Sunday, September 16, 2018

Primal Creatures - an excerpt


Do you believe in werewolves? In south Louisiana, Cajuns do and call them rougarou. In Primal Creatures, a movie producer hires French Quarter sleuth Wyatt Thomas to investigate a gruesome death at an island resort south of New Orleans. There's a fishing village on the island populated mostly by the descendants of slaves that had escaped into the swamp. An old voodoo woman from the village tells Wyatt, "There are creatures on this island that only walk at night." To make matters worse, a hurricane is approaching the island, southern Louisiana and New Orleans.
Wyatt's friend and associate ex-N.O.P.D. homicide detective Tony Nicosia is helping him with the case and Tony tracks a discredited researcher to his rundown Garden District mansion in New Orleans. The city is buttoned up and evacuated in preparation for the approaching hurricane. Dr. Kelton Frenette and his wife Latrice can't leave because they've had something frozen in their basement freezer for forty years. Don't believe in werewolves? Read this excerpt from French Quarter Mystery No. 3 and you might just change your mind. Hope you love it.
P.S. If you need to go down to your basement after reading this at least wait until daylight and even then you might want to take someone with you.

Primal Creatures Excerpt

Tony awoke the next morning feeling better than he had in weeks. The rain had momentarily abated to just a sprinkle falling from a dark and cloudy sky. Just a brief respite, he knew. His neighbor was boarding his windows as he went out to the car. The man shouted across the driveway.
“You hear about the hurricane?”
“I heard. I got something to do first. I’ll be back to board up the windows a little later.”
“Need some help, just let me know.”
“Thanks, Joe,” he said as he cranked the engine on his Sebring.
Though still early, traffic was heavy, people scurrying around, preparing for the approaching hurricane. The storm was in the back of Tony’s mind as he splashed through puddles of water on his way down St. Charles Avenue.
Kelton Frenette still lived in the Garden District. Tony had his address and was on his way there. He hadn’t called first because sometimes the best tactic was to just show up at someone’s doorstep. Give them no time to concoct a story, if that’s what they were inclined to do.
Steady rain poured down his windshield as Tony parked on the street in front of Frenette’s home. He knew a person’s house spoke volumes about the people living in them. As he gazed at the old two-story mansion, he’d already formed an opinion of the man before ever seeing him.
The Garden District is known for its eclectic architecture. Frenette’s house might have been Greek Revival, Victorian, or plantation style. Tony didn’t care. What he saw was a house desperately in need of a fresh coat of paint, trees that had gone untrimmed for years if not decades, broken boards on the porch, and cracked panes of glass in the windows.
The iron gate was unlatched, swung open toward the front door of the house as if there was no one inside that cared if anyone came or went. Pulling his collar up around his neck, he closed and latched the gate behind him.
The doorbell didn’t work. After knocking several times, he began wondering if the house was deserted. Before he turned to leave, someone opened the door a crack.
“Help you?”
The large, black woman peeking through the door sounded pleasant enough.
“Is Dr. Frenette in?”
“He’s in, but he doesn’t see anybody these days. What is it you needed?”
“Dr. Frenette did some research years ago. I’d like to talk to him about it.”
“As I said, he doesn’t get around much anymore.”
A booming voice sounded behind the woman. “Who is it, Latrice?”
“Some person that wants to talk to you about your research.”
“Well let him in.”
The woman named Latrice opened the door for Tony, and he entered the spacious alcove lined with large pots where ornamental plants probably once grew. Sitting in an antique, wooden wheelchair was the man with the booming voice.
“I’m Kelton Frenette,” he said. “How can I help you?”
“I’m Tony Nicosia. You did research on a rabies-like virus. I’d like to talk to you about it.”
“Are you a reporter?”
“No sir, I’m not. Just a guy with some questions I hope you have answers for.”
“Then come with me,” he said as he wheeled into a cavernous room that was clearly the main living area.
Like the paint on the outside of the house, the off-pink walls had the look and feel of faded antiquity. The couch, settee, and chairs were antiques. Probably valuable. Everything was spotless, no dust anywhere in the room. Only the shiny patina of age and continuous use tarnished the furniture.
“Take a seat, please,” Latrice said. “Can I get you something to drink? Tea or lemonade?”
“Forget the tea and lemonade, Latrice. Bring Mr. Nicosia a brandy, and one for me too, please.”
Latrice didn’t argue, soon returning with three snifters filled with expensive brandy.
“I’ll be in the kitchen if you need me,” she said.
“Is Latrice your help?” Tony asked when she was gone.
“Latrice is my wife,” he said.
“I apologize.”
“Don’t worry about it. A more tolerant age is what Latrice and I needed.”
“You haven’t been out much lately. Things are better now. Whatever, I can see you made a wise choice.”
Frenette smiled for the first time. Like his voice, he was a portly man, probably pushing three hundred pounds. His khaki pants and canvas shirt were pressed and clean but as timeworn as the paint on the wall.
“There was a time when mixed marriages were frowned upon by people in the Garden District,” he said.
“Then you should have moved to the Quarter. They always been a little more tolerant across Canal Street.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Frenette said in an affected southern accent.
“This is wonderful brandy,” Tony said.
“Pierre Ferrand, 1972. I only serve it to my favorite guests. Since you are the only guest we’ve had in a while, you got lucky. If you like brandy, that is.”
“Love it, though it sounds like I probably can’t afford the finest stuff.”
“None of us can, Mr. Nicosia, but then again none of us can afford not to.”
“I like your philosophy.”
“Now tell me what you need to know about my research.”
Frenette nodded when Tony asked, “You know what a rougarou is?”
“I do.”
You think they exist?”
Frenette nodded again. “If you’re a journalist, it’s too late to discredit me. That was done years ago.”
“Tell me about it, please,” Tony said.
“When I published my findings in a small medical journal, my colleagues called me mad. My research funds dried up, and I was widely shunned.”
“I’m not a journalist, Dr. Frenette, I’m a detective investigating two recent deaths that are baffling, to say the least.”
“And you think a rougarou is responsible?”
Tony dropped the claw into Frenette’s hand. “You seen anything like this before?”
“Where did you get it?”
“From the horribly mutilated body of a person possibly killed by one of those creatures we aren’t supposed to know exists.”
Frenette fingered the claw, then tilted his oversized head, rubbing his chin with thick fingers.
“Interesting,” he said. “Latrice, we need more brandy.”
Latrice must have been within hearing distance because she quickly appeared with the bottle.
“Thanks, ma’am,” Tony said as she replenished his snifter.
“We’re going into the basement,” he said.
“You sure, Honey?” Latrice said.
“We’ll be fine,” he said.
Latrice pushed him to a hallway near the center of the large house. With some difficulty, she lifted the heavy, metal bar across the door. Using a ring of keys hanging on the wall, she unlocked three padlocks.
Opening the door of an oversized dumbwaiter, she wheeled Frenette in and pushed a button. An old electric motor made grating sounds as the cab of the dumbwaiter began descending into the basement.
Latrice pointed Tony to a door leading to the cellar, removing the metal bar and unlocking three more padlocks as she had on the dumbwaiter door. When he entered, she switched on a bare, overhead bulb that dimly illuminated the musty stairs.
The stairway was steep, Tony thankful for his recently repaired knees. Another dim light greeted him when he reached the concrete floor of the basement. Dr. Frenette waited in a large room that felt twenty degrees colder than at the top of the stairs.
“I haven’t been here in ten years,” he said. “I know this place looks like something out of Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory. I assure you, my endeavors weren’t so manic.”
The room was filled with beakers, test tubes, and medical paraphernalia, everything coated with dust. There was also a dissection table that reminded Tony of the autopsy room he’d recently visited. The large, open cellar reeked of must, and maybe something else. The subtle, but distinctive odor of death, like he’d smelled in the autopsy office, permeated everything.
“You haven’t come here in ten years?” Tony asked.
“That’s right.”
“Because?”
“There’s something here that haunts me to my very core. Are you a religious man, Mr. Nicosia?”
“I go to church on Easter and Christmas. My priest doesn’t remember my name because I haven’t taken confession in years.”
Frenette grinned for the first time since they’d been in the basement. Tony still had the empty snifter in his hand. Frenette motioned him over and refilled it.
“Sometimes brandy is more comforting than a priest,” he said. “Since there’s no priest to comfort us, let's have another drink.”
“Amen to that. What’s going on down here?”
“I want to show you something. Do you have a strong stomach, Mr. Nicosia?”
Frenette grinned when Tony said, “I’ve lost my cookies a time or two. What you got, Doc?”
Dr. Frenette pointed to a large, horizontal freezer against the wall. Like the dumbwaiter and the cellar door, it was secured by several locks.
“It’s in there,” he said. “You might want to take a deep breath before you open it.”


Chapter 26

 Frenette tossed Tony a set of keys, and he quickly slipped the padlocks. The lid had long since frozen to the top of the freezer, and he had to give it an extra hard pull. When he did, it popped open with a whoosh, stale, refrigerated air blasting his face. After glancing a moment at the contents of the refrigerator, he took a step backward.
“Jesus! What the hell is it?”
“Your rougarou, Mr. Nicosia.”
Tony stared at the frozen body of something that wasn’t quite a man. Dark eyes glinting red in the overhead lighting stared back at him. Tufts of thick, brown hair splotched the creature’s face and neck. Long fangs protruded from the half-opened mouth. Black claws, like the one he had in his pocket, extended from his hairy fingers. White frost encased the frozen body.
“Is it. . . ?”
“Dead? It’s been frozen for more than forty years, though I fear it’s still very much alive.”
“It’s enormous. How did you get it in there?”
“I had help.”
“Where did it come from?”
“Close the lid, lock it tight, and then I’ll tell you the story. After we go back upstairs.”
Tony closed and relocked the freezer, then wheeled Dr. Frenette to the dumbwaiter. After situating him inside it and pushing the button, he switched off the lights and hurried up the steep stairway toward the dim light shining at the top. Latrice was waiting for them.
She quickly padlocked the doors and returned the metal bars to their catches before giving her husband a hug that dragged on for several anxious moments.
“It’s okay, Baby. It’s still frozen.”
The rain, buffeted by the wind that hadn’t been present when Tony arrived, had intensified as they returned to the pink living room. Latrice quickly handed him and Dr. Frenette a new snifter of brandy, and then covered her husband’s legs with a tattered blanket. After placing the fancy bottle of brandy on the coffee table in front of Tony, she joined him on the couch.
“Hon, I was so worried.”
“It’s okay. The freezer’s working, and there’s nothing to worry about.”
Frenette smiled when Tony said, “I didn’t toss my cookies, but I almost did. That creature in the freezer. Was it really a rougarou?”
“You already know the answer to your question.”
“You haven’t told me where it came from.”
“The creature is a person and has a name—Calvin Couvillion. His relatives brought him here. Like I said, more than forty years ago.”
“And you’ve had it frozen in your basement since then? Maybe you’d better explain,” Tony said.
“It’s not like you think,” Latrice said.
Frenette waved his hand and shook his head, shushing her.
“Covillion came from the Atchafalaya Swamp, over near Thibodaux. His family brought him here.”
“A live rougarou?”
“Let me finish the story, and then you’ll see. Most of Couvillion’s family was at a fais-doux-doux.”
“I know,” Tony said when he hesitated. “A Cajun celebration.”
“The family had already become concerned about Couvillion’s erratic behavior. When a storm came up during the party, he began to transform.”
“The storm caused him to transform?”
Frenette nodded. “Perhaps hurried along by a rapid change in barometric pressure. That’s the only explanation I can come up with.”
“And everyone at the party saw him?”
“They believe in such things out there on the bayou. He might have killed someone but was struck by lightning, the impact rendering him immobile, at least temporarily. They packed him in dry ice and brought him to me.”
“Why?”
“I was doing research on lycanthropy and rumors had started to spread.”
“Lycanthropy?”
“The study of human transformation into a wolf-like creature,” he explained, seeing the puzzled look on Tony’s face.
“What about his family? They just left him here with you and never said nothing about it, even after all these years?”
“They were afraid. They helped me put him into the freezer, and then left me with their problem.”
“He was struck by lightning and didn’t die?” Tony said.
“You apparently know little about rougarous, loup-garous, werewolves, or whatever you want to call them.”
“Tell me.”
“The virus that causes lycanthropy is similar to the rabies virus. Rabies can take months or even years to develop. Before a cure was discovered, people contracting it often became hyper-sexual and then eventually quite mad.”
“But we aren’t talking about rabies here,” Tony said.
“No, but the two diseases are similar in many ways.”
“How so?”
“Rabies is the only virus contracted by a bite, the person bitten guaranteed to contract the virus and die unless they undergo a painful treatment.”
“If you shoot a mad dog, it dies. If the disease you’re talking about is like rabies, how could someone that has it survive a lightning strike?”
“Because, Mr. Nicosia, the disease makes them immortal.”
“I don’t believe that. Nothing’s immortal.”
“Oh, but you’re wrong. Cancer cells are immortal. That’s why we have no cure. Succeed in knocking out one cell with radiation or chemotherapy, and it usually only results in the propagation of many more.”
“We’re not talking about cancer here,” Tony said.
“The rabies-like virus that causes lycanthropy mutates the cells in a person’s body. Like cancer, the mutated individual becomes, quite literally, immortal. I’m sorry if the concept is difficult to reconcile, but it is what it is.”
“Don’t get me wrong, Doc. I don’t want you to cut me off this great brandy, but I don’t quite buy your story. Like I said, nothing is immortal.”
“Au contraire, Mr. Nicosia. The creature you saw frozen in the basement is very much alive. Of that, I can assure you.”
“Then why didn’t you report it to the authorities years ago?”
“Because I was already a discredited researcher when the family brought me Calvin Couvillion. I thought I could show everyone I wasn’t crazy by curing the man.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“A little problem,” Frenette said.
“Then didn’t it occur to you to get it the hell out of here?”
“More than once,” Latrice said. “We even thought about burning the house down.”
“Just call the authorities. Let them deal with it. You should have done it forty years ago.”
Latrice’s hands went to her face to hide her tears. “You just don’t know how it was back then. People protesting at our front door, calling Kelton Dr. Frankenstein.”
Tony grabbed the bottle of brandy, topped up her snifter and then gave her shoulder a reassuring pat.
“Ma’am, I’m not here to point fingers or cause distress. I’m just looking for answers. Maybe I can help get rid of that creature in your basement if that’s what it actually is.”
Tony’s words and the brandy calmed her. Cupping the snifter in her palms, she held it to her nose as if the pungent aroma might somehow drive away her unpleasant memories. Tony topped up his own glass and that of Dr. Frenette’s.
“Our paranoia kept us from revealing the creature to the authorities. Not to mention we feared letting loose such a beast on an unsuspecting city,” Frenette said.
“I was afraid they’d put Kelton in prison,” Latrice said.
“No one’s going to jail. If you have a serum that cures the disease, why don't you just use it?"
“The little problem I mentioned. You can’t inject serum into a frozen body, and we can’t unthaw him because he would kill us.”
“Jesus! I can’t believe you’ve lived forty years with that thing in your basement. I take it you stayed here during Katrina.”
When Latrice began to cry again, Frenette wheeled over to her, and they hugged again.
“We were afraid to stay and even more afraid to leave,” Latrice said when her tears abated.
“It was terrible with the wind and rain. Not knowing if the house would survive, much less ourselves,” Frenette said.
“Yeah, well it’s not getting much better out there right now. Didn’t you lose power? How did you keep that thing in the freezer from thawing out?”
“We had a large generator installed years ago. We’ve never had to use it,” Frenette said.
“I think I’d have carried it out to the swamp and dumped it in the bayou,” Tony said.
“Believe me, we thought about it. In the end, it just wasn’t possible. If there were just a way to disable it until the serum had a chance to take effect,” he said.
Frenette and Latrice both looked at Tony when he said, “Maybe there is.”
“You know something you’re not telling us?” he asked.
It was Tony’s turn to hold up a palm. “Like I said, I’m investigating two deaths down in St. Bernard Parish, near the Gulf. Both may have been killed by a rougarou. Hell, I don’t even think we’re talking about a single rougarou. There may be several.”
“An outbreak. What I’ve feared all these years,” Frenette said. “I have a possible cure, but no way to administer it, except in the early stages of the disease. What were you talking about when you said maybe there is?”
“My partner’s working the case on Goose Island. There’s a fishing village with a voodoo woman that lives there. Her son coats his buckshot with something she gives him. He claims it’ll knock down a rougarou.”
“For how long?” Frenette asked.
“At least until the person doing the shooting can escape.”
“Well for God’s sake, tell me what it is!”
“Wolfsbane,” Tony said, waiting for Frenette to scoff at his suggestion.
He didn’t. Turning to Latrice, he said, “Baby, can you get me the Martinsdale?”
“Sure, Hon,” she said.
Latrice apparently knew what he wanted because she went to the bookcase lining the wall and pulled a large book from the many volumes. Frenette began leafing through it immediately. Apparently locating what he was looking for, he stared at the page.
“Find something?” Tony asked.
“Aconite,” he finally said.
“Pardon me?”
“Aconite, the active ingredient found in the Aconitum species.”
“You mean Wolfsbane?”
“That’s one of the flowers. The substance has been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. In small doses, it can be helpful. Its highly toxic in large doses and can paralyze, stop a person’s heart, and even kill.”
“But will it stop a rougarou?”
“You’re the one that said it does.”
“Yeah, but I’m not speaking from experience here.”
“The Ainu, Japanese indigenous people, used it on their arrows when they hunted bear. It’s extremely powerful. It just might work.”
“Fine,” Tony said. “Now what?”
“We have to thaw him out.”
“You’re shitting me! You have aconite?”
“Yes, more than enough to do what we need.”
“You sure about that? What if it don’t work?”
“Then at least we won’t have to worry about it anymore.”
Tony glanced at his watch. “Sounds like you’re gonna need help moving him. I’m ready if you are.”
“You’re a brave man, Mr. Nicosia,” Frenette said.
“Hell, I don’t hold a candle to you and Latrice. Let’s do it before I change my mind.”
Dr. Frenette smiled for the first time since leaving the basement.
“Baby, you better open us another bottle of Pierre Ferrand, and then join us in the laboratory.”
Tony and Frenette were at the basement door when a clap of thunder shook the roof. When it did, all the lights went out.
“Oh hell, there goes the power,” Frenette said.
“What happened to the generator?” Tony asked.
“It hasn’t been tested since the time it was installed. Who knows? We’ll have to make do without it.”
Flickering light soon lit the hallway as Latrice joined them, the bottle of brandy in one hand, a hurricane lamp in the other. Frenette took both.
“Go get more candles, Baby. We’re going to need them.”
Tony and Frenette were soon back in the dank laboratory lighted only by glimmering candlelight. Latrice quickly joined them. After steeling themselves with more brandy, Frenette pointed to an operating table, its legs lowered so he could reach it without standing.
“You ready?” Tony asked.
When Frenette nodded, Latrice unlocked the freezer and opened it, her face revealing more than words could express.
“What is it, Baby?” Frenette asked.
“Oh my God, Hon! It’s fully transformed. No longer even partially human.”
Her words caused Tony to become more nervous than he already was.
“Help me up,” Frenette said. “I need to see.”
Latrice and Tony helped him out of the wheelchair, supporting him as he gazed into the freezer.
“My God! Even encased in melting ice, he’s somehow managed to transform entirely from human to wolf. It must be the storm.”
“How is that possible? The electricity hasn’t even been off for ten minutes yet.” Tony said.
“Then we must hurry. We don’t have much time left.”
Tony nodded when Latrice said, “Can you help me get him out of there?”
As Frenette watched, Latrice and Tony lifted the large body out of the freezer.
“This thing must weigh three hundred pounds,” Tony said, struggling with the weight. “You okay, Latrice?”
“I got him. Just hurry.”
Frenette had rigged up a mechanical drip and filled it with aconite. The creature’s body was totally naked, its wolf/human genitals only partially hidden by thick tufts of hair. Latrice covered most of the body with a blanket to accelerate the thawing.
“Now we wait,” Frenette said. “Soon as I can penetrate his skin with the needle, I’ll start the drip. I don’t need you two for that. Go upstairs and lock the door. I’ll call when I’m done.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Latrice said.
“In for a penny, in for a pound. I’m staying,” Tony said.”
Twenty minutes passed. Though he’d tried several times, Dr. Frenette was unsuccessful in inserting the needle into the rougarou’s vein. After an hour, the creature’s eyes moved in their sockets. For a moment, Tony was sure they were looking straight at him.
“It’s now or never,” Frenette said. “The beast is almost cognizant.”
Latrice clutched Tony’s arm as Dr. Frenette began working the needle. The creature was fully thawed and beginning to move. Tony reached for his service revolver before remembering he didn’t have it anymore.
“Bingo!” Frenette finally said. “Thank God this instrument has a battery pack or it wouldn’t do us any good without electricity.”
“Yeah, when was the last time you checked the batteries?”
Frenette didn’t answer. Latrice just closed her eyes, crossed her fingers and began praying out loud. Reaching for the I.V.’s control panel, Frenette flipped the switch. The display turned green and the screen began recording drips of aconite into the creature’s arm.
“Shit, that’s a relief. Now what?” Tony asked.
“It’ll work, or else in an hour or so we’ll all be in hell,” Frenette said.

###



Born near Black Bayou in the little Louisiana town of Vivian, Eric Wilder grew up listening to his grandmother’s tales of politics, corruption, and ghosts that haunt the night. He now lives in Oklahoma where he continues to pen mysteries and short stories with a southern accent. He is the author of the French Quarter Mystery Series set in New Orleans and the Paranormal Cowboy Series. Please check it out on his AmazonBarnes & Noble, and iBook author pages. You might also like to check out his website.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Big Easy - an excerpt

In Big Easy, Book 1 of my French Quarter Mystery Series, a killer is at play on the dark streets of New Orleans. The element connecting all of the killings is voodoo. Long-suffering N.O.P.D. homicide detective Tony Nicosia enlists the assistance of two of his friends: voodoo mambo Mama Mulate and French Quarter sleuth Wyatt Thomas to assist him in his investigation.
Voodoo is the street name for Vodoun and it’s safe to say few people know much of anything about this strange and mysterious religion. In Big Easy, Mama instructs Tony about voodoo and takes him with her to attend a ceremony on the banks of Bayou Rigolette. Ride along with Mama and Tony and attend the ceremony with them. Some of the content of the excerpt is “racy,” so if you are offended by such content then please stop reading now.
In Mama’s words— “The ceremonies are often quite sexual as Vodoun is the religion of common people. Poor people of the world have no place in their lives for puritan mores and morality. Life is not all flowers and fairy tales, it’s also bladder wrenching fear, utter poverty, and rotten meat. Will you be okay?” she asks Tony.
Tony survived but not without consequences. Like Tony, I hope you will also be okay and that you will enjoy your peek into a Louisiana voodoo ceremony during a stormy night on the bayou.

Big Easy, Chapter 24

When the rain had subsided a bit, Mama continued along the blacktop, this time at a much slower speed to avoid hydroplaning into the ditch. Her body language indicated Tony had regained her good graces. As flashes of lightning illuminated the cab of the car, he could feel the thaw.
“Tell me about the case. Maybe I can help,” she said.
“The three victims were homeless, the two females both murdered in a ritualistic fashion. All lived near the Camp Street Mission. Slow strangulation with a thin piece of wire killed the two women. The murderer strangled the male with his bare hands. Oddly enough, the male victim was our prime suspect in the case.”
“Why did you suspect the murdered man?”
“His history of violent behavior. He’d once attacked his English teacher. Both female victims were former English teachers. Problem is he was also a victim.”
“I see,” Mama said. “A mystery wrapped in a conundrum.”
“Something like that,” Tony said. “We found a bowler hat, cigar, and flashy sunglasses at the scene. That’s compatible with your description of the man that attacked Celeste.”
“Baron Samedi,” she said. “Wyatt told me the murderer took a hand and left the foreleg of a cow in its place.”
“The way Wyatt explained it to me, this Baron person should have ended up with the cow’s hoof. Tommy, my partner, said it sounds ass-backward.”
“Unless the murderer left the foreleg as a clue.”
“Or to make us think he’s someone he’s not,” Tony said.
“The person that enticed Celeste away from Bourbon Street was Baron Samedi, and not someone disguised as him. Of that, I am sure.”
“Mama, I’m having trouble absorbing this spiritual stuff and such. I can’t deal with a ghost here. I need a killer that’s an air-breathing human being.”
“He is Tony. In Vodoun, we deal with the concept of possession. Spirits often possess the bodies of the living. Possession causes them to do things they would not ordinarily do. You will see this at the ceremony tonight. These possessions are usually initiated by mambos or houngans.”
“You mean someone could be directing the murderer?”
“That is exactly what I mean.”
“Great! I can see the confused looks in the eyes of the jury right now. Every defense attorney in the city will be clamoring to represent the killer. Hell, the case is already so convoluted that I could get him off myself.”
Again, the rain became so intense that Mama pulled to the side of the road, put the car in neutral, and engaged the emergency brake. This time, she kept the engine running because the roof and windows of the little car were so porous there was little chance of asphyxiation.
“It’ll work out,” she said.
“I hope so. Now finish your story about tonight’s ceremony.”
“Each Vodoun ceremony is unique, meant to invoke a particular Loa to negotiate with Bon Dieu. Our faith has three stages of initiation. Most worshipers never go beyond the first level. The next requires much more time and effort to achieve. Mambos and houngans are initiates of the second level. The third level is, quite simply, the most powerful practitioner of our faith on the earth.”
“And who is that?” Tony asked.
“That’s a secret even I don’t know.”
By now, the ground was saturated and heavy rainfall streamed across the road with large fish flopping around in the middle of the narrow thoroughfare. It seemed to be raining fishes. Tony worried the intensified storm would result in canceling the ceremony.
“This could go on all night,” he said.
“Have faith,” Mama said. “The rain will cease long before the activities begin.”
“If you say so,” he said.
He began to notice her perfume—an enchanting fragrance further enhanced by the sweet, subtle scent of her warm, damp body. Like a double shot of straight whiskey, it quickly intoxicated him.
“The ceremonies are often quite sexual as Vodoun is the religion of common people. Poor people of the world have no place in their lives for puritan mores and morality. Life is not all flowers and fairy tales, it’s also bladder wrenching fear, utter poverty, and rotten meat. Will you be okay?”
“I’ve been around the block a time or two.”
“I’ll bet you have. What do you think is the most appropriate gift for the Queen of the Sea?”
“Fish, I guess,” he said.
Mama laughed aloud. “Never offer Lasyrenn fish. Appropriate offerings are sweet, white wine, mirrors, and perfume. It was a reasonable guess.”
As Mama predicted, the rain soon abated and finally stopped altogether. They still had a problem. When she put the car into gear, the rear wheels spun in the mud. They were stuck. Tony got out and rocked the car, pushing as Mama applied the gas. Luckily, the vehicle wasn’t heavy, and the pavement nearby. Still, he was out of breath when he reentered the car.
“You’re way too young to be wheezing like that after a little exercise. I have something to increase your strength. You’re going to need all you can muster before the night ends.”
She reached into her purse for a vitamin bottle filled with capsules, popping one into his mouth.
“What is it?” he asked.
“An extraction from the bark of an African tree called Yohimbe. Warriors used to drink Yohimbe tea before going into battle. It has psychotropic properties. Simply put, it alters perception, emotion, and behavior. It was the first drug approved as a treatment for sexual dysfunction. Unlike Viagra, it does more than make you erect.”
“Like what?” he asked.
“Puts you in the mood. Makes you want it like a rutting stag.”
“Do you get it from Africa?”
“You can buy it over-the-counter at practically any drugstore.”
Since Mama had made clear the herb only works on male subjects, he wondered why she kept a bottle in her purse. He didn’t need her drug because he was already hot for the gorgeous voodoo mambo. While taking a hard corner, Mama reached over and grabbed his thigh for support. When her electric touch brought him to an almost instant erection, he began to worry.
The car’s top that had been such a bear to raise and secure was a pussycat to lower. The rain had finally ceased, and Mama unlatched the top, laying it behind them as she drove.
“Never did like these things,” she said.
Mama exited the main road and took an even narrower blacktop that led into a thicket of trees, bushes, and vines. An armadillo ran across the road in front of them. Minutes later, the pervasive rhythm of African drums, echoing through the draping shadow of live oak and Spanish moss, encompassed their senses.
“Mambo Aghnee will have a mistress-of-ceremony. Her name is Estelle. There is also a group of servers dressed in white. Most of the worshipers will only be onlookers. Some will even become possessed.”
Between the Yohimbe and magic powder Mama had blown up his nose, Tony’s head had begun to hum. Though he couldn’t explain the feeling, he knew it was a mental high more powerful than he’d ever experienced. The herbs, Mama’s perfume, damp night air, and the steady drumming had transported him to a different plane of reality. Worse, he’d almost forgotten the main reason he was there in the first place. He remained in his seat after Mama parked and got out of the car. Opening the passenger door, she grabbed his hand.
“Are you ready?”
He had a silly grin on his face as she nudged him gently out of the bucket seat. It no longer worried him that she might see the obvious bulge in his pants. Mama simply smiled as she led him to the peristyle illuminated by torchlight. The brethren had already started gathering, many sitting cross-legged in a circle around the peristyle, their bodies swaying to the beat of drums.


“Being a mambo has its perks,” Mama said. “There’s something important I have to tell you. It’s possible you may be asked to perform in the ceremony.”
Her statement normally would have sent Tony running to the comfort and safety of the car. Tonight was different. He was different.
“How will I know what to do?”
“You’ll know,” she said.
Heavy rain had passed, heading south toward the Gulf. Humidity remained, carrying with it the dueling fragrances of perfume and night blooming hyacinths. Mingling aromatic scents further lifted his already elevated libido. As he and Mama swayed to the music, the tempo of the three drums began to change. Smoke, billowing from the far side of the peristyle, appeared after a loud pop. It remained near the ground as humid air prevented its rapid dissipation. With everyone’s attention rapt, a young woman appeared followed closely by three women dressed in white.
The woman named Estelle, Mambo Aghnee’s La Place, danced slowly to the rhythm of sultry drums. Attractive Estelle had the body of a college athlete. Gris gris and charms draped from chains around her neck, decorating her white dress. Her legs, exposed to mid-thigh, were the color of coffee lightened with extra cream. Bouncing cornrows framed her face and expressive eyes.
The servers carried a hidden stash of offerings for the Loa Lasyrenn. Estelle took a bottle of white wine from one woman and danced to the poteau mitan, a post in the ground acting as the altar. Removing the cork, she poured a few drops on the post. Dropping to her knees, she began writhing like a serpent. When she finally returned to her feet, she grabbed the neck of her dress with both hands and ripped it open to the top of her dark pubic hair. After pouring the rest of the wine down her chest, she caressed her breasts with the bottle. Sinking to her knees, she continued her snakelike dance.
The serpent dance caused the audience of fifty or more people to sing, sway, and moan, many joining in with their own writhing movement. Estelle crawled on her belly to her servers, retrieving from them dove feathers and a mirror. Something unusual happened this time when she deposited the offering at the poteau mitan.
The audience gasped as the loud pop of another explosion sounded. A second thick cloud of smoke billowed up from the far side of the peristyle. From the cloud of smoke, another woman appeared. It was Mambo Aghnee, her arms outstretched to the heavens, right hand clasping a rattle made from a calabash gourd.
Mama Aghnee’s flowing hair reached her waist. Instead of black as Tony had expected, it was a striking shade of blond. Her pale skin seemed almost as though it had never seen the light of day. Her knee-length mantle of loosely beaded seashells made no pretense of covering her otherwise nude body. In that obscure age somewhere between early forty and seventy, her legs and torso could have passed for an athletic twenty-five-year-old. The youthful-looking mambo had neither scar nor blemish on her body. Her finest asset kept the crowd from spending too much time staring at her body. If she locked you with her eyes—limpid blue, the color of the sea pooled in Bahamian coral grottos—it was hard to break the stare.
Mambo Aghnee danced around the perimeter of the peristyle, shaking the rattle at her servers and the rapt audience. She circled three times and then moved toward the poteau mitan. dropping to her knees, she produced a bag containing powdered eggshell from beneath her beads. Pouring the eggshell into her hand, she used it to draw Lasyrenn’s vever in the dirt. Everyone watched until she completed the masterful drawing, the symbolic meaning known only to her.
Mambo Aghnee pivoted on her knees, facing a bit of the peristyle that she and her La Place had oriented. Swaying observers parted and the servers appeared, between them a young woman with an angelic smile and nude body. They danced her to the awaiting Mambo Aghnee.
Something about the striking mambo seemed vaguely familiar to Tony. Awash in the beat of drums, Mama’s perfume, and flickering torchlight, it failed to register as something important. The breaking and ebbing waves of dancers and performers engulfed him. Like the rest of the crowd watching the ceremony, he was only intent on the actions of the naked initiate and Mambo Aghnee.
After the servers and Estelle had oriented the initiate, Mambo Aghnee began dancing around her, shaking her rattle. Estelle and the servers placed offerings at the poteau mitan and on the body of the initiate. The young woman was soon dripping with perfume, honey, and white wine.
Matched by Mambo Aghnee’s frenetic movements, the drummers changed the rhythm of their instruments. The faster she danced, the more sexually overt her gestures became. The crowd responded, mimicking every move and mannerism the animated mambo made.
A collective gasp surged through the mass of swaying bodies following someone’s shrill scream. Almost on cue, a dozen observers began rolling on the ground, their bodies, and limbs writhing in a burst of uncontrolled motion. Mambo Aghnee’s actions were similar, although wilder and more animated.
The possession had begun. Having accepted her offerings, the loa Lasyrenn had finally appeared embodied within the molten shape of Mambo Aghnee. Sultry and brazen, Lasyrenn/Aghnee pulsated through the faithful, humping their legs, stimulating them with the sexually explicit use of her lips, tongue, hands, and body. Her lewd behavior prompted more possessions. Those possessed rolled, squirmed, squealed, and cried on the ground beneath her bare feet.
As Lasyrenn/Aghnee passed among the true believers, they opened a pathway toward the vever, the poteau mitan, and the loa’s newest initiate. Tony watched the blue-eyed woman mount the young initiate and hump her like an excited stallion. When the simulated, although quite explicit action ended, Lasyrenn/Aghnee stretched to her full height and pointed to the woman she straddled with her legs.
“Ainsi sort-il,” she shouted.
“Ainsi sort-il,” the dancers replied.
Estelle and the servers helped the young initiate to her feet and then pulled a white dress over her head. One of the women brought an ivory bowl that she and the others used to clean the initiate’s head. Following the ceremony known as Lave Tet, they led her away into the trees. Although the initiation had ended, the ceremony was not yet complete.
Mama’s drugs had already altered Tony’s perception of reality. No reality remained. As if on cue, the drumming intensified as every reveler crowded into the peristyle. He had the vague sense of Mama dancing around him, her caftan pulled down to her waist to reveal her bare breasts. It all seemed natural as she pulled him into the crowd.
Tony’s spirit had entered a wild, bacchanalian dream as Lasyrenn/Aghnee singled him out of the crowd. She danced toward him, her muscles flexing, and skin glistening with sweat. When he reached for her, she smiled and pulled away, then moved even closer, blowing in his ear and licking his eyeballs as she played with his nipples through the coarse cotton fabric of his shirt. Soon, she squatted atop him, humping him in a lascivious manner.
Lightning flashed overhead, joining the fireworks already ignited in Tony’s brain, his reality suddenly altered beyond breaking. After turning the wildly excited Lasyrenn/Aghnee on her back, he spread her legs and began humping her as if a man possessed. He was possessed. Crowding around him, they began chanting Ghede, Ghede, Ghede.
Finished with Lasyrenn/Aghnee, Ghede/Tony rose to his feet and saw Mama. Stalking her, they launched into a game of cat and mouse as interpreted by dancing and movement that was both ritualistic, and sexually explicit. Ghede/Tony finally caught her, rolling her in the dirt beneath him, her shapely legs pointing toward the darkness.

Mama’s skirt lay crumpled on the grass, her shapely legs spread wide and inviting, her eyes wild with desire. Ghede/Tony needed no encouragement. With tongue hanging from his salivating mouth, he lowered himself between her legs and had his way with her.

###


Born near Black Bayou in the little Louisiana town of Vivian, Eric Wilder grew up listening to his grandmother’s tales of politics, corruption, and ghosts that haunt the night. He now lives in Oklahoma where he continues to pen mysteries and short stories with a southern accent. He is the author of the French Quarter Mystery Series set in New Orleans and the Paranormal Cowboy Series. Please check it out on his AmazonBarnes & Noble, and iBook author pages. You might also like to check out his website.