Raymond rode the moonbeams from the city until he arrived at the abandoned house in rural Upstate New York where Tiberius his Sire and the rest of The Family lived. It was Nightthanks – the most important family gathering on the vampire calendar.
Into the house, then down into the cellar, and through a secret door in the floor. Then, a spiral staircase down into the dark, across an expansive subterranean gallery, and into the shadowless corridors of the Bloodline of Tiberius Aquilus Undermansion into the dining room. There they all waited, Tiberius at the head. Alba Agrippina his First-Bride was on his right, Brother Stephen on the left, and an assortment of cousins lined up on either side of a long, ebony table.
On the table lay three humans, still alive, and each attached to elaborate siphons and tubes that led to each place-setting. It was a sumptuous repast by the standards of most vampires.
Tiberius’s pale face twisted as Raymond entered, his red mouth showing his ancient fangs.
“What time do you call this, Raymond?”
“Sorry, I’m late everyone. I got held up at work.”
Alba smiled predatorily only because of her fangs. “It’s alright, Raymond. We know how busy you are in the city these days.”
“How are things going with your work with the humans, Raymond?” Asked Brother Stephen, the vampire in the family with whom Raymond felt the most affinity. It was Stephen who had encouraged him to leave the family lair in the first place.
“It’s not easy. They’re still afraid of us, just like …”
“Have a seat, Raymond. We’re about to feed.” said Alba.
At that, one of the humans whimpered. It was a young woman, maybe eighteen, and very pretty. Raymond wondered where Tiberius had found her. She lay beside a boy about the same age, with a square jaw set in brave determination . The third was another girl with flaming red hair, equally beautiful as the first, and in a swoon; she must have been the appetizer. All three humans were practically naked, so each vampire could see nearly every vein in their bodies. It was typical of Tiberius’ sense of presentation of a Nightthanks dinner.
Raymond reached into his dark coat, and took out a silver flask. He sat at the opposite end of the table, and set the flask on the table in front of him. The sound of it being set on the table seemed to echo all around in the silence. Alba let out of short gasp of surprise. Stephen looked on, amused. The other cousins, Gustav, Cora, Emily, Kane, Raphael, Louis, Savannah, and Frederich stared, their luminous eyes seeming to shimmer more brightly in the gloom.
“What in Lilith’s name is that doing on my table?” demanded Tiberius.
“Do we have to go through this again, Tiberius?” asked Raymond calmly.
“This is my table, my family, my Undermansion, my rules. Again: what is that doing on my table? I have three humans here who will all be missed by the human world. They weren’t easy to get! Their blood is of the finest quality, and we’re going to feed on them together – as a family! No one brings synthetic blood to this table on this night, and on my watch!”
Stephen smiled and looked from Tiberius to Raymond, waiting for what would happen next. Alba turned to Tiberius and put a pale hand on his dark sleeve. He ignored it.
Raymond spoke as evenly as he could. He’d expected this.
“Tiberius, I told you; I don’t feed on humans. Not anymore. I’m a Plasmarian. I only feed on synthestics. No killing for food.”
“It’s a disgrace! It ain’t natural! I won’t have it at my table.” growled Tiberius.
“Raymond has some interesting ideas about humans, Tiberius. Maybe he has something to teach us.” suggested Stephen evenly.
Raymond watched the terrified eyes of the humans on the oblong ebony table. Cousin Gustav who had been fingering his feeding tube attached to the red-haired human’s femoral artery, lowered it from his lips. Cousin Emily had elbowed him beneath the table. Cousins Louis and Frederich exchanged meaningful looks, their fangs poking out as vampiric smirks formed on their luminous faces. Cousin Cora tittered, until she caught Stephen’s eye and then immediately stopped. Kane covered his mouth in an effort not to laugh. Raphael looked at Raymond with an expression of admiration.
Tiberius glowered, his eyes narrowing and seeming to turn even more crimson. “He don’t know shit, Stephen! All this stuff with the humans! Ever since he swanned off the the city, he’s got his head screwed around back to front.”
“You spent a couple of centuries in the city yourself, Tiberius. You moved among humans in their heaving multitudes just as Raymond does now.” Stephen reminded him gently.
“Things were different then! That was in the days when the humans knew their place; as our prey.”
Raymond unscrewed the cap to the flask he’d brought and put it to his lips, drinking deeply.
“Don’t you dare!” thundered Tiberius. “I made you! And I say you’ll eat what’s put in front of you!”
“I don’t feed on humans, Tiberius. I am a Plasmarian!”
“But, don’t you think it might be just a phase you’re going through, Raymond?” said Alba, gently.
“No, Mother Alba. I don’t think that. And I don’t believe that vampires and humans need to be enemies. That’s what I’m working for. It wouldn’t be consistent for me to feed on them while also trying to build a way to peace with them.”
Tiberius laughed derisively. “He’s right, Alba. It’s not a phase. Ever since I made him, he’s been a know-it-all. This is no different. Look, kid; I am older than you. I am a lot older than you. I was old when Julius Caesar was still in diapers!”
“Because you were made before me, that means you know more than I do?”
“But, you’ve spent the last century down here. Things have changed.”
“YOU have changed. For the worse! You are a disappointment! You are a failure as a vampire and you don’t even know it!”
“C’mon, Tiberius; take it easy,” said Stephen diplomatically.
“No – YOU take it easy Stephen. I blame you for this. You started him on this road. When’s the last time you stalked a human, anyway?”
Stephen rolled his eyes and looked the other way.
Raymond interjected: “Don’t make this about Stephen, Tiberius. This is about me, and my choice.”
“Let’s not argue in front of the thralls!” it was Alba, always aware of appearances. The thralls, each one on their way to full vampire status, shuffled about the shadows, watching the head table, taking in every word. Alba was always protective of them.
“He’s only been a vampire for three-hundred years. And he acts like a Grand Sire!” Tiberius threw his long-fingered hands up and slapped them down dramatically on the table. The humans whimpered.
Alba saw her chance: “Speaking of which, Raymond. Have you got any plans to sire? Three-hundred years is long enough to start thinking about starting a family of your own.”
Raymond let out an exasperated sigh. “For Lilith’s sake!”
“Hey, Junior!” bellowed Tiberius. “You can be rude to me, but not to my First-Bride!”
“Sorry, Alba. I don’t mean to be rude. But, if I don’t feed on humans, I also don’t turn them. It stands to reason.”
Alba’s eyes widened, and then narrowed again. The statement made no sense to her. She was almost the same age as Tiberius, with the same generational baggage.
“Does that mean no grand-thralls?” she asked.
“When can I turn someone?” asked Cousin Savannah suddenly.
“Don’t you even think about it!” Alba fired back.”You’re not even a quarter century old!”
“But, I was older than that when I was human!” Cousin Savannah whined.
“But your life as a human doesn’t count, Savannah.” Raymond replied sarcastically. “Haven’t they told you that by now?”
“Well, it DOESN’T count!” thundered Tiberius.
“Can we just feed?” squeaked Cousin Emily demurely.
“Yeah, DIG in. Pay no attention to the Humanist at the end of the table.” said Tiberius with a mocking smile.
The Cousins all picked up their feeding tubes, and hot, crimson life began to swell through the tubes and into their drinking mouths. The humans on the table moaned ecstatically.
“Happy Nightthanks everyone!” said Tiberius loudly. “Except you, Raymond. This meal and this holiday is wasted on you.”
“That’s another thing, Tiberius. I go by “Ray” now. No one calls me Raymond anymore.”
“WHAT!? No vampire goes by a diminutive. Not in this family!Who the hell ever heard of a vampire called Ray, for Lilith’s sake? You are “Raymond”!”
“NO I’M NOT!” exclaimed Raymond (or Ray), standing up and finally losing his temper.
“WHY DON’T YOU GO WATCH A SUNRISE!?” bellowed Tiberius, also standing up.
Stephen stood slowly and put his hand on Tiberius’ shoulder. Alba turned, a single red tear rolling down her pale cheek.
“C’mon, Tiberius. You didn’t mean that.” Stephen said softly.
“Why does every Nightthanks dinner have to be like this?” cried Alba, now fully in tears. She sat and placed her feeding tube to her ruddy mouth.
“Look, I’m sorry if my unlife choices don’t jibe with yours, Tiberius.” said Raymond (Ray). ” But, they are what they are. I can’t be the vampire you want me to be. Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to be! I have friends who are human. I will not feed on them.”
Tiberius lowered himself back into his seat, with his red eyes blazing into Raymond’s. “Listen. Humans are here for us, as our food. We live forever because of their blood. Everything about being a vampire means using humans as livestock. There ain’t gonna be peace. You’re dreaming, Junior!”
“That’s how it was. But, it’s not how it has to be, Tiberius. The Vampire-Human Collective is real. And there’s something you need to think about. The predators and prey line of crap you keep spouting can turn on a dime! The only way to stop it is to make peace! That’s what’s going to stop them from rising up, hunting us down, and staking every one of us!”
“That’s a lie! That will never happen. And, right now, I don’t even want to look at you. I don’t want you at my table.”
All of the young cousins stopped feeding, looking from face to face of the elders. The three humans on the table twitched; dinner was getting cold.
“I can see this was a mistake.” said Raymond (RAY!), his voice broken and yet full of resolve. “I’ll leave you to your Vampire Parliament propaganda, and spend Nightthanks with my friends in the city. I may even invite some humans that won’t actually be the main course. In the meantime Tiberius, I suggest you think long and hard about how dangerous it is to abduct live humans that will be missed in the human world and to kill them for food. You may be the Grand Sire here in this place, but out there, there are more of them than there are of us. They’re out there building cities and spreading all over the earth while The Family skulks down here! They have the power to destroy us, just because there are so many of them. Once they figure that out, you are finished, Tiberius! That is, unless you change!”
At that last statement, Tiberius seethed wordlessly. Alba broke down completely, her cheeks now crimson with her tears. Stephen’s long, pale face which had been marked by bemusement at the beginning of the conversation was now grave.
“GET OUT!” yelled Tiberius, his arm around a crying Alba. “You’ve upset Mother Alba!”
“Fine. I’ll go. This was a big mistake. I was stupid to think that an old vampire could change.”
“Don’t let the cellar door hit you on the way out!” barked Tiberius. “And don’t ever come back, or I will unmake you without a second thought, you Humanist ingrate!”
“Goodbye, Ray!” said Cousin Emily cheerfully.
“Goodbye, Emily. ‘Bye, Cousins.” The younger vampires all nodded awkwardly.
Then, Raymond floated backwards into the shadows, and slipped out of the room. When he was gone, Stephen said: “Tiberius. How many times do I need to say it? Nightthanks dinner and politics don’t mix.”
“Shut up and drink your AB positive!” Roared Tiberius.
Above the dark galleries of the Undermansion, a thickening of moonlight beamed its way toward the city. Not long afterwards, a fleet of cars from the town below converged on an abandoned house in the woods.