Chapter 14: A Worthy Warrant
I came down from my room once the Coterie finally disappeared down the bayou towards the river. Esther, Rocio and Kizzy were speaking in the kitchen, yet I still didn’t feel “forgiven” enough to be part of the conversation. Still, I inched myself towards the kitchen with the intention of getting something to snack on.
Once I got to the door, I paused before entering.
“I just don’t think it’s fair that we don’t get to attend the ceremony,” Rocio complained to the girls, rubbing shea butter on her hands.
“Madam Dumont trusts us to keep the house secure while she’s gone.”
“Give me a break, Kizzy,” Rocio replied, annoyed. “She left us here to babysit her daughter. Isn’t she old enough to take care of herself?”
“She isn’t trusted alone,” Esther added. Not in a malicious tone, but an informative one - purely relaying what my mother thinks.
“I say just send her back to Houston.”
“You can’t guarantee her safety there,” Kizzy said. “It’s clear that she’s a target.”
Rocio knew that Kizzy had a point, therefore stopped trying to prove hers. I didn’t want Kizzy to feel like she had to defend me in some way; the pity wasn’t making me feel better, but I knew that this rotten feeling inside of me was well deserved.
“You know what we should do?” Kizzy then said. “We should ask Sajida for help.”
I saw Esther immediately freeze in her place at that name. Rocio didn’t have the same mortified expression that Esther had, but she still looked surprised at Kizzy’s suggestion.
“Stop that nonsense,” Rocio told her. “We have no business asking that retched bayou witch for help.”
“She’s called ‘Sajida the Shunned’ for a reason,” Esther stressed, trying to end the conversation.
“If anybody knows how to kill a vampire, it would be Sajida.”
“We’re not asking that evil witch for help!” Esther yelled at Kizzy. “That isn’t right!”
Sajida the Shunned. I had never heard of that name, but it gave me these chills as if I had bad memories of her then. If Kizzy was right - if Sajida knew how to kill or even just harm a vampire - my interest was beyond peaked. My sight was corrupted with revenge; I was desperate. If a witch could help me, I was willing to convene with one.
Rocio suddenly looked up and saw me standing by the kitchen entry way. She gasped, garnering the attention of Esther and Kizzy. Rocio didn’t know how long I was standing there, but by the look on her face, she assumed I heard everything she said - including the bad stuff about me.
“Lisa,” Rocio said, nervously fixing her bandana. “I-I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were there.”
“Who’s Sajida the Shunned?” I asked, walking into the kitchen and hopefully waiting for an answer. Rocio was stunned by my bluntness, looking at Esther and Kizzy before settling for silently drinking her tea instead of answering me. I walked in and sat at the table, waiting with wide eyes. I knew one of them would crack and tell me more about Sajida; their loyalty to my mama only went so far, even for them.
Kizzy, fortunately, was the first to break.
“Sajida’s a powerful witch,” Kizzy explained. “She’s hidden deep in Bartholomew Bayou-”
“Kizzy!” Rocio snaps at her, but Kizzy is apparently unfazed by Rocio’s insistence on keeping me further in the dark.
“The Coterie doesn’t like her because she’s proficient in dark magic. She practices in the bayou so the Coterie or any other covens don’t disturb her.”
Esther shakes her head at Kizzy, “Your knowledge on that monster is repulsive to me.”
I lean into Kizzy, “And you think Sajida knows how to kill a vampire?”
“Either she knows how to kill one, or she can point us in the right direction.”
The smile on Kizzy’s face was cynical; she knew that I wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation - like a fat kid staring at the succulent cake just sitting on the table late at night. Her green eyes seemed to brighten at my interest.
“It only seems right that we go visit her,” I propose. “If she knows a way we can kill a vampire, it would give us the upper hand against Abraham and his clan, right?”
“There are several issues with your ’plan,’” Esther said. She was clearly the more level-headed, logical one out of the three. “Firstly, Sajida is an evil sorceress who is quite unpredictable. She can either give us the key to destroying Abraham’s clan or kill us instead. Secondly, Madam Dumont and the rest of the Coterie would be furious if we not only left the safe house but left the safe house to visit Sajida the Shunned.”
“Is the bayou near vampire territory?” I asked.
Kizzy shook her head, “No. But it is on open territory. Meaning that everyone is fair game.”
Shit. The positives kept becoming outweighed by the negatives at that point. By my novice understanding, open territory was unclaimed by any official factions. So, it wasn’t necessarily crossing into vampire-owned territory, but it didn’t mean we were protected by territorial treaties if a bloodsucker happened to show up.
Rocio managed a laugh. “I just love how you’re purposefully leaving out the most important red flag of all.”
We looked at Rocio, waiting for her to tell us what it was. She seemed annoyed that we didn’t know already.
“Sajida’s sister is - was - Rashida. Lisa, I’m sure you’re well familiar with Rashida.”
Rashida. The witch from the Jubilee. The one the Coterie killed when they burned the juke joint down. I wondered if Sajida even knew that her sister’s death was the Coterie’s fault.
“I doubt Sajida even knows her sister is dead; she’s been isolated from the world for decades.”
“You’re missing the point, Kizzy,” Rocio snapped back. “We killed her sister."
"We didn’t kill anyone,” I said. “My mama killed her. She ordered the House members to burn the Jubilee. As far as I’m concerned, we’re innocent.”
Rocio rolled her eyes.
“Well...in the case of the Jubilee, we’re innocent.”
Esther got up and put her dirty dishes in the sink, standing there and staring out the window instead of sitting back down. It was clear she couldn’t handle the crazy notion Kizzy and I were fueling. Honestly speaking, I couldn’t believe I was entertaining the idea of convening with a dark witch in order to kill a vampire. But at that point, I was embarrassed and furious over the mistake I made, inviting Hezekiah inside. I didn’t want to be a naive bystander anymore. I wanted to do something to protect my mama and the rest of the Coterie.
So, that’s when I got up out of my chair and started for my room.
“What are you doing?” Kizzy asked me. Rocio and Esther followed.
“I’m going to go see Sajida,” I told them. I couldn’t believe the words myself.
Esther was the first to run in front of me, stopping me from packing a bag of necessities. Esther, though much younger, looked a lot like Missus Taima, given she was only her novitiate - light brown skin, heavy frame. Even those set of eyes that always looked worried.
“I can’t let you go,” Esther said to me. “The last time you stormed out on me, Hezekiah kidnapped you. I can’t risk that happening again.”
Esther’s concern was understandable; death was still ripe in the Coterie’s minds. But I knew that this was something I had to do. My resilience couldn’t be swayed.
That, and I wanted my goddamn vibrator back.
Esther knew from the look on my face that she couldn’t stop me. So, she let me walk into my room and pack a bag with stuff I figured I would need - clothes, supplies, money (in case Sajida wanted compensation). Kizzy stood behind me as I packed, stress-sweat dripping down my face.
“Do you even know where Sajida lives?” Kizzy asked.
I paused and gazed up at her, adjusting my glasses as if that would give me the answer to her question. But I didn’t know. I had no clue, really. The only lead I had was Bartholomew Bayou. A simple google search on maps would get me to that point.
And then what?
“I...I didn’t think about that.” I hung my head down, but continued to pack shortly after my realization. “But I’ll figure it out somehow.”
“You won’t have to.” Kizzy grabbed my bag. “I’m going with you.”
You should have seen the look on Rocio and Esther’s faces. It was as if they were caught in the presence of Baron Samedi himself, staring at them with a smile beneath the skull painted on his spirited face.
“Kisaiya!” Rocio grabbed her arm; it was grave when Kizzy’s full name was said. “What are you doing? What is wrong with you?”
“Lisa’s right. We can’t just sit here while those bloodsuckers plan to hurt our Family again. If we have an opportunity to kill the monster who murdered Tia Valeria, it takes us one step closer to killing Abraham himself. Isn’t that what we want?”
“But this isn’t the way!” Esther begged.
Rocio tried to shake the nonsense out of her. “You’re going to get yourself killed! Sajida can’t be trusted!”
“Every witch wants something in return for their services. Something valuable. Believe me, my mother practiced white magic and even she couldn’t resist a trade. Whatever she wants, we’ll just give it to her. Compromise. It could be a goat’s head, werewolf blood, the Van Vliet coven’s Dimmed Crucifix-”
“But this is Sajida the Shunned we are talking about!” Esther exclaimed. “It’s different.”
“I’m Romani,” she then told them. “I grew up around thieves, witches and fortune tellers in Bulgaria and continued to live with witches for thirty years before I was a novitiate; before I was even a hounsi. I can tell when something doesn’t look or sound right.”
Kizzy was more persistent than I was. No matter how much Rocio and Esther begged, Kizzy had her mind set up; she told me how far we’d have to drive and how far we’d have to walk to reach Sajida, tuning out the sounds of Rocio and Esther’s voices. With one certain look, Kizzy pushed them aside to head downstairs to pack her own bag. I followed her, quiet but consumed by my own thoughts.
“The Coterie will be back in a day’s time,” Kizzy told me in the foyer. “So, we have to hurry if we want to be back in time for them not to grow suspicious of what we’ve been doing.”
In the far corner where unpacked boxes still piled high, Kizzy approached a wooden box, lined with black trim and a gold lock. From a necklace tucked inside her shirt, she pulled out a key and used it to open the chest. It dawned on me then that this was really happening; that we were really risking our lives to go see Sajida.
Because Kizzy pulled out a silver crossbow.
I stood back like she was going to shoot me with the thing. “Wh-what is that for?”
The weapon was big - heavy. Shiny. Engraved all over with unfamiliar insignias. The arrows were even made from silver.
“Precaution,” she replied, sheathing it on a holster she then wrapped around her back. She was quite unfazed by the fact that she just happened to carry a crossbow with her. Either she was well prepared for the vampire threat or she was a novitiate who was a vampire hunter on the side.
Either way, it made the threat even more real for me. But I told myself that it was too late to back out.
I’m going to kill a vampire. I’m going to kill a vampire. Or Kizzy might kill one before we even get to use Sajida’s gift.
Kizzy and I turned around to find Esther approaching us, fidgeting in the midst of trying to find an excuse to make us stay.
“What would Mambo Nene say if she knew you were doing this?” She asked Kizzy. That was the golden question. Bringing Kizzy’s novitiate into the conversation changed everything. Mambo Nene was like a mother to Kizzy. The last thing that Kizzy would want to do would be to disappoint her. But Kizzy believed that disappointing Mambo Nene was worth it, if it meant getting closer to ending the vampire threat.
“She would understand,” Kizzy replied. And at that point, Esther didn’t know what to say. She had exhausted all of her resources and still, it ended with us growing nearer and nearer towards the door.
“Then, it’s only fitting that Rocio and I go with you,” said Esther. Rocio turned the corner and stood by Kizzy, passive in the face but in agreement with Esther’s proposition. I expected Kizzy to turn down their offer, not wanting to put them in danger, but the more resources we had, the easier the journey would be.
“You don’t have to do this,” I suddenly said to them - all of them. And it was true. They didn’t have to embark on this risk with me. If I was going to come in contact with an inevitable danger, that would be my burden to bear. But for them? They had nothing to do with the mistake I made. But they were far beyond staying behind, so I wasn’t going to force them to.
“Let’s go, then,” Kizzy told us. “It’s a pretty long drive.”
Kizzy wasn’t wrong - it was a long drive.
We didn’t arrive at our destination until nightfall. Tired, worn out and exhausted from sitting with our fears in that car, our senses kicked into effect once we got out of the car and stepped into the wilderness. I had no idea where we were and found it pointless to ask. I tightened the straps on my backpack and took a deep breath.
“We have a bit of a walk before we reach the swamp,” Kizzy told us. “Stay close.”
She didn’t have to tell us twice. We all huddled together and followed Kizzy through the hot night. The air was eerily quiet; the birds were even silent. We traveled as lightly as we could; it was open territory. We didn’t know what to expect.
“Should we say a prayer before we go further?” Esther asked us, holding onto Rocio’s hand.
“We should have said one earlier; I doubt the Loa would help us in this deserted place,” Rocio said, looking up at the trees (trees that seemed to possess an evil omen themselves). I didn’t say anything in reply to them. I had too much on my mind. I wondered what Sajida looked like or how powerful she really was. I wondered if she indeed knew about her sister. From my suspicion, she probably didn’t; Bartholomew Bayou was an isolated wasteland, home to the most putrid of New Orleans’ outcasts.
The air began to grow significantly damp, the ground moist. We were growing close. A few steps ahead, I saw lanterns perched up on the trees with signs written in Cajun French.
"Beware. He who passes through here shall only pass with a worthy warrant,” Esther translated.
“Do we have a worthy warrant?” Rocio asked, hitting her mud-covered shoe against a tree. Sarcasm was laced in her voice - sarcasm that Kizzy caught.
“We’re trying to kill a vampire. Of course, we have a worthy warrant,” Kizzy retorted. Rocio sighed and didn’t say anything else.
Finally, we made it through to the water’s edge. The lights hanging on the trees and by the moss helped, but it was still too dark to see much. The illumination reflected against the water; the bayou seemed to go on forever. I wondered what the curtains of leaves draping from the trees ahead hid from us?
“I brought a flash light,” I told Kizzy, but she grabbed my hand as I tried to pull it out.
“Don’t,” she said to me, her hand tightening. “He’ll see us.”
We all froze and looked at Kizzy with the same exact face - horror.
"He? " we asked in perfect unison, but before Kizzy could answer, we saw something moving in the water. None of us spoke or even breathed. I had half a mind to run, but since Kizzy looked oddly and frightfully composed, I didn’t move. The water rippled, making the vegetation sway left and right. Behind long, hanging leaves, ‘he’ was there - a bare chested man with a large animal fur-coat as a loincloth. He had the head of a deer covering most of his head and face, the antlers painted with blood. He stood in a canoe and paddled gracefully against the calm water of the bayou. Esther almost threw up; Kizzy told her to stop heaving. Me? My limbs locked in place, disabling me from running the other direction.
“I’ll do the talking,” Kizzy said. It amazed me, how knowledgeable she was about all of this.
It seemed like an eternity before he reached the edge of the bayou where we stood. He didn’t come too close to us, but he was close enough for me to see the fresh blood dripping from inside the head of the deer he wore, coating his chest with the crimson liquid.
“Do you come with a worthy warrant?” he asked us. His voice was deeper than an abyss, void of any emotion.
“Yes, Gatekeeper,” Kizzy answered. And that was it. He asked us nothing more, which was more terrifying than an interrogation; Sajida would judge if our warrant was truly worthy or not.
The Gatekeeper set the blade of the paddle in the water. Once held slanted in front of his chest, it must have signaled that we were granted entry onto the canoe when the paddle entered the water. But no one wanted to step forward first. Annoyed with our hesitance, Kizzy lead us into the bayou. The Gatekeeper waited right where the bayou floor began to sink, forcing us to submerge our legs into the warm, muggy water until we climbed aboard. Esther huddled close to Rocio, eyes shut closed as if she didn’t want to see any evil that may have lurked around us. I had mine open, grasping my surroundings and holding on to the images in my mind.
The Gatekeeper began to travel down the bayou slowly. He stood taut, dragging his paddle down the water until we were by the trees that kept the far beyond hidden from us. We were moving so agonizingly slow down the water that my nerves were bouncing off the walls. But once we made it through the thick leaves, I wished that the Gatekeeper would turn back.
It almost appeared to be a different world. Wedged between the foliage of the bayou lied small wooden and mud-built shacks with blood lining the outsides, words in French painted as if the dying left warnings before they passed. Some sturdy cabins stood on stilts in the middle of the water, ladders leading up to their doors and down to the canoes that each one had. The sounds were faint; there were people there around us. Rocio was the first one to spot a person standing by a window inside their shack, holding the lantern up to see us. They didn’t move; they were darkened silhouettes. They only stared. It wasn’t until they moved the lantern that we could see what they looked like. But it was useless; they had no face. Their skin melted over their eyes and mouth, leaving only a bare expanse that still managed to stare at us as if their eyes were there aiding them.
As my glasses fogged up from the intense moisture and unrelenting heat, I almost didn’t wipe the lenses; I felt better off being blinded instead of exposed to what I was seeing. But I did the opposite. I continued holding onto the images in front of me - people dressed in rags and covered in dirt dragging their bodies across the water’s edge, dead in spirit. Wild animals with chunks of their bodies missing still able to roam around, growling at our canoe passing them, their eyes hollow or yellow like the moon that shone faintly on the water. We heard screaming in the distance followed by laughing. Then the screams stopped as the laughing continued. Kizzy was right - Sajida was truly isolated from the rest of the world.
This was her world.
The gatekeeper maneuvered the canoe around protruding tree stumps as the mist began to settle in. And through the mist, it sat before us - Sajida’s house. The biggest house in the entire bayou. It was wide, made from wood but covered in wet vegetation. The lights were on but eerily dim; it looked like no one was inside. The roots of the large trees held it up; a treehouse. How quaint.
The Gatekeeper stopped at the dock that was in front of her house. None of us got out until Kizzy told us to. When we filed out, we didn’t thank the Gatekeeper or even looked at him. He unloaded his cargo and went down a separate river way, disappearing into the mist.
“This is it,” Kizzy said.
“Yeah, I guessed,” Rocio said, exhaling shakily.
“So, we just go inside?” I asked. “There isn’t some sort of riddle we have to answer or anything? An offering we have to make?”
Kizzy, surprisingly, laughed. “You watch too many movies, girl.”
“I’m more of a book person,” I countered.
“You can never read too many of those,” Esther breathed out.
“Can we stop the banter and get this over with?” Rocio swallowed hard, serious in the face but not willing to approach the ladder first. “This isn’t a place we should be making conversation in.”
Rocio was right. Attitudinal, but right. We carefully walked down the docks and took turns climbing the ladder (Kizzy, of course, volunteering to go first) until we approached the door. A sign reading ‘entrer’ written in black.
“I’m assuming this means ‘enter,’” I said. Esther nodded, and unexpectedly, I did exactly what the sign said. The moment that all of us walked inside, we were nearly scared straight to death.
"Bonjour!” three girls exclaimed, all taking their turns saying the word. I jumped back into Kizzy while Esther yelped. Not only was it the loud welcoming that scared us, but the sight of these three peculiar women. All of them looked rather similar - opaque olive skin with black lips, missing teeth, and stringy black hair. The only factor that individualized them was their outfits (one wore a dress, another a skirt, the last one wore a pair of pants) and the numbers on their heads - one, two and three.
The middle one looked excited to see people entering their home. Clearing her throat, she quieted the other excited girls and began to speak.
“Sorries, sorries. Allow us to go on to the proper introductioning,” she started. Her accent was French - it was almost too thick to understand. She noticed our confused expressions and cleared her throat as if that would help us understand. “I’m Sasi one-”
“-I’m Sasi Two!”
“And I am the third of the Sasi’s!”
Triplets. That’s what they were. And in order to tell them apart, someone assigned them numbers - numbers painted on their foreheads with black paint for easy identification. Sasi one had a number one on her forehead, with Sasi Two and Sasi Three having the corresponding numbers to their names on their foreheads as well. Once Sasi Three introduced herself, Sasi One crinkled her nose at her.
“Sasi Three,” she mumbled loudly through her strained smile. “Your mark is fading.”
Sasi Three furrowed her thick brows and looked up at her forehead.
“Really? I don’t see the fading mark at all.”
Sasi One sighed loudly. “You cannot see the mark because it is on your forehead, sister!”
“Oh!” Sasi Three exclaimed. She then dragged her finger through the dirt on her pants and used it to repaint the number on her forehead. Once she finished, she looked rather proud of herself.
Even though the three was backward.
Irritated and embarrassed, Sasi One wiped it off and redrew it herself. Sasi Two was a giggling mess throughout the entire spectacle. Suddenly, Sasi Two stopped laughing and stared at my chest with wide, bloodshot eyes. She cooed at me for a long time like an entranced baby.
“Pretty,” she drawled out. It took me a moment before I realized that she was speaking about my pendant - the gris-gris - on my neck. Her eyes wheeled at the sight of the sapphire glowing on me. I smiled awkwardly at her before she reached forward and tried to touch it.
“Sasi!” Sasi One exclaimed, slapping her hand. “You don’t touch things on other peoples, remember?”
Sasi Two hung her head. ”Pardon, Sasi. I’m sorry.”
I think it was an appropriate time for us to question what the hell was going on at that moment. Instead of finding a powerful dark witch, we were welcomed to deranged triplets. I thought that Sajida was testing us somehow - seeing if patience was a virtue we cherished.
“We’re actually here to see someone,” I spoke up - more specifically to Sasi One since she was the sanest sister out of the three.
“Oh,” Sasi One purred. “Mère?”
“Your mother is named Sajida?” Esther asked her. I was shocked she had the courage to speak, especially to them.
Sasi Two nodded fast enough to give her whiplash. “Yes, yes! That’s our sweet, beautiful Mère who you come to see?” She tugged hard on Sasi One’s arm like an eager child. “Sasi, they have come to see Mère, did you hear?!”
“Yes, I hear.” Sasi One replied before looking at us. “I can take you up to our mère if you would like?”
“Why can’t I take them?” Sasi Two whined.
“Because I am taking them!”
“Who are they here to see?” Sasi Three asked, confused.
Sasi One rolled her eyes. “Fine. We can take them to mère together."
Sasi Two smiled, though there was barely anything in her mouth to see. “Together. I like that.”
It was hard for me to believe that these three girls were the daughters of Sajida the Shunned. If she was Rashida’s biological sister, then that would make Sajida Native American; these girls didn’t even look close. In fact, I contemplated if they were even human. But, they were cordial. Sasi One smoothed out the small amount of hair she had left and smiled.
“Right this way, please,” she said to us. Reluctantly, we all followed the triplets down the dark hall. Sasi Two constantly kept looking behind at us, smiling and seeing if we were admiring their house. Sasi Three still looked rather lost on what was going on.
“Can someone confirm that this is really happening?” Rocio whispered before Kizzy hushed her. We continued in silence through the narrow hall until we stopped at a staircase.
“Let me tell Mère that she has guests!” Sasi One said, running up the raggedy staircase and stopping at the door. She opened it and peeked her head through; there was no way for us to see what the inside looked like from where we were at.
“Sweet, beautiful Mère,” Sasi One said. “You have guests for you.”
“Send them in, Sasi,” Sajida replied. I was confident that Rocio, Esther, Kizzy and I all got chills at the same time from the sound of her voice. Sajida the Shunned was only a wall
“Okay, sweet and beautiful Mère,” Sasi One said to her before looking down at us waiting on the bottom of the staircase. “Mère wants you to come inside now!”
This was it. We were going to meet with Sajida the Shunned, the infamous bayou witch whose name is cursed in the mouths of both the Coterie and New Orleans’ witch covens. Since this was my mission, I decided to walk up the staircase first, appreciating every step that came before the room that Sajida resided in.
“When you speak to our Mère, please make sure that you have many fun things to say. Fun and interesting things to keep her happy!”
“Why?” I asked Sasi One. As shockingly enough, her face gloomed.
“Mère is not very patient. She only likes interesting things. Any not interesting things makes her very mad.”
Fuck. I wish Kizzy would have told me this before we arrived. If vampires happen to be a topic that doesn’t peak Sajida’s interest, we can probably expect to get thrown into the Bayou with some possessed demon Gators waiting for a couple of Voodoo-entangled girls to eat. But despite the risk, I went ahead and opened the door anyway. And when I opened the door, my breath was knocked right out of my lungs.
“Come in,” Sajida said to me. The real Sajida in the flesh. “Have a seat, won’t you?”