Hard Ride

Posted: February 23, 2013 in Single-run ("One off") Stories
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The tinkle of bells intruded on her solitude—well, perhaps solitude was the wrong word, with the owner of the shop behind the counter in front of her, laying out herbs and vials for her to inspect. Setting out wares in hopes the mambo would buy even more of them than she had intended when she entered.

But for a glorious half-hour in the curio and voodoo shop, it had been her and the shop owner alone, she thought, as she pointed to the jimson weed and sulfur with one long, clear-glossed nail, nodding to the owner that she wanted both added to her order.

voodoo-shopFor some 30 minutes, there had been just the two of them. No curious tourists stumbling in from too much drinking on Bourbon Street to “experience” voodoo first-hand like gawkers at a zoo. No ignorant locals who thought a few exotic powders or dried leaves would give them magical power over the world. No fellow practitioners whom she typically chafed.

And it would, of course, end up being one of the latter, she thought, sighing inwardly as the door to the shop closed and the bell hanging from it progressed quickly toward silence. A houngan who held her in particular disdain. He cleared his throat with a noise that communicated all too well his disgust and irritation. She half expected him to spit a thick wad of phlegm on her.

“Unruly child. Undisciplined whore,” Harmon de la Croix said, spitting words instead of saliva. “How long will you be here?”

“I am not a child or a whore, Harmon,” answered Christine Barrow, turning toward him and regarding him with a face made up half black and half white to make it seem skull-like beneath her black top hat. “I am a mambo in need of supplies. I’ll be done soon and remove my presence from yours.”

“You are no proper mambo. You are a heretic and I would have you remove yourself from New Orleans—and from Louisiana—if I could,” Harmon sneered. “Baroness Samedi indeed. You offend him and all loa with such pretention naming yourself that. You particularly offend his wife, Maman Brigitte.”

“If he is so offended, why does that particular loa ride me so often, Harmon?” Christine answered. “I am Baroness Samedi when I dispense justice and protection with my transhuman powers. I am Mambo Barrow when I preside over ceremonies with the faithful. I intend no offense; instead, I honor him. I am an earthly consort whom he blesses to be of service to others, making my transhuman powers stronger when he rides me, and I thank his dear Maman for letting me be such to him.”

“You are a foul-mouthed, immature woman who has delusions of superiority and probably a touch of Tourette’s syndrome. Even Baron Samedi would blush at the obscene phrases you speak when he supposedly rides you. And certainly he is offended by the way you use your powers of illusion—your transhuman abilities—to make ghostly images of him descending upon you. Tricks to lure followers to your ceremonies. Sacrilege!”

Christine flushed with anger and hurt, and found herself in a rare moment of cursing the fact she had a white father and that her mother’s brown skin was so light. Christine looked very nearly Caucasian to the casual eye, and the blush was probably visible on her neck below the makeup, letting the houngan know he had actually scored an emotional blow.

I do sometimes regret using my powers during ceremonies, she thought. But the faithful often benefit by being able to see what I see or feel, or some semblance. My faith is real, and my devotion to the good god Bondyè is true. And if I name myself after Samedi, is it my fault? I know there are other loa who serve Bondyè, and sometimes they ride me. But Baron Samedi comes to me so much more often. I am a mambo, not a loa nor the Good God. It is not my place to refuse to be ridden, only to moderate Samedi’s actions sometimes when he is upon me and to make him dismount if he overstays his welcome.

“I am a mambo and act with the power of faith and true conviction, Harmon. You are a houngan and I respect your practice as a priest. But I spit on your value as a gentleman and regret that you fail as a peer, making me an outsider.”

“I’m not the only one,” Harmon said as Christine paid for her supplies and passed by him, ready to patrol the streets for a few hours as Baroness Samedi before she removed her makeup and dressed less garishly for tonight’s services with her small but growing flock. His small, dark eyes bored into her and he stroked one side of his thin black-and-gray mustache absently. “Many of us refuse to be associated with you, lest you corrupt our relationships with the loa and our commitment to the good god Bon Dieu.”

“Thank Bondyè and his loa, then, that a few houngans and mambos have more sense and give me the same respect I offer—the respect I wish you would let me offer you.”

“I want nothing from you, heretic,” he answered her as she stepped out to the sidewalk. “Nothing but your absence. And thank our creator Bon Dieu that I am finally granted that.”

* * *

Christine sat at her vanity table, staring for long minutes into the mirrored glass before her. For perhaps the thousandth time since she had developed her transhuman powers at age 12 and later entered the voodoo priesthood, she considered using her powers of illusion to make herself look more like the black woman she was. So many women like her over the generations had been happy to pass, but she wasn’t one of them. Mama said they could trace their family back to Marie Laveau and even farther back to priests of Haitian vodou. Yet on days like these, she felt her paleness mocked all of that.

But changing how she looked wouldn’t change who she was—who she was proud of being most days. Moreover, it would dishonor both the mother and father who had raised her. Besides, people had seen her with this lightly tanned skin for the entire 31 years of her life that she’d been in the Orleans Parish; what good would it do to use powers of illusion to darken her visage and hands? And where would she stop after that? Make her hair appear kinky and black instead of straight and brown?

I am as Bondyè’s will and world have made me. I am a mambo. I am also a transhuman protector of this city. My illusions are for patrolling and for ceremonies. Not for vanity or to soothe regrets and emotional wounds that I refuse to let go of or let heal.

She considered the array of makeup before her, both mundane and exotic, and considered whether she should do up her face as a skull again and work out her frustrations on some thugs in the dark side streets of the French Quarter so that a few less tourists would go to their hotel rooms as mugging victims tonight. She was tired, though. It has been a good ceremony tonight, and the loa Ayida-Weddo—the rainbow serpent—had ridden her tonight. Usually it was Baron Samedi or one of his fellow sexualized and profanity-loving Ghede. It had been far too long since one of the Rada loa had visited her congregation. Longer still since one of the Petro loa had, either, but Christine dreaded the violence they sometimes brought with them.

Baron Samedi and his Ghede kin might bring an air of debauchery and mischief to my ceremonies, but better to have bawdiness than brawling. Bruised thighs are usually more pleasurable in the aftermath than black eyes.

As she struggled with decisions and realized how dark the circles under her eyes were tonight, a light tap at her door demanded attention.

“Yes?” she inquired.

The door opened and a tall man with skin so dark it could almost legitimately be called black peered in. He smiled disarmingly in that usual way of his that suggested he meant no intrusion and at the same time wanted very much to brighten the room with a ribald joke or a loud, long laugh.

“Matthew. What can I do for you?” she asked of the man, who was one of her chief assistants, both in the conduct of this small voodoo church and the carrying out of her transhuman duties in costume.

“I have good news for you, Mambo,” he said. “I have gotten word from some of our friends abroad. We finally have a fix on Mister Voodoo.”

Christine smiled a grin so wicked it was like a razor-sharp sickle. Most people wouldn’t smile at thoughts of Mister Voodoo, much less two people in the same room express glee at the speaking of his name. But they had been hunting for him a long time. And any hunter is happy when the quarry is finally in sight.

“Where? Where is he, Matt?” she asked breathlessly. Harmon may have called her a heretic but Mister Voodoo was the one carrying out true sacrilege. In name and in deed, he exemplified everything in popular culture that made her religion of voodoo and its Haitian cousin vodou seem like something wicked and perverse.

“Atlanta, Mambo. The outskirts, anyway. He is here in the South again, but this time, he didn’t hide so well. Several hundred miles from us, sadly, but from what I’m told, he seems like he won’t be leaving Georgia any time soon. We have him, Christine. Baroness Samedi has him.”

“I don’t have him until he’s actually down—dead or, preferably, in someone’s custody,” she reminded Matthew. “Let everyone know there won’t be services for at least a few days. Have them say prayers and perform rituals on my behalf at home. I’ll need all the blessings I can get for this.”

* * *

Christine, in her full Baroness Samedi costume and makeup, stepped out of the rental van, smoking pouring forth before her from a cigar clutched between her teeth and embraced by her black-and-white-painted lips. The taste of expensive rum was on her tongue—not enough for a serious buzz but enough to entice Baron Samedi, she hoped. Tobacco and booze were the lures to bring him forth, and she feared she would need him soon. She’d need to risk a little of her edge to do that.

Setting the cigar down at the edge of the van’s side door, next to an open bottle of rum, and trailing smoke in her wake, she led three men—one of them a heavily armed Matthew—from the van toward the house in which Mister Voodoo was said to be baron_samedi_ii_by_koennya-d5jt6akholed up. She and Matthew headed for the front door, and the other two headed around back; this wasn’t going to be a subtle operation. The strategy might not be the best, but she intended to kick in the doors and take Mister Voodoo down hard and fast. The more finesse and stealth, she figured, the less likely they’d attack strongly and the more likely their approach would be seen.

Besides, Baron Samedi adores disruptions and chaos—if I want his help today, I need to do what will attract his attention and draw his blessings upon me, she theorized. It’s worked before; I really need it to work today.

Before she and Matthew could reach the front door, hoping to be more or less in sync with Leroy and Vic kicking in the back door, Baroness Samedi heard a sharp cry from the back of the house and recognized it as Vic. She heard Leroy shout, “Remember, the zombies are victims!”—then heard several shots fired. She and Matthew hesitated as they tried to figure out whether to head around back to help or continue toward the front door. Finally, she barked, “Move! Knock it in!”

Matthew surged forward, and kicked the door with a Doc Marten-booted right foot, which was attached to a 6-foot-3-inch,  240-pound body that rarely missed a daily trip to the gym. The door framed splintered, the door flew inward—suddenly, a gaunt, desiccated person lunged at him, flailing meaty fists attached to a pair of withered arms. For a person that looked like a corpse, the swings had a great deal of energy and inertia behind them, forcing Matthew to backpedal. Mister Voodoo appeared in the doorway then, a gun leveled at Baroness Samedi’s right-hand man. Three shots rang out, hitting Matthew in the bicep, shoulder and finally his chest. He tumbled to the ground and the “zombie” that had preceded Mister Voodoo out of the house fixated on her and charged.

She didn’t want to kill him—or her. So hard to tell given the condition of the shirtless, shoeless body in wrinkled jeans. The horrid thing in front of her, as much as it looked like a member of the undead, was just some poor victim—a living person consigned to an earthly hell. Mister Voodoo had the power to control minds, though it seemed he needed considerable time to zombie-shirtlessestablish a link and control, since he’d never simply wrested an enemy’s will away in a fight. Why these poor thralls looked the way they did was still largely a mystery. Baroness Samedi’s sources had liberated one zombie from Mister Voodoo years earlier and nursed her back to some semblance of health, and they theorized that either he had Necro or Disruptor powers he used to damage their tissues and organs, or that he was a Vamp that slowly fed on their bodily fluids.

Opinion leaned toward the latter, since he seemed to go through zombies fairly rapidly, with what seemed to be a new set of three to five of them every few weeks.

Disruptor, Necro or Vamp—whichever it is I almost certainly don’t want him touching me or I’m probably finished.

She didn’t want to kill the zombified thrall, but she also couldn’t afford to be grappling with the wretchedly altered person, so she fired at its legs. Not being all that good an aim, though, and mostly used to relying on her powers, it took six bullets to finally bring the zombie to the ground. Meanwhile, Mister Voodoo was firing at her. He wasn’t any kind of marksman himself, and actually hit his own zombie several times. A few other bullets whizzed past Baroness Samedi as she emptied her gun on him, hoping she’d hit something vital or at least incapacitating. A bullet finally caught her in the left hip and she stumbled. She saw him take careful aim and tumbled away quickly, crying out as she rolled over her hip wound several times and left wet, red stains in the grass. Two bullets sprayed soil and grass from the spot where she had been, and then Mister Voodoo was clicking on an empty magazine.

Baroness Samedi struggled back up to her legs unsteadily as Mister Voodoo charged toward her, seemingly free of even a single gunshot wound despite her volley of bullets. Seeing her regain her bearing, he slowed up to prepare for an attack, and grinned cockily at her.

“Oh, this is rich! A voodoo mambo coming to take me down. Too bad you’re just gonna fail, bitch,” Mister Voodoo said. “Your two dudes are being pummeled and chewed on in my backyard and your wingman is down in my front lawn. I’ve heard about you, Baroness Samedi. Such a joke. Superstitious cunt! Delusional slut with a need to justify the fact she like the occasional gang-bang by the superstitious coons that follow her. And you think your powers get stronger when Baron Samedi rides you. You’re too stupid to realize it’s just adrenaline or whatever, and your powers kicking up under stress. Well, I’m gonna stress you out; no doubt of that. But whatever that stresses squeezes out of you in terms of power, it ain’t gonna be enough. I’ll be beating you down and maybe fucking you ‘til you’re dead. Or maybe I’ll make you my newest zombie. Wouldn’t that be freakin’ ironic?”

He charged her, reaching for her arm. He snapped his fingers around her wrist as she tried to pull the limb away from his grasp.

And he closed on thin air.

Startled, he stepped back and then, as he reoriented, he saw her a few feet away. Whatever satisfaction Baroness Samedi had felt over tricking him, using her illusion powers to make herself appear much closer than she was, they were dulled by the knowledge she was bleeding and limping, and wouldn’t be able to stay out of his reach for long—or continue to generate complex illusions, for that matter.

She felt nothing of her favored loa’s presence in her. She was operating on her power alone, against a transhuman villain who’d never been captured and had killed dozens of people over the course of his career—hundreds perhaps if he did indeed consume the very life essence of his withered and mind-controlled slaves.

She regarded her enemy, searching for a weakness. Searching for a plan of attack. Circled slowly as she limped on a throbbing, blood-soaked leg.

Mister Voodoo just kept smiling, his teeth glistening white and just a single gap in front where a canine had either been knocked out or extracted. His eyes were a sharp, light brown—mottled hazel and boring into her with intense concentration. MisterVoodooHis costume was a canvas tunic with all kinds of supposedly voodoo paraphernalia adorning it—chicken claws, shark fangs, mummified fingers and toes, and more—some of them oddities she’d never seen in any voodoo shop. In a few places, mandrake roots were sewn to the material, and from his neck hung a voodoo doll of beige felt that was pierced with at least a dozen pins and nails, with red spots around them that could be fake blood or might real, though fake seemed more likely unless he’d just recently applied it.

Voodoo doll! That pisses me off on top of everything else. He’s made it into the violent, curse-associated tool that movies and stories love so much. I’ve never known a houngan or mambo who ever used a voodoo doll for anything other than a blessing or—in the worst-case scenario—to exert some control over someone whose behavior needed to be reined in.

She realized he probably had some sort of body armor under the crude, totemic tunic. Probably a codpiece of some sort, too, so she wouldn’t be too quick to aim for his balls. He sported heavy leather and steel gauntlets to protect his hands and forearms, shoulder and elbow pads, and heavy steel-toed boots and knee pads. She was facing off against a man more heavily protected than a football player, except for his lack of helmet. His head was the only place she was sure to do some damage. Now she just needed an illusion to distract him so she could—

Baroness Samedi grunted as she was hit from behind and as frail-looking but strong arms wrapped around her and dragged her to the ground. One of his other zombies, having snuck up behind her.

“This is where it ends, bitch,” Mister Voodoo said, now sauntering toward her with slow, arrogant steps. “This is where you die or end up my newest bony-ass slave. So sweet. Another win in the Mister Voodoo column.”

“Fuck that, you pompous cunt-waffle,” she snarled, surprised at her language. Then she smiled. She almost never swore unless Baron Samedi or one of the other Ghede were upon her. Her patron hadn’t abandoned her. He had come to lend his power. She sighed as she felt the spirit of the loa settle over her. Mount her. “We ain’t even danced yet sugah, and here you are getting ready to suck the life outta me. How goddamned rude of you. What ever happened to romance?”

She stood up, ignoring the pain in her hip and leg now, standing and dragging the zombie back up with her, its arms still pinning her arms to her sides. Baroness Samedi felt a warm ripple of comfort wash over her injured limb and smiled. The loa Baron Samedi was a trouble-maker and charmer, the lord of the dead and an aficionado of tobacco, alcohol and sex. But he could also heal and cure disease in whomever he desired. A power she enjoyed when he rode her at times like these.

“So you’re standing. Big deal. You still ain’t going nowhere,” Mister Voodoo taunted her. “Not in time, at least. You ain’t even trying to throw illusions against me. Weak cunt.”

“My cunt’s wet and strong, darlin’,” came the sensuous voice from Baroness Samedi’s mouth. “Too bad you won’t get to find out, fuckwad. Maybe you’d like some cock from me instead, baby. Like you’ll be getting a daily dose of in prison, peckerwood.”

The ground exploded all around Mister Voodoo as gauzy-looking but substantial tentacles—five in all—burst from the ground. Quasi-matter constructs that flailed, slapping him around and then slapping him to the ground. One whipped toward Baroness Samedi and pulled one of the zombie’s arms from her roughly. She pushed the poor thing away and stepped toward Mister Voodoo, who had scrambled through the morass of tentacles spawned by the Ecto powers Baroness Samedi had never even known she had access to before. Her heart sang at this newest gift from the loa.

“I ain’t scared of you, bitch! What? You came after me because you don’t like my little take on voodoo. My special branding. I was raised in that superstitious shit. Fuck your stupid-ass religion! I’ll mock it and make people fear it more until the day I die. All while I kill and steal and take what I want.”

Unstable as quasi-matter was, the tentacles began to dissociate, and he batted one away, satisfied to watch it quiver and vanish.

“You can’t keep your fake cock up, can you, Baroness Samedi? Worthless cunt. Dead woman walking.”

“You’ve used death words a couple times now, limp-dick,” Baroness Samedi crooned. “And that’s just the problem. This is the lord of the dead riding this woman’s body and soul, and he’s a little sick of you sending quite so many people to him before their natural time. Just because I let the dead into the next life don’t mean I want a fucking crowd at my door of confused bastards. You insult this woman’s religion and you insult me and all the loa, cock-wad. And my dicks have spiritual Viagra flowing like rum on Bourbon Street, he-bitch!”

Three new tentacles coalesced from the air, batting Mister Voodoo around as Baroness Samedi walked calmly to where Matthew lay on the ground. He was breathing, but erratically, and she passed her hands over his wounds, the bullets slowly pressing out of his flesh and the holes sealing as if he’d never been shot. Only the smears of blood on his skin showed anything had happened. Baroness Samedi turned at the snap of a branch, Mister Voodoo racing toward her through the flurry of quasi-matter tentacles.

She snapped her finger, and a new tentacle appeared in front of him, rigid and straight, and his forehead ran straight into it. He stumbled, stunned, and then fell back as it punched him in the face four times.

“I ain’t done with the stud down here. Gotta fix up this rich piece of beefcake for my mambo. Wait your goddamn turn, Mister Frou-Frou.”

Passing her hands over Matthew one last time to complete the regeneration of his wounded body, Baroness Samedi walked to Mister Voodoo and gazed down at him, her head cocked and eyes curious.

“Did you think I’d forget about ya, sweetie?” she asked almost demurely. “I still got a treat for you. I’ll love you long time, soldier!”

A shimmering, ghostly tentacle struck him in the mouth several times, splitting his lip, and then hit him six more times. He struggled to his knees, coughing, and spit up several teeth in a spray of fine red mist. Then the tentacle slid quickly into his mouth and down his throat. He went rigid, scrabbled at it with his fingers, and stumbled, gagging desperately but nearly silently, breath lost to him.

“I loved the movie ‘Deep Throat’ back in the day. The loa like the movies, too. I just always preferred the X-rated ones,” Baroness Samedi said. “How do you like that cock, fucker? This day just isn’t motherfucking going your way all of a sudden, is it?”

When Mister Voodoo went still, the tentacle vanished and the zombie that had attacked Baroness Samedi before simply wandered aimlessly in circles, its unconscious master unable to give it direction. Baroness Samedi sighed as she felt the loa’s presence lift away from her, surprised with how gently she’d been mounted and dismounted today.

She shook her head, got her bearings, and then handcuffed Mister Voodoo. Once she confirmed that her other two men were—as she feared—dead, she roused Matthew and called the police.

Nothing ever goes as planned, she thought sadly, but at least the job is done.

* * *

In a show of coincidence and symmetry so contrived that Christine could only assume it was engineered by the loa themselves, houngan Harmon de la Croix walked once again into the same shop where they had traded words days before, just as she was ready to leave.

“Hmph!” Harmon snorted as he saw her. “At least today you’re not flaunting your heresy by dressing like Baron Samedi. Some of the other houngans and myself thank you, though, for dealing with Mister Voodoo. You’re still a whore and a fraud, though.”

Christine smiled wanly, responding, “It was my honor to serve the loa and the creator god in doing so. But what, Harmon—what will finally get you to stop calling me those horrible names and accept me as a mambo?”

“Can you make the Christians and Hollywood and all the rest stop misrepresenting and fearing us?”

“No, Harmon. I’m no miracle worker. Just a mambo.”

“Not even a mambo,” he retorted. “Just a foul-mouthed slut pretending at being a priestess.”

Christine gave him no response as she brushed past him. Outside, she pulled a hip flask from the pocket of her jeans and swallowed a slug of rum. Once it was slipped back against the curve of her ass, she pulled out a slim cigarillo and lit it up, feeling the gentle caress of Baron Samedi on her mind and soul as she puffed.

You are the constant thorn to keep my mindful, Harmon, she mused, exhaling a thick cloud of acrid smoke into the air, relishing its taste as it mixed with the rum in her throat and belly. At least I know Baron Samedi is proud of me.

________________________________________
Baroness Samedi photo (actual title by artist/photographer is “Baron Samedi II”) is used with permission of Koen, whose work can be seen at DeviantArt under the moniker KoenNya [click here to view her account]. Use here should NOT be implied as permission for the photo to be redistributed or re-used elsewhere or for any other purposes, commercial or otherwise, by myself or others.)

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