fell into the dark water below. The chilled river swallowed me up, and I almost panicked. However, my anger kept my fingers locked around the evil woman’s coat. 

I kicked my feet to bring us back to the surface, something fought against me. Suddenly, the witch felt very heavy, weighing me down, and I felt her soft coat become rough and scaly. Then I had nothing to grasp, and she came free of my hands. Not much light from the dockside lamps penetrated the darkness of the river, but I caught quick movement before the giant jaws of a crocodile snapped closed, inches from my nose. 

She vanished with a flick of her powerful tail.

The cold of the water seeped deeper into my bones, and I knew I had to reach the surface, and land, soon. I kicked and struggled to raise myself up, but my sodden clothes weighed me down, laughing at my desperate efforts to rise only a few inches. My chest lurched, struggling to release my last breath and take another. I wasn’t going to make it.

Something slammed into my chest, knocking out my last precious breath so hard that I couldn’t take another even if I had wanted to. It latched on, and I thought the witch/crocodile had decided to finish me off. Yet no teeth pierced my flesh. The water rushed around me, and before I knew it, I burst through the surface and landed on soft sand in the shallows. I gulped air back into my lungs as the arm unwrapped itself from around me. 

The light of the moon returned and revealed my rescuer to be Kade. The gills he had grown since his curse flexed on the side of his neck, not knowing what to do when he breathed through his mouth.

“You alright?” he asked, flipping brown locks of wet hair out of his eyes.

When my breathing was finally under control, I ignored his question. “Did you see him? Did you see the basinet with my baby?”

“Baby?”

“And the witch! She turned into a croc. Where did she go?”

“Slow down,” Kade said, holding up his hands. “I saw the crocodile. It took off upriver. I did see an odd thing floating downriver a minute or so ago. Are you saying that was your baby?”

I got to my feet and Kade joined me. “Which way is downriver?”

Kade pointed to my right. “It’ll be way down there now, with a current this fast.”

I started to run, fighting against aching and wobbly muscles.

“How did he fall in?” Kade asked, keeping pace.

“She dropped him in,” I puffed.

“The witch?”

“My wife.”

Kade stopped, and after a few moments I heard his quick steps catch up again. “Why would she do that?”

My eyes scanned the river as I ran. “I don’t know. But after I find my child, that is what I’m going to find out.”

 

***

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Now, I had this dream several years ago, well before I met my wife. At the time, I don’t think I even recognized a face for the woman that took on the role of my wife in the dream. So, I hope my wife now doesn’t think that I have a fear of how she will treat children.

One of the reasons that I chose to write about this dream does have to do with my wife though. We just found out that she is pregnant, so babies are on my mind a lot these days, though I hope that my child will never be put in such a precarious situation.

The aspect of this dream that most captured me at this time was the fact that, if the witch had been telling the truth, my dream wife dropped our child into a river with complete mental clarity, knowing exactly what she was doing. For some reason, as I remember my dream, I had an inkling that this was completely true. This would then lead to two conclusions that I can see. Either my wife disliked our baby so much that she would rather see it drown than be with it anymore, or I was unaware of some truth that my wife had discovered. From the feelings I had in the dream, the first is completely unlikely, leaving the second option as the one that held the truth. And what it all comes down to is a matter of perspective.

There are so many books, essays, speeches, memes, or whatever that talk about perspective, so what I have to say about it probably won’t be anything completely original. However, as I look at the world and see the intolerance, the blind hate, and the general ignorance that abounds, it is obvious that that are plenty of people who cannot comprehend the concept of perspective. The very idea that someone else has lived a life that gave them a different, but just as legitimate, set of values is so alien that their brains turn to hate-filled mush if anyone tries to explain this reality to them.

But the human race needs to gain a greater ability to be sympathetic to one another. I would say that we should even strive toward empathy for one another, or as close to it as we can get. This requires everyone to have open minds that are willing to stretch into situations that might be uncomfortable.

In my dream, I did not know the things that my wife had known which led her to dropping the baby in the water. If I had, I might not have been so upset, and the dream would have been much less eventful, but it would have been much more peaceful. But my first reaction was to ask “what” questions, and anger consumed me. By the end of the dream, I was determined to figure out the “why” of the situation. I was still angry, but I understood that there was more for me to know if I really wanted to understand the situation. I would like to think that my dream-self was striving for a wider perspective before coming to conclusions.

Now this was a dream where the reasons were never revealed to me, but I can think of another similar situation from the Old Testament. Moses’ mother put him in the river as a baby so that he wouldn’t be killed because of the decree of the pharaoh. Now, imagine if a traveler on the other side of the river had seen this happen. They don’t know about any decree to kill babies. All they see is a woman abandoning a helpless infant in a river with all sorts of dangerous animals. They might not even see the child’s sister hiding in the bushes to keep an eye on her brother. Their conclusions would probably be that this is a horrible woman. She is a deadbeat mom who is just avoiding the responsibilities of parenthood. There are all sorts of hateful things one could think about seeing a woman performing this action. It isn’t until perspectives are changed that truth becomes revealed. 

With all the things I see on the news and social media these days, it seems that most people’s default is to spout their outrage at the slightest inkling of something that offends them or even has the possibility of offending some random person in any way. All this does is create more offense, hate, anger, and widens the distances that separate the human race as a whole.

This attitude needs to be stamped out with all the force we can muster. If we don’t, the situation will only get worse and worse. Hate will build upon hate, and all will suffer for it. For example, whenever I hear about the police shooting someone, or someone shooting the police, all I hear is angry shouting. Not many are trying to think of what kind of situation the other person is in. Maybe the cop was frightened out of his wits because he had a friend shot and killed in a similar situation. Maybe the young black man felt like he had to get a gun in order to protect himself and his family from the true criminals in his neighborhood. Maybe the suicide bomber had family members being threatened by actual terrorists. Maybe the terrorist’s family had been killed by a missile when the soldiers didn’t know there were innocent families next door. Maybe the soldier had a father in the Twin Towers. Maybe the young girl was raped, and the thought of the child brings back those horrible memories. Maybe that pro-life advocate was told they should have been aborted by their parents, or has had experiences that show them that all life is sacred. There are so many lives that people lead, and nobody can be aware of them at all times.

What we need to try to ask more is just one word: why. When we ask this question, we are trying to put ourselves in their situation, changing our perspective and view of the world. When we understand the why of anyone’s actions, in most situations, our sympathy for that person will grow, and support will come more readily than blame.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we get rid of anger altogether. There are times in which anger is appropriate. But that will usually come after a full understanding has been reached by taking our perspective and adjusting it to the position of those involved in the situation.

I realize that this might be easier for people like me, with imaginations that can go into places they have never been before. I’m not trying to pat myself on the back or anything because I know it is still something I need to work on as well. But as a whole, if the human race tries to expand their understanding, stretch their imagination, and understand the perspectives of the people around them, or even of people on the other side of the world, I know that we will be able to come closer and be better for it. It will allow us to strengthen bonds that will tie us together and inspire us to work toward the common good of all.