The Blood Farm: Chapter One

When Tabitha Ray blew out the candles on her sixteenth birthday cake, begging the universe for something—anything— exciting to happen, she hadn’t meant cancer.

The diagnosis should have, by fairness, been hers. She had been the one making demands of the universe, after all, which now seemed bent on answering her desire for excitement in the worst way possible. This is what you get for not being grateful, it seemed to say. It was the kind of shitty thing the universe would do.

“Why is there never a place to park?” Rebecca Ray muttered as she steered their mid-sized sedan through the maze of neatly spaced vehicles arranged in the Chicago Memorial parking lot.

“Maybe you should drop me off at the doors while you look for a place,” Tabby’s older brother suggested from the passenger seat. The way he was sitting, with his battered Cubs baseball cap pulled low over his face hiding the dark circles under his eyes, she could almost imagine life was the way it used to be. Good. Boring. Safe. “We don’t want to be late.”

No, they didn’t want to be late. Memorial’s dialysis department might have been an antiquated relic left over from previous decades, relegated to a poorly lit corner of the third floor, but it was all there was, and they were lucky to get it. The staff frequently reminded the Rays of just how lucky. It wasn’t everywhere that still provided the service. They always said “the service” in the same way other people said “greyhound racing” or something else they disapproved of. The same way they muttered “those people” to one another when they saw the Rays in the waiting room.

Those people.

Radicals. Dissenters. Ungrateful troublemakers.

Tabby almost didn’t blame them for it, that was the worst part. Maybe they were right.

“I don’t think you should go alone, David,” Tabby’s mother said, looking around the crowded lot like there might be a parking space hiding behind the azaleas. “In case something happens.”

In case there was an accident, she meant. In case he fell.

Tabby’s eyes moved involuntarily to her brother, to where faded bruises still colored his left arm.

“Mom,” David began, in the patient, long-suffering tone meant to convey to his mother that he was a twenty-year-old man and not an invalid. “I don’t—”

“I’ll go,” Tabby volunteered, before the conversation could venture into more uncomfortable territory. “We’ll get checked in and wait for you upstairs.”

“Well…” her mother said reluctantly. “If you think you can manage…”

Tabby resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “I think I can manage to navigate a hospital lobby and an elevator, yes, Mom.” She lifted her foot in the air. “I wore my hiking boots.”

“That’s very funny, Tabitha.” She brought the car to a stop alongside the curb. “Be careful getting into the elevator. I’ll be up as soon as I can.”

Tabby got out of the backseat and quickly unloaded the walker from the trunk. She opened the passenger door, averting her eyes as David struggled out of the car. The signs of his decline worried at her like a razor in her ribs, but she would say nothing about it, would offer no help. It meant something to him, that she didn’t know how hard it was, so she pretended not to. He was ashamed of it, embarrassed by the curious, pitying glances of strangers wondering what had reduced such a young man to such a thin shell. While she waited, Tabby pretended to read the poster hanging in the hospital entry windows, the one reminding the public that flu season was only six months away.

“That actually was funny,” David said, as the car door at last slammed behind him and the vehicle moved off to resume its futile search, “but you shouldn’t tease her; she means well.”

“So does the French prime minister. Look where that’s gotten him.”

“That reminds me.” He glanced sideways at her. “You’re watching too much CNN again.”

Now Tabby did roll her eyes. “I have to find out about the rest of the world somehow.”