Strange Fruit

Content warning: If you don’t already understand the reference of the title, I recommend you google it before reading further. I don’t feel this is graphic (forewarning: people tell me I’m a poor judge), but it’s deliberately meant to be disturbing, and you may not wish to read.

~||x||~

It was the crowd which drew him.

He didn’t like it, not really. Not so much that he minded what was going on, or felt any particular sympathies, but the behavior of these men was feral. Uncivilized. Beneath them. But they were excited, and nervous, and happy, and it was those emotions which drew him. Jasper didn’t get to feel that kind of excitement, and even if this was why it came, he would take it.

Even after sunset, the air was like a bathtub, dripping and falling, soggy, on the shoulders of the throng. Around him, men’s bodies reeked, and their skin was slick with sweat as he slid through them. It was always interesting, the way that humans could act so calm, as though this made all the sense in the world. But deep down, where only he could hear, their hearts hammered and their throats closed, and no matter how brave the man looked as he slipped the rope over the collar bone, and how calmly he wrapped it around the lowest thick bough, Jasper could always hear the pounding of the heart.

Fear. Fear felt like a vise grip, like something trying to cut you off. Fear came from all sides and pressed in, smothering, choking, drowning. It came strongest from the men who jeered the loudest, the ones who spat and yelled and hurled epithets and rotten fruit.

And yet, the energy was impossible to resist.

Twilight came earlier as the south hurtled toward fall, and soon the air wouldn’t hang like this. But winter wouldn’t stop the mobs. If anything, the shift in weather only whipped them into a mightier furor, as the coloreds left the fields and vied for the same jobs as the white men in town. There would be more fights, and more fire, and more twilights in the trees.

The early dark made it easier for Jasper, though. Easier to slide away from Maria, who preferred the pitch dark. She liked to surprise them from the darkness, and reveled in the way a man’s eyes bulged with first fear and surprise, then delight and desire, and finally terror as they recognized their fate. It was fun, she said, but Jasper suspected it made her feel powerful, and that, above all, was her goal.

He’d seen her last, what, perhaps a week ago? The last time they’d hunted together. He was growing stronger. Days between feedings, days between feeling that suffocating terror as the life left the body. Days between seeing Maria.

Always, though, he would return. To the soft hands and the black hair and “Mi querido” whispered in the darkness. And to feeding, to the thick, coppery taste of blood sliding over his tongue.

Always, he returned to the fear.

The roar surged, the way waves did on the shores in the gulf, and the slick bodies and all their fear pressed in on him. The bough which had been still jerked left-right-up-down, and it was as Jasper was averting his eyes from this that he saw him.

In twilight, without the rays of the late summer sun, there was nothing to differentiate them from the other men. Except maybe for beauty, but the other man hid his well, in a coat which was upturned at the neck and a hat pulled low over his eyes.

Like Jasper, he was blond, his hair straight but slightly untamed at the ends, curling wildly over his collar. He hadn’t been much older than Jasper had been at his Changing, Jasper could see that much. But there was no knowing how old he was in years.

As though he knew that he was being watched—and perhaps he did—the other man lifted his head. Jasper nearly stumbled.

In the dim evening it was safe, because humans could not see his eyes. They saw the dark and presumed a brown or something entirely within the bounds of their knowledge of possibility. Which was the problem with humans. Their perception of reality was limited by what they knew to be possible.

Then again, perhaps his was, too, because when he saw the light eyes staring at him from across the pulsating mob, he nearly lost his footing. The color of a wheat germ, or fresh honey—too light to be human, but not frightening, either.

Sadness felt hollow, like the way a jack-o-lantern was when he used to make them with his brothers. That first you could hit and it would be solid, and then the more you removed the tinnier the sound and the weaker the gourd, until it got to the point where a good thump would send the whole side caving in. Which was the point that you carved a big toothy smile on it and lit it up from the inside like you hadn’t just emptied it from the inside out.

This other vampire, he was hollow. One good thump, Jasper thought, and he’d be done for. And if there was a candle burning somewhere inside, it didn’t flicker.

They stared at each other as the fire was lit, and some of the sweaty men edged away, saying they didn’t like the smell. But inside they were the vise grip, not sickened, just scared. This was the moment when Jasper would pick one off, drag him quietly into the woods. When no one would notice as the crowd dispersed. That one, who was more afraid, or more alone, would vanish. And the clench of terror would overcome Jasper in the dark, but he would feed anyway, and carve out a little more of himself.

He started to drift backwards, away from the fire, which was already leaping up the tree, the putrid smell slamming the crowd from all sides at once. He felt himself sliding into step with fear and loneliness, sweaty skin at his side. One who was here out of curiosity, who would leave ashamed for having watched.

One who wouldn’t make it home.

As hip met stride with hip, however, Jasper looked again across the mob, only to find the golden eyes fixed on him. They were hard, judgmental, and yet somehow there was understanding in them, too.

The other man’ s head cocked toward the tree, which was halfway engulfed now, the rope dripping flames as it melted. Soon the body would drop, and burn itself out in the dirt, he knew—he’d seen this so many times before.

He said nothing, but his eyes stared, blank and yet somehow plaintive, as though he was disappointed. Jasper’s own eyes traveled, from the other man, to the burning tree, to fear-and-empty beside him.

The mob was still yelling, still throwing things. Trying to accelerate the fire. But Jasper didn’t move, and neither did the light-eyed vampire.

Enough.

He wasn’t sure if he actually heard it, or if he felt it, if that was simply his mind recognizing the utter resignation in the other man. That he understood that humans would be cruel, and that Jasper would hunt, and that he felt insignificant in the force of that.  It was like an exhalation, the hollow of sad and the odd, energy-sapping drain that was loneliness and helplessness washing over Jasper all at once.

On their own, his feet stopped moving, and slick-skin-full-of-fear got a few paces ahead of him, unaware how close he’d been to meeting the same fate as the man he jeered at.

The rope burned through. The body dropped. The crowd surged.

The other vampire disappeared.

It would be seventy years before Jasper knew for a fact that the light-eyed one had been no apparition, and a hundred before he dared ask why he’d ever come there in the first place. And the older vampire (he was much older, it turned out) would suck in air and pause, before saying simply that he needed to be reminded of all he couldn’t change. That humility helped him see himself better, and the helplessness reminded him that evil lurked in all of them. That it was never a choice of eradicating that evil completely, but merely a choice of tempering it. A choice to walk the best path, even though it would always be an imperfect one, where people died senseless deaths at the hands of others while he stood on the sideline, unable to take the risk to intervene.

It would be a hundred years before Jasper would understand the why. But there with the hollering and laughing crowd, the what was clear.

He could last. He could keep himself from killing. He was above this. The mob, the rope, the charred human remains…it was enough. Enough cruelty. Enough sadness. Enough fear.

Enough death.

At least for one day.

And so Jasper slipped into the darkness, too.

Notes on “Strange Fruit”
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§ 4 Responses to Strange Fruit"

  • Sisterglitch. says:

    “Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
    Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,”

    No one has really explored the idea of Carlisle’s encounters with other American vampires post emigration and pre-Edward. He is always painted as solitary except for the Alaskans, but there had to be various encounters with regular vampires. It is clear why, after his experience with the Volturi, he would not want to associate with them.

    Thank you for imagining this turning point. Jasper may have imagined separation from Maria before this, but could imagine no significant alternative.
    Would he intuitively know what golden eyes meant? or might there have been rumors of golden-eyes ones among the Southern groups?

  • Nix says:

    Horrifying and very, very thought provoking. Not just for your characters, as this was clearly a moment of deep introspection for both of them..

    Humans, man. They’re terrifying.

  • Silver Nightingale says:

    Well, that was certainly interesting. This could’ve happened, totally. You really have a superb imagination; placing the characters in quite interestingly unique scenarios. Thank you for the nice read. It was a great way to end the day.

  • fuzzyltlwingedthing says:

    Wow, I love the idea that they might’ve come across each other…

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