The Iron in Blood
Copyright 2013 by Jenny Doe
I’m not a believer. I’m pretty sure I never really believed in Father Christmas or the
tooth fairy or any number of magical creatures that litter childhood like so much detritus
from earlier darker wierder times. Let’s face it, the idea of a tiny person sneaking about
taking children’s teeth while they sleep is just creepy. I’ve never been a member of any of
the current world religions or their derivatives either. I don’t believe that invisible pixies populate gardens, or that aliens spend their time cruising the skies looking for the worlds’
most intellectually challenged individuals to deliver messages of goodwill and try out their
latest in probes. And I’d certainly never have dreamed of believing in vampires.
I do read books, though, and watch movies, and I’ve noticed that one of the common
theories about vampires is that it’s a condition that is somehow transferable between two
individuals, like some kind of freaky infection.
Turns out vampires do exist. But they’re born, not made.
The story of how I ended up, not believing in vampires, but knowing without a doubt
that they live and breathe, started a couple of weeks before my eighteenth birthday. I was
walking home from school at about three one gloomy Thurday afternoon, watching the
familiar cracks in the pavement glide by below my feet, when the sound of a car engine
being revved made me glance up at the car hurtling towards me. I guess I should have
known that it would never be able to stop on time, but I just stood there watching it, right up until it clipped my left leg and sent me flying through the air.
I landed painfully on the road, and slid for a few feet, adding various unbelievably
painful grazes to my growing list of injuries. I lay there on the tarmac, stunned by the
unfamiliar pain shooting through my body, while people started gathering around me,
shouting for help and collectively dialling 999 on about eight mobile phones. A skinny
woman wearing a purple jumper loomed over me, and pushed me back down every time I
tried to sit up. I lay on that road, embarrassed and aching, and hoping against hope that
nobody I knew would ever find out about this. Teenagers hate fuss, and I hated it more than
Next thing an ambulance had arrived – a huge yellow blob-shaped vehicle with a blue
light flashing away on top of it. Two paramedics jumped out of the front of the vehicle, one
really short with a big pervy grin, and one really tall with a vaguely sour expression. I
wondered briefly if I was going to be continuously sliding down an incline between the two
of them as they carried me into the vehicle, but fortunately they came equipped with a
stretcher that was balanced beautifully on nice even wheels. They made sure I was
breathing and conscious, and then they asked me loads of awkward questions before they
lifted me carefully onto a hard board, and strapped the world’s most constricting torture
device around my neck. They picked up the board, yep, definitely an incline; and slid it onto
the stretcher, where it turns out I had a great view of the tall guys nostrils. As they shut the doors behind me I tried to see what had happened to the guy that hit me with his car, but
he was nowhere to be seen. The police later told me that he had driven off without
stopping, and as nobody had gotten his number plate, the likelihood was that he would get
off scot free.
They were wrong.
I remember that first call from my brother. I had arrived back at the hotel I’d been
staying at for the past eight weeks. It was five in the afternoon, dark already and cold, and
I’d just finished tracking down a man I’d been looking for for the past three days. He lived in a medium sized town about fifty miles from where I was staying, and I intended to pay him a
surprise visit the following day. England is a beautiful country steeped in history and
tradition, but it was also home to the type of man that I liked to, er, find. Hence my
presence in the country when Marcus phoned.
When he told me that a match had been found, at first I did not believe him. He and
Fergus had been searching for decades, and had so far turned up nothing. I thought he was
playing some sort of joke. He has a tendency to do things like that; his sense of humour can
be a bit peculiar. I suppose it may have a lot to do with him being the ultimate academic,
plus the fact that he and Fergus lived in almost complete isolation from other more normal
people. But when he repeated his statement, and I heard the suppressed excitement and
elation in his voice, I knew that he was telling the truth, and I was pleased for him. And for Fergus. They had both worked so hard on this project, Marcus the geneticist, and Fergus the
computer whizz. Thirty years spent sweating away at a seemingly impossible task that had
been left to us by our equally frustrated father, and they had just achieved the second major
breakthrough. The first had been when Marcus had isolated that little group of genes that
separated us from the rest of humankind, that collection of base pairs that sat lurking in our DNA and that was ultimately responsible for both our strengths and our strangeness.
Marcus and Fergus had decided that I would be the retriever and general facilitator,
mainly because I happened to be in the same country as the person with the alleged match,
but also because I did not stand out in a crowd quite as much as they did. There was not
much of an age difference between the three of us, unless you counted a few minutes.
Besides, our father could never remember which of us had been born first, consumed as he
was by the grief of losing our mother. Nonetheless, Marcus and Fergus had always behaved
as if they were the older brothers, and ordered me about accordingly, and I had gone along
with it. It had seemed too much effort to argue, and I had been far more interested in
learning to use my own specific abilities.
As Marcus read out a name in a slightly breathless voice, I felt our narrow world
changing and expanding, like a giant stone wall had unexpectedly morphed into an open
window, and we were stood surveying the possibilities that lay beyond it. We weren’t alone
anymore. A seventeen year old girl was responsible for that revelation, and suddenly I felt
very protective towards this young woman whom I had not even met yet. It didn’t occur to
me to write her details down. There was no point, really. I always remembered everything
people told me. It was one of my
That board was unbelievably uncomfortable. As the ambulance jolted and swerved its
way through traffic, my discomfort grew, until I wasn’t sure which was worse – the pain
from every bony prominence in my body pressing onto that board, or the pain of my actual
injuries. It was a tight call.
After what seemed like hours we finally arrived at the hospital, where I was finally
rolled off that board, while someone prodded my spine for signs of injury. The neck collar
was also removed once I was able to convince the slightly sceptical A&E doctor that I had
absolutely no pain whatsoever in my neck. I rotated it madly and lifted my head right off the
mattress to show him how little it hurt. He grinned at my efforts, and gave the nurse the
collar. I wondered briefly if it would need to be incinerated. It deserved nothing less, in my opinion.
The doctor then asked me what had happened, so I told him I’d been hit by a car. He
nodded like this happened all the time. I looked around the crowded A&E department. It
probably did happen all the time here.
Then he asked me where it hurt, and I pointed to my left knee, which had by now
swollen to the size of a small rugby ball. He pursed his lips, said, “Hmm,” and mumbled
something about x-rays. Then he listened to my chest and pressed on my abdomen, ordered
a few blood tests, and left. A nurse appeared within seconds and asked me if I would mind if
she took a few blood samples to send to the lab to check that I hadn’t lost too much blood,
and to cross match my blood type just in case I needed a transfusion. I thought that was
reaching a bit, but I consented anyway. She also wanted to know if I wanted her to contact
anyone to let them know where I was, and if I wanted anything for the pain.
I told her yes and no. Yes to the painkillers – now that I was off the board, the pain had
become concentrated in my knee, which had begun to throb excruciatingly, and painkillers
seemed like a wonderful concept right now. No to the contacting of relatives idea. My
mother was a drug rep, who spent most of her time on the road in between visits to doctors
and related medical professionals. She was also likely to panic if she heard that I was in
hospital, and she always drove erratically when she got excited and I was afraid she would
end up in here on a board too. My brothers were either at school or in college, and neither
drove yet, so calling them would be a bit pointless. I decided to call my mother once I’d
been x-rayed and sorted out and discharged. Then she would have no reason to panic.
Hopefully. The nurse looked a bit doubtful, but I was seventeen, and Gillick competent, so I
was able to make my own decisions with regards to medical treatment. My GP had
explained all about that when he was trying to persuade me to go on the pill a few months
back. I told him that I did not have a boyfriend, but he seemed reluctant to believe me. I bet in his mind all seventeen year olds are rutting like rabbits.
Twenty minutes later, and the painkillers were mercifully starting to work. The nurse
had said that they were stronger than ordinary paracetamol, and I believed her. My head
seemed to have detached itself from the rest of my body, and I felt very relaxed. The doctor
returned to tell me that I had fractured my patella, and mentioned something about a cast,
before running off to answer a call for a doctor in resus, wherever that was. I remember
lying there wondering what exactly a patella was, and not really caring too much that I
didn’t even know if it was anywhere near the knee. I would google it when I got home.
Forty minutes later I phoned my mother from one of the pay phones in the waiting
room. I tried to explain what had happened while I balanced awkwardly on two crutches
and one good leg. The injured leg was encased in a hot, heavy cast, and felt like it didn’t
really belong to me. The phone was jammed between my left shoulder and my ear.
“What’s a patella?” she wanted to know.
“It’s a bone in the knee,” I told her confidently, hoping I was right. Like I said, my
mother has this tendency to panic, and I’d become used to behaving as if nothing serious
was happening, just to prevent her from hyperventilating and having one of her “turns”. My
mum was a deeply caring woman, who had never quite recovered her equilibrium after my
dad died nine years ago. I think she was terrified of losing one of us too, and any suggestion of trouble involving any of her three children sent her thoughts spiralling into a vortex of
fear that she struggled to get back from. We had adapted to this, and we led fairly secretive
and seemingly mundane lives as a result.
“I’m in Leicester!” I heard the alarm creeping into her voice, so I hurriedly told her that I
would call a taxi, and meet her at home, and that there was no need for her to rush back. I
briefly explained about the cast and the crutches, and said that my knee felt a lot better,
which was sort of true and sort of not. It was starting to throb again. She seemed to calm
down slightly, and reminded me that she would reimburse me for the taxi, and then she
made loud kissing noises down the phone, said goodbye, and hung up. I smiled. Mum was
mental, but I loved her to bits.
She’d already left by the time I phoned the hospital. I prevaricated and told them I was
her father, and they eventually gave in and told me briefly that she’d fractured her patella,
but that it wasn’t a bad break, and would heal by itself within about six weeks. I thanked the nurse that I had spoken to, and hung up. Seconds later my mobile phone rang. It was Fergus,
and he was calling to relay some information that he had obtained illegally by hacking into
both the NHS database and the hospital’s computer system. I grinned. I wasn’t perturbed at
all by the way in which he had achieved this. It was not so much a case of the ends justifying the means, although that did play a part. It was just that most ethical dilemmas had been
dismissed from our consciences many years ago. They had been overwhelmingly irrelevant
to our lives back then, and they still meant very little to us. Not being orientated with the
world’s moral compass had become a habit, I suppose, and I myself had done much, much
worse than this before.
“I’m sending it to your phone now,” he said, and rang off. Fergus the conversationalist.
I waited two minutes before I heard the phone buzz, and checked my inbox. As I read
through the few details that had been so expertly stolen by my brother, I became aware of
how little we knew about her. Name, date of birth, address, previous A&E attendances (one
for a broken finger two years ago, one for a foreign body ear aged 3). Assorted bits of