That First New Morning
Again, the agonizing screech of an alarm was the only thing that was able to rouse him from his sleep. His drive to move was less than it would have normally been, and his body’s natural aversion to daylight hours made it seem heavier than usual. He was determined to have a better morning though. Numerous alarms and a swing at a good night’s sleep ensured he would be up on time. Though, in all honesty, he didn’t sleep well. He tossed and turned and got bored and sat on social media sites for hours and hours and watched pointless videos instead of shutting off and sleeping. He just couldn’t find himself tired or relaxed. Between nerves and his own natural schedule, there was no way that he would find a good comfortable rest.
He did, eventually, doze off. But that sleep was not a particularly restful sleep. Nights like this, he would slip off for moments, but the inevitable nightmares induced by the stress he felt kept waking him up. Those dreams where the day had begun and operated normally until some twist of terror would pull you out of your sleep, and adrenaline would keep you up for a few minutes. He was always used to such things, so he tended to fall back asleep. Though, that may have just exacerbated the problem, making him have most of the night in short bouts of poorly interrupted naps.
That morning, despite his lack of energy, he was up and ready much more smoothly than he had been a few days prior. He had time to enjoy a simple, lukewarm shower and a small breakfast before his final alarm let him know he should be leaving. He got dressed, and though he had time, he looked no more put together than he ever did in the past.
As he was leaving, his phone chimed. It gave him a simple text message alert. The name simply said, Olivia.
Good luck. The text said, though the gif of a particularly popular cartoon character in a particularly sarcastic scene. It made him roll his eyes. It was meant in a playful tease, of course, but it still made him feel a little bit like an idiot. But, she did at least say something to him one way or the next. Which was nicer than any of his other so-called friends. He didn’t have time to dwell on it, and with his usual accouterments, he headed out to his car.
It was still dark out, which was nice for him. His car started up normally, and he tried the radio for a few minutes as he started to pull out – but it was miserable. For all of his life, he had absolutely hated early morning radio. He had no desire to listen to morning radio hosts. They just annoyed him. Noises and constant yammering with guests that he could have cared less, and clearly didn’t want to be there. And there was so much time between the music that it seemed almost pointless. The music was why he listened to the radio on the drive. And for this drive, reliable music would have made it so much more tolerable.
It was just a few days ago that he made this drive in a mere few minutes – but early morning driving, along with so many other people, was hellishly dull. There were too many stoplights in this town, and people piled out to head towards their job, or drop their kids off at school, or whatever. He didn’t know. He didn’t really care. There was only one reality here. The movement was slow enough that it seemed like he would just crawl along between lights, barely making any headway. He was surprised people lived like this. What did they do in the car every morning? Listen to some random people make bad pop culture jokes interspersed with random noises? Or was there something he was missing? It had to be that, right? Something people knew that he didn’t. No one looked to be as deep in thought or miserable as him as he looked around and caught glimpses of other drivers.
The person in front of him, in particular, seemed unaffected. She was dancing in her car, enjoying a coffee, and seemed genuinely happy. She’d even wave to people from time to time. He hated her a little bit, as he sat in his quiet existential box waiting to reach a job he didn’t particularly want to go to. But, she turned off and into a shopping center, and he was back to watching people in short bursts. No one else was as interesting to him. Except one person with a bunch of bumper stickers he didn’t understand. It just seemed like random numbers to him. But whatever they meant, the person seemed proud of them.
Eventually, nearly thirty minutes after he left, he finally found his way to work. His car pulled into the parking lot he was used to early that morning. His clock said 6:44 AM. The sun was beginning to peak over the horizon through the skyline of small skyscrapers in their midsized city. That light hitting his skin sent a bit of shaking through his form, a wave of building nausea almost instantly coming over him. It was a familiar feeling he had been able to tamp down on for so long, but now he was going to face it again. Olivia was right. This might have been a very bad choice. Maybe starving was a better plan.
He was a creature of habit, and the first thing that irked him was the fact that the parking lot was already full. He wouldn’t be able to park where he wanted to. Or even in the same section. He had to wrap around and find a parking space, and it took him a circle or two to find a spot. Even that was not a decent one, it was far and with no possible shade between it and the entrance. He took a minute to steel himself and prepare to get into work for the day. One long breath helped center him and he stepped out into the morning light.
It was a mistake.
As soon as that solar light fell on his skin more fully, he felt another wave of nausea and fatigue. It made the walk to the front door feel as though it took forever. With the sun out, it was such a different world. He remembered it differently than it was now – even without the painful parts of the existence. His skin was burning within seconds, heated up and his skin turning bright pink and red. He made his way to the lobby a few seconds later.
He waited for a few moments just inside the door, enjoying the shade of the building and feeling himself get a bit closer to normal once he had a second. He never thought the smell of stale recycled air and fluorescent carpet – and whatever that third smell was that he couldn’t quite place. Just that general stench of a building full of humans. He sighed and straightened himself up a bit only to catch the eyes of Marcell staring at him.
“You aren’t lookin’ so hot,” The old night guardsman said quietly, twisting back down to look at his tablet for whatever internet surfing he was doing to pass the time.
“Not great. But I’m okay,” Mattias said softly, taking a moment to clear his throat. He took a step forward and found himself a bit dizzier than he would have thought, but that faded quickly. The further away from the sun, he was, the better he was able to do. “I guess good morning.”
“Mhm,” Marcell responded with a quiet nod.
Mattias didn’t try to engage beyond that. He just decided to move on. He heard the door open behind him and saw another person enter. Some older man in a business suit with a dark briefcase. As the vampire called the elevator, the man walked up next to him and looked at him.
Really looked. He stared at him with a strange intensity that Mattias didn’t particularly like. And he never said anything. He just stared, until the elevator dinged. The man pushed past him, his shoulder checking the vampire as if this was some sort of race to the tiny cubicle that would lift them both to their destinations. He didn’t understand the strategy if he was honest. Or why the man was in such a rush.
Holland followed him into the elevator and stared at the lit-up number. Looked like he was headed to the third floor. It was only proper to start off polite, he thought.
“Could you hit floor four for me?” Mattias gave a small point to the number as the door started to shut. The man turned and stared back at the vampire. Mattias’ eyes widened expectantly, but nothing happened. The man just stared. It frustrated the vampire a bit, “Alright, fair enough. Not until you’ve had your coffee, I guess.” He thought out loud, stepping forward and leaning past the man to hit the number of his floor. All the while, the man just stared at him.
It was a long twenty seconds before they reached the third floor. And that stare never left him. Mattias could not understand it and couldn’t read him. He wasn’t sure if he had done something to piss him off, or if he was trying to establish some sort of dominance. Whatever it was, it wasn’t working. When the doors open, the man muttered under his breath something and shook his head, stepping off and away. A great way to start the morning.
The elevator doors closed and the lift began to rise again. A few more seconds and he was on the fourth floor. He moved towards the entrance to his office and found himself frozen at the door. He hadn’t realized how many windows there were in the cubicle farm, and that morning sunlight pouring in was intimidating, to say the least.
He took a deep breath and pushed open the door. The fact that the glass doors had blocked the sound of the room astonished him. Even with not nearly half the staff having arrived, there was a buzz of activity that seemed so loud. It must have been louder today than usual, as they had often crossed paths with others as they left the night shift, but it was never like this. It was a buzz of laughing and early morning talking, the sound of percolating coffee, and early morning hums of computers coming online, and the clacking of passwords being entered. The smell of coffee was actually overwhelming, but that part was a little bit comforting and made him feel a lot more.
He glanced down to his small red bottle and gave a smirk. He was sure that smell would not have been as popular with the people getting ready for work. He was pulled from that thought when he heard the hiss of the door behind him pushing open, and a bubbly voice bounding out.
“Oh, sorry! We don’t technically open until seven,” He heard the voice speak quickly. It was so high and mousey that he didn’t know how to respond, and it was followed by hurried clicks of high heels on the fake wooden floors. A common sound here, he admitted, but she seemed to be moving quickly. He turned his gaze towards the sound, as she continued, “Give me one second to put down my things and I can get you checked in.”
“No, you don’t,” Mattias tried to speak up, but his quiet lack of a morning voice didn’t help in this situation, she continued as she moved past him.
“It’ll just take me a minute. Mondays, am I right?” She asked quickly. Now, Mattias was not a big man, but this woman made him look like a giant. She couldn’t have been five feet tall. That small package was paired with nearly three feet of long golden hair with strips of artificial platinum throughout, a smile as bright as any he had seen. Much more than any he had ever given. She hefted a load of bags that would have made a packhorse buckle. She had her purse on one shoulder, which was one of those massive tote bag style ordeals that seemed to bulge at the center from the number of things within it. Her lunchbox was another surprisingly large bag. And across her shoulders she had a rather well-packed backpack, which by the branding near its straps was likely holding her laptop. All of this she was carrying in addition to the number of layers of clothes she wore. She was meticulously dressed for her days work, with a morning coat over her business jacket, a small sweater vest, and a button-up blouse under that. She wore a knit scarf and long gloves. All of which she had to pull off once she got to her desk. “And who are you here to see?”
“No,” Mattias said with a shake of his head and a small wave of his arms. “I work here.”
“Oh, a new hire. Here for Orientation, then?”
“What? No. I already work here,”
“Yes, employment comes before,”
“No I mean I’ve worked here for years.”
“I would have remembered you, then,” She spoke quickly, a wide smile on her face, and sudden piercing gaze turned in his direction. “I’m good with faces, and yours is unique.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,”
“Good, because it was one,” She spoke, but he honestly wasn’t sure if she was being facetious. She had to be, he thought. There was no other explanation for how polite she was being to him at their first meeting.
“Right.” It had already taken her longer to get her accouterments off and hung up than it did for him to put on his entire outfit this morning. “I’m Mattias. Was on night shift and,”
“Oh, you’re the Manager that got switched to Day Shift. Congratulations!” She clapped a bit as she spoke, rifling through her drawers.
“Nightshift must have been terribly lonely. I’m glad you’re here now. We’ll have to celebrate you and your team coming up to greet the sun, finally, after all those years,” She was chipper. Of course, she didn’t realize the sun was making him nauseated, and the very fact that she was chipper made him think that she likely didn’t actually know what she was saying – at least in regard to him – but he had no time to correct her before that small hand slammed a chocolate and caramel bar on the counter side of her receptionist station. “Here, I know it’s not much but I didn’t know you guys were going to join us after the shutdown. I’m glad no one got fired though!”
“I can’t,” He said with a little wave of his hand. For the first time, he saw that smile of hers fade, just a bit.
“Oh. You’re not much of one for sweets then,”
“You could say that, yes,” He responded. That seemed to take more steam out of her. He realized the answer she had probably been looking for was a timing thing, not that he couldn’t. Her eyes widened larger as she seemed to come to a realization that it wasn’t a choice, “I mean, I’d love to take it – but I literally can’t.”
“Oh god,” She said quickly, pulling the candy away. “I’m so sorry,” The way she said so took up the most of that short sentence somehow, “Dietary restriction. I should have asked that first,”
“You could say that. Yeah,”
“Are you…” Her voice lowered as if she was trying to be polite, “Diabetic?”
“I don’t think you have to whisper that,”
“I mean,” She kept whispering, “I don’t want other people to know if you don’t want to tell them,” She said quickly, “I’ll keep it quiet.”
“No. I, what? No. That’s not it, exactly.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I guess I could be diabetic, technically. I mean, my pancreas doesn’t work, and my blood sugar depends on who I drank last.” He tapped his chin a bit, in thought. This was something he did. Meander on topics in weird directions, and some people, like the receptionist, didn’t understand he was just thinking.
“Wait… drank?” She glanced across him for a moment and the blood drained from her face and she slipped back, “An alcoholic?”
Mattias was confused and just shook his head. “No, I’m a vampire.”
“Oh,” Her tone changed immediately back the more chipper one, “Good, I was worried.”
He couldn’t help but smile as she put the candy away and smiled back over to him. “Why did you think an alcoholic?”
“Bourbon cream filled bar,”
“I thought it was caramel,”
“They look similar,” She shrugged. “Wait, vampires can’t have sugar?”
“We don’t metabolize things like humans. I can eat, but it takes longer and is really bad for me if I don’t have proper blood flow.” He shook the red bottle in his hand, a little sloshing noise from the container made its way over to her, and for a second she seemed confused.
“Is that… blood?”
“Human, yes. Not sure what type, just grabbed one from the fridge,” He said with a shrug.
“Neat. Just out of curiosity…” She said quietly, “What would happen if I had a drink?”
“Uhm…” He glanced down at the bottle and then back to her, “First, weird question,” He said quietly, and then with a tilt of his head gave a smirk, “Second, nothing.”
“Oh. I guess that makes sense. I just thought, maybe there was something special about it,” She said with just the softest hint of disappointment in her tone.
“I mean, its good blood. Like. Great quality, I guess.” He paused, and then there was the dreaded awkward silence between the two, where neither said a word for a moment. He gave a point towards the cubicle farm beyond. “I should find my new… office. But it was nice to meet you,”
“Oh, yeah! Sorry, it was weird,”
“Eh, I like weird,” He replied, “Oh, and your name was?”
“Ava-May Mays, but people just call me Ava. Or Miss Mays,”
“Which do you prefer?”
“Ava it is. And you can call me Mattias.”
“Mattias,” She smiled, “Good to meet you. Welcome to the Day Shift,”
“Thank you, I’m…”
“Mr. Holland,” Ed’s voice shattered the conversation with a purposeful intent of a bark. Somehow she had snuck up on them, standing in the entryway to the cubicles beyond. The woman was as sharply dressed as always, cutting a stark figure of a silhouette against the rising sun beyond the windows. “My office.”
“Right, on my way.” He had stopped the sentence then at first, but she was shrouded by the position of the sun, and didn’t move – but he felt like he could see her eyes narrow expectantly on him anyway, “Ms. Chambers.”
A sudden realization hit him. He didn’t remember if Miss was right for Ed. Was she a Miss, or a Misses? He couldn’t remember if she was married, and he couldn’t see her well enough to make out a ring if she was. It made him suddenly very self-conscious. He was worried that she wasn’t going to respond well if he was wrong. Her response didn’t instill him with confidence either.
She gave a small huff, a hum of sound that was neither happy or unhappy. It was cold and frankly uncaring and he wasn’t sure if he had misspoken. But she did move off towards her office, so he was going to count it in his wins for the day.
He took a breath and stepped through the opening and into the offices proper. The torrent of sunlight stopped him in his path and made him keel over just a bit, for a moment. Nausea and fatigue moved on him like a storm. His muscles tightened up and his body tensed without him in control. He felt like he was the embodiment of discomfort for a few moments, but as he took stock he was able to regain some semblance of control and begin his walk towards Ed’s office. She hadn’t paused when he did, so he took a while to catch up to her, and then he was there at her door.