The black boy on trial smells the blood. That sweet, sweet hemoglobin, boiling now under the blushed skins of the dying race. He can smell mousse, too, and putrid sweat. He can’t smell the eyes of this mob of mortals in the courtroom, but he feels them, stabbing like so many wooden stakes into his fifteen-year-old back.
“Mr. Attucks…” The grating voice of Judge Arthur Byron, a balding white man with an O-positive blood type, snaps Teddy from his trance. “What is your full name?”
He swallows hard. “Theodore Christopher Attucks.”
“And what is your date of birth?”
“Could you clarify the year for the record?”
He clears his throat. “1899.”
The judge leans forward, rubbing his knuckles. From the sudden whiff of camphor and menthol, Teddy knows the judge has arthritis. And as he goes on about Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 265, Section 23, his breath reeks of last night’s Jim Beam and Fenway garlic fries.
“You are charged with rape and abuse of a child.” Mortal murmurs diffuse, and the judge bangs the gavel. “Order. Order, I say!”
The few immortals present sit in the back, still. Among them, Mother appears stoic, wearing a tailored dark blazer with puffed shoulders over a leopard ruffle silk blouse. Wraparound shades hide long-suffering eyes. Beside her, Teddy’s older sister, Eliana, also in shades, whispers a mantra for positivity. Father is a no-show. He has a “public image to uphold,” considering his historic campaign for state representative for the 8th Suffolk district, an epic battle against longtime incumbent George Murray.
Once the noise dies down, the judge continues: “The statute states that a person who unlawfully has sexual intercourse and abuses a child under sixteen years of age shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for life or for any term of years the court finds appropriate.” The judge narrows his eyes. “Do you understand what you’ve been charged with?”
“Yes, Your Honor,” says Teddy, but his voice cracks on “Honor.”
“All right. How do you plead?”
What follows feels like an eternity. A lifetime swaddled in the span of three seconds. In that forever, Teddy fixes his eyes upon the flag to the judge’s right. Star-spangled. Just hanging there, all flaccid. And Father’s oft-repeated quote by Thomas Jefferson echoes in his head:
The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
Mother, on the other hand, always taught Teddy to take a stand. The stand in this courtroom may not be what she had in mind. But alas, here he is, a martyr in a war he never signed up for. After decades of civil co-existence between mortals and immortals in Boston, this singular case—Commonwealth v. Attucks—has turned the so-called Cradle of Liberty into a hub of bloodlust.
“Not guilty, Your Honor.”
All because he fucked a dying girl.
The day he met her was in June, the middle of the hottest heat wave on record. Teddy didn’t mind the heat, but prolonged sun exposure wasn’t ideal for his kind. For that reason, he usually stayed indoors, working double shifts at the South End’s carnivorous flower bistro, Bite Me, Venus. The overtime was helping him save up to get his fangs sanded off, a costly underground operation he knew would make Father proud. Teddy’s boss, an unabashed immortal supporter, ran up to him that morning.
“Congrats, bud! I just saw the latest polls on TV,” he said, pumped up. “Your father’s now got a six-point edge over Old Man Murray! That’s wicked awesome!”
“Uh-huh,” said Teddy, but he was too distracted by the angel entering the bistro.
Members of the dying race usually came to Bite Me, Venus by accident, enticed by the name, wandering in off Columbus Avenue. Not this girl. She came on purpose that Friday. Teddy could tell because she had on a floral vintage dress, a forget-me-not flower in her blond hair, and the hint of hunger in her wide sky-blue eyes. She was with a giddy group of three other white girls, socialites-in-progress.
“Welcome to Bite Me, Venus,” said Teddy at their booth. “My name’s Teddy. I’ll be your server.”
“Excuse me,” said the blonde, noticing his smile. “Aren’t you, like, a vampire?”
“Oh my God, Wendy!” said the A-positive redhead, then put her hand to her heart, embarrassed. “I’m so sorry, sir, this one doesn’t get out much.”
Wendy’s face turned red.
“It’s all right. I’m not offended,” said Teddy. “Do you know what you want?”
“Umm,” said an O-positive with pearl earrings, “do you have any recommendations for first-timers? The three of us, we’ve eaten here before—”
“But Wendy’s daddy looooaaathes this place,” said another O-positive.
“So we wanted to treat her,” said the redhead, “for her birthday. And after this, we’re taking her to the House of Mirrors. You ever been there?”
Teddy ignored the question, focused on Wendy. “So you’re the birthday girl, huh?”
She raised her hand. “Guilty as charged.”
“And how old are we today?”
She put her hand on her hip. “Isn’t it impolite to ask a woman her age?”
“Says the lady who called me the v-word.”
She nodded a touché. “Well, technically, my birthday’s on Tuesday. I’ll be sixteen. And you?”
Teddy smiled with his mouth closed. “I’ll never tell.” He put his notepad down. “Now, let me illuminate you on some botany. There are five basic trapping mechanisms found in carnivorous plants. You’ve got your pitfall traps, fly paper traps, snap traps, bladder traps, and lobster pot traps. Do any of those sound enticing to you, birthday girl?”
“Oh my God, uhh, I don’t know,” said Wendy, playing with a toothpick under the table as she skimmed the menu. “I would like to try…the deadliest flower you have.”
“You want deadly?” Teddy leaned in close, turned the page. “Here…”
He pointed to a picture of a cobra-shaped flower: the Darlingtonia California. The leaves of the plant were bulbous and formed a hollow cavity with an opening situated underneath a swollen, balloon-like structure. It had two pointed leaves hanging off the end like fangs.
Wendy read the description aloud: “Nectar inside the plant’s hidden opening attracts insects. Once inside, insects become confused by the transparent areas that appear like exits—”
“After that, it’s goodbye fly,” said Teddy, close enough to taste her.
Wendy looked up at the girls, exhilarated. “I want this one!”
“You sure, Wen?” said O-positive. “What if you get sick?”
Wendy shrugged. “We’re all gonna die someday.”
“Not all of us, darling,” said Teddy, winking at her.
And as she handed Teddy her menu, Wendy slipped a folded napkin into his palm.
Teddy waited until he reached the kitchen to open the napkin. On it, he saw a blotch of scarlet. AB-negative. Wendy had pricked her finger with the toothpick and dabbed the wound. Her aroma crawled into Teddy’s wide-open nostrils, haunting the depths of his olfactory system for the rest of the day.
That night, she came back. Alone, this time. The restaurant was empty, and Teddy was just closing up when he saw her standing there in the doorway.
“Aren’t you going to, like, invite me in?”
He caught a whiff of tomato juice on her breath. He said nothing. She stepped inside, locked the door, and moved towards him. He backed up until he hit a wall. He could hear the blood engorging her clitoris. They were inches apart.
“I can’t do this,” said Teddy, for he knew he’d be in direct violation of Attucks Family Rule #33: Thou shalt not have sexual relations with a member of the dying race.
“You’re doing this,” said Wendy, sliding his hand under her floral dress, up her thigh for him to feel her slippery insides, that hollow cavity.
Still, he resisted. The Massachusetts general election was five months away, and Father’s legacy was at stake. If he could defeat Murray, Father would become the first state representative of his kind. Teddy couldn’t jeopardize that.
“My father…” said Teddy as they staggered back through the kitchen. “I can’t defy his laws.”
She laughed. “His laws?” And started sucking on his neck. “Your father can’t control you.”
They groped their way to the restaurant greenhouse. Captivated by the exotic display of carnivorous flowers, Wendy gasped. “Where’s my darling?”
Teddy lifted her up onto a table next to a small circular garden, its soil filled with ice and dozens of darlingtonias. He picked up an ice cube. Traced the ice down her neck.
“They survive longer in cool temperatures.”
She shivered. “Cold…”
Teddy took his time, savoring her until neither of them could take any more. And the hymen blood tasted every bit as good as he thought it would.
TRANSCRIPT OF TRIAL
BEFORE: HON. ARTHUR BYRON, J.S.C. AND JURY
DIRECT EXAMINATION BY: ANNE HAWKINS, PROSECUTION
Q: Mr. Attucks, where do you work?
A: Bite Me, Venus.
Q: And what kind of business is Bite Me, Venus?
A: It’s a restaurant.
Q: Specifically, a carnivorous flower bistro named after the Venus flytrap, correct?
Q: Is it also correct that the Venus flytrap secretes sweet nectar to make insects think they’ve found a flower? Then traps them in its lobes to feed on the innocent insect’s nitrogen-rich blood?
A: Yes, that’s, uh…correct.
Q: Like a vampire, no?
MR. HIGHGATE: Objection, Your Honor, that’s inflammatory!
THE COURT: Sustained. Mrs. Hawkins, let’s leave the v-word out of this.
MRS. HAWKINS: Yes, Your Honor.
Q: Mr. Attucks, are you familiar with German physician Franz Anton Mesmer?
A: He’s eighteenth century. Before my time.
(Response elicits chuckles from the rear of the courtroom)
Q: But you’re familiar with his work, yes?
A: I’m familiar.
Q: Do you subscribe to his theory that bodies ooze an invisible, mysterious fluid-like force that can attract and influence humans?
A: That animal magnetism idea was debunked long ago.
Q: Do you not believe in the power of suggestion?
A: I believe a person can’t be hypnotized if they don’t want to be.
Q: What if this person is too, er, immature to know what they want?
MR. HIGHGATE: Objection, Your Honor. The question is argumentative.
THE COURT: Overruled. Please answer the question, Mr. Attucks.
A: This isn’t folklore, all right? I didn’t cast any seduction spells on her. I didn’t lure her in with some super-hypnotic loverboy-stare. We were both fifteen, you know? A couple of horny kids just—
MRS. HAWKINS: She is a kid, Mr. Attucks! But you? With your 100-plus years worth of experience? No. No, you’re something else, I’m afraid.
After the love was made, Teddy felt ashamed as he lay naked in the greenhouse. He had broken the vow and disgraced the family. Father would never forgive him.
“Here,” he said, waving Wendy’s dress at her, “here.”
“What’s the rush?”
Teddy hurried to put his clothes on. “I can’t be late for supper.”
“Supper? But it’s past eleven.”
He nodded. For the Attucks family, midnight was suppertime, a ritual dating back to the 1910s, established by Father to keep the family united. Teddy dared not add tardiness to his list of transgressions.
Wendy hopped up. “I want to come with you!”
“Huh? No, that’s not a good idea.”
“It’s just…” Teddy missed a button on his shirt, started over. “Some other time, maybe.”
“It’s because I’m a mortal?”
“It’s complicated, all right?”
“I can’t live forever, so I’m not good enough to meet your family. Sounds pretty simple to me.”
She turned away, covering herself as she dressed. Teddy just knew bringing this girl home would be an epic disaster. But another thought occurred to him: If Wendy saw how sophisticated they lived, Father might be able to gain mortal support.
And Teddy said: “If you’re coming, you have to hurry up.”
They ran all the way to Beacon Hill. It was 11:57 when they reached the south slope, the seat of Boston wealth and power, where mansard-roofed houses line narrow gaslit streets. Teddy led Wendy to the Attucks residence, a brick Federalist estate, which he still called “the new house” even though his family had lived there sixty years now.
They entered through the French doors. Wendy stood there in the grand foyer under the vaulted ceiling, taking in the magnificent view. Renaissance murals covered the walls. There was a grand piano in the corner. A winding staircase led into a skylit formal dining room. Teddy could smell the blend of black pepper, musk, and citrus from Father’s cologne, Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet.
“Theodore!” Father called from upstairs, as yet unseen.
“Yes, sir, coming!”
Teddy took Wendy’s hand and raced up the stairs, two at a time. Hurried across the creaky hardwood floor, past Father’s private study, where the “Wiener Blut” (Viennese Blood) waltz by Johann Strauss II poured out from the phonograph. They arrived, at last, at the long mahogany dining table dotted with burning candles. Chinese porcelain had been set down in four places with designated name tags for each member of the Attucks family. In the middle of the table were plates of prune-stuffed gnocchi. This meal, however, was “for display only,” not to be eaten. Instead, the family would be partaking in one of Mother’s famous chowder recipes: a rich, tangy dish made from lamb’s blood, topped with black pepper, garlic, and a sprinkle of chives.
Wearing a tuxedo with an ascot as usual, Father sat at the head. His back was to the door, so he didn’t see them enter, but Teddy knew he could smell her. Seated at the opposite end, in a crimson lace gown with a plunging neckline, Mother froze. Then Eliana saw them, and her eyes grew wide as she started uttering a mantra for peace.
“Hello,” said Wendy.
The voice made Father turn around. He was an imposing man in a fifty-two-year-old frame, dark-skinned and robust, with jet black hair, chemically straightened. His jaw was square, his eyes like black holes that Teddy always feared he might get trapped in if he stared too long.
Teddy cleared his throat. “Family, forgive my tardiness. This is Wendy.”
Father looked at Teddy.
Then at Wendy.
Then back to Teddy.
After that, he stood up and said: “Excuse me.” And walked out.
Nobody moved. The waltz in the background spun through the awkward silence.
Teddy spoke to Wendy to hide his nerves. “So that’s my mother down there…”
Wendy went to shake Mother’s hand. “So nice to meet you, ma’am.”
“Oh please, don’t ma’am me. You make me feel old,” she said. “Call me Rosemary.”
Teddy said: “And that’s my sister, Eliana—”
“Namaste,” she said.
“—who you might have heard of from—”
“The Bloodline!” said Wendy, rushing over to her. “Oh my God, my friend, Sylvia, calls there, like, all the time. I’ve never called myself, but she swears you give the best advice ever.”
The Bloodline was a suicide help line Eliana started in Dorchester in the early 1970s. It was her calling, she said, a way to use decades of life experience to give back to the suffering world. Eliana had an extreme sympathy for the dying race. Immortal guilt, Father called it. But people found solace in her wisdom. Her survival stories spanning from slavery in America to the First World War to the Dust Bowl and beyond had a way of making suicidal mortals realize their modern lives weren’t so bad after all.
Eliana put her hands together and bowed her head. “I am but a vessel.”
Teddy said: “…and, uh, my father is—”
“Mr. Attucks,” said Father, returning with an extra hand-carved wooden chair. He set the chair down beside Teddy’s seat, then went to shake Wendy’s hand. “Wendy, was it? Splendid of you to join us.” He motioned for her to have a seat. “Well, then. Let’s eat, shall we?”
Father prayed aloud to the Lord, repenting for the sins of the family, asking for the wisdom of Solomon in times of confusion, and giving thanks for the glorious feast before them. “All this, in Christ’s name we pray,” he concluded, “Amen.”
Teddy started to serve Wendy some prune-stuffed gnocchi, but she stopped him.
“Oh, none of that for me, please,” she said. “I’ll have what you all are having.”
Teddy forced a smile. “You really don’t have to—”
“Son, let’s not be churlish,” said Father. “Kindly fix our guest a bowl of Mother’s chowder.”
Teddy did as he was told as the waltz ended. Father dabbed his mouth with a linen napkin.
“Excuse me,” he said, then went out to replay the composition.
Teddy cringed as Wendy lifted a spoonful of blood to her mouth. She squeezed her eyes and pinched her lips as she swallowed the bitter, full-bodied soup. When it was down, she opened her eyes wide, infatuated by the rush.
“This chowder is amazing, Rosemary,” she said.
“You are very sweet,” said Mother. “I’d share the recipe, but a lady must keep her secrets.”
“No, I understand,” said Wendy, taking another swallow. “I mean, I guess with Teddy working in a restaurant, I should’ve known he came from a culinary family.”
Father’s deep voice seized the room as he reentered. “Is that where you met?” he asked, taking his seat again. “The bistro?”
Wendy wiped her mouth, nodding. “I went there for my birthday today.”
Eliana raised a glass of fruitless sangria and quoted Jean Paul, the German Romantic writer: “Our birthdays are feathers in the broad wing of time.”
Wendy clinked glasses with Eliana, took a sip, then said: “It was my first time…”
Teddy shifted in his seat. “Uh, coming to the restaurant, she means,” he said, then wished he hadn’t. “Actually, we’ve been getting a lot of newcomers. Mostly people coming in to avoid the heat.”
Right then, one of the candles went out.
“Christ,” said Mother, rolling her eyes as she stood up to get the matchbox.
Father crossed himself. “Dearest, must you desecrate the Lord’s name? At the supper table, no less?” Ignoring him, she tried to ignite a match to no avail. Father said: “I’m sorry, son, you were saying?”
“Nothing, I, uh…it was just hot.”
“You won’t believe how many calls we’ve been getting about the heat,” said Eliana, rubbing her ankh pendant. “Everybody’s convinced this is a sign of the apocalypse.”
Watching Mother struggle, Teddy grew antsy. “Do you need help, Ma?”
She finally struck the match. “I’m all right…” Then leaned over the table to light the candle, exposing much cleavage.
Father grimaced, tossing a napkin at Mother. “Cover yourself, my dear. Gracious.”
The gust of wind caused the candle to go out again.
“Goddammit!” she said, then immediately crossed herself. “Forgive me, children, for I know not what I do.”
With that, Mother sat down. The sight of Father’s fang-less mouth made Wendy frown.
“Mr. Attucks, how come you don’t have fangs?”
Teddy kneed Wendy under the table. Father said nothing. He ran his tongue under his teeth, perfectly straight, immaculately white. Wendy looked around at the others, confused. Nobody else had fang-free teeth like his.
“He had them sanded off,” said Teddy, hoping that would suffice, but Wendy wasn’t finished.
She looked at Father. “Are you ashamed to be…who you are?” Teddy kneed Wendy again, which made her say: “What?”
Father put down his utensils. For a moment, he was quiet, staring at his bowl, stained red. The waltz carried on. Then Father looked straight at Teddy, but his question was for Wendy:
“Are you a natural blonde?”
“Well, no, but—”
“And surely you didn’t color your hair out of shame, did you?”
“But mine is temporary.”
“Ah, yes,” said Father with a chortle. “Such is life for a mere mortal.”
Wendy glowered. Panicking, Teddy grabbed her empty bowl. “I’ll start cleaning up—”
Father held out his hand. “Son, we’re not finished here. Besides, you have yet to confess.”
“Confess? What did I do?” said Teddy, on edge, then turned to Mother for help. But she was too distracted, playing with matches on the table.
Eliana instigated while topping off her glass. “Free yourself, Theodore!”
“I didn’t do anything.”
All this time, Wendy had been glaring at Father. “You think you’re better than us?”
Father stood up, the wooden chair ground against the hardwood floor.
“For centuries,” he said, “I’ve had to watch you people rape Mother Earth, exploit other races, suck the very life out of this…land of the free.” He walked around the long table. The floor creaked under each step. “I harbor no resentment, for this is your nature.” He held his hands behind his back. He moved clockwise, past Eliana, around Mother. “Do I think I’m better? I wouldn’t say that. More qualified? Yes. More civilized? Without a doubt. Enlightened, if you will.” Past Wendy and finally stopped behind Teddy. “Because, you see, with age comes wisdom.” Father put his hands on Teddy’s tense shoulders. “And I’m old enough to know a society ruled by those who die is no place to live.”
“Come now, Oscar,” said Mother, “let us not put fear in our guest.”
Disregarding her, Father raised his voice and his hands as the waltz reached its crescendo.
“The American Dream is deceased, and any hope of its resurrection lies with those of us who were there to witness its complicated birth. The State House needs new blood!” He looked down at Wendy. “Your father’s time is up.”
Eliana nearly spit out her sangria. “Wait, wait, what?”
The waltz ended. Silence consumed the room.
Teddy frowned at Wendy, whose face was bright red.
Father smiled and returned to his seat at the head. “What’s the matter, son? Did you not know your dinner guest was the daughter of State Representative Murray?”
As Father sat down, Wendy wiped her mouth and stood up.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are,” she said to Father, “or how much you think you know. You can live in this nice house, put on fancy clothes and act all holier-than-thou. But you’ll never be elected to any office because, at the end of the day, you’re a fucking vampire.”
With that, she raced out of the room and down the stairs. Teddy heard the front door close.
The Attucks family remained still for a moment.
“Well,” said Father, “at least she’s too young to vote.”
TRANSCRIPT OF TRIAL
BEFORE: HON. ARTHUR BYRON, J.S.C. AND JURY
CROSS-EXAMINATION BY: JONATHAN HIGHGATE, DEFENSE COUNSEL
Q: Are you ashamed of your body, Mr. Attucks?
A: What do you mean?
Q: Do you like what you see when you look in…(clears throat) Let me rephrase: Are you happy with your physical appearance?
A: I suppose.
Q: You suppose? Mr. Attucks, look at you. You’re about, what, five-seven? In peak shape, with nary a wrinkle in sight. And you’ve got a full head of hair. Not too shabby for someone born in the same decade as Babe Ruth, eh?
Q: Do you know how much Americans would pay to get their teenage bodies back?
Q: Pardon me?
A: I said it sucks. This body—I’m sick of this peach fuzz and this—skin—these zits will never go away and…I’m not supposed to be done…
Q: Done what?
Q: Throughout the 1990s, you even tried growth hormone replacement therapy, isn’t that right?
Q: Can you repeat that, Mr. Attucks?
A: I just want to feel like a man. (Voice cracks on “feel.”)
Q: But you’re not quite a man, are you, Mr. Attucks? And the truth is, you’ll never be one. You were transformed at a young age and now you’re fated to forever live as a boy in an endless cycle of puberty. I’d imagine this eternal awkward phase affects your love life. Do you go out on many dates?
Q: And why not?
A: I try, but these mortals…they only like the rush.
Q: The rush?
A: Being with me gets their adrenaline going, makes them feel rebellious, free. But the truth is, they’re scared of me.
Q: Why would people be afraid of you?
A: People see all those stereotypical portrayals on screen and think that’s real. Like we’re all just bloodthirsty savages and…that’s not the truth.
HIGHGATE: Ladies and gentlemen, if the defendant is guilty of anything, it’s trying to live a normal life in a world that discriminates against abnormality. He is neither man, nor monster, but a victim. A lost boy. A child as were we all once upon a time, but he will be a child now and forevermore.
Teddy tried to forget Wendy, but he couldn’t.
In the days after the dinner from hell, he couldn’t go seven minutes without thinking about what they did in that greenhouse. Intense flashbacks of fleeting images: roaming tongues, random bite marks, his fingers on her lips, back scratches, black skin, white skin, a floral dress on the floor like a puddle.
He’d hide in the bathroom at work to inhale the bloody napkin she gave him. Intoxicated. But then he remembered how she lied. Deceived him, dishonored Father. She used him for political gain. And suddenly, his lustful thoughts made him feel guilty. So guilty that, one afternoon, he used his boss’ phone during his lunch break to make a private call.
“Bloodline,” said his sister, “this is Eliana speaking.”
Teddy disguised his voice to hide his identity. “I’m thinking about killing myself.”
“I understand that. First, as a disclaimer, let me say that the Bloodline is not liable for any actions taken by our callers. And second, in regards to wanting to kill yourself, you’re not alone.”
“I feel alone.”
“When was the last time you felt alive?”
Teddy told her about Wendy, explaining in general terms his impossible situation. Eliana went into a drawn-out story about a whirlwind romance she had with a former Confederate general after the Civil War, which ended when she accidentally killed him and sucked him dry during a trip to Yellowstone National Park in 1872.
“Ever since then,” said Eliana, “I’ve been practicing abstinence.”
If Teddy didn’t want to off himself before, he definitely did now.
“All right, thanks. I’m all better,” he said and hung up.
But he didn’t feel better, so he told his boss he was sick. His boss let him off early. Teddy put on his hoodie, hopped on the T, and took the Red Line down to Mattapan, where Mother owned a mortuary. There was a wake going on upstairs, but he didn’t see Mother. He went around back and used his key to get to the lower level.
“Ma?” he called out as he stepped down the stairs.
No response. But then he heard a rattle. He pressed on, peeking into the cold chamber.
There, he spied Mother pulling a sheet off a gurney, where a fresh corpse lay naked. The twenty-one-year-old man had a broken neck from hanging himself, and his penis was completely erect-a condition known as postmortem priapism, often caused from the noose putting pressure on the cerebellum. Teddy wondered if this man had been one of Eliana’s callers. But the thought flew from his mind when he saw what Mother did next.
She hiked up her black dress, climbed up on the gurney, and lowered herself, carefully, onto him, sliding his stiff penis into her. Then started churning. She closed her eyes. Lifted the dead man‘s arm and slapped herself in the face with his limp hand, again and again, snarling all the while.
Teddy could watch no more. He backed away into the hall, bumping against another gurney.
“Hello?” Mother called out, but he gave no response as he ran up the stairs to the exit.
Teddy rode the Red Line to the Common, the oldest city park in the States. He used to play catch here with Father, who made him practice running slower and dropping the ball to “look normal.” It was only four now, another muggy afternoon. The elm trees provided some cover, but not enough to protect his sensitive skin. And as he took off his hoodie to let the sun burn him, he heard the chants:
“If you can‘t stand the heat, get out of our streets!”
He looked across the way, where the State House rose up like something majestic, its golden dome seizing a spot of sunlight. Out in front of the steps, protesters in star-spangled bikinis and speedos held signs that said IMMORTALITY with the letter T crossed out. This scantily clad group was part of the anti-fang movement, public demonstrators who called themselves People Of The Sun.
Watching them, Teddy thought about Father, about everything his old man had fought for, everything he‘s had to overcome to stand here on the tipping point of history. Thinking about these things helped Teddy put his life in perspective. Dying girls come and go, he thought, but his family is forever. With that, he put on his hoodie and rushed home to rest his stinging body.
Later that night, Teddy woke to muffled yelling. The voice was desperate, raging against the walls beneath his floor, trying to break free from the master bedroom. It was Mother.
“I don’t want to live like this!”
“And how, pray tell, are you living, my dear?” said Father, calm and monotonic.
“Like this! Like I can’t be myself. All this acting and posing and pretending we’re something we’re not. For what? Why? So you can get elected to the House? What then, huh?”
“Then we move on up. We’ve discussed this.”
“Do forgive me, Representative Attucks—I mean, Governor Attucks—oh, here comes President Attucks! Behold, the leader of the free world is black and Catholic and a closet blood-sucker!”
“I do not suck,” said Father. “I partake.” Then he recited 1 Corinthians 10:16: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?”
Teddy sat up in bed. His room was a makeshift gym with an Everlast punching bag, dumbbells, and weights for bench pressing. In the corner sat a blue pot filled with dirt in a glass display case, labeled: “Thomas Jefferson’s Venus flytrap”—a birthday gift from Father when Teddy turned fifty in 1949.
It was nearly dusk. Getting his bearings, Teddy touched his face. He’d been asleep for almost four hours. The sun damage had mostly healed. Teddy emerged in the hallway, adjusting to the light from the wall-mounted lanterns. On the opposite end, he saw Eliana in her unfurnished bedroom, meditating on a mandala rug. She sat in the lotus position, chanting Om, the ancient Sanskrit mantra. Sensing Teddy’s presence, she opened her eyes and called him over.
“Brother,” she whispered, “tell me it isn’t true.”
“It’s not true.”
“So you and a mortal aren’t making the beast with two backs?”
“Because earlier this afternoon, I got a call from a boy, talking about how he was into this ‘forbidden’ girl. And I gave him advice, and he didn’t sound like you, but he sounded like you, you know? Was that you?”
“Why would I call the Bloodline? We live together. That makes no sense at all.”
“I know. You’re right…” She rubbed her belly. “…but you know when you have a feeling about something that just won’t go away?”
Teddy thought about Wendy. Eliana caught the shift in his eyes. Teddy knew she caught him.
“Brother, let me help you.”
Teddy scoffed. “You can’t even help yourself. You’re old and lonely and bitter and all you do is hide on the other end of the phone, trying to get people to like you by acting like you know everything.”
Insulted, Eliana laughed. “Least I’m not sleeping with the dying to feel alive.”
“Nobody wants a spinster like you, that’s why.”
“And you’re gonna get impaled as soon as I tell Daddy!”
Teddy stormed out. He needed to speak with Father right away to confess everything. As he crept down the stairs, avoiding creaks in the hardwood, he heard Mother scoff in the bedroom.
“Oscar, you’ve been alive for over 400 years, but I swear to God, you act sometimes like you were born yesterday. They don’t want us here, don’t you get that?”
Teddy inched closer as Mother rambled on.
“These fucking mortals, they’re scared of our power: We’re stronger, faster, smarter. We can fly, goddammit! Yet and still, you’re so desperate for their approval. Does that not sound backwards? And for what? To be in the club? With the Brahmin? The same crowd who’d rip your fangs out?”
“I haven’t any fangs, my dear.”
Teddy tiptoed through the passageway, past the main library and the museum of artifacts.
Mother said: “You want so badly for that race to accept you. You’re so thirsty for validation, you’re willing to suppress who you truly are.”
Teddy approached the wooden door at the end of the hall. He peeked inside.
The master bedroom was an ornate space, illuminated only by claws of flames in the grand fireplace. Ruby velvet drapes swooped down from the high ceiling. There were marble sculptures around the room, busts of some of history’s greatest minds, from Aristotle to da Vinci to Darwin. In the center of the room stood an elaborately carved wooden canopy bed, where Mother was sprawled out wearing a silk negligee. Father had his back to her, in white briefs and sock garters, facing a full-length mirror as he combed his slick hair.
“My dearest wife, can you not see? The Lord calls us to lay aside our old selves, which are corrupted by lusts and deceit.”
Hearing this, Teddy thought twice about knocking. He watched as Father put on his cilice, an undergarment made of goat’s hair and prickly wires. It looked painful to wear, which it was supposed to be as it was a sign of repentance and atonement. Over that, Father put on a perfectly starched white shirt as he said: “Beloved, it is God’s will that we be not savages, but civilized beings. Whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”
And she said: “But a city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”
Father gave no response as he fastened his cummerbund.
Mother put the back of her hand on her forehead. “Oh, for the love of plasma, I can’t go on like this, Oscar. I am tired of lying just to fit in. Acting like these urges are unnatural. Being forced to believe something’s wrong with…the way I am.”
Father said nothing as he tied his bow tie.
Mother rolled over, in dramatic fashion, letting her head hang upside-down off the bed. Her locks cascaded to the wooden floor. “I feel sooooo repressed in this place, Oscar. All those prophesies about fiery lakes and burning sulfur? No. This, right here, this is hell. And God said—” Then Mother spotted Teddy in the doorway. “Fuck! Theodore, you scared me.”
Teddy entered. “I’m sorry, Ma, but I, uh…I need to speak with Father please.”
A flash of guilt swept over her face, and Teddy knew she knew it was him at the mortuary.
“Um, Mommy and Daddy are talking right now. What is this regarding?” she said, covering her exposed parts with embroidered leaf throw pillows.
“It’s kinda…” He cleared his throat. “It’s kinda personal.”
Father said: “You’ll have to make this quick, son. I’ve got a very important fundraiser to get to and I’m expecting some big campaign donors to be there.”
Teddy took a breath. He didn’t want to discuss Wendy in front of Mother.
“Could we speak in private?”
“I have to get dressed.”
“You can talk in front of me,” said Mother, daring her son to betray her. “I won’t bite.”
Teddy swallowed hard. He felt the eyes of the marble busts upon him, like history staring him down. An eerie moment of silence filled the room. Breaking through, suddenly, the phone rang.
Father, still at work on the bow tie, said: “Dearest, would you get that?”
Mother glared at Teddy. Neither of them moved at all.
It rang a second time.
“Rosemary, please…” said Father. “That might be important.”
Mother, eyes fixed on Teddy, shouted upstairs: “Eliana! Get the phone!”
Eliana fired back: “I’m off duty!”
It rang a third time.
“For heaven’s sake…” said Father, rushing over to answer. “Attucks residence…” Father listened to the caller, standing there, half-dressed. He said nothing for a long time. Then finally, he said: “No. Thank you for telling me. God bless you.” And the line went dead.
Mother said: “Who was that?”
Father hung up the phone and stared at Teddy.
At that point, Mother sensed something was very, very wrong. “Oscar…”
“Our son is being charged with statutory rape.”
Teddy spent three days in jail, awaiting trial. After that time in a private cell, he was escorted to a private bus and driven to Pemberton Square, where the Suffolk County Courthouse stands like an Art Deco giant with white brick exterior. Teddy could still remember when this tower was built, back in the late 1930s as World War II was breaking out.
Without precedent, this case was wide open. And Teddy felt sick to his stomach in the courtroom, fielding question after question, trying to prove his innocence in front of those who have prejudged him.
Q: Mr. Attucks, have you never considered dating inside your race?
A: I’m not attracted to immortals.
Q: So you’re exclusively hemosexual?
A: What’s your point?
Q: I’m just wondering why you feel compelled to prey on—I mean, pursue…humans when you can be with your own kind. It seems like every other night, there’s a new bloodpub popping up in this city. And that new immortal club just opened in the Theatre District, uh, what’s it called?
A: House of Mirrors.
Q: I’ve never been myself, but I hear it’s all the rave.
A: Not really my scene.
Q: An old geezer such as yourself wouldn’t know what to do in a place like that, would you?
MR. HIGHGATE: Objection!
Q: Mr. Attucks, have you ever been to House of Mirrors?
Q: Only because it’s not your scene?
A: Even if it was, I couldn’t get in.
Q: Oh? Why not?
A: They serve alcohol, so it’s 21 and over.
Q: So even though you were born in 1899, biologically you’re not old enough to get into a 21 and over club, isn’t that right?
MRS. HAWKINS: Objection!
And the trial went on for hours with no end in sight.
But at four p.m., just when the judge is about to call for recess, the prosecution introduces a method to prove whether Teddy should be tried as a human at all.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” she says, “the defense wants to paint Mr. Attucks as the victim, subject to the same laws of justice as human beings. But Mr. Attucks is not human. Mr. Attucks is a monster, which I intend to prove with this.” She holds up a green plant with two red connected lobes, fringed by stiff hair-like cilia. “Presenting the Venus flytrap, Dionaea muscipula. Native to the Carolinas, the Venus flytrap is known for eating insects and arachnids, but what you may not know is this carnivorous plant also has a penchant for human flesh.” She smiles at Teddy. “Ladies and gentlemen, what I’m proposing is a test: If Mr. Attucks agrees to put skin from his finger in this trap, and the plant eats the flesh after one week, then we will honor the age of his fifteen-year-old body.”
Mortals object, and she raises her hand and adds:
“If, however, his skin remains more or less intact, then he shall be deemed a monster and punished accordingly.”
The courtroom erupts with those in favor.
“Order!” says the judge, banging the gavel. “Order, I say!”
Then calls both attorneys to the bench. Teddy can only watch as these members of the dying race decide his fate. He turns to look for Mother and Eliana in the back, but can’t see them through the crowd. Finally, the judge sanctions the test. Mr. Highgate helps Teddy cut off a piece of his pointer finger. Carefully, he sets the dark skin on the lobes. The trap snaps shut.
The judge says: “We’ll reconvene in seven days,” and bangs the gavel.
But the mortals present are in such a frenzy that guards have to escort Teddy through the pack. On the way out, he spots Wendy, crying by the door, a forget-me-not in her hair. State Representative Murray, whose aged skin looks to be melting, holds her close, smirking at Teddy.
Teddy shoulders on through the mob, but as he passes behind Wendy, catching a whiff of her AB-negative, she discreetly slips something into his hand. A note.
Teddy waits until he reaches the lobby to read the note:
Daddy made me do it. :_(
He rips up the note, drops the scraps in a recycle bin, then goes outside.
The July air is suffocating, but not as bad as those crowding the entrance, barely dressed and sunblock-slathered: People of the Sun beaming him with silver metallic UV reflectors.
“Just die already!” somebody hollers.
The private bus is waiting to take Teddy back to Beacon Street. But he stands still, caught in the hate-filled gaze of the dying. And that’s when he smells it, those familiar notes: black pepper, musk, and citrus. The scent of Father’s Blenheim Bouquet. Teddy scans the crowd, thinking Father has come to save him from this mortal chaos.
“Father!” Teddy cries out, but he’s nowhere to be found.
Then another thought occurs to him. That Father didn’t come to save Teddy, but to save himself, to protect his legacy. He can hear Father’s voice in his head now:
The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
Martyrdom would make Father very proud, Teddy thinks. His only son slayed by barbaric mortals. Such a sacrifice would surely swing enough empathy votes for Father to win come November. Oscar Attucks would go down in history! But what then? Would anything truly change? Or would Father be doomed to repeat the sins of the forefathers? Teddy thinks about Wendy and wonders if we’re not all just victims of those who raise us, cultivated. Conditioned to be controlled in a deadly environment.
He steps out of the shadows. He lifts his head to the wide-open sky.
“Get the vampire!” somebody screams.
The people crowd around to hold him down. Out for blood, dying of thirst.
He inhales the clear summer air and whispers: “Goodbye, my family.”
And the black boy on trial flies away.