Chapter 26: Alone Again
I felt like the Coterie’s footsteps were chasing after me. One by one, the click of a heel right after the click of my own on the steps, half a second after my own. They were onto me, literally and figuratively.
When we reached the bottom of the staircase, we all began walking through the living room, the House members staring on as we marched towards the Undercroft. I felt a chill come through - a draft the closer I got to the door, even in the intense summer. Two male House members stood by either side of the door. They opened it silently, the portal dark on the other side, save for the occasional lantern hanging on the wall’s descent to the basement.
Aza stepped ahead first, walking down the wooden staircase with a sense of pride and self-worth in her stride. She wouldn’t let the Coterie see right through her and deteriorate her spirit, so I told myself I was going to do the same. They sensed my nervousness despite my efforts; my breathing was shaky. I could blame it on the morning and its events, but surprisingly, all of my anxiety was coming from the meeting I was about to have with Hezekiah Mercier in the Undercroft.
The Undercroft was dim, the air moist. The coffin where Hezekiah laid in after his unconsciousness was wide open but empty. House members standing on either side began to guide us to a corner, lit weakly by an old lightbulb dangling from the ceiling. Hezekiah sat there, still chained by silver bonds, whistling a tune with a nonchalant attitude that made us question his intentions. His arm was still badly mutilated. Healing quickly, yes, but still burnt and charred. Of course, he cared not. Or at least he was pretending to not care to put on a front to us.
Hezekiah looked up slowly and made eye contact with Aza first. He immediately stopped whistling, his eyes narrowing into two gold slits brighter than the light above him. He then looked at me briefly, oh so briefly, before looking at the crowd of women behind me. His eyes, once narrowed, relaxed as he arched a brow, annoyed. And then, he began to laugh. It wheezed out of his throat, quiet at first, then loud and boisterous. This went on for what felt like minutes.
“Boy, if my eyes could still make tears, I’d be crying laughing right now,” he said, his smile wide and monstrous, showcasing his fangs.
“What’s so funny?” Nene asked irately, pushing through and standing in between Aza and I. When she asked that question, his smile began to fade. Suddenly, he pushed himself off the ground and stood up. Simultaneously, we all took several steps back. Even though he was chained and nearly immobile, we were too afraid to take any chances with him.
“What’s funny,” he began, his tone attitudinal, “is that I told that girl right there that I only wanted to speak to them two, and she done bring the whole goddamn party down in here.”
The girl who delivered Hezekiah’s message looked terrified. Again, as if Hezekiah wasn’t chained and powerless; as if he could have hurt her.
“It ain’t her fault, Hezekiah,” Nene said. “We all came down here on our own initiative.”
“Why?” he asked.
“Because we got a few questions to ask you.”
Hezekiah laughed again, not as loudly as before. He then pivoted and recluded himself back into the corner, extending his long legs while leaning his head on the wall, whistling to the ceiling. Aza and I looked at each other once over Nene’s short (and angrily tense) figure. Nene then built up the courage to walk up to him, still standing above him to demonstrate a sense of authority and power.
“You know you ain’t getting out here ’till you tell us what we need to know.”
“I know, Nene” Hezekiah said, his voice low and teasing. “I’ve actually gotten quite used to it down here. Nice and dark. Quiet.”
“It’s gone drive you crazy.”
“Not for long,” he replied, smirking. “My clan gone figure out I’m missed and they gonna come looking for me. I know the last thing you want is a bunch of leeches knocking on your door.”
“They ain’t gonna find you, Mr. Mercier. They ain’t no way for them to get into this house, ’less we invite them inside, remember?”
The sentence was short, but it put Hezekiah in his place quickly. The smirk diminished from his face, his lips plump in pout, jaw clenched.
“Tell you what,” Nene said, walking closer towards him. “You answer all our questions, and we’ll let you go. No hard feelings.”
Hezekiah scoffed, rolling his eyes. “And if I don’t?”
“Then we keep you here. Starve you out. Only a matter of days ’fore you start getting hungry. Your kind are animals - you love the night, the outdoors, the hunt. You gone go crazy down here, Mr. Mercier. We’ll see how long you can keep the silent treatment up.”
He only stared at Nene. Didn’t’ say a word. All of us watched and waited with bated breath, wondering what the next move would be from him, but he only stared at her with a deep hatred in his gaze. But suddenly, the hatred diminished. He sighed, pursed his lips, and smiled condescendingly up at her.
“Alright, then,” he said. “I’ll talk.”
“Good - ”
“But only to her.”
Every head in the room turned to face me, Nene’s expression the most taken back. Hezekiah, for the first time since I arrived in the basement with the Coterie, stared directly at me. I was promptly brought back to the night prior, with him on top of me; him and I having sex. Me stabbing him deep; betraying him. There’s a sinical nature in his eyes; a smirk accompanies the look he gives me.
“Absolutely not,” Babette said from the back, coming forward with her hands clutching her long white skirt to protect it from dirt.
“Hell no,” Nene adds. “Y’all spent too much time together to be mingling any longer. I don’t trust it. And besides, you wanted to speak to Lisa and Aza initially, anyway.”
“I know, but all this talking back and forth made me change my mind.”
The Coterie, irritated with Hezekiah’s proposition, began talking amongst themselves trying to figure out what the next move was. But in reality, we all knew that Hezekiah meant what he said; either he talked to me alone, or he said nothing at all. And after Sajida’s visit and a testament to Aza and Mama, we all knew that time was too precious to play with. Aza wore this look as the Coterie argued with each other; she was thinking. Hard. She refused to look at Hezekiah, but her thoughts were plagued with him. Suddenly, she yelled over the frantic chatter:
“Everyone get out!”
Silence carried. The Coterie looked at Aza like she had lost her mind. But she didn’t. Part of me believed that Mama might have done the same thing if she was there; her and Aza were the only ones with a distinct sense of urgency after meeting with Sajida and hearing her words about Abraham’s plan. This opportunity to speak with Hezekiah Mercier in his vulnerable state was too valuable to pass up.
“You crazy?” Nene whispered to Aza, their faces now mere inches apart.
“No,” she said. “But I am the only one with some common sense in here. He wanna to talk to Lisa? Let him. Better than him saying nothing at all.”
“We can’t trust him alone with her!”
“Why not?” I asked impulsively. The moment I opened my mouth, it took Nene longer than usual to conjure up a response.
“Because everytime you’re alone with him, something bad happens. Every time.”
“If it weren’t for me, we wouldn’t be lucky enough to have him here to interrogate. Sure, I’ve fucked up in the past, but we don’t have time to dwell on that.”
A small smile teased Aza’s mouth, but she didn’t dare let it bloom. Perhaps it was the fear of Abraham’s looming presence that made me more than willing to talk to Hezekiah alone, but regardless, I was taking control of the situation; I wouldn’t let up, like I promised myself I wouldn’t at the top of the staircase when Hezekiah summoned us.
Nene was clearly against the idea, but she knew that her options were thin. With a hesitant voice, she told everyone to leave the Undercroft. Slowly, they all began to file out; the air felt more open. Breathable. The stairs creaked as they all left; Aza was the only one left behind. Hezekiah still had that smirk planted on that beautiful, menacing face of his and it made it harder for Aza to leave me alone with him.
“The moment you don’t feel safe - ”
“I know.” I nodded. “I know.”
“You sure? Bloodsuckers have a way with them - they can suck you in, manipulate you in ways you thought you couldn’t be manipulated into. You know this already. Stand your ground. Ask the necessary questions.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Don’t let him distract you.”
I knew the general topic of questions to ask, but I didn’t know how to ask them. I didn’t have time to ask Aza how I should formulate my questions. Instead, I assured her that I was going to be fine, and in return, she assured me she was going to go check on Mama. My heart leaped when she said those words; I was even more anxious than ever.
Her footsteps carried all the way to the staircase until the door to the Undercroft closed. Hezekiah and I were alone. The Undercroft was quiet. Eerie. I wondered how many vampires were imprisoned here by the Coterie centuries before. Their influence in the walls, the nail marks or splattered of blood; torture.
Hezekiah sat still, studying me for a moment. I did the same to him; he could sense fear on humans, so I kept mine as internalized as I could. Adjusting my glasses, I knelt to sit down across from him, but the moment he pushed himself up to stand, I stood, too; I was going to match him this entire session.
When he stood, he took a few steps within the chains’ restrictions. I was sweating uncomfortably; there was not a drop of perspiration on him. I think I was studying him too closely, drawn in by the captivating nature of his eyes, his skin, the structure of his face, his body. He knew the effect he had on me, but luckily, I knew the effect I had on him, too. I wondered if the only thing holding him back was his loyalty to his clan; does he feel ashamed that he fucked me, the enemy? What would his clan think if they found out he had sex with the daughter of a “vile voodoo witch”? Would his elder status protect him?
What would Abraham do?
"Bonjour,” he said cordially, the French rolling off his tongue effortlessly. But it was all a facade; he loved putting up a front.
I shook my head, looking down at his hand again - the one my Mama burned. I kicked myself for feeling bad for him.
“Don’t worry, babygirl,” he said, examining his arm. “My arm gone be back to normal in no time. Your Mama could have done worse.”
“I know,” I replied. “I wasn’t concerned with your arm.”
“Then why’d you ‘rescue me’?” He asked, smiling teasingly.
“I wasn’t rescuing you. I was rescuing my mama.”
Hezekiah rolled his eyes, pacing around in the small area he was allowed. I stayed still as stone.
“Your mama’s beyond saving,” he then said, his tone serious. “When you gone realize that?”
“No one’s ’beyond saving,’” I retorted, but a small part of me didn’t believe that statement. Even if I didn’t believe it, it warranted no smart remark from Hezekiah. It did produce a chuckle, though.
“I’ve known your mama for a long time,” he said, scratching his beard on his shoulder. “I know what she’s capable of; I’ve seen this before. You just wait. You’ll be wishing you listened to me.”
“I don’t wish anything from you, Hezekiah.”
“Then why you down here trying to ask me questions ’bout stuff the Coterie only wanna know?”
“Because lives are at stake. You’ve already killed one of the Coterie’s sisters.”
Hezekiah looked confused for a second, then suddenly, he remembered who I was talking about.
“That’s right,” I continued. “Tia Valeria. You killed her; I saw you. Your clan killed her whole house. You expect us to not take any of this shit seriously when we could be next?”
“I ain’t had a choice!” he shouted. “You ain’t’ never gone understand, Lisa. You’re ignorant and naive - you know nothing ’bout the shit that really goes down. Nothing."
If I didn’t know any better, I would have sworn that I saw a hint of vulnerability in him. But it quickly diminished when he realized that he revealed more than he should have.
“Then why don’t you tell me?” I asked him, but he was already laughing at this point. Shaking his head, he took several steps towards me until we were mere inches apart. Despite the heat lingering in the undercroft, I could feel the chill radiating from his body. I looked up at him, and he looked down at me. His cheekbones were carved and illuminated sparsely by the light, his eyes bright - inhuman. They glowed in the dark, but a menacing, monstrous glow that a vile creature possesses.
“You think ’cause you got the jump on me last night in that attic that I’m wrapped around your little finger, now?” he said lowly, the vibrations in his voice weaved in with the growl emanating from his chest. “Your gods and spirits don’t give a fuck ’bout none of y’all - you’re just their little plaything. Erzulie just wanted to get off on me fucking you. You ask for her help again and all you gonna hear are crickets.”
“You’re just upset because you lost.”
“Damn right, I’m upset!” he seethed. Jumping forward, his chains yanked him back, frustrating him even more. “I’m stuck down here like an animal and you think I’m supposed to be happy dandy?”
“If you would cooperate, the Coterie would grant you your freedom, Hezekiah.”
“Oh, bullshit! You’re more delusional than I thought.”
“Then why’d you agree to talk if you weren’t going to cooperate?!”
“Because,” he snapped, staggering from his weakness. “Because I wanted to see the look on your pretty face when I say it.”
“Said what?” I asked him, brows furrowed out of confusion.
"No,” he whispered. "No, I ain’t telling y’all shit. You can keep me down here for as long as you want, but it ain’t gonna change the fact that karma’s coming for you. All of you. And until that day comes, I’m gonna sit my ass down here and wait. Do whatever you need to do, but I’m not saying a single word about nothing,” he looked down at my legs, more specifically, what’s between them. “No matter how much more of that sweet pussy you offer me.”
Anger began to fill me. Fill me until it spilled over and forced me to push him hard. I thought it would have no effect on him; I thought it was just my emotions causing me to make stupid decisions. But contrarily, Hezekiah staggered and fell back once I pushed into his chest. His back hit the ground, dust flying and dancing in the weak light. His eyes widened at me, mouth slightly agape. My body went rigid; I thought I was going to die. I thought Hezekiah was going to tear me apart. But then I realized why I was able to even push him in the first place - he’s weak. Very weak. His vampiric powers were nearly non-existent; the silver on his wrists and ankles drained him. I realized this, and he remembered this as he sat on the floor in shock.
Still angry, I built up the courage to kneel down to his level and stare into his eyes.
“Fine,” I snapped. “Starve!”
There was nothing else to say to him; nothing else I could say that would make sense. I was so upset, so distraught, that all I could do was walk out of the undercroft. His laughter began to echo as I left.
“Damn,” he cackled. “You got more of your mama in you then I thought, babygirl!”
He continued to heckle and laugh at me as I walked up the staircase. I had nothing to deliver to the Coterie - no information. No leads. Now, I would be even more of a pariah. A waste of space.
This made me even more determined to break him.