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#BookbedFictory 030: ‘Red Room’

by Eko
This year’s Fictory is for a cause. We donate P100 to a chosen beneficiary for every fic submitted this July. Participate here if you can. You may also submit a story anytime of the year. Enjoy this one!

Prompt: Your landlord is a vampire, so he offers you a deal. You can pay your rent in money… or in blood.

Humid air clung to Dela’s sweaty skin as she scribbled on the back of a Ministop receipt; on the floor were more crumpled ones. Despite the heat, she opted not to use an electric fan to save on her bills. She’d been budgeting her salary but to no avail. 

Her most expensive meal was ₱30.00; her ‘savings’ spent on jeepney fares, Pisonet cafés, and printing résumés.

“Can’t sacrifice electricity and water,” she mumbled. She had contemplated skipping her mother’s allowance but the spinster would know Dela’d gone broke and take the next bus to drag her back to Baguio. 

When Dela told her mother about going to Manila to chase her cabin crew dream, the woman replied, “Ha? You graduated Tourism and you’ll leave Baguio? Where tourists flock year round?” Dela was showered with flavored curses. “What kind of stupid are you?” After months of arguing (mostly begging on Dela’s part), her mother agreed out of pity. 

Since the first receipt, her Sunday afternoon budget report proposed one band-aid solution; perhaps Dela should negotiate with the landlord. Edgar seemed generous; he’d given her iron supplements once. He didn’t look much older but exuded an air of maturity which intimidated the 22- year-old Dela. 

She showered then wore a spaghetti-strap dress, hoping to allure Edgar. Bracing herself, she went downstairs, fixed her hair then knocked. In a few seconds, the door opened then closed just as Dela caught a glimpse of red. 

The pale landlord smiled, revealing pointed canines. “The rent isn’t due ‘til next week. What’re you here for?” He said, patting Dela’s shoulder with cold fingers. 

“About that, Kuya… Can I pay next month?” She asked coyly. “I’m just short right now becau-” 

Edgar cut her off. “You healthy?” His irrelevant query baffled Dela. “Don’t’ve diseases, do you?” 

Dela shook her head no. 

Edgar read Dela’s expression. “I’m asking because there’s another way you can pay,” he suggested.

Dela didn’t think her charisma would work; she thought “Should I lose my virginity to him?”

As if hearing her, Edgar clarified, “It’s not what you’re thinking.” 

“Then… how else can I pay?” 

“Your blood,” Edgar stated nonchalantly. The hair on Dela’s nape stood, her palms suddenly damp; Edgar still smiled but it now gave off an eerie feel. 

“F-forgot I’m cooking rice,” Dela didn’t even have bigas but she sprinted towards her apartment, clumsily locking the door, her heart clamoring in her chest. 

“Next week then!” Edgar’s voice echoed from the floor below. 

Realization came like an ice bucket poured over her. Dela recalled the iron supplements, Edgar’s porcelain skin and pointy canines. “Is he…?” she clasped a hand over her mouth as if the revelation would escape. Terrified, she clutched a rosary and prayed. Disregarding electric bills, she slept with the lights on that night. 

On the following days, Dela had dreaded the end of her shift as it meant return to the apartment. She had considered coming home to Baguio but she wasn’t ready to abandon her dreams yet. 

Dela successfully evaded Edgar since their last encounter by opening the apartment entrance as quietly as she could, removing her shoes before tiptoeing on the stairs. She had also hung a cross on her door and last Monday, she bought garlic for her defense.

On Thursday, she was debating whether to give pig’s blood but thought, “He’ll probably smell the difference.” After her shift that night, she went to Mercury and contemplated using an ₱11.00 syringe but that terrified her just as much. 

On her way out the drugstore, Dela saw a hurried woman drop her wallet. Preoccupied with the quest to return it, she had unknowingly chased the owner through crowds, brightly illuminated stores, up a footbridge, and at a wet market.

“Ma’am!” she shouted, the woman turned and at last, Dela caught up to her, returned the item, and said, “Dropped your wallet.”

The quick-footed woman, probably in her 50s, chuckled. “Did I? Oh no, were you chasing me?”

Dela smiled, still catching her breath. The clumsy owner fumbled through her bayong then shoved a small cardboard box in Dela’s hand. “Here, as a reward, I’ll give you this. That’s brand new.”

Dela inspected the box in her hand. When she lifted her head, the woman was gone. Dela looked around and only then did she realize how far the chase had brought her. 

In her apartment, Dela dropped her bag on the floor and her body on the bed. She opened the box and it revealed a menstrual cup and a manual. Her eyes heavy from fatigue, she fell asleep wondering why the strange woman couldn’t’ve given her cash instead. 

The solution came to Dela on Saturday morning along with her flow. She had gone to the bathroom to pee and saw the monthly red stain on her underwear. “Do I have napkins?” She thought. Then, light bulb! Exhilarated, she looked for the cardboard box. When she spotted it, she turned the water heater on and put the silicone cup in while she read the instructions again. 

Guided by the illustrations, Dela folded the cup and struggled inserting it. She flinched when it finally popped into position. After twelve hours, she rushed to the bathroom and squatted. She winced at the pain, trying to pull the cup out of her entrance; blood spilled as the cup’s released.

“F*ck!” she uttered in exasperation. She carefully transferred whatever was left to a random jar, washed the cup then reinserted it. 

Done at last, Dela proceeded to knock on Edgar’s door, which immediately opened and closed as it did before. She held out the Good Shepherd jar but instead of ube, it was filled with red slosh—no, not strawberry jam. Edgar looked at it puzzled but accepted it nonetheless. 

“You didn’t say the blood should come fresh from my veins,” Dela said, confident she had outsmarted him. “And exactly how much of it so I guess my rent’s paid.” 

“What …?” 

“Your skin’s pale and cold; your teeth sharp. You gave me iron supplements then asked for my blood,” she said. “I know what you are.”

Edgar raises an eyebrow.

“V-vampire,” Dela finally says. 

To her surprise, Edgar clutched his belly, his booming laughter echoed. “I’m a vampire?” he asked, still laughing. “Based on those? Wow,” he wiped nonexistent tears, “Now I know Kojic’s effective.” 

“When I said pay with your blood, I meant donate it; I’m a Red Cross volunteer and there’s a blood drive tomorrow,” Edgar elucidated. “I thought I’d let you off as long as you donate blood. Really, that’s worth more!” He had stopped laughing but amusement was still evident in his tone. “Also, my room is air-conditioned thus the cold fingers.” 

Dela realized her foolishness. She wanted the concrete floor to swallow her. 

“Since you have mens, you can’t donate,” Edgar pointed out. “But you made me laugh so I’ll accept this payment.” 

Though Dela wanted to pay in cash instead, she couldn’t afford to. Grateful for Edgar’s generosity and humiliated by her folly, she mumbled thank-yous then sprints towards her apartment as she had before. 

Edgar went straight to his bathroom. He turned the faucet on and poured the contents of the Good Shepherd jar over the sink; he smirked but the useless mirror in front of him didn’t reveal it. ☁️


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