The fact that Gwen’s bathtub started running blood wasn’t her biggest problem, but she was pretty sure the apartment manager wasn’t going to be any help. If he was too cheap to replace the burned out light bulbs in the hallways, inexplicable events like this were right out.
It was definitely blood too, not rust from old pipes, though it only came out when the faucet was turned on. Luckily Gwen only showered anyway, and that part was oddly unaffected. She could just leave the faucet off and have no problem.
She had no idea where it came from though, living blood. You could tell by how it wasn’t separated, and how long it took for that to eventually happen when it sat in the tub. It just ran and ran, and there didn’t seem to be an exsanguinating body hooked up to it anywhere.
But hunger was Gwen’s biggest problem. The blood was just a curiosity.
She wanted to walk down to the Texaco and get a half pound block of sharp cheddar from the food mart, maybe one of those little bricks of angel food cake with the peelable pressed layer of lined pink frosting. Chips? Doritos would be good, but she liked kettle chips too. Dip wouldn’t be a bad idea either…but which one? Onion dip? Cheese? Bean? Twizzlers?
That last one wasn’t even a dip, but Gwen was craving all kinds of things. All she had was a case of chicken flavor ramen noodles. She certainly wasn’t craving that.
Why would she crave ramen? It was all she’d eaten for days. Money was tight again, since it wasn’t the first week of the month. That meant ramen, maybe potatoes and/or dried lentils or black-eyed peas, but the idea of even one more bite of ramen made her physically ill.
Her IT school stipend paid for rent, loans only covered tuition. Nothing much was left for food. Endless noodles and such as a base, Gwen would splurge when her check came in on the first on lunchmeat and pickles and pizza, all that. It’d be gone in a few days, but it helped her mentally survive the ramen on which she’d live on from then, though ramen still often made her want to die.
More food required more money, but what job could she get with her school schedule? She’d applied for everything, everything, but they all wanted her when she had to be in class. Telemarketing was the worst, the only thing that paid, and she didn’t have the car she needed to get to the call site anyway.
She reflected it was too bad she didn’t crave blood. People did, and she certainly had enough of that. It looked human too, for all she knew. Maybe someone would pay for that.
She tried donating plasma once or twice, which was kind of similar. It took a long time, but she could study while she was there and go pretty much any time of day. That wasn’t too bad, and doing their full schedule made a couple hundred a month. There were all kinds of snacks she could afford with that, maybe even a steak to pan fry once in a while.
But…donating plasma for food? It was kind of a calorie wash, at best. Why even bother? She’d never get ahead.
She got to looking at all that blood. Would it still be good by the time she got to the donation center? What if she left right after collecting? There was only one way to know….
Of course, they wouldn’t let her just drop it off in a jar. They took it from your arm, cycled out the blood to get the juice and then put the platelets back with some saline. You couldn’t donate for weeks if that last part fucked up; there were all kinds of controls.
How could she do it then?
Bathtub blood would be worthwhile. Trade for food. There had to be a way, since it was just coming out on its own anyway.
Then she remembered the foam arm from the zombie crawl the week before. Could she hide her real arm and pass of that one? Maybe stretch-covered with garbage natural sausage casing from the butcher shop dumpster down the street? Would that feel real? Would surgical tubes, also found regularly in the butcher shop dumpster for some disturbingly unexplained reason, pass for thick veins? Was that too ridiculous?
Gwen didn’t know. Some of the people who worked at those plasma places really didn’t seem to care about their jobs, and stranger things happened there all the time. Gwen saw it all on the news…so why not?
She decided to give it a try. What else was she going to do?
Later, alternating between 3 Musketeers, York Peppermint Patties, and Giant Chewy Sweet tarts, Gwen decided she was going to need to get a bank account. The check-cashing place took too big a bite out of plasma money. Once or twice wasn’t bad, but regularly would start to stack up…and she had plans for all that money.
It only made sense.
David S. Atkinson is the author of “Apocalypse All the Time,” “Not Quite so Stories,” “The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes,” and “Bones Buried in the Dirt.” He is a Staff Reader for “Digging Through The Fat” and his writing appears in “Literary Orphans,” “The Airgonaut,” “Connotation Press,” and others. His writing website is http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/.