MY STUDIO space felt like a favorite pair of jeans, worn and comfortable, maybe disreputable, but while wearing them I was sure I could conquer the world. Here behind my microphone, monitor and status lights glowing, I was invincible.
“Welcome to The Midnight Hour, the show that isn’t afraid of the dark or the creatures who live there. Thanks for joining me this evening. I’m hoping to have a rollicking good time, so let’s get going.”
Over the years since I’d started working at KNOB after college, and since I’d launched my radio show, we’d replaced the chairs, upgraded equipment, updated screening procedures, and syndicated to almost a hundred markets across the country. Details had changed, but this still felt like home. It would always feel like home, I hoped. We still played CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising” as the intro. My sound guy, Matt, still engineered the whole show from his booth. I could see him through the booth window, head bent over the board. A big guy with short black hair and a laid-back attitude, he’d been with me almost from the beginning, as soon as the calls got to be too much for me to handle and we syndicated and suddenly had a mountain of technical issues. The show and I wouldn’t have made it this far without him. I should probably tell him that.
“My guest this evening is a regular on the show, my good friend Dr. Elizabeth Shumacher, who heads up the Center for the Study of Paranatural Biology at the NIH, and my go-to guru for cutting-edge science and research on the conditions we know as vampirism and lycanthropy. Welcome back to the show, Dr. Shumacher.”
“Thanks, Kitty, I’m happy to be here.” Her voice came through my headphones; Dr. Shumacher was doing the interview from an affiliate radio station in Washington, D.C.—very late at her time, which meant I owed her one. On the plus side, I could interview her while in my jeans and T-shirt, sans makeup, hair tied up in a scrunchy. One of the many reasons I loved radio—I didn’t have to dress up.
In my chipper radio-host voice I said, “I understand there’s some new research indicating that scientists may have learned the origin of vampirism, which in turn may lead to discovering the source of lycanthropy. What can you tell me?”
Shumacher was the consummate scientist, talking evenly and articulately about everything. I’d met her a few times in person; she was a middle-aged woman who embodied calm and confidence. I liked her and was lucky she kept letting me drag her onto the show. We needed people like her to cut through the legends and fear and get to the truth.
“It’s far too early to be making sweeping statements about the discovery of anything. But we have some promising leads developing, which ought to point us to some fruitful new lines of inquiry.”
“Which is scientist speak for, you’re not going to stick your neck out, which is fine, but I’m not going to let you off the hook that easily,” I said. “What exactly is this research about?”
“For some time, there’s been a popular working hypothesis that vampirism, and perhaps lycanthropy as well, are transmitted through a variation of retroviral infection. Think of it as a kind of nefarious gene therapy. Gene therapy can be used to replace a portion of a patient’s faulty, mutated DNA with healthy DNA. Viruses are often used to deliver healthy DNA, since they’re naturally designed to attach to human cells, inject their own DNA, and reproduce quickly. Only in the case of vampirism, healthy human DNA is replaced by the DNA markers indicative of vampirism.”
I got just enough of what she was talking about to know it was dangerous. But I wanted to understand. It was half the reason I did the show in the first place. The other half came from a vague hope that I might actually be able to help people. Just a few people. I wasn’t trying to change the world.
“So vampirism—it’s like catching a cold, except instead of just a runny nose, it transforms the host into another state of being entirely?”
“It’s a bit more complicated than that,” she said, sounding amused. She understood the need to paraphrase for the lowest common denominator audience. I’d read the papers she’d sent me—twice—and had to do some translating of my own. We’d get there. “Most people have antibodies that repel cold viruses—the symptoms of the cold are the result of the body’s immune system fighting off the infection. It’s my thought that vampirism was never common enough for human beings to develop antibodies to fight against, and so it’s able to transform the host DNA without resistance. The next step is to confirm this hypothesis by identifying and isolating the transmitting virus.”
“How close are you and your colleagues to doing that?”
“Well…”—and this was where I could tell she was self-editing—“not as close as we’d like. Samples are not all that easy to come by.”
I said, “If it’s a virus, do you think you might ever be able to develop a vaccine to protect against vampirism or lycanthropy?”
“Really, the transmission of these conditions is so difficult, and the chance of any one person becoming infected is so small, the development of a vaccine probably will never become a priority. I know the focus of many of my colleagues is on treating and potentially curing those already afflicted.”
This was getting into very interesting territory indeed. “How close are you and your colleagues to finding a cure?”
A pause, almost too long for radio. The back of my neck itched, wanting to jump in and fill the quiet, but I didn’t want to push her. When she finally answered, Shumacher sounded as uncertain as I’d ever heard her. “These are difficult, elusive questions we’re dealing with, Kitty. All we can do is keep working and see what we find.”