Chapter 16: To Finish the Job
Sasi One was quick to ambush us the moment we rushed out of Sajida’s lair.
“Leaving so soon?” she asked, following us close to the door.
“We’ve overstayed our welcome,” Kizzy told them, already opening the door. “We thank you for your hospitality.”
“It is no problem! We hope that you come to us again!”
“Yes,” Sasi Two added, “please come back soon!”
“We will,” Rocio lied. We walked out into the damp night, the bayou still blanketed in mist. The Gatekeeper was waiting for us at the dock, standing in his pirogue, lantern illuminating the shadows of his body. We weren’t hesitant to get in like we were the first time; we were eager to get away from Sajida the Shunned, even though the deal was set in stone - my gris-gris for Aubade.
My gris-gris for our lives.
We were silent the journey back to the bayou’s edge. As before, the Gatekeeper let us off at the drop-off, making us jump out and trudge through the water. We didn’t look back. We kept moving forward into the forest at a fast, exhausting pace. Deep into the woods, between the trees silhouetted against the moonlit sky, Rocio finally let me have it.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” she growled at me. We all stopped, Esther and Kizzy standing back as Rocio got close to my face. Esther was still quiet; traumatized from Sajida’s wrath.
“Sleeping with Hezekiah? Are you crazy?”
I knew that was gonna bite me deep in the ass. And it did. Sajida exposed me and my countless list of mistakes, but now, Rocio thought it would be a good idea to confront me about it. I didn’t know how to respond to her. Frankly, what Hezekiah and I did was far from an explanation.
“We didn’t sleep together,” I replied. I wasn’t lying, but it wasn’t the whole truth.
“Oh really? But you guys touched each other? That’s it?”
“Listen, Rocio -”
“No, you listen to me,” she said angrily. “It’s one thing to be dumb enough to let a vampire inside the house, but to let one in only so you could get some? How could you even let that monster put his hands on you?”
“It wasn’t like that!” I pleaded. It wasn’t, to my defense - we returned what belonged to each other, Hezekiah apologizing shortly after. But that was supposed to be all that his invitation initiated. Not what came after; that was pure deception, lust on my end.
Rocio didn’t believe me. “Look. I have the most profound respect for your mother. But you? You are something else. You come down here and in a matter of weeks, everything starts falling apart!”
I wanted to defend myself somehow. I wanted to tell Rocio that Tia’s death - the catalyst - would have happened with or without my presence in New Orleans. But that didn’t dismiss the fact that I was still at fault - A fault I didn’t want to accept. So, I let the tears pool and convinced myself that I wasn’t solely to blame.
“Rocio.” Kizzy grabbed Rocio’s hand, but she pulled away from her, her eyes still on me like a cheetah eyeing their prey. I thought that Aubade would be the key to forgiveness, but it still sat in Kizzy’s bag, oblivious to Rocio.
“I think you’d be doing us all a favor if you just went back to Houston. But you can’t, because it’s ‘too dangerous’ for you to leave.” Rocio laughed, but the situation was anything but funny. “So, now we’re stuck with you. What’s next, Lisa? Inviting Abraham inside to kill us in our sleep? Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll ask Sajida for help again without bringing anything to trade!”
“I never asked you to come with me, Rocio. I’m the one that was going to come here by myself!”
“And you still don’t understand!” she shouted back. “Because if we were to let you come here on your own, we would be the ones in trouble with Madam Dumont, not you! Our only choice is to put our lives in danger just so you can go out looking for God knows what. You think this is some type of game? Something to add into your little book? Voodoo, hoodoo, witches, bloodsuckers, none of it is a game, Lisa! This is real-life! Our lives!”
I didn’t know if my tears were out of sadness or anger. Maybe it was a mixture of both. “I’m trying to understand all of this, Rocio -”
“Just don’t! Just stop trying to butt into things you don’t and never will understand!”
"Enough!” Kizzy screamed. Her voice was so loud, even the birds were scared away into the sky; it traveled on forever. “Stop it!”
That was enough to shut us up. Rocio couldn’t bring herself to look at me. It was like I was too beneath her to be looked at. And I knew why she was so upset. If anything, she had every right to be. But I was under the impression that I had something to prove, and Rocio was disabling me from proving my worth. So, as our silence progressed, so did my frustration - the frustration that stemmed from me being so involved yet so in the dark.
Kizzy knelt down and opened up her backpack. She pulled out Aubade halfway and stared at it. The blade seemed to hum from its power, the orb glowing in the dark of the night. She quickly placed it back into her bag and expelled a stressed breath. Her eyes reminded me of Sajida’s to an extent - full of wisdom but somehow still troubled by something. Everything.
“I need you both to shut up,” Kizzy ordered to Rocio and I. “Now isn’t the time to be arguing in the middle of the fucking forest! We all mess up, and we’re all naive little specs of insignificant dust in comparison to the forces around us. Accept that fact and move on!”
Kizzy continued to look upon us like a fed up mother at her children. Rocio rolled her eyes while I held mine down at the dirt, breathing slowly to control my raging emotions. Tightening the straps of her backpack, Kizzy ordered us to run. And she meant it; Kizzy knew that we weren’t completely rid of Sajida’s influence, so the sooner we got out of the forest, the better. Running so quickly past the scaling trees reminded me of running with Imani away from Abraham’s clan, wondering if a bloodsucker was close on our trail, watching us, waiting for the perfect moment to attack. This retired memory made me run even faster; I was brought back to that night and pumped my legs as quickly as I did after I saw Hezekiah sink his teeth into Tia Valeria’s flesh.
Esther was having trouble keeping up, so I helped her keep momentum by holding her arm and taking some of her weight on my own. Rocio made sure to run as far away from me as possible; she didn’t even want to help Esther if I was near her.
“I can’t run anymore,” Esther panted before collapsing into the damp earth. Sweat was soaked into her shirt, face more bloated than a puffer fish.
“We’re almost to the car,” I assured her. It was a lie - we had a good half mile before we were on the road again. But taking a break in the type of wilderness we were in was far from ideal. I couldn’t even see Rocio and Kizzy anymore.
Come on, Esther. Get up.
“Just go without me,” she said, heaving. “I’ll catch up.”
“I won’t leave you here,” I told her. Promised her. “You can do it. I’ll help you.”
Esther was so exhausted that she began to cry. Perhaps the night and everything that happened in it was finally catching up to her; almost being killed by a dark Bayou Witch can definitely take a toll on someone, especially someone as soft as Esther. So, I just let her sit and cry herself into sanity because I didn’t know what else to do. I wasn’t aware of how fragile Esther was, but I was given the perfect moment to find this out - in the middle of Louisiana’s most demented marshland. I looked ahead, waiting for Kizzy or even Rocio to notice we were nowhere near them, but they were far in the distance. I was becoming antsy; I even considered just leaving Esther in the hope that she would catch up in fear of being alone. But as Esther continued to weep, she suddenly stopped completely. The tears flowed down her cheeks, her chest puffing in and out, but the laments were silenced. Her eyes became these empty pathways to somewhere else. Wide-eyed, she stared straight ahead into the abyss, firm in stance and vacant in expression. She remained this way for one minute, despite my attempts to bring her back into reality. I didn’t know what was wrong with her then. I had not the slightest clue.
Finally, she came back into herself. Only this time, she began to hyperventilate.
“Esther, what’s wrong?” I asked her, repeating the question louder and louder as her breathing quickened.
“They’re coming,” she cried. “They’re coming. Oh God, they’re coming!”
She didn’t have to tell me who ‘they’ were.
I gave Esther no time to pull herself together. I used all my strength to drag her up and forced her to haul ass. And boy, did she haul ass; seeing her suddenly run so fast gave me anxiety. Whatever she ‘saw’ was the definitive line between life and death. I had an idea of what evil plagued her visions, but I convinced myself that we would outrun it. But we didn’t. No matter how long our strides were, how heavy our breathing was or how far we thought we ran, we were surrounded within minutes of our effort.
We were ambushed by dark shadows beside us. I grabbed onto Esther’s shoulders and brought her to a halt, bringing us both down onto the ground. We couldn’t move; they surrounded us, swirling around as black figures, faceless. Esther screamed for Kizzy and prayed to the Loa at the same time. Me? I didn’t know how to react. My eyes followed them around us and waited for the opportunity to try and escape their circling. But as Esther finished the last of her weep-led prayer, I was suddenly grabbed and flung forward. My back hit the soft earth, knocking the wind out of my lungs. I tried to get up but something pinned me into the dirt. My wrists were grabbed tight and pushed down so hard that they were almost submerged completely in the soil. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. All I could do was wait for the worst. My vision, blurred from the sudden impact, only saw black above me. I struggled for air and for a clear conscience. I struggled for freedom. But all I got was my sight. And with my sight, I saw him above me.
Hezekiah’s eyes burned like brimstone, blinding in essence and hue. I almost forgot how intense his gaze was - even more so, now that he and I were mere inches apart, submerged in cursed darkness. He was very angry. Almost wrathful looking. Why? I did not know. If anything, I was the one with the right to be angry with him. But this anger was pushed to the back of my head in that moment. If anything, I felt very depersonalized - like I wasn’t in my body. Like what was happening was all a facade or a dream I was having. It didn’t seem real, having Hezekiah there. But it wasn’t a dream, nor was it a facade. This was him.
“What the hell is wrong with you?!” Hezekiah shouted at me, uncaring of how close we were to lower his voice. “Going off to see Sajida the Shunned, are you crazy?! You know what she could have done to you? How can you be so goddamn stupid, Lisa?!”
I was stunned. No - dumbfounded is actually a better verb. I didn’t know what to do; I didn’t know what he was going to do. The way he held me down mirrored the way he pinned me down at The Shack, only this time, he was definitely more hostile. I expected him to bite into me and rip a chunk of my neck out, right then and there. That’s how mad he was. And once my instinct to survive kicked in - kicking, writhing, pushing away from him - I still stayed put underneath him; it was like trying to fight against a brick wall.
“Kiah!” A male voice called out. Hezekiah didn’t bother to look up at the sound of his name, which ended up being a mistake - a silver arrow pierced through the air and lodged itself right into Hezekiah’s neck. I saw the affects of it right in front of me; once the arrow shot into his cold flesh, Hezekiah wailed out in pain and released his hold on me. The hit knocked him onto the ground, tensing his body up while he continued to cry out like an injured animal. But he wouldn’t die - silver would injure an Elder, but it wouldn’t kill one. It would kill a Leech for sure, but an Elder? You would need something stronger. Something elemental.
Something like Aubade.
The whole goddamn reason we’re here.
I took in my surroundings before I ran for Kizzy’s bag - I saw all the Elder’s around Esther and I. Jeanie and Beau lunged for attack at Kizzy for shooting Hezekiah in the neck with her crossbow. She stood yards away, crossbow unsheathed and ready to fire once again.
“No!” Tekoah screamed at his comrades. They froze at the sound of his voice. “Don’t!”
Kizzy wasn’t going to shoot again unless she needed to; she was too smart to pick an unecessary fight with a bloodsucker. But the situation we were in was one that rested on thin ice. None of us knew why the Elders were there, but we did know that they followed us into the uncharted territory. Did they know of the power we possessed? The blade that could end their lives? It would make sense, then - they wanted to kill us before we could kill them.
Kizzy made slow steps towards us, crossbow aimed directly at Hezekiah, who was struggling to pull the arrow out of his neck. But once he did, the slight paralysis that overtook his muscles and joints faded away. And he was enraged. The Elders stood back and waited for Hezekiah’s move. In fact, we all did. And when Kizzy was finally near enough to us, she waited patiently for his next move, too. I was still on the ground, then. I could practically feel Aubade’s energy eminating from Kizzy’s bag. I pushed myself up, charged by rage and ambition, and made a beeline to Kizzy’s backpack. But Rocio (more logical than I ever was) tackled me before I even could make it close enough to jump for the bag.
“Not now!” she grunted in my ear. “Don’t be stupid, Lisa!”
Rocio was strong; her hands pinned me down into the dirt, her tall frame pressed into my back and making it impossible for me to fight against her. I was tired of being pinned down. I was tired of being held back - of being so powerless. Here lied Hezekiah Mercier, and the key to killing him was in our posession. Regardless of the three other powerful Elders that accompanied him, I wanted to grab Aubade and stab Hezekiah in the heart for everything he’d done. But I couldn’t. It was the right thing to do, but not the smartest. So, I pressed my face into the dirt and warmed the soil with my tears. I wasn’t saddened, but infuriated. My breath expelled out of me like a raging bull, grass and soil sticking to the dampness on my cheeks. Rocio didn’t get off of me until she felt I was calmed enough to make rational decisions. But her judgment was flawed.
I settled for throwing dirt and small rocks at Hezekiah instead.
I believe everyone thought I was a mad woman. Here I was, throwing rocks, dirt and fistfulls of grass at Hezekiah since I couldn’t use the weapon I had come to this godforsaken forest for to kill him with. My face was riddled with dirt, clothes stained and tattered, eyes dampened with angry tears and hands heavy with the gifts of the earth. I grunted and growled, cursed and screamed every time I threw something at him. It didn’t hurt him. Not even the slightest. In fact, he laughed at me a little; more out of disbelief at what he was witnessing.
Eventually, Hezekiah grew tired of watching me embarass myself and tried to calm me down. I hated hearing him say my name. I hated his presence - it was hard looking at his face; his look was menacing yet alluring, and I hated how drawn I was to it. His hands grabbed my shoulders and told me to relax. I managed to squeeze away from him and hit my hands on his chest. He didn’t even stagger back, though I used most of my strength.
“You son of a bitch!” I yelled at him. “Some bitch” is a more accurate way to describe my anunciation of the words; my southern tongue is its ripest whenever I’m furious.
“Lisa, you need to calm the hell down -”
“No, you need to back the hell up!”
I was getting bold. Kizzy, Rocio and Esther were shocked at what they were seeing. Beau was actually laughing silently, his fangs glistening in the moonlight.
“You’re being so damn dramatic.”
"I’m being dramatic? I have every right to be upset, you tricked me!”
“Oh, don’t you start with that nonsense.” Hezekiah licked his lips, remembering every sinful detail of what he did to me. “You enjoyed every minute of it, Babygirl. Don’t stand there and pretend like you didn’t.”
My face burned hotter than Aubade’s wrath. Even more so that everyone heard what he said to me. I was at a loss for words. How could I defend myself against that statement? He wasn’t necessarily lying, per se.
“I didn’t enjoy any of that.” Think of something. Anything. “That was...assault! Assault. That’s what that was. What’s your power, hm? Are you a hypnotist? Is that how you convinced me to let you into the house?”
The pleasure on Hezekiah’s face was wiped clean. “You consented. Consented!"
“I didn’t consent to you stealing our things!”
“No, but you did consent to me fucking you with a vibrator.” The gasps everyone emited didn’t even faze him. “You actually begged me not to stop. So, I don’t feel like I’m in the wrong, here.”
Beau suddenly cooed. ”Oh, so that vibrator was hers? I thought it was Jeanie’s.”
“Shut the fuck up, Beau,” Jeanie ordered.
I was mortified. Mortified and close to exploding. Hezekiah knew how to play me, and boy, was he playing me good. He left me with nothing else to say, even though there was much left to be said.
Kizzy suddenly stepped forward, tightening her grip on the crossbow. “Just give us our shit back, you fucking parasite,” she spat at him.
“You ain’t getting your shit back,” Hezekiah replied, slowly like Kizzy would be too dumb to understand it any other way.
“Why not?” Rocio asked.
“Because most of it actually belong to us,” Jeanie replied, eyeing Rocio with hateful eyes.
“Well, the vibrator don’t belong to us,” Beau commented.
Hezekiah smiled, showcasing his sharp canines. “He ain’t wrong. Y’all can have that back if you want.”
“Shut up about the fucking vibrator!” I yelled at him. Surprisingly, Hezekiah was taken back by my tone. “That stuff doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to The Coterie. Did you steal it for Abraham? Still acting as his fucking lapdog?”
He was so close to me that I had to crane my neck to meet his eyes. Admittedly, I was a little frightened by how intense his look was. “You believe every word the Coterie tells you? Your mama is the biggest liar in the 5th ward, Lisa. Maybe in all of New Orleans. Has been for as long as I can remember. You ain’t got a single clue of any of the shit she’s hiding from you. Not a single goddamn clue”
“Bullshit,” Kizzy barked at us. “You can’t trust anything that comes out of that bloodsucker’s mouth.”
Hezekiah eyed Kizzy like she was the scum of the earth. It looked as if he was utilizing much of his restraint in order to keep himself from mauling her. “That seal y’all praise so heavily? Marie Laveau gave it to Abraham first, right before she died; I was there. Terah stole it from Abraham and gave it to Alize years ago.”
“That’s not true,” Rocio countered. “That seal has been passed down, from Marie Laveau to Diorra Laveau until it landed in the posession of the Coterie.”
Hezekiah grew visibly upset at Rocio’s words - upset enough for Kizzy to hold Esther and Rocio close to her; Hezekiah looked like he was going to snap any moment. But despite his visible anger, Esther stepped forward against Kizzy’s wishes and looked Hezekiah straight in the eye.
“You’re a murderer,” she said to him. “You killed one of our priestesses. You’re nothing but a liar and a killer.”
Hezekiah rolled his eyes and smiled like it was all a game to him; like Esther was a child babbling about matters she knew nothing about.
“We’re wasting our time,” Tekoah told Hezekiah. “They’re too daft to understand.”
“Understand what?” I questioned. “You come here - follow us here, rather - for what? To kill us? Bring us to Abraham? For what!?”
“Don’t get to bold, Babygirl,” Hezekiah warned. “You ain’t too smart to be speaking down to me that way; visiting that Bayou witch ain’t smart at all.”
“And why do you care?” I asked him. “Why do you care so much about me coming to see Sajida?”
Kizzy stepped up to me. “Lisa -”
“No.” I motioned her hand away from my arm. “I want to know. Why do you care so much, Hezekiah?”
For once, he was speechless. His comrads - his followers - waited for a snark remark, but he didn’t have one. He didn’t look hurt or torn by my words, but didn’t have the confidence in his stature anymore, either.
“Why don’t you finish the job and take me to Abraham right now?” I asked him. It wasn’t the smartest question to ask; he could have easily called me out on my bullshit and dragged my ass back to Abraham and his clan. Mama wouldn’t have known where I was since she was at the bathing ritual with the rest of the Coterie. But Hezekiah didn’t do that. It was clear that his motive was anything but clear. If he was as loyal to Abraham as we all believed, he would have used this opportunity to take me to him. We were on open territory; there were no rules. But nothing happened. We waited and waited, but nothing happened. The only thing that happened was the surfacing frustration on Hezekiah’s face. I didn’t know if it was because of my insolence or his own struggle.
Hezekiah opened his mouth, but no words came out. Instead, his eyes flickered to the open expanse of woods and stayed there the second time his eyes landed there. He stared intently at what we didn’t know. The Elders stared, too; they seemed to understand what was lurking there. As for Esther, Rocio, Kizzy and I? We had no clue. We wanted to take this opportunity to run while we could; we exchanged glances that made it concrete we were on the same page. But once we realized what they were, we knew we would be fools to run.
“Leeches,” Beau muttered, eyes as intense as a predator’s. And when Beau said the word - when he clarified that there were newborn vampires stalking us in the distance - Hezekiah immediately grabbed me and slowly pulled me behind him.
“Don’t move,” he ordered. The nonchalance in his face was alarming; unsettling. He continued to watch them and their figures near us. They smelled us. Were they coming for blood? I thought they weren’t. If they saw that the Elders were surrounding us, they would assume that we were cattle already claimed. That’s what I thought; hoped.
Hezekiah’s hand was wrapped around my wrist. Not tightly like before, but firm enough to indicate urgency.
“Tekoah,” Jeanie said quietly. “Can you shift?”
“I can’t,” he replied. “The moon isn’t full.”
Jeanie shook her head, running her fingers through the dark curls on her head. “Fuck.”
“There aren’t many of them. We can just kill them off,” Beau suggested.
“I count fifteen,” Hezekiah told him, his eyes never leaving the pack. “Past the horizon over yonder. We could drive through, but the mother fuckers are fast.”
We waited for the Elders to abandon us. The only reason the Leeches were there was for our blood; to feast. But they also respected the Elders and the hierarchy in their clan; if they told the Leeches to scat, they most likely would. And Jeanie had the same idea that I had, but Tekoah quickly debunked it.
“They aren’t here to feed,” he said.
“What are they here for?” Kizzy asked him. Tekoah didn’t answer her, but instead just looked at me. I knew the answer - the answer that made my blood chill.
They were there for me - to finish the job that Hezekiah wouldn’t.