Free to Read: "The Road is Long"
"The Road is Long" originally appeared in Bards & Sages in April 2016.
Recovery Is The Responsible Thing.
Think Of The Person You Can Become.
Anything Is Possible When You Heal From Addiction.
The three motivational posters greeted Lucy as she entered the clinic. They were a simple reminder that where she worked was a place of compassionate healing and that everyone who walked through the front door needed it.
Besides her corner desk, the room contained ten padded chairs and two coffee tables stacked high with magazines long past their prime. The walls were painted light blue. Across from the entrance was a small window looking into the dispensary. The door next to it was reinforced steel. Keep Locked During Business And Non-Business Hours was printed on its mat gray surface.
“How you doing, Mina?” Lucy asked, taking off her sunglasses and floppy brimmed hat. Along with her thermos, she set the items on her desk.
“Fine,” Mina, better known as Dr. Chandler to her patients, called out from the dispensary. “Came in a little early to process deliveries. We’re still opening on time.”
“Sounds good.” Lucy sat at her desk. Waiting for the computer to boot, she stared at the framed photographs decorating her workspace: sunny days from summers past. Even the most recent, taken just a year before, felt like another life entirely. Sighing, Lucy took a sip from her thermos.
Over the next half hour, Lucy performed her routine: setting out forms and pamphlets, vacuuming the carpet, and wiping the dust off the tables and chairs. From the dispensary came the sound of Mina breaking down cardboard boxes and setting out paper cups.
The clinic was spotless. With a few minutes to spare, Lucy retrieved a compact from her purse. The sight of perfectly applied makeup greeted her as she opened it. She checked her eyeliner and blush. No, nothing needed touching up or fixing.
At 8:00 PM on the dot Lucy unlocked the front door. A short line of three people, regulars, were waiting for her.
“Ms. Matheson, how are you doing? You got a new job? That’s wonderful. Be sure to tell Dr. Chandler. She’ll be so happy for you. Your mixture today is 15/85.”
“Mrs. Hill, thank you for waiting. How’s Joseph? Good to know. Looks like your mixture will be 50/50. Halfway there!”
“Mr. Rice, don’t think I’ve forgotten about you. Well, let’s see. Oh, your mixture’s going to be 99/1. It’s your last one! Come here and hug me. I’m sure Dr. Chandler would hug you too if she could come out of the dispensary.”
The three regulars drank their mixture and left, Mr. Rice for the last time. Lucy smiled. All those news stories never talked about people like sweet Mr. Rice, good people who were at their most vulnerable. After all, it hadn’t been his choice to...
Lucy's eyes shot up. She hadn't even heard the door open. The young man in front of her was tall, lean, and gaunt. His hair and clothes were unwashed, skin pale. His eyes were dark but unmistakably crimson.
He was another poor vampire addicted to human blood.
“Good evening,” Lucy said, making eye contact and offering a sympathetic smile. She handed him the new patient forms. “Do you have your doctor’s V-97?”
“Yeah,” the young man said, reaching into his back pocket. The papers were crumpled, but legible. “Doc saw me when I was still in lock up.”
"Go ahead and start filling out these forms. I'll make you a record on the computer."
"And we'll go over your treatment schedule before you receive your first mixture," Mina added from the dispensary window.
He nodded and took a seat. Lucy flattened out his V-97 before starting a new patient file. Though focused on her work, her eyes darted to him every few seconds. One could never tell with new patients. Thirst, hunger, addiction...whatever its name, it could turn anyone into a monster.
Another patient entered as the young man filled out the forms. As Mina gave out the mixture of animal and human blood, his eyes tracked her every motion. For a brief moment the sticky sweetness that only his kind could smell filled the room. Lucy bit her lip as she watched him lick his.
“Okay. Come on over.”
Lucy quickly typed up his patient information. Adam Martin. Age twenty-six. Turned six months ago by a former girlfriend at his request. Arrested after attempted B&E of a blood bank.
His own request, Lucy mused, finishing up the file. Boy definitely had no idea what he was getting himself into.
Two more regulars came in at the same time. “Ms. King, Ms. Polidori, please wait just a few minutes while I finish with this new patient.”
"Okay," Lucy whispered to herself, checking the file. Pressing ‘Submit,' it took the computer less than a second to raise a red flag over the doctor's Rx number. Checking the V-97, the two numbers were identical. Lucy frowned.
“It’ll just be a second, Mr. Martin,” Lucy said, picking up the phone. She dialed the doctor’s office.
"You have reached the offices of Dr. Bulwer and associates. Our office hours are Monday through Friday, 9: 00 am...."
Resisting the urge to curse, Lucy hung up. Didn't people know by now that someone might need help at this hour? "Mr. Martin, would you please come back up here." She used her gentlest voice.
Lucy turned the computer screen as Adam approached her desk. “Dr. Bulwer made a mistake on your V-97.” She pointed to the red flag. “I tried calling his office, but it’s closed until morning.”
“So what does that mean?” Agitation ran through his voice.
"By law, we can't give you a mixture until the paperwork goes through our system. I'm so sorry."
Adam’s hands trembled. “Don’t you understand how bad it hurts?” He asked, half screaming, half crying. The other patients looked up from their magazines.
“Mr. Martin, please, there’s a market just down the street that sells animal blood. Let me buy you some so you can get by till tomorrow. I promise we’ll have it worked out by then.”
Lucy didn't have time to react as Adam reached over and grabbed her by the shoulders. In one swift motion, he pulled her across the desk, sending her pictures and thermos crashing to the floor. Thirst had weakened him, but he was still strong enough to pin her arms down.
“No mixture,” he said, dragging Lucy to the dispensary window. Mina was out of sight. “Pure...human...blood. I’ll drain her if you don’t give me what I want!”
Lucy continued to struggle. “You don’t want to do this,” she whispered, barely able to breathe. Adam’s cold, wet breath streamed down her neck.
“No, you don’t,” Mina added, opening the reinforced door in one swift motion. What she aimed directly at Adam’s head appeared at first glance to be a shotgun. The battery packs embedded in the stock hinted at a different purpose, that it was designed to defend against something more dangerous than the standard robber or wild animal.
“One blast of UV and you’re ash,” Mina stated, her voice calm and collected. Ms. Polidori and Ms. King were both cowering in the corner, trying desperately to cover any exposed skin.
Her eyes locking with Lucy’s, Mina hesitated.
The bite was quick and near painless. Adam’s grip relaxed, giving Lucy just enough leverage to elbow him in the gut. She stumbled to the ground. Even with a clear shot, Mina did not pull the trigger. Ms. Polidori and Ms. King quickly realized why. The blood running down Adam’s chin, the remains of his brief meal, was not red, but midnight black.
“What?” Adam asked, seeing the horror spreading on the two women’s faces. He wiped his mouth, and looking at his hand, shared their expression.
"I told you not to," Lucy said, slowly rising to her feet. Her neck and blouse were covered in dark, foul-smelling blood.
His hands grasping at his throat, Adam fell to the floor. Mina lowered the light gun but stood still. There was nothing she could do.
Lucy calmly approached Adam, and in doing so, used her thumb and index finger to remove her blue contacts. With crimson eyes and face a flash of hatred that melted into pity, she watched Adam choke to death on her blood. When it was over, Lucy collapsed into the nearest chair. She buried her face in her hands.
A hand resting on her still tender shoulder made Lucy look up. Ms. King was standing over her.
“We never knew,” Ms. King said, looking as if she might cry. “You hid it so well.”
“You’re not alone, you know,” Ms. Polidori added. “I struggled for a long time after I was turned.”
Pulling a handkerchief from her pocket, Lucy wiped the remaining blood from her neck. Mina had already gone back into the dispensary to call the police.
“Let’s get you your mixtures,” Lucy said to the two women, nodding her head as she spoke. “I’m sure you don’t want to be around when the cops show up.”
It took over an hour for the police and coroner to arrive. The body of Mr. Adam Martin, age twenty-six, turned six months ago by a former girlfriend at his request, arrested after attempted B&E of a blood bank, was taken away in a cardboard box.
“We’ll need new carpet,” Mina said. It was near dawn, and she and Lucy were alone in the front room. Mina reached down to pick up Lucy’s pictures. The glass was shattered and the frames bloodstained, but the happy memories within were still intact.
“Thanks,” Lucy said as Mina set the pictures on her desk.
“Do you want a light mixture? It’s standard treatment after what you’ve been through.”
Opening her thermos, Lucy shook her head. The cow’s blood was still warm, just barely. She drank it all in three large gulps. Screwing the cap back on, the bite marks on her neck slowly closed. They left no scar.
"Well, I'll call you when the cops say if and when we can open back up. Don't worry about the worker's comp. I'll take care of the paperwork."
Lucy nodded and began to gather up her things. She looked up at her boss and friend. "Mina, would you have shot us?"
“Never. It almost seemed like you wanted him...never mind. You know, Lucy, we’ve never talked about how you turned.”
Lucy stood to leave. “Not tonight. One day, I promise.” She offered Mina a small smile.
“Okay. Sleep well then.”
Lucy, wearing her sunglasses and floppy hat, walked home in the early morning twilight. That day she followed Mina’s advice, cocooned within the soft silk and down feather padding of her mahogany coffin. For the first time since she was turned, Lucy was able to rest in peace.