Chapter 13: Deception
Remember when I said that I missed Hezekiah right when he left? Well, I immediately retracted that statement when I woke up.
My eyes shot open at the sound of loud thumping followed by shouting. Quickly, I sat up in my bed and looked around my room before slipping on a robe and slippers. The shouting was amplified once my door was opened—the Coterie.
“We gave it to you, Alize!” Mother Babette yelled.
“I know that! But now, it’s gone! It is gone.”
Everyone was in the meeting room on the second floor—the Coterie and their novitiates stood in the middle while the other House members stood on the outside of the circle, whispering to each other with scared faces. I inched into the room slowly as Mother Babette went on.
“We’ll just double-check—”
“We’ve tripled-checked already, Boo,” Qadira said.
“What’s going on?” I asked them. Everyone turned to face me with these empty expressions.
Mama was still in her robe, headwrap tight on her head. She looked tired and stressed; I knew it was worse than what I thought.
“The seal is missing,” she told me. She said it as if I should have automatically known what she was talking about; like I was invested enough to know what the ‘seal’ was. But it only took me a moment to remember what seal she was speaking of—the enchanted one that belonged to the Coterie, used to stamp important letters and ensure that they weren’t opened without the matching letter opener. So, if the seal was gone, then the letter opener was gone, too.
The Coterie kept making up logical explanations for its disappearance. But who were we all fooling? We knew it was stolen. The real question was, by whom?
“If anyone wishes to come forward and return our sacred seal, now would be the time to avoid the necessary consequences,” Mama announced. Silent minutes rolled by without a culprit coming forward. We all looked around at each other, the ‘trust’ established suddenly deteriorating.
“So, that’s it, then?” Mambo Nene said. “Ain’t no one gonna come up and give it back?”
“Maybe someone from the outside stole it,” Esther said.
“Someone from the outside?” Mama asked her. “Voodoo practitioners ain’t want nothing to do with the Coterie. There’s no reason for them to come for the seal.”
“Unless it wasn’t no Voodoo priestess,” Miss Aza said softly. Everything went quiet again, the air chilled against the May heat. Even though Miss Aza’s suggestion wasn’t concrete, we all knew who she meant. Especially me; my ears burned like they were on fire, my heart beating so fast I was positive Mama could hear it.
Ava Claudette approached Miss Aza, the most concerned priestess out of the entire Coterie; she didn’t dismiss the notion as quickly as the other Queens. “A bloodsucker?” she said, her eyes darkened with worry. “How?”
“It ain’t possible,” Priestess Qadira butted in. “There ain’t no way one could of gotten in here-”
“-Unless someone invited one inside,” Imani reminded us.
I’m surprised I didn’t catch on sooner - Hezekiah. It was him. That sly, sneaky, lying, no good son of a bitch. It was him and I knew it. I knew it the moment the word ‘bloodsucker’ was brought into the conversation. That fucker tricked me in order to get into the house; seduced me in order to steal the seal. And all of this for whom? None other than goddamn Abraham - the vampire that Hezekiah swore he was on bad terms with.
Fuck, fuck, fucking shit, I’m fucked.
Sometimes, I would underestimate just how smart my mama was. Really, she was a genius - capable of the most intricate art of deduction and even just the reading of human behavior. She knew that I fucked up; she saw it in my eyes, in my posture, in the way I tried to walk back into my room as everyone blamed someone for bringing a bloodsucker into the house. And as everyone tried to find the idiot dumb enough to invite a vampire inside the house, they were oblivious to the fact that it was me. I was the idiot that was dumb enough to have not only invited a vampire into the safe house but dumb enough to invite in the Elder vampire who killed Tia Valeria.
“Lisa,” Mama said. She said nothing else to me. Just my name. And at the calling of my name, the entire Coterie - including all the House members - slowly turned to look at me. But their gazes weren’t the same as Mamas. The Houses looked at me with shock, pity and a little bit of confusion in their eyes. Mama? Her gaze was one out of fury, rage, and disappointment.
I didn’t know what to say. “Sorry for inviting Hezekiah Mercier into the house so he could fuck me with a vibrator. I didn’t know he was going to steal the seal of Marie Laveau” wasn’t going to cut it. So, I stayed silent, dwelling in the consequence of making such a stupid decision.
“Do you realize what you’ve done?” Mama finally said. Qadira had the same disappointed look that Mama had; I always knew that she didn’t like me much.
“I’m sorry,” I said, trying my best not to let everyone’s stares get to me. “I just...I-”
“What were you thinking, girl?” Missus Taima asked me, more condescending than disciplinary. I refused to tell the Coterie what Hezekiah and I did last night, but Mama already had an idea. And seeing how she looked at me brought on an overwhelming feeling of shame. I didn’t know what I was thinking, really. I thought, for one moment, that Hezekiah’s cold, dead heart beat for just a second. How could I have been so stupid to trust a vampire?
“What were you thinking?” Mama asked me sternly, as if Missus Taima’s tone wasn’t assertive enough.
“I don’t know,” I answered honestly. “H-he came to my window to return my pendant and I went and returned his-”
“You let Hezekiah into your room?” Mama drawled, her eyes as bright as a blue fire. I looked around before I answered - House members trembling at the thought of a vampire in the safe house while they were sleeping. And whose fault was it? The daughter of their leader. I couldn’t imagine how embarrassed Mama was of me; of my foolishness.
The last several days consisted of me consistently fucking up due to my ignorance. Due to my need to satiate that “desire” for something more. For significance; for entry into my Mama’s world.
“I’m sorry. I thought I could...I mean...it was the way he was speaking to me! I thought I could trust him. I-I don’t know how to explain it.”
I was a babbling idiot. No one could understand what I was trying to say. I’m sure if they were in my shoes, having endured a convincing one-man show from Hezekiah Mercier himself, they would understand.
“You can never trust a vampire,” Mother Babette chimed in. “Ever. You know well enough what vampires have done to the Coterie and what they plan to do to us in the future. And with Abraham as their clan leader? Hezekiah as his right hand man? You put all of us in danger with your actions.”
“Let us not forget what Hezekiah did to Tia Valeria,” Qadira adds, growing somber. “How could you invite inside the monster that murdered her?”
I thought of trying to make my case in some way; I wanted to tell them that Hezekiah claimed he didn’t have a choice - that he never had a choice when it came to his clan. But thinking back on his words, there was no credibility in them since he buttered me up for his own personal gain. I knew that everything he told me was tainted. Everything.
Before anyone could point any more fingers at me, Imani quieted us all and directed our attention to the window. I thought that was it; I thought Hezekiah had come back to kill us all. This ‘ward’ that forbade an uninvited vampire from entering a house was forfeit for him. If we all died by his hand, it would be my fault.
But it wasn’t Hezekiah. It was a man - a mortal man. He limped his bruised, aching body down the docks, holding his side with a grimace.
“Mikael,” Mama breathed in horror before she and the rest of the Coterie rushed down the staircase. Imani and I exchanged one look between each other; upon seeing Mikael alive, we remembered the last time we saw him - kneeling before Abraham and his disciples with the rest of Tia Valeria’s House prior to their murder. Abraham let him go; he sent Tia’s last novitiate back to the Coterie to document what he saw as a message. Mikael was wandering for days in the forest before he found us; my heart ached before I followed everyone else out of the safe house.
Rocio - Mama Hepzibah’s novitiate - was the first one to meet Mikael at the docks. She sprinted forward until she grabbed him and carried his weight. Mikael immediately collapsed in her arms. I waited on the front porch as everyone rushed towards him.
“Get him inside,” Missus Taima ordered, waddling her heavy frame up the front steps again. “Quickly, quickly!”
I held the door open as Mikael was carried into the house. I looked at him briefly - his hair, untamed and thick as wool, was covered in blood, dirt, and grime. He only met my eyes once before looking back down at the floor. They were big and brown. Sad, too. Traumatized.
“Set him on the couch,” Mama told them before looking at me. “Lisa, go get him some water.”
I rushed into the kitchen and filled a glass up with water from the tap. My hands were shaking so bad that it splashed everywhere, but I managed to hand the water over to Mama, who held it up to Mikael’s lips as he drank briskly. The House members stood back as the Coterie examined his wounds.
“How long have you been wandering all alone?” Mambo Nene asked Mikael.
Everyone waited impatiently for Mikael’s answer. We knew that he had been through much, but only Imani and I had some sort of idea of what that ‘much’ was.
“Three? Four days?” Mikael shook his head. “I’m sorry, I-I don’t remember-”
“Don’t you worry,” Mama told him. “You talk when you’re ready.”
The last question Mama asked Mikael before she let him rest was if he had eaten anything recently. Thankfully, he answered that he ate at an old couple’s house that let him rest the night prior before he continued on the road to the safe house; he said he feared Abraham would change his mind and come after him if he stayed put for too long.
Mikael didn’t rest long. His nightmares wouldn’t let him sleep soundly. Mambo Nene and Qadira blessed his wounds and rubbed oils, herbs and other incantations on them during the short time that his eyes were closed. But once he was awake again, he insisted on talking about what happened.
“Tia Valeria claimed that there was a disturbance at Abraham’s grave,” Mikael began. “Samir and I told Tia to meet with Terah and ask if he was aware of anything suspicious going on in the area where Abraham was buried. Tia insisted on bringing the entire House along as a precaution, but Ina decided to stay behind.”
We all looked at Ina then. The tears wouldn’t stop flowing from her cheeks.
“Why didn’t Tia come to me first?” Mama asked Mikael.
“Because she thought it was nothing to be worried about. Terah assured her that nothing was wrong with the grave site, but the site was dug up when we got there. And that’s when everything just...it happened so fast. The bloodsuckers came out of nowhere and took us all. Knocked most of us out unconscious. They kept us through that night and through the next day until night rolled around again. They brought us back to where he was buried, and that’s when we finally saw him.”
“Abraham,” Ava Claudette clarified, trembling slightly.
Mikael nodded, swallowing down a lump in his throat. “Yeah. He had us all kneel down to him like we were peasants with Terah sprawled up on a cross, naked. The bloodsuckers kept on cheering Abraham on as he spoke about a new era. He...he talked about dismantling the Coterie, coming into power again and something else having to do with a ‘night in July.’ I don’t remember all of it; they’re fragments in my head.”
I racked my brain, trying to remember everything Abraham spoke about - during his ‘ceremony’ and during our short moment together when I was taken, but just as Mikael said, the memories were fragments in my head, too. One thing I knew for certain, was that Abraham was smart. His plan was to slowly ruin the Coterie: the death of one of the Queens, the annihilation of nearly an entire House, my kidnapping and my close encounter with vampirism.
Abraham was relentless. And it was only the beginning.
Mikael found it hard to continue speaking. When the tears began pooling in his eyes, everyone braced themselves for his next testament.
“Abraham killed Terah first. Mauled him - tore his body into pieces. Then he had Tia...Tia was...she was killed next.”
“By Hezekiah?” Mama said. She knew how inconsiderate her bluntness was, but by the way she looked at me, she was trying to make a very important point. And there was no doubt that the point was made; pure horror and fear washed over Mikael’s face at the sound of Hezekiah’s name.
“Yes. Hezekiah killed her. Brutally. Then the bloodsuckers just...they all...”
Mikael couldn’t continue, and no one forced him too. His telling was instilled deep in the hearts and minds of all the House members. It was clear that they were afraid. I was afraid, too; I thought I was alright despite everything I saw. But the way Mikael broke made me feel broken and hopeless, too. But the Coterie? They had completely different looks on their faces. Especially, Mama - it looked as if she was thinking of a million ways to hang Abraham’s head on a stake. And as the Houses came together to comfort Mikael, the guilt overtook me even more. How could I have thought, just for a second, that Hezekiah was more than the monster he was painted to be? What he did - what he’s done - couldn’t have been excused. But I excused him just for a moment, letting him invade my body, mind and my bias. Now? The seal was gone. The letter opener, too. Tia Valeria was dead along with the rest of the House, and the Coterie was a red target.
I held my head in shame.
As if I didn’t feel shitty enough, it was discovered that Hezekiah took more than just Marie Laveau’s enchanted seal and letter opener.
He took a couple of maps, several voodoo dolls and the pins accompanying them. A few books were missing - books containing sacred rites and ancient voodoo ceremonial practices. Hezekiah took things that were close and sacred to the Coterie; things he knew the Priestesses would definitely miss.
Oh, yes. He took my vibrator, too.
Mama didn’t want to spend too much time mourning the items Hezekiah stole (despite the fact that he came into the house to steal them in the first place). Instead, she and the rest of the Priestesses decided to take Mikael to the river for a “bathing ritual” to cleanse his spirit from the trauma he endured. Mama made me stay behind with Kizzy, Esther and Rocio for my “safety.” Everyone else attended the ritual. I watched from my window in my room as they carried bags and boxes of herbs, soaps, oils and powders down the bayou to the river. Everyone wore white clothing as a sign of modesty and purity, traveling bare foot and singing songs in reverence to the Loa, praying for healing and fortune on Mikael’s behalf. The Coterie’s ivory skirts swayed in the wind of the breeze and their song before their voices were muffled and their bodies small in the distance.
I had a feeling that everyone in the Coterie didn’t like me; even the House members side-eyed me whenever I would walk into the kitchen. I don’t blame them; I made a stupid mistake and put people in danger. Kizzy told me that I was being too hard on myself.
“How could you have known?” She said to me the night Mikael found the safe house. “You shouldn’t beat yourself up over something that you knew little about. Bloodsuckers are deceiving.”
She wasn’t wrong - bloodsuckers are deceiving. Conniving, vicious and deceptive. But instead of giving myself a break, I thought endlessly about how I could atone for my mistake - how could I make up for inviting a vampire into the safe house, making it anything but safe? I was unsure. But at that moment, as I sat in my room in the middle of nowhere alone and during a war that I couldn’t fight, wondering how I could fight. Back then, I was naive. I was intrusive and I was ignorant and immature; I was a foolish little twenty-something who thought that she knew it all. But there was one quality of myself that was worth being proud of: I was relentless. I didn’t give up. I suppose there was this fire inside of me that constantly needed to be fueled. So, when it came to Hezekiah Mercier, I was determined.
I didn’t know how, but I was going to kill that lifeless son of a bitch.