Chapter 42: Our Fault
Once I finished reading the letter, I knew immediately what it meant.
“I deeply enjoy you in the color red.” One might wonder how Russel Van Doren could know what I looked like in red. But once I put the pieces together, the theory proved itself as more concrete:
Russell Van Doren, the leader of the Council, knew me from the past.
The sweat from my palms began to seep through the parchment, making it damp. I stared at the words over and over again, rereading the letter, memorizing Russell’s penmanship. I did this until Mama came into the kitchen and snatched the letter from my hand. I didn’t try and take it back from her; I stared at the ground, deep in thought. I couldn’t move from my post. My mind began making up these images - of Russell, of me, of the past. I imagined Russell as an older man with bright yellow eyes and pale skin, and I imagined myself in this red colored victorian gown. The significance, however, of us knowing each other? I couldn’t figure it out. The real reason was too outlandish for me to even fathom at the time.
“Impossible,” I heard Mama whisper to herself once she finished reading the letter. I looked up to find her eyes big and empty, like she was lost in thought, too. Aza took the letter from Mama’s hands and began to read it herself. The entire Coterie was crowded in the doorway of the kitchen, waiting eagerly to read what the letter said. Once Aza read it herself, she looked at me. I will never forget the look in her eyes - she looked at me like I suddenly became someone completely different.
Aza held the letter up to Mama’s face, “You still don’t believe that tempus summatum is a possibility?” she asked her. “Russell wrote her a personal letter. Our letter isn’t even handwritten!”
“Wait,” Kizzy suddenly said, “Lisa achieves tempus summatum?”
The chatter commenced. No one could possibly understand how I was able to achieve a spell - a ritual - that can only be done successfully by someone of great power. The mere notion was unbelievable, but to Aza, Mama and I, it wasn’t unbelievable - My djab, Hezekiah, Marie II, and now Russell Van Doren all strengthened the case of me having traveled back in time, strengthening the possibility that I would travel back in time in the near future via tempus summatum. We didn’t know how, but we knew that it would happen. But Mama still refused to believe that I was capable of tempus summatum, regardless of the proof that was right in front of her eyes.
“We need to convene,” Mama suddenly said. The Coterie began filing together, but she stopped them.
“No. With the others. The other priestesses.”
Qadira laughed until she saw that Mama was serious, “Alize, are you serious? You know what happened the last time we tried to reason with them. They rejected us!”
“This time is different. This time, those bloodsuckers went after Doctor Ben, coming into our territory. There ain’t no doubt in my mind that they’re the reason some of their co-workers went missing, too. And now, we all get this dinner invitation, where the Council and Abraham are gonna be present? It’s too goddamn convenient.”
They knew she was right, but they were less than optimistic. The other priests and priestesses made it clear that they wanted nothing to do with the Coterie - they saw the Coterie as a cult that abused Voodoo for their own pleasures, capitalizing off of the religion and discriminating against those that practiced it a different way. And when Mama became the head mambo of the Coterie, it only intensified their animosity towards the sisterhood. I remember the notoriety as a child - the news segments, the busy February days in the shop, everyone knowing who your mother was. But to the others, this wasn’t what voodoo was. I know Aza felt the same way as the others, but she always kept quiet in fear of self-incriminating herself; she practiced witchcraft, and witchcraft was forbidden in the Coterie. However, I briefly thought back to Doctor Ben’s house, when Mama helped Aza heal him. Did she dabble in witchcraft at one point in her life?
“This threat affects all of us. Sajida made that real clear earlier. That ritual is still out there, and if they find it before we do, we need to all come together and figure out a way to stop them from wiping all us out. If they can’t put they pride aside to look at the big picture here, then they might as well knock on those bloodsuckers’ door.”
Mama looked regretful for a moment, knowing she was the reason the reverse ritual was gone. But ironically, she didn’t like to dwell on the past. She only saw what was in front of her, and what was in front of her was Abraham and Hezekiah with red targets on their chests. However, Mama also kept ignoring the fact that the Council was just as much of a threat, if not a bigger threat, as Abraham.
I stood silently by, but I had a lot to say. I had a lot of questions. I had a lot of ideas. But I kept my mouth shut; I learned to do this - one of the small skills I learned as a young woman thrown into this chaos. I kept my thoughts and my ideas to myself until I deemed it safe to share them because it was hard to know who to trust with them. Had I told Mama what I was thinking, she would slap the nonsense out of me (like Hezekiah did). All five of us - Sajida, Ben, Aza, Mama and I - knew, even if it was deep down, that the reverse ritual was our only chance at defeating Abraham and the Council if they found the ritual before we did. Abraham already had Marie Laveau’s letter opener, so the moment he found the ritual, he would be the only one able to open it. That gave him an advantage. A large advantage. However, we had an advantage that Mama and Aza didn’t acknowledge:
My djab was someone powerful. She helped me write the sacred parchments, most likely when I had traveled back in time. She would know what our next step would be since the reverse ritual was destroyed, whether that be tempus summatum or something else. She would know, but I had to come into contact with her. And the only way that was possible was through a lave tet - a mental cleansing that would open up my mind and spirit to let her in to communicate and connect. Aza was fiercely against the idea, and I knew Mama would be if I brought it up.
And she was.
“Absolutely not!” Mama snapped at me. We were in Aza’s room now, Aza tending to Ben who was fast asleep. Everyone else was downstairs, trying to contact the other priestesses for an emergency meeting.
“Mama, I understand that you’re trying your best to handle this on your own, but you need to come to terms with the fact that you cannot do this alone,” I told her. “Tempus summatum is real. I’ve done it; Marie II said it, Hezekiah said it, and now this Russell Van Doren guy is proving it to be true by this letter. It happened; it’s going to happen.” I let out a shaky breath. “I just...I just don’t know how. But I’m sure that my djab knows what I need to do next if you can just let me connect with her.”
“First off, Marie II didn’t say nothing ’cause she ain’t here,” Mama said. “And second, you think ‘connecting with spirits’ is easy? This isn’t something to take lightly, Lisa. These are our ancestors, our spirit guides. A lave tet is a serious thing, you opening yourself up to the loa and cleansing your spirit and mind. You can’t just think a lave tet is the ‘easy way out.’”
“I don’t think that! I think that my djab wants me to connect with her and this is the best way to do it!”
“You got no idea who your djab is! You don’t know what her intentions are!”
“The only way to find out is -”
“I said no!” Mama screamed at me. “No is no! We do this my way!”
Her scream was loud enough to give Aza’s attention to us; the girls downstairs suddenly stopped talking amongst themselves. Mama then touched her neck, wincing in pain before turning and sitting down on the chair close to the door. She wouldn’t even look at me. I didn’t feel hurt. I felt angry. At this moment, I was closer and closer to going rogue in a sense - finding a solution on my own for everything. Mama completely shut me out; the letter was in her possession as she refused to let me read it again. She wouldn’t tell me what ‘child of an unholy union’ meant, and she wouldn’t even accept the fact that Marie II was her djab. She didn’t care about anything I said; I was a child, not a grown woman.
Deep into the silence, Aza broke through it with her tired voice. “Sajida wanted a lave tet performed on her when we were young. She described hearing voices and feeling like something was trying to connect with her, too. Lave tet’s aren’t an uncommon thing, but when...but when it seems like the spirit is evil or sneaky in nature, that’s when lave tets can become dangerous.”
Mama looked at Aza with a confused expression, but she knew that there was nothing she could do to shut Aza up. So she stared on in disbelief that she was telling me this story.
“I had a weird feeling about Sajida’s met tet from what she was telling me it was saying to her, but I was real young at the time,” She looked at Mama. ”We were real young at the time. Young and naive. Sajida didn’t wanna ask the Coterie to perform the lave tet on her; she didn’t trust them. I suggested that we go see another priestess, but Sajida insisted that we do it for her. I told her it was a bad idea; we weren’t mambos. Not even close; we were still hounsis. But Sajida begged, and it was hard for me to say no to her when she begged, so we did it for her.”
“We had no idea what we were doing,” Mama chimed in. “On the third day, when the lave tet was almost finished, we knew something was wrong. Sajida was...different.” It pained Mama to talk about it; I saw tears well up in her eyes. “She wasn’t the same no more. It was like she was a whole different person. We told the Coterie what had happened but there was nothing else we could do for Sajida at that point. She started getting deep into dark magic and using voodoo for corrupt things, and we knew it was her met tet that was making her do such evil. And after six months, it was like she wasn’t my sister no more. She was a whole nother woman. We tried everything, Lisa. Everything to get Sajida back. But nothing worked -”
“-and it was my fault,” Aza added, her eyes low and sad. Mama waved off Aza’s guilt but she didn’t want to hear it. “I knew it was a bad idea but I went through with it anyway, and look what happened? She was...gone.” Aza wiped tears from her eyes, refusing to let us see her cry. “She...she left one day to the Bayou of the Shunned to meet with the Supreme Sorceress of the bayou at the time. And for ten years, that was where she holed herself up. But we didn’t know that. We looked for her after she had gone missing, but after a year, we thought she was dead. Until we found out, a decade later, that she was at the Bayou of the Shunned, ruling over it as its Supreme Sorceress.”
“She didn’t want to come home,” Mama said. “She didn’t even want us there. That wretched place was her new home, where she had subjects she ruled over and dark magic she practiced. Her mind was dark matter. Just complete darkness.” Mama smiled slightly. “I wonder what our lives would have been like today, had we just said ‘no’ when she asked us to perform the lave tet on her? Sajida was so full of life, Lisa. She was funny - goddamn funny. And loud and outgoing and friendly. She loved to love; would fight to the death for the ones she loved. I looked up to her. I was proud that she was my older sister. But now...”
Mama pulled herself together, letting the vulnerability she was showcasing suddenly slip away. “We made the mistake of performing a lave tet on someone, and we ain’t doing that again.”
“I didn’t know any of that,” I said, still processing what was told to me.
“It wasn’t meant for no one to know,” Aza said. “But we’re telling you so you understand just why we ain’t willing to let you go through with it. This spirit that keeps speaking to you could want God knows what from you. The moment you let them in, it’s hard to get them out, especially if you don’t know how to do it properly.”
“I get that. But this was years ago. You two are experienced Mambos now.”
“That’s not the point,” Mama said. “The point is, it can be dangerous no matter who does it. And after what happened to Sajida, I’ll be damned if we let you go through the same thing.”
I wanted to say more, but Aza and Mama were in an emotional state, especially Aza, who turned her head from us and looked at Ben and out the window, alternating between the two.
Mama stood up, “We do this my way,” Mama said to us before leaving the room. I looked at Aza, who was still crying silently to herself.