I still remember walking through the park near where I worked. I loved looking at all the towering evergreen trees and the much shorter flowering bushes. The smell of cedar all around me was intoxicating. I couldn't remember it being so strong before. There was another scent, though. An unfamiliar one. Maybe the gardeners had planted something new and unusual. I shrugged and continued on my way.
Walking past the pond, something struck me from behind. I hadn't heard any footsteps or the sound of bicycle wheels or rollerblades. One minute it was fairly quiet, the next minute I was sprawled face-first on the ground and someone or something was groping at me. No, not groping. They were hauling me toward some bushes. I was going to die. Why else would they try to hide my body from view?
Once we reached the bushes, I could hear heavy breathing and hot breath. I felt something sharp press into my lower neck. A knife? No, a knife didn't feel like a needle or pin. Lying there, I could only hope that my assailant wouldn't steal my wallet while I was unable to defend myself.
Moments later, something leapt over me, landing several feet away from my head. I saw a worn pair of basketball shoes and above that a pair of seriously muscular and hairy legs. I felt almost feminine in comparison with my considerably less hairy legs and a slender physique I wouldn't dare called muscular. Like the difference between a grizzly bear and a cougar.
For a moment, I thought I'd been attacked by a dog wearing a pair of shoes. But that sounded ridiculous. Dogs don't wear shoes. And most dogs aren't as heavy as this person or thing was.
As I lost consciousness, I vaguely saw whatever or whoever half-run, half-bound toward the nearest tree and rapidly climb up its trunk. They disappeared from view seconds later.
When I came to, I was lying half-hidden in a row of bushes about a hundred feet from the pond. It was daylight and the sunlight was brighter and harsher than before. I shaded my eyes with my left arm. I'm normally pale-skinned, but the sun had rarely threatened anything worse than a sunburn. Checking myself, I didn't see any sunburned skin. Then why did the sunlight hurt so much?
Someone spotted me and hurried over. “Hey! You okay? You hurt?”
I tried to look at them, saw a shadowy figure crouching there with the sun behind them. Shaking my head, I said, “I think I'm okay. My neck is a little sore, though.”
“Maybe you should go to the hospital and see a doctor,” the unknown person said. “I know a really good doctor at the hospital.”
“Is she beautiful?” I asked stupidly.
“Wait until you see her,” they said. “Her name is Dr. Mirabella Medici. She's originally from northern Italy.” A pause. “I'm dialing the hospital right now,” they said.
“See if they have anything for sun allergies,” I said.
“They probably do,” they said. “I doubt that's what you have, though.”
“Maybe the doctor should decide about that,” I suggested.
“Good idea,” they said. “The ambulance is on its way.”
While we waited, I was puzzled to find that I was hungry. Very hungry. And not for food. I kept looking at my rescuer. They didn't meet my eyes, though.
What felt like several minutes later, I heard the sound of approaching sirens. Ambulance, not police car or fire truck. I didn't struggle as I was put on a stretcher by paramedics and slid into the back of the ambulance. They were trying to help, after all. The rear doors closed, and the ambulance sped away, sirens wailing.
At the hospital, I was immediately put on a gurney and taken to the emergency room. A male nurse came over and the paramedic explained what had happened. Including my complaint about a sun allergy.
“It's odd that it would suddenly start affecting you if it never did before,” the nurse said. “When did it begin?”
“When I regained consciousness this morning,” I said. “I think I was mugged at the park late last night, only they didn't take my wallet.”
“Anything else?” the nurse asked.
“Whoever or whatever mugged me also bit my neck,” I said. “It's still a little sore. Do you want to see where it happened?”
“No need,” the nurse said, which surprised me. “We have a doctor here who handles unusual cases like yours. She's the best and knows exactly what to look for.”
“Is she beautiful?” I asked.
The nurse nodded. “You've heard of Dr. Medici?”
“Indirectly,” I replied. “The person who discovered me this morning told me about her.”
“You won't believe your eyes when you see her,” the nurse said. “She must've been very popular in medical school in Bologna, Italy, but she didn't let it go to her head. She graduated in the top 3% of her class.”
“Smart lady,” I said.
“Very smart,” the nurse corrected me. “Let's get your information sheet filled out and find you a room while we let Dr. Medici know that she has a new patient. We don't have many available rooms these days because of the COVID pandemic, but maybe you'll get lucky.”
“I hope so,” I said.
“All right,” the nurse said. “Full name?”
“Manuel Tomás Bartolomeo Roberto Enrico Gonzalez,” I replied.
“That's quite a mouthful,” the nurse said.
“It is indeed,” I said, trying not to stare at him.
Why did he have to mention anything to do with eating? Maybe he hadn't meant to. I closed my eyes and tried to remain calm. Just one little bite – oh, shut up!
The nurse noted the rest of my contact information then went to the nurse's station, leaving me on the gurney, wishing that there weren't so many people in the emergency room. Too many to choose from.
My hospital room was on the fourth floor. Someone had thoughtfully pulled down the shades and angled the slats so that they blocked the incoming sunlight. I wish that they'd chosen a hospital room that was on the north or east side. But maybe those were already occupied by COVID patients.
A nurse – female this time – entered, carrying a tray of food and drink. “This should help your hunger pangs,” she said. “There's even some tomato juice.”
I looked at her. “You don't think I need anything more substantial?”
“You'll have to discuss that with your doctor,” the nurse replied. “I'll be back in half an hour to take your tray back to the kitchen. Enjoy.” She turned and left the room.
She smelled nice. Even nicer than my rescuer had. Was it the perfume or just maybe soap and water?
I wouldn't have minded sinking my teeth into –, I thought, but forced myself to eat and drink what was on the tray. The tomato juice didn't taste like tomatoes, though. It had a sort of salt-and-rust flavor to it. Maybe the tomatoes were an unusual variety, not the kind you can grow in your back garden or get at the grocery store. Probably imported from another country. It did satisfy my hunger pangs, though.
The nurse duly returned, approved of the empty plates and glass. “The doctor will be here in a minute or two,” she said and left with the tray.
What had gotten into me? I wasn't just thinking of kissing her. I was thinking of biting her. And not in the usual places.
Come on, Mannie, I told myself. Control yourself. You're a mature human being. Start acting like one. Not like some wild animal.
Despite the serious expression on her face, I couldn't keep my eyes off of Dr. Medici when she entered my hospital room. She wasn't just pretty; she was gorgeous. In fact, she looked more like a movie star or supermodel than a doctor when she calmly picked up the folder hanging from the end of my bed. She read the contents, nodding every so often, then put the folder back on its little hook.
“Good morning, Mr. Gonzalez,” she said pleasantly. I could still hear her Italian accent. Almost musical at times. She could've been speaking gibberish and I would've happily listened to her. “I'm Dr. Medici.”
“Interesting last name,” I said.
“Family name,” she said. “I'm descended from the Medici family. From Lorenzo the Magnificent, in fact.” She smiled and shook her head. “He always did have such an overinflated opinion of himself.”
“What made you immigrate to America?” I wondered.
“I wanted to practice medicine; the family wanted me to go into politics or finance,” Dr. Medici said. “The only way to get out of that poisonous atmosphere was to completely leave Italy behind and go elsewhere. I do miss the old country sometimes, though.” She sighed wistfully.
“Have you ever gone back?” I asked.
She shook her head. “Some things have improved in my absence, some are just as bad as before. I'd rather be here instead. Now, then. No more questions for a few moments.” She sat down next to my hospital bed and leaned in close to me.
I pulled back a little, uncertain what she needed to do.
“No, I'm not going to kiss you,” Dr. Medici said.
“How disappointing,” I said dryly.
She briefly smiled. “Just relax. I want to check for something.”
“Will it hurt?” I asked.
Dr. Medici shook her head.
I relaxed as best I could. As I did so, she pulled my collar away from my neck. She aimed the beam from a pen-light at my lower neck, a few inches above my collarbone.
“That's very interesting,” Dr. Medici said when she'd finished with her inspection.
I felt frustrated. I'd expected her to understand but she was treating it like she'd seen this sort of thing enough times to get jaded about it. Wouldn't anyone take my condition seriously?
“I wish that someone would believe me,” I said. “I have a sun allergy. Honest and truly.”
“Of course you do,” Dr. Medici agreed.
“You're just humoring me,” I said.
She shook her head. “There are two bite marks near your carotid artery. The skin hasn't healed yet so they're still visible.”
“What does it mean, though?” I asked.
“It means that you've been bitten by a vampire,” Dr. Medici said. “You're going through the transition phase. One of the side effects is an aversion to direct sunlight. Nothing to worry about.”
“But vampires don't exist,” I said.
She stood up, went over to the bedside table, and picked up something flat and metallic. When she came back to me, she held a mirror in front of me. “See anything?”
“The bed I'm lying in,” I said, “and the wall behind it.”
“Is anything missing?” Dr. Medici asked. “Anything important?”
“Oh,” I said when the truth finally hit me. “I'm missing.”
“That's right,” she said. “Now tell me, when did you first notice a change in your appetite?”
“This morning,” I said, handing the mirror back to her. “After a visit to a city park. I got mugged and woke up with a sore neck. I thought maybe the mugger had tried to strangle me. I checked my pockets but my wallet was still in my front right pants pocket.”
“And there was a full moon last night,” Dr. Medici said.
“Normally that shouldn't matter,” she explained. “From what I've read in the medical literature, you can be bitten at any time and if you don't die first, you have a very good chance of turning into a vampire. But in your case, it was during a full moon. A rare conjunction of two events.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“It means that you're a half-breed,” Dr. Medici said. “Half-vampire, half-werewolf. When you're a vampire, you can't bear to be out in the sunlight. When you're a werewolf, sunlight doesn't affect you.”
I looked down at my hands, where they lay in my lap. “So – most of the time I'm a vampire, but every night of the full moon, I'll turn into a werewolf.”
“Correct,” she said.
I looked back at her. “And you're not afraid of me? I thought you'd be trying to get as far away from me as possible. Unless you're suicidal, of course.”
Dr. Medici leaned toward me and pulled the collar of her white jacket aside. “See anything?”
“Two bite marks,” I said. “Like the ones you said that I have.”
She straightened and nodded. “That's why I'm not afraid. I'm just like you.”
“That's how you know about what I've been through,” I said.
“Correct,” Dr. Medici said. “If you're willing to learn, there's quite a bit that you'll have to learn. Unless you want to go it alone.”
I shook my head. “No thanks.”
“Then, my apprentice, we're going to be spending some time together,” she said. “Usually out in the woods, usually at night. Teaching you how to handle your condition in both your shapes. A little self-control can keep you from sticking out like a sore thumb. You wouldn't want to be overly suspicious, after all. You know. Leaving bodies drained of blood everywhere you go. I have several centuries of experience that you could benefit from. Any other questions?”
“No, mistress,” I said.
“Good,” Dr. Medici said. “We begin tonight at midnight. Meet me in the middle of the woods near here.”
“I'm still a patient, though,” I said. “I won't be able to meet you there.”
“I'll sign you out so that you can leave,” Dr. Medici said.
“One more thing: is there a cure for what we have?” I asked.
She shook her head. “But I think you'll enjoy the learning process. I had a very good teacher when it was my time to transition. They made sure that I knew everything I needed to know. Of course, it was much more dangerous back then. Not just feuding families, but feuding cities. Because of the hunters, we couldn't just meet at night; we had to meet in abandoned buildings and in the sewers. Necessary, but rather unpleasant.”
“I'll try to be a very good student, then,” I said.
“I think you'll do just fine,” Dr, Medici said. “See you tonight, Mr. Gonzalez. Oh, and you'll love the warm-up exercises.” She gave me the ghost of a grin and a wink, then left my hospital room.
At least I didn't need any medication for my sun allergy … except for regular doses of Types A, B, AB, and O, of course.