CARMINE: Blood and Thunder (Shades of Red)
Are vampires real? And given the choice...would you choose to turn?
Vampires are the last thing nurse Sofia should be worried about. She's working two jobs and struggling to care for her ailing mom. However, her patient, 98-year-old Mrs. Shaposhnikov, is convinced vampires exist and continually talks about them to anyone who will listen.
Sofia's troubled by the stories, but dismisses them until her patient's family visits from Russia. Among the visitors is tall, dark, and handsome Alexei - Mrs. S's grandson and the man who hired Sofia. Having gotten to know him through email, she can't help but be drawn to the foreigner. However, his superstitious beliefs and behaviors give her pause to pursue something more serious.
After the family returns to Russia, Sofia's patient begins changing drastically for the better. The once feeble and weak old lady seems to be getting younger and stronger by the day. Is there a reasonable explanation for this, or do vampires really exist?
Can Sofia and Alexei find a way together, or will their lives lead them in separate directions?
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Copyright © 2019 T.L. Christianson
I pumped up the blood pressure cuff on my patient, Mrs. Shaposhnikov. “Your blood pressure’s been high. Have you been taking your medications?”
“You Americans are trying to kill me with pills,” she admonished in her thick Russian accent as she waved a wrinkled hand at me. “All I need is my tincture. Maybe it will keep Kira away.”
Chuckling, I stopped pumping the bulb and watched the gauge. “Why do you want to keep your daughter away? Don’t you miss Kira?”
Mrs. S gripped my wrist tightly, piercing me with her rheumy gaze. “I tell you, one day you will come here, and I will be one of them…a moroi.”
Oh Jesus, not this again. The poor old thing was convinced her family was going to change her into a vampire. When, where or how this idea got into her head was beyond me. However, I knew unfounded fears like these were common among the elderly. I just needed to distract her.
“Kira loves you,” I sighed, slipping off the cuff.
Sitting down in front of her, I took her fragile hands in mine, and spoke softly, “No one is going to hurt you, I promise. This is just part of your illness.”
She snorted and pulled her hands from mine. “Child, I don’t have dementia. There are things in this world too strange to comprehend.”
She’d had this vampire fear before, so I wasn’t too concerned, but I’d write her grandson, Alexei, about it later.
Smiling, I tilted my head. “I’ll keep you safe—besides you’re my favorite patient.”
We were in the kitchen at a small wooden table. Standing, I poured water into the electric kettle and returned it to its base to heat up.
When my charge still hadn’t said a word, I turned to her. “Kira loves you. Are you worried about her visit? She’s coming an awful long way to see how you’re doing.”
Mrs. S narrowed her eyes and grunted, “Help me up. The moment I stop being useful is the moment I die.”
I pulled over her walker and gently helped her to her feet. Trembling, Mrs. S gripped the black padding of the aluminum frame with her fragile, bony hands. I held my breath as she shuffled over to the sink in slow motion. It reminded me of that cartoon movie with sloths. She turned on the faucet and dropped the black sink stopper into the drain.
Hovering, worried that she’d fall, I tapped my fingers against my thigh silently. As she squeezed in some dish soap, she wobbled, and I held her elbow to keep her upright.
“I still need to listen to your heart; will you sit for me? I’ll do the dishes for you.” Except I’d put them into the dishwasher when she wasn’t looking.
"All right, just this time,” she told me over labored breath as she turned off the water.
I helped her back into the kitchen chair. Rubbing my stethoscope on my thigh to warm it, I placed it on her chest. I frowned at the whoosh whoosh. Mrs. S had a profound heart murmur. I gazed down at her hand on the teacup and nodded to myself. Her nail beds were blue, the cyanosis was getting worse because of her weakening heart.
Moving the stethoscope to her back, I listened to her lungs.
“Deep breath.” I pressed my lips together when I heard the expected crackle, a sign that fluid was still building up in her lungs. “Did you get the pneumonia vaccination?” I asked, pocketing my stethoscope.
My patient nodded. She wasn’t sick, she was just old.
The kettle on the counter beeped, and I stood, pulling it from the base. Pouring a cup for both of us, I left room for milk. I didn’t like tea, but I poured one for myself anyway. Mrs. S insisted on it every time I came, and I decided pretty quickly that this wasn’t a battle I wanted to fight.
The china rattled slightly as I set it down on the table atop the cotton tablecloth.
Adding milk and sugar with her unsteady hand, she stirred her cup. “I want you to tell my daughter not to come here.”
I laughed, “Why? Kira and her husband brought you here because they were worried. She didn’t think that you were getting the care you needed in Russia.”
“My daughter wants one thing.” Her gaze told me that I should know what she referred to. “I was fine in the mother country. I don’t like it here. Food tastes strange. American’s are self-serving and wasteful. Everyone fake smile all the time, hmmph.”
I cringed, knowing I probably fell into that last category and added a sugar cube to my drink. “I’m sure not everyone here is like that.”
She muttered something in Russian and took her cup, pulling the teabag out, leaving a trail of milky water on the tablecloth.
While Mrs. S drank her tea, I shuffled the deck of cards that sat on the table.
She gave me a sly smile, “So, you think you’ll be able to beat an old woman today?”
I laughed and shrugged, “Hey, your streak is bound to end sooner or later.”
After dealing the cards, we sat there a moment sorting our hands.
“You start,” I told her, setting down the first card.
“How is your mother?” Her dark eyes darted between me and the cards from beneath her white brows.
I sighed, “She isn’t eating much. She’s on dialysis still. The doctors were hoping it would be temporary…I gave fluids this morning, so hopefully, that’ll help.” I trailed off, my mind going to possible solutions to help my mom.
Mrs. S played a card before patting my arm with her free hand. “You are good daughter. You know what they gave me in Russia to cure me?”
I laughed, “I don’t know. One of your tinctures?”
“You laugh, but nothing work like krov moroy. It makes every ailment better. You should ask Alexei.” “What’s krov moroy? I’ve never heard of it.” I played my card and sipped my tea.
“The blood of a vampire,” my patient whispered.
She continued, “It cures arthritis, gout, it mends muscles and bones. It fixes stomach issues, woman issues…What is the disease of your mother?”
I pursed my lips before answering, “Lupus. Mrs. S, where are you getting this idea? If vampires really existed, and if their blood did any of this, then some drug company would already have refined it and be making a killing.”
We locked eyes, and she gave me a sad look before laying another card.
After playing a while in silence, I finally spoke, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
She smiled, “It isn’t your fault child, most don’t know of the moroi, but I’m an old woman and not bound to keep secrets any longer.”
I wondered if her beliefs were religious or regional. Growing up, mine had been both. My family had lived in the same place for generation upon generation. My aunt was known as the local Curandera, or healer. I remember her praying and running a raw egg over me after I’d gotten sick with mono. I wasn’t convinced that I’d been cursed with the evil eye, but I did get better. It made me wonder if vampire blood was the name of an herbal remedy.
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