“I developed the Erebus field primarily for Porphyria suffers so they could have greater mobility during the day but I think it will work for you as well.”
Marishka looked around the lab. Dr. Dawn Soto had been an undergrad at Stanford in 1977 when she was Marishka’s dorm roommate. Now she was the head of the university’s Advanced BioTech Research Department. It was a strange feeling coming “home” after so many years.
Soto had been looking out the window toward the east. The horizon was already becoming lighter and sunrise would be in just a few minutes. Then she turned around. Even with the harness and goggles on, Marishka looked almost the same as the last time Dawn had seen her. She was still twenty years old and Soto was turning sixty-one in March. The scientist dyed her hair, an admitted vanity in an era of post-feminism, but she wasn’t really trying to conceal her age.
Her friend’s skin and hair coloring were lighter, which she explained happens sometimes to African-American people of her…kind. Yet her skin texture was smooth, her voice clear, and in so many other ways, she was a perpetually young woman, though as she described it, only somewhat “alive.”
“The injection I gave you is part of the treatment. In your case, at least as far as I can tell, it should ward off the lethargy and coma-like effect you say is a result of daylight.”
“Yes, that’s right. Even when I’m in total darkness, once the sun comes up, I can’t resist the urge to…well, it’s not exactly sleep unless you want to call it the sleep of the dead.” Marishka tried to laugh but it came out as a short, dry chuckle.
Part of Dawn still couldn’t believe she was doing this. When Marishka first approached her last month, had first convinced her of what she truly was, she was terrified. Then she started to think of her not as a supernatural creature or denizen of horror films, but someone suffering from a rare blood disorder with highly peculiar symptoms.
Marishka disappeared for part of each night they were together. Soto knew what she was doing but preferred not to think of what her former roommate had to go through to survive, to eat. For the rest of the time, she and Soto worked together in the Doctor’s private lab on campus. Marishka told her she’d read of Dawn’s research and now that she had nowhere else to go, hoped the Erebus treatment might give her more options.
“You realize that this works only while the drug is active in your system and when you’re wearing the Erebus equipment. That’s maybe a few minutes to a few hours tops. You’re not going to be working on your tan at the beach everyday.”
“Dawn, do you know how long its been since I’ve seen the light of day? A few minutes would be like a miracle.”
“Even if it works, what do you hope to accomplish? It might take years or never for me to create a treatment that would let you move around during the day like…”
“Like a normal human being? You can say it, Dawn. I’ve lived like this for the past forty years. I have no illusions, and vampires don’t worry about racism or discrimination. We’re just trying to survive.”
Dawn sighed. After she had adjusted her thinking and emotions to working with Mariskha, she had been so consumed by the project that she hadn’t thought long-term. She’d made an isolated storeroom downstairs available to her during the day and Soto had the only key (unless the maintenance people got curious, but they had strict orders to stay away from the “scientific equipment”). That kept Marishka safe, but could she stay there for weeks, months, or longer?
Soto had been married and divorced twice. Only her youngest, twenty-five year old Andrew lived in the area and he was too busy making films for the Frameline Festival project which most recently included something called Conversations with Gay Elders. Her other three children were married and had kids of their own. The closest lived just outside of Denver. There was no one around to ask Dawn where or how she spent her nights.
“The answer is I don’t know. Let’s just take this one step at a time, okay Dawn?”
Marishka had a hard time trusting people, which came with being a member of the undead. Anyone could be a threat. You only survived by secrecy and guile. Feeding was an act of covert aggression and you couldn’t leave behind any signs. Often you fell into the hands of manipulative cult leaders like the late, great Antonie who insisted in staying in the burning building after most of the Family had met the final death.
Now she and the other survivors were being hunted by the fanatical religious group called “The Van Helsings.” It was only a matter of time until they found her unless she could discover another option.
“I’m sorry, Dawn. It’s just…I can’t even begin to describe to you how hard it’s been…living…existing one night at a time…”
“You’re right. I can’t understand it, but I do want to help. You realize that if we keep working together and I’m able to develop something, maybe you’re not the only one who could take advantage of this.”
“I’ll worry about doing social work when that happens, Dawn. In the meantime, the sun’s coming up. I still feel alert, but I’m nervous as hell.”
“Let me have a look.” Soto moved behind Marishka to examine the harness’ power pack and control panel strapped to her back. “You have a full battery charge but I’ve never tested it under these conditions before. You’ll have to stay right with me in case something goes wrong.”
“I’ve lived with death for forty years, Dawn. I don’t want to face the second death but if it happens…”
“I’m activating the field. I don’t know how it’ll affect you.”
The harness around her tightened and then she felt a tingling as if she had grabbed a live electrical wire. The goggles covered her entire field of vision. Even being light-sensitive, she could barely see through them before, but now it was as if the lab were brilliantly illuminated.
“My eyes, Dawn. Too much light.”
“Here. I’ll just adjust…there. How about now?”
“Better. I can see.” Marishka turned to the window. The disc of the sun was just coming into view.
There were no words to describe how she felt. The last time she’d watched a sunrise, she was a completely different person. Some would say that was the last time she was a human being, but right now she still felt like…like the way she used to feel, maybe even a little bit alive.
“Let’s go outside.”
“I think you’re pushing it, Marishka.”
“I don’t care. I’ve got to see it and not through a window.”
She took a step and almost stumbled.
“It’s the drugs. I’ll have to adjust the dosage the next time we try this.”
“I’ll be fine.” She stepped forward again, slower this time. Dawn took her by her arm and noticed that she felt a little warmer through the field. Normally, her skin was icy cold.
A few minutes later, they got out of the lab, turned down the hall, and finally made it out the service door.
Soto guided her around the side of the building so they could face east.
“How do you feel?”
“Like ants are crawling all over my skin but otherwise okay.”
Dawn made another adjustment to the power output.
“Yeah, that’s better. I still feel tingling but it’s better.”
“Power’s down by 26% already so you’ve only got maybe ten minutes, Marishka.” She noticed that she was staring at the sun. “What do you see? What’s it like?”
“It’s brilliant, Dawn. Yes. That’s it. It’s a brilliant dawn.”
Soto could feel Marishka trembling but saw she was also smiling. Just at the bottom of where the goggles pressed against her cheeks, Dawn noticed a trail of tears.
“Thank you, Dawn. You’re brilliant.
Once I lock onto writing a storyline, I have a tendency to experiment with different applications of the concept. The character of Marishka is taken from my Sean Becker Undead Series. I had written a related story for another challenge called Blood and Misery which established that Marishka was an undergrad at Stanford University in the mid-1970s.
So for this story, I had her return there to seek out her old friend Dr. Dawn Soto and her experimental treatment of Porphyria and specifically Erythropoietic protoporphyria. These people suffer a variety of very difficult symptoms including extreme sensitivity to sunlight (and sometimes artificial light).
I took the name for Soto’s experimental treatment from Erebus, the goddess of shadow and night in Greek mythology.
I doubt this story will become part of the “Sean Becker” canon, but “Blood and Misery” didn’t make the cut either. Still, it’s an interesting idea. Could some of the symptoms of vampirism be treated by methods devised to address more “human” disorders?