Just a few days ago, HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson made a comparison between African slaves and immigrants. I can go on and on about this and many people already have about the Good Doctor’s daft statement. Instead of kicking up more dust than I already have on the matter, I will allow my work to speak for itself.
I wrote “Blood Tribe” a few years ago to be included in the Sins of the Past (2014) anthology. Back then, Carson had never even shown up on my radar, as he had yet to throw his hat in the ring when running for POTUS. I will attach my story here. Though it is a tale of horror, please realize that the REAL horror was that suffered by the common ancestors I share with Dr. Ben.
I was perched atop my favorite palm tree, basking in the glow of a bright moon, sampling the different scents on the salty coastal breeze. What came to me nearly singed my nose hairs with a sharp, long-forgotten stench. The tribal members in my village were too caught up in their activities which focused on sitting around a fire and listening raptly to the griot’s tale. The children guffawed and hung onto every word that filtered through his cola-nut-stained teeth as he spun tales of the trickster spider god, Anansi, and of creatures like me…
But I’m getting too far ahead too quickly.
It is true that I am not quite human, but you’ll learn more about that as I unravel the tale. Where was I? Oh yes, the smell that hung in the air… The villagers were more concerned with libations brought in calabashes by beautiful dark ladies whose breasts hung free. The men stood around in the background, also bare-chested, sharing rumors and tales of their own. Nobody else had picked up on that smell.
My senses are keener than those of humans. Not to say that I am not human at all. I am just something…more.
From time to time, I made the obligatory physical changes so that I could mingle with them. Some looked at me as a goddess walking in their midst while the superstitious regarded me a necessary evil. Both views were at least partially true: my power and those of others like me would make me something of a minor deity at best and, though my intentions were usually good, I had been known to drift to the darker side when provoked. Besides a painless sacrifice every now and then, I demanded no tribute and hated when someone wanted to fall at my feet. Flattering, yet completely unnecessary for my personality type. Other Nameless Ones got off on that sort of thing…
The rumor of the origin of my species was shrouded in mystery, as none of us could ever recall not being. What we did collectively remember was a man who was more than just a man nailed to a wooden shape in a desolate place called Golgotha. It was said that the ground below, which had been saturated with despair, death and excrement, was the bloodstained clay used by our creator to form us. We would remain until the Man-Who-Was-Not-Man came back to this realm. Until that return, we were scattered to the ends of the earth, protecting or terrorizing humans, becoming guardian angels or monstrous devils as we deemed fit. We were beyond being named or categorized, so we didn’t bother using personal identifiers for each other or the humans to which we seemed drawn…
I lived in an uneasy symbiosis with my assigned tribe. Remote regions had guardians of their own. Unlike my brethren, I had a certain fondness for my humans and didn’t treat them merely as food. There was the occasional requirement of blood, though. I only fed on the willing and the overly curious. However, extraction of that precious liquid tissue wasn’t necessarily tantamount to death, unlike with some other fluids and…
I’m getting ahead of myself again. I tend to ramble sometimes, which is a symptom of having lived for at least 1,500 years, I guess. Where was I? Oh yes: the stench. I was used to all sorts of smells and could withstand the putrescence of waste material and even rotting flesh. What didn’t set well with me was the foul odor that had hijacked an otherwise delightful breeze to assault my senses and ruin my night. That stink was the same as what I could recall of Golgotha: despair.
The ship, still a day or two out, had a cargo unlike any I’d ever seen. Yes, I could actually close my eyes and, by sniffing, could make out vague mental pictures of obsidian human husks whose spirits had been all but exorcised. There was a great and constant moaning which, though some of the cries were made in the tongues of peoples from different regions, was universally understood. Some sounds superseded human language, such as laughs and cries. The overwhelming reek caused me to spit up a rather delicious dinner of raw snake and overripe mango.
I remained on my perch just shy of dawn, when I had to retreat beneath the canopy due to my extreme allergic reaction to sunlight. I sampled the air a final time, hoping the craft would bypass us or, even better, go back to its origination point. But by morning, the images of flayed skin and ululating rape victims were stronger than the rays of the morning star that filtered downward to the jungle floor. From my resting place in the earth, I decided I would approach the tribal chief and council of elders shortly after the sun had descended for the evening.
Upon waking, I shifted to an upright biped form. I could modify physical characteristics, altering species, skin tone and gender at will. I entered the village as I usually did: in the guise of a stunning woman with wide, swaying hips and a dermis the color of plum flesh.
I loved taking the feminine appearance because, anywhere outside the village, I was underestimated and sometimes allowed to blend into the backdrop. Members of the tribe knew my familiar forms because of the dark indigo hue of my eyes, which glowed in bright moonlight. They’d learned to respect me more than their own women, whose standing was based on serving and childbearing talents. The men weren’t misogynist, though they did have a lot to learn concerning their female counterparts.
The elders had learned to render honor in whatever avatar I chose, though a couple of the younger members of the council barely hid their disdain with pursed lips when I came as a woman. By tradition, the men took aversion to receiving orders or advice from what they’d deemed the lesser sex. On the rare occasions that I appeared as a man, I was larger and stronger than their mightiest warriors and raw power was something they respected outright. They had lessons yet to be taught.
“The village is in trouble,” I announced before the panel. I described what I’d sensed the previous night, down to the details of the ship’s sails.
“Then why have we not heard drums in the last few days to warn us?” one of the naysayers spat. “Our allies and even our enemies must know of this vessel that hugs the coastline and stinks of death.”
“Let them come,” stated one of the newer, younger members of the group. He was renowned for his skill in battle and welcomed the challenge of any group that would try to steal their women.
He and his kinsmen obviously didn’t understand the gravity of such things. To them, enslavement was something that happened to the prisoners taken by one tribe upon defeat of the other. The captives, though made to work hard in the years to follow, were able to do so with some sort of dignity. They were often able to gain a foothold and eventually assimilate into the tribe. The ship that was on its way would not offer the same. My humans would be reduced to beasts lower than the dung-slinging monkeys that inhabited the baobab trees.
I tried getting the point across, appealing to the chief, who I had known as a wise man all his life. Instead of intelligent consideration, the discussion devolved into arguing, disbelief and outrage but no resolve. Finally, the chief spoke: “Purple-eyed demon,” he called me, trying to show strength before his council, “You come bearing bad news based on paranoia and superstition.”
My instinct was to laugh in his face, but I neither wanted to be disrespectful of his position nor forget the issue at hand. His challenge had more to do with the vestiges of masculinity: the perceived length of his penis and how many children he had sired. In short, he didn’t want to look bad in front of his entourage.
His face was etched with determination, though I could see the glint of fear in his eyes. “Why not turn yourself into a great sea creature and sink the ship?”
His sarcasm bit me. Though I had never lorded over the tribe as some of my ilk would have, his words provoked me and made me want to morph into a huge, black bear or silverback gorilla (which was about as big as I could get) that could maul each member seated before me.
I fought the urge and did not alter my form or relent. I said nothing and left the hut regretting I’d ever brought up the slave ship. They would regret their mockery and underestimation of an enemy the likes of which they’d never even seen.
I had been around longer than any of the elders and many generations of elders before them, so I had a good idea of how bad it could get. I’d witnessed women ravaged to the point of death, men hoisted high on impaling stakes and suckling babes ripped from their mothers’ teats and thrown to lions for sport. I had watched torturous vivisection under the guise of scientific advancement. I had seen true evil and the tribe’s experience of regional skirmishes could not compare. I knew the incursion of white men rowing ashore with bad intentions would be much worse. I was left no choice. No matter the consensus of the committee, I knew what I had to do as a guardian. But they would have to learn the hard way before I would come to the rescue.
Trapped in the rainforest with the sun hanging high overhead, I remained hidden beneath palm leaves and loose soil as screams and wails and clinking iron disturbed my slumber. The ship had sped in and dirty men with pinkish, sunburned hides rowed to the beach. The slavers didn’t arrive acting as missionaries who’d come in peace. The tribal warriors were expecting a battle in the conventional sense and had never heard or felt the explosions of gunfire before that day.
When night fell, I transformed into a cheetah and ran swiftly through the jungle toward the water’s edge. The captors had done a snatch-and-grab, plundered quickly and returned to their vessel with a good portion of the villagers. The more robust men who hadn’t been felled with rifles put up enough of a defense to hasten a retreat. There was blood in the sand and the rotten onset of despair had infected those left behind.
But the human traffickers weren’t done. The ship was anchored a mile off, which was out of reach for any volley of spears or arrows. The white men would return for days on end, making their way about a mile inland to grab up any tribe members they could find.
The Chief’s first wife was on her knees, crying, reaching out toward the horizon as if she could bring back her husband and son. The griot, her older brother, was nursing a smelly protrusion of intestines, trying to put them back in his belly with bloody fingers. He lay agonizing in his sister’s arms, shaking his head feverishly. The pain would be enough to make him lose consciousness but he would survive a day or two before the peritonitis became too much. I said nothing, just met her eyes, which were drowned in oceans of tears that made waterfalls down her cheeks. She needed say no more.
I had made it my mission to never undergo transformation in front of my humans as not to frighten them. That night, I was beyond caring about such things. Their wails signaled my change, my muscles jerking in spasm as my skin stretched and bones bent and creaked to accommodate. The fact that I’d done the same for centuries didn’t make the process any less painful. However, the hurt I felt on that beach was nothing compared to the vengeance I was going to dish out. After all, hell hath no fury like a bloodsucking shape-shifter scorned…
My wingspan was so great, it nearly eclipsed the moon. I circled above until I spotted one of the pirates in his forward cabin. Dumb bastard didn’t even notice as I materialized in the tiny room, so caught up in terrorizing some frightened teenaged girl.
“Get ‘em hard, girlie,” he barked, twisting her exposed nipples, spittle running from his lipless mouth and down his stubbly chin. I didn’t know what he was saying exactly, only that the language was Latin-based. However, I understood his meaning.
The girl whined to her assailant’s delight, his breath stinking of grog and his penis stiff against his leg. He wouldn’t have chance to use it ever again.
It’s amazing how much blood the capillaries spurt, though the veins and arteries are much more generous with their output. As the filthy sailor presented his third leg, I ripped it from his body, baptizing the cabin as he convulsed and ejaculated in violent shades of red. He tried screaming but I slashed his vocal cords with jagged claws, leaving him hissing and gurgling, with a look of surprise on his death mask.
He got off light.
I went partially reptilian and slithered down into the hold, where the bulk of the human cargo was chained. Their flesh was torn and bleeding and stinking of waste. Some were physically ill while all were infected with the desolation that hung stolid in the air. Many spoke different languages, misunderstood by people from far off regions. Former enemies locked eyes with previous foes, past disputes dissipated, wishing they could unite for freedom’s sake.
They would get their chance.
I could singlehandedly do the job but wanted these tribesmen and women to take ownership in proclaiming their own independence.
I searched through the rows until I sniffed out the chief, who’d been badly beaten and bridled. I could smell in his sweat that he’d fought with all he had before his capture. He wanted so badly to tell me that he wished he’d listened to my advice about deserting the village to move his people inland.
He could thank me later.
I sunk my fangs deep into his jugular and fed greedily from the geyser that eagerly burst forth. His cry was muffled but became more of a drunken lullaby as I literally sucked the mortality out of him. It was a sanguine exchange that granted a wonderful, dark gift: the power to adapt, overcome and, ultimately, survive.
To say what took place after was a chain reaction would make me the teller of bad puns. No metal—save silver—could hold the chieftain and his fellow prisoners. He broke the restraints and snatched the contraption that’d held his tongue in check. He didn’t take out the bridle so he could give some vainglorious pep talk to the troops about what they needed to do. His directions were transferred with his bite. Each African communed with the other by way of blood, their linguistic and geographic differences dissipating with every coppery mouthful. They instinctively drank just shy of stopping the heart, which was necessary to conversion. Once they’d undergone the change, they were reborn into a new tribe.
It was the thunderous breaking of chains and bestial growls (replacing moans and cries of despair) that brought members of the ship’s crew into the hold to investigate. They were met by 113 freed men and women, some halfway transformed to beasts and nightmarish creatures with no fear of weapons wielded by the impotent…
Just as the strangers didn’t bother with pleasantries when they’d arrived on the shore hours before, the newly made shape-shifters saw no need for niceties, either. The shrieks of their captors went forth in a discordant series of shouts from throats rendered raw from the effort, yet unable to stop. The background music was punctuated by the occasional solo effort, usually from some poor lout who was forced to watch as his shin or forearm was snapped open to retrieve the delicious marrow—a sheer delicacy that had me licking my lips and wanting to join in on the killing. No. As new recruits of the Nameless, that rite of passage was theirs alone.
I’ll admit I was jealous, particularly when the warrior member of the elder council, eyes glinting indigo in the glow of torches, figured out how to extract grey matter—much to the chagrin of the host. The poor bastard’s skull cracked like a pigeon’s eggshell, hissing briefly as the gas pressure leveled with the outside air.
The frenzy went on through the night. It was the change in the color of the sky that stopped the hoisting up of the ship’s captain in a noose made of his entrails. Covered with the blood of their prey, there were only two choices when dawn came: strike below in that cursed hold or make way for the jungle beyond the shore. All 113 either grew fins to jump ship or sprouted wings to take flight, avoiding the forthcoming rays of the sun.
The vessel sat at anchor, carcasses and body parts left exposed to the vultures, stinking of death and ghosts of despair. Even after the reformed council met in the nights to follow, I forbade burning or sinking the frigate.
“Let it remain as it is,” I commanded. Being the eldest and their maker, my word was undisputed.
So there the craft remained through the next 300 years of the transatlantic slave trade, its timbers never rotting and the stench of its corpses disgustingly fresh. It bobbed in the waves and never sank, serving as a warning to all who would venture to that cursed part of the coast with ill intent. A few did, arrogant and ready to refute primitive superstition for a chance to capture the legendary. Their vessels were added to our collection, a glamour put over the ghost fleet, floating in the harbor like ghastly chess pieces. After awhile, the slavers got the hint and chose to steer clear of the Nameless Blood Tribe. The unfortunate souls stupid enough to challenge our guardianship over the land and its people are trapped until the Word Made Flesh—the Named One—returned.