Chapter 27: Come Find Me
“What did he say?”
That was the first thing the Coterie asked me when I had come back from the undercroft. They all stood in the living room, waiting for me to come through the basement door. And when I did, they bombarded me. However, they saw it on my face - they knew something was wrong.
“What happened?” Nene asked me, her voice graver than before. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know exactly what to say, really. The words they wanted to hear did not exist; they would never hear them.
I sat down on the couch. None of them sat with me, except for Aza, who walked over to the plush seats and sat down right next to me.
“Nothing,” I finally said. Silence prevailed. The sisters all looked at each other with endless questions floating around in their minds. Nene frowned hard at me.
“Nothing?” she repeated back like it was a word that didn’t make sense; a word that she had never heard before.
I nodded. “He was...resentful. Refused to answer any of my questions. He kept on deflecting.”
“But he asked to talk to you,” Babette said. ”Specifically."
“That don’t necessarily mean he was gonna answer all her questions,” Aza said defensively. “We knew who we were dealing with when we agreed to let him speak to her. We know how Hezekiah is.”
“No.” Nene shook her head; she refused to believe. “No, something ain’t right. He told her something and she ain’t telling us what he done said.”
“What?” I exclaimed. “That’s not true at all!”
“Really? There’s no way that he said nothing."
I felt like I didn’t know Nene anymore. She was overcome with this fear and paranoia that made her turn on me because of Hezekiah and I’s “past interactions” with each other. There was some warrant in her paranoia; her life was at risk. But at the same time, I felt betrayed; Nene had known me since I was born. She was a huge part of my life. Now, I was somehow the enemy. I knew there was nothing I could say that would sway her to trust me. I knew that there was little I could say that would make any of them trust me. So, I didn’t try to make them believe me. Instead, I remained true to myself. I kept my guard up; I had a goal - break Hezekiah. Make him tell me what he knows about Abraham, The Council, whatever it is that he knew would hurt us. I was determined; I didn’t need them.
“He said nothing,” I insisted, my tone cold and unforgiving. “He refused to answer any of my questions and told me that ‘karma was coming for us.’ That’s all he said.”
“You’re lying,” Rocio said quietly.
“Shut up,” Kizzy snapped at her.
“If that’s what she said happened, then we should trust her word,” Ava Claudette said to everyone, her eyes soft and forgiving. But I had a feeling that even she was skeptical.
I didn’t say another word. I didn’t feel like I had to. No matter what I did, they didn’t trust me. To them, I was nothing but a vampire slut who used her mother’s position as head priestess to her advantage. I didn’t want to be that to them, especially to Kizzy and Esther, but that’s what it was becoming. Aza kept her hand on my leg, holding it reassuringly as if I would crumble into pieces without her touch. Suddenly, Aza stood up; I felt like I was going to fall apart when her hand left my leg.
“Look, Lisa told y’all what Hezekiah said,” she told them. “Now, either we keep on jabbing about what he did or didn’t say, or we try to figure out a way to solve this.”
“There’s only one way to solve this,” Nene said. “We call The Council.”
"NO!” All of the priestesses shouted in defense. However, Aza was the most passionate in her opposition to call The Council. I thought of Sajida’s words earlier when she spoke to Aza and my mama:
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 wondered why anyone in the Coterie would be willing to rely on the help of vampires, regardless of their intentions. Yes, The Council was established to make sure that vampires were regulated, but if what Sajida said about them was true, it would be foolish of us to rely on their help. If anything, I expected the Coterie to call on The Silver Syndicate for help above The Council.
Aza walked closer to Nene, but she wasn’t being off-putting. In fact, she was trying to be understanding to Nene. “The last thing we need is a bunch of white vampire fellas walking around here claiming they want to help us.”
“Aza, if anyone know what Abraham is up to and what we could do to stop it, it be The Council.”
“The Council hate voodoo as much as Abraham does. And they all racist white men who became bloodsuckers ’fore the civil war was even over.”
“They all not like that.”
Aza laughed at her, in disbelief of her naivety. “Nene, you ain’t serious.”
“I am. What else we gone do?”
Aza looked at the ceiling as she thought of an alternative. “We try to talk to Hezekiah again. We can probably get through to him if we try again.”
“Aza, you crazy,” Babette objected. “It’s clear he ain’t gonna wanna talk. That’s out the question.”
“Why don’t we ask the other Houses for help?” Ava Claudette proposed. “This involves them just as much as it involves us. Abraham will come after them after he’s done with us, won’t he?”
There were more of them - more Houses outside the Coterie. More voodoo priestesses in New Orleans besides the most popularized ones that resided in the heart of the French Quarter. There were many. But the Coterie, at this question, remained reluctant. They almost wanted to pretend that Ava never asked the question. Why? Because the Coterie were hated by many of the other mambos that lived in the city - the country, even. Mama felt deeply about this, refusing to convene with other priestesses or priests on any matters. It was as if they didn’t exist to mama. The Coterie knew this, which is why they kept quiet and didn’t answer. But someone did answer - mama.
“No,” she said. Plainly, without much emotion. Her voice ran through the house like a cold gust of wind; we all shivered at the sound. I sat up immediately when I saw her walk down the staircase. Everyone turned to face her, backs taut and mouths shut tight at the sight of her. She had finished her meditation and prayer, descending the staircase as if nothing happened; as if she wasn’t possessed before, throwing Kizzy and me across the basement with the force of her hand. She pretended as if nothing happened, so we did, too. Well, everyone else did. I, however, stared at her like I didn’t know her. My own mama stood before me, and it felt like I didn’t know her. I had so many questions; she knew I had many questions. But it was inappropriate to even think of asking what I wanted to know - what happened? Who did you pray to? What overtook you? Was this the power Sajida talked about?
Her eyes - still the bright blue I was familiar with - scanned the room, studying our faces. The Coterie made way for her as she came through the living room.
“We don’t involve the other priestesses,” she continued. “They wouldn’t help us anyway; they’d rather be ripped apart by bloodsuckers than help us.”
“Alize - ”
"No,” she growled at Ava Claudette. Ava quickly shut her mouth and acted as if my mama’s name never left her mouth.
Mama glided through until she approached Nene, Aza and I. We only stared at her, and she stared at us. Her eyes landed on me, and I saw a hint of sadness and regret in them. She looked ashamed that I was there; ashamed that I saw her that way. Mama looked down, then met Nene and Aza’s gaze.
“We keep him down there. Starve him. Eventually, his hunger will make him go crazy; he’ll have no choice but to tell us what he knows. And if not, we make a trade to The Council - their help for Hezekiah.”
“Alize.” Aza closed her eyes, disappointed in the plan. “You know what happens when you starve a vampire out - ”
“I know exactly what happens, Aza. They go mad. Ain’t no circumstance more perfect enough to convince him to tell us what we want to know.”
“It’s more than going mad. You can’t starve him out. It ain’t gonna end well for anyone.”
“That’s what we’re going to do,” Mama said to her, talking down to her as if she was a child. But Aza wasn’t having it. Out of all the suggestions made, Mama’s infuriated Aza to the point of her willing to argue her down.
“You ain’t thinking straight, Alize. You letting your emotions put us all in danger.”
“What the fuck you know about my emotions?!” Mama hissed at her. Her eyes had inflamed, brightening in anger. I feared that something would overcome her again.
Nene and I stood in between them both, but it did little to de-escalate the situation. Aza, face turning the same hue as the lipstick on her lips, held no fear when it came to confronting Mama.
“I know more than you’d like to admit, Alize. You gone get us all killed with what you’re trying to do!”
“It’s more than what you’ve ever done for this family!” Mama screamed at her. “For any of us! You’re lazy and you’re loveless!”
“Shut your mouth,” Aza growled.
“You care ’bout no one but yourself, waltzing ’round here thinking the Loa owe you something, using voodoo for your selfish shenanigans.”
“I should have kicked you out of our sisterhood long time ’go for your role in hoodoo but I didn’t,” Mama said. “They kicked Sajida out for what she was doing, left her in that godsforsaken bayou, but they never shunned you out. You should be thankful that I still let you have a seat, ’cause the Coterie ain’t never, ever, kept a seat open for a witch!”
Part of me believed that mama wanted this to happen. She wanted to push Aza to the point of no return - she never liked Aza, from what I remember, and Aza never liked Mama. But witchcraft - a practice strictly forbidden in the Coterie - was always Mama’s leverage against Aza. Always. So, part of me believed that mama wanted Aza to break and spontaneously combust, using her anger to channel through to her magical abilities, causing the shelves to fall off the walls, the windows and doors to rattle and the fireplace to suddenly ignite and roar into a fireball because that’s exactly what happened. I remember the sound of breaking vases and relics before being pulled down to the ground by an invisible force along with everyone else. We all hit the ground hard, shielding ourselves on the floor from the falling glass. It was extraordinary; we had never seen something like this. With mama, it was different; she was possessed. The spirits were with her, guiding her hand, influencing her. But with Aza, it was all by her own accord. There were no spirits or possession. This was her pure ability seeping through her.
Like Sajida the Shunned, Miss Aza was a witch.
The Coterie was shocked. They all rumored this, gossiping about Aza’s involvement with witchcraft, but none of them actually thought it was true until now. They all got up quickly, grabbing onto each other for support, praying and calling out to the gods for protection from this “demonic” entity.
“I knew it!” Nene hissed. “I had visions about you, Aza. I knew you were a witch!”
“Devil begone!” Babette cried. The rest of the sisters scurried away from Aza; she was evil, suddenly so. Mama, having been the only one not knocked down by Aza’s anger, stared at her, a smirk teasing her lips. I saw this as I laid still on the floor. Esther tried to help me up, but I didn’t want to get up. I didn’t want to move. I just sat there, staring at my mama smile at Aza. Aza, breathing heavily, let her fingers tremble. She blinked rapidly like she was trying to wake up from a dream - a nightmare, even. This was a nightmare for her, looking down at her hands and knowing what they were capable of. In this moment of uncertainty, mama was someone different - something different. They were all different; we were all different. Everything was crumbling.
Aza had to leave. She knew she had to leave anyway once The Coterie convened about what happened, so she decided to do it then before everything began to fall apart even more. She stormed out of the house, and The Coterie followed her.
“Aza!” Nene called out. “We have to convene - ”
“Save it,” she screamed at them, not bothering to turn around at us standing on the porch. “You’re all delusional. None of us are saints, especially you, Alize!”
Aza had turned around then, her index finger pointing at mama from afar. Everyone jolted back, afraid that Aza would use her powers on them. I didn’t jolt back; I wasn’t afraid. I knew Aza. I looked up to her. Finding out about her abilities didn’t faze me as much as it should. In fact, I couldn’t understand why Aza was seen as a Pariah whereas my own mother was still seen as a goddess to be respected. They both had these powers that worked in different ways, however, my mama’s powers were more difficult to understand to me.
Aza continued to walk away towards her car. With the wave of her hand, the engine started. She was powerful. I wanted to understand the extent of her power. I wanted to understand her, the pariah. The Coterie was falling apart, and I only seemed to care about Aza.
I walked after her. Mama called after me, but I ignored her. I ignored all of them calling after me. Aza, having not gotten in her car yet, wondered wordlessly why I was going after her. And when I reached her, I grabbed her hand.
“Don’t leave,” I whispered. It came out of me almost like word vomit, but it was something I meant in my heart. I didn’t really know how I was going to do any of this without her, and I was unsure of the state of her own safety. The Coterie knew she was a witch, and she was leaving without participating in a table convene. Maybe she would join the rest of the Coterie that had gone into the city, but how would they treat Aza, knowing she practiced witchcraft?
Aza pitied me. I saw it in her eyes, small but dark and prying. She knew I was confused. She knew I was afraid. Did she know that I felt as if I didn’t know my own mother? Did she know that I felt like I couldn’t trust her? Or anyone?
She didn’t know what to say, so she pulled me in and embraced me tightly. It didn’t feel like a goodbye hug, but more like a hug that told me, in a cryptic way, that she’d see me soon. How? I didn’t know. At least not at that moment. All I could process was the smell of lavender invading my nostrils and her kinky hair tickling my nose.
“You know where my house is,” she said to me, hushed-tone and urgently. “Come find me .”
“You want me to leave -”
“Yes,” she said. “It isn’t safe for you here anymore.”
“But I - ”
“Just come find me. Soon. Bring Kizzy and Esther with you if you can. There’s a lot your mama ain’t telling you, Lisa. A lot."
Hezekiah said the same thing to me in the undercroft.
“Ask about your father,” she said before breaking apart from me; Sajida said the same thing to me at the bayou.
I felt like I couldn’t breathe. The sun, burning relentless against my face, felt like fire. I felt like I was being consumed by flames as Aza drove away. The car became small; a miniature toy down the road through the forest. I was between two roads, forced to decide which one to take before they both disappeared.
I wiped my tears and turned around towards the safe house. Everyone stood on the porch, waiting for me to come nearer. Maybe they wouldn’t let me in the house. If Mama was out of the picture, would they have let me in?
I could see the look on Mama’s face clearer the closer I got towards her - it was rather empty. She was doing this - hiding her emotions - so I wouldn’t know how she was really feeling. But there was a feeling of betrayal hidden underneath. I could feel it in my bones. One last look, then she turned away and went inside. I was a stranger to her. I was no longer her daughter. She didn’t feel like my mother, but there was this hope inside me that I would be able to find her underneath the rubble. Aza, I knew, felt as if all hope was lost for Madam Alize Dumont. Would I be giving up if I left my mother to go into the city?
Maybe it would contrarily help if I left. Maybe it would push mama to be honest. Open. Not only with me, but herself. Because I didn’t know her then. I didn’t know my own mother. And as the day turned into night, and as the house was riddled with mice whispers about the day, I kept myself in my room and stared at the door like Aza would walk through and be with me. But she was in the city.
Ask about your father, she told. I know why she said this - my father allegedly practiced hoodoo. He was a warlock, to put it simply. A sorcerer. Ekwala Ngando was his name. Sajida told me this. Could I trust her words? Maybe not, but it would make sense why my mother never talked about him. Why, though, was I supposed to ask about him?
Was he alive?
The night dragged on until the house was quiet, but I was still awake. I got out of bed, opened my door and climbed down into the hallway. It was dark; I had a candle with me, lit dimly and situated in a silver candle stick. I walked gently downstairs to the first floor; I gravitated to the undercroft but didn’t open the door. What was I thinking? There was nothing for me down there. Well, Hezekiah was down there, but he was no use to me if he refused to talk. But still, I felt my hand turn the doorknob. It creaked loudly as it opened. I slipped through, closing it behind me. Candles lined the walls leading down the staircase. Do I dare continue? He must have already known I was there.
I walked down each step carefully. The floor was cold underneath by bare feet, but I still walked on until I saw the corner, lit by a weak flame on the wall. Hezekiah was there, sitting against the wall, still chained, his posture relaxed and nonchalant. When he saw me, he furrowed his brows as if he didn’t believe it was me, then smiled deviously. His eyes were a very faint auburn color, graying out; he was getting hungry. I took a deep breath and stood deathly still.
“What you doin’ sneaking around this late, baby girl?” he asked me, his voice low and mischevious.
I didn’t answer him, but I began to approach him. He stood up quickly, stretching his muscles, then standing taut. My hand tightened around the candlestick nervously, but I wore an unmoved face in his direction. We continued to look at each other silently; he knew I wanted something. I didn’t know what I want, but something in me guided me here to the undercroft against the wishes of the Coterie, who would have crucified me, had they found out I went to speak to Hezekiah alone this late. But as I looked at him, I remembered what Aza told me, and it made me realize how no one in the house could be trusted. However, Hezekiah surprisingly seemed more trustworthy than my sisters. I wouldn’t trust him with my life in that moment, but he knew a lot. He was a vampire - he liked being in control. He had no idea of what happened upstairs with Aza and my mother, but he would love to know. Earlier, he wouldn’t tell me anything, but perhaps I approached the situation wrong.
Perhaps I was asking the wrong questions.