This story is by Jessica Opalinski and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I brought the spoon down with a loud thwack that sent bits of mashed avocado flying. A few landed on my arms, green freckles on my pale skin. I flicked them into the sink and continued my relentless avocado-smashing pursuit.
Three avocados, two tablespoons of olive oil, and a dash of paprika later, I shoved the bowl of muck into the fridge to cool and set a timer for 7 hours. It would be ready just as the sun was rising.
I tucked the torn magazine page containing the unusual recipe into a folder on my kitchen counter. I caught glimpses of other headlines as I rifled through: 12 Almonds a Day Will Let You Walk in the Sunlight!; One Weird Trick to Cure Sun Sensitivity; Local Woman Can Walk in the Light Again – Doctors are Baffled!. Each with a fat red X across it.
There was a lot to dislike about being a vampire, but it was the sun I missed the most. The sensitivity didn’t start until you I puberty, and I now envied my childhood days spent running through tall grass fields and long hours spent kicking higher and higher on the swing set a few blocks from my house.
Unlike the classic myths, we don’t turn to dust in the light. We just sustain a serious case of third-degree burns if we’re exposed for too long. We also can’t create new vampires. I have lost track of how many people have asked me that. Vampires are born, not made. It’s a genetics thing, and there aren’t that many of us left. Thankfully.
Bored, I flicked through late night programming, alternating between an infomercial about signaling for help if you slipped and fell in the tub and a talk show featuring a woman who left her husband for a trained circus bear.
The sharp buzz of the kitchen timer jolted me out of a doze at exactly 6:08 am. I couldn’t tell a difference thanks to the heavy layers of blackout curtains lining my tiny windows, but my smartwatch beeped to confirm the first rays of light were creeping over the horizon. I had a handy little app that changed my alarm by a few minutes each morning to adjust for the sunrise and again at night to alert of sunset. The wonders of modern technology.
Smearing the thick green paste I’d made across my arms, I could feel my heart starting to race. I’d tried so many “cures” that had failed. Yet this one had rave reviews, whole blog posts even, of vampires who claimed they’d tried it and spent hours outside soaking up UV rays like any other normal person.
I took a deep breath and opened the door. I put on my sun glasses, since I couldn’t exactly rub avocado paste into my eyeballs, and locked the door behind me. I was just like every other early riser, heading out for a morning stroll.
One block turned to two, then three. The sun rose higher in the sky, reflecting back at me from windows and car mirrors along the street.
It was working! I was free! I walked faster, head held high, not even caring that passersby were giving me sideways glances due to my temporarily green skin.
Another block and the tingling started. I ignored it; maybe I had a sensitivity to avocado. Nothing major. I could tweak the recipe, more olive oil maybe.
By the time I’d reached the dog park, the tingle had turned to an ache. An all over body ache. I gritted my teeth and practiced breathing through my nose. Panic, that was it. A memory of all my other failed attempts.
By the bus stop at the far end of the park, it felt like fire ants were having a buffet across my arms and face. I couldn’t ignore it any longer. This so-called solution, once again, was a fraud.
Throwing on my trench coat and wrapping my shawl around my head, I hurried home. The ache only lessened back in my sun-proof living space once I’d drawn an ice bath and slathered aloe vera across my now-pink skin. My head throbbed, but that might have been from the large, ugly tears rolling down my cheeks. I went to bed in my towel, too tired and sore to change.
I slept through the day and half the night, feeling too depressed to drag myself out of bed again. What was the point. Nothing worked.
After I’d grown tired of staring at the ceiling, I took my nightly dose of vitamin D and headed out to the coffee shop on the corner. I needed some caffeine to help overcome the “sun hangover” I’d gotten earlier.
The bell chimed as I entered, expecting the usual empty tables and half-asleep barista behind the counter. Instead I was greeted by a cacophony of noise: people yelling, laughter, and the thump of music.
“Shh, shh!” A guy wearing a shirt with the shop’s logo on it jumped up and waved at the group to be quiet. “We have a customer!”
He hurried to the register while the group made a feeble effort to contain their racket. Apologizing, he took my order and soon handed me a steaming hot cup.
I turned, latte in hand, and a girl screamed, almost causing me to spill my drink down my shirt.
“Oh my god, are you a vampire?” she squealed, and I froze, unsure what to do.
“Dee,” someone chided, “you can’t just ask people that. It’s rude!”
“Ah-,” self-consciously I ran my tongue over my teeth.
“Come sit with us!” Another girl called out, patting the seat beside her.
“No, over here!” A guy across from her waved his arm.
The barista hurried over, looking sheepish. “Sorry about them, we’re having a… game night.”
I stared at the eager group seated in front of me, and something I hadn’t noticed before struck me. They were all wearing fake plastic fangs, and at least two people had on very Dracula-esque capes.
“Would you like to join us?” The girl, Dee, persisted. “We have Scattergories!”
“Um…okay.” I perched on the edge of the closest chair and hesitantly took an answer sheet.
Over the course of the game, I learned the group called themselves the B.A.T.S. organization. As they eagerly explained, they met at night, were obsessed with anything vampire related, and had not yet thought up an actual name to go with the “BATS” acronym.
“No real vampires ever come to our meetings though,” Bryan, the barista, said sheepishly.
“No vampires ever came to our meetings until now,” Dee said from beside me and gave my arm a squeeze.
Two games later, a dark haired boy at the end of the table spoke up. “Can you fly?”
Everyone else groaned.
“Kevin,” a girl answered. “Of course she can’t, that’s just a myth. Don’t be rude.”
“I was hoping it was like, a myth that was secretly true. Like the Loch Ness Monster.”
Another round of groans.
“No flying,” I answered. “Or transforming into a bat or sleeping in a coffin. Sorry.”
“Jamal sleeps in a coffin,” Dee chimed in.
“It’s a bed!” A guy, presumably Jamal, protested. He slumped in his seat. “It’s just coffin-shaped. I thought it would look cool.”
I hid a laugh in a cough, and we began setting up the pieces for a new game.
Just as a heated round of Trivial Pursuit was drawing to a close, my watch beeped. I looked at it in surprise. Was it really an hour until sunrise already?
“I guess I should be going.” Slowly I helped put away the pieces and gathered up my phone and purse.
“Can I get you a coffee for the road?” Bryan stood, nearly toppling his chair in the process. “It’s on the house.”
“I would, but I need to get some sleep soon.” I answered.
“Oh! Right, of course. A rain check then? We meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays.” He rummaged around in the pocket of his apron. “Here! Let me give you our business card.”
He held out a small white square of paper with a cartoon bat printed on it and the word B.A.T.S. in cursive across the top.
“We could…get rid of the teeth and, uh, the capes if that’s a problem.”
I stared at the card before giving the group a full smile, fangs and all. “You know what Bryan? I’ll be there.”
Half and hour later I stood in my kitchen in my pajamas drinking a glass of red wine.
I stared down at my folder of articles from earlier. The disappointing avocado recipe lay on top, mocking me. I took a long sip, then in one sweeping motion I shoved the whole folder into the trash. I hung the “BATS” card on my refrigerator and toasted it. Perhaps I’d found what I was looking for after all.