(The following short horror piece originally appeared, many moons ago, in the first issue of Yellow Mama web magazine.)
It was a surprise to see a nurse so late in the evening.
Theyíd turned the strip lights off an hour before, leaving tinted lamps to illuminate the ward a sickly shade of green. The staff had been ignoring me since my operation that morning, leaving me with gloomy thoughts and a pile of ancient National Geographicís. It wasnít as if they were that busy; I had the small ward to myself. My first inclination when I saw him was to say something suitably scathing. But he got there first, and what he said was just as surprising as his belated visit.
"You writers, youíre so fanciful."
He was small, middle-aged, bespectacled and with a straggly, greying comb-over. He was gazing half at my chart and half at me.
"Thatís quite a nasty break youíve got for yourself. What was the last one called? Nightís something?"
"Nightís Sestina," I replied, in the neutral tone that I employ when Iím not sure whether people actually like my work or not.
"Yes. Not very realistic, if you donít mind my saying."
I laughed, a little awkwardly. I felt impatient more than anything else. The painkillers stopped my leg hurting, but they didnít make the ache go away, and the ache was driving me crazy.
"It was fiction," I pointed out, perhaps a little brusquely. "Fiction about an imaginary subject. I never thought realism was much of an issue."
"No? I would have thought verisimilitude is always an issue." He stared at my cast distractedly. "It must get to a point, I suppose, where people donít know what to believe from you, when you have such an innately dishonest profession."
I thought about saying, 'one thing thatís definitely true about my profession is that you canít avoid the nuts. Youíre not my first, and you wonít be my last. You nod and smile at them, you try to by polite, and eventually they always get bored and go away'.
Instead I nodded and smiled and, trying to be polite, said, "Yeah, if I tell my wife itís a sunny day she automatically assumes itís raining."
He bent over and began to roll the leg of my pyjama bottoms, up past the top of the cast. I thought about yelling out, but I didnít. To be fair to him, he had a very good bedside manner. For all that heíd just insulted me, I felt completely safe in his hands.
"I suppose I canít blame you for writing trash when people are willing to read it," he went on conversationally, "but what bothers me - us, I should say - is the idea that we all live in graveyards, that we stalk around at night like hungry dogs. Itís this suggestion that we canít hold down a proper job!"
When he opened his mouth wide I could see that he had unusually long, sharp incisors; not what youíd call fangs exactly, just very long, sharp teeth.
"Now, isnít it more likely that weíd choose a profession where victims, as you would call them, were readily available, and not about to argue or resist? A job where we could go home at the end of the night with money in our pockets, perhaps to a comfortable bed in a nice, well-curtained apartment? Donít you think thatís a little more - well - realistic?"
Strangely, it didnít hurt when he bit into my thigh. Whether it was the painkillers or something he did I donít know. I certainly felt it, I felt the blood being sucked out, but it was more like being nipped by a playful terrier that anything else.
Still, when he looked up, there was a fair bit of my blood smeared over his lips. He licked it away and carried on talking just as calmly as before: "We donít harm anybody, not really. A little here, a little there, people in comas, or on sleeping pills, or tranquillisers. Normally we try to keep it a secret, as you can imagine, but I really was quite upset by your last book you know. I just couldnít resist this opportunity to have a little talk with you, to set the record straight, so to speak. And as I said, nobody would believe you, would they?"
He took out a hand mirror, checked himself, wiped a last smear of red away with a handkerchief. Watching him, my mind cast back to those old Christopher Lee flicks, and I wondered vaguely what he'd seen in that small pane of glass; his own reflection, or just a red smudge hovering in thin air? I didn't feel the need to ask, though, or to say anything at all. Looking back there are quite a few things that Iíd like to have said, so perhaps it was some kind of hypnosis, autosuggestion, something like that ... thereís nothing so odd about it, you can learn it in books. Then again, I was fairly taken aback by the whole thing. Itís not what you expect when you pay the extra for private care.
Looking at him then, however, he was just a middle-aged nurse again, harmless as anything. He said, "weíll send you home in a couple of days, and if you keep off the leg then we should be able to remove the cast in three weeks or so. I hope youíll be more careful in future. As for the other thing ... it might sting a bit in the morning, but donít worry yourself about it becoming infected. Weíre very hygiene conscious. Now, you should try and get some sleep."
And he wandered off, whistling tunelessly to himself.
So anyway, he was right, of course. Writers are fanciful, in our own way weíre a pack of liars, and nobody ever believes a damn thing we say. Not much point telling the police: 'officer, a nurse drank my blood', I donít imagine it would have gone down too well.
But, one other thing about my profession of choice that he neglected to mention is this: A story is a story, true or not, and only the biggest fool would pass up on free material.