Authors: Tananarive Due
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Fantasy, #Contemporary, #Horror
The Good House
Freedom in the Family
The Living Blood
My Soul to Keep
The Black Rose
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2008 by Tananarive Due
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Atria Books Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
and colophon are trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Due, Tananarive, 1966–
Blood colony: a novel / Tananarive Due.—1st Atria Books hardcover ed.
1. Immortalism—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3554. U3413B58 2008
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For Octavia Estelle Butler,
with love and gratitude
“All that you Touch, you Change.”
Jesus said, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
Gospel of Thomas
Don’t wanna’ die for a while.
I think I’ll fly for a while…
—Phoenix, “Gotta Fly”
Renewal requires that death
precede it so that the weary
may be replaced by the vigorous…
To thwart it is the first step
toward thwarting the continuation
of exactly that which we try to preserve,
which is, after all, the order
and system of our universe.
How We Die
fter three days of waiting, Stefan was told he could see his old friend. The wait had not been unexpected, but he was anxious. Stefan had delayed this visit for decades, and he cursed himself when he realized he might be too late. He might never see Lolek again. It was all he could do to restrain himself from running across the polished marble floors.
“You have five minutes,” said a white-haired caretaker who met him in the regal hall. The man looked like a mouse, with a hunched posture and eyes and ears too big for his face. Most men were mice, of course, but few looked the part so convincingly.
“Is he awake?”
“Sometimes yes, sometimes no.”
He had almost waited too long, then. Now, he had only chance on his side.
Or prayer, perhaps
. That thought made Stefan smile, but sadly. When it came to matters of life and death, he had learned that prayer was chance of the riskiest kind.
Wide marble stairs took him to the apartment, which was surprisingly drab and dark. The palatial halls below were appointed with timeless artwork. Daddi. Raphael. Michaelangelo. Stefan marveled at how changed Lolek’s life was now. Lolek had always shied from riches. How had such a modest soul come to live in the bosom of opulence, waited on by an army?
One of the constant attendants sat in a wooden chair two strides from the bed where Lolek lay on a mound of pillows. The attendant’s eyes were trained to the book in her lap; always the same one, no doubt. The portly woman hardly took notice of Stefan’s entrance, offering neither greeting nor smile.
“I was told we would have time alone,” Stefan said.
The woman’s face, already severe, hardened. But instead of objecting, she stood and lay her leather-bound black book on her seat. “I must not leave the apartment,” she whispered. “But I will move outside the door. You have been told five minutes?”
. “Yes. Five minutes.”
The room was deathly silent except for the sound of the woman’s flat soles across the floor and Lolek’s heroic struggle to draw one breath, then another. His ventilation tube whistled, a piteous sound. Moving the attendant’s well-worn book to the table at Lolek’s bedside, Stefan pulled the chair to the edge of the bed.
Lolek might be in a coffin, if not for the tubes attached to his throat. His complexion was so pale that his skin looked powdered, his white bedclothes freshly pressed to match. Lolek’s eyes were closed and still, the lids bluish. Stefan had not seen his friend—the poet, playwright and priest—since Lolek’s hair had been a thick mat across his scalp, black as midnight.
It was curious how memories remained frozen in youth,
Stefan thought. He did not recognize Lolek in the old man he had become.
Lolek’s eyes flinched.
“Lolek? Are you awake?” Stefan said softly. He doubted the faithful attendant would approve, but he rested his hand against Lolek’s cool cheek. Only then did he realize how much he missed his friend, how far their paths had diverged since Stefan’s innocent respite at the seminary. “It’s Stefan. I’ve finally made good on my threat to visit you.”
His voice had an immediate effect. How many years had it been since anyone had addressed Lolek by his playful nickname? Lolek’s eyes fluttered, and he made a soft sound, turning his head toward Stefan from his pillow. With brilliant late-afternoon sunlight from the open bay windows bathing his chair, Stefan wondered if Lolek thought he was dreaming. Or did he imagine that the angel sent to usher him to St. Peter had taken a most improbable form?
“We’ll go out with our kayaks again, my friend,” Stefan said. “I’ve reserved our cabin. Maybe the old innkeeper is still there, and this time he won’t be too drunk to stand.”
Lolek smiled. Slowly, he raised a scolding, unsteady finger. It had been more than sixty years since they’d visited the Drweca River together, and the old drunken innkeeper who had cursed at them must be long dead. Still, Lolek’s smile as he shared the memory felt like salvation.
“Not today, then. Another,” Stefan said and squeezed his hand. Lolek squeezed back. His strength surprised Stefan. But then again, hadn’t it always?
Lolek’s blue eyes sparkled, a portal to the past. Practically unchanged. Stefan savored the moment—but like everything in life, it vanished right away.
Lolek’s unblinking eyes went from jovial to silently disapproving. Stefan recognized the shadow across his friend’s face; he had seen it many years ago, when he’d first confessed his discovery. His calling. On that day, their friendship had ended.
Lolek, dear confused soul, believed he could never abide any role in The Cleansing.
“I haven’t much time, Lolek. Neither have you,” Stefan said, his voice low. “You know what I have, and what I can do for you. The world needs you here with us. Let me give you a few more years, free of suffering. You might gain a decade. Then, when it is time, I’ll come to you again with the same chance to live. You’ll be immortal. I can do this as a friend, Lolek.”
Lolek’s gaze, this time, was heartbroken. His mouth fell open as he wheezed, struggling to speak. “So…afraid.” His speech was nearly impossible to understand, except to a friend.
Stefan squeezed his hand. “Of course you are.”
Lolek smiled again, shaking his head. “Not me…
” he said. “Do not…be afraid.”
Lolek must have been fooled by Stefan’s face, to speak to him like a child. Lolek and his misguided sense of propriety. He should be grateful for such a gift!
“You must think about it, at least—” Stefan begged.
Lolek raised his unsteady hand again. He waved it toward Stefan with weary, ritualistic precision. The sign of the cross. “May God…have mercy…” A mere wheezing. Lolek gasped the words, air stolen from his last breaths: “…on your soul.”
God will never have my soul, my friend,
Stefan thought. He leaned over the old man his friend had become and kissed his forehead. “I’m not far, at the Hotel Nova Domus. Please ring me there, no matter what the hour, and I will come to you.”
Only Lolek’s heaving chest and whistling tube answered. His eyes closed again.
Stefan sat in silence at Lolek’s bedside, mourning already. The irreversibility of the moment felt devastating. A plan so long laid was shattering before his eyes, but it was worse than that, even: Lolek was a good man, and always had been. Stefan’s sins might have been forgiven if Lolek had agreed to accept the Blood. How could any other man deserve an escape from death if dear, gentle Lolek did not?
Stefan heard the attendant’s approach to signal that his time had ended. “Good night, Sister,” Stefan told the nun, smiling politely despite his tears.
“Grieve not, young man. He goes to God. That brings me great comfort.
Stefan planned to leave Rome right away, but he could not make himself go to the airport. He lingered at his hotel for two more days, cloistered in his room while he prayed to be called back to his friend’s bedside. From his window, he admired the timeless dome at St. Peter’s Basilica. His summoning never came.
He was at the hotel bar when the word came on the television news.
Shutters were drawn across the window of the magnificent apartment he had visited two days before. The tolling bells of the Vatican signaled that the ailing pope had died.
Knowledge is wonderful and truth serene
But man in their service bleeds.
seventh-century Hindu poet
ramma Bea was the first to rise in the Big House.
Each morning, Fana Wolde found her grandmother in the kitchen with Mahalia Jackson’s soaring voice consoling her from the old CD player while Gramma Bea patted balls of dough between her palms, measuring drop biscuits. Gramma Bea cooked with care, hour after hour, as if the fate of the world depended on her getting the ingredients and temperature just right.
Beatrice Jacobs was eighty-four, but she looked youthful in the black silk kimono she sometimes wore all day, when she didn’t have the energy to get dressed. By lunchtime, she would be sweating from the heat, but she never left her kitchen. When she wasn’t cooking, she was sitting at the kitchen table, either dozing or reading her Bible. Sleeping and praying took up the time left after cooking. She spent more time doing all three since her heart attack.
Like most people, Gramma Bea wore her thoughts like clothing, so Fana didn’t have to peek inside her grandmother’s head to understand her. Fana could see it plainly: Gramma Bea stored her grief in her baking breads and stewing pots. Cooking was her meditation.
Fana’s grandfather had died five years ago, when his car had overturned in a ditch in the woods a half-mile from his kitchen table, during a rainstorm. The accident had happened at three-thirty in the afternoon, snapping Fana out of meditation. Fana, the first to know he was dead, had shared her grandfather’s last, startled gasp.
Grandpa Gaines had been dead before anyone had been able to bring blood to him, where a drop might have saved him—or Dad might have been able to perform the Ceremony at the instant his heart had stopped, in the ancient way. It was so unfair: Gramma Bea had lost her first husband to a car accident, too.
And to lose someone here must feel worse,
Fana thought. No one died here. Fana knew why Gramma Bea always kept her grandfather’s chair at the breakfast table empty, as if she expected him to come downstairs to eat, too. His absence was inconceivable.
“Don’t just stand there, baby,” Gramma Bea said. “Start squeezing the juice.”
The kitchen smelled like oranges in the mornings because Gramma Bea was from Florida and insisted on squeezing her orange juice fresh. The oranges were already chopped and waiting, so Fana only had to pick up her dripping fruit, hold half an orange in her palm, and scrape off the pulp in the white plastic juicer with the methodical turns of her wrist Gramma Bea had taught her to perfection; one of the few things Fana believed she did well.
Mom had bought a mechanical juicer years ago, but Gramma Bea wasn’t interested in technology except to listen to Mahalia and the Mississippi Mass Choir and the other gospel she filled her silences with. Gramma Bea thought machines were a distraction, and the music brought her closer to God. And closer to Grandpa Gaines, of course.
Gramma Bea thought about dying for a long while every day, working her way up to the idea. Sometimes, she didn’t mind. Day by day, she minded less. She had begun to think of it as an appointment she had to keep, one she’d put off long enough. Fana wondered what else her grandmother would do with her time if she didn’t have to think about dying.
But she doesn’t have to die,
Fana reminded herself.
She knows she has a choice.
“You’ve got some nice little hips now,” Gramma Bea said, dropping her dough into neat rows on the cookie sheet. “Nice legs, too.
legs.” Gramma Bea’s kimono was cut high, the way a younger woman would wear it, to show off her legs. Her calves were veined blue, but her smooth shins had resisted wrinkles. “You should wear a dress when you go driving tomorrow.”
Fana felt alien enough outside without Gramma Bea’s criticisms! Mom and Aunt Alex never wore anything except T-shirts and jeans either. Sometimes it was hard for Fana to believe that Mom and Gramma Bea were the same blood: Mom never had casual conversations with her about going outside, especially not about clothes. Mom only filled Fana’s head with warnings.
“Why do I need a dress?” Fana said. “It’s just a driving lesson.”
“And lunch,” Gramma Bea said. “At a nice restaurant.”
“Pass. I’ll pack some food from home.”
a click against her teeth. “Go to a restaurant, Fana. Sit with the people for a while. It’ll be good for you.”
Fana hated restaurants. They always smelled like meat, and the tension was thick behind servers’ smiles and the kitchens’ closed doors. Restaurants never felt at peace.
“Don’t you want to feel more comfortable around people, Pumpkin?” Gramma Bea said.
Fana felt stung. Now Gramma Bea sounded like Mom. “What do you mean?”
“I knew a young man from Midway, Florida,…a trumpet player,” Gramma Bea said, speaking in a story, as she often did, never going forward until she remembered all the details. She wanted to make sure her life’s adventures would be remembered, even in passing. “He swore up and down he loved me, but I came to find out he didn’t invite me to his sister’s wedding. He said he was worried I wouldn’t know which fork to use and what-not. So seditty! And I told him, ‘Billy Taylor, what kind of love is that?’”
Fana waited. Sooner or later, Gramma Bea always remembered her point again. Gramma Bea went on: “Baby, liking from a distance isn’t the same as liking up close. You can’t like people if you won’t let them close to you.”
Fana felt her teeth grind. How many times did she have to tell Gramma Bea that crowds gave her headaches? Her family tried to understand, but they couldn’t. Not really. And what good would it do to go out and meet people? She would only lie to them, too.
I care about people in the way that matters,
I heal them.
“I have friends,” Fana said instead. When she wasn’t reading or meditating, Fana was posting on ShoutOut, where she had hundreds of friends around the world who knew her as Aliyah Martin, an American student and Phoenix music fan living in Tokyo.
But Gramma Bea was wrong if she thought she spent her days role-playing and gossiping.
Fana never used her webcam, and only three people outside the colony knew her real name. One person alone knew who she
was, and Fana hadn’t seen her best friend in three years. She and Caitlin saved their real communications for an encrypted site, at least once a week. They deleted and scrubbed each other’s messages immediately.
Fana hadn’t gotten any messages from Caitlin in two weeks. Something was wrong.
Anxiety nested in Fana’s stomach, and she knew that the chewing sensation would follow her until she tried to go to sleep, just like last night. She dreamed in nightmares, and always about Caitlin. Was Caitlin dead, like Maritza?
She can’t be,
I would have felt her die.
Was Caitlin on the run, then? She had to be.
“Typing on a screen isn’t the same as talking face-to-face,” Gramma Bea said, prying Fana’s worries wide open. “Life is something you touch. Typing is easy. Touching is hard.”
Gramma Bea was right: Fana needed to see Caitlin in person. But Caitlin couldn’t come here, the one place she might be safest. One of the Brothers would know Caitlin’s thoughts as soon as she arrived, and Fana couldn’t count on masking her.
If I were a normal person, I could just drive out of here and go find Caitlin myself.
It was the worst quandary of Fana’s life, and not talking about it consumed her. Was it time to tell her family the truth?
Fana almost told Gramma Bea everything, right there in the kitchen on Friday morning.
“…that dress I got you for Easter is casual enough to wear as a tea dress,” Gramma Bea was saying, and Fana enjoyed remembering how much her grandmother had loved buying her clothes, even if she’d never worn them. Gramma Bea hadn’t been on a shopping trip in a year, and her catalogues were piling up in the coat closet. “You’re such a pretty girl, Fana. Why won’t you let anyone see you? It’s like you want to bury yourself in the ground and disappear.”
Did Gramma Bea know? Fana had started trancing again, too.
Sometimes when Fana meditated, she let herself get lost, hiding from herself the way she’d first learned when she was three and the world had gone badly wrong, when she’d stayed lost for years. Life was hard again, and Fana wanted to step out of it.
Fana felt her grandmother’s fingers beneath her chin, and the kitchen came into sharp focus: rows of cookbooks, watermelon knickknacks and a polished floor.
Did I trance that fast?
Gramma Bea looked her in the eye, knowing. “Try to get used to things on this side, too. Not just the universe in your head, Pumpkin,” she said patiently. “Start with this.”
Gramma Bea held up a tube of lipstick the color of ripe mango pulp.
“It’ll do wonders for your smile,” she said. “You just put some on and stare at yourself in the mirror. It’ll make you feel good. Sit in your skin a while, child. Now, pucker.”
Fana pouted her lips, and her grandmother painstakingly guided the tube over them. Fana smelled perspiration, talcum powder and sweet, familiar Giorgio on her skin. Fana would know her grandmother’s scent with her eyes closed.
“Look at that!” Gramma Bea said, glowing as if she and Fana shared a face. She held up the shiny aluminum toaster for Fana to see her reflection: blurred brown features and a shimmer of orange-yellow light. “A little color works miracles. See how it brings out your lips? I still feel naked if I go outside without my lipstick, and nobody’s noticed my face for years. But, once?”
She laughed, her eyes twinkling with memories both joyful and sad. Gramma Bea rarely saw how beautiful she was; she only noticed what had changed since she was seventeen, too.
“Don’t worry, Gramma Bea,” Fana said. “Nobody’s noticing me either. Ever.”
Everyone else who lived at the colony was related to her by blood or marriage, or was just a kid or old enough to be her ancestor. Not to mention that she was also a freak.
“Somebody will notice you when you’re driving,” Gramma Bea said, certain.
“You never know who, Pumpkin,” she said. “That’s the fun part—finding out. Twice in one lifetime I was blessed with a good man.
True love is an experience everyone should have, but you can’t find anyone when you’re hiding.”
Gramma Bea was from a generation when girls got married right out of high school, Fana remembered. They couldn’t be more different in that way. Fana had known since she was three that she would always be alone.
“Men have the curse of their eyes, Pumpkin,” Gramma Bea said. “Their eyes catch onto things first. It never seems right or fair, but it’s in their makeup. Until a man sees you with his eyes, it’s like he can’t see you at all. And if a man’s eyes take hold of his heart? He’ll move a mountain for you.”
“That just sounds shallow,” Fana said. “Why would I want anyone like that?”
Gramma Bea shrugged. “We didn’t make this world. The Lord did. We just visit here.” Fana sighed and picked up the toaster again, adjusting its angles in the light from the window to try to see her face through a stranger’s eyes.
“Do you see what I see now?” Gramma Bea said.
Fana nodded, forcing a smile.
The lipstick’s color was a promising speck, but Fana still couldn’t see her face at all.