It’s an unholy place, the school bathroom. There are sounds and smells best described as unnatural. The fluorescent light shines moon bright and casts my skin porcelain white. I seem to blend in with the wall tiles, hand basins and cubicle doors.
The water from the tap is warm and I splash my face to try and freshen up. It's been a strange few weeks. My classmates seem to be laughing at me more than usual and I can’t get a handle on why.
The sound of tissue paper being pulled from a dispenser emanates from a cubicle behind me followed by the waterfall of a flush. Jack emerges and stands beside me. He’s a friend, of sorts, I do his science homework, so he tolerates me more than others.
“What's up, Vamps,” he says. He squirts soap from the soap dispenser into his palm.
“Why does everyone keep calling me that?” I say.
He lathers his hands with the soap and rinses them under the tap. “There’s a rumour going round that you’re a vampire.”
“Why does your skin blister in the sun then?” Jack grabs a hand tissue and carefully dries his hands and fingers.
“It’s called solar urticaria. Obviously.”
“Whatever,” he says and throws the wet, crumpled up tissue at my face. “See you later, Vamps.” Then he’s gone.
I shake my head and sigh. Vamps. There are worse nicknames I suppose. I can embrace that one.
The bell goes for History class. Damn. I’m going to be late. And everyone is going to see me being scolded by the teacher.
I walk home after school. It's not far. Just ten minutes up and down a hill and over an intersection with a pedestrian crossing.
The sun is shining and different things are enjoying its warmth. Vivacious green leaves with chlorophyll transforming light into life-sustaining energy. Cats stretching and sleeping on porches in their favourite sunny spots. A child’s train bed sheet drying on a clothesline.
I’m at odds with the natural world. For me, the sun’s rays cause nothing but painful welts. Even for such a short walk home, I have to cover my entire skin with clothing. Trousers are tucked into socks, and long-sleeved shirts are tucked into long feminine gloves. A balaclava covers the head and neck and dark sunglasses protect the skin around my eyes. I sweat profusely. In colder weather, mist steams from my back. No wonder my schoolmates think I’m a freak.
And it's not just my school mates. The lady at number 62 does too. She makes the sign of the cross whenever she sees me. And quickly shuts her door. Maybe she thinks I’m a vampire as well. Like what Jack said today. The rumour that I’m a vampire. It’s crazy talk.
Could it be true? Like, for real? I’d know, wouldn’t I? I’d remember being bitten and the transformation. No way you’d forget that.
Perhaps there are things about me that fit the rumour. Enjoying blue steak. A strong dislike of garlic. My pointy canine teeth. But these are mere coincidences, for sure. I laugh out loud to myself given these ridiculous musings and realise my laugh sounds quite evil.
I’m home now. The sweating has made me thirsty. I open a carton of blood orange juice from the fridge and drain its contents dry. I run upstairs, strip off to my underwear, and lie on the bed to cool down.
It’s not much later that my parents get home and, unusually for them, they aren’t arguing.
“Edward,” my Dad calls up the stairs, “can you come to the living room? We need to talk.”
What’s got into them? They never want to talk with me like this. Usually, they’re just telling me what I can and can’t do. I throw on a shirt and some shorts and lurch downstairs.
The living room has three huge windows, each coated with a photoprotective film that blocks the UV light that scorches my skin. Mum and Dad sit on the white couch and I take a chair by the windows. They’re holding hands. Their faces are solemn.
“Ed,” Mum says, “we know you’ve been having a tough time at school.” She stops, mid-sentence. Her face reddens and she grips Dad’s hand a little harder.
Dad takes the cue. “We’ve been putting off telling you this because we’ve been worried how you’ll take it.”
“First, just know that your mother and I love you very, very much and nothing will ever change that.”
“What is it?”
Dad leans towards me. “Son, we adopted you when you were just a few months old.”
“We were holidaying in Romania at the time and saw you at an orphanage and arranged an emergency visa and were able to get you home with us.”
“Yes, Romania, in the Transylvania region at the time, isn’t that right dear?”
My Mum, or the person I thought was my Mum, nods mutely and stares at the ground.
“So, who are my real parents?”
“Your biological mother died after giving birth, exsanguinated.”
“And my father?”
“He died in a tragic wooden steak accident.”
I am silent for a moment. My Dad starts to clean his glasses. My Mum just stares at the floor some more. “That’s great guys.” I stand and walk out and say over my shoulder, “Call me when dinner’s ready.”
I walk as normally as I can to my room, but once there, sink my head into the pillow and, I’m not sure why, start to cry.
Later that evening, after a muted dinner where no one spoke much, which wasn’t that different to usual, I sit on my bed and ruminate. My parents watch TV downstairs.
Opposite my bed is a small television where I play video games. In the opposite corner is Pikachu, a hamster whose whole life involves eating, sleeping and running on a wheel and never getting anywhere. Kind of reminds me of my father. A door to door salesman who can spend all day outside and never get burnt. He usually comes into my room and jokes that it's been turned upside down by a robber looking for cash. Of course, it's just that I use the floor as my wardrobe.
Why did they not tell me when I was younger that I was adopted? If they mentioned it when I was like two, then it would have just been a fact of life and no big deal. But to wait until I was fifteen to tell me? My entire life has been a lie.
I throw an empty cup from the bedside table against the wall opposite and, instead of smashing, it just bounces off the wall and falls to the floor. If I were a vampire that wouldn’t happen. It would have smashed into a thousand pieces and taken out half the wall. If I were a vampire I wouldn’t care about being adopted. If I were a vampire I wouldn’t care about whether I had friends. I would just take what I wanted, did what I wanted. I wish I was a vampire. I want to be a vampire.
My eyes turn to Pikachu, our pet hamster. He’s scratching around in his cage and doesn’t know the bloodlust that is building. There’s arteries just inside his neck. If I bite hard and taste his blood, I’ll know once and for all that I’m a vampire.
I grab him and ease him out of the cage. I hold his head in one hand and body in the other. I bite.
Several things happen at the same time. The first is that Pikachu bites me back, hard, on my hand, and it hurts like hell. The second is, I get a mouth full of fur, which tastes disgusting, and a bit of blood, which tastes even worse. I fling the door open and run to the bathroom. Pikachu scurries downstairs. I’m at the sink flushing my mouth out with water. My hand stings.
There’s a shriek from downstairs. My mum shouts, “It’s bleeding on the couch!”
I grab a plaster from the cupboard for my hand and run back to my room. I’m panting hard and sit with my back against the door and catch my breath.
I don’t know how I’ll explain to my parents why I bit the hamster. I’ll try and put it down to the shock of what they told me. The bite was just my way of processing it. Hopefully, Pikachu is okay. It was nothing personal.
At least I now know that I’m not a vampire. Even if I was, I certainly don’t have the stomach for it. Perhaps I’ll just adopt the goth look for now.
I glance out the window and can’t help but see a bat, which seems to shake its head disapprovingly, drop from a tree and fly away.