Chapter 6: Predawn
The last thing anyone would want is to wake up in a place they don’t recognize. Especially when that said place is certainly the home of bloodthirsty monsters.
My eyes were heavier that weights when I tried to open them. Little by little, my lids revealed a dark room covered wall-to-wall with French provincial décor that was shadowed by the candles hanging upon the corners. Immediately I sat up, the world spinning around me. My glasses were on the bedside table by a lantern. Quickly, I put them back on and all of my senses started to click at once—I smelled what I thought was cocoa and raspberry. I saw the scenery out the window of deep-rooted trees with a marsh about a mile away, haunting in the night. I felt my skin chilled in the cold air but damp with sweat, and tasted a hint of blood in my mouth. But what scared me most was what I heard—people conversing outside the closed door of the room. My heart beat quickened like a motor boat.
“He wants her taken to the dining hall,” one of them said. “Immediately.”
I got up quietly and made a silent jog for the window. I thought that I could jump out, but it was easily a three story fall into roots and dead branches below—certain death.
The doorknob began to shake. I couldn’t improvise; how could I defend myself against a vampire? They made sure not to keep any wooden stakes around, and the lanterns were firm on the walls and confined inside glass and metal I couldn’t break off.
I stood still against the window frame when the door opened. More light poured into the room, and a shadow stood before me. I couldn’t see their face until they stepped forward; I was against the window frame far enough for my lower back to sting in pain. Suddenly, ‘they’ made themselves out into a woman with skin that was a pure and untainted white; I had never seen skin so colorless and pale. Her nose wasn’t a nose but a snout, and her cheeks seemed to cave in on themselves. I looked into her eyes—her eyes that were the color of the blood coursing through my veins. She wasn’t beautiful, and once again the presumptions I had about her kind were completely shattered. However, Hezekiah Mercier (my goddamn kidnapper) appeased the idea I had about them being somewhat good-looking. Perhaps in his past life he was just that damn attractive.
It made me want to vomit, thinking of a man like him in that way
“Predawn,” she greeted. No enthusiasm could be found in her voice. “I am one of the associative Leeches. Master Abraham tasked me with escorting you to the dining hall.”
I had no idea what a Leech was, and I was too scared to ask.
I swallowed hard. “Why?” I then asked her.
“If you would follow me, I can escort you to the dining hall.”
She stepped aside and held a hand out towards the open door. I was an idiot to have followed her, but more of an idiot to refuse. So, I decided to be a basic idiot and walked out into the hallway. She came out of the room after me and led me through the large walkway. The walls in the hallway were completely bare of any decoration, but did manage to be painted a faded beige. And just like the room, it was dimly lit by candles mounted on each side. But despite the fires, I was freezing; how they managed to keep the house freezing cold in a Louisiana May was beyond me.
We didn’t speak as she escorted me down the winding staircase, through the main hall (which was eerily empty) right up to the entrance of the dining hall. I heard the muffled sounds of piano playing and knew that Abraham must have loved the sounds of Mozart or Chopin before feeding. I even pictured blood and guts scattered all over the room (with intestines hanging on the chandelier for that special touch), or him using his own kind as practice to do what he did to Terah in the forest…
The “associative Leech” pushed the doors open, and despite my initial prediction, blood and guts did not coat the walls or the floors. It was actually a very bright fluorescent dining hall that had large windows, a chandelier (without the intestines) and a long dining table in the center. In the corner is where the piano ballad was coming from, but not from a record player.
“Master Abraham,” the Leech said. “Your guest has arrived.”
One finger. That was Abraham’s response. One finger in the air to signal to her that he did not want to be spoken to as he played his piece on the piano, skillfully if I may add.
We stood and waited for him to finish. The notes started to stretch longer, then they quieted to a modest finish. That’s when Abraham stood from his seat. I felt my throat tighten and my stomach churn, and I wanted to run as fast as I could out of that place.
Abraham pivoted and faced us with pride in his posture. His body wasn’t covered in the disgusting black secretion from Terah’s butchered corpse. He was cleaned up nicely in black trousers and a vested suit. It looked like he had saved his outfit from escapades he had in the year 1853.
“Be gone,” he commanded to the Leech, and when I turned, she was no longer there. The room’s eerie quietness made the chills on my body worse. Abraham walked closer to me; I knew he could sense the fear and anxiety in my body.
“Alisande,” he said to me, smiling. “Welcome.”
I didn’t reply to him, and he thought it was funny that I didn’t. It was hard to reply when I remembered everything he did.
I studied his face as he studied mine—older, probably late 40s when he was “turned.” His eyes then were much calmer in intensity from when I last saw them, but on either side of one eye was a scar; he must have pissed off the wrong witch and paid the price with a douse of holy water to the cheek.
“I apologize for keeping you waiting,” he roamed over to the edge of the table, where the champagne sat in ice, and begin pouring a glass. “It’s been decades since I have played the piano. It was always a hobby of mine.”
I knew that champagne was not for him. Was he trying to tipsy me up before devouring me?
Once the glass was full, he placed the bottle back into the ice bucket and locked eyes with me again. It only felt right for me to cover up the parts of my body that my nightgown left exposed—the shoulders and neck to be specific.
Abraham laughed aloud. “I’m not going to hurt you, Alisande. In fact, it is an honor to be in the presence of Madam Dumont’s offspring. Such power and faith she possesses, your mother. It’s quite extraordinary.”
“From what I’ve gathered, you don’t seem to like voodoo all that much, anyway.”
He laughed even louder. “Sassy, aren’t you? Come, have a seat. You don’t mind Don Perignon, right? This has aged quite exquisitely.”
I never had the luxury of indulging in such an expensive champagne; Albertsons wine was the most I’d spend on alcohol.
Abraham pulled out the large chair at the head of the table. Slowly, I walked over and took a seat. He offered me the champagne, and I took it with shaking fingers. I didn’t dare sip it.
Oddly, he decided to sit at the far end of the table. I didn’t mind; I wanted to stay as far away from that bastard as possible.
“You don’t drink?” he asked me when the glass never touched my lips.
“No,” I lied. He knew I was lying.
“I could bring something else in for you—water, juice, milk. Perhaps something to eat as well?”
“I’m not hungry,” I lied yet again. “And I don’t need to be pampered. Why am I here?”
That smile Abraham gave me was wide enough to show off the sharpened state of his fangs. It was shocking enough to make me down the glass just to make him happy.
“Lisa,” I corrected. I couldn’t believe I was being so bold, but Abraham seemed to enjoy it.
He retracted his last statement. “My apologies, Lisa. Like I said before, I did not bring you here to hurt you. I brought you here for a purpose that is much beyond what the Coterie can understand.”
“You brought me here because I crossed into your territory.”
Abraham nodded. “That is true.”
“If that’s the case, why didn’t you bring my mama’s novitiate here, too?”
I felt like an idiot; I didn’t want to put the idea in Abraham’s mind to go after Imani, too.
“Imani is already tainted by the Coterie’s influence,” he explained. “But you? You are nowhere near as corrupt as them. I understand that you see them in a different light because your mother is one of them. And I would have no problem with voodoo if it were practiced respectfully, like it is done in other parishes. But your mother—the Coterie, rather—have taken their religion beyond healthy practice. It’s a cult, what they are. And that cult has disrupted the foundation of the Orleans Parrish since Marie Laveau’s influence still existed among them. So, the reason I chose you is because I see potential in you. I believe that fate brought us together; the same time I found my way out of the deep, dark depths of the earth is the same time you came to me and my clan.
“And I thought and thought about this, Lisa. I could have easily killed your mother for burying me alive for twenty years; I killed Terah for conspiring with her, so what excluded Madam Dumont? But I knew that would be too quick and too bloody, considering that your mother, a voodoo cultist as she is, is very powerful. However, as stated before, fate worked its merciful hands in my favor. By sitting back and letting it work its course, fate has brought you onto my territory and given me righteous warrant; having the daughter of the most powerful voodoo priestess in New Orleans—and arguable the entire parish—among our ranks is far more painful than any death I could deliver.”
I was speechless.
“What you witnessed wasn’t the savagery you have painted into your mind,” he continued. “It was power—it was rebirth. It was more than what your mother and the rest of the Coterie told you; they told you we were monsters, didn’t they?”
“Because you are,” I croaked, holding back the tears that wanted to spill out. “You killed Tia Valeria’s entire House. A-and what you did to Terah—”
“You know nothing about Terah!” he screamed at me. It was instinctive, my reaction to his loud, violent voice. The champagne dropped and I was already out of my chair, but Abraham was by my side in a blink of an eye with his arm around my forearm. I shut my eyes and waited for the end again, but once again, it never came. I waited for two sharp stings on my neck, but that did come either. It was just his arm around my arm until he let me go.
“It was hard getting into your head,” he suddenly told me. We were passed cordially sitting at the table at that point. “The only thing I could project into your head were Tia Valeria’s screams. There was so much I wanted to tell you, but the ward around your head is strong. I have never experienced a ward that strong before.”
‘Floored’ was an insulting understatement to describe how I felt. It was Abraham that had gotten into my head. He was the reason I heard Tia’s screams before Imani did.
“I-I don’t…I don’t understand—”
“Ina was easy to manipulate.” His body was nearing mine the angrier his tone became. Trying to escape his air was a trial in vain. “She is weak and disposable like the rest of their associates. The entire Coterie is a joke, choreographed by the evil puppeteers that are worshipped so fervently by the blind masses! But not you. No, you’re different.”
“Get away from me. I don’t want anything to do with this!”
“I’ve had to wait years in the dark, crawling my way through the godforsaken earth until I finally reached air! Can you comprehend what being lost underground for twenty years is like?! Touching only dirt, tasting only soil and hearing the sounds of humanity progress all around you, knowing you can’t reach them?!”
The saying “mother knows best” was ringing through my head over and over again. I wished then that I had listened to Mama when she said that her world was deeper and more complicated than I could ever comprehend. I wished I had listened to her; I wanted nothing more than to be with her again rather than face to face with Abraham. I even waited for her and the Coterie to bust through the doors to save me, but the moment never came like I wanted it to.
Impatiently, Abraham grabbed me and hauled me over his shoulders. I screamed, kicked, punched with all the strength and might I had, but the blows to his body were useless. His figure was large and tenacious, and mine was measly and pathetic in comparison.
“Let me go!” I cried loudly. It amplified through the dining hall out into the hallways. My tears were soaking his suit jacket and my screams were surely deafening to him. But he didn’t care at all, despite hearing it the entire journey out in the courtyard—a courtyard surrounded by dead vegetation and large, leafless trees. There were at least a hundred members of Abraham’s clan outside. A hundred. Most of them were black and creole, with a small percentage of them being anything else.
So, that’s where they all were.
Everything was upside down to me until Abraham flipped me over and placed me in an empty expanse in between them all. The moon was the only light that served us, and it brightened what I was laying upon—a demonic insignia, drawn with blood that was dried underneath me. The clan circled around me, staring and talking amongst themselves. When Abraham looked up from me, everyone quieted and stepped back to make the ground I laid on bigger.
“Tonight, our clan has progressed a millennium,” Abraham started. “With Terah gone, I intend to continuously move our family forward. With the elimination of the Valeria House—”
“Gone be the voodoo witch!” Someone yelled, and all of them proceeded to cheer like they did in the forest. Abraham smiled, then silenced them with a raise of his hand.
“We are on a path not walked upon in years. And with this new addition before us, we will achieve a power that we have not achieved before,” he tried to grab my hand, but I pulled away. And he didn’t fight it. “Alisande, please accept this sacred gift; it is a privilege to be part of the Ritual of the Damned.”
It was clear to me what was going to happen: they were going to change me. Change me into one of them. And there was nothing I could do to escape from it.
Abraham stalked towards me and knelt down to meet my eyes. Briefly, they flickered to the pendent on my neck. His face went callous.
“Hezekiah,” he called out. “Come forward.”
The air—warm and damp—went cold similar to how crisp it was inside the house once Hezekiah stepped into the circle. All I saw clearly were those honey-tinted eyes burning into me. I bit my lip and dried my tears at the sight of him.
“I would like you to do the honors,” Abraham told him, pride written on his face. He, as well as all of us, expected Hezekiah to gladly follow Abraham’s orders. But Hezekiah just stared at me. The courtyard was quiet.
“Hezekiah,” Abraham said. “What are you doing?”
“I think you should have someone else do it,” he replied with uninterested eyes. “I’m not the right person for this.”
Abraham went from elated to furious. He looked at Hezekiah like he was his son defying his command.
“You are the right person. That is why I want you to do it.”
“I am not asking you, Hezekiah, I am telling you!” he yelled at him. “Change her!”
The way Abraham yelled at Hezekiah was the same way he yelled at me in the dining hall—loud, full of authority and vicious enough to make you do whatever he wanted. Hezekiah’s jaw ticked reactively to Abraham’s voice, but soon he walked over to me and knelt down just as Abraham did before.
“Remove that cursed pendant from her neck,” Abraham ordered. My necklace seemed to glow brighter at his words, and instinctively I clutched onto it.
“Don’t touch me,” I warned. Somehow, I had more courage to speak to him like that; I wondered where that courage was when he had me in a semi-headlock in that alley.
With my hand around my pendant, Hezekiah began to yank it off of me. I believed I put up an admirable struggle, but Hezekiah garnered the upper hand when the pendant rested in his palm, drowning down to a dulled blue when he touched it. He tucked it into his pocket, and pent up with so many emotions I could not control, I spat right in that gorgeous, menacing face of his.
Jeanie laughed first, then the rest of the clan followed. Abraham didn’t laugh, and Hezekiah looked like he wanted to kill me right in front of everyone. Brutally.
“Spoiled brat,” he mumbled under his breath. After wiping off my saliva from his cheek, his hands jerked my head to the side so my neck was of full access to him. I struggled against his hold, but it was no use. I didn’t want to cry in front of him; remembering how condescending he was when I cried for him to spare me in the alley made me force myself to hold the tears back. I closed my eyes and waited; I did that a lot that night, closing my eyes and waiting for the fiction to become a reality. Only that moment, that night in the middle of the ritual circle was when I knew that it would happen. I felt Hezekiah’s breath on my neck and the tip of his teeth ready to sink into my flesh. It was happening.
Well, it was going to happen.
“Wait!” Abraham yelled. The atmosphere was still. Everyone froze in their spots. I saw Abraham’s pupils dilate, engulfing much of the auburn of his irises. Suddenly, the most grotesque screaming entered the courtyard, followed by a bright flash of light and the foulest smell.
A clan member was set on fire.
The first reaction from the rest of the members was to investigate. We all knew who it had to be—the Coterie. No question. Abraham must have smelled them right before Hezekiah performed the ritual on me.
Abraham told them to go out and ‘defend,’ but it was a useless instruction, because majority of them began attacking anyone near them immediately. I saw the eyes of one of them turn a bright but murky blue before they became erratic and without control of their body or mind. The Elders and those who were not subject to the anomalous form of hypnotism were regulating the situation by killing those who were under the abnormal influence; it was the only way to keep them from destroying those who were sane.
Abraham roared into the night and cursed the Coterie for their intervention. His body turned into what it was in the forest—bones contorted, claws sharp, shape and form of an unworldly fashion. Abraham then told Hezekiah to finish what was started, and immediately his teeth sunk deep into my skin and seemed to go deeper until it ruptured veins. I screamed in pain and only lamented louder as the pain grew. The chaos that surrounded me seemed to die out as I became numb all over my body, blood dripping down my neck (until Hezekiah licked it up). My sight was compromised as well as every functioning thing about me. And I felt completely paralyzed. His venom was coursing through me, and I didn’t know how long it would be before it compromised my mortality completely.
But it didn’t.
In an instant, my senses came back to me and my paralysis subsided. I felt a thick, hot substance oozing out of my neck—Hezekiah’s venom.
My body rejected it.
“What happened?” Abraham asked Hezekiah frantically. “What happened!?”
“I don’t know—”
“You don’t know!?”
“She should have turned by now!” Hezekiah wiped the venom from my neck and showed it to Abraham. “It didn’t take!”
“How could it have not taken!? That’s implausible!”
But it was plausible. Abraham knew exactly why my body rejected Hezekiah’s venom. And the reason—beyond me at the time—made him enraged. Even the fact of the Coterie controlling most of his clan didn’t anger him as much as vampire venom having no impact on my body.
“Alize!” He screamed so resonantly it seemed to stretch on beyond the house and out for miles through the bayous and swamps beyond. Abraham knew he had to improvise.
“Take her to The Shack,” he told Hezekiah. “Wait for Beau for further instruction. Make sure you are not followed!”
Hezekiah looked pressed that he had to spend more time with me. But to defy Abraham, especially in the state he and his clan were in, was not a good idea. So, he complied and carried me over his shoulder like Abraham did. I was too weak to fight post-vampire bite or not, but I fought anyway; Mama was on the other side of the courtyard and I was determined to get to her. But alas, it was an attempt in vain.
Hezekiah, once again, made off with me anyway.