I was surprised to see him in the daylight. I had thought all of his kind feared the sun, that they were all creatures of the night exclusively. But I was mistaken, for here he was in front of me.
Perhaps he and his kind had fabricated the notion to fool the curious like myself, to give us mere mortals an illusion of safety during the daytime. Or perhaps only the more powerful ones like himself were immune to the rays of the sun. I wanted to ask him, but something about his demeanor told me I would get no answer.
He sat across the table from me, a flickering candle between us highlighting his delicate cheekbones and haughty mouth. His lips were red, red as blood, red as especially red blood.
At first, he resembled a man, though even then there was something that set him apart from mere human beings. He was slim and powerful, with a catlike, inhuman grace that he obviously was making great pains to conceal by stubbing his toe on the table leg as he sat down. We had the usual greetings. His name, he said was Ralph. It was a name of mystery, strangely familiar yet hauntingly exotic. I introduced myself, and there was a long silence, a silence that fools would take for an awkward pause but that in truth signaled mysterious portent.
He spoke to me.
"I started donating blood back in 1974," he said, using his rich, full mouth, "when the bloodmobile came to my high school. I was kind of squeamish at first, but I wanted to help people."
I was intrigued.
"So," I asked, "the thought of blood at first repulsed you? Like mortal men, you were frightened? You were not at yet one of the unholy circle? Go on, please, do go on."
"Like I said," he said, "I thought I was going to me sick. Nerves, I guess. But half the guys were like that. Scared they were going to puke or faint or something and be totally embarrassed, but not wanting to look chicken. You know how it is."
But I didn't know. How could I know? His experiences were as far removed from mine as my own life was from that of an insect. He was like a god, and I was like a worm to him. He threw back his black, curly mane and continued.
"The girls had it easy. They could always change their mind at the last minute -- being girls and all -- and nobody would hardly even tease them much. But if you were a guy and you chickened out, you'd never hear the end of it. Nope, I wasn't going to do that. Not me."
So it was true! At one time, many ages ago, he was like myself, a mere mortal, shrinking in the face of the dark covenant. Gods, how he must be laughing on the inside, looking at me, reading my very thoughts as simply as he might read a page.
"Were you gonna say something?" he asked. "You looked like you were going to say something."
He was mocking me, I could tell. Mocking me and my mere mortality. This was dangerous. He was obviously displaying great patience with me. I could not tell how long this would last. I had to ask a question. "What was it like, giving blood?" I asked. I tried to conceal my throbbing, pulsating curiosity. But I knew that nothing was hidden from him.
"Well," he answered, "the nervousness was the worse part, really. They ask you a few questions, then you lie down and they tie off your arm, then they stick you."
I was not prepared for this answer. I had no idea of the elaborate rituals and tests this secret society had before they let a mere mortal join their coven. I thought they selected any appealing human to make their own, but I could see that they had their own rules, their own customs. What a fascinating, horrifying shadow society they must live in, mirroring and mocking our own.
"Then," he continued, "you lie down for awhile, occasionally squeezing a rubber ball, till you've filled up the little bag."
Dear God! What madness! What ecstasy! Lying there, neither alive nor dead, as your very life essence is drained away, squeezing and squeezing a red, pulsating orb as your former life, everything you knew and believed in, slipped away, replaced by a frightening awareness, a terrifying, inhuman desire.
"Then," he said, and I could tell he was salivating a little, "they give you a cookie."
I tried not to imagine what it was like, but the sensation came unbidden. To sink one's sharp, ivory teeth into the crunchy, chewy delight, grinding the sweetness between powerful jaws, dissolving the sugar into a rich, delicious mortar, and then swallowing, swallowing, until there was nothing left but a crumb stuck in a molar. What delights he must have sampled! Oatmeal raisin, sugar crisp, peanut butter, chocolate chip. Perhaps cookies for which mere mortals had no name. I was aroused and repulsed at the same time, but I had to continue.
"Was that the only time?" I asked, realizing even then the foolishness of the question "How many times have you given blood?"
"Lots," he said, clearly toying with me, "I kinda lost count, but I've been giving blood every couple months since `76, so I think I'm up to, say, 12 gallons or so. Still quite a ways from the 20-gallon mark, where they give you a plaque or something. But I'm not really looking for a plaque. I just like to help people."
I thought him incredibly ancient and powerful, but I had no idea he was this powerful, this ancient. Truly he must be of high rank within his circle, if they have any need for such things. He turned his piercing stare from me for a moment then glanced at his powerful wrist, tilted precisely to give him the most perfect view of the face of his wristwatch. Surely this display was intended for me. After all, what need would such an ancient and immortal creature have for mere human time? The measurement must be to him as useless as a centimeter is to me.
"Are we almost done?" he said, feigning discomfort. Perhaps the light of the sun did bother him after all. Or perhaps he was preparing to donate again. My God! Dear angels in Heaven! Save me! What kind of fool I was, to think this monster would tell me his secrets and let me live!
"I'm gonna go get a soda," he said, licking his lustrous lips with a flick of his supple tongue. "You want one?"
"No thanks," I said, hoping not to insult him. Was this a test? Did I just fail? Would he kill me for my insouciance?
"Suit yourself," he said, and went to the door.
When he was gone from the room, I counted to ten, then crept to the window of that place of doom. I opened it slowly, carefully, dreading any possible creak that might give away my intentions. What use was this, trying to escape from one with such keen senses? He must have heard my mere intention to go out the window. Still, in vain hope, I continued.
At last, I was able to open it enough to creep through. I hit the ground running, and did not stop until I reached the safety of a church's sanctuary. My heart was beating like some hellish hammer, my breath panting like an exhausted hound. I could not believe my foolishness, and my good luck. I had met a blood donor, and lived.
You, dear reader, may not believe this tale. Perhaps to you, blood donors exist only in books to scare small children and give adults chilling pause on a stormy night. But I tell you this: They exist. They exist all right. In defiance of all this is good and pure they exist. And they are donating.
Watch the skies!
Editor's note: Shortly after bringing in this story, Mr. Harkness was found dead in a high school gymnasium. His veins were full of blood.
© 1994 Randel Shard
Published in a different form in The Onion in 1994.