Chapter 56: Curiosity Kills Eventually...
Abraham’s hand was cold and lifeless, like the gradual shift of the air in the room. My hand looked small in his—puny. His fingers completely enveloped mine.
The music, which was still playing, was a slow and almost melancholy piano number, however, Abraham wanted to dance to it, so we did. My left hand rested on his shoulder (which wasn’t an easy feat; I had to stretch a bit) and his right hand rested directly underneath my arm. We started off slow; I followed his lead.
My body was stiff out of extreme nervousness. I couldn’t look at him; I looked at his bowtie, which was nearly eyelevel. He knew that I was overtaken with nerves; he could sense it. Smell it. We moved slowly in our little space, the entire world, it seemed, watching.
“You ain’t never done a dance like this, have you?” he asked me. His voice vibrated through my veins, making me shudder.
“No,” I said to him. “It doesn’t seem like a requirement to learn in my time.”
He laughed shortly, almost like a growl radiating deep in his chest. “Very true.”
I didn’t know where this conversation was going. It couldn’t go the route I wanted to, because there were too many people around who could easily eavesdrop. And Abraham wasn’t an idiot—he knew that we couldn’t speak now. But we would eventually; he waited for it like I did. His clan, who stood behind him, watched the Coterie, and vice versa. They were both ready for attack, should something go wrong. All of these elements made it impossible to find a time to speak.
“You real brave, going off to look for me,” he said down at me. “What were you hoping to find?”
“I was hoping to find you—”
“No, no, no. What were you really hoping to find?”
I didn’t understand his question, yet part of me felt like I knew what he was trying to say. Was he speaking vaguely so everyone else wouldn’t be able to understand?
The music was coming to an end, meaning so was my time with Abraham. I hated it—this man I shared blood with was a monster who had caused so much suffering and planned to cause even more, yet I couldn’t help but feel like I needed more time to speak with him.
Suddenly, as our dance ended, Abraham leaned down discretely and said:
“The southwest balcony. After The Meeting.”
And then everything stopped. Abraham parted from me and took a bow, in which I curtseyed. A clap came from the head of the room—Russell Van Doren. He clapped slowly, followed by the rest of the Council applauding that eventually led to the entire room applauding. It felt out of place, but it filled that void in the air that was present after Abraham and I finished dancing. Abraham walked back to his clan with a small smirk on his face; Abraham was a vampire that mastered the art of stealth, both in the physical and metaphorical sense; he knew something was coming. He knew something monumental was about to happen; a major shift in the wind, if you will. He had to entertain these white men and women that he hated so deeply, but he did it with charm and deceit. He smiled and bowed and shook their hands and made promises of compromise, but really, he was out for blood.
But Russell Van Doren also knew this; he also had the same smile on his face that Abraham did.
The Meeting was going to be comprised of the faction heads—the Council, Abraham and his Elders, The Coterie, and other leaders of both voodoo houses and other influential vampire clans. It would take place in Russell’s study, and they would all sit down and talk about the recent tensions that have been plaguing the parish, and try to figure out how to bring unity and peace to New Orleans once again.
But there was never truly unity and peace between any of these brotherhoods and sisterhoods. There was always a “want” for something; a prejudice that made it impossible to see eye-to-eye.
Russell and Abraham both wanted the same thing: Ultimate power. They knew about Solèy Pwoteje—the voodoo ritual that harnessed the sun. However, they didn’t know where this ritual was or where it was buried. They both knew that I had written it back in time with Marie II and with the help of Marie Laveau and others, but I hadn’t achieved tempus summatum yet, therefore, asking me or getting the information from me in this time period would be useless.
Where it was buried? No one knew; the papers that disclosed the location were burned by Mama.
This was what the Council was after, and this is what Abraham was after, too. The Coterie didn’t want this ritual in either of their hands, but whatever plan they had to stop these bloodsuckers’ schemes wouldn’t work; they were too powerful. And if they found the ritual, there would be no way to stop them without the reverse ritual, which I also helped create.
Everything tied back to me, yet ironically, I wasn’t invited into The Meeting.
Mama had decided to completely ignore me after my short waltz with Abraham. There was a vacancy in her eyes that I knew I had to get away from, so I did—I stayed close to Kizzy and the girls outside of Russell’s study where everyone was filing in; the Coterie instructed us to wait outside until The Meeting was over, as they didn’t trust the guests downstairs around us.
Which really meant that they didn’t trust me around the guests.
I recognized a few familiar faces—Cyrus, the voodoo priest that lived close to Doctor Ben, who walked in right behind him. Annette, the mambo who seemed to dislike Mama and her order the most. They stared at us standing idly by as they walked into the large study, with the Coterie walking in behind them, their heads held high with pride; they didn’t look at us. Moments after, Abraham turned the corner with a coalition behind him. Some of these clan members I had seen before, but others were unfamiliar; his army was growing. Mr. Boone, the former owner of The Jubilee, walked next to Abraham, his suit seemingly too tight for his large body. There were other figures of importance; other vampire clan leaders that had a few of their brethren walking behind him, but none of these numbers compared to Abraham’s; his army was growing, which scared me. He looked at me once, his smile archaic, then looked away from me as if he wanted to save the best for our meeting later on the balcony.
I saw Hezekiah walking with Tekoah and Jeanie, the absence of Beau not bothering them as much as I thought it should have. When he walked by me, everything seemed to progress in slow motion. He glided past me, the mere sight of me making him uncomfortable. He then met my eyes, but he looked at me like I was common; like I was a stranger. The words I shared with him still buzzed around in his head, making him feel conflicted; he didn’t want to show any ounce of weakness around me, especially around his master.
So, I looked at him in the same way.
When everyone was inside, the doors were closed, and there was an unusual amount of silence from the other side. It was safe for us to assume that the study was insulated, making sound from the inside stay inside.
Rocio scoffed, kicking the ground as she paced the hall, “So, we’re supposed to just sit out here and wait?”
“It appears so,” Mikael said, sighing as he sat on the ground.
“I wonder what they’re talking about in there?” Esther asked, walking over to the wall and trying to listen in vain.
“Peace and prosperity masking their intent to kill us all,” Kizzy answered.
“Pretty much.” Rocio managed a laugh. “Yet we decided it would be a good idea to come to their party.”
“What would have happened if we didn’t?” I said, in which no one could think of an answer. That, or the answer was too macabre.
“We have to stand here and kiss their pale asses,” Rocio commented, gradually becoming more upset, “when they’re the ones who’d rather see us on a noose.”
Esther sucked in a sharp breath at Rocio’s words, but there was truth to them. So much truth that it felt even more out of place, being in that house.
“What if they mention the missing girls?” Imani asked, crossing her arms over her chest. “We’re just supposed to pretend like they’re not responsible for that, too?”
“Missing girls?” I questioned, but quickly remembered what she was referring to—the co-workers reported missing by several voodoo priestesses recently. Anyone with a brain could put the pieces together, stand back, and see the Council as the finished puzzle. They were taking these girls, killing them or keeping them hostage or turning them into vampires. Of course, these theories had no source of proof, but we knew it had to be them. It could have also been Abraham, but what motive did he have to kidnap these girls? Abraham worked differently—he worked quietly, slowly. Then all at once, his wrath would stun his enemies. The Council was different. The Council liked to cause chaos in the subtle, most unsuspecting way possible, so that way, when order became disorder, they could use this distraction as an opportunity to get what they wanted.
Mapping out where each woman lived and logging their daily routines, then killing each one in a single, unsuspecting night sounded like Abraham. Kidnapping women one by one while Abraham was in the hot seat, making him the easiest suspect to blame? The Council’s probable method.
I was becoming more anxious, the longer we waited. We couldn’t hear anything besides the music from the party downstairs. I waited for the moment I could speak with Abraham. The moment I could confront him. It loomed like a storm in the distance. And as I waited for this storm, I felt everyone looking at me.
I turned to them. “What?” I said.
“What are you thinking?” Kizzy asked. It was a question that was almost filled with dread when it was directed towards me.
I shook my head. “Nothing,” I said. I wouldn’t tell them that Abraham and I were meeting; I didn’t want them involved.
“It’s something,” Kizzy said. “What did Abraham say to you during your dance?”
Everyone was staring now, waiting for me to answer this question. Did I want to tell them a lie in order to get them off my back, or should I just opt for the truth?
No. This was my web. I didn’t want them tangled in it.
“He was vague,” I said half-truthfully. “He was speaking in riddles, it seemed.”
“He looked happy to be dancing with you,” Rocio said, then smiled mockingly. “First father-daughter dance. Fitting.”
“Shut up, Rocio,” Mikael and Kizzy snapped, but I was in no mood to entertain her snarkiness. I was in the mood to investigate while we had the opportunity. And while I waited for Abraham, my mind seemed to gravitate towards the red room that I saw earlier—the one that Kira was trying to keep me away from.
“I’ll be back,” I said with no other context. The group looked at me like I was deranged, then began to follow me down the hall asking where I was going. I didn’t want them to come with me, but they were all infected with this need for mystery. They were living their lives in the Coterie in the dark, and when I came along, I began to expose them for all the secrets that they had buried. They wanted to know more, and wherever I went, more was revealed.
“I saw something up here earlier that I wanted to investigate more,” I said to them as I continued down the hallway, trying to remember where I was with Hezekiah before.
“Is that a good idea right now?’ Esther asked, apprehensive.
“I don’t want you to come with me. It doesn’t involve you.”
“Nor does it involve you,” Imani said like a disapproving parent, yet the ending of the sentence seemed to sound like a question. Imani was right, though. This room had nothing to do with me, and it wasn’t a good idea to snoop around the Council’s mansion. However, at that moment, I was in a headspace that was quite uncaring. I was going rogue, and nothing scared me about it.
They all sensed this behavior in me, and instead of continuously advising against it, decided to follow me and bask in it, too.
We navigated the floor, the eeriness keeping us close together. I recognized the end of the hallway ahead and the corner you had to turn in order to be faced with the door that emanated a red light from the other side. We carried onward until we were in the adjacent hall that was dark and ominous with the door at the end. I heard whispers again.
I could hear the girls suck in a sharp breath. Kizzy walked forward, as did Mikael.
“What is this?” Mikael whispered.
“I don’t know. That’s what I wanted to find out.”
“This isn’t a good idea,” Esther said, hiding behind Mikael. But I didn’t care. My curiosity needed to be satiated. I walked forward despite the disapproval from the group. My dress seemed to match the red hue coming from the other side; it was like a magnet. Soon, I was near the door handle, close enough to hear conversation.
I grabbed the door handle and turned it. Red light poured into the hall, and inside, I was confused at what I saw. It was only a split-second sight: women sitting on couches and mattresses, some women walking around, all of them in black and red lingerie. In this split second, they all turned to look at me the moment the door opened; I saw an array of bright, white eyes contrasting against black skin that made me gasp and slam the door shut. Quickly, I turned around and scurried in the other direction. And when I did this, the others did too, even though they weren’t sure of what I was running away from.
“What is it?” Kizzy asked. “What did you see?”
I had no time to answer before we saw a figure around the corner that made us all scream.
Sajida, clad in black, furrowed her brows at us when she saw us turn the corner. I was the only one who became relieved when I realized it was her. Everyone else remained on edge.
“What y’all doing up here?” she asked, scanning our faces until the truth formed itself in her head. “It ain’t wise for y’all to be snooping around.”
Suddenly, there were footsteps from the adjacent hall. We all turned around and saw Sylvia Lange approaching us from that back room. Her footsteps were urgent and angry, her eyes matching this urgency and anger.
“What are you doing in this wing of the house?” she asked us sharply. “This wing of the house is strictly forbidden to guests!”
We didn’t know what to say; I didn’t have a valid answer. Especially one that would save us from Sylvia’s wrath.
“There are dire consequences for trespassers,” Sylvia continued, walking towards us, but before she could say more, Sajida pushed her way through us and approached Sylvia with a sly expression.
“Now, there ain’t no need for all of that, Ms. Lange,” Sajida said to her, tilting her head coyly. “They just got lost, is all. Why don’t we just let this all slide under the rug?”
Sylvia’s eyes seemed to become a brighter shade of auburn. “Absolutely not! There is a zero-tolerance policy against—”
“Rules are rules, I know,” Sajida interrupted, her smile becoming cynical. “But I’d hate for Mr. Van Doren to get involved in such a small misunderstanding. I think we’re both aware of how he would react, should any action be taken against them in this situation.”
I was the only one who had caught on; by “them,” Sajida meant “me.” And the look Sylvia gave me before looking back at Sajida solidified this. I felt alienated once again, but this alienation is what saved our asses. After a moment, Sylvia relaxed and smiled uncomfortably.
“I suppose you’re right,” she said, holding her hands in front of her. “I’ll look the other way this time. However, let this be a warning. Stay in the designated areas of the house: the foyer, the dining room, and the south end of the second floor.”
They all nodded, some more animatedly than others, but I couldn’t bring myself to nod or do much of anything. I saw what was in that room—I saw the women. I saw the red lights and the mirrors, everything seen briefly but still imprinted in my head. But most of all, I saw the eyes. I had seen eyes like that before, but it seemed my mind or even my spirit guide was forcing me not to remember from where in that moment. The spirits wanted me to continue to the south end of the floor and forget I opened the door.
As Sylvia returned to where she came from, Sajida turned to us and glared.
“Y’all picking the worst house to snoop around in,” she said to us. Everyone was so stunned by her presence that words were not formed in response. Slowly, she walked through us again, her stride graceful in a dark, twisted way. But before she could leave our group, I left her with a question:
“Why aren’t you at The Meeting?” I asked her. I wasn’t sure of what answer I was expecting out of her. None of us were.
She pivoted, her eyes searing. “Why aren’t you?” she said directly to me and no one else. I didn’t want to admit it, but it was true: I was enamored by her then. Not because of her power or her confidence or her status as a misfit. I was enamored because, from that question, I came to the conclusion that Sajida and I were the same. From our second meeting in her treehouse and the lave tet that preceded, I felt this forbidden feeling of marvel for Sajida. But in that moment, I realized that I wanted to surround myself with her even more.
Because I felt in my heart that her and I were the exact same.