Alexander Te Pohe is a Māori writer, poet, cat-lover, dog-lover, and vampire enthusiast. Alexander made his mark at the Centre for Stories when he joined the Inclusion Matters Hot Desk Fellowship in 2019.
Get to know more about Alexander here.
Content Warning: blood, death, misgendering, transphobia, and torture.
Red by Alexander Te Pohe
For a long time there are two constants: darkness and cold air coming from a vent somewhere in the room. I trace the blanket threads with my fingers, run my hands over the walls, make and unmake my bed, anything to give myself something to do. I’m used to being surrounded by people, and for the first time in my life I have a room of my own.
I wonder if any of my friends survived. I was the last to be taken. That place was the only home I’ve known for my eleven years. Now I’m here. Waiting. Listening.
The door opens, casting a rectangle of light on the floor. I crawl to the corner of my bed and hug a pillow to myself.
The light in my room is turned on. I close my eyes against the brightness. I hear footsteps. The weight of a person sinks on the edge of my bed. My heart rate quickens and I stay, frozen, with my eyes sealed shut.
“The kid doesn’t look too bad,” says a voice. “V said that they could help our efforts move forward. She’s invested in them. I had to see it for myself.”
Something touches my hand and I jump in surprise and fear.
“I’m not entirely convinced. But the data shows that they’re resilient. Much more when compared with some of the older ones.”
“They were born here sir,” says another voice. An attendant, maybe. “That makes them unique to the other subjects.”
“Unique? Maybe. We’ll see if they survive this latest trial. I hope so, for V’s sake. She’ll be upset if her pet dies.”
The weight on my bed lifts. The footsteps retreat. I open my eyes. Standing in the doorway is D, a tall man in his late forties with striking red hair. He stands with a straight back and a pale hand in his grey tweed jacket. He stares into my eyes and I look back, unable to turn away.
“Take them,” says D.
Two nurses enter and grab me. I’m too scared to fight so I just let them carry me away. A scream is caught in my chest and I can’t quite get it out. They take me down a hallway to a room with a bed and a large mirror behind me. Other people are in there, doctors, nurses, attendants, and behind the glass I hear the slightest whisper of other voices. The nurses strap me in. D stands at the foot of the bed as others flurry busily around him.
V, a woman with long, black hair, walks in and stands beside me. She wears her signature colour: white. This time it’s a white sunhat and a white sundress. She touches the side of my face and I lean away from her.
“Be gentle with this one,” says V. “Now that their parents are gone, I’m to be their new mother.”
D holds his hand over his mouth and surveys me with a look of disappointment.
V takes my hand. I try to yank it away from her, but the straps keep my hands pinned down.
“It’ll be okay. I’m here,” says V.
A needle is brought forward. I clench my jaw as they stick it into my arm. Fire ignites within my body and that’s when I finally scream. D watches with a smile.
The tunnel is awash with green light. To one side are all sorts of stores. There aren’t many vampires and dhampir around, but the ones I do see seem at ease, as if the lights and the cloak of the tunnel somehow hides everything they do in here.
“This is it,” says Rowan.
The place is nondescript: a windowless building with a red door. Two guards, dressed in black, stand outside.
“Have you been here before?” I ask them.
“I’ve read about it. Watched footage filmed inside it. Does that count?”
“No, not really.”
Rowan pushes their green-tinted glasses up with one finger. “Well, no then. This is really the furthest I’ve gone from the apartment in years.”
“Did I say that you’re very brave?” I say.
“Maybe,” they say, “but I don’t mind hearing it.”
We approach the club. Small zaps of electricity from Rowan sting my palm.
“We’ll get through this together,” I whisper.
We flash our fake IDs, the guards slip red bracelets onto our wrists, and we’re let in. There is a hallway that is ink black. With my sight, it is easy to navigate through the narrow, twisty passage. The door opens at our approach. We are hit by many things at once: the flashing strobe light, the pounding electronic music, the sight of many humans dancing and a few vampires and dhampir amongst them biting necks and hands, the strong coppery odour of blood; bringing me to a place where my senses are so overwhelmed that I can only focus on one thing: feeding.
Electricity jolts through my arm and I’m brought back to myself. Rowan stands beside me, shivering. I steer them around to a pocket to the side of the room where there are tables and chairs. Floating cameras above us constantly survey the crowded space.
“Thank you,” says Rowan. “It’s a lot. Being out there.”
“I know. Even for me,” a vampire bites down on the neck of a human and the humans laughing face is bathed in flashes of red, orange, and blue light, “it’s overwhelming.”
A human guy only a year older than me slides into the chair next to me. He holds out his hand to me wordlessly, a blush turning his earlobes red.
I look to Rowan. They give me an enthusiastic thumbs up.
“Are you sure?” I ask the human.
He nods and murmurs a yes. Behind him people I assume to be his friends watch on in amazement.
I gently take his hand, bring it forward, and bite down.
. Then there is nothing
. but me and the hot rush of liquid.
. . . . . The first is over too quickly. I can only take a little.
. I move on.
. . Between each flash there is a new person:
. . a neck,
. . a hand,
. . an arm,
. . and that same quick,
. . sharp, rush accompanied by the
. . thumping of their hearts and the base line.
. . My strength returns to me:
. . the music feels louder,
. . the crowd closer,
. . the need to keep
. . going stronger.
. . I free fall
. . into it,
. . the
. . throbbing
. . red obliterating
. . all thoughts and worries.
. . And I want to stay here.
. Each moment extends before me like one pulsing vein.
V’s smiling face appears in my mind and I can’t stop myself, I swirl downwards, lost in the red, lost in myself, through the haze I want to pull back
. i can’t
. i can’t
. i can’t
. . . . V’s red veined silhouette breathes against my ear.
. . . a soundless command
. . . . . . . . . . you know what to do.
. I dip my victim.
. . . . . . . . . . it’s easy.
. Their heart races as I drink them in.
. . . . . . . . . . it’ll be over quickly.
. They struggle.
. . . . . . . . . . don’t stop.
. But my grasp holds them tight.
. . . . . . . . . . very good.
Many hands wrench me away. V’s silhouette disappears. I’m brought back to the dance floor. Two guards are holding onto me. Two others attend to a human lying on the ground. The music is turned off. Disgusted faces glare at me from all around.
A guard pulls Rowan through the crowd and shoves them in my direction. Their green glasses are missing. Their eyes dart around. They’re shaking.
“Unhand me and we’ll leave,” I say.
The guards release me. Rowan takes my hand and I pull them through the crowd. The two guards, along with two others, walk us out. The guards say lifetime ban and we’ll call the police if you return. Shame burns my cheeks. I want to apologise, to tell them that I’m not a monster, but I stay silent.