A small golden dart stabbed her left side and exploded through her rib as the lead found bone. She staggered, confused, but then she remembered him. He was anything but mysterious from the moment he sprang through the gas station’s door, his fingers clasped to the trigger of a handgun. He yelled something about money to the cashier, and then his dark eyes scanned the room before landing on her, an innocent target of a petite blonde girl at the soda fountain.
Ringing. Shrill ringing blasted into her ears. A needle pinched her insides, blocking her airway, and her chest refused movement, paralyzed as she collapsed into the floor. Blurry images saturated her sight until it hurt too much to see, and then her eyelids needed to shut, and she was no longer there really; only a lifeless, fourteen-year-old girl, lying on a sticky floor in a pool of her own blood.
But, Mary still awoke—although seemingly to nothingness. White curtains draped over a white window against a white wall, and white sheets matted over her small frame. She lifted her head from the pillow to examine the strange environment, curious of the afterlife she’d discovered. She couldn’t be sure which of the two this was; the emptiness horrified her, but the overwhelming use of white could not be a representation of the dark Hell she envisioned.
“God?” she tried, but his lack of appearance absorbed more doubt into her mind. She raised her voice. “Hello?”
She removed herself from the bed, unaware she was residing in one until she looked at it. No, this was not a place of angels or demons, though the latter was nearly as frightening as reality. Because hospital rooms suggest injury or sickness, and she felt neither.
The tears warmed her cheeks as they descended. In a frantic attempt to calm herself, she reached to pull at the white curtains, desperate to view the world she suddenly couldn’t remember. But the sunlight she sought couldn’t be sunlight. As it slid over her wailing face, her crying intensified to agonizing screams. She threw the curtains shut with one hand as the other moved to shield her burning face. Any sense of balance left her and her body fell backward as her fingers latched helplessly to the fabric of the curtain, but it only tore off with her as she tumbled to the carpet.
“Mary!” shouted an unfamiliar woman’s voice, and someone lugged her back onto the bed. She shrieked and clawed at the stranger, who fought hard to control her windmill of arms.
“Let me go!” she commanded, but the grip on her shoulders hardened. This, along with the scorching sensation slapping her face, demoted the girl to powerlessness. The sharp jab on her arm came next, and proving her weakness, she dizzied into unconsciousness.
The second time she saw the world, two familiar faces arrived with it—a curly-haired man with large eyebrows and a woman with hazel eyes that matched her own. Still, Mary withheld speech, afraid this sense of relief was merely temporary, and that she’d wake again to disappointment.
“Mary?” her father said, extending a cautious hand to her forehead, but then retreating it just as abruptly. “You’re freezing. How are you feeling?”
Mary answered him by moving her eyes to her mother.
“Baby, we’re so thankful you’re alive,” the woman said, sounding choked. “God was watching over you, just like we knew he would.”
Remaining silent, Mary narrowed her eyes and glanced toward the window. Before she could stretch toward the edge of the curtain, her mother placed a hand on her shoulder.
“The doctor said you should avoid sunlight for a few days. He thinks you might be, um, allergic.”
Mary fell back into her bed, staring into the anxious faces of her parents. She had no words to voice the amount of suspicion swirling around her head.
“Mary,” her father said again. “Can—can you say something? Tell us you’re okay at least? Do we need to get Dr. Garrett?”
She did not recognize the name, so she shook her head. Raising a hand, she pressed it to her cheeks, and felt the coldness her father had previously acknowledged. It was odd; she didn’t feel cold, or even weak—as if she were lying in the bed for no reason at all. But this was a hospital, and she was on medication. Neither pointed to the fact that she was healthy.
And that was when the dam broke, and the memory flooded through the blockade. Snatching the white sheets from her body, she gazed at her stomach. A few stitches were in the place where she’d last felt the pain, but nothing more. Her eyes bugged.
“Wasn’t I shot?” she said, louder than intended, and her parents perked at the sudden volume.
“Well, yes,” her mother replied, but sounding unsure of her words. “But don’t worry, they caught him. He won’t hurt you again.”
“How am I—”
“We don’t know, honey,” her mother interrupted. “It truly is a miracle from God that it missed any vital organs.”
Mary crinkled her nose. She could not explain it, but crediting God as the savior of her body felt wrong. And the more her mother referenced this idea, the more it sickened her. God shouldn’t have let someone shoot her in the first place.
“It hit my rib,” Mary argued, pointing toward her stomach. “I felt myself suffocating. I felt it shatter my ribs.”
Her parents exchanged glances. Mary sensed their unease and distrust with what she’d told them, and she gritted her teeth. Their only daughter had just been shot, and they were doubting her?
Her mother cleared her throat. “No, honey, the ambulance got there before any real damage could be—”
“I should be dead!” she screamed. “I was dying! I felt it!”
But her parents could not retaliate. The doctor—who she presumed to be Dr. Garrett—flew into the room to bombard her with questions. Mary was rendered speechless with the information he told her—that her body had reacted “phenomenally well” to the gunshot, and that after removing the bullet, her body didn’t need any more help. It puzzled the doctor and the entire hospital staff, but he told her to give the “big man upstairs” some extra thanks because she was lucky to be alive.
Of course, Mary thought, scowling. God “saved” me. He shot me for fun, and then he saved me.
“So if I’m completely fine, why am I still here? And why can’t I look outside?” she asked, and he raised his eyebrows.
“Your skin appears to have a burning reaction against sunlight, which could be caused by a drug called benzodiazepine, which is sometimes used to calm patients when they’re hard to control. Sometimes, a side effect is extra sensitivity to the sun.”
“Hard to control?”
“When they brought you here, you awoke and were extremely violent, and we had to find a way to calm you down.”
Mary stared at him, squinting her eyes in disbelief. A girl barely over a hundred pounds was anything but intimidating or powerful.
“Oh,” she said, focusing her gaze elsewhere in the room. “So how long is that gonna last?”
“We’re not entirely sure,” he said, tilting his head. “Usually it’s only temporary, but we have to run a few tests first to see if any permanent damage was done.”
The way he was smiling drove her mad. As if by simply upturning his lips, he was masking the horror behind what he’d said.
“You mean, I could be stuck inside forever?” she asked, not bothering to hide her disgust. “Because of something you did to me?”
“We cannot rush to conclusions just yet,” he said, his smile faltering.
Mary said nothing. A life without the sun could hardly be called a life at all.
The next few days dragged more like years. Trapped in a room of people she couldn’t name, she felt inhuman—like an animal subjected to tests, all with disappointing results. She spent most of the time staring at the rosary her mother had laid next to her bedside. She instructed Mary to pray every night as payment for God sparing her life, but Mary didn’t bother. Every person she’d met since she woke up was thriving with the miracle of religion, and there she was in the hospital bed, wishing to tear every bead from the rosary and toss it out of the window.
On the fifth day of more disappointments over her skin condition, Mary noticed a bunch of commotion bustling through her door. Two nurses were pushing a boy in a wheelchair toward the empty bed next to hers, and Mary made a face. The fragile boy being helped into the bed could not be more than thirteen.
“What’s wrong with him?” she asked one of the nurses, but the lack of hair upon the boy’s head sank in. “Oh, wait, sorry—”
She stopped as the boy looked at her, but it was not in the cold way she’d imagined. He smiled, but it was void of any kind of happiness.
“It’s okay,” he said to her. “What’s wrong with you?”
Guilt seeped into her.
“I’m newly allergic to the sun.” She wasn’t sure why she left out the gunshot part because that was the main reason she came here. Then again, the allergy was why she remained.
“That sucks,” he said and coughed. “So, what’s your name?”
“Mary,” she replied, and a real expression of amusement danced across his freckled face.
“Yes,” she stared at him as he began to chuckle. “Is that funny?”
“Depends on how you look at it. But I’m willing to believe God put me in here for a reason.” Mary scrunched her nose at him—Ugh, more religious talk—and he went on: “It’s good to meet you, Mary. I’m Joseph.”
She could have gagged at the cliché of it all, but instead, she opted to roll her eyes and turn over in her bed with a moan.
“I go by Joey, though,” he continued. “And I promise not to get you knocked up.”
Her eyes bugged at him, outraged.
“Joseph and Mary never had sex!” she yelled. “She was a virgin!”
“I know,” Joey said and looked at her, puzzled at the outburst. “It was a joke. I’m Catholic, too, you know.”
She would have questioned how he knew, but with the combination of her name, and the rosary lying next to her, it was no secret.
“Well, it was nice to meet you, Joseph,” she said, pausing in disgust at how strange it sounded, “but I’m going to take a nap.”
“Goodnight then,” he said, and she rolled her eyes again, pressing her eyelids together to force herself to sleep.
The next time they opened, the clock told her it was a little past midnight. It was an odd time for her to wake, as that meant she had slept nearly ten hours of the day. But the real worry was that she would have kept sleeping if her stomach hadn’t started hurting the way it did.
She was starving. Not in the usual sense, either. She’d helped herself to quite a bit of hospital food since her stay had begun, but this scent was so intoxicating it caused her stomach to literally quiver. Whatever it was, it was in the room with her, and there was no way it had been before.
Pulling the sheets off of her, she slipped out of bed. As she glanced toward Joey’s part of the room, she saw his chest rise and fall, and his lips curled into the slightest of content smiles.
Confusion swept over her. The room was black at this hour of night—but somehow, she could make out the shape of every freckle upon his face. Her pulse quickened. Every outline of the boy’s body was crystalline in her vision, but she couldn’t understand how this could be happening unless it was a new side effect of her medication.
He moved, and Mary shrunk backwards, terrified he would wake to see her gawking at him through the darkness. But he remained asleep, and her pulse relaxed until the scrumptious scent breezed by her nostrils.
A happy sigh escaped her lips, and she glanced around for the food—something sweet she assumed by its odor—and found nothing. Frustrated, she sniffed into the air, and it consumed her nose. It was there, somewhere around the boy, and panic set in. She was not about to steal from a cancer patient. Yet her mind was so wrapped up in the scent, she knew she would not sleep until her stomach was satisfied. So she tiptoed closer to him, and the smell grew stronger. It lured her into a frenzy of steps, and she nearly tripped at her sudden speed. Even standing a foot away from his bed, she saw nothing edible.
Joey stretched again, and she straightened, watching as he turned his head to expose his pale neck.
She felt ill. It wasn’t food she smelled. She smelled him.
It was the boy’s flesh calling to her. She told herself to back away, to leave the room—what was she thinking?—but her feet remained in place, and her mind shook with longing at the idea of tearing through skin to meet the embodiment of such a terrific aroma.
Her stomach lurched, not in disgust, but in urging for her to do it already—to work her teeth into him to taste what it so desired.
He’s probably going to die, anyway, a voice chided within her.
“But what about…God?” she forced herself to whisper, and her head began to spin with contorted images of bloodlust.
Why would God turn you into this? the voice continued. A real god wouldn’t let you feel this way.
Blinded through tears, she launched her face at his neck, and bit.
Joey shrieked, and her hand smacked over his mouth to muffle him. As soon as Mary’s teeth tore through his skin, and the rich flavor of his blood soaked into her tongue, her emotions flattened. Something animalistic awakened within her as she drained him. He struggled against her, but his already weak condition was no match for whatever she had become. In mere minutes she absorbed every drop of crimson he had to offer. Withdrawing from him, satisfied at last, she brushed her damp lips with a hand. For a moment she pawed at her chin before rubbing off the rest of the blood with the ends of her pale gown.
But then it registered—what she had done—and her mind broke out into frenzy. She stood there, watching his still body, her eyes fixated on his chest where it should be lifting to gain oxygen. It wasn’t. She’d killed him.
She gasped and stepped backward, nearly tripping against the curtain that separated their beds.
She’d killed a boy with cancer. Who had a family full of hope for his recovery. A recovery she didn’t give him a chance at having.
She should vomit. But the blood she’d sucked out of him—it felt so nice and warm resonating in her stomach, unwilling to leave its new home any time soon.
Crying again, Mary ran to the sink to splash her face with cold water. What were they going to do with her? How could she explain herself when she wasn’t even sure why this happened? Cannibalism? Was that a side effect of the medication, too? They’d probably say it was, but she knew the truth. She needed that boy’s blood more than she needed air.
Used syringes hung in a folded clasp alongside the wall. When Mary spotted them, she knew what needed to be done. Hell would come for her eventually.
The water from the sink had wet her hair, and the mixing of red and clear pigments created pink droplets penetrating the hospital room’s floor. They formed a trail as she approached the syringes. She didn’t care what disease the needles had come in contact with. She deserved all or anything that came with the sharp injection of a contaminated needle.
She pulled the first out of its clasped bag, shaking as she examined it. It would hurt, but it would still be less painful than the endless number of court cases after the discovery of Joseph’s bloodless body.
The sharp point of the needle was only centimeters away from breaking into her skin when she threw it against the wall and bolted to the door.
Careful to be soundless to avoid the gazes of the lingering nurses and doctors, she left the room on her tiptoes. Being a relatively small hospital, it only contained ten floors, so Mary found herself on the roof in no time at all. It was a wonder how she had gained such speed within her legs after being confined to a hospital room for so long.
The night air refreshed her. Welcomed her, really. It was a shame the daylight hurt her. Her last memory would be the city shrouded in darkness instead of the comforting shimmer of sunlight.
She allowed herself to cry seven more tears. She counted each one as they fell from the building, disintegrating into the obscured pavement below.
I’m sorry, God.
The ground met her body with a crunch. The pain echoed, and her breathing slowed as she spilled the blood she’d stolen. Her thievery was exposed, and maybe God would forgive her so that when she would go, she’d go up instead of down.
Instead she remained in between the two.
Her eyes flitted open.