Should your loyalty lie with your new family, or your old? In this tale of vampire vs human families, the answer is complicated.
Audio production by Davis Walden.
Hi. I’m Tonia Ransom, creator and executive producer of NIGHTLIGHT, a horror podcast featuring creepy tales written and performed by Black creatives from all over the world.
This week we have another story originally published in SLAY. This tale features a newly born vampire who’s forced to choose between her old human family, and her new vampire one.
But before we get to problematic families, just a reminder that all episodes are brought to you by the NIGHTLIGHT Legion. Thanks to our newest patrons Jean-Paul, Diana, John T., Janice, Keely, Sissy, Lia, and Nikki. You have my eternal gratitude. Remember, NIGHTLIGHT is 100% listener supported, so we need your help to reach our goal of publishing new episodes every week for you to enjoy. Just go to patreon.com/nightlightpod to join the NIGHTLIGHT Legion and get a shoutout on the podcast.
Now sit back, turn out the lights, and enjoy Ujima by Alledria Hurt, narrated by me, Tonia Ransom.
Family is still everything, even when you’re dead.
Imani scanned down the snowy slope at the line of humans following her up the mountain. Below them, making their way quicker than those fleeing them, were the vampires who only sought to recover what Imani had stolen from them. She made a choice and she would defend it, to the death if necessary.
Days before the mountain, Imani woke in her sacred space, her sleeping place underneath a building and out of the setting sun. It had been mere days since she took the bloody elixir which transformed her from a creature of day into a child of the night. She heard the sound of the waking world with new ears, still fascinated by what she contacted there. Despite her newness, she was an early riser, coming to wakefulness far before her peers who lay in their own sacred spaces around her. Their master and maker lay upon a slab above the rest of them, his body ringed in by the candles which would offer him protection from arcane attack should someone come upon him while he slept. They were never afforded such protection, such was only for those who had created a coven of their own.
Imani reached beneath the edge of her pallet and drew forth the sacrificial knife which would allow her to drink from the fount near her master. Hunger gnawed rat-like at her insides, offering her no peace in those early moments. The first touch of the elixir on her tongue would drive it away, force it underground from her thoughts. She skimmed the room waiting for the stirring which might have said another woke as she did.
Her place as the newest of the changed meant she should not be the first to drink from the fount. There were others who had more right than she to slack their thirst, but she had risen before them. Thus, she should be allowed to drink before them. Their master would not allow them all to drink; therefore, being first held its own power.
The gourd of the fount hung near the Master’s sleeping pallet above the room. To reach it, she would have to move within the circle of the arcane candles. Imani hesitated. To be so bold could land her in a great deal of trouble with her new family. They had taken her from nothing and now she needed to obey them in order to survive. Otherwise, they might well stake her out in the sun to be burned to ash.
Yet the hunger bit.
It did not nibble.
Her vision collapsed into the gourd of the fount and nothing else. Imani slipped up the stairs of the platform, up to the edge of the candles and stopped.
No, she had to wait.
Her fist clenched around the knife with its decoration of thread to give it grip. The colors of her clan, her family, the place she belonged now.
Above her, the tantalizing scent of the gourd drifted down. It perfumed the air with the scent of blood. Imani stared up at it, only vaguely aware of the candles at her feet as she stepped across them and into the Master’s sacred space.
Her eyes lidded as she drew close. Her free hand came up in a lover’s caress. The sweet smelling gourd slid soapy beneath her fingers. With a flash of blade, she pierced the gourd and the first drops of precious elixir fell to her lips. Yet she hardly got to taste them before she was knocked aside by a powerful blow.
“You,” her Master said after giving her a moment to come to her senses. The pain of being struck cleared her mind of all else. “Young one, what do you think you are doing?”
Imani did not respond. Her Master, an ebony obelisk of a vampire, stood over her but far enough away that he could not strike her again without moving. Imani did not cower, but she did lower her eyes to the level of his feet.
“You are the least among us,” he said. “For now.”
Without taking his eyes off her, he reached up and extracted her blade from the gourd. A single precious drop of elixir fell from the open hilt and Imani swallowed a groan of want.
“Take your blade and go back to bed,” he commanded. He offered her the item in his open palm, the yellow curve of his ancient nails forming the beginnings of a trap.
Imani stepped forward to take her blade back, intensely aware of the warmth of the candles as she drew closer to them now. He held his hand across them now, refusing her entrance into his space.
He could have grabbed her. The Master could have disciplined her with a stronger hand. Instead, he sent her to bed with no supper as though she were little more than an errant child. How many times had she gone without supper in the times before? She laid back down to await the awakening of the others.
“Too many times,” she murmured to herself as she closed her eyes.
The midnight market held every manner of thing a vampire could want: beautiful clothes, bright gems, and pulsing hearts. Imani walked through with her (coven) sister, Darca. They had come for the market in order to find Darca a new dress. The Master had taken a shine to her and offered to make her one of his wives. The ceremony would take place within days and they needed to be properly prepared. Darca, all aflutter with everything happening, wondered aloud,
“I wonder what it will be like…” she trailed off and Imani, her thoughts elsewhere did not pick up the thread. “Imani!”
“I asked you a question.”
“Forgive me, Sister. Ask it again. I promise to hear this time.”
“I asked, what do you think it will be like, my joining with the Master after all this time?”
In truth, Imani had not thought about it. She didn’t need to. Her status would never allow her to attain such things; therefore, why wonder about them. However, the earnest look in her sister’s eyes meant she needed to think of an answer quickly lest she dash some dream in Darca’s mind.
“I’m sure it will be glorious,” Imani said, joy lighting up her eyes. She wanted it to be glorious for her sister; therefore, she trusted it would be. They hooked arms and continued forward into the market.
Exotic pets and bolts of beautiful fabric offered themselves as gems to the eyes. Imani couldn’t help looking around at everything and occasionally being distracted by the sounds of the animals. The two women stopped at various little places to consider the wares of those within, but did not find a dress which Darca thought suited her well enough for a joining. Not quite defeated, they came to the end of the market and Imani heard her name above the tumult of the crowd.
Turning to look, Imani saw eyes she swore she would never see again. The crowd standing between them froze in time. Imani half-turned to Darca, who chattered away as though nothing occurred. Imani slipped her arm out and bounded through those who stood around as the world began to move again.
A moment later, she held her sister in her arms.
They exchanged words they had known from the cradle and kissed each other on the cheeks.
“Sister, I love you. What’s happened?”
It was only then Imani’s arms, wrapped around her sister’s neck, registered something hiding her sister’s heartbeat. They only did that to humans who were being sold.
That answered what her sister was doing in the midnight market and Imani’s heart dropped.
“What’s happened?” The repetition didn’t get her any further answer. Darca had caught up to her.
“What are you doing embracing a cow?”
The older vampiress saw no reason for anyone to be embracing food. Imani did not think of her sister as food for herself or anyone else.
“We should buy her,” Imani said, covering herself as best she could. “She’s beautiful. She’ll be a good addition to the house.”
“We are here to find me a dress,” Darca reminded Imani. “Not looking for a cow. Now, let’s go.”
Imani allowed herself to be dragged away but couldn’t help seeing the look of defeat in her sister’s eyes.
In their lives under the sun, Imani and her sister, Iija, had been happy, if poverty stricken. There was never enough, but they had one another which had been enough. Then the Master had come. Imani remembered the first night she had seen him standing at the edge of the clearing near where they lived. His presence had been enough to draw strange looks as he walked through the village at the house fires. He glowed red brown in those fire lights.
“I demand my sacrifice,” he said when he reached the fire of the elders.
That year had not been Imani’s year. She would see him many times before her year would come because he always sought an eligible male or female strong enough to join his cadre.
Every year they appeased him. Every year, a new member of the cadre. Every year. First came the rain, then the heat of summer, then the Master as the nights grew longer.
Imani had been taken less than a full year ago. It would be time for him to go to the village again soon. However, what had happened?
After the shopping trip with Darca, Imani went to the Master and sat at his feet waiting for him to acknowledge her to speak. He would know. He knew everything which went on in their corner of the world.
He looked up from the scroll he studied and into her face.
“You have a question,” he said.
“My village, has something happened to it?” That was the only way Imani could reason something brought her sister to the city in a collar.
He seemed to think a moment as though he would not tell her what he knew. Imani felt it in the air, his reticence. Then he laid the scroll aside and opened his arms to her. Imani went to him and curled up in his arms like a child.
“You are still young,” he began. “So, you have not lived this life as I have, though if the heavens are merciful, you will one day have your own. For now though, you must remember your humanity is no longer and the business of the humans is not yours.”
“This is a long answer to my question.”
“It is,” he admitted. “Your village has been destroyed for choosing to wage war against us.”
“And my family?”
“They are no longer your family. This is your family.” His stern voice might have brought color to her face if she had fed properly, but she had no blood to blush. “Do you understand?”
“Darca said she saw you embracing a cow. One of your once family, I’m sure. They are no longer your family and no longer yours to worry over. Let them be.”
Imani removed herself from his arms and fell to her knees before him. As she rose to walk away, she said,
Sleep allowed her nothing that morning and Imani’s closed eyes saw her sister in the marketplace.
“She’s a cow now,” Imani said as she lay awake on her pallet. Nearby, she felt the others of the cadre. “There’s nothing I can do for her.”
She felt the lie as soon as she said it. Nothing she could do and nothing she would do were two different things. Once upon a time, she promised her sister she would do anything for her. Was she now going to go back on that promise because things had changed?
Imani sat up, some distance from the Master and considered what she would do. She understood they were no longer her affair; however, her sister, blood ties, she couldn’t just walk away from that.
Gathering her shawl, she headed for the cadre door knowing she would have to be careful to be back before full dark.
The midnight market stood empty, stalls unopened for now. They would open soon enough and she needed to be gone before then. The cadre talisman on her clothing would cause shame on her family if she were caught stealing.
She made her way to the pens at the edge of the market.
“Iija!” She did not make her attempts to find her quiet. There would be human guards, but what could they do against her now, even though she was little more than a fledging showing up in the twilight before the market opened?
Her sister appeared at the edge of the pen and looked at her with wide eyes.
“Imani,” she whispered. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“I can’t just leave you here to become someone’s cow.”
“Imani, go back to your life,” her sister said. “Go now before you get caught.”
“I’m not leaving without you.”
The gate broke under her hands and suddenly a hundred eyes stared at her, some of them hostile. The first human guard appeared nearby a moment later. He ran at her, and once he reached her, she snapped his spine as easily as one might break off some berries.
“Come on,” she urged her sister who hesitated. Then they were running together, among what seemed like a thousand other footsteps heading for the edge of the enclave. Iija kept pace as best she could, but dealing with a fledgling vampire, she was still too slow, as were most of the humans who had taken the opportunity to make a run for it. Once they were out in the jungle beyond the enclave, Imani slowed and then whipped around to grab her sister in her arms again.
“They told me what happened,” Imani said. “That our village was destroyed for attempting to make war.”
“No,” Iija said. “They slaughtered us because they want us for drink. Every human is to become a cow if they are not chosen to join a cadre.”
Imani looked into her sister’s eyes as she said it and knew she told the truth. Everyone she had ever known turned into a cow, little more than a walking vessel of blood for the ones like her. Imani shook her head.
They were surrounded and she had barely realized it when the first of the men spoke.
“You have freed us,” he said. “But where are we to go; where we will be safe?”
Imani looked into his wizened face and realized he expected her to know the answer to that question. Of course, she did not, but she pointed to the snowcapped mountain in the near distance.
“We are going there. They will not chase us across the mountain.”
She was wrong.
Their trek to the mountain took them through the night and into the first touches of day.
“I have to stop,” Imani said. “Daylight will kill me.”
Iija put a comforting hand on her sister’s shoulder. “We won’t leave you.”
The humans began to range as best they could to find shelter from the harsh daylight and Imani dug herself down in the soft soil beneath the roots of a tree. They were already in shadow and she would be safe there.
The next night, she rose as the sun was setting and began to gather those nearest to her that they could go on.
Imani felt her belly rumble for her evening meal from the gourd, her sacrificial blade still bright at her side now that she had shaken off the dirt of the day. They trekked through the forest together, the group with Imani in the lead. Though she truly thought they might be safe, Imani couldn’t help wondering what would happen when someone did come upon them.
Then a vampire did.
Near midnight, Imani heard the first snap of a twig which she couldn’t attribute to her followers moving through the jungle. She listened as closely as she could to every movement and tried to come up with how it was possible someone had gotten so far to the left of them without her noticing. Of course, there were those who were much more practiced at stealth than she was, so it made sense, but she didn’t think anyone would follow them up the mountain. The journey was too far from the city; too far for anyone who did not deign to sleep in the dirt of the road.
None of those she slept near would have thought it possible to sleep in the soil of the jungle, yet Imani had done so. She proved to herself it was possible to survive outside of the cadre.
The arrow came out of the dark.
She shouted. “Run!”
They needed to get further up the mountain as soon as possible. Let them go so high the trees would no longer hide those who pursued them. Humans had no chance against the movement and work of even one vampire. That meant Imani would have to defend them. She saw the fear in her sister’s eyes before she dropped back to fight off their pursuer.
That single pursuer did not seem enough in Imani’s mind. All together a group of humans could hope to overwhelm a single vampire.
“Trap,” she murmured to herself before turning and sprinting back to the front of her makeshift tribe. Imani reached the front just in time for the net to appear out of the dark. The black ropes were hidden in the lowlight, but she saw them just the same. Barreling through them, she brushed them off like cobwebs. The rest of her tribe ran through the trap without slowing, doing the best they could to keep to their heels on the uneven terrain.
A small group of vampires, surprised by the loss of their trap, turned toward them. One even started in fright. “Don’t harm the merchandise!”
The cry kept them rooted in place as the group thundered through. Imani knew they wouldn’t let them pass a second time and there would be other traps awaiting them as they moved up the mountain, but she didn’t dare allow them to slow down until sunrise. Once the sun was up and she had retired into the soil, then they could make camp and feed and perhaps even sleep. The humans responsible to the vampires would still be too far behind to do much against them.
Imani woke the next night and Iija awaited her near the camp of the humans.
“We have decided you should go back,” Iija said. Imani raised her eyebrows at the statement and opened her mouth to speak only to be stopped by her sister’s hand. “You have a life there. We do not. Go back. They will punish you, but you won’t die.”
“I’m not leaving you,” Imani said when her sister pulled her hand away. “I have to see you somewhere safe.”
“You are not like me anymore,” Iija said. “You are like them and it makes the others nervous.”
“Let them be nervous.” Imani felt her fangs sharpening against her other teeth. It had been more than two days since she fed and it went without saying that her stomach growled with the anticipation of a meal as she talked to her sister. Guilty, she closed her eyes. Did she see her sister as nothing more than a cow now that she had changed?
“I want you to be well taken care of,” Iija said. “Please go.”
“When you are on the other side of the mountain and safe.”
Seeing she could not hope to win against Imani’s stubbornness, Iija nodded her head. “When I am safe.”
“There will be other traps.”
“We know.” Iija did not have to indicate the humans who had gathered at the edge of the clearing where Imani had spent the night.
“And you will need me to keep them off.”
“Others do not believe that is true. They say that having you with us only leads them to us.”
“Because you are one of them and the blood connects you all.”
Imani did not know if that was true, her vampiric youth betraying her, but she knew she would not leave her sister again after realizing she was in danger.
Thrusting the thoughts of worry away, Imani rose from her grave among the trees and took her sister’s hand. “Let’s go.”
The humans gave her wide berth as she moved to the front of the column and took up the point. Then they began to snake their way through the jungle toward the peak above them.
Their pursuit did not give up so easily. They allowed them to reach the summit of the mountain, quite a distance above the valley where they had been trapped but even further away from the so called human tribes where they might be safe, before they sprang another trap.
This time, with chilled limbs, the humans had no chance of running away. They walked through the crusts of snow with only the barest of sandals. They needed more, but they did not have it. Imani and Iija were at the point of the column when the vampires came in from either side, closing the straggling column in and shutting it off from itself.
Imani scooped Iija up into her arms and started to run away.
“Don’t leave them,” Iija said.
“I cannot save them, but I will save you,” Imani said.
More vampires appeared. More predators with sharp teeth to take her sister away from her. Imani bared her own fangs and pushed herself to run faster for all that she felt fatigue creeping up on her. Traveling several nights without feeding and pushing her powers to their limits meant she was hardly prepared for what came next.
The tumult of humans and vampires fighting on the snow cap sent some of it tumbling down, followed by the entire snow beneath their feet giving way. Imani tried to stay above it, but she felt herself and Iija become separated. Down they tumbled, rocks and snow crushing humans and vampires alike.
When she came to a stop, Imani opened her eyes and began to dig. Her limbs, chilled by the snow and lack of blood felt leaden, but she fought her way up to the crust of snow just the same. Her sister was not far away, her right arm broken by impact with one of the copses.
Imani went to her and held her dearest sister in her arms.
“Don’t let me become a cow,” she said in a pained whisper.
Imani took the words to heart. Her sacrificial blade, the same blade through which she could pierce the gourd for her daily meal, flashed in the moonlight. Imani’s ears perked up the sound of others nearby. Others who had survived the landslide. Others who would take her sister away and make her a cow. Others who Imani had too much in common with.
Imani brought the blade down on her sister’s throat, piercing it through. Blood gushed out the handle where Imani could sup upon it, but she let it drain out into the ground. Let the rocks know the taste of mortal blood, familial blood. Imani held her sister close as the blood and warmth drained away, leaving behind a silent shell, then she rose from her place. Taking back her knife, she emerged from the copse of trees and raised her hands.
“You took from us,” accused one of the shadows.
“There are none left,” Imani said as drops of blood dripped from her sacrificial blade. “All have perished on the mountain.”
“You took from us and you led them onto the mountain to die. You are a thief and a fool.”
“So I am,” Imani agreed. “So, I am.”
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Audio production for this week’s episode by Davis Walden.
Don’t forget, it’s October, and that means giveaways! This week, we’re giving away a copy of my debut novel, Risen. To win this tale of hoodoo zombies and soul snatchers, all you have to do is share your favorite NIGHTLIGHT episode on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Make sure you tag us so we get your entry.
And to thank you for listening until the very end, we have a creepy fact for you.
In 2014, a British explorer took a solitary trip to Mount Nyangani in Zimbabwe. One night during his trip, a heavy fog descended and disoriented him, forcing him to make camp. While he was stranded, he reported seeing strange creatures circling and observing him. The locals had told him to ignore any abnormal animals because they were not of this world. He was smart enough to take their advice, and when the fog cleared the next morning, he left the mountain, never to return, but still very much alive.
We’ll be back tomorrow with our full cast audio drama production for Halloween!