Chapter Three: Haunted Shadow

“What do you mean: ‘no one’s left’?” Ana-Maria spat.

“I’m the last one, the last Normal,” Adam whispered.

“You’re lying.”

“When was the last time you saw a Normal?” Adam queried. “I haven’t seen one in over a year.”

“Maybe you haven’t seen one because you’re too busy hiding. Maybe you should get out more,” Ana-Maria mocked. She lay back against her plump pillow, sighed and examined the ceiling again.

“Are you still thirsty?”

Ana-Maria snapped her head toward Adam and shot malice from her irises. “I’m fine.”

Adam didn’t move but kept his watchful physician’s eye on his patient. Her breathing was steady and her hands no longer twitched. Her eyes darted across the ceiling, following ghosts and shadows. He could tell she was wandering in thought, down what roads and to what hidden cities, he could only guess.

“Aren’t you curious why you aren’t thirsty anymore?” Adam ventured.

“That tube stuck in my arm? The red bag?” she answered without looking at him.

“Do you know what it is?”

“It’s blood, right?” Ana-Maria propped herself up on her good arm and sneered at Adam. “You must think I’m pretty stupid, don’t you?”

“I don’t think you’re stupid,” Adam countered quickly.

“What then? An animal? A helpless little girl?”

“Neither; I’m just trying to figure out how your body is taking the transfusion.”

“You want to know if I’ll bite you again,” Ana-Maria corrected. Adam started to speak but the words caught in his throat like gnats on fly paper. He just sat there with his mouth open, numb and dumb.

“T-t-that’s not it,” he stammered, finally.

“Don’t lie to me. I can see it in your eyes. You’re terrified of me. Admit it!” Ana-Maria barked.

Adam balked. Ana-Maria kept going.

“I have more reason to be afraid of you than you do of me. I’ve spent my whole life hiding from people like you; from doctors and the military and the government and normal people. And now you tell me they’re all gone? I don’t believe you. You’re all liars and murderers and you all hate us.”

“I don’t hate you,” Adam offered softly.

Ana-Maria scoffed at him with a wicked chuckle and continued ranting.

“Maybe not but I’ll tell you one thing for sure. Humans didn’t kill my sister but they might as well have. Drinkers didn’t make the Disease, humans did. Humans cooked up this shit and set it loose on innocent people and then hated them for it. Scientists and doctors and politicians! As far as I care, you’re all the same and can all go to fucking hell!” Ana-Maria’s chest heaved as her lungs begged for more air. Her forehead dripped acrid sweat. She fell back on her pillow and tried to burn a hole in the ceiling with her eyes.

“You need to rest,” Adam practically begged. “You’re still very weak.”

“What do you care? I’m just a science project to you,” she sneered.

“It’s not like that, I want to help you, I swear. Aren’t you tired of always being sick? Having to drink blood to live?”

“Do you honestly think you can cure me? You’re a fool! There is no cure! They would have found it years ago and if they did, they hid it away and forgot all about it. Either way, you’re wasting your time, especially with me. I didn’t ask for your help,” Ana-Maria was overstraining herself. She was still lying on her back but her hands were trembling and her breaths were coming shorter and quicker. Her pillow was now soaked with sweat. Adam noticed this and tried to calm his patient.

“You’re getting too worked up, you need to relax,” Adam pleaded.

“Go to hell!” Ana-Maria screamed. “Let me out of here! I want out, I want to leave!” She sat straight up but suddenly her rage turned to nausea and the room folded up on itself. Her vision tunneled and twisted, her brain screamed, her lungs sealed and her stomach purged. She woke face-down in vomit. She couldn’t move.

“Get off me!” she cried weakly, thinking Adam must be holding her down. Then, she was weightless and hovering. She saw the puddle of red bile she had just been prostrate in slide out of her vision and her bed come back into view. Strong arms lowered her onto softness and gently rolled her onto her back. She found herself looking up into melancholy, broken eyes. The fear was gone; instead, defeated concern stared back at her.

Adam pulled the blankets back up to Ana-Maria’s waist and stood tall over her, gazing down. She glared back up at him, too weak to even raise her arm to push him away.

“I’m sorry this happened to you, all of it. Please believe that all I want to do is help you. I don’t hate you or your kind. Yes, I’m afraid of you, just like you’re afraid of me. I don’t want to be but I am. I’m sorry. Now please rest, you’re very weak.” With his words still hanging in the air, Adam turned and walked off toward his desk.

“Where are you going?” Ana-Maria croaked after him.

“I have work to do,” he called back over his shoulder.

“Wait, please…”

Adam halted.

“I’m sorry. Please don’t go,” Ana-Maria pleaded. Her voice was small and strained, she was afraid he hadn’t heard her. She was just about to repeat her plea when Adam turned and walked slowly back to his chair. He sat heavily, as if he were Atlas, allowed a ten minute break from holding up the world. Adam looked across a chasm of projected fear, his eyes brimming with the pain of wisdom.

“Do you even know why you have to drink blood to live?” He queried. Ana-Maria just tightened her jaw in silence. Adam continued.

“The Disease consumes your body’s own blood supply. It eats your body. That’s why your skin is sallow and transparent, why your bones are brittle and why your body can’t handle extremes in heat or cold. You’re a sick person who needs help whether you want to admit it or not.” Ana-Maria squinted at Adam skeptically.

“Haven’t you ever wondered why there are no old Drinkers?” he asked quietly. “It’s the Disease; it kills you. I saved you from those creatures but if I hadn’t, it wouldn’t have mattered. You’d still die young. I can say this with all certainty: even if you aren’t killed on the streets, you’ll be dead in five years.”

Ana-Maria glared down a broken doctor pleading with his patient to let him save her.

“Is that true?” she fumed.

“It is.”

But she already knew it was true. She’d felt the inevitability of that truth deep inside herself every day of her life. She hadn’t looked at her own reflection in years. Her face always frightened her; her sunken, blood-shot eyes staring back at her sagging cheeks, thin purple lips and yellow teeth. She never smiled; she looked demented when she smiled.

She always knew Death haunted her shadow, biding time, waiting for her body to shut down or for her to walk down the wrong alley. She could either keep running and hope to outlive Death or she could submit to the uncertainty of hope. The finality of it caught in her throat and she swallowed hard. Ana-Maria inwardly cursed her own weakness. She was out of options. All that was left for her to do now was give up. So she surrendered to hope.

“I want to live,” she admitted meekly. Tears welled up in her eyes but she blinked them back. Tears were for the weak and the weak died violent deaths. “I don’t want to die like this.”

Adam shuffled over and knelt beside the bed.

“I can’t promise it will work, but I promise I’ll do everything I can.” Adam stood and looked down on the invalid woman.  “But you need to rest first, get more strength before we can do anything.”

Ana-Maria nodded and set her jaw in resolution.

“I need to run some tests, you should try to sleep if you can,” Adam suggested and turned back toward his desk. Ana-Maria settled back into her bed and closed her eyes. Before she could get comfortable, Adam interrupted her.

“I just realized that you know my name but I don’t know yours,” he stated. Ana-Maria opened her eyes and looked at Adam.

“It’s Ana-Maria but my sister always called me A.M.” she informed.

“Ana-Maria.” Adam savored the sound like wine, letting it roll over his tongue and linger on his auditory palate. “What was your sister’s name?” Adam asked.

“Marchesca.”

“You both have beautiful names,” Adam replied.

“I hate mine,” Ana-Maria admitted.

“Why?” Adam asked confused.

“It’s boring. Marchesca is so much prettier.”

Adam shook his head from across the room.

“I don’t think you’re name is boring at all,” Adam confessed. “I think it’s very beautiful.”

Ana-Maria dismissed his compliment with a grunt and rolled over into fitful sleep.

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