Chapter 28: Acid Blood
I didn’t know where to start. Realistically, how would you even start with a creature like Hezekiah Mercier?
He didn’t want to answer any of my questions. Our interaction earlier that day was proof enough of that. So frankly, me being down in the undercroft again with my pajamas on and a candle in my hand was almost counterproductive. However, that instance earlier, I was under the supervision of the Coterie; the questions I asked were the questions they wanted to know the answers to. This time, as Hezekiah and I stood across from each other this late and forbidden in the night, I had different questions. The tides had shifted significantly that day, and I could no longer trust anyone in the house. The only person I felt I could trust had run off back into the city, practically exiled by the Coterie she belonged to. She was an outcast - an outcast that I had put my faith in. There were two things I wanted to know - two things Aza had piqued my interest in:
My father, and my mother.
I took one step forward. We were very close now, the warm light of the candle accentuating Hezekiah’s features, chiseling every corner of his face.
“I don’t want no trouble,” I told him. He laughed at this, for “trouble” seemed to be synonymous with his name.
“Then what do you want?” he asked me. “Mommy ain’t gone be too happy when she find out you been down here alone with me.”
“I’m not worried about her right now.”
Surprising words, coming out of my mouth. Even Hezekiah was taken back by them. His eyebrows raised down at me, then he began to smirk deviously.
“Oh,” he cooed. “What happened? You finally realizing what I been trying to tell you?”
“No,” I replied. “Not yet. You’re going to help me ‘realize’ what you’ve apparently been trying to tell me, though.”
He laughed, the baritone of his voice sending chills up my arms. He turned away from me then, pacing around in his little corner, the chains shackled around his arms and legs clanking with every step.
“Nah.” He curled up his lip in discontent. “Nah, I ain’t gone do that.”
I forced myself to be patient with him, but it was wearing dangerously thin. “Why not?”
“Did you forget the little conversation we had earlier, baby girl? You come trotting your ass down here, thinking I’m gonna have a change of heart after what I told you? I got news for you, sweetheart - my heart stop beating ’long time ago.”
“You know I was only asking you what the Coterie wanted to know,” I told him. Half of this was true - I, personally, also wanted to know what Abraham’s grand plan was, but at the same time, I was doing a service for the Coterie, especially considering Hezekiah wouldn’t speak to anyone but me.
“It’s the truth.” I watched his body language, hoping his shoulders would relax or he would stop glaring at me. “But now things are different. I take it that you don’t know what happened to Aza?”
What I was waiting for suddenly happened - his mood had shifted completely. His glare disappeared, replaced with a softness in his eyes that displayed worry and concern. His mouth was pressed into a firm line, holding back words behind them. This caught me off guard. Mentioning Aza was only supposed to be a segway, but seeing his reaction completely changed the situation.
He took a few steps towards me, his eyes boring into me as if he thought I was going to tell him a lie. Although his eyes, once bright with fury and strength, were weaker in might than the small candle I held, he was still an intimidating Elder vampire, regardless of his captive state. Plus, we had betrayed each other several times, using sex and seduction to trick each other in the most twisted of ways. It would make sense for Hezekiah to be suspicious of me.
“What you mean?” he asked. I took a deep breath, wondering how to begin. Somehow, the room dropped in temperature, the longer I looked at him; his aura seemed to have had an influence on the air around us.
“The Coterie found out that she’s a witch,” I explained, ” and witchcraft is strictly forbidden in the Coterie. Before they could convene about what they found out, she fled. Went into the city. Before she left, she told me that there was a lot that my mama wasn’t telling me, and to ‘ask about my father.’”
Hezekiah took a minute to process what I told him - longer than I had expected it to take. My heartbeat, one that I knew he could hear clearly, was faster than a tribal drum as I waited for a reaction from him. He thought, and oh he thought hard, about what I told him. I wish I could have read his mind at that moment, seeing what he saw; knowing what he knew.
Eventually, he looked at me and only nodded. “Alright,” he finally said. There was no context; alright could mean many things - ‘alright’ as in, “I understand the information you’ve just told me,” or ‘alright’ as in, “I will tell you anything you want to know.” There was nothing. I didn’t know what he meant by the word. I didn’t know what he meant by anything, really - could vampires feel emotion? Could they feel anything?
I adjusted my glasses as if that would give me the clarity I desired. “So?” I scoffed. “What does that mean, Hezekiah.”
“It means,” he started, but had difficulty finishing his sentence, “it means that your mama is having more of a hard time keeping her little sisterhood together than I thought.”
“That’s not what it means - ”
“Well, so what?” he shrugged, trying to give off this nonchalant attitude but failing to fool me. He was tense and concerned, and I didn’t know exactly why. Bringing up Aza’s name and what happened made him anxious. It would be one thing to ask, but I needed to approach the situation strategically if I wanted him to tell me what I wanted to know. After all, he was still loyal to Abraham, despite the many times he’s tested his loyalty by interacting with me; protecting me, speaking to me. Fucking me, too; I wondered if Abraham knew this? If he did, would he kill Hezekiah for sleeping with the enemy’s daughter? The first time was understandable, since he was using me to steal Marie Laveau’s seal for him. but the second time, there was no motive. I tricked him, I seduced him, leaving him subject to this entrapment. Abraham probably already knew Hezekiah was captured and decided not to look for him for his weakness. Maybe, after Hezekiah protected me from the leeches in the forest, Abraham questioned his loyalty to him.
Maybe we were all susceptible to Abraham’s wrath, both human and vampire alike.
I decided not to press the issue of Aza much further. Instead, I decided to focus on what I wanted to ask him.
“Look, Hezekiah. We’re both in strange positions right now. You’re the monster and the enemy; the right-hand man of the enemy. I put you down here, and my mama hurt you real bad.”
I gestured to his arm. It was healing quickly but the burn scars were still visible. Guilt crept into me when I realized that I was technically at fault for his injury, but I pushed it down into my gut where it couldn’t come back up again and continued.
“And you did things to me, too. Awful things.”
“You seemed to enjoy those awful things from the sounds you were making that night - ”
“The point is,” I interjected, “the universe has put us at odds with each other. But right now, it seems as if the universe is shifting everything in ways we weren’t prepared for.”
Hezekiah raised an eyebrow at my testament. “How so?”
“I mean, look what’s going on? You’re chained down here, the Coterie is falling apart, I feel like I don’t even know my own mama and Abraham is trying to kill us off, one by one.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“It is a bad thing - ”
“For you," Hezekiah snapped. “It ain’t for me. You really think I’m gone feel bad about you voodoo witches getting what you deserve?”
“Yes,” I said impulsively. Somehow I was getting angry again, despite my vow to be patient with him.
“And why is that?” he said, his tone humored and mocking.
“Because.” I brought the candle closer to his face so I could see him better; stare into him. “I think that deep down, you do care.”
"What?” He drawled out. The amount of disgust in his tone was retched because the notion I proposed sounded ridiculous. But somehow, I felt as if I was onto something. I could have easily retracted, but the moment the words left my lips, I felt as if a door opened; I saw Hezekiah be caught off guard. Slowly, he was being exposed. He wasn’t used to being talked to like this.
“Yes. If not, explain to me why you rescued me at the Jubilee from those white vampires?”
“Because Abraham specifically said that he didn’t want you to get hurt -”
“No, no he did not. Abraham told you to leave me there,” I argued. “He said to take me to the Jubilee, and that Mr. Boone would know what to do with me. I remember, Hezekiah. But when Rashida talked about turning me into a thrall, you were hesitant. Why?”
“’Cause that...it...it wasn’t part of the plan,” he said. His voice was shaking with a rising frustration that I was elated I could bring out of him; I kept going.
“The Bayou of the Shunned,” I said to him. “After I went and got Aubade from Sajida. You intercepted me in the forest, yelled at me for going to see her, then went out of your way to protect me from those leeches who were tasked by Abraham to come find me. You, more than anyone from his legion should have been on their side. Hell, you should have taken me to Abraham yourself. But you didn’t. You were willing to kill your own kind then let them take me.”
It felt like the first time that Hezekiah had nothing to say - no smart remark, no method of intimidation, nothing. His silence solidified the point I was trying to make, but it also made me wonder, too.
“Why have you been protecting me?” I asked him, then I remembered another key piece. “Why did Aza’s name make you nervous?”
I knew he wouldn’t answer the question - he was cornered. Vulnerable. I had put him in a difficult position. Actually, he put himself in the difficult position. All I did was make him realize it. But regardless of what his motive was, I still needed answers.
He kneels down, taking a seat with his legs extended and relaxed before him. It was a position of defeat; I stood above him like I had won. But it was odd - I didn’t want to win. In that moment, I wanted to understand. I wanted to understand our world. I wanted to understand him. He was an enigma, jumping back and forth, seemingly unsure of himself yet wielded so much power. But now, he was weak. He was powerless and vulnerable, yet still prideful - an awful combination.
I knelt down to meet his eyes; he was angry with me. “I didn’t come down here to interrogate you. I just want answers.”
“By interrogating me?” he said, spitting on my attempt to make some sort of peace.
“Tell me what you know about my mama,” I finally asked him. “And my father. What is she not telling me? Why were Sajida and Aza both cryptic about him? Even you’ve been telling me that I needed to watch out for my mama.”
“That’s history I ain’t never planned on digging up,” he answered without even looking at me.
“I need to know, Hezekiah. What is my mother hiding and why is my father so important?” I knew I was going to shoot myself in the foot by saying the words, but a compromise was the only option I had with Hezekiah in that moment. “I’ll give you something in return.”
Hezekiah rolled his eyes towards my direction. “Ain’t nothing you can offer me.”
“What about blood?”
There was a tick in Hezekiah’s jaw when I said the word ‘blood.’ The most precious jewel to a creature like him - an oasis in the desert.
“Blood.” He said the word with a low voice, like saying the word too loud would erase any possibility.
“Yes.” I couldn’t believe what I was getting myself into, but I was desperate. “My blood. I’ll let you feed on me if you tell me what I want to know.”
“You think your blood is special enough for me to tell you what you want to know?” he said, but there was a lust in his voice that contradicted what he said. He inched ever so slightly, leaning in; I was sure he could smell the blood running through my veins. I didn’t back away, though I was terrified of him. I thought he would grab me and sink his fangs into my neck, but he waited like a cheetah in the tall grass, waiting on its prey. The way he looked at me was like a wild animal. A predator.
“No,” I answered. “But I know you’re getting hungry. My mama plans on starving you out until you talk, and I don’t think you plan on talking to her any time soon, Hezekiah.”
“I think I can manage,” he whispered; our faces were mere inches apart. “I’ve been like this a real long time.”
“So how long do you think you can last? A week? A couple more days? You’re hurt, Hezekiah. Your body needs energy to heal itself. Doesn’t that make a difference?”
I was right. Hezekiah didn’t want to admit it, but I was right. I saw it in his face - the way his expression went hard and rigid like a current had rushed through him. He was torn between satiating his hunger - his thirst - and maintaining his pride. Here he was, an Elder vampire kept prisoner by a bunch of voodoo priestesses, being coerced by the powerless and influenceless daughter of one of them. This must have made him mad.
But Hezekiah was a vampire.
And he was hungry.
So he said yes.
The world went still when he agreed. Everything seemed to stop; everything went quiet. I prepared myself for the bite. I was familiar with it - it’s pain, it’s invasiveness. You feel like cattle once a vampire begins feeding on you. You can’t move much - moving makes the pain worse. So, you sit, the blood leaving your neck numb in feeling. I prepared myself for this. After I set the candle on the ground, Hezekiah grabbed my face, gently but with some sort of urgency in his grip. His hands were freezing and rough against me; I remember this detail vividly.
We looked at each other, my whole face resting in one of his large hands, our breaths so close they were shared. With his fingers resting on my jaw, he began to move my head to one side, giving him unrestricted access to the plains of my neck. My hand rested on the stone wall for stability, my knees planted on the ground, subtly throbbing in pain. The last thing I saw before my eyes closed was Hezekiah’s face. Dark veins began forming underneath his eyes, weaving down his face like cursed branches. His eyes turned completely black; they were abysmal and dark. Demonic. His jaw adjusted to accommodate for his feeding, his mouth opening wide, baring his monstrous teeth. I gasped when I felt his nose on my neck, inhaling my skin slowly. His breath was uneven against me like he was anxious to taste me again. Then I felt it - the feeling of two needles puncturing the skin, these needles turning into knives. I sucked in a sharp breath, whimpering out and clenching my teeth when the pain got worse. Hezekiah had completely submerged his teeth into me and had begun sucking the blood out of my neck. I tried my best to be quiet, allowing tears to stream down instead of a cry escaping my mouth. I prayed he would be quick. And he was; he removed his mouth from my skin shortly after he had begun.
That’s all he needed? I thought to myself. But it wasn’t that. It was something else. He was interrupted.
Hezekiah inhaled like breathing was a struggle. Blood - my blood - dripped from his mouth and chin, staining his tunic and his chest that was bared in the center. I gave him space, backing up slowly. My hand pressed against my neck as I watched him sit still with his eyes wide in unspeakable fear. He inhaled again, and again, then began convulsing. His eyes were still completely dark like a starless nightfall; his body thought he was still feeding.
“Hezekiah,” I whispered. “Hezekiah, what’s wrong?”
He didn’t answer me. He couldn’t speak. Suddenly, his gasps for air turned into sporadic coughing and heaving, red liquid spraying out of his mouth continuously. My blood was now all over the ground as he coughed it up. He heaved like he was desperate to get it out of his body. I watched in horror; I couldn’t move. The blood wouldn’t stop. The more he coughed, the more came out. And as he continued to cough, he leaned over, clutching his stomach before collapsing onto the ground on his back, his body spasming as he struggled for air. I had never seen him so helpless; I was terrified. There was blood everywhere, and I didn’t know what to do to stop it.
“Hezekiah!” I called out to him. I was by his side now, but afraid to touch him. “Hezekiah, what’s happening!?”
A voice from the staircase caught my attention in the midst of the chaos. My mama slowly descended the staircase, her white skirt flowing like a blanket in the wind behind her. I tried convincing myself that this was a dream - in a couple of seconds, I would wake up in my room with none of this ever having happened. Seconds passed, however, and nothing changed. Mama was still there, approaching us with savored steps, and Hezekiah was still seizing on the ground, blood oozing out of his mouth as he gagged and heaved in pain.
“Mama, what’s happening?!” I cried to her. “What do we do?!”
“Nothing,” she answered. “After all, this is your fault.”
I stared up at her in awe and disgust. In confusion. In anger. “Wh-what are you talking about?”
“The poison slowly making its way through his body. It came from you.”
“What are you talking about?” I fumed. “I never gave him any poison!”
“That plate of eggs and grits you had this morning,” she explained calmly. “I mixed a potion in the pot of grits - turns the host’s blood sour, kind of like acid. Of course, it ain’t do no harm to the host, but let a vampire get a taste of you, and it feel like hot oil’s bubbling in their lungs; your blood was the poison, honey.”
I didn’t know what to say to her. I couldn’t comprehend the words she had just told me.
“I-I don’t understand, you didn’t even know Hezekiah was in the house this morning -”
“I take necessary precautions,” she explained. “I’ve been spiking up everyone’s breakfast since we got to the safe house. Last thing we need is one of our own turning into a vampire or being killed by one. Lucky for him, you probably ate at Aza’s the last time you let him feed on you. He aint’ too lucky this time, though.”
Mama watched as Hezekiah continued to convulse on the ground in agony. I sat by his side, immobile. My whole body felt like lead, my lungs dry and my head aching.
“Don’t worry,” she said to me. “It ain’t gone kill him. He’ll just be like this for a couple hours. He’ll be even more starved when he’s back to normal.”
“Why?” I asked her. I knew the answer, but at the same time, it felt like I didn’t know.
“You take me for a fool,” she said coldly. “You think I didn’t know you’d come down here? Try to bribe him with blood? Please, Lisa. The moment you went to bed all I had to do was wait; I knew what you were going to do.”
“Mama, you need to feed him!” I pleaded with her.
Her eyes narrowed; I sounded like Aza to her, and she didn’t like this. She grabbed my arm, her strength suddenly remarkable. She dragged me away from him; I wanted to be by his side than be with my own mother in that moment. I could hear his gasps for help as I was hauled up the staircase and out of the undercroft. I was dragged up all the way to my room, swiftly and without a word from my mama. She pulled me up the stairs to the room, and after closing the attic door with her foot, threw me onto the ground. My glasses came off upon impact and slid to the other side of the room, but Mama didn’t give me a moment to pick them up before crouching down to meet my eyes. Even without glasses, I could see her for what she wasn’t; this wasn’t my mama. This was someone else. Something else. And I was horrified. Afraid. All I could do was cry and wonder where she was, hidden in the body that crouched above me.
“You continue to disobey me,” she hissed. “You keep on defying me. You think I’m the enemy? You think I’m evil!?” A smile twitched and teased her mouth. “All I have ever done,” she says breathlessly, “was try and protect you from the monsters that keep trying to take you away from me. I won’t let them take you away from me. Not again. Everything I do for you, I do out of love. There ain’t nothing I love more than you, Alisande.”
Don’t move, I thought. Don’t breathe. This isn’t your mother.
She stood tall again as I remained on the floor. Pivoting to leave, she said, “You’re going to stay up here for a couple of days. So I know that you’re safe.”
I sat still for several seconds until I realized she was serious. I got up quickly, the room spinning, and raced after her, but she had closed the attic door before I could reach her. I yanked at the handle, but the door wouldn’t budge. I pulled until my fingers were raw and red. The door, being a lost cause, led me to the window. It was a far way down, but I needed to leave. I needed to get out. Mama’s house was compromised, as was the rest of the Coterie, but the window was sealed shut. Despite my efforts, the barrier between my room and the outside world was locked.
“No!” I screamed, over and over like the word would lead to my escape. I should have listened to Aza the moment she told me to find her. I should have gotten in the car with her. I had this immense fear and regret in my heart as I tried everything to break the glass of the window. Nothing, not even the lamp, would shatter the glass. It was impenetrable.
I was locked in my room, alone and helpless. I fell onto the floor out of exhaustion, drenched in sweat from my efforts, my neck throbbing in pain from Hezekiah’s bite. I was filled with anxiety for some reason, knowing what he was going through alone in the basement, so I screamed out at the top of my lungs. I knew everyone else in the house could hear me, but as the night hours dragged on, they ignored my plea for help. I imagined them reading a book or praying while they heard me scream; I imagined the Coterie engaged in the festivities of their meeting, my mama speaking to them all as they heard me yell. They knew my mama wasn’t herself anymore, but they didn’t address it. They sat at their table, listening to a leader who was possessed.
After the third hour, my throat was sore. I laid on the floor, too exhausted to cry. I remember suddenly feeling a small brush of wind come through in my room, prompting me to sit up straight. The window, however, was closed shut. The wind came through again, accompanied by the flicker of my lamp. I looked around me; I swore I saw shadows. Maybe it was the flickering of the light. Maybe it was something else. But there were shadows moving.
I felt something behind me on my bed, but when I turned around, I found nothing there.