Voodoo Queens of New Orleans

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Chapter 24: Spirits Dance

Mama hadn’t said a word after Sajida left. Even when she went into the basement and saw Hezekiah’s body asleep in the coffin we put him in, she was speechless.

Kizzy and I stood back and just watched her, waiting for what she would do next. My pendant was still in her hand; she hadn’t given it back because she did come in contact with me other than the deathly look I got from her when Sajida left.

Aza stood beside her, wanting to explain, but waiting to see if Mama was ready to hear it. She just continued to stare at Hezekiah’s body like she refused to believe or like she was struggling to understand how this was possible right under her nose.

“I was trying to find the right time to tell you,” Aza said softly, like trying to calm a lion. “I was going to tell you, Alize - ”

“How did this happen?” Mama finally spoke up, turning towards all of us. I had rehearsed in my head how I would explain this to her, but being in the moment had made it hard for the explanation to come out of my mouth. But suddenly, as if the moment couldn’t be any tenser, Hezekiah opened his eyes. And the moment we gasped and warned Mama to get away from him, he lunged forward in an attempt to grab her. But the silver chains around his body made the task impossible.

The restraints yanked him back into the coffin, no matter how hard he tried to break free. His dark skin strained against the bright silver, which clearly caused him some pain when he exerted himself too much. So, shamefully, he stopped trying to escape and settled for giving us menacing looks. His eyes were almost fluorescent, bright with hunger and anger. Mama stepped back and stared at him with eyes almost as bright as his, and slowly, her expression deepened into a scowl when her gaze studied his face. But again, she was silent. We all knew that he was powerless in his shackles, so we just watched him as he eyed us all. And when his eyes landed on me, I knew I was fucked.

"You,” he growled, then began to laugh. “You sneaky little bitch! I swear when I get out of here -”

“′If you get out of there,” I said, my breath shaky. “We’ll let you go if you cooperate.”

Mama slowly turned to me, surprised at how bold I was.

“So, you calling shots now?” Hezekiah practically spat on the notion. “You made one good pass. One.”

“I made several, which is why you’re down here.”

Hezekiah laughed, turning away from me most likely out of shame for being foolish enough to allow a Dumont to seduce him into entrapment. He knew that his ticket to freedom was cooperation. If he didn’t want to tell us what we wanted to know, he would be stuck here with us. He couldn’t bear the thought, so I knew it would only be a matter of time before he cracked. I almost felt proud of myself. Despite the method I used to get him into this state, the point was that we had an Elder vampire in our possession - Abraham’s right-hand man. Hezekiah-fucking-Mercier himself. The possibilities we had under our sleeve and all the achievements we had set before us. I knew Mama was upset we kept this secret from her (as well as the fact of a Vampire chained in her basement), but I thought she would be happy that we had such a huge advantage.

I was wrong.

I remember the look on her face the most - this stone cold, vacant look, as if she wasn’t herself. The anger was there, but it was almost as if it didn’t belong to her. I was well aware of how loud and mean Mama could get when she was upset with me, but this was completely different. Her eyes glowed bright, and suddenly, the entire basement began to darken. Whispers echoed around us, Kizzy and I trying to find the source. But Aza did nothing; she knew what was happening, yet I did not.

Mama’s hands clenched tight in an effort to suppress, but it wasn’t working. The energy emitting from her was daunting, and in that moment, I remembered where I had seen this before - which “sister” displayed the same type of “power” or “energy” that Mama was showing right now. We weren’t in a bayou, surrounded by the Shunned or being followed by triplets who were invasively interested in our presence, nor were we face-to-face with an infamous “bayou witch,” but it was the same energy we saw that night - the darkness, the shift in the air, the sense that there were otherworldly beings in the room with us. I knew then that Sajida was right about Mama and her power - her gift. But in that moment, it didn’t seem like a gift, but more along the lines of a curse.

Especially when I found out the painful way that she was, in fact, a telekinetic.

In an attempt to try and calm my own mother down, she waved her hand harshly in our direction, and suddenly I felt a heaviness on my chest before being flung to the other side of the basement with Kizzy having been tossed, too. My body slammed into the ground, and in my state of shock, I didn’t realize what had happened until I saw Aza and Mama several yards away from us by Hezekiah and his coffin, my vision blurred. My limbs began to ache, but I paid it little mind because my brain was trying to process what just happened; my mind was trying to process the fact that I was thrown to the other side of the basement by an invisible force. When I sat up, I felt around quickly for my glasses, and once I put them back on with trembling fingers, I saw her nearing me. Mama was no longer my own mother to me then, but someone else. The spirits danced around her in darkness, fueling her or Mama fueling them; they fed off each other. The whispers spoken in an unfamiliar language amplified as she neared me, and as Kizzy and I tried to escape her wrath, she was in front of us before we could crawl mere inches away.

Her hand clasped tightly around my jaw, reminiscent to how I was held whenever I misbehaved as a little one, but this time, it was painful enough for me to try and claw her grip off of me. She stared straight into my eyes, but it wasn’t her; the shadows still danced around the room. Aza stood behind, calling Mama’s name - her real name, not her official Priestess title - but she ignored her. Her gaze like an uncontrollable blue flame, she finally spoke to me:

“I can handle having raised a liar or a mutineer, but I know for damn sure that I ain’t raised a slut,” her grip tightened again. “Especially a bloodsucker’s slut! You don’t realize the danger you’ve put this Tribe in ’cause you’re a childish idiot, who’d rather run around getting in dark business than keep your mouth shut and letting me handle it! Abraham most likely knows Hezekiah’s here, and I hope I don’t have to paint a picture to you about what happens next ’cause of that!”

Her hand broke free. I felt like I could breathe again, but even so, I couldn’t bring myself to react promptly. Turning sharply, Mama waltzed towards the coffin, staring Hezekiah down with no fear. He stared back at her, unfazed by her state.

“Since you’re here, you can start by telling me if Sajida’s information was true. Is Abraham trying to use the Lwa against us? Is he trying to make himself immune to the sun?”

Hezekiah kept his mouth shut, which was expected. We stared on, wondering what she would do next.

“What does Abraham have planned next!?” she shouted in his face. “Tell me, or I’ll rip your fucking heart out!”

Hezekiah wore this fearless expression - one I couldn’t imitate - because he knew that Mama couldn’t actually kill him; he was too valuable. Whether she wanted to admit it or not, we had a tremendous advantage by having him in our safe house; our effort to entrap him was not done in vain. However, Mama couldn’t see past her anger to think clearly. Logically.

When Hezekiah refused to open his mouth, Mama quickly walked up the staircase and disappeared to the first floor. Aza rushed to Hezekiah’s coffin and began pleading with him. She spoke to him as if he wasn’t the enemy.

“Hezekiah, I can’t guarantee what Alize is going to do next,” she said to him, her voice desperate. “So, just tell us what we want to know so you don’t get hurt. Please.”

Kizzy, still coming to terms with our entanglement with Mama moments before, got up slowly and walked towards the coffin. And surprisingly, she approached Hezekiah as if he was anything other than a vampire. I still saw the fear in her eyes, but not from his presence.

Kizzy didn’t say anything but instead waited for Hezekiah to answer Aza’s question. Still, his mouth was shut tight. All he did was stare at them, his eyes drifting over the dirt that riddled one half of Kizzy’s body. I still didn’t have the courage to get up or even move. My hand held my jaw as if I was still trying to pry Mama’s hand from it.

“Hezekiah,” Aza said, urgency lacing her voice. “Just tell her something. Anything. You and I both know how Alize acts when she’s like this; there’s no controlling her.”

Still nothing. I could understand Hezekiah’s animosity - we’re the ones who did this to him, leaving him to my mother’s wrath. If I would have known what Mama was capable of, maybe things would have gone differently. Hezekiah was still the enemy, but even so, I couldn’t help but feel guilty for what was to come for him, because even though he’s done a lot to hurt the Coterie, there was something else about him that made me believe he was different. And I came more to this realization every second Aza pleaded with him to just tell Mama what he knew. At the time, I didn’t know why Aza was trying to protect him, but I trusted her, therefore, I opened my eyes and came to the consensus that maybe Mama wasn’t a saint.

When she came back into the basement, I knew she was something far from a saint.

I remember this moment clearly; it is burned into my mind, like many traumas I’ve endured. Although this trauma wasn’t directed at me, I still felt it. I still remember it, every detail.

The basement door swung open with a force that shook the walls. Aza and Kizzy stepped away from Hezekiah and stood on the opposite end, where I was. I was still on the ground, in shock. Kizzy helped me to my feet and held onto my arm as if I was going to try anything foolish. Mama had a few House members behind her - male. At least most of them. There were a few female ones, with Mambo Nene and Missus Taima behind them; these were most likely their House members.

They came down the staircase, looking at us first before looking at Hezekiah and gasping in fear or praying for protection, even though he was essentially powerless with the silver chains around his body. When I saw Imani among them, we both made eye contact. She had the same look that she wore when we saw Abraham tear Terah into pieces as his clan watched. The tears began to flow warm down my face.

“Bring him out to the front porch,” Mama ordered, tone cold and unforgiving. The males were reluctant, but decided that defying Mama was a worse fate than handling a vampire; the spirits still whispered around us, and the Priestesses felt it more than anyone else.

Carefully, they unlocked Hezekiah’s chains that kept him in the coffin but didn’t remove the silver around his body. He was weak with it on, and it was odd to watch. He was of human strength then, the men having little to no problem dragging him up the staircase. Kizzy, Aza and I just watched as they dragged him up the stairs, and when the light pouring in from the door suddenly disappeared, we all ran up the stairs and tried the doorknob, only to find that Mama had locked it.

“Shit!” I exclaimed, though I didn’t know what I was exclaiming for; I had no idea what was happening or going to happen. We tried everything to escape, even kicking the door, but it wouldn’t budge.

“Move!” Aza ordered, and with her hand extended, her fingers began to tremble. We waiting until the doorknob began to tremble like her fingers. I had heard Mama and the Coterie talk about Aza and her “dark magic” as they referred to it, though I never paid it much mind. I just thought that they didn’t care much for her and her presence. But then I knew that they probably saw Aza as a threat since she possessed a power that was shunned.

Suddenly, the doorknob broke free, falling to the floor, and the lock on the door cracked and fell apart along with wooden shards that broke apart with it. I pushed through the door first and ran to the porch. My vision was like a tunnel, blocking out everything in my peripheral and only focusing on what was ahead of me, which was the front door. I saw all of them outside in the shade, and when I finally ran out into the moist heat, I saw Mama standing above Hezekiah, who was held down on the ground by a few House members. I immediately knew what was going to come next.

“Mama...” I muttered, hoping I could get through to her, but it wasn’t the Mama I knew anymore. It was someone else - the part of her that she tried to keep concealed. The part that Sajida let overtake her.

Mama didn’t acknowledge my presence. Instead, she knelt down to meet Hezekiah’s eyes. He had no shame in looking at her.

“You don’t know how long I’ve wanted to dig my nails into your chest and rip your heart out,” she told him. “You and I both know you deserve it. But I’m giving you a chance at redemption. Tell me what I want to know, and I’ll let you be.”

Everyone watched with anticipation, fear, and other feelings that I couldn’t accurately describe. People were coming out onto the porch, confused and mortified at who they saw invading their sacred place. Many of them have heard horror stories about Hezekiah Mercier and the clan he was part of, but few have actually seen him in person. Now, seeing him weak and submissive, House members didn’t know what to think.

After a stretch of silence, Hezekiah laughed at Mama, his sharp teeth making a few people step back. “I had no control over what he did to you, Alize,” he told her, then his voice became almost sympathetic. “I tried to convince them not to do it, but they didn’t listen. Ain’t no use taking your anger out on me.”

Everything after that happened very quickly. Mama grabbed Hezekiah’s arm, pulled up the sleeve of his shirt, and held his limb out onto the unshaded portion of the front porch, where the sun was bright and relentless. I think the most horrifying part of the ordeal was the screaming - Hezekiah’s screaming. He was a creature that, because of his vampirism, had a very strong constitution against pain, and also had an alarming amount of strength and power. But the sun? No vampire is a match against the sun - Sajida the Shunned said it best.

After the loud, agonizing, ear-splitting screams that came from deep in his throat, the burning flesh was next. His arm looked like someone was pouring acid slowly over his skin, how it burned and seared. It began to smoke, his arm. And after the smoke and the burns and the screams, his wailing became animalistic; it sounded like a screeching bird or a monster’s scream. It didn’t sound human; no human was capable of screaming this way. This was the vampiric layer of himself - the “monster” inside him that he kept concealed with feeding. The sun’s power was so great, the raw, pure vampire in him was seeping through his human self. He tried to get away, but with the silver around his body and the House members holding him down, it was useless.

Finally, Mama brought his arm into the shade. The reactions amongst everyone were varied - some were shocked, others were disgusted, while some were relieved that Hezekiah was able to be broken down. A few were repulsed by Mama’s form of torture, even if it was against a vampire. I couldn’t move - my body was stone. I stared, wide-eyed, as my mind screamed for me to put an end to it. But I couldn’t.

“You gonna talk?” Mama asked him. Hezekiah looked at her, pain plaguing his face, but he didn’t speak. And without delay, she did it again but used both arms. The screams were deafening - no words can describe the sound. And in this moment, my mobility clicked in. Perhaps not my sense, but it seemed none of us had much of it anyway. I ran forward and pushed Mama away from him. She landed on the porch on her back, and I laid on top of her. Aza quickly ordered the House members to get off of Hezekiah, and they did so immediately. I was still on top of Mama, with my hands on her face, trying to talk her back into herself. I was afraid of what she would do to me if it didn’t work. Maybe she would fly me into one of the pillars of the house, breaking my back. But she did no such thing. After speaking to her, telling her my name, who she was, what she was doing and what we were, eventually, she relaxed, and her eyes slowly returned to the faint blue they were before. There were faint whispers and echoes again - ones that we all heard. Then they subsided into the clear blue sky, and my mother was here again.

I pushed myself off, cautious of her. She sat up, looked around like she didn’t know where she was. Everyone stared at her like she was a stranger, huddling close and away from us as we sat close to the vampire on the porch with no fear. She stood on her own, looking around again, then down at Hezekiah, whose face was down on the porch, arms burned severely, Aza at his side. Mama took in all of this, but saw Aza and had this expression of betrayal.

“Bring him into the basement,” she commanded, then escaped into the house. No one moved. Not a single muscle. Esther, Rocio, Kizzy and I shared a look - the look that meant we knew how badly we fucked up.

Hezekiah was brought inside, his body limp, his arms badly burned. After five minutes, the only people left outside were those responsible for Hezekiah’s situation to begin with. But we didn’t say a word - what could we possibly say?

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