January 13

1978 – The US Food and Drug Administration implements a new policy requiring all blood donations be labeled as “paid” or “volunteer”

 

After sunset, the house became dark and unfamiliar. The four of them waited in one room, hoping their conversation could provide an emotional warmth to compensate for the lack of electric heat.

“Do you think they’ll come tonight?” So typical of Danielle to ask questions.

“They don’t know, stupid.” And just as typical of the boy to be so blunt. Young Simon’s bluster helped him feel more like an adult, perhaps. Children had to grow up quickly in these changed times. If they grew up at all.

Ms. Clough assumed her usual peacekeeper role. “Now Simon, be nice. We face enough challenges from outside, without turning on each other.” She pushed the two children together in warming proximity, and huddled closer to Darian.

Instead of a knock, a loud rap sounded against the window over the couch. Another rap, closer to the door — two of visitors tonight…or the same one, racing along the front of the house.

“I’ll take care of this.” Darian rose from the couch. “You kids hold your tongues.”

His comment was directed at her, too, Ms. Clough knew. She’d been indiscreet during the previous visitation.

Darian opened the door. At first she saw nothing — darkness inside and out, and Darian’s body blocking the way.

A deep voice spoke in slow, precise syllables. “May we enter?”

Darian stepped aside. From the couch, Ms. Clough said, “It’s not our house. We can’t deny you entrance.” This was the kind of comment that got her in trouble previously, mocking the visitors for their adherence to outdated folklore. The pretense of social niceties.

Their male visitor was a tall slender shadow with a floating pale face at the top. Red shining eyes, and a gleam of sharp teeth in the dark. The old witch was with him: a cane-walking shadow with long gray hair. Darian followed them into the main room.

The witch conjured a glow that brought faint illumination to their sparse living room. “Which will it be tonight?” Her voice was like an incantation. “Will the donation be voluntary?”

During the previous visit, Ms. Clough had shouted back in protest: Voluntary? None of this is voluntary! This is a ridiculous farce! She rubbed the section of her left arm where a chunk of flesh had been torn away during the donation. Tonight, she kept quiet.

Darian rubbed a hand at the side of his throat, looked from Danielle to Young Simon.

She shivered. Hoped he’d make the right decision.

“Paid,” Darian said. “The girl, I think.”

Red eyes flashed, a mouth of teeth spread wide, and a shadow fell over Danielle. Instead of a scream, the child repeated a one-word question.

Ms. Clough kept silent. It wasn’t their house; these weren’t their children.

Tomorrow, they’d find a new girl.

The male shadow dragged Danielle across the floor, sharp teeth tearing her young throat, and all questions stopped.

A faint electric warmth filled the room. “Payment,” the witch said.