Voodoo Queens of New Orleans

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Chapter 39: A Time Not of Mine

Doctor Ben was dead.

It made sense to believe it - there was no possible way in my mind that he could have been alive. There was blood - so much blood. Enough to make someone wonder how it was humanly possible for us to possess that much blood in our veins.

Aza’s scream of sheer terror carried until she was at Ben’s side. Her hands trembled over him and hung over the gushing wound on his neck. I felt, suddenly, like I was about to collapse. Ringing had replaced any sound coming into my ears, and everything began to spin around me.

Sajida and Mama ran into Ben’s office while I stood by the door frame, hanging onto the wall for support. I couldn’t go in. I wouldn’t and I couldn’t. I looked on from afar, Mama, Sajida and Aza sitting on the floor next to Ben’s unconscious body, his shirt stained with his own blood that he also laid in a pool of. His eyes were closed; I didn’t want to see them open. The office was completely ransacked, dozens of books lying on the floor, a bookshelf tossed over, unknown liquids spilled on the carpet from broken glass vials, herbs and roots torn and saturated in the blood that was splattered all over the office. One detail that caught my attention the most was that every single book that Ben owned was out of place and ripped like someone was looking for something hidden inside them. This was Abraham - he had ignored all territorial lines to find these sacred papers that possessed the ritual he desired. There must have been resistance. Ben refused to hand the papers over. And when, after Abraham or his henchmen, decided to look on their own accord, Ben fought back. Ben lost, and now, we were left with him dead.

The cry that came out of Aza’s mouth brought me to my knees. She held Ben’s handsome face in her delicate hands and brought it close to her chest as she continued to cry. Mama was speechless, staring down at his body like it wasn’t real. Sajida, somehow, looked like she possessed some type of empathy for the situation in front of her. I felt the floor on my fingers, wanting to sink into it. This was my fault. If I would have just kept the papers from Aza and to myself, Ben would still be alive.

If I would have, allegedly, never written these papers, Ben would still be alive.

I hadn’t realized that I was crying until my cheeks were completely wet and my eyes caused me irritation. Through the blur, I watched Aza hold him and lament loudly. She cried until, suddenly, she gasped. The room went still for a moment. I had built up the strength to stand then, and when Ben let out a gurgled groan, I ran over to him. Aza’s eyes lit up as she stared down at her brother in her arms struggling to breathe.

“He’s still alive!” Aza looked over to Mama, whose eyes were larger than hers. “Q-quick, help me find some Yugantis root! I think he grows it around here!”

I didn’t know what yugantis root was at the time, but regardless, I helped Mama look for it. Ben had a large number of plants and herbs growing near his large windows, and after a few moments of searching, Mama finally found the dark green leaves growing downward behind a cannis root plant. I recognized this plant - Aza used this plant, along with a potion of hers, to heal the wound on my arm. Mama knew exactly what Aza was trying to do; she found a mortar and pestle and the dark liquid needed and brought it to Aza. Mama mixed the concoction herself. Aza was impatient. She took the mixture in her hands and smothered it over Ben’s neck wound, the evergreen paste slowly turning red from all of the blood.

With Ben’s head resting on Aza’s lap, her hands pressed into his neck, her eyes closed as she mumbled something through labored breath. I wish I could have done more; I only stood by and watched with a twisted stomach and shrunken lungs. I didn’t know this magic, and even if I did, Mama would have refused to let me participate it in.

Mama watched. She waited. She looked conflicted as Aza cried while trying to keep her composure during the healing process. Then, from a split-second decision, Mama suddenly placed her hands over Aza’s and recited her exact words. There was the faintest, most subtle white glow coming from their fingers. I watched in awe at their blessed hands.

Mama suddenly opened her eyes and looked at Sajida, “Please,” she begged. “It still isn’t enough.”

Sajida scoffed, forcing herself not to look. But the one moment she brought her eyes back, Aza stared into them wordlessly. Sajida’s smile faded, her eyes suddenly softer in color; it looked like a reversion, her eyes - slowly losing color. Slowly losing glow. Her ringed fingers rolled into fists before she leaned forward and placed her hands over the hands of her sister’s. The glow intensified, their chanting growing louder. This went on for five minutes, the effort never letting up.

At the fifth minute, Ben opened his eyes.

He gasped loudly followed by a painful cough leaving his lungs. He continued to struggle for air, but he was alive. His hands held onto the hands of his sisters tight while Aza wept into his shoulder. He couldn’t speak; he was still in pain, badly wounded. And Aza spent little time rejoicing for her brother’s revival once she knew where his injuries stood. Quickly, we all lifted him off the ground. His neck wasn’t where is only injury was - he was beaten badly, his arms and legs bleeding and bruised, as were other places we couldn’t see. We carried him with all of our strength through the hall. But at the front door, he said something, words leaving his tongue laboriously.

“The Bible,” he whimpered to me. Immediately, I ran back into his office, rummaging through the mess. It was in the most obvious place I didn’t think to look in - on the last standing bookshelf, as the last standing book - the Hebrew Bible. And the irony was piercing - Abraham looked through every book that Ben owned except for the holy book itself. A book that would most like burn Abraham or his minion’s hands if he were to touch it. Purposefully ignored, this sacred book had the parchments tucked throughout the pages of the 18th chapter of “2 Kings.” My hands graced the leather cover, gliding over the “Holy Bible” indented in gold. I opened the chapter, reading the first sentence to myself:

In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign...

I closed the Bible and left the office with it underneath my arm.

**

We took Doctor Ben to Aza’s house. We helped take him upstairs, where Aza undressed and began to bathe him.

We waited downstairs in the living room while Aza cleaned Ben off, Sajida, Mama and I. Our clothes were stained with Doctor Ben’s blood, but we ignored it as we sat and waited. The air was awkward. Mama and Sajida didn’t even acknowledge each other’s presence, Sajida smoking a cigarette with a nonchalance in her attitude that was unfitting for the situation. Mama was deep in thought as she sat on the couch, her legs crossed like her hands.

Sajida and Mama refused to open the Bible that lay on the coffee table. They thought it was cursed. They thought that, when their fingers graced it, Abraham would come through the window and kill us all. The parchments were sticking out slightly through the pages; I was tempted to look at them.

After what seemed like an eternity, Aza finally came down the staircase. Her steps were slow and lethargic. We stood and waited for her to come to us.

“How is he?” I asked her. I couldn’t control the curiosity - the anxiety - that filled me.

“Resting.” Aza’s stare was vacant - like two empty vessels that once were. “He’s gonna pull through.”

“Thank God.” Mama exhaled.

“There were bite marks on his ankles,” Aza said to us. “I was able to see them when I bathed him. They were on his neck, too, but those were so deep that it...made that gash.”

Abraham. My suspicion was validated. Though somehow, I wished that it wasn’t; it made the reality scarily close.

“Abraham wouldn’t be dumb enough to come into our territory and try to kill Ben,” Aza commented, which later turned into a question. “He wouldn’t, would he?”

“Abraham is relentless,” Mama said. “He’ll stop at nothing. No type of territory lines drawn on a map will stop him. Terah was the one who thought up the idea of marking territory. Abraham was never on board with it.”

Sajida chuckled to herself, making all of us look towards her. Then, this chuckle turned into a laugh. Aza stared at Sajida laugh and began to fume.

“What the fuck is so funny?” Aza asked demandingly - it was a rarity to hear Aza curse so passionately.

“Sorry.” Sajida didn’t mean this apology. In fact, this ‘sorry’ meant the opposite. “I’m just shocked. Floored. Flabbergasted. Confounded.” She bounced her shoulders as she said these words, adding some type of sarcastically regal flair to them as her cigarette clouded the air around her. “I thought y’all would have caught on by now.”

“Caught on to what?” I asked her, almost as upset as Aza.

“Niecey,” Sajida said to me, “whoever attacked Ben wasn’t part of Abraham’s clan.”

“What?” Mama’s brows furrowed, annoyed at the nonsense coming out of Sajida’s mouth. But it wasn’t nonsense - Sajida was serious. By this time, she had stopped laughing.

“Vampires can’t get into no place they haven’t been invited into,” Sajida said. “You think Ben would have been dumb enough to let Abraham in if he saw his big black ass knocking on his front door?”

In an instant, all three of us realized that Sajida was right. We had been so caught up in the emotions of Ben’s injury that none of us saw what was right in front of us - the truth: That there was no way that Abraham would have been able to get inside Doctor Ben’s residence unless Doctor Ben invited him inside.

“But the bite marks,” Aza said. “How do you explain the bite marks?”

“Abraham wouldn’t have been able to get into the residence. But that don’t mean a vampire wouldn’t have been able to convince Ben to let them inside.”

We weren’t following. Sajida was annoyed that she had to nearly spell it out for us.

“The Council,” she said. Aza and Mama went rigid at the name. It had looked as if the face of death itself stared at them from across the room.

“The Council.” Aza shook her head at the notion. “The Council...but...how - ”

“Think about it, Aza. A group of white bloodsuckers who have been ‘pretending’ to be the peacekeepers down here for hundreds of years. Master manipulators - better than Abraham or Hezekiah or any Elder vampire or Vampire Lord that be walking around doing they own dirty work. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them fuckers figured out a way inside or had one of they peoples do it for them.”

“Abraham isn’t the only one looking for this ritual,” I muttered. It was a thought that was supposed to stay in my mind, but it slipped out for everyone to hear. And I was right - the ritual was made for the Council initially. They wanted what belonged to them.

I couldn’t hold it in any longer.

I had to confess.

“I have something to tell you,” I said to them. As if they couldn’t retain any more information, I unloaded this burden onto them - that my djab had spoken to me again, telling me that I was responsible for writing the parchments. I told them everything she told me - that this djab claimed to have helped me write these parchments. That this djab and I have met before, but haven’t at the same time. I told them everything, and when I was finished, they were all speechless.

“You sure she said that you wrote these papers?” Mama asked.

I nodded, “Yes, I’m sure. She said I wrote part of them. But I -”

“Don’t remember writing them?” Aza said, her eyes vacant again.

“Exactly. I’ve never written anything like these papers, and I’ve never seen these languages.”

Mama shook her head. “No. This spirit is tricking you.”

“Mama -”

“This is exactly why I try not to get you involved!” She exclaimed. “What falls upon me falls upon you! Our own ancestors are trying to lead us astray!”

“Can you at least listen to what Lisa is saying, Alize?” Aza said.

“You want me to believe that Lisa had anything to do with what Marie II wrote nearly one hundred and fifty years ago?! Explain to me how that’s possible!?”

No one could give a definite answer. Well, no one but Sajida. But Sajida was processing. Her eyes were big and blank and the brightest shade of emerald green. Then, all forms of mischief left her face. All forms. She looked sick to her stomach, suddenly turning to walk around the living room.

“It can’t be,” she whispered to herself. “Ain’t no way...”

“Sajida.” Mama, whose back was against a wall, was now sinking into it. “Sajida, what are you talking about?”

Sajida didn’t answer. Instead, she looked me dead in the eyes. I’ve never seen a gaze so terrifying. She said nothing, but the silence seemed to speak volumes. Then, Aza cursed under her breath.

“Tempus Summatum,” Aza said lowly, and when she said these words I had never heard before, her and Sajida shared a look of disbelief. Sajida, however, looked as if she was slowly fading into non-existence. This fear plagued me, even though I didn’t know what to be afraid of.

“What is tempus summatum?” I asked, my voice trembling. When no one answered, I asked again, yelling as if no one heard me the first time. But a voice that didn’t belong to any of us answered from the shadows of the back hallway. I knew who it was - I knew the sound of that smooth, accented voice anywhere. I knew it well and Aza knew it well.

Hezekiah walked into the room. His presence was reckoning, the air shifting to favor him and the darkness that emanated from his presence. He was a panther in the shadows, eyes a searing yellow that contrasted against the deep color of his skin. My heart did things I never expected it to do when I saw him; it did things I didn’t want it to do.

His face wasn’t hard or suppressed when he saw us, even though the room contained two women, Sajida and Mama, that were women he loathed. He wore a face I had never seen on him before - it was emotive. It was like he was rid of a burden. And he made this face directly at me.

“Drifter of time,” were the words Hezekiah said. Mama almost had a heart attack at the sight of him in Aza’s house, but she couldn’t move. Sajida moved, though. Drifter of time made her collapse onto the arm of the couch.

Hezekiah approached us, surveying our faces. I was rid of the ability to do anything. I stood still, watching him. He watched me. He stared at me. Then, he dug into his pocket, almost like he was unsure that it was the right thing to do. He kept his hand in his pocket for a long while before he eventually emerged with his locket in the palm of his hand. We were all confused. We were all panicked. We were all convinced that this was our minds making us hallucinate.

Finally, my djab said to me, deep in my head. “Finally” was Hezekiah opening his locket, where a photo of his wife was wedged underneath the frame. “Finally” was Hezekiah opening the frame and pulling out this photo. “Finally” was Hezekiah opening the photo, showing it to me and only me. And “finally” was me feeling the ripped edges of the picture under my thumb, lifting it up to reveal the rest of the small, worn picture that was folded and hidden. There was more to it - there was another woman who sat with his wife in this photo. She was thin and slightly petite, her dress dark fabric, thick on the skirt with long sleeves and a modest collar with black laced gloves.

Her hair was thick like mine and pulled back like mine. Her eyes were like mine, too - deep and curious with a sense of innocence. She wore glasses like me, though hers were round with small lenses. She had a pout to her lip, too. Like me. Prominent cheekbones and a small button nose. Like me. A stare deep-rooted and hard to read like mine.

This woman was me.

My eyes suddenly rolled back into my head. “Lisa!” Mama yelled before I felt myself fall backward, the world turning black.

Hezekiah caught me before I could collapse onto the ground. But in his arms, I had fainted.

**

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