Pagan’s mother was grieving. I could hear her pain from outside the house. I’d been gone for two days looking for some way to penetrate Vilokan. But Pagan wouldn’t want her mother to mourn her death. She wouldn’t want to know her mother was having a complete emotional breakdown. Right now this was the only thing I could do for her and in return I could find out if there was anything her mother remembered about that night in the voodoo doctor’s shack.
Knocking on the door would be what she expected. She saw me as Pagan’s boyfriend. If I wanted her to believe I was not human I’d have to arrive a different way. I just hoped I didn’t scare her too badly.
I appeared on the bar stool directly in front of Pagan’s mother. She was sitting at the table with a cup of coffee. I could smell the whiskey in her drink. Sunken eyes that were highlighted with dark rings from no sleep lifted to meet my gaze. Surprisingly, she didn’t even flinch. Instead, she stared directly at me and studied me silently. There were no tear streaks running down her face. Those had all been cried out. Her face was one of complete loss and heartbreak. I’d seen this expression on other mothers as they faced the loss of their child. But this mother’s pain caused my chest to hurt. Maybe because I shared that pain. Although I knew Pagan wasn’t dead, she was gone. For now.
“Dank,” she finally spoke. Her voice was raw and raspy from little use.
“Yes,” I replied, waiting on her to say more.
She didn’t right away. Her head tilted and she searched my face for the answers to the questions I knew were piling up in her head. She thought she’d drunk herself to sleep and was dreaming. Possibly hallucinating. Several different explanations ran through her foggy thoughts.
“How did you--?” She trailed off not sure exactly what to say. How did I just appear out of nowhere? I could still see the uncertainty in her eyes.
“Because I’m not a human. I’m something more.” I let her soak in that information.
She took a weary sigh and pushed the cup of coffee and whiskey away from her, “Well, I’ve had too much of that I guess.”
“I’m not a hallucination. I’ve been here in your house most nights since the moment Pagan’s soul was marked for death. Watching her.”
“You knew she was going to die?” Her mother’s question was a mix of confusion and anger.
Shaking my head I held her gaze. “No. Pagan isn’t dead. I didn’t allow her to die in the car accident months ago that should have taken her life and she didn’t die when her car went off that bridge.”
Pushing herself back away from the table her mother stood up. “I need to go to bed. I’m not sleeping and now I’m losing my mind,” she muttered.
I stood up and moved into her path stopping her. “No. You aren’t. I’m real and I am telling you Pagan is alive. Her soul is still with her body. However, the voodoo spirit you sold it to when she was a child has a claim on it and right this very moment he has her. I need you to listen to me, believe me and help me.”
Slowly her mother’s face turned from one of disbelief to horror. Backing up until her legs met the leather chair behind her and she fell back into it, the understanding sank in. I wasn’t sure if she believed it or not but she knew my words held some truth.
“Voodoo spirit?” she whispered brokenly.
“Yes, the one you opened Pagan’s soul up to when you took her to the voodoo doctor in order to save her life.”
She shook her head and lifted her eyes back to mine, “I never promised her soul. I’d never do something like that. I just asked that they perform whatever special magic or miracle potion to heal her. The nurse, the nurse said that her grandmother could help us. I was desperate and willing to try any other avenue. Traditional medicine wasn’t working. I figured the herbs and natural remedies the old woman had might have some chance of doing something the doctors couldn’t. I never... never... promised her soul.”
Humans were so naïve to the supernatural powers around them. So many believed things all had an easy explanation. The concepts of magic and powers were so far-fetched that they assumed it was a natural cure. That a medical explanation would cover it all. “Voodoo isn’t herbs and natural remedies. It’s a religion. One that is made powerful by evil spirits when humans believe in them. If you don’t believe then it can’t harm you. But if you ever entrust it to answer your request you are in debt to the spirit that responds. You wanted to save your daughter’s life. There is only one voodoo spirit that can do that. A powerful one. The spirit lord of the dead can grant life. He’s fond of granting the lives of children. But not because he is malevolent. Because then he owns their soul. You asked the voodoo doctor to do whatever she could. She herself could do nothing. She’s just a vessel used by the voodoo spirits. However, Ghede, the spirit lord of the dead, could do something. And he did. He gave Pagan life when it was her fate to pass on. Her soul was to have a short life this time. Her next life would have been longer. But this life was to end. You allowed evil to change that because you weren’t willing to let her go. Now, Ghede has come to claim what is rightfully his.”
She didn’t speak right away. I watched as my words sunk in and she digested everything I’d told her. It wasn’t easy for humans to understand. At least not the spiritual ones. But I hoped that because she had experienced the power of voodoo all those years ago she’d at least open her mind.
“You’re telling me Pagan is with... she’s in--”
“Vilokan, the afterlife or spiritual realm where the spirits of voodoo dwell. She’s there in human form. They can’t take her soul from her body without Death and I can assure you Death will not take her soul.” Explaining to her that I was Death would be pushing things a little too far. She’d taken in all her mind could handle.
“How do I...? What do I do? If she’s in Vilokan is there a way I can ask for her back? What? How do I fix this?”
“You don’t. But I will. I just need you to think about that night. From the moment the nurse came and got you to the moment Pagan was cured. Then I need you to remember Pagan’s childhood. There was this boy, a blond boy, that came into her life several times. I need you to try very hard to remember him and tell me everything. Even if you think it isn’t important. I need to know.”
She nodded her head and then frowned, “And I’m not asleep. This isn’t a dream?”
“No, you’re very awake. In fact why don’t you go make yourself a cup of coffee without the whiskey this time? I need you as alert as you can be.”
“Yes, okay, um, do you drink coffee?” she asked turning back to look at me.
“No, thank you. I’m fine,” I assured her and she hurried into the kitchen to fix her cup. I stood up and walked over to the mantle and picked up one of the many pictures of Pagan lined up on it. She was smiling brightly at the camera with her arms slung over the shoulders of Wyatt and Miranda. I rubbed the pad of my thumb over her sweet smile then put the picture back in its place.
“I just thought of something. Miranda’s mother said Leif was in the car with her and he’s missing too.”
Without turning around to face her I replied, “Yes, I imagine so. Considering Leif is the son of Ghede.”
Her loud gasp followed by the clatter of her cup hitting the tile floor reminded me I was dealing with a human here. One that, unlike Pagan, hadn’t been seeing souls all her life. I really needed to monitor what I said more carefully.
When I’d allowed myself to dwell on Ghede never once did I imagine what I was seeing at the head of the twenty-foot long table. Leaning back with a sinister grin on his face was a tall figure in a black top hat, a pair of dark sunglasses and two cigarettes hanging from his mouth. From what I could tell he was wearing a tuxedo with tails. Both of his feet were propped up on the table as he reclined in the enormous carved marble and satin chair that reminded me more of a throne in a princess movie. Except, like most of the other items in the room, it was black.
Leif had placed us directly to the right of him and he was smiling proudly like he’d brought his prized possession to impress his father.
A scantily dressed woman placed a large silver cup in front of me and I was a little concerned her boobs were going to pop out in my face. I was terrified to drink or eat anything a bunch of voodoo spirits dined on but I also wanted to see Wyatt. So I forced myself to pick up the cup and lift it to my lips. The stench burned my nose and I quickly set it back down. There was no way I was drinking that.
Loud cackling laughter startled me and I jerked my attention from the offensive drink to see Ghede slap the table with one hand and laugh amazingly loudly without once dropping a cigarette from his mouth.
“She amuses me son,” he bellowed and the rest of the attendees at the table joined in on his laughter.
Leif’s hand reached for mine under the table in an attempt to squeeze it and I jerked it away quickly. I didn’t want him to touch me.
“You don like de rum do ya gurl,” Ghede stated for the rest of the table to hear.
Rum. So that was what it was. No, I didn’t like the rum.
“No,” I replied, unable to hold his piercing stare even with those dark glasses of his on. You could still feel it.
“Ah, we might need to fix dat.”
“Could she just have some soda, father?” Leif asked and for once I was thankful for his presence. My mouth was incredibly dry.
“Yes get de gurl some soda,” he ordered one of the women standing back around the table waiting to do his bidding.
“Thank you,” I managed to choke out. Wyatt, I reminded myself. I was doing this for Wyatt.
“Ah and she’s got de manners. You chose good son. I lak dis one.”
Leif beamed beside me and I felt the urge to gag.
“Dis one,” Ghede announced loudly to the rest of the table, “she fell in love wit Dankmar. Das right,” he enjoyed the surprised responses that came from the others. I peered down the table for the first time since sitting down and had to force myself not to openly gape at them. At least my dress didn’t stand out. Every female at the table was dressed in a similarly ancient style of dress. However, their chests were much bigger so they really did have cleavage up to their nose. I sucked in a quick breath when I watched one of the men pull the front of a lady’s dress until her entire breast bounced free. Swinging my eyes off them I studied the other side of the table. Men were all dressed in tuxedos and several even wore black masks. The hairstyles on the women were alarmingly high. Curls stacked up at least a foot with sparkling jewels, feathers, and other items stuck into the mix. They all drank liberally and laughed even shrilly. A loud squeal brought my eyes back to the other side of the table and I watched as the man who’d pulled the woman’s top down now had her butt up on the edge of the table and was shoving her dress up, which was a feat all its own with all the fabric, and she was spreading her legs wide and squealing delightedly. When the man went to unbutton his bottoms I closed my eyes and snapped my head back around to look toward the wall behind Leif’s head. Dear God, they were about to ... to do it at the table. What had I agreed to?
“Father please, Pagan isn’t used to this sort of behavior. For tonight can you stop them?” Leif asked from beside me and I wanted to bury my face in his shoulder and start humming a song to drawn out the loud grunts coming from the man only a few feet down from me.
“Whut? De sex is part of de fun. You won me to go wit out de sex? Whut is a party wit out de enjoyment of de flesh, hmmm. Non dat is de answer.”
The woman began to moan loudly and call out words I’d never heard before. Leif’s arm came around my shoulder and I used his side and his arm as muffles for my ears while my eyes remained tightly shut.
“I’m sorry, Pagan,” he whispered into my hair.
If he was really sorry he wouldn’t have bribed me to come to this place. It wasn’t a meal it was a ... a... freaking orgy. More moans had joined in and I cringed in horror as women called out vulgar suggestions and men screamed nasty descriptions. This was nothing like I’d imagined.
“Father please, may we be excused?” Leif asked.
“Hmph, I guess. I don want to stop my party. You take de gurl and I’ll send de food to you.”
Relieved, I jumped up being careful not to glance back down the table and let Leif lead me out of the room and back into the safety of the large hallway.
“Ohmygod,” I whispered horrified. My mind would forever be traumatized.
“I’m sorry. I’d hoped since you were there father would contain that but--”
“But he’s a sick pervert,” I finished for him.
Leif started to open his mouth, but I cut him off.
“Don’t. I don’t care about what I’m supposed and not supposed to say about him here. That was the most revolting experience of my life. And you just let me walk right into it. No preparation or warning.”
“Because if I’d told you that was a possibility you wouldn't have gone and Father would have punished you.”
“And that wasn’t punishment?”
“No, he finds that entertaining. He’s the voodoo spirit over many things. Eroticism is one of them.”
“Ugh, oh, ugh,” I shook my head and started walking back toward the room that I’d been in earlier.
“Don’t you want to see the library?” Leif asked.
I thought about what I’d just seen and the idea that the library probably contained ninety percent porn was a major turnoff for me. “No, I’d prefer to go bleach my eyeballs and ears,” I snapped back at him.
“What about Wyatt?”
He’d used the power card. I stopped and glared back at him. I hated he had something to hold over my head. “If you were really sorry about tonight you’d send him to me.”
Lief nodded, “Done. And I’ll bring you food too. Normal food and a soda.”
I didn’t argue because I was sure once my stomach settled down from the disgusting scene I’d witnessed I would be hungry. It had been awhile since I’d eaten.
“You need to take the next right then it’s the third door on the right,” Leif instructed. I was good with directions so I hadn’t needed his reminder but I nodded nonetheless and picked up my pace. I was now terrified of what I might witness in these hallways.
The door was a dark purple with a large black skull carved out of marble mounted in the center of it. I hadn’t paid attention to that when we’d exited it earlier. I twisted the large heavy knob and stepped inside.
It was sad that this was comforting to me. Earlier I’d hated it. Now, after that horrid experience I decided I needed to get very well acquainted with this room because I wasn’t leaving it again.
Glancing down at my dress I wanted it off. It reminded me of the other women and I felt dirty wearing it. However, I didn’t see my other clothes anywhere and I wasn’t about to get naked.