Our Blood

Week 30: Written July 27, 2016

Garrett was thankful for a wife who made him breakfast every morning, even though, as a rookie cop, he frequently woke up before the sun did. And lately, given the social turmoil sweeping the nation, his shifts had been starting even earlier.

“What’s on the menu this morning?” he said.

“Eggs and crispy bacon.”

“Make it a double on the bacon.”

He was joking — kind of — and Emily knew it, but she still grabbed a few extra bacon strips and tossed them in the simmering pan. She could tell by the way his knee was shaking that he was nervous. And also how he was flipping through the paper so swiftly he hardly had enough time to read a single headline.

“What’s the world coming to?” he said, sliding the paper away. He didn’t want to read it anyway. Besides, he already knew what all the articles were about.

“Us” versus “Them.”

It wasn’t exactly a dream scenario, not for him. Sure, there were guys on his force who took to the disharmony like fish to water, but they were the minority — albeit, a loud minority. And the most extreme officers among them were the most dangerous ones of all. They were needles in the giant American haystack — very long and very sharp needles.

And what about “them”? The news stations would talk of nothing else. They were either a menace to society — raping, pillaging, and killing all the hardworking families of the heartland — or they were purely innocent bystanders, killed just because they fit the right stereotype.

Killed by police officers — by one of “us,” Garrett thought, the ones sworn to serve and protect them.

There was nothing but extremes, and if you believed what you heard on the news, they were all mutually exclusive. One side had to be the bad guy.

“Can I get an extra order of bacon, just this once?”

Emily waved her finger.

“You’re already getting twice the usual amount. Do you have a death wish?”

It was meant as a joke, but it brought an unrivaled silence to the kitchen. Even the sizzling pan went quiet for a few seconds, as if someone had just pressed mute on the stove. And in that unexpected moment of silence, their minds both drifted to Garrett’s beat for the day:

The Blood Drive.

He could remember the days when a Blood Drive in a quiet midwestern city wouldn’t even make the local newsletter, let alone international news, and organizers would beg on the street for donations. Now, they were getting more than their fair share of volunteers — and protesters.

It was practically guaranteed, one way or another, to turn into a bloodbath.

Emily handed her husband a plate with eggs and a greasy mound of bacon, but all he could do was stare at it. His stomach turned and groaned. If he tried to force anything down, he’d spend the whole morning in a port-a-potty outside the bus station. He was far too anxious.

There was going to be a crowd three times large there: the police, the supporters of the Blood Drive, and the rabid protesters. That didn’t even take into account the poor souls dropping by to donate, who’d have to cross a veritable battlefield of angry, venomous rabble-rousers just to tick off their good deed for the day.

No matter who won or lost, Garrett had the sneaking suspicion he’d feel like one of the losers — and the media would probably agree with him.

It wasn’t a good time to be anyone.

He left the house on an empty stomach and caught the 5:15 bus to the center of town.

Other passengers gave him looks, knowing where he was going. They were all so expressive, so pained and involuntary. It was like he could reach the mind of each and every person he looked at, but he still had trouble deciphering on what side of the aisle they each stood. Did they like him? Did they hate him? Did they feel bad for him just because of the badge on his shirt?

Nobody approached him or said anything, they didn’t have the balls or the heart. They just stared, hypnotized by the young cop willingly wandering into danger, like a lamb to the slaughter.

By the end of the commute, Garrett found himself giving everyone the same strained look back.

When he stepped off the bus, he could hear the ruckus building from afar. There was yelling and screaming, but no weapons going off — yet. He knew what he’d find when he finally got there: two large, angry groups, crudely separated by a blockade of plastic dividers filled with sand. As peaceful an assembly as anyone could’ve hoped for.

For some reason, Garrett’s mind turned to math, and he wondered how on Earth multiplying two negatives could ever equal a positive.

Just beyond the emotional horde sat a giant white tent. The Blood Drive. They didn’t even bother with signage, not wanting to stoke the fires any more than necessary. It’s not like it would’ve been hard to find anyway.

On each side of both crowds stood a police officer, standing quiet and still like a guard at Buckingham Palace. There were metal detectors encircling the meeting grounds too, and Garrett suddenly felt like he was entering a prison playground.

He walked between both groups toward his station near the Blood Drive tent. There was garbage being thrown from one side to the other. Some, though, hit Garrett in the head, and he knew it was probably intentional.

As a child, he’d heard over and over against how noble it was to be a policeman. It went from being a childish dream to a realistic career in what felt to Garrett like practically no time. He’d been thinking a lot recently about his life decisions, and more than once he’d wondered if joining the police force was a wise move. His conclusion — every single time — was no, it was not wise. But it was a good move, a selfless move, a courageous move, even if a few bad eggs had ruined the reputations of them all. Garrett felt proud to wear his uniform, and prouder still to use his position in the world as a force for good.

It was then that he remembered, with a shock, that he’d actually requested this particular assignment months ago, back when the Blood Drive — and the associated protests — first began touring. He had strolled confidently into his sergeant’s office and said that, should the Blood Drive even make it this far, he wanted in.

He reached the end of the crowd, which was getting more poisonous by the minute, and paused. There were words being thrown back and forth between the groups, including vulgar epithets that were far dirtier than all the garbage previously thrown. But one exchange grabbed Garrett’s attention.

“We need to help our fellow man, it’s our obligation!” one girl said. “Have some compassion!” She screamed all of this while she waved a bat in one hand and a sign in the other that read, “They deserve it more than you.”

“I’m all for helping our fellow man,” a girl on the other side replied. “But they’re not human at all, they’re monsters! We’re better off without them!”

Garrett kept walking, right past the police monitored perimeter and into the Blood Drive tent.

There was nobody inside except for a few nurses and group of men lined up on gurneys. All of the men had IV tubes stretching from their arms to empty plastic sacks hanging from what looked like shiny chrome hat racks. And at first glance, they were in bad shape. They were thin, malnourished and bony, and their faces were so gaunt it was hard to believe they were still alive.

What a silly thought, Garrett thought, remembering that vampires were immortal.

It had been an interesting couple of decades, learning not only that vampires really exist but also just how different they were from the movie versions. Yes, they were immortal and creatures of the night, but a little sunlight didn’t hurt them at all, and neither did garlic.

The one thing that the books and movies got right was the blood. Vampires needed it. They could eat other things, too, but blood was a constant. Blood was a necessity. And if they didn’t get it in a peaceful way, their fangs grew out to encourage them to get some blood by any means necessary.

A lack of blood didn’t mean death, but torture. It meant constant pain, especially for those that absolutely refused to give in to the will of their fangs. There were plenty of monsters out there, keen on getting blood the old-fashioned way. But of course, those weren’t the vampires Garrett saw before him. These were just people, like anybody else, in need of some help.

He passed vampires on the city streets from time to time, and when his eyes locked with theirs, they both always shared a common thought: “You hate me, don’t you?” He wanted to ignore it, to overcome it, but it felt like an impossible task. No matter how good a policeman he was, they’d always look at him with trepidation. And he felt a little ashamed to admit that sometimes, if he saw one of them walking the streets alone at night, he would reach for his flask of Holy Water — just to make sure it was full.

There was a riot a few years back where one clan of vampires lived up to many of their unfortunate stereotypes. Even though the rest of the vampire community decried their actions, the damage was done. Steakhouses renamed themselves “stake-houses,” and personalized Holy Water flasks became the hottest fashion accessory money could buy.

It all made sense at the time, Garrett thought. Until you actually stopped to talk to one of them.

He took a seat next to one of the gurneys. Outside, the party really got going. Garrett could hear officers — friends of his — physically holding people back from the tent.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” the nurse asked. She had the needle ready.

Garrett looked at the vampire lying beside him. The man was so weak, his skin had taken on the tone of dead and dry grass, like tinder. A single match would turn him into a raging inferno, and unlike most of the people screaming outside, he wouldn’t die. He’d never die. He’d just burn, until the flame grew tired of him. Immortality never sounded so awful as when you imagined the death that would have — should have — been.

Being a vampire should’ve been a gift, a bona fide God-given gift, to partake in life’s greatest pleasures without end. But in reality, vampires weren’t given anything at all. They just had the possibility of relief permanently taken away.

“I’m ready,” Garrett said, holding out his arm.

The man in the gurney looked up, or tried to. He hardly had the strength to open his eyes.

As the blood travelled from one body to the other, Garrett watched as the man’s fangs slowly receded into his gums. It was amazing, watching the transformation happen before his eyes. The man’s skin took on a new, lively color, and Garrett heard him start breathing again for the very first time. The vampire was born again.

When it was finished, Garrett waved for the nurse.

“I should get back out there before it gets crazy,” he said.

He stood to leave and the vampire grabbed his arm.

“Thank you for your blood,” he said, struggling through the euphoria of life recaptured. But Garrett waved him off.

“You’re wrong about that,” he told him. “It’s our blood. It’s all our blood.”