This home visit was all about the blood. A life was at stake. There’s always some fear associated with going to a new address for the first time, especially in the dark. As I parked near the driveway I could tell I’d need to stay on my toes tonight.
The old house was on the edge of town, in that blurry change-over zone between street lights and total darkness. I spent a minute just looking over the property. The house was a weather beaten timber building. Grey paint curled at the corners, and flaked along the window sills as if it couldn’t wait to leave. The front of the house had a porch with the front corner drooping. This was held in place by a hefty branch, leaves attached, taken from an overhanging eucalypt.
Apart from an indication from the faint yellowish glow behind a torn net curtain in the front room, it was impossible to judge the size of the house. The roof-line blended into the dark purple sky that that was poked by exceptionally bright stars.
On this night, with clouds pregnant with rain, it seemed the moon had been captured and enslaved for the purpose of lighting just this one room. I scrabbled open my equipment bag and grabbed my long metal torch. I felt for the switch. Nothing. I slapped it against my leg and it came on. I hoped the batteries would last.
There was a waist high red brick fence that marked the front boundary. The elaborate metal gate was made of rusted metal and painted black with no regard of the bubbling rust that ate into the frame. It screeched as I tried to open it. I wrenched at it with both hands. No hope of prising it free.
How do they enter and leave this property?
I cautiously climbed over the wall, compelled as I was to make to make contact tonight. I torched my way across the front yard. If a path was ever here before, it was overgrown now with knee high kikuyu grass that successfully tripped me up.
I grabbed for the veranda pole and felt it give way. I let go and quickly regained my balance, arms out like a bedraggled pelican, torch in one hand and equipment bag in the other.
The floor boards on the small Eighties style porch squealed. I shone my light at the front door. A large silver crucifix reflected the blurry image of my face. As I raised my hand to knock the image of my clenched hand shone back at me.
Knock. Knock. Knock!
Below the spiritual cross hung an animal’s white skull. Goat or sheep perhaps. It seemed to declare that it’s vacant grin, and long horns turning and bending outwards and then inwards gave a signal to beware of what was within.
‘Breathe,’ I reminded myself.
Perhaps it would have been better if someone else could have been here with me. No, on this mission it was just me here on my own.
I knocked again. Hard and fast. Just as the touch of my hand nudged open the door, the shiny silver cross swung upside down. My startled reflection swung in an arc.
The door creaked inwards.
A tall, dark hooded figure silently approached. He stood in the doorway framed from behind by the eerie light.
I lifted my torch to see his features. I was so shocked I stepped backwards, and caught my foot on a loose floorboard.
Suddenly I was crumpled on the floor. My torch trailed across the bare timber hallway floor, spinning away from me in a semi-circle lighting sections of filthy shirting boards, and coming to a stop against the wall. The man was bending over me.
‘We no longer have the light,’ he droned.
A strong hand gripped my forearm and pulled me to my feet. He lifted back his hood and looked at me with clear blue eyes, as bright as Ellen’s, so incongruous in this setting. Around his eyes was a black smudge, Alice Cooper-like, his face whitened by theatre paint, his lips black against the glimmer of white teeth.
His finger nails were long for a man, and lacquered black. He wore several dangling silver chains around his neck, which stood in relief against his dark attire. I was curious as to whether he was in some religious order, for his dress, his manner and his reticent speech suggested this.
I checked my pocket sized appointment book. I told him who I had come to see. He nodded. He turned and walked down the hallway. I followed him to the small end room. There were several candles in empty baked bean tins lit and spaced out along the floor against the walls.
A single window on the back wall was covered by a shimmering black fabric, so light it fluttered butterfly wing-like by the disturbed air as we entered the room.
On a narrow camp bed, in this otherwise impoverished room, lay an old man. The dark, mysterious man jerked back the bed-cover. This enervated gentleman fought against lethargy yet lay deathly still. He was lying on his back with arms crossed over his chest, posing as one would in the final moments before a coffin lid closed.
He wore the odd make-up, although it was smeared across his pillow, as if it had been on his face for some time.
‘We no longer have the power,’ said the standing man.
He lit another, taller candle and held it close to the man in the bed. I could see this second man screw his eyes tight shut against the light, so I gestured to the other to step back a little.
‘I’m here for the blood,’ I said to the prostrate man. ‘Are you ready?’
‘Are you the phlebotomist?’ whispered the man in the bed.
‘Yes, I am,’ I replied.
This was the first time in ten years working for the pathology clinic that I wanted to quit.