Ivan woke up in the darkness, his tall, slender body weak.
He dressed in the dark in his accustomed clothes, all black, which did nothing for his pallor.
He trod up the stairs from his basement flop, feeling the trembling of limbs. He had waited almost too long.
Once on the dark streets, he wandered, looking for someone receptive to his need. The couple walking drunkenly arm-in-arm, probably not, as they were too involved in their own world to share his. The streetwalker, perhaps – but she stood in the halo of a streetlamp, speaking to a John, already occupied.
Ivan stumbled now, desperate for someone to share time with. And sustenance.
In another basement, this time the basement of a brick and concrete building, a light shone, signaling the presence of humans. He could imagine them there, meeting, radiating the warmth he lacked.
Perhaps he could ask one of the people out for dinner, one-on-one.
Ivan stumbled gracelessly into a white-walled church basement, which he figured out from the dusty cross that hung upon one wall. He turned away and made to leave when a raspy voice said, “No, please come in. We’re about to start.”
“Start?” Ivan asked, hearing the rust in his own voice.
“Sure. My name is Allan,” the wild-haired man said. “This is an NA meeting. You’re welcome to join us, as long as you follow the ground rules …” Allan narrated a variety of rules, emphasizing that no one would speak a word of the meeting outside of the meeting. Ivan approved of this; he had enough to hide from the world.
“Hi, my name is Eric,” a young man with pale, haunted eyes said. Perhaps he would like to dine with me afterward, Ivan thought.
The greetings circulated until reaching Ivan, who shared his name, a name he seldom uttered, to the group. “Hi, Ivan,” they all said.
The group spoke once at a time, and Ivan noticed a theme: addiction. People he could have dinner with.
“What about you?” Allan asked, cutting through Ivan’s reverie. “You don’t have to talk, you know – but if you want to?”
“You don’t want to know me,” Ivan said, sudden revulsion for his existence filling him, driving away the hunger as the spotlight burned him. “I’ve done bad things.”
“We’ve all done bad things,” a big man named Tex, who nervously chewed on his mustache, injected. “It’s part of addiction. We’ve all done bad things to feed our addiction.”
“I’ve sold myself to women and men,” Eric added. “Just to get another fix.”
Vulnerable, Ivan thought again, then realized he spoke about himself. He desperately grasped for his predatory nature and failed. “I drink blood. Without it, I’d die.” He waited for the stake, the holy water (which shouldn’t be hard to find in that place), the predator’s death at the hands of the village.
“That seems like a helluva problem,” Tex enounced. “Makes it hard to really get to know people, doesn’t it?”
Ivan laughed, a broken sound. “Don’t you understand? I live off people’s blood.”
“We’ve leeched off people too,” May noted, her hands describing invisible sins. “We’ve conned money from our parents. We’ve stolen at work. We’ve lied and cheated each other. We’re learning to make amends – “
“I’m a vampire!” Ivan shouted, an action that made him dizzy.
“Step one,” Allan intoned. “’We admitted we were powerless over substances — that our lives had become unmanageable.’ I think there’s a reason you’re here, brother.”
“But I can’t quit drinking blood. It’s my food. It’s not like shooting up, for God’s sake.” Ivan shook, like a junkie, he noted.
“Have you ever tried to get past how crappy you feel when you’re not shooting – er, biting?” another man, whose name may have been Gary, asked.
“No,” Ivan gritted his teeth against the lassitude that poured into his bones. “I’m pretty sure I’d die.”
“What if we found a substitute?” May asked.
“Like what?” Ivan snapped.
“Meth?” someone said. “It probably wouldn’t affect a vampire – “
“Wait a minute, though,” Allan mused. “Would this drug even need to be illegal as long as we recognized it as a drug? I know a stimulant, not as strong as crystal, sure, but a stimulant nonetheless …” Allan walked over to a coffeepot and poured into a styrofoam cup, then walked it over to Ivan. “Drink up – it’s pretty awful stuff, though.”
Ivan took a drink and felt it course through his phantom veins, lighting up the sluggishness of his brain. “May I have more?” he asked as he drained the cup. Allan slapped him on the back.
Ivan realized he could not bear his weakness alone, but he didn’t need to anymore.
Lauren Leach-Steffens short story Flourish received runner-up in Cook Publishing’s Spring 2019 short story contest, and their flash essay Becky Home-Ecky was published in the A3 Review’s October 2019 issue. Visit their website and follow them on Twitter @lleachsteffens.