Chapter 10: Burn It
“Here’s the changing room, in case your clothes get a little too bloody for them to be wearable.”
Rashida guided me through the thrall’s quarters, explaining to me where everything was as if I was going to take up permanent residency. I was still in shock that I was abandoned there, but then again, why did I expect anything more from Hezekiah?
Why did I expect anything more from a vampire, at that?
Rashida walked me through the changing room—a small area filled with vanities, lockers and naked women. The thralls stared me down like I didn’t belong there or like I was some sort of parasite that was treading my way through. Rashida had to hold my hand and pull me through since my body was nearly immobile. Her words barely registered in my head; my eyes flickered left and right too fast to take anything in.
“I can already tell that you’ll be of high demand,” Rashida told me, sitting me down at a vanity. “You’re young, and I’m sure you haven’t been fed on more than this one time.” She touched the bite marks on my neck. I flinched away. “Who gave these to you? Hezekiah?”
I didn’t know what would happen to me if I explained the story behind the puncture wounds; if she knew I was unable to turn into a vampire, would that ‘up’ my value? Regardless, I nodded and left my answer at that.
“We’re going to have to wipe you down and make you fresh. Here.”
Rashida sat me down at an empty vanity, purposefully isolated from the rest of the thralls. The vanity was covered with clouded bottles, labeled in a language that was unfamiliar to me. Rashida took one bottle with a green screen over it and saturated a clean rag with it from inside the vanity drawer. The liquid smelled like garlic mixed with a lot of mint and citrus.
“Wipe down your body with this,” Rashida instructed. “You don’t have to wipe everywhere, just the main areas where Hezekiah touched you, especially your neck.”
So, my entire body, then, I thought to myself.
I took the rag from her and followed her orders, scrubbing my neck until it ached even more and cleaning my skin of Hezekiah’s scent and influence. When I was done, she pulled out a package of cookies that looked to be oatmeal raisin.
“Here,” she handed me one. “Eat this.”
“A vampire’s bite is one of the most painful sensations ever known to a human being. Eat this, and it will make the pain turn into pleasure; you won’t feel a thing if you catch a patron’s eye.”
“But it’s a cookie?”
“The taste of the original potion is...acquired, so we decided to incorporate it into something that would dull down it’s taste. If you want, we could give you a cigarette if that’s what you would prefer.”
I smelled the cookie and pouted my lips at the scent. It didn’t smell too much like oatmeal raisin, but regardless, I bit into it anyway. It was bland and dry, but I finished it without complaining. And after I was done, Rashida took me to the closet to find a better fitting pair of shoes. She decided that what I was wearing was suitable, especially for someone like me that wouldn’t be at the Jubilee long. When I remembered who was coming back for me, I shivered even in the intense heat and damp air of the changing room.
“We’ll just take in the dress a bit and raise the hem.”
Suddenly, with the wave of her long finger, I felt my dress lifting and pulling itself around my waist and thighs. I should have figured by then that Rashida was a witch—a powerful one at that, since Mr. Boone seemed close to her—but what she did to my dress with her fingers shocked me. She pinched her thumb and index finger, twisted her index finger, brought her fingers in and out until my dress felt considerably different on me.
It was practically Cinderella—the Rated-R version with vampires, sex, and witches who employed half naked women to satisfy the creatures of the night.
She stood by and examined me one more time. My breasts were more revealed and the dress was much higher and much tighter than before. Rashida nodded before standing in front of me.
“And one last thing.” She leveled her eyes with mine, and for a moment, I could have sworn I saw a bit of pity in them. That pity I saw, however, diminished when she spoke. “Don’t be too resistant, and don’t show them that you don’t want to be here. They feed on that. Not in a good way.”
I didn’t know how to respond to something like that. My mind was fogged and that sandwich I ate was playing games with my stomach. Rashida’s long braid bounced behind her as she guided me out of the changing rooms and out into the Jubilee. Her hand was firm around my shoulders; when she walked, everyone moved aside for her. I wasn’t considered a “freshie” anymore, so I didn’t receive the same stares I got when I first came in, but still, people knew I was an outsider.
“Where are we going?” I asked when the music paused before the band started the next song.
Upstairs. Where the guests of honor were. I wondered if Abraham was already waiting for me there; Hezekiah said that vampires weren’t allowed to hurt or kill the thralls, but I doubted that the rule still applied when it came to Abraham himself.
Right when we finished ascending the stairs, we were approached by a man with deep skin and bright eyes.
“She’s a new one, isn’t she, Rashida?” he asked. His voice sounded desperate. “How long has she been here?”
“Patience,” she said. He wasn’t patience, and he wasn’t going to be anytime soon. He followed like I was crack and he was the addict wanting a fix. The only thing stopping him from feeding on me was Rashida and the rules. If I were still a freshie, I’m certain I would have been devoured.
We stopped in front of a table with about six vampires and two witches. The witches were smoking cigarettes while the vampires sat empty handed, talking to each other. When Rashida and I approached the table, they stopped their conversation and looked at me; I know they smelled me coming way before we got to them.
“You asked for a younger thrall, Jeffery?” Rashida said to one of the vampires—an alabaster-skinned man whose eyes were a fluorescent gray. Out of everyone in the Jubilee, him along with the rest of his pale comrades were the only ones not following the dress code. They wore all black, the women wearing red or dark blue corsets that matched the colors of the spiked-chokers on their necks. The men (including Jeffery) wore black-vested tops; I saw the cloaks hanging on their backs. It reminded me of the books I read, seeing how they were dressed. When I read these books, I thought their clothes sounded glamorous. But on those vampires? It looked creepy—the attire of death.
“Absolutely,” Jeffery replied. His accent wasn’t Cajun or southern at all; it sounded like Tekoah’s accent.
Rashida forced me to sit down next to Jeffery even though I fought against her. When I was firmly in the seat, she left. I briefly saw the look on her face when Jeffery politely thanked her; disgust. Hatred. They were outsiders, those white skins.
“Don’t be afraid,” Jeffery told me. His voice was gentle and soft. Cultivated. “I can feel your vibrations; you’re trembling rather profusely.”
I wouldn’t look at him. I looked down at the table, at the floor, at the railings, but I would not look at him.
“You obviously haven’t been here long,” he then said to me.
“I haven’t,” I replied. “So, can you just get what you want out of me and be done with it?”
They laughed. All of them. Even the witches. I was serious, but they laughed. And that’s when I looked up and got a better look at Jeffery. He was very young looking, maybe around my age, even. Was that man actually my age? No way. No way in hell. His hair was black, slicked back and shiny. All the men had hair like Jeffery’s—slicked back and out of their face. The women had their hair French braided over their shoulders.
“Sassy,” Jeffery said, his laugh having weakened to a chuckle. “So far, all the women in here have been quite fiery. Paired with those distinct accents of yours, I can’t help but find you all very...alluring. But you? There’s something about you that not only makes you alluring but somewhat irresistible.”
And those veins—those dark, traveling veins beneath his eyes—made me brace myself in spite of the magical cookie Rashida made me eat. Jeffery’s eyes completely turned black, his mouth agape to give an unrestricted view of the sharp, jagged state of his fangs. I closed my eyes and waited. And waited. And oh, I waited. But nothing came. I opened my eyes slowly, and someone was standing next to me, staring at Jeffery as Jeffery stared up at him.
“Can I help you?” Jeffery asked him. His colleagues tensed and took Hezekiah’s presence as a threat. Me? I was surprised that son of a bitch came back. Why he was back? I wasn’t sure. Maybe Abraham had arrived and Hezekiah was tasked to watch me until he came up the stairs. Or maybe, just maybe, Hezekiah grew a conscience in that dead brain of his and knew that making me a thrall without my consent was just wrong. But even that confused me—when did vampires acquire a moral compass?
“Come on, Lisa,” Hezekiah said to me. He didn’t grab my arm, but instead grabbed my hand. “We’re leaving.”
He didn’t have to ask me twice. I shot up out of the booth and held his hand as he walked me to the stairs. And Hezekiah was walking fast; he opted for holding my waist and dragging me along since I couldn’t keep up with his feet.
“Why’d you come back?” I asked him with panting breaths and a thumping heart. His arm was strong around me; my feet were practically gliding against the ground.
“Don’t ask no questions, Lisa,” he said, pushing past everyone downstairs. They parted in his presence, anyway. “Let’s just get the hell out of here.”
When we arrived at the entrance of the Jubilee, I saw Beau, Tekoah, Jeanie and a handful of Leeches waiting for Hezekiah, the Leeches snout-nosed and fidgety at the sight of me. Why the Elders were all there, I didn’t know. And they didn’t know why I was with Hezekiah, either. But they knew better than to question Hezekiah.
“What’s going on?” I asked, trying to distance myself from him in a vain effort. “Where are you taking me?”
“What’d I say about asking questions? Just follow along, alright?”
“So, you can take me back to Abraham again? I’d rather be a bloodsucker’s slab of meat, then.”
“Then I’ll just leave you here if that’s what you want!” he growled at me.
“Might as well, since you’ve done it before!” I yelled back. I didn’t mean that. Not at all—Jeffery’s teeth sinking into me wasn’t a pleasant thought. But I didn’t understand Hezekiah’s motives: kidnapping me under Abraham’s orders, taking me to the cabin and the Jubilee under Abraham’s orders, leaving me here under Abraham’s orders, then coming back to ‘rescue’ me on his own accord? By the looks on the Elder’s faces, coming back for me wasn’t in their prior knowledge.
Hezekiah was angry with me. I could tell that he had a lot on his plate, and me being defiant was making that plate turn into a buffet. He stared down at me, his eyes bright and agitated enough to incinerate; bright like an unrelenting fire. And leave it to me and Hezekiah to put a hold on the train long enough for it to get hijacked.
Jeffery appeared swiftly in front of us, standing between the Elders as if they weren’t there. His cloak floated behind him like feathers in the wind before it settled, resting long enough to sit on the floor. He still looked cordial and smiled like he wanted civil discussion.
“Excuse me, sir,” Jeffery began. “I believe you have something of mine.”
He was talking about me. He hadn’t tasted my blood yet and I was already ‘his’ to him.
“I ain’t got nothing of yours. Why don’t you just head on back to your little friends before you do something you’ll regret?”
Jeffery laughed gently. “You do have something of mine. I specifically asked Rashida for a thrall that fits the standards I have—young, rarely feasted upon, and average weight. I have waited several days for prey that fits this criterion to be brought to me and have gone several more days without feeding. You can sympathize with how famished I am, can’t you?”
And the music stopped. The loud, energetic brass music? It stopped completely. Everyone knew something was wrong, whether they saw it, felt it, heard it or were told by someone who experienced either of the three. Jeffery’s friends were close to him at this point with stoic faces, and everyone else in the Jubilee seemed ready to defend Hezekiah whenever the outsiders decided to become too bold.
The only thing I knew for sure was that I did not want to be caught between a vampiric race war. The last race war I saw was in High School, and I ran home the minute the racial slurs were thrown around.
“That ain’t a problem of mine,” Hezekiah said to him. “You crackers come in here with your ‘standards’ like you own the place. I’m not a negro you can boss around, so go on and get. There’s plenty of prey that fits your ‘criteria’ up in the 4th ward.”
“Please. I don’t want this situation to escalate. I’m aware of your clan and its influence down here in Louisiana. I’m also aware of your position of power in your clan. I would be a fool to pick a fight with you, but if I have no choice...”
He didn’t finish his sentence. He knew that Hezekiah got the memo. So now, it was waiting for Hezekiah to kindly hand me over. But Hezekiah wasn’t budging. Jeffery, seeing that the stubborn Elder vampire was refusing to comply, took to force. But Hezekiah was quicker. He grabbed Jeffery the minute he stepped forward in his direction and shoved him into a wall. It wasn’t a traditional shove—a human shove. It was a force that made Jeffery fly through two chairs into the wall, disappearing deep in the architecture. There were broken wood pieces everywhere, the chairs barely distinguishable. Dust clouded up into the air and settled to reveal the giant cavity that Jeffery was in.
“Holy shit!” I gasped. I looked up at Hezekiah; he didn’t even appear exhausted from the alarming superhuman strength he displayed.
Jeffery slowly began to crawl out of the literal hole in the wall that he made. He was furious. That civil, cordial, cultivated side? It was untraceable. Now, it was only anger, hate, and the hunt on his sickly face. Jeffery’s friends—his clan—pounced the moment they saw Jeffery’s body victim to Hezekiah’s vigor. But when they pounced, the Elders did, too. And so did the leeches they had with them. And along with them, a few other lesser vampires didn’t think twice about coming to Hezekiah’s aid. My first instinct was to crouch down on the ground and wait for my fate to come upon me. I had no place in this fight, but from where I was standing, I had nowhere to run and hide. I crouched and held my hands on the back of my neck, slumped in a fetal position with my eyes shut tight. I imagined myself opening my eyes and waking up in my bed, chest tacky with the calming oils Miss Aza supplied to me. I imagined getting up and smelling breakfast. Mama had invited the entire Coterie, and Tia Valeria was still alive, drinking coffee and spooning grits into her mouth while Mambo Nene sprinkled sugar on her own bowl of grits. Imani and I never found Abraham’s clan in the woods. We never saw him murder Tia’s House; they were all still alive. These thoughts made it easier for me to tune out the fighting and the mobocracy.
Suddenly, familiar hands picked me up and told me to move. Hezekiah was trying to get me out of the Jubilee; out from the back door, since the front was a bit “crowded” then. We didn’t get far until the shouting started:
“Hoodoo witches!” someone screamed. “Hoodoo witches!”
When I heard those words, I felt the hope inside me that died come back to life again. I prayed that this time, they would get to me.
Ironically enough, for a group of vampires and witches that hate Voodoo Priestesses and Root Doctors, they sure do fear them. Everyone in the Jubilee began trying to file out of the joint through the front and back doors like chickens in a coop. A bloodsucker bumped into Hezekiah and I, separating us and throwing me onto the ground again. There were so many people between us that I couldn’t see him anymore. But I did see something of his fall out of his pocket—a gold locket. It sat still on the floor as people ran over it. With an ounce of bravery, I took it and stuffed it into my dress. I had a little bravery left in me, so I got up and tried to run to the door. I was grabbed before I made it, but it wasn’t Hezekiah.
“Lisa,” Miss Aza said. I was so stunned to see her that I couldn’t form words in return.
“Are you alright?” she asked. “Are you hurt?”
“N-no, no, I’m fine,” I stammered.
“Good. I’m getting you out. Just follow close, alright?”
I had so many questions to ask: Was mama okay? Where was Abraham? How were we getting out; someone closed the doors, and no one matter how hard everyone pushed, no one could get out. But I didn’t ask anything. I followed closely, Miss Aza weaving through until we were by a corner, where a hole that led to the outside was. Two men were outside; human. Most likely part of Miss Aza’s house.
“Get her out first,” she ordered. The first man pulled me effortlessly through the spacing and handed me off to the second member. Everything after that happened so quickly: I was being ushered through the grass to a shadow that I recognized as Mama when I got close. I didn’t know how to react when I first saw her; I was grateful she was alive. God, I was shaking, seeing her breathing.
She thanked the Loa for being gracious and protecting me. I didn’t know how the Loa protected me; my gris-gris was in Hezekiah’s possession, and I knew I wouldn’t be getting it soon after tonight. But I had his locket—the locket I hadn’t looked inside of yet.
“Madam,” the unnamed man said to Mama as she held me. “What would you like us to do with the Jubilee?”
“Burn it,” she told him. No hesitance, no thought, just the simple order to burn the Jubilee with everyone trapped inside. I didn’t expect myself to be as stiff as I was when she gave those orders; they flowed out of her mouth so effortlessly.
“Burn it?” I asked her. By the look on her face, she didn’t expect me to ask something like that.
“Yes. Burn it. Those demons need to pay for what they did to you.”
She examined the bite mark on my neck. I knew she was relieved that I hadn’t turned; that whatever ‘spell’ she put on me worked.
“I swear, they will never hurt you again,” she promised to me, head in her hands. I wanted to believe her, but I didn’t know what to believe; I still kept thinking about the people inside the Jubilee. The thralls who didn’t hurt anyone. The witches.
“We need to leave,” she said. I nodded as she took me through the woods with several other associates—House members I didn’t know. I heard the flames eat the Jubilee and turned around to see the juke joint slowly become engulfed in flames. I heard the screams and gritted my teeth; I didn’t know if it was wrong or right, what Mama did. But I felt it in my chest when the fire grew.
I felt Hezekiah’s locket on my chest, too.