The Nightcreature Novels Book #5
Last night I dreamed of the beach in Haiti. The rolling waves, the smooth, warm sand, turned white beneath the light of a glistening silver moon.
The dream continues to haunt me because on that beach I said good-bye to everything I d been and welcomed the woman I would become.
Once I was a stay-at-home mom with a big house in the Southern California suburbs. I drove an SUV that was far too large for carting a five-year-old girl to ballet lessons; I was married to a man I thought was my soul mate.
Then, in the way of a picture-perfect life, everything went to hell and I became a voodoo priestess. When I change lives, I do it right.
I did have a little help from the witness protection program. Although they weren’t the ones who suggested I spend years studying an ancient African religion, travel to Haiti and be initiated, then style myself Priestess Cassandra, owner and operator of a voodoo shop in the French Quarter. That was all me.
I chose the name Cassandra because it means “prophet.” Voodoo priestesses are often called on to see the future, but I’d never been the least bit psychic. Despite the name, I still wasn’t.
Voodoo is a fluid religion, adaptive and inclusive. Practitioners believe in magic, zombies, and love charms. I like pretty much everything about it, except one thing. Their stubborn insistence that there are no accidents.
Me, I have a hard time believing it, because if there are no accidents that means my daughter died for a reason, and I just can’t find one. Believe me, I’ve looked.
I’m not the first person to have trouble with certain tenets of their religion. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe.
In Haiti, on that beach, I committed myself to voodoo wholeheartedly. I had a very good reason.
I planned to raise my daughter from the dead.
* * *
I got off the plane in Port-au-Prince for the second time in my life about midafternoon on a sunny Thursday in October. Not much had changed. Heat wavered above the asphalt, shimmering, dancing, making me dizzy.
Inside the airport, a man whose starched white short-sleeved shirt and khaki trousers emphasized the ebony shade of his skin hurried over. “Priestess Cassandra?”
I winced. What had been good business in New Orleans sounded pretentious in the shadow of the mountains where voodoo had first come into its own.
“Just Cassandra, please.”
I wondered momentarily how he’d known me. Perhaps my being the only white woman who’d gotten off the plane was a pretty good clue. I’m sure my blue eyes and short dark hair weren’t all that common around here, either. But what usually made me stand out in a crowd was the slash of pure white at my temple.
The oddity, which had appeared in my hair shortly after my daughter died, had gradually lost pigment from its original gray. I probably should have covered it with dye—I was, after all, in witness protection—but the white strip served to remind me of my daughter and my mission. As if I needed reminding.
The streak also served as my penance. I hadn’t done the one thing a mother was supposed to do—protect her child against everyone. Even her father.
The man in front of me dipped his head. “I am Marcel, Miss Cassandra.”
His accent hinted at France. A lovely lilt in English; I bet in Creole, the language of the island, he’d sound fabulous.
I opened my mouth to tell him my last name, then realized I no longer had one. Once I’d testified against my scum-sucking, drug-dealing pig of a husband I’d become Priestess Cassandra, one name only—a la Cher, the Rock, Madonna.
WITSEC, short for witness protection folks, had been unamused when I’d refused to acknowledge the need for a last name. Of course very little amused them. They’d slapped Smith on my records, but the name wasn’t any more mine than Cassandra.
“Monsieur Mandenauer has arranged for a room at the Hotel Oloffson.” Marcel took possession of the single bag I’d carried onto the plane.
I’d recently joined a group of government operatives known as the Jager-Suchers. That’s Hunter-Searchers if your German is as nonexistent as mine. The Jager-Suchers hunt monsters, and I’m not using the euphemism applied to so many human beings who belong in a cage. I mean monsters—the type whose skin sprouts fur, whose teeth become fangs—beasts that drink the blood of humans and only want more.
Edward Mandenauer was my new boss. He’d sent me to Haiti to discover the secret of raising a zombie. I loved it when my personal and work interests collided. Almost made me give credence to that “there are no accidents” theory.
“This way, please.” Marcel awaited me at the door of the airport.
I hurried after him, leaving behind the shady, cool interior of the building and stepping into the bright, sunny bustle of Port-au-Prince.
Though Haiti is horrendously overpopulated—the newest estimates say 10.5 million souls—there is also a vast amount of uncharted, unexplored, and nearly un-explorable land in the mountains. I was certain any secrets worth uncovering lay in that direction.
I glanced at the teeming crowd of humanity that made up the capital city. Secrets certainly couldn’t be kept here.
Marcel had parked at the curb in direct defiance of the signs ordering him not to do so. He held the passenger door, and I climbed inside, nearly choking on the scalding air within. After tossing my bag into the back, Marcel jumped behind the wheel, cranking the air conditioner to high, before setting off at a speed meant to crush any slow-moving bystanders.
In a very short time, we squealed to a stop in front of a large Victorian mansion. The Hotel Oloffson was originally built as a presidential summer palace. Used by the marines as a hospital during the initial U.S. occupation of 1915, it became the first hotel in Haiti.
Marcel led me up the steps and into the foyer. The hotel was expecting me, and in short order I followed Marcel into one of the veranda rooms with a view of the city.
He dropped my bag to the floor with a thud. “Monsieur Mandenauer has arranged for you to meet a friend.”
“Edward has friends here?”
Marcel slid me a glance. “He has friends everywhere.”
Of course he did.
“This friend will help you find what you seek.”
“You know what I seek?”
“There was a little trouble with a curse, oui?”
I wouldn’t have referred to the beast ravaging New Orleans as a “little” trouble, but it sounded as if Marcel knew the basics.
In the Crescent City I’d seen amazing things, but none as fantastic as a man changing into a wolf and back again.
Werewolves are real. You might think this would be an upsetting bit of knowledge for a former PTA member, but it wasn’t. Because if the werewolves of legend exist, doesn’t it follow that zombies do, too?
“Edward told you exactly why he sent me?”
“To remove a curse, you need the voodoo queen who performed it, and she is dead.”
“For about a hundred and fifty years.”
Marcel lowered his voice to just above a whisper. “You must raise her from the grave. Zombie.”
Though a George Romero Night of the Living Dead, type zombie might be enough to satisfy Edward, it was not enough to satisfy me. I couldn’t sentence my child to become such a creature. I aspired higher.
I’d been searching for a way to bring life from death since I’d left here the last time. All I’d found was more death. Then I began to hear whispers of incredible power in these mountains, an ability beyond the mere reanimation of a corpse. However, I hadn’t had the means to return to Haiti, neither the funds to search the island the way it needed to be searched nor the cash to pay for what a secret like that must cost.
I strolled onto the veranda and stared at the distant hills. Somewhere out there was a voodoo priest who, according to the latest rumors, could raise the dead to live again.
As if they’d never been dead at all.