Chapter 62: A Fate Unknown
When the day was over, I sat on my bed in my room, staring at the blank walls and listening to the insects make music outside in the night. I couldn’t help but smile, and I was eager for the next day I would spend with Sajida. The entire day consisted of working on my meditative skills and reading spell books, but it made me want more. I needed more. When I was around Sajida, I saw a future for myself that I could never see when I was around the Coterie.
And despite Sajida’s claim that her cooking wouldn’t be a daily occurrence, we ended up having gumbo for dinner; she admitted that she had begun prepping for it that morning before I woke up.
I looked down at my hands as I sat on the bed. There was nothing interesting about them; they were normal hands. They were not Sajida’s hands. But I continued to stare at them, moving my fingers and imagining a flame appearing on my fingertips; I imagined being able to move things. Having the ability to do incredible things with them.
I thought of my mother briefly, and as the pain settled in, I pushed the thought of her away from me.
Three knocks on the door. Sajida came in, checking to see if I was doing alright and reminding me to be up early the next morning. Her dress had changed into something all black, the collar low cut and revealing. I didn’t comment on it; what she did after 9PM was none of my business. Although I did wonder when she found time to sleep.
“You need anything, you make sure to let Kira know,” she said to me. “She’ll take care you real good.”
“I will.” I looked at her dress, finding it hard to bite my tongue like I told myself I would. “That’s a nice dress. You going somewhere?”
“I visit some witches near Houma on Saturday nights; I buy some spell tomes from Ursula out that way once every blue moon.”
“Houma.” I hummed. “That’s kind of far out from here?”
“Not for me.” She smiled, leaning herself against the doorway and letting her smile fade. “You getting home sick?”
Her question came as a surprise, but knowing Sajida, she must have sensed my nerves from a mile away. I couldn’t like or sugarcoat anything to Sajida anymore.
“I’ve been thinking about Mama. And Abraham. But it’s nothing to be pressed over; I just need to get a good grip on my nerves.”
“What was Abraham yapping about with you on that balcony?” she asked me, but by how hesitant I was to even open my mouth, she knew I didn’t want to answer; the memory of Abraham’s hand around Hezekiah’s neck made me stiff and uncomfortable.
“This burden you carry ain’t gonna go away overnight. You have to learn how to rise above it, slowly but surely. I know it’s hard, but be patient. You’ll get there.”
I nodded, confident in Sajida’s judgment. I trusted her. I saw myself as her one day.
Sajida wished me a good night’s rest and that she would see me in the morning. When the door was closed, I reached over and turned off the bedroom light.
It was in the middle of the night when everything began to change, violently and abruptly.
I was awoken by the sound of tapping on my door. In the pitch blackness, I sat up and looked at the light from underneath the door and saw two little shadows underneath, moving around; the Damiyas.
Quickly, I turned on the light and sat at the foot of my bed. I stared at the door as the tapping continued, gently but constant, like the effort to get my attention was a grand one. I got up, put on my glasses, and stalked slowly towards the door. My hand turned the knob and opened it slowly, finding two dolls standing in the hallway, looking up at me with their black, beaded eyes. Pentagram and Triquetra stepped back and tilted their heads to look at me standing above them. They didn’t move, just stood there and stared at me, their bellies still marked with the insignia of their corresponding names.
I smiled down at them, kneeling to get a closer look. “Are you two alright?” I asked, but of course, they couldn’t answer; they had no mouths. We continued to stare at each other until Pentagram waddled down the hallway, Triquetra following. I could have easily dismissed them and gone back to bed. But something in me made me believe that these dolls knew I would be tempted to follow them if they ran the other way; they stopped at the end of the all and looked at me, like they were waiting for me to go after them.
The house was quiet, as Sajida was in Houma and it was the middle of the night. I didn’t deem it wise to wander the treehouse during this hour, especially by myself, but these dolls wanted me to see something; they kept looking back to make sure that I was following, We winded through the halls until we reached a door at the opposite end of the treehouse; this area was dark, save for a lantern burning dim. I stalled for a moment, looking down at the dolls who continued to just stare at me until I reached forward and opened the door. A staircase was down below, and when I descended, the bottom was a dead end; I was visibly annoyed, as the dolls just stood around.
“What is this?” I asked, and although I was annoyed, I was becoming more and more anxious. The narrow space we were in was damp and dark, nothing ahead but the wood of the wall and some vegetation that had crept on it, vining across. I felt like I was expecting something horrid. Something gruesome. But I was welcomed to nothingness.
My common sense told me to leave, but my intuition was telling me to stay put. I was caught in the middle, slowly walking up the stairs to go back to my room when I heard light shuffling. I spun around, my heart beating through my chest until I realized it was the Damiyas. They were hitting their bodies against the wall, though it was hard to garner more context with how dark it was.
I watched them do this. I watched, unknowingly holding my breath. Pentagram and Triquetra hit their bodies over and over on the wall until suddenly, the sound stopped. They were gone. I adjusted my glasses and ran back to the bottom of the staircase, looking around the small space. My hands felt the wall, the vines tickling my palm.
Where the fuck did they go?
As I searched for them, the tapping continued on the other side of the wall. I froze, listening intently. There was no logical reason I could think up that could explain how they got on the other side of the wall. But in the Bayou of the Shunned, “logic,” “physics” and “reality” were all distorted from the norm.
The tapping came from about a foot above the floor and half a foot away from the left wall. I scooted over, my hands pressing against the wall as if I could save them on the other side. But suddenly, more tapping commenced closer towards the floor by the middle of the wall. It took me a minute to understand what they were trying to do, and if it were anyone else, I feared that their effort would have been in vain. But the positioning of their taps, how far apart they were and their persistence made me put the pieces together.
This wall, by some explanation that I didn’t have, was an entry way to somewhere.
My left hand was on the left side of the wall, and my right hand near the floor. I pressed hard, and felt a shot of warmth hitting my palms. I tried to instinctively pull away, but my hands were stuck, and suddenly, I was pulled through the wall by an unknown force. The fibers and atoms of my body separated to let me pass, or the foundation of the wall broke down to let me pass; I was more convinced by the latter.
Everything after that was a complete blur. I was pulled through and tumbled down a moist dirt ground, dust flying up and out. Then I landed, and everything ceased to move. I adjusted myself quickly and got up, but I didn’t know where I was. After a moment of cleaning my glasses and hurriedly cleaning off my dirtied legs, I could see where I was—an indoor docking area. Where I stood was dirt and plant, but ahead, the ground was made of wood, the area enclosed and encircling a large pool of water in the middle, with small canoes resting in the water, tied by rope to the small poles. At the edge of the area was a large wooden gate that was closed, but I knew this gate lead to the rest of the bayou when it was opened by the lever on the side of it. I didn’t understand. I couldn’t. I knew this was a small docking area underneath the treehouse, but I didn’t know why the Damiyas had led me here.
It wasn’t until I heard the voices.
“Hello!?” A female voice said from afar around the corner. And after her voice, at least two dozen other voices began to call out, some frantic, others beginning to cry, all female. There were a few that were hushing the other women with a fear lacing their tone.
I was scared to go forward.
My first guess was that this was a nightmare; there was no other explanation my brain could accept other than this. So, I coached myself to wake up. Over and over, I begged myself to wake up, pinching my arm and closing my eyes in the hope that I would wake up and this underground holding area would disappear and turn into my dark room. But I couldn’t wake up; I was already awake. This was real.
The Damiyas had slid down the small mound I had tumbled down and began to waddle forward and turn the corner towards the voices. Triquetra waited for me to follow, but I couldn’t move. I didn’t know what I was going to find, and the shock was settling in and making it impossible to make a decision.
Eventually, I found it in myself to continue onward. It was uncomfortably damp and hot in the docks, so much so that my pajamas were mostly soaked with sweat, and my hair was frizzing and sticking to the sweat on my face. I took careful steps since I was barefoot and the planks were old and rotten. Triquetra disappeared then around the corner when I finally began to walk. I turned the corner, and felt like I couldn’t breathe.
The screaming became deafening when these women saw me. They were behind cages of rusted metal—dozens of them. Maybe a little more than fifty or so, but it was hard to count as they all shouted and cried at the sight of me. The cages lined my left side, and across the water by way of small planks, more cages lay. Women dressed in dirtied rags huddled together on the other side. They pressed themselves against the bars and called out to me, begging me to help them. Some of their eyes were white, others had kept their normal color; some were younger than me, and others were older; some were tall, others were short; some had dark, rich skin, others had light, fair skin. They only had one thing in common:
They were all black.
A cold, wet hand grabbing onto my arm snapped me out of the shock I was in as I stared at the women caged in front of me. I jumped back, but instinctively, held onto her arm, too. She pulled me close, and a swarm of hands grabbed onto me as if they could escape just by the touch of my skin.
“Thank God,” the woman holding onto me the tightest said, sobbing. Her hair was graying, cut short. Her eyes were old, bags under her white eyes. “Thank God! Thank God!”
“Get us out here, please!” a young girl said to me—begged to me. “Midnight be coming. It be coming, quick! Please!”
Words wouldn’t come out of my mouth; they couldn’t. I stared wide eyed at them, holding onto their hands, trying to say something and trying to comprehend.
Above the commotion, a loud voice silenced the women crying to me. I turned around, and on the other side, a tall woman stood behind the cage, with all the others standing behind her. Her dress was white, loose fitting, tied at the waist by rope. When I looked at her from where I stood, her identity immediately clicked in my head:
Her name was “Sugar.” I had met her before at the Jubilee the night Hezekiah kidnapped me and dragged me there. She was a leech for Mr. Boone; I sat by Hezekiah as he fed on her. I remembered her. I knew who she was.
“Quiet!” she said again until every single voice was mute. She looked at me from behind the bars, and it was strange not seeing any hate or animosity in her stare; she didn’t like me the first time we “met.” In fact, she didn’t give me the time of day. Our interaction was brief, but I always remembered the way she discarded me. Now, she had this desperate look in her eyes, which were also white.
“Lisa,” she called out to me; I was surprised she knew my name. “Lisa, come here. Please.”
I didn’t think twice. I rushed over to the plank and walked carefully over it, but a nudge from underneath made me lose my balance momentarily; the women yelped and hollered.
“Careful, careful!” Sugar yelled. “Those fuckers in the water are ruthless. Be careful!”
The shadows in the water slithered back into the aquatic darkness underneath. Pentagram and Triquetra had stood on either side of me as I took one gracious step after another across the plank. They didn’t leave my side until I crossed safely. When I was over the plank, Sugar reached out and I grabbed her hand. She tried to keep her composure, but she didn’t know how to act upon seeing someone like me down there; none of them did.
“Sugar,” I breathed out—the first word I had said since being down there. “Sugar how...how did you—”
“When the Jubilee burned down, they came after the survivors,” she explained quickly. “Picked up the girls that weren’t too injured and brought us here.”
“They?” I asked. “They, w-who’s ‘they’?”
“The white devils,” a girl behind Sugar said. “T-the bloodsuckers.”
The Council. The name popped into my head immediately. They weren’t the only white bloodsuckers they could have been referring to, but I connected the dots—the white eyes on the women I found in the Red Room at their party and the white eyes on the women here. And upon looking around quickly, I found that some of the women did look familiar, and I came to the consensus that I had seen them during my short time at the Jubilee. But the others? I had never seen them. But there was this magnetism in our gaze that made me realize who they were:
“The missing girls.” Girls reported missing from their Voodoo Houses in the city. All of them were here in Sajida’s treehouse, taken by the Council and brought here to be conditioned. Groomed. To be sex trafficked? Experimented on? Held hostage as collateral?
“The white eyes. What do they mean?” I asked, my tone urgent as I felt time was limited.
“The Bayou Witch,” Sugar answered. “Sajida.”
“She soul trapped us,” a girl across the other way yelled to us. “Took our spirits, keep them with her somewhere we can’t never find them. As long as she got our souls, we can never leave the bayou! We go where she want us, and if she don’t want us off this bayou, we don’t leave!”
“The water monsters will come get us,” another girl cried. “They got Rita when she try up and leave. Drag her out the boat she took, she ain’t never come up again!”
These women began to tell me their stories, for they had no one else to tell them to before I found them. Their voices piled on top of each other as they stressed to me what they were going through and what their sisters had gone through in this place, frantically and with shortness of breath as if my time with them was nearing a close. Admittedly, I couldn’t listen. My thoughts narrowed in on one person, standing calmly and collectedly as if she didn’t keep these human beings in cages, doing god knows what to them; I had no clue at that moment what Sajida used them for. I could guess based on the breadcrumbs, but there wasn’t a concrete answer yet. But Sajida had done this; she looked me in the eyes as if nothing was wrong. Smiling at me, teaching me what she knew, giving me guidance and support; a place to runaway to. I didn’t know the extent of her motives; her rotting soul, broken beyond repair, yet masterful in the art of deception. I was completely fooled, and this shocked me.
Sugar grabbed my hand tight, for I was so entangled in the voices and the revelation that I couldn’t come to my senses. “Lisa, listen to me. Go and get help. As much help as you can. Go ’fore Sajida knows what you up to. Please, Lisa! Go get help!”
Sugar let go of my hand. The rest was left up to me. I stumbled forward, my hands shaking as I navigated the pathway to the mound that I had slipped down into this place. The girls voices grew faint as I tried to find a way back upstairs. The Damiyas had followed me up, and as they stood by my side at the top of the mound, they guided me on where I needed to place my hands. I was pulled through, and the air became silent, the sounds of the docks completely mute.
I sat still for a second, feeling the dirt on my hands as an indicator that this was indeed not a dream, then rushed up the staircase. I walked as carefully as I could to my room, closed the door behind me, and only focused on packing all of my things. I felt like I was close to vomiting or fainting; the screams of those women still rung in my ears, and my conscience was riddled with guilt, leaving them down there, waiting for midnight—a time in the night that I was oblivious to, in terms of its significance.
Pack. That’s what I had to focus on. I grabbed all of my things, changed my clothes, put my shoes on. I forced myself not to think. I remember just grabbing the handle of my room door and not looking back. Get help. These words recycled themselves in my head. Immediately I thought of Hezekiah, but there wasn’t much he could do without Abraham’s knowledge, especially after what happened at the Council’s party. I didn’t even know where he was.
I would go back to Mama’s. She would believe me. Would she? She had to. I would force her to. I didn’t have much time; Sajida, even though she was in Houma, could probably sense that something was off. How far was Houma? How long did I have before she came back? How long did I have before midnight?
These questions were interrupted when I saw Sajida standing in the doorway.
My soul escaped my body; I could see the interaction between her and I from a different perspective. That’s how afraid I was of her then. This sudden shift in my perception of her kept thrusting me into the possibility that this was all a dream; I didn’t move when I saw her, for I genuinely thought she would kill me.
Sajida’s steps towards me were painfully slow. Her head tilted to one side, one of her brows cocked; her eyes were fluorescent.
“Where you going?” She asked me. Her tone was concerned, convincingly so. But I could see right through this act.
“You were right,” I said, breathing slowly. “I am homesick. I don’t think I can do this anymore.”
Her face became saddened. “Really? What you mean?”
“I don’t think I’m ready,” I said; I used all of my strength not to burst out sobbing or show just how fearful I was of her.
Suddenly, it seemed like the lights in the house seemed to dim. As everything grew darker, Sajida’s eyes glowed in the darkness in a superhuman fashion. I remember feeling this way when I looked at Mama; like I didn’t know her. But this was different. This was terrifying. This was a game of cat and mouse, and I already knew which role I was subjected to.
I expected Sajida to convince me to stay. And perhaps she would have. But she let me go instead. With a slight smile, her head still tilted towards me in the dark, she said:
“Alright, then. I ain’t gone keep you if you don’t wanna stay.”
Sajida opened the door for me. I walked to the doorway, waiting for Sajida to fling me off the edge to my death.
“Can I come visit again when I’m ready?” I asked, trying to play the part to the best of my ability.
“Of course. Anytime.”
I thanked Sajida, managed a smile, then climbed down the latter. I forced the thoughts out of my head because I didn’t want to react to what just happened.
Get help. This was the only thought I allowed in my head. I repeated these two words walking onto the dock, waiting for the Gatekeeper, stepping onto his canoe, staring at the Goat’s head he now wore as a headdress. Get help. The water was calm for us as we sailed gently past the cypress knees and through the blanket of leaves that lead to the unclaimed “entryway” to the bayou. Get help. I stepped out of the canoe, refusing to look back. I brought out a flashlight and walked to my car. I didn’t run. I walked the entire way there.
Get help. Once I was inside my car, fishing out my keys from my bag a tedious job since my fingers were trembling, I broke down and sobbed uncontrollably—the hardest I had ever cried in my life at that point. A heaving cry. Struggling for air, hands shaking, gasping for breath. Warm tears streamed down my face, and they continued to do so as I put the keys in the ignition, turned the car around and sped off down the dirt path to the main road. I climbed to 120 miles per hour, the trees a complete blur in the abysmal night. I cried, and I cried, and I cried even harder when I remembered that I had left my phone at Mama’s house to distance myself from the Coterie. But now I needed them more than ever, and all of the differences I had with them and the differences I had with my mother melted away when I saw the cages with those girls in them, pleading for my help, their voices saturated with fear when they spoke of the “Bayou Witch”; Sajida. My Aunt. All of the adoration I had for her melted away instantly, and behind it was a monster, that green stare and devilish smirk haunting in the darkness. This monster stood by several other monsters—pale skin, bright eyes, stalking the shadows, waiting to attack. But somehow, there was some hope in me that was left; I was free. The girls weren’t. I could save them. I could tell The Coterie about what the Council was doing, and in turn, the other Voodoo Priests and priestesses would find out where their co-workers were taken to. We would be a united front against our enemies, our Voodoo Houses. We could save them. I could save them.
At least I thought I could.
The screeching tires followed after I saw the black figure appear in the road ahead of me. I screamed piercingly. My foot couldn’t slam on the breaks any harder as this dark glob of shadows laid in the middle of the road, any of its features indistinguishable to me. I don’t recall much of the accident—there was the screeching, my screaming, and then the car began to flip. It was quiet while my vehicle was in the air with me inside it; I couldn’t scream anymore, as nothing would come out. I just felt by head hit my window as my car crashed onto the ground, turning over several more times until it stepped. Then it went black for a moment. Peaceful, euphoric blackness; this I remember very well. I wasn’t sure how long I was unconscious for, but I wished that it lasted longer. Forever, even. Anything was better than what had preceded when my car landed back onto the ground.
The pain was the first thing I experienced when I opened my eyes. My car horn blared as I laid on my side, restrained behind my seat belt with the air bag deflating. My entire body was on fire, from my neck to my arms to my legs. I knew I was bleeding, not just from my head, but from other points on my body that were in pain. But the most pronounced pain was in my ankle, and this was because it was broken. I was no medical professional, but I just knew. It slammed against broken car parts or hit the underside of the dashboard. I didn’t know how, I just knew that my ankle was broken, and I was in indescribable pain.
I yelled out for help as I tried to unbuckle my seatbelt. No one responded; this was the middle of nowhere. I cried, yelling for help again and trying to fight through the pain. Blood dripped from my head down onto the passenger seat as I continued to hang there and weep in panicked bursts. I thought about the people I had left behind without saying goodbye, wondering where I was. I thought of how long I would have to dangle here, waiting, and if Hezekiah could track down where I was if he even wanted to. I thought of the girls, who waited for me to get them help back at the Bayou; I failed them. And I failed myself.
This was the moment I wished I was dead: when I looked out of the windshield that faced the west road and saw five figures walking towards me. My vision was blurred without my glasses, but I didn’t need them to know who was coming. I could make out the dark clothing and pale faces through my headlights that still shone down the road. I knew what this was and what it was going to become. I should have accepted my fate then and there; if I didn’t put up a fight, it would have saved me a lot of pain. But I somehow thought I could outrun these people, even as they were only yards away from me at this point.
I screamed for help again, loud enough to hurt my throat; I was fighting against the blaring noise of my car horn. I scrambled to get my seatbelt unbuckled, but it was stuck around me. I kept trying, though. But if I did get it off, what would I do? Try to run? I was injured, and more obviously, I was mortal; weak in comparison to these creatures. I had lost, but I didn’t give up. I grabbed a piece of broken glass and cut through my seat belt. My hands were now cut open and bleeding, but I managed to slice through the material and fall out of my seat. They, however, were at my car now. A man approached my door from above by climbing atop my car’s side. He grabbed my door and ripped it off its hinges effortlessly, throwing it into the wilderness. I dragged my body to the back of my car as he made his way inside.
“No!” I cried and the top of my lungs. Over and over this word left my mouth. And this word was accompanied by hollering and kicking when this man had a hold on my leg. He pulled me towards him, yanking on me gently when I had grabbed onto the headrests in resistance. But he then grabbed me from underneath my arms and pulled me out of the car. I was too weak to fight back anymore. I was in too much pain. All I could to was sob and curse at them. He carried me out of the car, and his comrade came forward and held onto my legs as he still held my arms. Two others were a ways away, speaking to a woman who I recognized when I focused in on her—Sylvia Lange of The Council. She stood poised and calm, listening to these two men speak to her. Then another figure approached—a figure wearing a long black dress, whose eyes glowed in the shadows.
Sylvia smiled at Sajida make her way stealthily through the trees. She then nodded to one of the boys, who ran to my car and took the battery out of my car, silencing the horn.
“That’s better,” Sylvia said, smiling widely.
I was speechless. One, because I was in so much pain that the thought of speaking was unattainable. But I was also speechless because of the interaction I watched: Sajida talking to Sylvia so normally, as if I wasn’t in these men’s arms covered in blood with broken bones; she ignored me completely for that moment. I was nothing to her.
“What a grandiose way of blocking her way into town,” Sylvia said, grimacing at the wreckage.
“You already know how I am at this point, Sylvia,” Sajida said. “She ain’t dead. That’s what’s most important.”
“You’re right.” Sylvia smiled again. “That’s very important. Plus, it won’t take long to heal her at Masion Blanche—”
“No, no, no,” Sajida said with a heavy brow. “We take her back to the Bayou first. I have my ‘screening’ process with all the new girls, and you know that.”
“Right. I forgot. Forgive me. It’s just, Mister Van Doren is quite impatient; he’ll be nearly fidgeting in his chair when he finds out she’s finally in our custody.”
“Just tell him he gone have to wait a little longer,” Sajida said, in which Sylvia nodded.
“You do remember your role going forward?” Sylvia asked.
“I’ll go to Alize’s after I’m finished with Lisa. You can expect the Coterie tracking Abraham and his boys down by the next sunset when they find out she missing.”
Sylvia bared her teeth with this smile. “Perfect. Absolutely perfect.”
“Why?” I gurgled out. It was my heart speaking, which was completely shattered knowing Sajida had betrayed me; she wanted me to find that Red Room. She waited for me to come to her; the Council wanted Sajida to bait me in. But it pained me to know the aftermath:
A war between Abraham and The Coterie over my disappearance. I saw bloodshed. I saw unimaginable wrath. But I could do nothing; I was a prisoner, now. The Council’s prisoner. Sajida’s prisoner. Both.
Sajida looked at me when I asked her this question. Then, she walked over to me, grabbed my face in her hand and looked into my eyes with the most corrupted evil I had ever seen in her. Those days we shared together were a façade. If it wasn’t solidified before, then it was solidified by just how she looked at me.
“The Coterie gone feel the pain that I felt,” she whispered. “Alize gone feel the pain that I felt. She gone remember the time she did nothing when Mama sold me to Jezebel, and she gone remember how I felt, waiting for her to come for me all that time. She gone feel that pain now.”
“They’re using you,” I coughed out, wheezing. “They’re using you, Sajida! They’re gonna...kill...kill all of us!”
“Death ain’t nothing compared to what I’ve been through,” she answered. Her hand left my face. My body started to give in, weakened emotionally and physically. I couldn’t fight anymore. I could only cry like I had been doing before. The men carried me away as Sylvia and Sajida continued talking about their plan. I couldn’t hear them anymore; I couldn’t see them anymore. I laid in the arms that carried me, defeated to the point of wishing for death because I didn’t know what was next for me. I wished for death. I begged for it.
Death was a better fate than the unknown one that lied ahead. What scared me most about this unknown fate was that in the depths of it, I knew that there was a possibility that I would never be found by the ones who cared for me.
END OF BOOK I
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