Wednesday, 07 May 2014 07:55

Through the Eye of the Serpent by A. E. Doylle: Day 4

Day 4

Breakfast with Lentre seems fast becoming a routine. Don likes routines. The doctor only stays a little while this time before running off to work, though he leaves Don with a street map and tells him that the locker rental is an easy short walk.

He's right, and it's refreshing too. Walking down the New Orleans streets, he can almost pretend that he's a tourist on a much-needed holiday. Or even that he's on another visit to a sister who will be waiting for him on the other end of the journey.

Adelaide's locker is well-lit by the morning sun, and Don stands at the entrance simply staring over it all for a while. He's not sure if it's a horde, a collection dumped and left, or a reserve always ready to be dipped into. The space is quite large and not hugely cluttered, but the sheer single-mindedness in everything jumps right out at him. His eyes flick from side to side, and something on the desk glints in the morning light. Leaning in, he feels his breath catch.

It's the red coral paperweight. Not shoved in a corner somewhere to be forgotten either, but sitting on a pile of loose paper squares. She was still using it after all this time.

He snaps out of his stare after a few seconds, picking it up and setting it aside to examine the papers. Don thinks at first they may be contact details, but there's barely any information. No name, just initials, and a single odd sentence like J.L.—dog hit by car needs surgery, and C.D.S.—fears cousin has been stealing from accounts. He can't make sense of any of it.

 

He goes through everything after those get put down, because what else is there to do. He starts with the loose items on the floor, not many, just a group of three odd-looking drums of different sizes and a few statuettes a bit larger than the ones on the shelves. He's not really sure what he expects to find of them, and isn't surprised when it isn't much. He sifts through the dolls then, and reaches nothing at the bottom but some scraps of fabric and assorted little bits that have been knocked off in their proximity. There's another box of things like sticks, glue, lace, cloth, wire, which makes him realise that all the dolls must be home-made. Sorting through the various objects adorning the other flat surfaces also draws a blank of anything but said objects and dust, through there's not much of that either. Everything looks quite well cleaned and looked after, though the idea of this being home to anyone still draws a grimace.

In the end, he turns up with nothing. Not a single indication or information or personal touch aside from the meaningless notes and that little old token.

Unless perhaps, a little possibility creeps, the Voodoo is the personal touch.

He finally slumps down on the pallet, but is only on there for a second before he frowns, gets up, and sits again. And sure enough, once more is there a slight crackle of paper. He stands and picks up the thin mattress, turns it on its side against the wall, and lets a small spark of triumph bloom when he spies the object beneath. Not completely barren, then.

It's a folder of blue cardboard. Don flips it open and pulls out a wad of newspaper clippings, a few police files and mugshots, and some hand-written pieces of paper. The article names all seem to recount criminal activity—nothing major, mainly robbery and the occasional mild assault, including some which were interrupted before completion or otherwise unsuccessful. The files are named to a Rico, Hadrian, and Marco Matranga, a Nicolo Rossi, and a Sergio Maretti. They aren't complete files, just a single page with a picture and basic information such as date of birth. The notes consist mainly of dates, times, and locations, some marked with a tick. Don checks them against the articles and sees that most of the dates are after the articles drop off. There is a small area of overlap, however, where the information matches up and the ticks appear to coincide with the reported failed crimes.

He doesn't know what it is but he feels like he's getting somewhere. He leaves the file on the desk when he goes to lock up, and out of the corner of his eyes he sees a flicker.

It's gone when he looks again, but he could have sworn he saw a flash of rainbow colours

* * *

He decides to pay a visit to the city library later, and drops by after lunch. He does a subject search for 'Voodoo' on the catalogue, and is carrying a few books to a desk when one of the assistants spots him.

"Doing some research, eh?"

She's young and has a pretty smile. Don returns it prefunctorily. "Yes I am, Charleigh," he replies after a glance down at her name tag. "Any recommendations?"

"Hmm." She takes a few from his pile and helps him lay them all out before him, looking over all the titles. "Your accent, by the way," she adds. "You're not from here?" Don shakes his head. "Ah, reading up on our local heritage?" she continues. "Voodoo certainly is a big part."

"Oh. You're a, uh, practitioner, then?"

"Not quite practice." She reaches out to tap one particularly thick volume titled Encyclopedia of Louisiana Voodoo. "This one's pretty good, if you have the time. And no, I don't really perform myself but it's definitely in my life."

"Were you raised in it?"

"Not quite that either."  She pauses over another emblazoned with The Voodoo Life. "Don't bother with this one, it's a piece of popularised junk. And I mean, my parents didn't believe but I do. Because I've seen it."

Don's eyes flick over to her. "You've seen it."

"Oh yes. It happened when I was twelve years old. And here, this one's good too." She flips open another book, Loa Faith and Ritual, going through the pages as she continues to speak. "I was a twin, you know. Identical. Me and my sister did everything together, and I mean everything. We liked the same things, played the same games, our parents always bought clothes and toys for both of us together. And then," the smile fell from her face. "When we were ten, she was diagnosed with leukaemia. She fought, sort of, I mean we were just kids! What could she do? I didn't really understand what it was at the time either and all I knew was, it was unfair. So unfair."

Don looks down at the smooth table top. "It really is," he says quietly, mostly to himself. Entirely to himself, perhaps, for Charleigh went on without a break.

"And at the funeral," her voice begins to choke, "I just remember thinking, why? Why her? We were the same, we shared everything. Why did she get sick and not me? Why not me?" Her hands are trembling, but she continues to turn through the pages until she reaches one illustrated with four men standing in a grave yard, all in black tuxedos and top hats and smoking cigars. The first has a face half like a skull with cotton plugs in his nostrils as if a corpse, and seems to stand above the others. The second has a smile on his face and his arms spread wide, welcoming, much in contrast to the third whose eyes shine with a dangerous glint and whose lips twist in a horrid sneer. And the fourth sits on a grave stone, staring straight out of the book with the watchful eyes.

Don leans forward, and reads out the title. "The Guede."

"Yes," says Charleigh. "The family of death loa. Ruled by the barons." She points to the first. "This one is Baron Samedi, the head of the Guede. He's known for high tastes as well as his obscenity and debauchery, as most of them are. These guys generally make it so death doesn't have to be all doom and despair, it can have a sense of humour too." Her lips begin to curl upwards again. "Some would also say that he is the embodiment of all the Guede, and that the other Barons are mere manifestations of his other aspects. His, or their, day is in the name. Samedi. Saturday. It's French, you know." She indicates now to the second. "Now this one here is La Croix. He's the suave Baron, quite light-hearted and absurd about it all, and invites you to remember life's pleasures. But Voodoo is about balance, and you can't have the light side without the dark." Her finger moves sideways once more. "So you also have him, Baron Kriminel, the murderer condemned for justice. Cruel, demanding blood, and to be feared."

"I see." Don brings his face closer to the book, and the gazes of the illustrated spirits seem to bore into his as they look up from the paper. Voodoo has always been a distant thing to him, like the ancient gods of Greece and Egypt, but now after everything it suddenly feels all too close. "And you say you saw these?"

"Just one." Charleigh's hand finally comes to a stop over the last. "Baron Cimetiere." Don recalls enough from his high school French to translate. Baron Cemetery. "The guardian of the graveyard, of the line between, who keeps the dead souls in and the living ones out." Her voice drops down low. "And he's the one I saw, among the graves as I watched my sister's coffin go down and wondered if I should be there too. He looked at me, and even though he was in black like everyone else there he didn't look sad. He smiled. And then I knew, why-ever it was, it was done. And my sister's death didn't have to take anything else with it. That now I had to live, and come back when it's time, because she doesn't want me early either."

There was a long silence after the tale was told. Two pairs of eyes were both fixed on the book in front but glazed over in memory. Finally, it was the girl who broke the stillness with a small grin. "And so," she said. "Here I am."

Don looked over at her. "Yes. You are."

She straightens up and tucks a strand of blonde hair behind her ear. "I really do love this stuff, all of it. I'm even studying it—history major, you know. This city is just so," her gaze goes unfocused off into the distance, "so rich. In everything. I mean, we have some of the oldest families still living today, most still entwined in Voodoo culture. The Lesperes, the Ducrests, the Lentres, the Hervaus, the Nerauts—"

"Neraut."

Charleigh shoots Don a look at his abrupt interruption. "Yeah, that's what I said."

"Neraut was my grandmother's maiden name."

"Well there you go!" Charleigh beams and gives him a brisk pat on the arm. "They're everywhere! Now, you feel free to ask me if you have any more questions. And if you want to check any of these out, let me know so I can sign you up for a card!"

Don's eyes follow her as she walks away again, back to her chirpy self. A big part of the local indeed. And it seems in more than just heritage.

He spends several more hours at the library, going through the loa—the families, the domains, the veves—until it all begins to swim somewhat in his vision. He gets up and fetches another book on Louisiana Voodoo history, but ends up dropping it in front of him without even opening the thick covers.

He presses the heel of his left palm against his eyes, and raises a hand to signal for Charleigh.

* * *

He takes both Loa Faith and Ritual and the history book back to his hotel after another hotel dinner which satisfies without being memorable. He sits up in bed with them that night by the yellow light of a wall lamp and trails down the index of the first under L until he finds the page he's looking for.

Loko, or Loco, is the spirit of vegetation who guards sanctuaries and gives healing properties to leaves. He is worshipped by physicians and invoked when a treatment in undertaken, as well as being called often during conflicts due to his fair judgement.

Since Loko is the personification of plants, it can be hard to see when he mounts someone. He is recognisable by a stick he carries in his hand, and his favourite colours are red and white.

The last part draws a mix of a frown and a raised eyebrow to Don's face. He quickly flips back to the index to search under M.

Mounting in Voodoo practice is akin to the notion of possession, though the synonym is not direct. In rituals, loa are not merely called on but also invited to participate, and they do so by acting through a host. Certain behaviours and ways of speech can indicate the presence of a loa, and discern which one of them is present. Once they are identified they should be given the objects and symbols generally associated with them, served food, and then sometimes asked for help or advice.

Don finds himself a lot more absorbed than he had been when Adelaide had tried to explain it all to him last time. There's a lot he didn't get through in the library, and he flips through until he's stopped by a painting of a tall black woman with two snakes coiling down her arms that draws his questioning gaze to a halt. The caption identifies her as Queen Marie Laveau, but it's not the human that catches his attention. His eyes move further to the description beneath which talks of two of the most powerful loa that she called upon in her rituals. Damballah is the name, and his consort Ayida.

Don grabs a chunk of pages and turns to the index again with a little more force than necessary. Damballah, he reads when he finds it, is a sky loa, the primordial creator of life who rules the mind and the equilibrium of the world. His wife Ayida is a loa of fertility and a creator as well. But it's two lines in particular that makes his skin prickle with goosebumps and his blood run not quite cold, but certainly a bit less solid.

Damballah is commonly represented in the colour white, and is drawn in body as a large white serpent. His wife too is shown similarly, though her appearance takes all the colours of the rainbow."

* * *

They're there again, that night. Talking, hissing that little bit that punctuates their speech like hail droplets in a rainstorm. And again, he can only watch, and listen. It's almost like they're developing, getting stronger. It seems that where at first it was all an accident he managed to stumble on and worm himself into, now they're being handed straight to him in a firm and solid grip.

"You need him," one of them is saying again, and this time it's getting agitated. "You need his blood. That can save you, and only that now."

"I don't need him," Adelaide's tones reply, and it sounds even more ragged than last time. "I can't."

"And why not?"

The next words are small when they come. "Because I'm afraid."

Don can see the snakes raising their heads, even a flicker of an open mouth, but no matter how hard he squints he can't quite tell if they're truly speaking or just ...thinking, projecting. There's a slick sound of scales moving, the slither of a thick body and when that non-human voice comes again it's lower. Almost more intimate.

"He watched you slip past and didn't stop you, but you'll fall back if you keep going. He knows you need him.

"But he doesn't understand either."

"But what we understand is he's pushing him towards you even as you reach back. You hear that? He's coming anyway. And if you go to him instead of turning away, it's not yet too late."

"It's never too late. I can do this myself."

"Perhaps it's possible, slowly, using everything you have. But that means leaving yourself weak all this time. It is a very poor option."

"And he's not an option at all."

"Ah, so you still keep saying, but you still need it. Yes, we will do as you say for now, but in the end you still need the blood of a brother..."

Additional Info

AUTHOR BIO: A. E. Doylle is a young writer hailing from Sydney, Australia who is still somewhat riding on her childhood dream of writing professionally one day. She's spent a lot of time in flash fiction and poetry, and now with a few short publications under her belt is trying her hand at some longer works. She also enjoys reading, music ...and long walks on the beach.