io9 is proud to present fiction from Lightspeed Magazine. Once a month, we feature a story from Lightspeed’s current issue, and this month’s selection is “The Postictal State of Divine Love” by Julianna Baggott. You can read the story below, or listen to the podcast. Enjoy!
My mother used to tell me we came from the matriarchal vampiric line that had been traced farther back than Queen Elizabeth. She only told me these things after a seizure. Many people with epilepsy talk about how, after a seizure, strange memories pop up—small but suddenly vibrant details; my mother would recall the small vibrant details of our collective vampiric past.
What kind of mother would do this?
Mine. And, when I was little, I loved her for it.
I. Scientific Overview of Vampiric Evolution
Vampires are part of the natural world. They are not the same species as humans; they have evolved differently over time; and although they are vastly different in appearance and other physical characteristics from region to region, they exist in every surviving culture.
Just as bees are essential to the survival of plant life through cross-pollination, vampires are essential to our survival as a species because of the presence of immunoglobulin in blood.1 The gamma-globulin proteins comprising immunoglobulin (See Fig. 1) found in blood are used by the immune system to help identify and neutralize foreign objects such as bacteria and viruses. Thus, while the folkloric connection between vampirism and blood has scientific grounding, it is actually immunoglobulin that lies at the heart of this connection.
Vampires have hyper-evolved immune systems. Most importantly from the human perspective, they serve to boost our immune systems by co-existing with us. Co-existence with vampires can range from a mosquito biting a vampire and then a human; kissing; coughing or sneezing; sexual intercourse; etc.
My mother told me the stories mostly with her eyes closed. Present tense, third person. Her language was strange or maybe strained is the better word, and always intimate, very intimate. Her brow would be pinched. If she’d lost feeling in her right arm, which often happened, I’d rub it for her.
Why would my mother tell me these stories?
Because she believed them.
What did it mean to be a descendant of the matriarchal vampiric line? Were we different from any other mother and daughter?
“We are different,” my mother told me. “Nature loves diversity. We are that diversity. We’re the curved beaks of Darwin’s finches.”
One time, before they took her license away, we were driving at night and a possum darted into the road, his pale eyes went red, but he darted back into the brush the way he came. “See that! That’s evolution. We’re like the possum that’s learned not to play dead in front of an oncoming car!”
“Are we better than regular people?” I asked.
“Not better, no. We’re essential to regular people.”
Without the existence of vampires, humans would be immediately susceptible to pandemic viruses—in particular new “superbugs”—with the potential to quickly wipe out our entire population.2 In short: Vampires are essential to our existence.
My mother was always afraid that I would seize. She hovered if I seemed to go glassy-eyed with daydreams. I would smile and make eye contact and try to put her at ease—Look at me! I’m here. I’m okay!
Still she told everyone to watch over me—my teachers, camp counselors, lifeguards. And my father too. Lean but paunchy, he only swung around every once in a while. He always had a gift and took me out to dinner—a place that served shakes, always, because I loved shakes.
“Keep an eye on her, Ted,” my mother would shout from the front door. “You know, in case . . .”
He would look me in the eyes.
I wanted him to see the vampire in me. But I also smiled to let him know that I was okay—I wasn’t going to seize at the restaurant, spraying my milkshake everywhere.
Then he booped my nose. “I don’t know,” he said. “She looks normal to me!”
I knew what this meant. My mother was not normal. I decided this was why he left her. And his leaving meant I would have to stay.
. . . More specifically, decreases in vampire populations can be directly tied to rising mortality rates in human populations. For example, the Bubonic Plague (a.k.a. The Black Death)—characterized by high fever and excessive bleeding—hit Europe in 1346. The spread of the Black Death was a direct result of decreased vampire populations due to persecution. A number of religious inquisitions—the Medieval Inquisition and the Episcopal Inquisition took place from about 1184-1230, followed by the Papal Inquisition beginning in the 1230s—all of which persecuted vampires (both suspected and real), succeeded in killing off a significant percentage of the global vampiric population. The effect was that the human species became particularly susceptible to attack from new diseases—in this case, the Plague. It is no coincidence that the Plague hit Italy the hardest, resulting in the death of 70% of that country’s entire human population. Catholic persecution of vampires in Italy had been the strongest of all the European countries; Italy therefore had the lowest population of vampires, and subsequently was hit hardest by the Plague. (Ironically, vampires were frequently charged with spreading the disease, as victims often bled from the mouth, making their lips appear bloody and thereby calling to mind the myth of the vampire.)
The seizures had their own will. You couldn’t ask them questions or make suggestions or plead with them. My mother seized on the kitchen floor, in the mini-mart, in my orthodontist’s waiting room, on the neighbor’s lawn not far from their above-ground pool deck, in the bathroom at my ballet rehearsal and on the bus because she could no longer drive a car.
Something’s wrong with your mom.
Honey! Come here! It’s your mother!
Jesus, is she having a seizure or something?
This bitch is cray.
Stand back, stand back. Please stand back.
I’m not afraid to look! I know what to do. Let go of me!
Don’t put something in her mouth.
Don’t restrain her.
Just let me roll her to her side. There, yes. I know the fluttery whites of my mother’s eyes. I’m here. I’m with you. I’m right here.
Another prime example is the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-1920, which resulted in a death toll of 50-100 million people worldwide. Unlike most influenza outbreaks—which tend to most strongly effect children under the age of two, those over sixty-five, and the immune-compromised—the Spanish Flu was hardest on the healthiest, in particular those between 20 and 40 years of age. The final cause of death was a “cytokine storm”3; the immune system turns on itself, resulting in bleeding from the nose, ears, and internal organs, along with edema of the lungs. The stronger the immune system, the stronger the attack. Vampires were nearly decimated. Losses to the vampire population weakened the human population, leading to an influx of other diseases (measles, mumps, rubella, polio, etc.). Stability was not achieved until antibiotics were invented—made possible due to scientific research that included testing of the immunoglobulin found in vampires . . .
My mother felt strange after. She wouldn’t remember the seizure itself and she’d be disoriented, but she didn’t struggle for language. Words came to her. Not her own really. Some other kind of voice, a voice let loose by the seizure itself.
How did the stories go?
The Queen is high on poppies.
Her corset is too tight. She twists against it.
But there is no corset—instead her pregnant belly, the rigging of muscles and the pink shining skin are strung tight and drum-taut.
When the pain spikes, she hears a growl in her own throat. Smells blood—iron-rich, it swells round her.
The nursemaid leans toward her, face to face. She cups Elizabeth’s skull and lifts her head, pressing a cup to her lips—bitter tea. The nursemaid smiles but her eyes shine like beetles, as if they crawled across a blank face and decided to stop for a moment and pretend to be eyes.
After a few sips, Elizabeth whispers, panting, “I’m a beast.”
The nursemaid’s mouth opens as if it’s just found a bit of skin to tear open and create a mouth. “You are birthing,” the nursemaid’s mouth says. “Soon, you will push.”
Birthing what? Elizabeth wonders.
And then the pain rises again and she remembers the boy in the barnyard with the cleft in his skull and the wide-set pitching eyes. Once, he was overtaken, his body fell and thrashed until he bit his tongue off.
And when the pain passes, Elizabeth stares wide-eyed out the window.
Crows clap up from the fields and, farther, on the greening hillside, gray sheep and shepherds. But the shepherds are not shepherds.
One turns and she sees the face of one of her guards.
This country house was chosen for her final months because it is remote, nearly desolate. She is said to be in one place and then another and a third, like the Catholics say of some of their saints who can be everywhere and nowhere at once.
She always expected a Catholic assassin. But now the Catholics are within her. Each wields a small knife in a dirty fist.
This is her punishment. This is what love brings.
Her mother taught her nothing less.
Her mother is here, beside her now. The clean slice of her beheading is wrapped, quite simply, like a mild wound, but it won’t stop bleeding. Frail dots of blood are pinking the white.
“Mother,” Elizabeth says.
And her mother’s face is beautiful. A cold hand on her forehead. Hushing.
“I’ve missed you,” Elizabeth whispers, girlishly.
Her mother smiles, and the smile means that they are both built for longing, that they know loss so well they’re no longer afraid of it.
Elizabeth was first a prisoner inside of her mother’s ribs. Prison upon prison.
Her mother’s cold hand lifts and it’s white and limp and wet. A rag for wiping her face.
“We are drawing near!” The nursemaid’s face appears between Elizabeth’s bony knees. “Stoke the fire!” she tells someone Elizabeth cannot see.
Elizabeth shakes her head. She prefers the cold air but she is suddenly mute with pain. Has the tea made her tongue swell? Has someone sewn her mouth shut?
Out the window in the golden light, the sheep are glowing. On fire. Each one goes up, bright flame then snuffed, nothing but smoke.
It’s the poppy tea, says a distant voice ringing in her head. It makes you see what no one else sees. But this is no comfort. She sees it and so there’s truth to it. Sheep and smoke. What was there then gone.
Also she always sees and hears and knows things that others can’t see and hear and know.
Her heart is kicking like a child locked in a trunk.
She was once locked in a trunk as a child. She remembers rubbing her fingers across the hinges from within. Keep me. Keep me.
No, let me loose.
A young woman sets a hot basin on a table, setting off a dull watery gong, and it’s as if this summons the pain again. Elizabeth is seized, her belly hardening. Her body is a country all its own—shrouded and pale, vulnerable. And here then, an invasion by fire blazing through woodlands, rolling through cities. Wind-whipped, it coughs clouds into the darkening sky.
And then gone. More panting. Her teeth bared.
“I see the head!” the nursemaid shouts.
And again Elizabeth recalls her mother—imagines the thunk of her head as it hit the ground. Our skulls are heavy. They hold so much.
“Pull her up!” the nursemaid says.
Two young women now on either side of Elizabeth push her until she locks her elbows behind her back. She tries to get above her rounded stomach.
Her body knows what’s being asked of it.
She pushes. Her blood pounding in her head. Her fists gripping the furs lain beneath her. The world is nothing but air and motes of dust in dying sun and ghost sheep on the hill with an agitation of crows and her mother’s death—a bloody mess.
Her lover. His skin on hers. So long ago now but how warm his body was! Skin to skin! The awe of something so simple.
“Again,” the nursemaid says. “Another push!”
But it’s not simply another push, instead hours.
Where’s Raleigh? Darkness fills the windows, swallowing time.
She remembers her father’s fat fingers, greased with lard, drumming the table.
The fungal smell of her cell.
The trunk, its hinges, her small pink fingers—delicate and quick as a mouse’s.
And for one moment, she remembers what it was to be within her own mother, shrouded in the watery dark, pressing one tiny hand in front of her own delicate face, a handprint rising to the surface of her mother’s skin.
And her mind starts to clear.
Wind sweeping across fallow dry fields.
The wolves are nestled in lairs, curled tight, ears twitching in the wind. She is a Queen but also a bastard.
Her bastard-child is coming.
A man from the Mission is in the hall, a wet nurse with him. The Mission will protect and provide because this child is of her line, not just the lineage that made her queen of this great land—she could be the queen of many more. She could send her descendants out, one by one—trundled to foreign territories. And with her power inside of them, they could take hold. The vampiric—human and creature—are heathens, spread across lands no one yet knows. They eat and root and dig and build and breed and breathe, unaware that they are waiting for a great Queen. She senses them beyond the seas, their beating hearts, their brimming blood!
Nearer, she feels the hives humming. If this baby is a girl, she could be mother to them all. This is what the Mission knows and protects. This is the true royal line.
The baby’s head writhes within her very bones—its skull fitted with a tight crown.
And when the last steadfast seams of her body are rent apart, the baby is born.
A fine cry, stuttered bleating. Purpled lips and a vibrant tongue, white teeth already budding.
An infant girl, held high, blood-smeared and steaming in the cold air.
An infant girl to be shuttled off and hidden, a keep-safe.
“We’re not like other people,” my mother would say.
“We’re different. You feel it, don’t you? You’re royalty.”
“I do feel it.” I wanted to feel it very badly.
“And you’re a Native too, which is also a kind of royalty. The line lived on. And there’s your father’s ancestors too. Polish, Welsh, Nigerian, some Vietnamese. Some of those strands might be vampiric too. You never know.”
“I’m many different things all mixed up. I know.”
“We’re different and powerful.”
I wanted to believe but believing was hard because I was only myself, just that. A small girl with mussy brown hair and uneven bangs that my mother cut herself, my dark fringe dusting the bathroom sink.
At home, resting in bed, after, my mother kept the room dark, the pillows propped behind her back. I helped her take hits from her can of O2. Sometimes all she wanted was to eat grapes. Everything else tasted too metallic.
I fully understood that the infant girl was supposedly our ancestor. But, naturally, as I got older, I had more questions.
By fifteen, I was saying things like, “None of your descriptions of vampires are how they really are in movies or books. Nothing at all.”
“I don’t want to bite anybody!”
“Of course not.”
“How do you know all of this? I mean, who could prove that they’re a descendant of royalty?”
“I’m a member,” she said.
“A member of what?”
“The Mission has gone through ups and downs, but parts of it still exist.”
“Oh, okay. Right.” I rolled my eyes. “The Mission. I guess it’s a secret society so secret you can’t tell me anything about it?”
“And one day, will I be a member? I mean, if I’m of the matriarchal vampiric line and all, I should be.”
“People think vampires are evil, sometimes they’re even cool,” I said. “We aren’t evil or cool.”
“None of the supposed facts about vampires are true. None of them,” she always answered this way, her voice a rough whisper. “None of them.”
A. List of Common Assumptions and Misconceptions about Vampires, with their Origins and/or Socio-Scientific Explanations
- Vampires are “bloodsucking,” i.e., parasitic in nature. In rare cases of abnormal psychology, vampires have attacked humans and other vampires alike4, but to no higher degree than abnormal psychology found in the general human population. It is likely that this particular misconception stemmed from cases of severe illness in humans when vampires were used for their beneficial immune systems. Before the discovery of immunoglobulin in 1890, some doctors were already using vampires to boost the immune systems of very ill patients.5 In some cases, the vampire would bite a sick person in the jugular in an attempt to inject them directly with immunities and/or inoculate them.6
- Vampires are immortal. Due to their powerful immune systems, vampires do live much longer than humans. In fact, a vampiric Queen—who is given the best immunities of all of her drones worldwide—can live for a very long time. [The lifespan of a Queen ranges anywhere from 140 to 300 years.] They are not immortal, however.
- Vampires are light-sensitive, nocturnal, and aggressive. Over time, many unusual-looking vampires have become nocturnal for their own safety. And for those vampires who have become nocturnal, their eyes have evolved to night vision. [The same evolutionary survival technique can also be seen in cats and raccoons.] More broadly, early vampire lore coincided with the niacin deficiencies of certain populations that were raising corn as a crop but did not know the proper preparation of corn to get the nutritional benefits (primarily vitamin B3). These people developed pellagra, characterized by sensitivity to light, insomnia, and aggression. It is distinctly possible that pellagra sufferers were seen as unholy and therefore linked to negative vampiric mythology. The result of which was vampires being thought to be light-sensitive, nocturnal, and violent.
There is a group of rare disease called porphyrias, the result of over-production of porphyrins found in hemoglobin. (One disorder found in this category affected King George III.) It causes a discoloration of urine, dementia, collapses, and foaming at the mouth. Again, these diseases can create symptoms that are linked to vampires—light-sensitivity (resulting in paleness), cracked and bleeding skin, and receding gums (creating the appearance of fangs). Keeping out of the sun and blood-drinking were prescribed.Anemia is also linked to vampirism, and women are the primary sufferers of anemia due to loss of blood through menstruation. “During the nineteenth century, sufferers on this side of the grave were treated with animal blood, which they were expected to imbibe. In Joseph-Ferdinand Gueldry’s painting, The Blood Drinkers, of 1898, (Fig. 2) a line of pale and languid women queue up in an abattoir for a glass of warm ox’s blood.”7 Sufferers of anemia are often pale and crave foods high in protein, and the drinking of blood was often prescribed.
- Vampires can only be killed by silver bullets, wooden stakes through the heart, decapitation, etc. Vampires can be killed in all the ways that humans can. However, since the vampiric immune system is much more highly developed than the human equivalent, vampires do not die nearly as easily from the diseases that plague humans.
Silver bullets warrant a special mention. Because of silver’s antibiotic properties, this mineral has been used (notably in World War I) to reduce the risk of infection. Vampires, however, have extreme reactions to antibiotics, which can cause their immune systems to attack their own bodies. Over-ingestion of silver causes argyria, an incurable dermatological condition that leads to grayish-blue pigmentation of the skin, nails, gums, and deep tissues. This condition also occurs in vampires. Given the grayish-blue complexion that results, argyria has contributed to the misconception that vampires are undead.8
- Vampires do not cast a reflection in mirrors. The origins may hearken back to the role of “the gramarye” and the misunderstanding of literacy. Gramarye comes from Middle English gramarie, as well as from Old French gramaire, grammar, book of magic. During the 9th century to the 14th century, the ability to read was widely perceived by the uneducated as a form of magic. During this era, traveling entertainers—in particular, magicians—relied heavily on mirrors to perform their tricks. The sudden appearance and supposed absence of objects—as well as reflections—was popular among these traveling magicians, known as gramarye. The educated class was also seen as gramarye for their ability to read, and, because of the longevity and health of vampiric populations, records indicate that the percentage of vampires—in this era and others when persecution of vampires wasn’t depopulating the species—are demonstrably higher in the educated classes. It is possible, therefore, that because of vampires being linked to the gramarye, they were also linked not only to books, which were perceived as magical, but also the trickery of mirrors—in particular the absence of reflections in mirrors—and therefore the myth was started. The widespread persistence of the myth was due to the migratory nature of the traveling magicians.
- Vampires sleep in coffins. There is a well-known case in Serbia in the 1780s of a wealthy family of vampires being persecuted. The family owned and operated a funeral parlor and hid in the coffins they made there. They were eventually discovered, exposed, and executed—including the children, aged 3, 7, and 14. This story has been documented in numerous places and spread widely throughout Europe.9 Moreover, in the 1700s and 1800s there were several large-scale outbreaks of cimicidae (bed bugs) in cities across Europe and North America. This was largely due to industrialization and the overcrowding that resulted. To reduce the impact, many people slept in small, enclosed chambers, sometimes called Sleeping Cabinets (See Fig. 3). It is possible that because sleeping cabinets were the source of this myth, especially in light of the class distinctions (See Vampires do not cast a reflection in mirrors above) and the fact that sleeping cabinets were purchased mostly by the wealthy.
- Vampires are hypersexual by nature. Libido varies from vampire to vampire, just as it does among human populations. But Darwinistically speaking, there is an immune system advantage to humans if they manage to have sex with a vampire. Thus, it has been hypothesized that humans are drawn to vampires more than vampires are drawn to humans.10 Someone with a vampire sex partner, for example, will likely be sick less often, have fewer allergies, lower cholesterol, etc.
- Vampires have aversions to rosaries and holy water. The origins of this misconception stem from the Catholic Church’s longstanding persecution of vampires, dating back to the Early Church as far back as the apostle Peter, “the Rock of the Church.” Because of the Church’s foundational view that the blood of Christ, alone, has the power to sanctify, the early apostles were hostile to any vampiric connection to blood—whether scientifically and medically based or metaphorically or symbolically based, as it interfered with evangelization and conversion.11
My mother’s seizures started when she was nine years old. She was in gym class. The large fluorescent lights overhead were fluttering in their cages. She doesn’t remember the game, only that she’d been running very fast for a long time and she stopped and was almost hyperventilating and then she was on the gym floor looking up, surrounded by a swarm of her classmates’ faces. They blurred and wobbled. Her body felt wrung out. Her head throbbed. Her mouth tasted like blood. The blood was wet and sticky on her cheek.
“Don’t touch her!” her gym teacher shouted. “Don’t touch her! Get back!”
“I was afraid, very afraid,” my mother would tell me, “but what was so strange was how much they were afraid of me. My fear bounced off of them and came back at me, having expanded exponentially. It was an escalation of fear, whipping higher and higher up into the gym rafters. It rattled the stacked bleachers. It made the lights shake.”
By the time I was in my early twenties, I was still living at home and taking my classes online and at the local college. This way, I could stay close and help her. I had history classes. I learned about colonialism, the rise and fall, post-colonialism. The map of what was once British territory bleeds in all directions. I learned that Queen Elizabeth created her own lore—the Virgin Queen, powerful enough to create a storm to destroy the Spanish Armada and then, of course, the North American colonies, the slaughter of Native Americans . . . Queen Elizabeth’s plan failed. There was no unification.
Because none of it was real.
Queen Elizabeth’s baby girl smeared with blood? A symptom of my mother’s illness.
I stopped questioning my mother. I was starting to feel that life could be lonesome. And in various ways when the full weight of her isolation struck me, I said, “You must have felt alone, but you’re not alone anymore.”
“I have you,” my mother said.
“And I have you.”
I knew this couldn’t sustain me forever.
II. History of Vampires, Vampiric Persecution, and the Origin and Development of Protective Societal and Governmental Intervention
Vampires have existed on Earth as long as humans have; and all cultures possess their own distinct vampire lore. Vampires exist in mythology dating back to ancient cultures, including Persia, ancient Babylonia, and Assyria. There is strong evidence that Cleopatra was of a vampiric bloodline. They also appear in both Greek and Roman mythology. The first documented use of the term comes from Old Russian and dates to 1047 AD. Vampire killings were regularly recorded in Europe beginning in the early 1700s, although the actual word “vampire” does not appear in The Oxford English Dictionary until 1734.
The last queen to rule vampires globally was half-vampire (on her mother’s side) and half-human (on her father’s side)—Queen Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen. Her mother, Anne Boleyn, was decapitated—not only because it was the typical form of execution in that period, but also because she was revealed to be a vampire and this was a preferred method for killing vampires (See Section I.A., above).
Queen Elizabeth lived a long life—nearly double the lifespan of the human population in the late 1500s and early 1600s.12 She survived smallpox and other diseases. The royal line was lost because she didn’t have any heirs—or at least not any publicly recognized children. Queen Elizabeth remained unmarried so that she could retain complete power over her dominions. This made having a legitimate heir impossible. But she wanted to keep the royal line. She had an affair with a full-blooded vampire—Sir Walter Raleigh—producing an heir.
From the point of view of the British, Queen Elizabeth’s reign was seen as a great hope for unification—under her rule—of vampires and humans within her own kingdom and beyond. She could never achieve this goal in her lifetime. (The Mission has abandoned unification as a goal.) She did, however, attempt to create small independent colonies in a preemptive attempt to achieve unification, a plan which necessitated sending her heir to the New World to gain control. Sir Walter Raleigh sent their illegitimate daughter to Virginia, for her protection. See: Chapter Five: Roanoke, The Lost Colony for more details. The royal line was lost.
“You know, my vampirisim and my epilepsy have a lot in common,” my mother said. I was helping her in the vegetable garden, tying tomato plants to stakes. Dark purpling clouds had gathered on the horizon: a storm was coming and my mother didn’t want the plants battered by hard rain. “Both have been misunderstood throughout history.”
“Absolutely,” I said. “That’s really true.” I was very aware of how much my mother’s issues had in common by now. I’d finished my degree in psychology, and I was working on my masters. I tried not to concentrate on my mother’s sustained delusion, but my studies helped me understand her. I could imagine how hard it was to have epilepsy and how vampirism had become easier to explain to me, to herself. The story of how special we were, how strong and helpful to others. And this part—how misunderstood.
“It was called the sacred disease, sent by the gods,” my mother said, taking a moment to stretch her back. “In the Middle Ages, it was ‘morbus daemonicus.’ Epileptics were told to pray, to fast, to beat ourselves, to suffer. And the exorcisms, of course. Our patron saint was Valentin, he was supposed to cure us. It was the falling sickness. We ate metals, plants, matter scraped from human skulls. So much persecution. We’ve been divinities and demons—epileptics and vampires, both.”
There was a reason why my mother was more likely to talk about the matriarchal vampiric line after her seizures. Religious experiences—seeing visions or auras—in the altered state of consciousness after an epileptic seizure have been reported in 1.3% of all epilepsy patients. That stat rises to 2.2% of all temporal lobe epilepsy patients, like my mother. (I followed the work of O. Devinsky on this kind of thing.) I’d been waiting for a moment—like this one—to bring up the idea that her belief in our vampirism was a byproduct of the seizures. I wanted to explain the limbic system, the emotional center of her being, and its association to her temporal lobe.
I straightened up and stood next to her. We were wearing matching flowered gardening gloves, and I noticed how we were standing in identical postures—the slight hunch to our shoulders, our gloved hands on our hips. We were both looking at the brooding clouds. I was about to say something, but then my mother said, “Wait. That cloud is about to be ripped open. The rain will start from that tear in the cloud. It’ll blur in a line straight down to the horizon.”
So, I waited. And she was right. It was far off, miles away, but I could see the line between rain and no rain.
“The tomatoes are trembling,” she said then. “Quick. Let’s get the rest of these staked before it’s pouring rain here too.”
Throughout history, countless vampires—and suspected vampires—have been staked through the heart with various kinds of wood. In Russia, many were staked through the mouth; and those in Serbia were staked through the stomach. They have had the skin on their chests pierced in order to “deflate” them of blood. In Germany and western Slavic areas, they were decapitated, their heads buried between their feet, behind their backs, or some distance away from their bodies. Various parts of their bodies have been spiked to the earth so they would not be able to rise from the dead. Romani drove iron needles into their hearts, filled their mouths with steel, and drove stakes of hawthorn through their legs. In sixteenth-century Italy, bricks were forced into the mouths of already-dead female vampires. Their bodies have been dismembered and burned. In the Balkans, vampires were shot and drowned. In Romania, people went so far as to shoot an extra bullet through the coffin of anyone even suspected of being a vampire when they were alive.
“Tell me the story of the baby again. What happened to the baby?” my mother whispers. We’re in the single-occupancy room of her a care facility. Her stay here is temporary, we hope. Her seizures got worse with the onset of menopause. The doctors hope to get them under control.
But they found something while she was here. A clouded lung. Cancers have been correlated to seizure medications.
I lean over the hospital bed’s guardrails. “They hid the girl away. And then, it got too dangerous. They sent her to the colonies.”
My mother smiles. The room is barely lit. The fluorescent lights overhead are kept off. There’s only a bit of light coming in through the heavy plastic curtains. “Tell me,” she says. “I can’t tell it to myself.”
“The girl who was born of Queen Elizabeth couldn’t be raised out in the open,” I say. “Queen Elizabeth was the Virgin Queen. This was her bastard child—but royalty in the other line, the hidden vampiric line, could continue. Had to. That was the point. The child needed to be hidden and protected.” The room is filled with plants, ferns, peace lilies, and succulents sent as gifts. My mother’s friends know that she doesn’t like cut flowers, their pending deaths.
“Tell it right,” my mother says, insistently. She means in third person, present tense. “With your eyes closed.”
And so I do it as well as I can:
There’s a cage made of wooden stakes. It’s within the fence that surrounds the village. This is where she sits, in the cage.
They call her Cro and have carved it into the tree to scare off the Indians that round and round. Why Cro? Because she is feared like the bird of death by that name. The colonists blame her for everything. She is death. She is the reason why the sky withholds rain. Why a baby was born early and dead. Why one man killed the other even though she’d been asleep at the time. She’d dreamed it and so it was done.
She wonders if she does control the sky, death, murder. The Indians do fear her but not the way the others think. A Croatan boy saved her from the tide when she waded in to kill herself.
The colonists—the men, the women, but most of all the other children—hate her. This is why she sits in the cage of wooden stakes.
She has no mother or father. She was put on the ship alone and unrecorded. Raleigh was the one to escort her. She calls him Rolly because that’s what she misheard as a child and he allowed it to become a pet name—kept between the two of them. He is the one who’s visited her throughout her life—in the hills, deep in the woods, in fortresses. He told her that the colonists would need her. He told her that she was a balm of the world, light, and goodness and power.
She was watched over on the ship like a jewel, at first, because Rolly told the captain to do just that. But it didn’t last. And, to protect herself, she became vicious. She liked to watch the storms come up. She liked to be lashed by the wind and rain. She became feral.
And now in the cage of wooden stakes, she sees eyes flashing in the trees. The Croatan are out there, waiting. They call like hoot owls and she knows they are saying, “Come, come with us. These others are bound to go mad and scatter and die.”
She has made them a little mad already. She hasn’t been a balm or light or goodness. She has had power and she has defended herself.
She digs at the stakes, clawing away dirt. And, one by one, she uproots them. She finds enough space to push her way out. She walks to the tall fence and unlocks the latches.
“I loved this part as a child,” I say. “Do you remember?”
“I do remember. I remember so much. Keep going . . .”
Cro moves quickly now, silently. The Croatan are near. She also senses tiny mosquito wings, the twist of rodents in their nests, the birds ruffling and cooing, heartbeats everywhere and the forest alive with flitting pulses. She understands their language, she knows what they want and need and long for.
Even the plants have thrown open their scents. They are telling each other—she’s coming, she’s here . . . among us.
And she walks off into the woods and disappears.
It’s quiet a moment. Nurses moving in the halls, a horn blaring in far-off traffic, a family down the hall bursting into laughter and clapping.
“And how are you?” my mother says. “Are you doing okay?”
“I am.” I’m getting married at the end of summer, two and a half months from now. My mother hopes to walk me down the aisle.
“How can I die early like this?”
“You’re not going to die,” I say.
“We’re of the line,” she says. “It grants us a long life. Longer than others.”
“I’ve left you such a mess. There are so many boxes of stuff. So many papers and documents and pictures. I have a safe deposit box. The key is in the small drawer in the roll-top desk.”
“I’ll collect everything.”
“It’s important.” She reaches out and grabs my wrist. “The Mission,” she whispers. “I made copies. It was the late ’70s before the government seized all of the documentation. It was like the Pentagon Papers. I copied pages and pages late at night and shuttled them out of our headquarters. But I told no one. The raid came just days later.”
The delusion has found its edges and is pushing into new terrain. I’ve never heard any of this before. “You should get some sleep,” I tell her.
“Promise me,” she says. “You’ll get the key. It’s in the little drawer in the roll-top.”
She’s exhausted, but restless. She scratches at the tape around her IV and then seems surprised by it, as if she’d forgotten it was there—maybe even surprised that she was here, dying. “Promise.”
“I’ll take care of it.”
“Do you believe all of it? Everything I’ve told you?” She closes her eyes.
“Yes,” I say, because it doesn’t matter now.
“Did you tell him?”
She means my fiancé, Brian. “Yes.” And I have, here and there. It’s not simple.
This pleases her. She smiles a little. “Do you know why I told you?”
“You wanted me to feel strong and special.”
“You are,” she says. “We are the kind of vampire that walks among humans and we make them better. We make the world better. We move among them. Sometimes I’m seizing—that is my movement among them. Sometimes you’re smiling—that is your movement among them. But we make them better. We are. We exist. And there are others like us. They just don’t know it. We’re never alone.”
In 1723, Dutch scientist Antonie Philip Van Leeuwenhoek was 90 years old and still writing technical observations on his deathbed. Widely regarded as “the Father of Microbiology,” Van Leeuwenhoek is much less well known for his formation of the S.S.V.P.—the Secret Society of Vampiric Protectors. The Mission and the Secret Society of Vampiric Protectors have a long and complex history, including periods of mutual cooperation and aggression. At Van Leeuwenhoek’s urging, a small group of physicians and scientists pooled their own data obtained from various populations all around the globe; when taken as a whole, this data made it clear that vampires possess biological properties of great benefit to humans. There was even documentation in support of the view that some doctors—including, in less-developed areas of the world, the equivalent of witch doctors—were using vampires for transfusions13 and direct bites to the patient’s jugular in order to relieve depressed immune systems, as well as for inoculation purposes. The group quickly arrived at the conclusion that vampires were not only good for human life—they were essential to it. Thus, while vampires were being hunted down and killed the world over, they decided to go about saving the vampires in order that humanity might survive.14
My mother sleeps. I’m gathering my phone, my keys, my bag. But I’m drawn to the crack in the curtains, the glow. It’s night, summer. I have a view of tall parking lot lights. In the distance, traffic is winding around one side of a hill. A row of bright headlights, their beams chopping into the darkness. I imagine each of them, trying to get home, trying to get out of a trap, wanting to be something or someone else, as we do. I think of the word headlamps—small fires moving in the dark. The tall parking lot lights are swarmed with insects. The moths, their wings.
I close the curtains tightly.
I turn and look at my mother who is my daughter who is my ancestor who is my offspring, my past spiraling behind me, my future burning in front—a blur of being. She is of me and I am of her.
One day, not too far off, she will die, but I’ll still feel her presence, won’t I? I’ll have to sort through her things, box up her life. But there is no way to box up a life. Not really.
In death, my mother will be freed of the convulsive cage of her body. Maybe she’ll become the grandest version of herself.
I’ll remain as I am, and, right now, I’m nothing more than an ordinary woman leaving her mother in the care of strangers.
I move to the door.
The fluorescent lights flicker.
And just then, I sense something I don’t understand. One of the gift ferns is exhaling a frothy scent. I walk back over to one of them. And I hear some muted language—like words said underwater. I lean in close to its lush fronds, and I hear distinct chatter . . . something about fear and love.
1. The term “immunoglobulin,” coined by Paul Erlich in 1890, is another way of talking about antibodies.
2. Ingmanson, Wallace and Pershing, Vladimir, 2014, Superbugs: The Virulent End of Time, Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, New York City.
3. Fink, Edwardo, 2011, The perfect cytokine storm, Immunology Monthly, v. 223, p. 58-72.
4. Orwell, J.S. and Whatley, Terrence, V., Attacks, Swarms, and Incidents: A Compendium of Vampiric Events, US Government’s Archival Documents—HIVE, 1989, 1392 p.
5. Wattlebee, Humphrey, 1911, A Brief Oral History of the Hidden Life of Discredited Doctors, Binderbee and Bussbaum Publishers, Oxen-Round-the-Hills, England, 513 p.
6. Dumont, Marie-Louise, 1917, Les Medicines Interdits et Mysterieux, Fabrieux, Paris, France, 246 p.
7. Blakemore, Colin and Jennett, Sheila, The Oxford Companion to the Body. 2001. Encyclopedia.com. (September 28, 2010). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O128-vampire.html, 700 p.
8. Although silver ceased to be used for medical purposes by the early 1940s, ostensibly because certain antibiotics were invented, it was also due to secret government intervention to protect vampires.
9. Köztársaság, Nikola, approximately late 1800s early 1900s, Usmen Istoričar nad Vampir, publisher unknown, 44 p.
10. Dufozio, Amber and Fessel, Curt, 2010, The Sexual Proclivities, Patterns, and Penchants of Vampire-Human Relations—The Illustrated Unabridged Text, US Government’s Archival Documents—HIVE, 789 p.
11. Unknown, 1999, The Gospel According to Golligeth: The Lost Gospel of Truth and Wisdom, Letters to Peter and Paul, pp. 121-149.
12. There are other famous rules with vampiric lineage. Of the U.S. Presidents, for example, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and John Quincy Adams, James Madison, Herbert Hoover, and Harry Truman all had vampiric bloodlines. (After 1946, a president’s vampiric bloodline became top secret and cannot be addressed in this report.) 13. Note that the first recorded blood transfusion took place in 1667.
14. It has been speculated that Van Leeuwenhoek was a vampire himself. In addition to his keen interest in the welfare of vampires—well documented in the founding papers of the S.S.V.P.—his age alone is an indicator. He lived to 90 in an era when the average life expectancy was less than half that.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Julianna Baggott is the author of over a dozen novels, including Pure and The Seventh Book of Wonders, both New York Times Notable Books of the Year. There are over one hundred foreign editions of her novels overseas. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Tor.com, Terraform, Conjunctions, and Strange Horizons. She teaches screenwriting at the Florida State University Film School.
Please visit Lightspeed Magazine to read more great science fiction and fantasy. This story first appeared in the June 2020 issue, which features eight science fiction and fantasy short stories, plus nonfiction and novel excerpts. This issue also contains work by Tochi Onyebuchi, Megan Arkenberg, Marie Vibbert, Ben Peek, Matthew Kressel, Ken Liu, Em North, and more. You can wait for most of this month’s contents to be serialized online, or you can buy the whole issue right now in convenient ebook format for just $3.99, or subscribe to the ebook edition at a discounted rate via the link below.