Chapter 5: Have Mercy, Mister Mercier
I thought the sounds of Tia’s House screaming before their death was the most heart-shattering noise I had ever heard, but I was proven wrong once the sound of my mama’s scream echoing in my head.
I got up, surrounded by darkness with the occasional twinkle of the charms on the walls. My heart was thumping faster than Thumper’s foot, and there was no if’s, and’s or but’s about it. I slipped on some sneakers, put on my spectacles and ran my black ass out into the pitch-black hallway until I was stumbling down the staircases. And down in the shop, I saw one of the novitiates sleeping on the couch, completely unnerved. I was praying that it was just my mind playing tricks on me; trauma messing with my head and such. But conveniently, the screaming started up again, and the novitiate on the couch jolted awake immediately. That’s when the fear in me arose up to my heart, cheeks, and ears.
“Esther,” Mambo Nene said from the staircase. “What was that?”
The novitiate—Esther—got up and looked half as scared as I did.
“I don’t know. It sounded like Madam Dumont.”
“It was her,” I clarified. “I s-swear it was her. Shit, this is happening all over again!”
“Lisa, calm down,” Mambo Nene said, but before she could utter another word, all three of us saw the silhouette of a woman outside running past the window. She was wearing exactly what Mama wore when I saw her last. And right behind her was a shadow as black as night chasing after her. My ribs felt like they were breaking inside me while my limbs shook like Jell-O.
“Mama!” I called out. I tuned out the sound of Mambo Nene demanding I stay inside. Instead, I unlocked the door and ran out in the sidewalk. People enjoying the late-night wonders of the French Quarter jumped at the sight of me sprinting out of the shop.
“Damn, Cher. You alright up in there?” A man with his friends laughed at me. I’m sure that seeing a woman in a silk nightgown and sneakers yelling for her Mama probably led them to believe I was a madwoman, but man, if they had seen what I had seen and knew what I knew, they’d probably help me look for her.
My eyes flickered against the buildings, blinded by the lights and disoriented by the loud snare drums and symbols of the brass band playing by Jackson Square. There was no way I could find mama through all those goddamn people, and even if I did, what the hell would I do? I wasn’t a match against a bloodsucker, let alone in what I was wearing.
Like my clothing would have made any difference.
“Lisa!” I heard behind me. Past a crowd of people in the street, Mambo Nene and Esther were trying to reach me. But beyond the tourists in front of me was Mama, pushing through people with a feared expression. That’s where I decided to go, following her until I had enough wiggle room around me by a quiet crosswalk, where I saw her running into an alley on the other side. Mambo Nene still called after me, but once the light was green, I made a run for it across the street and into that godforsaken alley, ripe with the smell of sewage and foreign from the rest of the block. My eyes locked onto the gold shimmer of Mama’s blouse in the raggedy light of the backways. She was on the wet ground, still and quiet. I swear to you, the weight in my heart burdened me when I saw my own mother like that. I ran to her as quickly as I could.
“Mama.” I cried. “Mama, what did they do to you?”
She didn’t respond, and I feared the worst. Once I was right in front of her, tears streaming down my face, I quickly tried to turn her around and lift her up. But my attempt was in vain. Mama disappeared the moment my hand landed on hers. Literally, she disappeared; her body evaporated into thick black smoke the minute my hand touched her shoulder. The air grew cold as I stared at my palms like I had committed unspeakable sorcery. For a minute, I believed I killed my own mother. Then I came to the consensus that I was merely dreaming because that was the only explanation for what had just happened—my mama had disappeared into thin air because, in dreams, anything was possible.
I shut my eyes, pinched my skin, shook my head and tried anything and everything to wake up, but once I realized that nothing was working, I accepted the horrid truth—it wasn’t a dream.
“What’s happening?” I asked myself, knowing damn well I couldn’t answer that question. The dust—the thick, black dust that was the embodiment of my mama moments before—suddenly started to weave and shift like it had a mind of its own. Within a few seconds, the dust manifested itself into a dark figure, gradually transforming into a man right before my eyes. All I did was stare at him; I couldn’t move a muscle even though I wanted to run.
The man wore a black suit with a matching black bow tie. He was a skinny creole-looking man with hollow cheeks and a long face that matched the lifelessness of his drooping yellow eyes. That’s when I knew; I saw the eyes come to life from the dust and I knew exactly what he was. I couldn’t explain how he had just impersonated Mama, but I knew he was a bloodsucker—a vampire. And the nightmares and fears that Mama told me about hours prior were coming true.
They were coming for blood. My blood.
My body began working again as I stood and forced myself to run. I knew I had no chance of outrunning him, but I ran down the alley like I had a chance of surviving. I was almost to the sidewalk, yet he wasn’t coming after me when I looked over my shoulder. Why wasn’t he chasing me?
Because I was already cornered by then.
Another man jumped in front of me out of nowhere, blocking my chance of escape. I screamed and tripped over my own foot to a harsh landing on the ground. Cowering and stone-stiff, I stayed there and looked up at the second addition—darker than the suited man, with a ripped tunic and hair as thick as wool. His eyes weren’t yellow, but a bright gray that could make a shined quarter envious.
“Beau,” the man down the other way yelled to him. “Control yourself.”
“I’m running on empty,” Beau answered, almost growling. “That skinny Voodoo bitch robbed me of a feed.”
“Not our problem right now.”
I wanted to disappear into dust like Mama (or who I thought was Mama) did at my touch. I wanted to be back in my room, sleeping or crying or staring at the accented walls. I wanted to be in the shop, having listened to Mambo Nene and walking back up the staircase to my room. But instead, I was in a dark alley between two vampires that appeared to be fairly close to killing me; Beau’s features were hard and distressed from having to refrain from using me as fuel.
I heard footsteps coming from one of the dark walls of the buildings. A woman—the woman from the forest who chose Samir as her victim—stepped forward.
“Congratulations, Tekoah,” the woman said to the long-faced man. “Your plan worked.”
“You had no faith in me, Jeanie?” he answered with no amusement in his face. Between the three of them, Tekoah was the only one without any type of southern twang in his speech. His was purely conventional American.
“It’s not that I didn’t have faith in you, but I didn’t think she’d fall for it. She ain’t as smart as her mama after all.”
“Watch your tongue,” Beau told Jeanie. “No foul-mouthing. Abraham will have your head for it.”
I heard Abraham’s name and realized that they were three of the four Elders. Somehow, that’s when the fight in me to survive kicked in again.
“I didn’t mean to intrude on your ceremony,” I said, refusing to look them in the eye. “W-we were just snooping where we didn’t belong. I won’t tell no one who you are. I-I’m sorry.”
“She’s ‘sorry,’” Jeanie laughed. “God, that’s pathetic.”
“Get up,” she ordered, and she didn’t have to tell me twice. I stumbled up and tried to hide the quakes in my legs as Jeanie stared at me with that burning gaze. I swallowed hard and waited for the end with dampened cheeks.
“You should be thanking Tekoah,” she started. “He’s the one that had to shift into that vile voodoo witch to get you out of the house.”
The moment the words “vile voodoo witch” left her mouth about Mama, I wanted to wring my hands around her dead neck. But I held my tongue; threatening Jeanie was a death sentence. After her testament about thanking Tekoah, I waited for the end again. It was killing me, wondering when I was going to be their next victim. But what I was waiting for never came. In fact, the Elders suddenly began parting away from me and stood against the confinements of the alleyway walls. I didn’t know if they were letting me go; I didn’t want to risk running only to be shot down again. So, I stood still as a pole in the most terrified state I had been since seeing Abraham’s wrath earlier. After a few moments, I knew why the Elders had parted.
A man—one whose face was darkened by the night—turned the corner into the alley and took long, agonizingly slow steps towards me. My lungs were drying slowly from anticipation; I just knew that he was the one to kill me.
“Go on and tell Abraham we got her,” the mysterious man said. His voice was deep and smooth like melted butter; like he was born and groomed in the deepest bayou at the edge of The Boot. And at his command, the Elders were gone. Poof. Erased from the wretched alleyway. It was only him and I, and I still wondered if it would be a good idea to make a run for it; if he would either tackle me or kill me if I ran away.
I still didn’t move. His stride brought him closer towards me until, in the lamp light, I finally saw the face that matched the voice. I froze stiff, breath caught deep in my throat. The corners of his mouth pulled up into a smile, yet it was anything but friendly.
“Well, aren’t you a pretty little thing,” he said down to me.
Now, keep in mind that I was still terrified enough to be close to soiling my panties.
There was still the fact that I was face to face with a vampire—the vampire who, upon further thought, was in fact, the one who killed Tia Valeria. And I was still aware of the fact that he had intentions of kidnapping me and taking me to Abraham for God knows what reason. But Jesus, I hated how delicious that man was to me upon seeing his face. I hated it.
He was clearly 6-foot-something as he looked down at my short frame, his skin the shade of pure dark copper. Those eyes of his were like Abraham’s but a little lighter, heated to a rich amber color that was, of course, impossible for a human being to possess. He gave me a deep, hardened look and clenched his jaw; the light defined the sharpness of his jaw and chiseled cheekbones.
“I thought you’d know better than to be out running around after what you saw,” he said to me. There was no humor in his voice. It sounded like animosity. But I didn’t care too much for his tone since I was too busy eyeing the blood on his button-up with certainty that it belonged to Tia.
“Don’t matter,” he continued. “Abraham will be happy we got you regardless.”
“Please,” I pleaded. What was the point? “I didn’t mean to intrude on you guys. I was being foolish; we didn’t mean any harm. We haven’t told anyone, I swear.”
Seeing how annoyed he was becoming with my crying made me sob even harder. With an eye roll, he walked closer to me, moving faster as I backed away. But both of us stopped the moment my Mama screamed in our direction from the other end of the alley. My heart did flips in my chest, knowing she was there to save me.
“Hezekiah!” she shouted. “Don’t you dare touch her!”
I knew his name then—Hezekiah—and couldn’t help but garner goosebumps every single time Mama yelled his name in anger. I thought my chances were improved, so I ran for it as fast as I could. But even though I was fast, Hezekiah was much faster. Immediately, Hezekiah grabbed me mid-sprint and wrapped his arm around my neck, pinning my back against his body. He tilted my head far right so my neck was strained and stretched for him. I cried and begged for him not to do what I thought he was going to do, and the Coterie did the exact same.
“Alize,” he replied to Mama. “How long it’s been? You haven’t aged a day now, have you?”
The entire Coterie, including the novitiates, were at mama’s side. They looked more horrified than I wished they did; I wished they wore looks of confidence and assertiveness like they were sure they were going to get me out of the mess I got myself into.
“Hezekiah,” Mambo Nene began, “you got no business on our goddamn territory, Mr. Mercier!”
He laughed, though it seemed to dance around deep in his chest more than expelling out of his mouth. “We using last names now? Fair enough. But as a matter of fact, ’ole Nene, I do got business here. You see, I’m here to collect. You probably didn’t realize, but she was on our territory when she was sneaking around in our business.” His voice grew louder like he was enjoying every sentence he was saying. “You know the rules—Blood Oath is now broken. I’ve got to make sure we all stay in line, and I can’t do that if you don’t keep up your end of the bargain.”
“This ain’t fair and you know it! Abraham planned this shit all along and that wasn’t in that goddamn agreement! He killed Terah—”
“He challenged Terah, and Terah went ahead and lost,” Hezekiah told Mama. “Far as I’m concerned, that seems pretty fair to me. And as I said before, I’m just here to collect this little way-finder off your hands. Any issues you got with Abraham ain’t got nothing to do with me.”
From that point, it was the first time I had ever seen Mama beg. She went ahead and begged Hezekiah not to do whatever he had planned. But the passiveness in his replies crippled the hope inside me.
“You know,” he started again. “Tia Valeria was real nice on my pallete, even though she was a vile voodoo rat. But this one here?” he buried his nose into my hair and inhaled deeply. “Shit, does she smell good. So pure; she ain’t turn into none of y’all yet, has she?”
Hezekiah’s lips suddenly began slowly grazing the skin on my bare neck and shoulder. He was so cold, even in the midnight heat; I shuddered in his hold and shut my eyes tight, waiting for what I was anxiously dreading for the past ten minutes to happen.
But it didn’t happen. In seconds, he shifted his arm to around my waist and held me painfully tight against him.
“I’ll make sure to give Abraham your regards,” he told the entire Coterie, and amidst the shouts and protests from them, Hezekiah took off with me.
Everything became black and dreamless after that.