Black chiffon floated above my head as I opened my eyes. This was familiar. I’d done this before. Blinking several times until I could focus, I studied the delicate fabric draped over my head. It was lovely yet creepy. Candles on all different kinds of silver candle holders filled the furniture around the room. Flames filled the room with a soothing glow. I’d been here before. Trying hard to concentrate I sat up and took in my surroundings. Stone walls surrounded me giving the large room an even darker feel. A large crystal chandelier hung in the center of the room. The ceiling was high and made of stone just like the walls. Slowly, my mind began working and I remembered this was Leif’s room. He’d brought me here before. I was in New Orleans. This was good. There was a hidden door somewhere along this wall that would put me out onto Bourbon Street. I’d get out there and call for Dank. He’d come get me; I’d be fine.
I stood up and froze as more memories began to flash in my mind. My car flying down the road. I’d been unable to control it. Leif had been controlling it. He’d turned the wheel and we’d crashed through the railing and then we’d... then we’d...
“You’re up,” Leif’s voice broke my concentration and I spun around to see him entering through a hidden door. It was on the other side of the room. Not the same one I remembered. How many doors were in this room?
“We. You, ran us off a bridge. Over the ocean.”
Leif’s easy smile fell some and he nodded slowly. He looked regretful at least for driving us over into the Gulf of Mexico.
“Yes, I did. I’m sorry but that was the quickest way to get us here without my having to apport you. Last time it really exhausted you but I had to bring you here in your human form. Trying to extract your soul would be impossible considering Death would never do that to you so I had to bring you to Vilokan via the closest route.”
“Vilokan? What’s Vilokan? Aren’t we in New Orleans? And driving me off into the ocean is the closest route to where?”
Leif chuckled and sat down on the edge of the bed. I wanted to be angry with him but something in the back of my head that I was supposed to remember didn’t allow me to blame him. “I’m sorry. Vilokan is my home. It’s the spirit world in the voodoo religion. It’s located under the water. It’s a beautiful island. I can’t wait to show it to you.”
Shaking my head, I walked over to the door that last time had lead straight onto Bourbon street. “I’ve been out that door. I know what’s out there. We aren’t underwater. We’re in a building on Bourbon Street.”
Leif stood up and walked over to the wall and pushed on it, “No door, see.”
“But I’ve been out that door,” I insisted.
“Yes, when I made a door there you went out of it. But unless I make a door there then there isn’t one. You went through a special portal that only voodoo spirits can create. We have three. One in New Orleans, one in Haiti, and one in Togo in Africa. All of those locations have the largest populations of believers. Our spirits are called there and we have the portals to bring humans or souls from those cities into Vilokan.”
“Are you keeping me here?” The realization that this time I might be stuck in this underwater island began to sink in.
Leif frowned at me then understanding seemed to dawn on his face. “You don’t remember. I should have guessed the travel would have messed with your head a little. It’ll all come back to you but I won’t make you sit around and wait for that.”
Standing up, Leif closed the space between us and I started to back up when he placed his hands on each side of my head. Warmth radiated though my skull and slowly images began flashing in my eyes. Then, as if a movie screen was set up behind my eyelids, I remembered everything. Every awful detail.
Stepping back out of his grasp I covered my face with both my hands. I was here. Forever. Wyatt was gone because of me. Miranda had lost both of us because of me. And Dank, he’d never know what happened to me. Could he even find me down here?
“I’m sorry, I had to remind you. Last night you only had to deal with this knowledge for a few short minutes before we went under. In time you’ll heal from this. I promise,” Leif’s soothing tone was so out of place with the words that were coming out of his mouth. Did he even realize he’d just told me that I’d get over the fact my friend was DEAD because of ME? There was no getting over that. There was no getting over the fact I was stuck here for eternity with him while the guy I loved walked the Earth searching for me. My mother would mourn me. Miranda... ohgod I didn’t want to think about Miranda. She wasn’t emotionally stable. This wasn’t something she was going to handle easily.
“I know it’s a lot to take in right now. But all those things are of that world. You have to let go of the life you knew.” Leif flashed a bright smile and spread his arms out wide as if offering me the world, “Pagan you can live here as you have never lived before.”
I had no response for that. He truly didn’t understand. The humanity I’d always thought he possessed, even in small amounts, really had all been an illusion. Leif’s emotions and thoughts weren’t that of a normal human. He believed he was offering me this wonderful world that was far greater than the world he’d taken me from. But I was a prisoner. I’d always be a prisoner. I was here because I couldn’t allow his father to take any more souls. It was my soul that had been damned. It was my soul that would pay.
“Come with me. Let me show you the island. It’s beautiful here. You’ll love it. It’s like no other paradise you could have imagined. We’ll walk along the whitest shoreline and the water is a crystal clear blue. Then there is my father. He wants to officially meet you. And--”
“I’m not leaving this room.” He may have the power to force me to stay here but that didn’t mean I had to appease him. I wasn’t a freaking pet he could play with. I was staying right here. Maybe I’d lose my mind and start talking to imaginary friends. That would be much more preferable than reality.
“Pagan, please don’t be this way. You’ll grow so bored in here. I want to show you all the things there are to love about Vilokan. It’s your home now. Please, come with me.”
No way in hell. I shook my head and walked over to sit down on the bed. “Do you have any books here? I’m doubting my iPhone works,” I reached into my pocket to see if my phone was where I’d last stuck it. But, of course, it was gone.
“We have an entire library. Full of anything you could possibly want to read. Come with me. We’ll get you so many you can’t carry them all.” The hope in his voice only ignited my fury more.
Shaking my head I snarled, “No thanks. I’ll just sleep,” I informed him, laying down on the black satin sheets, I turned my back to him. I wasn’t going to be able to go to sleep but maybe if he thought I was I’d be able to get rid of him for the time being. Having him here wasn’t helping me cope with things. The door behind me opened and closed and I let out a sigh. Rolling onto my back, I stared up at the black chiffon and tried to imagine my eternity. It looked very bleak. Hopefully, insanity would claim me quickly.
I must have drifted off to sleep because the sound of the stone door moving startled me awake. Rubbing my eyes, I sat up and watched as Leif walked into the room.
His smile was tentative when his eyes met mine. Good, I’d made him nervous to approach me. Maybe I’d be the worst “companion” ever and he’d let me go and find a new playmate.
“You feel any better after your nap?” he asked, stopping at the foot of the bed.
No, I’d never feel better again. I didn’t even give that question a response it was so ridiculous. Leif accepted my silence without much concern. He was dealing with my attitude entirely too well. And why was he wearing a tuxedo?
“Father would like for you to join us for dinner.”
“No.” Not ever.
“Pagan, you can‘t refuse Ghede. I can’t protect you from any punishment he might decide you require. Please don’t disobey him.”
He has got to be kidding me. I’m stuck in the voodoo version of Hell and he thinks I care if I piss off his stupid daddy. “No,” I repeated.
Leif’s cool resolve began to crack a little. I could see the frustration in his eyes and I wondered if I actually could annoy him until he was begging to get rid of me. Of course he might not send me back to earth but throw me in their fiery pit or something. Did they even have one of those?
“Okay, listen. If you do this for me I’ll... I’ll send Wyatt’s soul to you. You’ll even be able to talk to him. His soul is different when it isn’t on the earth. Once a soul without a body leaves the earth and dwells in the afterlife it can speak. It is only on earth that it requires a body for communication. However, when he speaks to you it will be different. He won’t do so with his mouth. His voice will be in your head. His soul will speak to your soul.”
Wyatt. I could see and talk to Wyatt. I stood up and walked around the bed toward the door. “Okay, let’s do this.”
Leif laughed from behind me, “I must make a note of this. I just have to find the correct incentive to get you up and moving. Wish I’d thought about Wyatt earlier. And you can’t wear that to dinner. Ghede requires proper respect. You’ll need to dress according to his wishes.”
“Well, Ghede will have to get over it because when you drove me off the freaking bridge I only had a pair of jeans, a sweater and a leather jacket. I didn’t exactly pack for this excursion.”
Grinning, Leif gave a small hand gesture that looked more like a pathetic attempt at waving off a fly. “There, you look lovely and father will be pleased.”
Glancing down I sucked in a breath. I had been unaware that I had any cleavage but the tight bust of the ridiculously extravagant dress had my boobs pushed up to my nose. Or so it seemed. The skirt of the dress stood out around me like a hoop. What was this the 1800s?
“Why did you just put me in a Scarlett O’Hara dress? You all are aware that we moved past this fashion more than a hundred years ago?”
Leif chuckled and offered me his elbow, “My father enjoys a party. Mardi Gras is his favorite time of year. Today Mardi Gras is in full swing along the streets of New Orleans so father holds his own celebrations down here. He’ll likely throw beads at everyone at the table and serve us all King Cake. You’ll like him, really. He is known for being the life of the party.”
“Really? And here I thought he was known for being the wicked evil spirit of the dead. Silly me.”
Leif shook his head at me, “You can’t say things like that, Pagan. He won’t approve. I can’t keep him from punishing you. Please watch what you say. If you anger him I won’t be able to bring Wyatt to you tonight.”
That was enough to shut me up. I’d have to bite my tongue and deal with it. Glaring down at the lavender gown and dark purple beads that adorned it I wondered if I would have to endure these ridiculous dresses every night. If so, did that mean I’d get to see Wyatt?
“Come on. Dinner awaits and you’ve got to be hungry.”
My stomach growled in reply and Leif grinned before opening the door and allowing me to step out. This time there were no smelly streets. Instead, the wide hallway was lit with gas lanterns and ornate carvings along the walls of masks. They were the sort of masks you see in pictures of costume balls. Fancy and well... exquisite were the only ways to describe them.
“These are all memories from Mardi Gras past. Each year father holds a costume ball on Fat Tuesday and every mask in attendance is forever remembered on these walls.”
If I didn’t despise everything about this place I might find that interesting.