Mighty cooty fiyo – hey la hey, hey la hey
Mighty cooty fiii-yo hey la hey, hey la hey
And I love to hear them call him Indian Red.
Indian Red – Traditional
South Carolina, 2009
Camaraderie. Brotherhood. Family.
These words meant nothing to Paul Lambert until he stopped across a West Ashley parking lot and saw the foulest creature he’d ever looked upon. A big one, stinking of beer, decay, and a perfume so sweet and sickly a ten-dollar whore would have turned it away. Dumb, too, that one. He could tell by the way it loped out of the store, lifting a battered baseball cap to the occupants as it shifted a brown sack of paperback books against its hip.
Paul smelled it, at least sixty feet away from where he stood at the doorway of the Indian Head Lounge, the hum and bustle of Highway 17 rumbling behind him, and Jake going on about some cousin who got one in Bayou Aux Carpes back in the day.
Jake told him his Daddy came up from Grand Bayou with the rest of the Plaquemines wolves to hunt. Who the fuck needs cell phones when you’ve got pack telepathy, yo? They roasted that leech, just like their Mi’kmag tribe ancestors did over four hundred years before them: the head on one pike, the body on another.
As Paul saw Emmett Cullen, got a good whiff of his vamp stench, the lies and half-truths of the past days lost meaning, even lost their place in his memory. He understood at that moment he was a weapon, that the events of the past three days had only brought together plans that were hatched over a thousand years ago, and that he was merely a means to an end.
He never felt part of anything. Even his own odd mix of features that spoke of deltas, Mekong and Mississippi, his own skin was a stranger to him.
Since it happened, since she was there and then gone, his own mind, too, became foreign to him. Novenas and incense, sounds and smells once the closest he’d been to comfort, peace, and God… they buzzed and crackled in his ears and nose.
Too heavy, too many words, too much smell. Too many voices called to him but brought no face to mind as they tumbled through Paul’s head.
His second cousin, a man he did not remember existed, had arrived at the tiny shotgun house in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana that he occupied with his mother, Thien, and sister, Ameline, just two days past. Maman knew him, even expected him.
Daddy – Thầy Paul as Maman called him– had told her his family’s stories at night through the iron-barred gates surrounding the embassy in Saigon; he was locked in, she was locked out. When he had left Saigon, he was among the last Marines to go. A burly man had lifted Maman from her Grand-Mere’s arms, delivered her to Daddy’s waiting ones, and they’d flown away.
When Paul came to Charleston, he discovered the truth. Daddy wasn’t human; only something close to it.
From the time he was a knee baby, when Maman had told her little boy Paul the story, he’d imagined his father with his ruddy skin and hawk’s beak nose putting little Maman on the back of a great silver bird he’d snatched from nghĩ rằng những đám mây bay xa hơn –the place beyond the clouds – and taking them far away from the bad man named Charlie. They lived in a castle on stilts that rose proud from the marsh and looked out over a great placid ocean, a full company of alle-gawtors as their sentries.
When his child’s imagination gave way to an adult’s knowledge, Paul understood the silver bird was really a helicopter called a Huey, the bad man Charlie was Viet Cong, and an agent called Orange took Daddy away. It gave him the cancer that ate his liver and turned his lungs into the spongy black-spotted gunk he spat out as he shook and coughed. He had refused to go up to the Veteran’s Hospital in New Orleans, said he wanted to die like a human in Grand Bayou, not hooked up to some machine far away from the marsh that was his home.
Maman,A’hn Qui Thien, she’d been a girl of sixteen, a kitchen maid, brought from Hué to Saigon with her grandmother, Uhen Trang, by men fleeing the once-Imperial city on the Perfume River. The NVA was not kind to the conquered as they poured into the cities abandoned by the South Vietnamese army. The lucky ones were shot on the spot or after trial as a spy. The unlucky went to reduction camps. Pol Pot in neighboring Cambodia was not the only conqueror determined to re-educate his people.
The unmarried brothers who employed Maman and her Grand-Mere had been professors at the esteemed Imperial University; from a family that knew such wealth that Uhen Trang and her little granddaughter A’hn Qui Thien couldn’t even comprehend enough so they might dream of it. The two men could have escaped easily, made a new life in another country far from war-ravaged Vietnam, instead they pushed the elderly woman and her granddaughter on a transport, giving up their only means of escape.
Uhen Trang had been told later the two brothers were hung from the banyan tree that towered over their home’s garden. They’d swung from nooses made of their intestines. The brother’s names were lost to the days of terror and flight from the only home Maman had known. She still said prayers for them, could still remember their faces. She and her grandmother had survived seven years in Saigon until that city fell, too, taking the country of Vietnam with it.
Unlike his cousins, Paul had not been threatened to good behavior by parents chuckling ironic warnings of the Laroup-Garou. You go on now, cher, and clean dat room like Mama tell, or I’ll send d’Lar-oop Garou to get you. He’d been told he would swing from his own guts if he talked to those dirty swamp children who called themselves his cousins. Maman had whispered it in his ear in Việt ngữ, her language. Daddy couldn’t wrap his Creole tongue around Maman’s words, it was her own to use with–and against–Paul and his older sister, Ameline.
“Now, mo garson, don’nya be too mad with Maman,” Daddy had told him as they glided around the narrow spots of silty soil that emptied from the Mississippi River into the land around them. Paul had been thrilled to go with Daddy as he checked the muskrat traps instead of sitting up in the house listening to the mother and sister argue in the sharp twangs of a country that would never be the same again.
“She don’t let me go off with th’ other boys,” Paul had told his father as they searched a mud flat for one of their snares. “She say the Blaquieres an’ Ulrys donno count, Daddy.”
No answer had come to the seven-year-old’s complaint, only the silence that tells a child his parent’s attention is diverted elsewhere. After watching his father’s broad, olive-drab-encased back for a time, Paul had picked his way through the sticky black mud to the elder Lambert’s side.
“Daddy?” he’d said, his voice sounding small even over the gentle lapping of the tide coming in and distant shore birds.
“Go on back to do boat, cher.” Daddy had answered quietly. All the men they knew had big proud voices to match their giant bodies. Quiet Daddy was not usual, not good. The boy had reached his father’s side just in time to have heard him muttering words in the French-Creole he was not meant to understand. At his father’s large feet had lain a dead alligator, not stiff and bloated from baking in the Louisiana sun but shriveled, the mottled hide compressed on the skeleton underneath.
“What happen to de alle-gawtor, Daddy?” Paul had whispered with the morbid fascination of a small child. He’d looked around his feet for a stick as his nostrils curled at a fancy-sweet scent on the air. “He look like someone took a straw and sucked da juice outa him.”
“Go on back to do boat, Paul, like I done say.” This time the words had been accompanied by a firm shove towards the shallow aluminum boat his father rowed among the marshes. “Go on, now. Listen to Daddy.”
Paul trudged back to the place his father had run the small craft aground. As he’d clambered over the edge, he’d been surprised to see his father closing the distance between them in big strides, his face a mask of angry rumination that he’d never seen before, not even when Maman talked about the bad man called Charlie.
That night Paul and Ameline slept in his parents’ big bed with Maman, the three holding their rosaries, saying prayers over and over, as Daddy and his cousins had talked out in the front room. Eventually, Daddy called Maman out to them.
“Billy will stay with y’all, cher. We’ll take care of it.”
Maman had returned to bed, muttering in Vietnamese to her ivory beads. Sounds from behind the door told Paul they were not alone in their stilt-raised castle on the marsh. He’d fallen into his sleep reluctantly, dreaming of flashes of golden light, a black dog guarding their parents’ bedroom door, and bonfires on the marshes.
When Daddy had passed soon after, the big men he called his pack came up to the front door, not dressed in suits and nice ties, but in old, musty-smelling clothes. Sad, bedraggled feathers had poked from their falls of inky hair and the cruel-looking spears they carried weren’t shiny and bright like the painted, plastic sword Daddy brought Paul from one of his trips up to New Orleans to see one of his doctors. The swords Harry Clurierre, Old Sam Ulry, and the others carried were as tall as they were, with heavy metal points that had looked like the inside of a dragon’s mouth. The wood was singed, worn with age–and use.
Billy Blaquiere had spoken to Maman on the doorstep; she wouldn’t let them in the house.
“Thien, I know you n’don care for us, but we the Wildman’s fonmie. We take care our own, and we teach th’ boy right.”
Around his mother’s tiny frame, Paul had been able to see the man, just as big and gentle-looking as Daddy, offer an envelope thick with bills.
“We go tomorrow. You don’t find us. Leave us alone.” Maman had spat as she looked up what must have been close to two feet separating them. “I take care of my chil-ran, Billy Blaquiere.”
“Leaving?” Ameline pushed past him, her black skirt whipping at Paul’s face. “No! Not leaving, Maman!”
“Leaving, yes. I say goes, you have no say. Go sit and not dishonor Father, Am-ah-enne.”
Maman had pushed the envelope and Billy Blaquiere away with such force the sweat dampened paper shredded under her fingers, sending wrinkled bills cascading to the sun-bleached porch boards and the shell-littered scrub below.
“You go away,” she’d repeated over Ameline’s sobs.
That night Ameline disappeared into the Bayou.
A woman named Katrina came into Paul’s life twice, each time with life-altering consequences. She had blown in first as a storm, nature’s fury the man on Maman’s TV called it, and twisted the shoddy, mold-spotted, white clapboards from their little house as Maman sat at Ameline’s feet clutching her ivory rosary and muttering in her mother tongue. Paul was still enough of a boy to wonder if Maman might blow away with the howling wind and enough of an angry young man to wish she would. Ameline, poor haunted Ameline, would have needed more than a gale to lift her from the Earth now. The boy had sat on the floor beside his sister’s bed as the murky water seeped around his legs, struggling to keep his tears at bay. Three times already Paul had sent the parish officials away, telling them Maman wouldn’t leave; they would ride the storm in their little house.
Maman had evacuated twice before in her lifetime. She’d never been able to return, to repatriate herself. How could she have believed anything would be different the third time?
Maman and Ameline would be arrested for child endangerment.
“Please, mister,” Paul had mumbled over the rain, causing the deputy to lean down to the fifteen-year-old and tip a torrent of rain water from his cap and on to the boy’s feet. Paul gulped at his shyness and spoke again. “I say please, Mister, do no make us leave here. My sis’ah, sir, she can no move too good.”
“Where’s your mama, boy?” the deputy growled, pushing his way past the slight boy.
“Back dahy…” he’d coughed, took in another breath of rain-heavy air, and tried to speak to the retreating form, only to hear his own words falter, then concede the struggle to be heard over the tropical deluge. He’d followed the deputy’s footsteps, hands shoved deep into his pants pockets and shoulders drawn tight around his neck.
“Hoooo -ly…” At least this man had been kind enough to cut himself off with a low whistle through his teeth rather than express what was most likely morbid fascination combined with a valiant effort to face the room and the smell like a man.
“Mister, sir, please… Maman no want no trouble, but Ameline, she can no get aroun’ now like I say.”
Paul had turned mournful eyes, brown as rich, silted earth, toward his sister who attempted to shift her ruined body from view. As if it were possible.
The night of her father’s funeral, Ameline Lambert had been distraught over her mother’s insistence that they were leaving Grand Bayou for Jefferson Parish the next day. Thien Lambert had refused to give further detail to her sixteen-year-old daughter, who’d sobbed as she tugged at the tiny Vietnamese woman’s arm, nor to the giant man who had stood on the front porch of the Lambert home, speaking with such care and apparent sorrow at the loss of Big Paulie, as they called him.
When night closed over the deep bowl of bayou sky, the usually timid Lambert daughter had found her courage and went off in to the dark to find the boy she loved from afar. Ameline had watched Rémy Ulry for years from her required station at her mother Thien’s side. The Lambert children had been kept close to their Maman, never permitted prolonged interaction with the tussle of young children who yipped and tumbled at play while their broad-shouldered fathers’ laughter tolled across church halls and back yards. Ameline once was a mild-tempered, quiet girl, reared in the tradition of her mother’s country and grown into an exotic beauty with the combination of her parents’ globe-spanning ethnicities. Shy glances and dart-eyed smiles had been the only interaction between the cloistered girl and the imposing boy-man who glanced in her direction when Thein’s attention was turned to her seven year-old-son.
To the present day Paul still found it difficult to remember his sister’s smile, much less a time when Ameline might move about with freedom on limbs that could bear her. He did remember that evening with exact detail, although someone had whispered in his little boy ear that this was an important moment in the terrifying wash of the day his father was buried in the Lambert crypt.
Paul watched from his bedroom window as Ameline bounded down the shell-lined front walk, graceful as a gazelle with the moon shining on her shoulders and sheet of long black hair almost blue in the silvery light. Even though he was but a child of seven, Paul saw transformation on Sè Ameline’s face; Daddy was gone and Maman was taking them from their home, but his sister finally shone with possibility.
Maman discovered her absence during her pre-dawn inventory of the house’s occupants and possessions, waking Paul with a smart slap to his cheek, her shrill demands in her own language barely comprehensible to the sleepy child.
The men of Daddy’s pack arrived before eight, looking grim. Billy Blaquiere held a quilt-encased form in his massive arms. As Paul peeked around his mother’s waist at the bundle his father’s cousin bore, he noticed dark stains shimmering with moisture on the weathered cotton.
“You go on back porch,” Maman directed quietly, in a soft voice Paul had not heard from his mother since his father’s illness upended their lives. “Quick, quick, cậu bé.”
When he closed the door that separated the Lambert’s kitchen and the Gulf-side screened porch, Paul discovered Jacob Blaquiere sitting on the shiny red two-wheeler that was his father’s final gift from New Orleans.
“Hey ya, Ti-garson Paulie.”
“Hey ya,” Paul replied, flinching slightly at the odd sensation of using the standard form of address of his father’s people; he was incapable of forming those salutations himself, forbidden by Maman by being familiar with the Lamberts’ cousins.
The bigger boy rocked on his heels for a moment, came to a decision and faced Paul again.
“Why do your Mama no let you run aroun’ with us?”
Paul glanced over his shoulder to the kitchen door, wary of his mother but desperate to interact with his cousin. He looked once more for surety, then stepped toward Jacob Blaquiere, every question in his seven-year old boy’s heart tumbling out in one breath. This would be his only chance to understand.
“Maman say you all bad, that you all was borned damned to the devil with demon blood. Maman say bad things happen in the wood, and our Daddies do it because the demon make them. Maman say if I say my prayer and stay with her the demon won’t get me, too.”
Jacob looked past his cousin to confirm their privacy, and stepped closer to Paul.
“No, no, cousin. The pack, they fight the demon and keep us safe.” He had leaned toward Paul’s ear, his eyes glinting with excitement over his secret knowledge and the opportunity to share it with his younger cousin. “If my Daddy not been there last night, the sookie-yant, he would have got your Sè Ameline, too. It got Remy Ulry before he could turn.”
Before Paul could question Jacob further, a deep male voice came from behind them.
“Let’s go on home, now, Jake.”
The two boys looked at each other reluctantly, Jacob enjoying the sensation of holding an audience rapt; Paul almost buzzing at the prospect of understanding so many family secrets.
“Jacob, now. Say Adyeu to cousin Ti-garson Paulie.”
Jacob scampered to his father’s side and, as they moved toward Billy’s ancient red pickup, nodded a good-bye.
“Wait, Mister, please,” Paul whispered to the man who was sworn by his own father to look after the Lambert family. Billy Blaquiere turned to his pack-brother’s son, a tight smile on his lips but going no further. He looked toward the house and then crouched in front of the child.
“What is it, mo tchen chanchon?”
“What happen to Remy Ulry, sir? Was it they sooki-yant?”
The man’s face constricted, his jaw tensing.
“You don’t need to worry about the soucouyant, yet. You run on to you Maman. Sister all better now.”
In the weeks after Katrina in late summer of 2005, Maman’s devotion to her rosary had become even more intense. She’d attended every mass, installed graphic Sacred Heart illustrations on bare walls and tabletops, had assisted the brothers at chapel tirelessly.
She had also made a decision.
Maman’s own flavor of religious belief was a unique one, not unlike the closely guarded gumbo recipes passed down and refined by generations of Louisiana families: a little of this, a little of that, simmer until the parts are barely discernible. Hardline pre-Vatican II Catholicism, Buddhist mysticism, and ancient superstition made for a strange mise en place, but Maman was a devoted practitioner. She drew together the half-comprehended whispers her late husband put in her ear through the gate at the US Embassy in Saigon twenty years earlier, her own lifetime of war and terror, her grandmother’s peasant beliefs, and stories of saints like St. Catherine of Siena. Because of her husband’s family, all demon-possessed, her Paul had been led into the bayous and conducted acts of nighttime depravity which turned to the rot that blackened his body. Ameline had followed one of those demons from the delta, been returned to them but bore a face full of angry scars and an appetite no amount of food would fill. Thien herself had been cursed to live in a strange country, unable to care for her ancestors’ tombs, without her man to look after her.
Maman had decided Paul would save them all.
“No issue,” she had told her bewildered son after a twelve hour day of scrubbing oily muck and mold from the walls in a parishioner’s flood damaged home. “You will be priest. No more cursed blood.”
After Maman’s edict intending him to the priesthood was handed down, Paul followed his mother diligently on her errands, served as altar boy at every mass. When the young parish priest, calling himself ‘Brother Tim’, had encouraged Maman to let Paul arrive at his own decision regarding a vocation once he would have completed college, the Lambert mother and son had begun to travel from Barataria to Morrero, then Gretna, Bridge City and finally into New Orleans in search of a traditionalist congregation that would support Maman’s plans. Ameline stayed in her bed almost constantly, cocooned in layer upon layer of pulpy fat, slick with perspiration and unable to support her own scarred body on her bones. When not attending to her ravenous appetite, she dozed, frequently screaming for Remy Ulry and mumbling about a black haired woman with no eyes.
“Good afternoon, Paul,” Father Tim said, mustering his warmest smile to cover his unease at Paul’s daily arrival. The boy was unsettling and often the young priest wished for a streak of late-teenage rebellion to open up in him so that he might be rid of task of finding work for him.
“I’ve just been sorting out some donations from the Anchorage, Alaska Diocese, of all places. Does your mother let you drive?”
“Yes, Father. For the market and Sister’s medicine.”
“Ah, well…” Tim handed Paul a set of keys for the church van. Surely this would occupy him for a few hours; maybe the boy would wander aimlessly a bit and enjoy a day of freedom. The cost of gas would be worth the relief of him. “I’d like you to load the church van with those boxes of donated clothing and canned food and take them to St. Ignatius down in Grand Bayou.”
Paul hesitated, considering Maman’s reaction if he went back to the little town at the end of Plaquemines Parish. She would be furious, but even more so, he reasoned, if he disobeyed the priest. Nodding wordlessly, he took the keys and began to load the ancient white van.
He arrived late that afternoon at the small church, set up in a temporary building at the edge of a sandy strip of land. Paul found the doors of the corrugated steel building locked, and there was no response to his knock there or at the tiny mobile home that served as the church rectory. He unloaded the boxes of donations, left a note on the rectory door, and returned to the van, his task complete by the time evening shadows were stretching out over the church parking lot. As Paul started for the van, he paused, looking over his shoulder at his former home.
Father Tim’s wish was granted. Paul pocketed the slim keyring and walked off down the narrow shoulder that separated road and marsh.
The shock of another voice behind him should have been startling, but the tone of it was so familiar Paul found himself relieved to hear it. He turned to the sound, more haunting melody than human voice, feeling the unusual sensation of a smile spreading across his face
“Katrina?”The name spilled across his lips as though he’d said it every day, thousands of times, in whispers and laughter. His logical mind warred with something more ephemeral, but just as real to him.
Paul stared, fascinated, at the shimmering woman before him. He knew her. The slanted angles of her face, the moody amber and rose scent floating from her white-blond hair, the particular pitch of her clarion voice, The air around her even resonated within him, drawing him into a cyclone of recognition and astonished but futile attempts to clutch at a reality that had never before felt comfortable.
This woman, however, made perfect sense.
He stepped toward the woman, into the glittering, golden aura around her, and drew her against him. The heavy salt air from the gulf lifted her pale blond hair around them, swirling around their heads as his head bent toward hers, finding her lips waiting as though they had always been just beyond him, waiting for him to take the first step toward her.
“You came back,” she whispered and kissed him again.
In his short, isolated and sad life, through Maman’s roller-coaster moods and Ameline’s slow drown in her own scarred flesh, Paul Lambert could remember few times of joy after his father’s death. He had few happy memories after he, Maman and Ameline stopped one final time at the crypt holding Paulie Lambert, the Wildman of Grand Bayou and seven times removed grandson of a Mi’kmaq warrior called Etlintoq- Tápu, paid their stoic respects, and drove north toward higher ground and away from the marshes the Lambert family had called home for centuries. However, the moment Katrina’s luminescent hand touched his arm and her mouth fell against his, Paul was besieged with memories of other men who knew this same otherworldly woman, even sights and sounds his own father had never spoken of but Paul knew to be his. He knew he was bound to the woman whose skin glimmered and danced with refracted lilac and gold from the setting sun, and knew, without a doubt, there would be no other now that she had made herself known.
“I came home,” he said, the sound clear and full, not the mumbled or stuttered boy’s voice no one was meant to hear. Paul Lambert spoke in that moment as a man.
Her hands on his face and neck were gentle and so blessedly cool in the heavy, heated air, the voice that tickled the fine hair on his earlobe was more ethereal than the choir at the St. Louis cathedral in New Orleans. The Lambert men carried their own secret within the secret of their tribe: Katrina, whose origins they understood but refused to acknowledge, was as much a part of their history as the real soucouyant who terrorized the Dominican village where the Lamberts, Blaquieres, and Ulrys settled after their flight from Acadia. The flesh-eating witch was torn into pieces, her head separated from her body and burned, just as this pale woman, who now faced Paul Lambert, had instructed his eight times removed grandfather, Paul-Georges Lambert.
And, just as Paul-Georges promised his two friends Sebastien Ulry and Jean-Claude Blaquiere, the long-limbed white woman with hair the color of pearls did appear the night the soucouyant returned to their village to take another skin so she could hide her own revolting form. The witch cursed the three men while the fire ate her withered, pustule-scarred skin and turned her ill-shaped neck bones to lilac dust, it consumed the final words of her curse upon those three men with a gust of spark and ash flaming through her throat.
The men and their progeny would have fully turned into je-rouges-and indeed they were cursed to live as shapeshifting wolves, turning without warning and dependent on the proximity of vampire species like the soucouyant, but the hag’s final spoken curse was silenced by the embers of her own burning bones ensuring the men would never drink from humans as the vampire did.
Right before the soucouyant’s eyes bubbled into a spitting, hissing yolk, they found the face of Paul-Georges and glared at him, accusatory and full of fury.
“She will be bound to you as you are to her,” the blazing, dismembered head screeched over the crackle and sizzle of its own flesh “When your eighth son lies with her, Paul-Georges Lambert, my revenge will come.”
Paul heard this ancestral story, this race memory, without a word from Katrina, knew it within a second of her lips touching his. He saw, through Paul-Georges’ eyes, the clawing, snarling soucouyant flailing as a pair of giant teeth impaled her and heard the unearthly screeches and howls as her limbs were rent from her trunk. Her torso fell with a sickening thud to the sandy ground as the head and spine ripped from it. As if he had seen it himself, Paul witnessed through Katrina’s kiss the incorporeal backbone dancing in the orange firelight as it searched for the flesh that had contained it and the nerves at its command. The memories were so repulsive to Paul’s sheltered mind, he sunk to his knees, whimpering like a frightened child even though he was now breaching manhood. He felt cool arms circling him, and the sensation of rising, then propulsion so sudden and impossibly quick his breath was forced from his lungs. As suddenly as they moved, they were still again, seated high over what felt and smelled to Paul like water.
He opened his eyes slowly, blinking himself back to the here and now, and glanced tentatively around them. Beyond Katrina’s milky-white arms, still cradling him gently against her, were the sun-bleached skeletons of hundreds of cypress trees, glowing faintly in the silver light of the full moon.
“Where…” he mumbled, shifting his body slightly so he could sit beside, not on, her.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Katrina sighed as she clutched his hand. Below them an inky artery of black water lapped at the spindly roots of upturned trees as the marsh grass waved to and fro in the rising wind. Paul turned to her, awed.
“I can hear it all–the dolphin out past the jetty, that alligator what went in the marsh up to Venice,” he said, incredulous. The small marsh town of Venice was over ten miles up the inter-coastal waterway. Paul looked back to Katrina, mesmerized at the sight of moonlight reflecting on her clear golden eyes. “What’s happening to me?”
She crossed her long leg over him, threading her fingers through his silken ebony hair as she settled against his chest. Paul’s body went rigid at the new sensations of breasts and female skin and a place he never allowed himself to think of so close to him.
“You’ll be no offering to those holy men and their Church now.” Katrina pushed herself closer to him, winding her legs around his waist as her tongue found the hollow under his jaw. “You’re my eighth song, my miláčik Pavla. Come be a man with me.”
Paul pushed at the gauzy fabric covering her thighs, determined not to think of Maman and the curse she imagined her own son was dedicated to end. This stranger, with her mind as familiar as his own—her strong, cool, luscious body as close to foreign as possible-was all that mattered to him, was the first glint of joy and possibility in his eighteen years. He remembered Ameline as she darted down the path from their Grand Bayou house, determined to find her Remy and her escape.
“Show me,” he told Katrina as he stilled his hands against the curve of her hips. Everything about her was perfect, filling him with answers to questions he never knew how to ask. She topped his hands with her own, a soft and inviting smile lifting her angelic features as she guided his fingers over the mounded fabric at the dip of her waist. Paul’s hands went rigid as his fingers pushed aside the material covering the heavy curve of lush breasts and taut pebbled nipples, denying his sensitive fingertips contact with the cold, silky skin under them. Her head tilted slightly, causing her shimmering hair to spill over her shoulder and slide across his forearm, waking another part of his own body to her. The silvery strands dancing in the unsettled air called to him as much as the gleaming flesh under both his palms; was just as fascinating as the fringe of dark lashes over her crystalline eyes. He caught a skein, held it from him and let the pale blond hair, almost as silver as her skin under the moon, slide through his fingers. Katrina’s eyes fluttered closed as her back arched and she began to hum an ancient tune from her mortal time, over a thousand years before.
In short, Paul Lambert was enchanted. What else could he do but fall under the spell of the succubus while she was just as entranced by him? They were bound together by her nature, the curse of a long-dead soucouyant, and the smell of his blood; thrice fixed to each other and intended for the other even beyond the material. Had he been part of the everyday world that moved past him, unaware of his presence, noticing only a quiet, awkward boy if he was noticed at all, Paul might have been fearful when Katrina looked down to his expectant face again and opened her eyes. The clear, reflective gold irises and almost iridescent white surrounding them were gone, replaced by nothing but black.
Paul’s entire life had seemed something of a dream, as though he hadn’t been entirely present in his own skin. The touch of the creature straddling him was the most absolute sensation he had experienced, the waves of something real and meant just for him too much a balm for the down-deep aches he never was permitted to acknowledge. He couldn’t care less if he were damned, if he sent Maman and even poor, tortured Ameline into an eternity in purgatory with him.
He wanted to feel. He needed to feel Katrina.
“Inside,” she whispered, more music than speech and circled her hips against him, and his own cock, utterly foreign to him when erect, sent a zinging pulse of energy down his thighs. Without any effort, she pushed herself from his lap, crouching above him, and they made quick work of the passed-down jeans his father once wore. The surface of Katrina’s body sparked faintly when she settled against him, inching him into the chilled wet between her thighs. The restrained electrical current that rode over her frame danced in tiny, violet-blue pin-pricks of light as Paul shuddered and pressed his hips up toward hers. She splayed one hand behind them, across a weathered branch for balance, her other hand resting on the muscled curve of Paul’s ass, guiding and lifting him into her.
Paul could barely gather a strand of logical thought to tether himself to the crash of very base and otherworldly sensations assaulting his mind. In particles of seconds he careened from physical feelings so intensely sublime they dangled him over the precipice of insanity to a serene surety that he was finally rooted to the existence he was created for. His own voice joined Katrina’s, rising from deep within his chest and spilling out over the howling wind, urging her deeper while his hands clutched uselessly at the hardened flesh under his fingers. They rocked against each other with a familiarity etched into their mortal and immortal bones, sending the dead cypress under them swaying and cracking with their movement. Her hair coiled around them, lit in fragments by the storm blowing in from the Gulf behind her. Katrina’s hand glided from his hip, following swells of muscle Paul had never noted on his own body, and came to rest on his shoulder. Her head dipped to his neck, and she dragged her nose over the skin there again and again.
“Not… yet… no,” she moaned and threw her head back with an agonized whine. A bolt of lightning shot from the sky just offshore, illuminating a waterspout dancing across the churning gulf. Paul reached for her, drew her face back to his as he willed himself to look into the black pools where her eyes once were.
“Yes. Make me like you.”
She stilled against him, a struggle apparent even in the predatory haze that transformed her eyes. Paul drew his fingers over her lower lip, followed with his tongue, and caught the deceptively soft-looking pillow of skin in his teeth.
“Katrina, make me yours.”
She pulled him against her chilled skin, settling his head into her arm as she brushed her lips across his cheek and forehead.
“I’m sorry, my sweet Paul. It won’t hurt forever.”
She kissed him once again and moved toward his neck as she rocked his body against hers. Tiny drops of icy moisture dripped on his scalding skin, numbing it immediately where it fell. Another flash of lightning illuminated her shoulders and the curve of her cheek as it rose toward her temple and revealed a row of perfectly formed, glimmering white teeth. Paul could feel cold radiating over his own feverish skin as Katrina’s mouth neared its intended mark, and he tensed his body, forgetting that she still held his cock inside her.
Instead of pressing, piercing against him, she was suddenly flying away with speed and force that made him dizzy to watch. He squinted into the wind, looking first toward the Gulf, then at the black marsh below him, trying to make sense of the instantaneous loss of her. He lifted his head to look over the marsh toward the open water once again and was met with the sight of another woman, completely obscured in shadow, seemingly hovering in front of him. He screamed, horrified, and lost his balance, tumbling several feet from the massive pieces of cypress driftwood and landed on a clump of marsh grass with a heavy thud.
Paul scrambled to right his jeans as he looked wildly to both sides and behind him for the creature. Once again she appeared without warning in front of him, this time lit by a break in the advancing storm clouds that revealed the full moon once again.
The woman in front of him was swathed in black: her clothing rising and flickering about in the gale, the long curtain of stick-straight hair a thousand times more satiny than his own and almost blue it was so inky. Her eyes lifted at the corners, much like his own, arching open to reveal icy, silvery irises punctuated with thin rods of cobalt blue that appeared to shift erratically.
“Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be back for you,” she sing-songed to him as she drew a stinging line down the side of his face and immediately replaced her dagger-like nail with her tongue.
“Leave him alone, Tamara. He’s mine,” Katrina’s voice called out over the swaying reeds and grass.
“Oh no, Katrina, dear. You’re both mine.”
The creature sprang easily into the air, her body flipping several times before she came to rest over seventy feet from where she had just stood.
“Come out, Katrina. We’ve been waiting a long time for this, you and I.”
A gust of wind and almost imperceptible wave of contact caught Paul’s attention, insisting that he turn away from Tamara, who crouched as if she were an athlete ready to blast toward an invisible end zone or finish line, and eyed the expanse of salt marsh around her.
“Paul,” Katrina was behind him, whispering very softly into his ear and at a speed that made her speech almost unintelligible. “When I jump over you, turn and run. Your chief is coming for you. Don’t stop until you are home.” She leaned toward him, readying for a kiss and stopped abruptly. “She touched you?”
Paul nodded, intuitively aware he should refrain from speaking as it might reveal their location.
“Our hearing is slightly better, one of the few advantages we have over them. Tell the Chief she touched you. I don’t smell blood, doesn’t seem that she’s broken your skin.”
Suddenly Katrina vaulted over Paul, positioning herself between the bewildered man and the other woman who landed at the same time.
“Go!” Katrina snarled as she pushed forward toward Tamara. “I’ll find you, Paul,” she called out over her shoulder.
A shrill laugh rang out over the intensifying storm and the velvety voice that made dread curl around Paul’s stomach sang out once again.
“Oh, Katrina, my old friend, not if I find him first.”
“He’s human, Tamara. Out of play. Your battle is with us, not them.”
“But, Kate, when I hurt him, I hurt you and that makes our game so much more thrilling.” The lithe figure spun against the swamp’s musk, stirring up its forbidding odor. “Besides, I would like to know, how goes it with your sister, Irina?”
Paul listened to the two women, mesmerized at the disembodied voices’ taunts and the notion prickling at his spine that both beings were posturing, taking the others’ measure in advance of a battle.
The wind shifted again and a slip of pale skin and hair streaked in front of him.
“Paul, I said run!” Katrina screamed as Tamara’s form whistled toward him. Katrina extended her hand toward the path of her adversary’s attack. When the dark-haired woman came nauseatingly close to Katrina, a sharp metallic crack punctuated the intense wind now barreling in from the open sea, followed by the heavy scent of ozone.
Paul took in a hurried look at his mate, and turned, wincing at the pain of physical separation from her. Behind him, another inhuman crack rang out over the marsh, followed by a wail.
At the Lambert home over forty miles away in Barataria, Ameline sat up from her sweat-soaked bed and began to scream. Paul heard it as if he were in the next room.
Because the voice was already in his head.
And the thing that had attacked his sister, that had interrupted her innocent courtship with Remy so long ago, hadn’t been the blood sucker of the bayou. No. It had been…Tamara.
Katrina was the answer to every question Paul had never realized. As he ran from her, his body aching at the loss of her presence, voices other than his own infiltrated his mind.
“Run along, little pup. I’ll find you once I’ve disposed of your bloody whore.”
“Where is he?”
“He’s on it, Jake, can you just shut your fucking mouth!”
“Billy, what the hell?”
“You boys just stay where you are.”
“Did he fuck a leech?”
“Fucked a leech and lived?”
The voices came with torrents of emotion that weren’t his: somewhere far beyond the morass of dark soupy water and twining roots he staggered through, there was pacing, snorting, frustration at energy contained instead of unleashed. Then a harsh snarl in a higher pitch–a woman? That woman with the ice-gray eyes?–superseded the tumult of voices.
Then silence. But wary, waiting, dreadful with quiet inertia.
With his mind stilled, Paul sensed his own altered perception of the world he sped through. Scents were stronger, bearing multiple layers of decaying vegetation, the excrement of small animals and rotting larger ones. He slipped further into the sound of his feet splashing through boggy earth, felt trees fall away as his shoulders connected with them. His breath cascaded across his chest, hot and moist, as his limbs pushed harder into the ground beneath him. His body felt powerful, expansive; it moved with speed and efficiency and grace like he’d never known. The sensation of his muscles contracting, propelling him forward, elongating, and drawing toward his center over and over was almost addictive. His lonely, constricted childhood fueled his exertion, the hurt condensing into anger and spilling over into a rage that boosted him into a harder, faster pace. There was no pause in disbelief at the kind of exertion he was suddenly capable of: it made perfect sense. He made sense. The world that barely existed for him could offer up no questions in this new state of existence.
He was hot breath and snarling, baying hugeness, pounding the earth, sending showers of rock and dirt in his wake, cracking asphalt as he crossed Barataria Boulevard. Crossing the vast Jean Laffite Preserve was little more than walking down to St. Joaquin’s every afternoon to see Father Tim for his daily penance, clearing high privacy fences and block walls was accomplished with little more than minor exertion and a long glide through the air as his body pressed forward.
When he arrived at the little shotgun house he occupied with his mother and sister, the porch light was on, illuminating an ancient red truck that Paul noticed only as it bounced and swayed when he passed it. He snorted, frustrated, at the impediment and continued toward the door.
He was met by a very short man, clothed entirely in black, who bore a strong resemblance to the memory his father.
“Whoa, there, boy.” The man said as his hands reached up to Paul. “What do you say we walk this off, yeah?”
Paul followed the man in silence, still unable to shake the feeling that he was surrounded by other intensely interested voices listening closely. He twisted his head over his shoulders, looking for the others, then let out a frustrated yip.
“Alright, now, boy… take it slow, yeah?”
“Dude, wonder if he’ll freak? Embry broke both of Billy’s arms when we caught him.”
“Jake, would you shut your stupid fucking snout before I rip it off your drooling face.”
“Hey Alpha bitch, suck my –”
“Uh… sorry, Dad. And uh… you, too, Leah.”
“Paul… son… do you remember me?”
Paul looked down at the man he’d just heard speak and realized his face had remained completely still. He looked further, expecting to see his own feet and saw nothing but hard packed ground.
“Here’s the wind up… and the pitch… OW! Fuck, Leah!”
He looked forward again, searching for the small man he’d followed to the ill-kept playground and found nothing but a furry black dog staring at him.
Paws. Dog. Forty miles, minutes.
Realization and rebuttal tumbled over him, calling up a mournful whine from deep in his chest. The animal before him padded to him, panting easily.
“I’m sorry, son. When you Daddy pass, you was too young to know.”
Did that dog just talk to me?
“Try wolf, noob.”
The next fourteen hours passed in a long blur of voices, heightened sensory input, and overwhelming, almost incessant hunger. When he wasn’t eating or draining bottle after bottle of Gatorade, Paul was pressed against the passenger door of Billy Blaquiere’s-Billy Black he was now-truck, too stunned, heartbroken, and angry in turns to speak. He watched his father’s cousin talking, taking in as much as possible until his mind dragged him away again, back to the tear-stained, scarred face of Ameline, his Maman’s lifeless stare as she turned her back to him, refusing to say good-bye and most of all, his Katrina, smiling up at him as she turned the air around her into glinting lavender and gold.
His Katrina; a vampire. A succubus, designed to seduce and kill.
Not his, never his Katrina.
South Carolina, 2009
Billy swung the truck into a deserted parking lot off of Highway 17, slotting the Chevy between a modified Honda and a gleaming black ’68 Camaro.
“Well, then,” he said aloud, grinning as he nodded encouragingly. “Welcome to Charleston, yeah?”
“Welcome to the den, little pup. I’m watching…”
“Did you hear something? Someone else?” Billy asked as he closed the driver’s side door. Paul shoved his hands deep in his pockets, rocking back on his heels.
“Just now,” the older man repeated. “Did you hear another wolf?”
“Oh, no. No sir.”
They were parked behind a one story block building capped with faded orange, faux shingles and, based on the warped and graying particle board over the windows, abandoned for some time.
The wooden-covered door swung open and several young men and a woman, all dressed in cut-off jeans and black t-shirts, emerged. Paul froze, immobile, at the sight of them laughing, shoving each other, their lips stretched into wide smiles as he was mentally included in the non-verbal horseplay. The loudest, and biggest, of the group was also one of the youngest. He stepped to Billy first, giving him a one-armed hug, then to Paul.
“Hey ya, Ti-garson Paulie.”
This time Paul understood how to respond.
“Hey ya, Ti-garson Billy.”
The interchange was followed with a quieter round of ‘Hey ya, cousin’.
“Come on, in, yeah?” Jacob said to him, standing aside.
Inside the Indian Head Bar and Lounge was a complete contrast to the dilapidated outside. Dim lights highlighted a pool table, bar stools, and several arcade-style video games. The distinct thudding bass of a hip hop song droned over the labored hum of six window-mounted air conditioners. Atop the gleaming bar sat at least twenty pizzas, flanked with line after line of two liter bottles of soft drinks.
Jacob punched him heartily, a wide grin stretching across his face.
“Hope you like pizza, G. Grab a pie and come meet the family.”
Mighty cooty fiyo – hey la hey, hey la hey
Mighty cooty fiii-yo hey la hey, hey la hey
Paul was seated beside Billy Black, watching warily as the people he now called family moved around him. The hip hop music from earlier had been replaced with tambourines and a small shell-covered drum.
This was what the family referred to as ‘practice’. Based on the odd assortment of items arranged on the table before him, Paul suspected ‘practice’ actually meant ‘ritual’. Given his position at the right side of the pack’s ‘Big Chief’, Paul also suspected ‘practice’ included some manner of initiation.
I’ve got a Big Chief, Big Chief, Big Chief of the Nation
Wild, wild creation…
The voices of the pack became louder, the percussive beats and rattles more erratic. Billy moved in front of him, clutching a black bag in his hand and also singing.
Mighty cooty fiyo – hey la hey, hey la hey
Mighty cooty fiii-yo hey la hey, hey la hey
Billy thrust his hand into the bag, withdrawing a writhing black cottonmouth snake. Before Paul could move, Billy had plunged the animal against Paul’s skin. As the snake’s venom spread through his body, the singing and music increased in intensity, becoming frenetic and chant-like.
Here come da Wildman, da Wildman.
Paul fell from the chair, screaming in agony at the fire spreading across his shoulder and into his hand. Pain more intense than any he had known drew his knees under him, made him press his head against the cold linoleum as his screams echoed back to him in the tiny space between floor and mouth. Hands grasped his arms, sending another pulse of scalding venom through his muscle and tendon, and he was seated again, this time with the weight of others’ hands securing him to his chair.
He won’t bow down, down on the ground
No on no dirty ground
Oh how I love to hear him call Indian Red
As the torturous escalation of pain reached its apex, Paul felt something stirring deep within him, at every part of his body that seemed to gather and move toward his injured shoulder. Waves of heat radiated through him, making his teeth clatter wildly as perspiration poured in thick rivulets from his scalp.
“Dey go, cousin! Dey go!” Jacob Black shouted from somewhere behind him. “Here come da Wildman, yeah!”
The room erupted in cheers. A smaller hand cupped his cheek; Paul opened his eyes to find the woman he’d heard called Leah crouching in front of him.
“Push it back,” she directed silently. Paul focused on her eyes that blazed intensely as she blinked at cascades of her own perspiration rolling down the bridge of her nose and dripping from her eyebrows. “We got you, brother.”
Mighty cooty fiyo – hey la hey, hey la hey
Mighty cooty fiii-yo hey la hey, hey la hey
The chant seemed to be pulling him along, he could feel the rhythm in his bones urging him to repel the filthy venom infiltrating his body. Paul snarled, his lip curling as he ground his teeth and snorted along with Leah.
“Go on now, Paul.” Even her voice in his head was low, sensuous.
They shared a vision of oily black sludge moving toward the twin wounds where the cottonmouth’s fangs punctured Paul’s skin. Both pairs of eyes traveled to his arm just as the very fluid they imagined gurgled from Paul’s body and tumbled in a clotted ooze across his tawny skin. Jacob jumped from behind them into the center of the circle, holding the limp snake over his head. He called out, head thrown back, white teeth flashing in the fluorescent light.
“Mighty cooty fiiiiiii yoooo! The Wildman in da house!”
Paul gasped for breath, smiling with a mixture of relief and exhaustion. He stood, threw back his own head, and answered the pack with his own call.
“Mighty cooty fiyo – hey la hey, hey la hey! Mighty cooty fiii-yo hey la hey, hey la hey,” Paul sang, his arm thrust toward the ceiling, pumping his fist in time with the chant. A chorus of howls met him and the pack drew in close, jumping in time and chanting.
Yeah, we get dem leech, we roast him dead.
We love it when you call us Indian Red!
Mighty cooty fiyo – hey la hey, hey la hey
Mighty cooty fiii-yo hey la hey, hey la hey
Paul felt hands on him once again, pushing him into the center of the bouncing men. It was Leah, flanked by Billy. She carried a ragged bag, little more than a beggar’s purse, embroidered with odd symbols that looked like hieroglyphics. As the throng of men continued to jump and howl, she thrust her fingers in the bag and withdrew a pinch of grayish lilac dust, raised her fingers to her mouth, and blew the powder in Paul’s face.
The stench was nauseating; sweet like dimestore lilac air freshener covering putrid, long-term decay. Paul choked on his own bile, even as fury boiled over inside him. He knew he would never be able to dislodge that smell from his memory; it occupied the same part of his brain as another, more cherished scent.
And she was one of them. His Katrina. And they were bound… cursed?
Leah nodded to him, drawing him away from the celebration still raging around them.
“We never know when… or why. We’ll think on it with Billy, cher. Everything that has a beginning has an end.”
“Let’s go up to Cuckold Point for a run, bros!” Jake shouted over the din. The pack made for the front door, their chant giving way to laughter and slapping hands.
“And sister, Fido.” Leah called to the hulking boy.
Paul laughed a little at the two, already enjoying what seemed to be an unending verbal war between them.
“That’s my good pup, I’m watching you, Paul. I’ve waited for you too long not to use you well and take my revenge on them all.”
As he stepped from the Indian Head Bar and Lounge, shivering at the other voice that occupied his head, he realized he was no more brother to these men than to the large man stepping from Miss Mamie’s Literary Treasures across the empty expanse of asphalt. He froze, sniffing the air and before he was aware it was happening, a full-throated howl escaped from him.
A fucking leech.
“Whoa, dude!” Jake relayed instantaneously. Paul could feel him closing in behind, taking up a rear position. The huge vampire snorted at the same time, nostrils flaring slightly. The brown bag of books tumbled from his grasp, sending a shower of yellowed paper into the air like a flock of geese. Even from seventy-some feet away, Paul could see the bloodsucker’s eyes shade over, going from clear amber yellow to black. As he began to crouch, another leech, sinewy but radiating with menace, swung from the driver’s seat of a large truck resting on a lift kit, and slung himself easily over the hood, dropping beside his beastly companion.
“C’mon, boy,” the larger of the two snarled as he twisted the bill of his threadbare baseball cap around his head.
“Watch who you call boy, son,” Paul retorted in a voice he’d never used before.
“Hey, shit-for-brains, what the Christly fuck do you think you’re doing?” said the lean, wild haired death-dealer as his hand connected with the back of the brute’s head with a bone-jarring thwack. “Do you want to get your ass turned into a fucking chew toy, Bubba? Much as I’d enjoy a little dog fightin’ m’self, am I right, Jake?” the vamp-in-charge stopped to holler over to Jacob, who grinned and agreed, “but we ain’t brawlin’ on the N’awlins for real, Bubba.”
Jake stepped around Paul, blocking his view of the still-threatening vampire called… Bubba?
“Heeey, where you at, Ed?” Jake threw up a hand, saluting slightly.
“That’s Eddie to you, Shit-zu.” The two shared a laugh and the red-capped immortal turned toward his companion. “Get in the fuckin’ truck, Emma.”
Bubba stood slowly and spat a fair amount of venom at his feet, eyes turning again to gold and never leaving Paul’s.
“I’ll let you have him when the time comes,” Tamara’s voice echoed in Paul’s head again.
Paul shoved his hands in his pockets and followed his cousin. For the time, he would live with the pack of shapeshifters, even learn their ways.
But even he couldn’t guess where his future would land him; he’d only just unearthed his past.
And who would find him first?
Tamara, the wolf who wanted him as warrior, or Katrina.
His heart felt squeezed when he remembered their sex… their bond.
Katrina, his mate, threaded through his bones; an immortal enemy.
Without the woman who would use him, without the vampire who would be his, away from his mother and his sister, Paul was displaced…again.
Would he betray, when the time came?
This place, just like the others, was not home.
Written by Miss Wonderful Winterstale