Chapter 44: This Stays Between Us
That skill I had learned to use was coming back into full circle - the skill of silence. The skill of quietly planning.
When Sajida had left, my mind was buzzing frantically. There was a lot she knew that Mama wouldn’t allow her to tell me. The only way I was going to find out any of this information was if I went to the Bayou of the Shunned to speak with her privately.
But I would never tell this idea of mine to the Coterie.
So, I remained silent.
The Coterie looked to Mama for clarification on what just happened; on what Sajida just said. Mambo Nene, Mama’s trusted advisor and the one who always comes to her defense, stepped forward and wore a look that expressed loss and confusion.
“What Sajida talking ’bout, Alize?” Mambo Nene asked.
“Nothing. She’s crazy. Y’all know this already.”
“She mentioned tempus summatum,” Ava Claudette said. “That same word that was mentioned last night.”
“Does Lisa really travel back in time?” Qadira gave me a puzzled look. “How is that even possible?”
“Tempus summatum is a spell,” Missus Taima answered. “A time-traveling spell. But few know how to recite it properly, and even fewer even live through it.”
“It’s literally removing yourself from a point in time and inserting it into another,” Mother Babette said. “How could anyone’s body survive that?”
Qadira scoffed in amazement. “Lisa’s body survived it. And if she really did travel back in time to write these papers with Marie Laveau and Doctor John in the flesh, then maybe she is the key to stopping Abraham.”
“The solution was in front of us this whole time?” Missus Taima looked suddenly relieved. “This whole time!”
There was this odd wave of optimism that washed over the Coterie. They all began to gravitate towards me, moving closer and examining me, looking for these otherworldly traits about myself that they believed they had overlooked before. What was it about me that made me the prophecy? What was so special about me that made me the one to save them? How was I the Child of an Unholy Union? Even I couldn’t answer these questions; I didn’t even know who my djab was. But they looked at me for answers. They looked deep into me, wondering what it was about me that the gods saw something in. I kept my mouth tight as they studied me, but I knew the answer to these questions: lave tet. But if I were to even mention those words with no context, Mama would explode.
So, I remained quiet.
Mama quickly came towards her sisters and broke up the congregation, “All Sajida does is speak nonsense. When have we ever trusted her word?”
“Never,” Qadira said. “But now there’s evidence to back it up.”
“There is no evidence!” Mama snapped. “My daughter has nothing to do with our quarrel with these bloodsuckers, and that’s that.”
Don’t say a word, Lisa. Don’t you say a word.
The Coterie was in no position to defy my Mama and her wishes, so they silently agreed with her. But I knew that they were still curious. Aza stood by, arms crossed, eyes towards the ground. I couldn’t read her facial expression, and wondered what exactly it was that she was thinking about? Sometimes, she was on Mama’s side. But other times, she opposed Mama and what she stood for. Did she believe I was ‘chosen’?
“So, what do we do now, then?” Qadira asked, sarcasm evident in her tone. “If Lisa isn’t the ‘solution’?”
“We need to get ready for this dinner party,” Mama answered. “Starting with the attire. But we also use this opportunity to find out whatever it is these bloodsuckers know.”
“I know a tailor on St. Peter’s street,” Ava said.
Mama nodded, “Let’s head over there before sundown.”
The Coterie began to file out of the house. The girls and I stood behind, watching them leave. I could practically see their limbs shaking with anticipation; they wanted to pry my mouth open, to hear everything I knew. I was hoping Mama wouldn’t ask any of us to join them to the tailors. In fact, she told us to stay in the house until they got back - Me, Kizzy, Imani, Esther, Rocio, and Mikael. Aza was the last one to leave the house. Her eyes scanned all of us with lips firm and pressed. Then, she closed the door behind her.
Kizzy was the first one to speak.
“Lisa,” she breathed out anxiously. Then the girls began to bombard me with questions. I didn’t even know where to start exactly, so I told them about last night when Hezekiah came into the house and showed me the locket. I told them about the parchments, how Mama burned them, and I told them about tempus summatum. I also told them about how Marie II possessed Mama and spoke through her to Hezekiah about us, solidifying the fact that I had achieved tempus summatum.
“Wait, wait,” Imani said, “Think about this for a second. Madam Dumont burned those parchments thinking they had this ‘ritual’ in them. But ironically, she burned the only hope of us being able to defeat Abraham or the Council if they were to find the real ritual.”
“Mama’s attempt at keeping me from tempus summatum only drew me closer to it,” I whispered to myself, and when everyone else realized this, we all went quiet, because we knew that the loa had twisted the hands of fate. No matter what we did to run away from the prophecy, they would find a way to make me fulfill it.
“What if the only way we can defeat these bloodsuckers is if we have those papers?” Kizzy said. “That means, Lisa, you have to travel back in time. There’s no other option. Because you’re the one who wrote them.”
“But I don’t know how!” I said. “I’m not a witch, I’m not a hounsi, I’m...I’m nothing.”
“That’s not true,” Esther said with a hopeful smile. “You might not know how to do it, but you’ll figure it out.”
“How do you know that?”
“Lisa, you traveled back in time already,” Kizzy began to explain to me. “Your future self, whether it be a month or a year or five to ten years from now, traveled back to the 19th century. You haven’t done it yet, but your future self has. The reason tempus summatum is so dangerous is because you are removing yourself from points in time and manipulating the past where you are going to. It isn’t like the conventional type of time travel where, if you were to travel back to the 19th century at this very moment, you would see yourself writing rituals with Marie Laveau. No, you aren’t there in the past anymore. Your body is breaking itself down and surrendering itself to time and the universe to move through it. And if it isn’t done correctly, you could simply disappear or stretch yourself over different periods of time and kill yourself.”
My heart began to beat uncomfortably fast in my chest. I was a sacrifice. That’s all I could think of it as. I had no faith in myself that I would be able to achieve tempus summatum. Even though I had already done it, that was my future self. What if time had changed somehow? What if, my present self, now doesn’t have the same means to learn this spell because we changed the timeline in some way, shape or form? Hezekiah wasn’t supposed to tell me anything about me traveling back in time, but he did anyway, and now we had this knowledge that the loa possibly didn’t intend on me to have yet.
“Time is complicated,” Rocio, surprisingly, added. “It’s a full circle. Every action determines the other. You went back in time to write these papers because Madam Dumont destroyed them. This was probably supposed to happen. You made the papers, they were in the possession of the Coterie for all these years, Madam Dumont destroyed them in this time so that way you would have to travel back in time to write them again so we could use them in the future. See? Full circle.”
“So all of this was meant to happen?” I asked. And they all nodded. Well, everyone except Mikael.
“Or not,” he spoke up. He came forward to join our circle, face slightly bruised from the time I punched him for shooting Hezekiah.
“What do you mean?” Kizzy asked him.
“Rocio is right. Time is complicated. Everything does happen for a reason, but it becomes dangerous when these reasons are known to us before they are supposed to be.” Mikael had a hard time even saying Hezekiah’s name. “You said Hezekiah showed you the photo of you in his locket?”
“Yeah, he did.”
“So, now you know that you somehow have this connection to his wife in the past. Were you ever supposed to know this? Maybe, maybe not. You being aware of the fact that you and Camile are close could either change time or have already changed time because, whether you think so or not, it’s going to influence your decisions. That’s why with time travel, especially with a spell like tempus summatum, it’s safe not to know what you have done already. Because if you happen not to do what fate planned out for you because you’re aware of your actions, it could mess up the future that is supposed to exist.”
“That’s why in those TV shows, people from the past never want to hear about their future from time travelers,” Esther said like it was an epiphany that came to her.
Mikael nodded, “Exactly.”
“So what does this mean for me?” I asked him, slightly annoyed with his sudden addition to our conversation. “Why tell me this?”
“Because it might not be as easy as you think.”
“I never said that time traveling would be easy -”
“You think that if you can get through tempus summatum in one piece, navigating through the past will be easy because you’ve done it before. But what if that’s in a different timeline? In this time, things have most likely changed. What would have happened, had Hezekiah not showed you the locket? Madam Dumont wouldn’t have gotten upset at the thought of you achieving the spell, Marie II wouldn’t have possessed her because Madam Dumont wouldn’t have gotten so easily upset...”
“Hezekiah wouldn’t have nearly killed Madam Dumont for the things Marie said through her to him,” Imani said.
“And maybe, Mama wouldn’t have been angry enough to burn the papers after nearly being choked to death,” I added.
My brain was exploding from the possibility. Yes, maybe this was all meant to be. But what if it wasn’t? What if time has changed? What if the past or the future has changed?
“So, if that’s the case, what do we do?” Rocio asked, irate.
“Lisa still needs to travel back in time,” Kizzy said.
“But she has no idea how!” Rocio said. “She doesn’t even practice witchcraft.”
“We get her to apprentice someone?” Esther suggested, but Kizzy shook her head.
“You know how long that would take? It isn’t as easy as it sounds just finding a Supreme and being like, ‘hey, I’d really like to be your understudy so I can do this deadly spell that will thrust me through time!’”
I knew what had to be done next. I didn’t want it to be my last resort, but it was the best solution - the only solution. Aza wouldn’t help me, and Mama definitely wouldn’t help me. I knew what had to be done.
“I’m going to go see Sajida,” I said. All eyes were focused on me now, this universal look of horror they shared when I said her name.
“Are you joking?” Kizzy asked, her voice sharp like a blade. But I was deathly serious.
“Sajida knows just as much as my mama and Aza, if not more. She knows about my father and she definitely knows about tempus summatum - two things that could lead me closer to where I need to go. I’m not getting anywhere with just standing by silently and hoping my Mama can fix this on her own. It’s clear that I need to start putting my best foot forward.”
“Yes, but not with that bayou witch!” Esther exclaimed.
“That ‘bayou witch’ is my aunt!” I shouted at her. Esther retracted quickly, her posture slouching like a cowering animal. “So what if she ‘scares’ you? She’s the only one who will be honest with me and tell me what I need to know!”
“Lisa, you remember what happened the last time we were there - ”
“I remember clearly, Kizzy.”
“Then you know just how dangerous it is for you to go back there again.”
“I don’t care,” I said plainly. And for once, they had nothing to say in response. They knew how I was - they knew my curious nature. And now, with the pressure of being so prophetic, I felt a large urge to take matters into my own hands. And if that meant seeing Sajida the Shunned and going back to the Bayou of the Shunned, which was on open territory, then so be it. I couldn’t begin to imagine just how angry Mama and Aza would be with me when they found out that I had gone to visit Sajida again.
Actually, just how angry they would be with ‘us,’ since everyone agreed to accompany me.
I wasn’t sure if it was because they knew the trouble they’d be in if they allowed me to go on my own, or if it was because they were just as curious as I was. A part of me believed that they also knew that Sajida was the solution we needed. I was just the only one that didn’t let the fear of her consume me.
“You aren’t going alone,” Kizzy assured me.
“Even though this is a death mission,” Rocio mumbled with a roll of her eyes.
Mikael clearly opposed the idea, but knew he was outnumbered. With a conflicted sigh, he volunteered to keep watch for us.
“I’ll make sure that you all aren’t missed,” he said. “Or at least hold Miss Aza and Madam Dumont off on where y’all are.”
I swallowed hard, stress sweat dotting my brow and the bruise on my nose suddenly throbbing. “Then it’s settled. We go tonight.”
“No.” Imani shook her head. “That’s too soon. The Coterie is most likely very suspicious of you, especially after Sajida’s outburst.”
“Imani’s right,” Kizzy said. “We should go the night of the Council’s dinner.”
The idea was good, but one important detail left it void. “Sajida will be at that dinner. And...so will I.”
Everyone staggered back.
“What?” Mikael drawled out.
“I have to go. Russell Van Doren wrote me an invitation - ”
“That you can politely decline,” Esther said. “These vampires are...scary.”
“We’ve dealt with our fair share of scary vampires, Esther.”
“But Lisa, the Council is a different type of scary.” She shivered just thinking about them. “The fact that Russell wrote you a personal letter is real creepy. Who knows why he want you there?”
“He knows her,” Rocio said. “From the past. At least that’s what Sajida said.”
“Which is exactly why I need to go. I can probably get through to him in a way no one else can.”
“This ‘plan’ of yours doesn’t sound like it will end successfully.”
“But I’m still going to try,” I snapped at Rocio, welcoming raised brows from her. “I’d be a fool to decline his invitation and not go; Russell is the leader of the entire Council, he definitely knows something about Abraham or the ritual or anything that could help us. I don’t know how Russell and I know each other, but it sounded like we were probably acquaintances from how he wrote to me. He said he loved me in the color red and is having a dress of that color sent for me to wear. It shouldn’t be too hard to make him slip and confess something to me.”
“What?” Mikael said again, deeper in shock. “He said he loves you in what?”
“In red,” I said. I assumed he was flabbergasted by the irony of the color and Russell associated together, but Mikael was bothered by something else. He didn’t say what it was. He only allowed himself to become lost in thought as we continued on with our initial conversation.
“We go the night before the dinner,” I proposed, which we all agreed to.
“No one knows about this,” Imani said. “Not even Aza.”
The fact that we were beginning to keep secrets from Aza hurt me. I trusted her, more than I trusted my own mother. All Aza wanted to do was help us, but I couldn’t risk her infiltrating our plan to see Sajida, especially since she felt so strongly against Sajida due to the history they had together.
We had to keep this between us. From then on, our collective was steering away from the Coterie and taking matters into our own hands.
We all spent another two nights at Aza’s house, the six of us. It was there that we felt the safest.
Doctor Ben was well enough to walk around on his own, but he was still in some pain. He was healing faster than normal folk, but he was beaten within an inch of his life; he was lucky to be alive.
None of us said a word about our upcoming expedition to the Bayou of the Shunned. We figured it would be easier to keep it secret from Aza if we didn’t speak about it at all. Instead, we spoke to Aza about everything else - about tempus summatum. About Marie II. We asked no questions; we didn’t want to arouse suspicion.
I was next to shower after Kizzy had gotten out on the second night. As I walked up the staircase when Kizzy descended, I heard Aza and Ben talking in the kitchen as he helped her make dinner.
“You ain’t going, Ben. You in no condition to go to that dinner, especially ’round those white devils,” Aza said hatefully.
“I don’t feel comfortable letting you go on your own.”
“I’ll be with the Coterie. And there will be other priestesses there.”
“That makes you feel safe?”
“I’m already getting my dress made; I’m going.”
“I don’t trust you alone with any of them. They don’t look out for your best interest, Camile.”
“You know I hate when you call me that...”
“Look at the big picture. It be every man for themself out here.”
Aza continued to cut carrots without responding to her brother. I kept walking upstairs to Aza’s bedroom, where the bathroom door was open and steam still kissed the mirrors. I heard Rocio finishing her shower in the other bathroom down the hall before I closed the bedroom door. I set my change of clothes on the bed before going into the bathroom. I made sure the water was lukewarm and stepped in, standing underneath the showerhead in blissful silence. A while had passed before I even began bathing. My hair hung drenched in front of my eyes in thick coils; I never liked my hair, which is why I always kept it out of the way in a bun or clipped back.
When I had finished, I turned off the water and wrapped a towel tight around my body. I looked at myself in the mirror when I wiped the steam away. My bruise was changing colors on my face and it still caused me some pain, but Aza had been making me drink this disgusting herbal tea that was expediting the healing process tremendously.
I grabbed my glasses from the sink counter, put them on and turned off the light when I left the bathroom. And upon walking into the bedroom, I saw that the window was suddenly open, a warm breeze making the curtains dance. My heart stopped in my chest, for I figured it could have been many people who could have snuck into the house. But alas, it was a familiar face - Hezekiah, standing by Aza’s desk and reading something in his hand. I didn’t know how to react when I saw him; I didn’t know what to say. He knew that I had seen him, but he seemed to be so engrossed in whatever it is that he was reading, that I had more time to think of a greeting. “Fuck you for slapping me,” was too harsh, and, “I missed you, where did you go” was too comfortable.
I stayed silent instead. And waited.
I watched Hezekiah’s features visibly twist into something wicked. He was angry at whatever he was reading. And somehow, I had a feeling on what it was before I saw the cursive handwriting and Russell Van Doren’s signature. The black envelope with gold trim and the gold seal with Russell’s initials was in Hezekiah’s right hand, crumpled under his furious grip. And when he was finished reading Russell’s letter, he crumpled it in the left hand.
“Hey!” I exclaimed before approaching him. He turned to me, his thick brows pulled in so tight his eyes were almost covered. I stopped in my tracks when we were only feet apart.
“When you get this?” Hezekiah asked me. His voice was urgent but emotive in the sense that he was still quite angry.
“Well, hello to you, too,” I answered. This made him significantly more irritated.
I sighed, “Last night. After you disappeared.”
“Have you gotten that dress yet?”
“No, I haven’t -”
“Good. If it come, you throw it out. Have Aza burn it for you.”
I found myself just staring at him after he said this, blinking like I had something in my eyes. I didn’t know how to reply to his words. The fact that he blatantly decided not to address what happened between us the night Marie II came into the mortal world was baffling to me. Instead, Hezekiah went straight to the issue of Russell Van Doren and The Council’s party. Hezekiah was deeply against it, but more against me being invited; the personal invitation from the Council’s leader drew Hezekiah over the edge. I saw it in his eyes, which were not the usual honey-gold color, but more grayish-yellow and diluted. He was getting hungry, and this starved state intensified his feelings of hate and anger.
I shouldn’t have said what I said, but my tongue couldn’t help it.