Content note: depictions of blood

My neighbors have invited me over to their backyard for drinks. I don’t drink. I mean, I do drink, just not what they drink here. My mother would not rest in her grave if she knew I’d soon be drinking what they drink, but I’ve given up so much to move all the way here for a better future. I’ve finally managed to rent a tiny apartment by working three jobs. People fight and kill for a spot here — money, opportunities, and freedom. This is not the time to hesitate. It’s just a drink.

Mister and Missus have beautiful bodies like Michelangelo’s statues — their luminous skin so smooth like marble, their chiseled faces lit up by hypnotizing eyes. Their long, slender fingers manipulate silver forks over slices of dark red pudding when not swirling crimson drinks in hand-blown glass goblets — the blood still warm and thick and pulsing with human life. I can’t help but stare. What will become of me once I take the first sip? Is it a sin to take from your own kind? Will I turn gorgeous and powerful like my hosts and their guests? Will Mister and Missus invite me for dinner inside their magnificent house?

“Come,” Mister beckons me with his bony finger. “Drink!”

Missus’s eyes hold me captive with much sympathy and concern. She taps me lightly on my shoulder and says, “It’s time you people drink real drinks and eat real food! We don’t drink animal blood here, especially pig blood. Such filthy animals spreading diseases wherever they go. I can’t understand how you people eat pigs and all their parts — tsk, tsk, tsk!” Missus shakes her head with disgust. “And use silverware here! Never your bare hands or cheap bamboo sticks. Eat and drink like a civilized person!”

Mister pushes a goblet into my hand. I can feel the warmth through the glass. How fresh? I want to ask. Minutes? Hours? I wonder. What will it take to rise to the top of the world like them? But I know not to ask. Not now. If I want to make friends, if I want to survive, I must eat and drink like Mister and Missus here. I must do what they do. Snuff out my enemies and down their blood without flinching. Stab some backs. Cut some throats. Squeeze the last drop out of everyone else to nourish myself. That’s the way to immortality here.

“Thank you!” I say with a little too much enthusiasm. This is the first time the locals have offered me a drink at their place since I arrived five years ago. Mister and Missus must finally see me as trustworthy and intelligent. I have the potential to transform. I have what it takes to assimilate. 

“That’s my girl,” Mister praises me even though I look at least a decade older than him.

I down the drink. It scorches my throat like acid. The human blood is much warmer than I thought. Fresh kill. Less than half an hour. I can tell from my childhood memories of helping my mother prepare pig blood cakes — the deafening squeals and then the silent blood in a bowl, still warm and thick. I dare not tell anyone about my favorite snack back home even though they have their own versions of blood pudding and sausage here — their types of cuisine were made from animal blood once like ours, but with the expansion of their empires, their pig blood puddings have been upgraded using imperial recipes to establish their supremacy. I imagine the human blood coursing through my intestines, bringing instant power and status to my hungry body with just one glass. I imagine myself standing tall and proud like Mister and Missus, my petite body elongating to superhuman beauty, my primitive facial features rising to immortal standards. Yet, all I feel is queasiness — the churning and burning and turning of my stomach like it has been forced to take on something perverse, something inhuman not meant for mortal guts. Throwing up will not only offend Mister and Missus but it will be deadly for newcomers like me.

I clench my teeth to keep my drink down. I need to stay in Mister’s and Missus’s good graces. I will drink more, even if it makes me sick. 

Mister and Missus bend down and study my face with curiosity. They wait until I burp a bubble of relief. I must have crossed the threshold. I search for the reflection of my newly transformed self in the eyes of Mister and Missus. 

I look as mortal as ever; perhaps even more beastly now — like the pigs we used to have but much worse — barbaric and immoral.

“You can’t dine with us,” Missus announces. She takes the other goblet from Mister’s hand and downs the drink herself. 

“It’s . . . it’s cannibalism!” the words eject from my mouth like vomit. The blood swirls and protests silently in my stomach. A pang of nausea clutches my throat — the last ounce of my humanity.

“Go back to where you came from!” Mister and Missus hiss at me. One by one, they all bare their fangs.