Chapter 23: Sisters
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Stabbing Hezekiah and rendering him unconscious was the easy part, believe it or not. The hard part lied in what to do with him next.
Jonathan and Miss Aza hauled Hezekiah up and carried him to the exit of the attic. I helped, too; Hezekiah was heavier than I thought. His skin was cold and lifeless.
“We got to get him to the basement,” Aza told us, sure of herself. So, we opened the door and gently walked down the stairs with a vampire around our arms. Kizzy, Esther, and Rocio were behind and in front, acting as the look-out, but their effort was quickly shot down when we saw someone coming down the hall. We stood completely still as Imani turned the corner, her eyes narrowed as if she was awakened suddenly. Hezekiah’s collapse must have been louder than we anticipated.
It was foolish of us to assume that stilling ourselves would make us invisible; Imani’s eyes widened when she saw us and who we were carrying. Then her mouth opened to let out a scream, but I rushed forward and stopped her lament with my hand.
“Hush up!” I held her against me. “You’ll wake up the Priestesses!”
Imani was as stiff as a board, horrified as she watched Jonathan and Aza continue to carry Hezekiah down the hall with considerable effort. Eventually, the girls had to help to relieve the strain of the vampire’s stone-heavy weight. My job was to keep Imani quiet, which was easier said than done.
When they made it to the staircase leading to the first floor, I took my hand off of Imani’s mouth. Sweat-saturated brows furrowed at me, but she didn’t make a noise.
“What are you doing?” she asked, looking at me as if I was unfamiliar. A stranger.
“It’s a long story,” I said. “I promise to explain it to you later, but you’ve gotta keep quiet.”
I could tell that Imani was conflicted, being Mama’s novitiate and curious about what an Elder vampire was doing in the house, unconscious. I hated putting her in the position to compromise her loyalty.
Imani nodded once, and I thanked her by gripping her hand. But she demanded to follow me wherever I was going, and I would be a fool to say no. Slowly, we crept through the hall, down the stairs, and to the wooden door that led to the basement. I heard muffled speech on the other side - speech that belonged to Aza and Jonathan.
Imani was reluctant to follow, most likely remembering what she and I saw in the forest - when Abraham ravaged Tia’s House to pieces. It was safe for me to assume that when Imani saw Hezekiah, she saw him killing Tia Valeria. Somehow, I couldn’t see the same thing. I felt inhuman, not feeling the same way Imani felt.
I opened the basement door and walked carefully down the darkened staircase. The sounds were growing louder, the smell growing stronger - iron. Sweat. Something else I couldn’t pinpoint.
Imani refused to take my hand to guide her, even though her long nightgown was dragging behind her. She was upset at me, I was certain - for many things, really. But this situation was at the top of her list.
When we reached the bottom of the staircase, I followed the dim lights until we met with Aza and everyone else. For a moment, I had to wipe my glasses to make sure that what I was seeing was accurate. It could have been possible that I was dreaming, but it looked so real - the silver chains, the coffins, the metal spikes wedged into the walls. It was clear that Hezekiah wasn’t the first vampire to be brought down into the basement.
“What is this?” Imani whispered, horrified. Even Kizzy, Esther, and Rocio were in shock at what they were seeing. It was a legitimate Vampire lair or torture chamber we were in, nestled underneath us for weeks and we didn’t even know. Aza’s face was indication enough that she didn’t care to explain to us what we wanted to know.
“It’s part of a history y’all ain’t ready to hear,” is all she said. We didn’t ask anything further, but we still wondered. Oh, we wondered.
Without the same fear that was in us, Jonathan helped Aza carry Hezekiah’s body into one of the dark steel coffins standing taut in a corner. They stood him up, Aza making Hezekiah decent by closing his sun-stricken eyes, and proceeded to clasp the silver chains around his wrists and ankles.
“This should keep him put when he wakes up,” Aza said, sighing out an exhausted breath.
“Should,” I heard Rocio repeat under her breath. Aza heard it but didn’t respond.
Imani took slow steps, her nightgown flowing behind her like a gentle wind. She stared at Hezekiah’s face, her eyes slowly filling with hatred and contempt. It looked as if she was going to set him on fire with her gaze. I wondered if this fearlessness stemmed from the fact that he was unconscious and chained; the same contempt wouldn’t be visible if he was conscious.
Aza said a prayer in reverence to the goddess Erzulie and Her efforts. The dagger was gone, and I knew Jonathan wasn’t happy about that. But he was filled with this sense of pride, seeing Hezekiah so vulnerable. Kizzy, Esther, and Rocio recited the prayer along with Aza, their eyes judgmental in remembering what I did to bring Hezekiah into the state he was in. I should have felt an overwhelming sense of shame for having sex with him. I could have easily blamed my actions on Erzulie, claiming her influence flooded me. I wouldn’t be wrong; maybe Aza would believe me. But after Sajida exposed me for what Hezekiah and I did in my room before he stole Marie Laveau’s seal, the girls wouldn’t believe me. I had to convince myself that I did what I had to do, and left it at that.
“What do you intend to do with him now?” Imani asked Aza.
“We keep him here until he wakes up. Then we get information from him.”
“You think that’s going to work?”
“We’ll make it work,” Jonathan added surely. Imani left it at that.
Esther stepped forward, a mixture of disgust and irritability on her face. “So, we just keep him down here? What if Madam Dumont finds out?”
“She’ll find out alright, ’cause I’m a tell her. But I’ll break it to her easy. Make up a story so that way she don’t let her anger cloud her judgment. Once she realizes how valuable Hezekiah is to us, she’ll come to her senses.”
I waited for Rocio to add her opinion on the situation, but she just stood by, teetering on the edge of something. She was the one who thought it be a good idea to use Hezekiah to our advantage. She probably didn’t think it would end up like this.
“How long do you think Hezekiah will stay knocked out like this?” I asked.
“I’d wager a couple of days,” Jonathan said. “Then again, who knows how your god’s ‘magic’ works.”
“It’s not magic,” Aza reminded him irritatingly. “It’s the goddess’ blessing.”
Jonathan turned the other direction and began pacing the basement, staring at all of the morbid artifacts. Aza expected us all to remain quiet about this until she broke the news to Mama. I didn’t know how Mama would react to knowing there’s an Elder vampire asleep in her own basement of vampiric torture and imprisonment - she was going through a lot with two of the priestesses taking their Houses from the safety of the house and back into the city, not to mention the threat of Abraham looming over her shoulder. Sure, Hezekiah was a valuable tool. But he was also the enemy.
My heart dropped when I realized that Mama could find out I seduced the enemy myself.
The next morning, I got up from a night of no sleep. It was hard to sleep, knowing that a vampire was chained and locked in a coffin underneath your feet.
I showered, dressed and made my way into the kitchen. Everyone was participating in morning prayer, including Mama, who led it. I watched as they finished, standing idly by, eyeing Kizzy occasionally as she mumbled the prayer with anxiety-ridden eyes.
Once they finished, the Coterie walked in a single file upstairs to convene. I kissed Mama good morning, keeping up the act. She smiled at me, the smile waning before returning. Sweat was dripping down my back, but I ignored it and walked into the kitchen.
With shaking hands, I took down a plate from the cupboard and started making a plate of grits and eggs. I expected Aza to break the news to Mama about the bloodsucker in our basement. After the meeting, she would do it. She had to. Mama would be upset, furious even. But depending on how Aza spun it, she would understand that having Hezekiah under our sleeves would give us the upper hand against Abraham and his clan.
I made my plate and sat down at the table. Everyone ate quietly; I sat next to Kizzy and Esther. Rocio sat on the other end, hearing to a House member speak but not listening. Imani left with Mama - Mama trusted her enough to allow her to attend the meetings.
“I was talking with Rocio while we were helping with breakfast,” Kizzy whispered. “We should all go check up on him. Before the meeting is over.”
“And arouse suspicion?” I scarfed my eggs down, nervous. “Anyone of the House members will wonder why we went down there.”
“We’ll be careful.”
“Kizzy - ”
“I just don’t think that Aubade is as ‘lasting’ as we believed.”
My hands froze. Kizzy, the optimist and practical one out of us, was having doubts - making me believe that my effort was all for naught. There was the possibility that Aubade’s effects could wear off sooner than we anticipated. To believe this made me feel almost ashamed, doubting Erzulie and her blessings. But from what I had gone through the last month, it never hurt to make sure - to be cautious.
I didn’t respond. I just kept eating until I couldn’t eat anymore. I didn’t know what to do; I waited on Aza’s judgment. I waited, expecting to hear Mama yell at the top of her lungs before stomping down the stairs and right to the basement. But it never came.
As we all kept eating, Esther suddenly dropped her fork loud enough for silence to carry over the entire table. Her eyes became glossed over, hard. Like two endless voids. She stared at the wall, but not because of the wall itself - for something else.
I knew what was happening. She was seeing something.
The Clairvoyant. That’s what everyone knew she was - able to see things that weren’t in front of her. Able to see beyond. Some were scared, watching her vision run through her mind. Others waited with bated breath - others like Kizzy and I. We deemed it safe to assume that it had to do with Hezekiah. My mouth went dry as I pictured Hezekiah somehow breaking free from his shackles and killing everyone in the house. That’s what I thought Esther saw. But when the tears began to fall down her plump cheeks, I knew it was something else. Something worse. What could possibly be worse than Hezekiah plotting our demise in our basement?
Sajida the Shunned.
The words left her mouth like a curse, impacting everyone at the table. We all knew the influence the witch had, but only Kizzy, Rocio and I knew that the words escaping Esther’s mouth were more grave than anyone could imagine - she was coming. Sajida was coming. Why? I wasn’t sure. Maybe my gris-gris wasn’t enough; she wanted more. That had to be it. Why else would she be coming here?
“She’s coming?” Kizzy got up from the table and stood in front of Esther, whose breath was rapid and inconsecutive. “Dammit, Esther. Is Sajida coming?”
Now the entire table was more vocal than minutes before. All the Novitiates scrambled up to go find the Coterie while the House members rushed to find sage for protection. Kizzy and I exchanged looks - we knew we were fucked. Fucked beyond comprehension.
“She’s coming for Hezekiah,” Kizzy concluded.
“Are you sure?” I asked - demanded.
“M-maybe?” Kizzy rubbed her eyes. “I-I don’t know. It’s just the only thing that makes sense. Maybe she’s working for Abraham?”
It wasn’t a thought I entertained, but it wasn’t dismissable. It fit like a puzzle piece you never knew existed. If Sajida was working for Abraham, it would explain why she’s coming to the safe house - to rescue him. Exact revenge.
We had to get to the basement.
Kizzy and I sprinted through the kitchen until the door to the basement was in our sights after rounding sharp corners. But before we could even touch the doorknob, the Coterie rushed down the staircase.
Kizzy grabbed my hand, freezing me into place. We’d be fools to try and open the door.
Mama was first, with Mambo Nene at her side. Her face was stern. Serious. Her eyes burned bright blue, expecting the worst.
“Everyone upstairs,” she said. “Now!”
No one protested. Everyone immediately went up the staircase to disappear from sight. Aza was the last one of the Coterie to step foot on the first floor. Amidst the running bodies, she shook her head at us and mouthed: “don’t.” We weren’t sure what “don’t” meant, but regardless, Kizzy and I hid behind a corner and waited.
“Are you sure you saw her?” I heard Mama ask Esther. There was silence, then the sound of Priestess Qadira cursing Sajida’s name. The Coterie then tried to figure out what to do about Sajida’s looming presence. They began to argue, some claiming they should try and kill her while others saying that would only make their problems worse and that it wasn’t their way. But amidst this arguing, I failed to hear two voices - Mama’s voice and Miss Aza’s voice. Building the courage, I peaked by the corner and saw them looking at each other. They spoke millions of words with only their eyes. They knew something about Sajida’s presence - maybe they were confirming Kizzy’s suspicions about the witch working under Abraham.
Suddenly, Mama asked the Coterie members to retire upstairs with their Houses. The silence was painful. Although I couldn’t see the looks on their faces, I’m sure they were shocked. Upset. Insulted. But they respected Mama, so gradually, their footsteps were heard trudging up the staircase. Kizzy peaked this time, then quickly retracted.
“What did you see?”
“It’s just Madam Dumont and Miss Aza.”
“Why?” I asked, but before Kizzy spoke, there was a cordial knock on the front door. Kizzy and I held our breath.
Mama and Aza waited a moment before they opened the door. They remained quiet, as did Sajida. Then I heard her laugh - a laugh menacing enough to bring death to anything living and unresisting.
“Sisters,” she drawled out happily.
“We don’t want no funny business ’round here, Sajida,” Mama warned.
“I ain’t here to ’cause no trouble, Alize. I’m just here to talk.”
“’Bout what?” Aza asked.
“I’d much rather be invited inside before telling y’all what I’s got’s to say.” Sajida sighed tiredly. “It’s damn hot out here.”
Mama and Aza were both reluctant. I took another look and almost gasped when I saw Sajida in the flesh. Instead of the revealing outfit she had on when I first met her, she had on all white, even a white headwrap, with blue and red beads around her neck. It was clearly an attempt to ease the tension between the three of them - paying a homage to tradition and familiarity. Why Sajida was paying homage to voodoo when she was a witch was beyond me; I was too ignorant to put the pieces together. It wasn’t until I saw all three of them together, the unspoken history transferring between their eyes that I realized; I realized why Miss Aza and Mama were speaking without words amongst the Coterie’s arguing. I realized why Sajida referred to them as ‘sisters.’ And I realized why, most likely, Sajida’s name was a forbidden name.
Sajida glided through the front entrance and took in the living room. “Ain’t much change,” she said, then pursed her blackened lips at an empty corner. “Who got rid of the record player? I ’member your Mama used to love that thing, Alize. Why’d you gone and throw it out?”
Kizzy looked at me. I had already figured it out by then, but Kizzy was just realizing the connection.
“You’re inside.” Mama closed the door. Locked it. “What nerve you got coming here?”
Sajida, raising a brow, sat down when Mama let her. Her fingers danced between her hair, tracing the knots. Aza and Mama sat on the other couch, keeping a considerable amount of space between them. Sajida laughed when she saw this.
“Look at you,” she said. “Can’t even sit next to each other.” Sajida’s face almost looked rueful. “Remember when we used to be so close?”
“That was a long time ago, Sajida,” Aza said. They left it at that. Sajida, knowing that their patience was wearing thin, cut to the chase.
“Like I said, I ain’t here to stir up no trouble.” Her face said otherwise. “I’m here to warn you. About Abraham.”
“Abraham.” Mama said his name with no emotion. No interest. But I knew it was all self-contained.
“I know y’all know he’s back causing trouble like he ain’t never left.”
“We know,” Aza said. “We taking all necessary precautions.”
Sajida laughed. Cackled. “Necessary precautions,” she mocked. “You don’t even know what necessary precautions to take.”
“You came here just to insult us?” Mama asked, irate.
“No. I came to warn y’all like I said.” Sajida leaned forward, eyes glowing green with secrets and sin. “You not the only ones Abraham’s hunting down. Oh no, sister. He coming after all of us. Every voodoo priest, priestess, House, clan, whatever the fuck it is. He getting rid of all of us. Every one he can find. And after that, he gone try and rule after all those bloodsuckers out there so he could kill whoever is unlucky enough to have been left behind. He gone finish what Terah never let him start. From the day Marie Laveau went and died, those vampires been trying to get rid of voodoo. And now, Abraham have the means and the power to finish the job once and for all.”
“‘Once and for all,’” Aza repeated.
Sajida nodded. “Marie Laveau’s seal that he got? It opened a letter - a letter one of Marie Laveau’s daughters wrote herself in 1878, talking about some ritual that harvests the sun. There’s other pieces that go along with this letter. Abraham’s looking for them all, in which he’ll open with Marie’s seal and learn how to reverse the ritual to make him immune to the sun itself. True shit.”
Even Kizzy and I knew how grave this was without explanation. I remembered the encounter I had with Abraham when he took me - the animosity in his voice when he spoke about Mama. The reality hit me once Sajida detailed his full intentions. I didn’t want to believe her; Sajida was obviously untrustworthy. But something about her words just didn’t seem like a lie.
“How you know all this?” Mama asked. Her voice was urgent, laced with a fear she had too much pride to show.
Sajida waved her hand above her, smirking. “The spirits told me.”
“You abandoned the spirits a long time ago,” Aza said coldly.
“No, sister. That’s where you wrong.” I saw Sajida’s finger wag at them. ”You abandoned me a long time ago. Blaming me for shit I couldn’t control. Overtaken by jealousy. Fear.”
“It wasn’t no jealously - you were corrupt,” Mama said. “Twisting the gods’ influence and using the spirits for your evil endeavors. We tried to help you, Sajida. But you was beyond help.”
“Oh, save that self-righteous bullshit, Alize!” Sajida pulled a cigarette from her pocket, lit it with the small flame that had suddenly appeared on the tip of her finger. The end of the cig glowed brightly before she exhaled smoke up at the ceiling. “You were afraid of me. All of you were afraid of me. You were afraid of the blessings the gods set upon me, which made you jealous - jealous ’cause the gods chose me as their outlet; the spirits chose me as one of their channels.”
Neither Mama or Aza responded. Maybe because Sajida was right. And as the silence continued, Sajida did, too.
“You’ve spent years trying to hide the fact that the Loa chose you, too,” Sajida said to Mama. “You ashamed that you and I are special. The gods chose us to manifest a fraction of their influence and you decide to hide it deep down in your gut and pretend that you wasn’t hand-picked by the Loa themselves. But it shows, Aliza. Oh, it shows.” Sajida rubbed her sockets. “Our eyes. Our youth. Our link to the spirits. It ain’t cause you devout, it’s cause you is chosen, sister. And the longer you keep trying to hide it, the more it’s gone keep pushing out ’till you can’t control it. Your Mama said it, remember?”
“You don’t know what you talking about,” was all Mama could manage to reply. Her voice trembled with anger.
“You could of been had all them bloodsuckers on they goddamn knees. But no, you too scared. You trying to play it safe, ’cause you the one with no self-control.” Sajida inhaled from her cigarette again, exhaling quickly before she began her deranged tangent. “All this Council nonsense. Council this and Council that. You think the Council gone help y’all? Shit. The Council don’t give a damn about a bunch of ‘nïgger witches.’ Half of them damn near owned slaves when they was human, and you sitting here thinking they gone help you? "
I wanted to see Mama’s face - see how she was reacting. Kizzy and I both did. Hearing the words was different from seeing how they impacted someone. Mama was so confident, being the head priestess of the Coterie. And now suddenly, a ghost from her past comes in and exposes her - unknowingly in front of her daughter. I knew there was history she refused to show to me. Undoubtedly. I thought I was ready to hear it, but maybe Sajida’s bluntness changed my mind. But it was too late now - the truth was seeping out. Abraham’s intentions were unmasked. And I knew then that my Mama was ‘chosen.’ Special. Like Sajida - or different from Sajida. Or maybe Sajida was the result of unresistance. Clearly, Mama didn’t like being special. But this ‘specialness’ could potentially end Abraham for good, yet she didn’t want to utilize it. This, I couldn’t understand.
Mama didn’t respond to Sajida’s previous testament. Instead, she asked her to leave - demanded that she leave. Sajida didn’t oppose. At first, she thought it was funny that she was being kicked out. Sajida could have easily tried to kill Mama and Aza - burn them to a crisp or fly them across the room into a wall. But she didn’t. She kept her composure, smoke her cigarette again and put it out on the couch armrest. Mama didn’t bother to press Sajida about this; she wanted her out.
Slowly walking through the foyer, she stopped before her accessorized hand landed on the doorknob. She spun until she faced us - Kizzy and I. We froze, staring into her eyes and remembering our first encounter and how chilled we felt sitting across from her desk as she bore her emerald gaze into our flesh. I wanted to run, but I couldn’t move. Neither of us could. Instead, we just stared at her, until Mama and Aza stared at us. And it was all over then.
“Before I forget.” Sajida dug into her pocket until my familiar gris-gris, glowing sapphire in her hand, appeared. “I think your girl might want this back.”
Sajida dropped it into Mama’s hand. It fell into her open palm; we waited for her to crush it out of fury. But Mama didn’t move; the fact that we lied about visiting Sajida at the Bayou of the Shunned was registering in her mind. Burning.
“Oh!” Sajida’s smile at Mama was as wide as the Chesire Cat’s. “And you might want to pay the vampire in your basement a visit - they become terrifying mother fuckers when you don’t feed ’em for too long, sister.”