Dead of Night: Tales from the Big Easy

PROLOGUE: Severed Threads

Torpor Flashback of Hampton Mayfair III' Embrace

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Hampton Mayfair’s body ached. Vinter had pushed him hard today, after lectures he had returned to private tuition, the usual suspects of politics, business and money. Then four hours of sword practice. Mayfair walked through the front door into his father’s Uptown house, dimly lit. His study door was ajar. Mayfair hears his father’s deep voice talking quickly, his brother’s voice responding with the typical endless stream of affirmatives… and another voice low and coloured, the distinctive patois of the negro punctuated with cruel, rolling laughter.

Thick cigar smoke curled around the edges of the door as he stepped forward to peek in. Mayfair could just see his father caught in the desk lamp light. He looked worried, anxious. The negro is talking, his back to the door, a dark shadow silhouetted against the desk lamp.

The shadow stiffens and turns. Mayfair’s heart leapt into his mouth, his heart beating double time. Instinct tells him, he can’t be seen. He drags himself up the staircase, clinging to the banister, unable to take his eyes off the study door.

It slams shut, making him jump and miss a step. He stumbles but manages to catch himself. First a breath of relief. Then the anger at being excluded, yet again, overcomes him. And a nigger as well!

Mayfair looks in on his mother to wish her goodnight. As soon as he pushes open the door the cloying scent of laudanum hits him. She is sprawled on the bed, fully dressed, dead to the world. An empty bottle of wine sits on her dresser.

He bend over and kissed her cheek, automatically checking to see if she is still breathing. It’s ragged and weak but it is still there. Mayfair casually throw a blanket over her before leaving to run a bath.

The steam from the hot tub mists up the mirrors and the windows as he relaxes in the tub… his mind drifting…

He wakes with a start. The house is quiet. Mayfair shivers as he realises the heat of the water has long since disappeared and starts to lift himself out of the tub, just as the light flickers and cuts out throwing the room in darkness.

Mayfair pauses for a moment, was that a creak on the landing? He stands quickly and rushes to the door. Something grabs him and flings him back into the bath, hitting his head and then the world goes strange.

He hears the bolt on the bathroom door being thrown into place. But there is no one there.

A large fat black candle sparks to life on the washbasin. But there is no one there.

Suddenly, a woman, dressed in grey appears from nowhere. She wears a wide brimmed hat with a long veil that blocks the view of her face. In one hand she holds a bottle of rum.

She takes a fat cigar from her pocket and lights it, taking a long toke. She blows the smoke straight up in the air and then down, straight into Mayfair’s face The smoke smells fragrant. And expensive.

His heart pounding in his chest, he finds it impossible to speak. Mayfair slides backwards in the bath, trying to get away from the figure. She starts to speak in a whisper, with a slight French accent. She places the cigar on the washbasin next to the candle.

“Papa Legba, accept this offering from your servant Gabrielle. Open the crossroads for me to accept this sacrifice”

The word sacrifice snaps Mayfair into action, standing to his feet, a little shaky but he finds his voice.

“Who the hell are you?”

The woman turns and hisses. She strikes him in the chest. Hard. The blow lifts him off his feet and back into the bath.

“Sit still Mayfair”

She takes a long swig from the bottle and sprays it through her teeth over him. She turns to face the candle, and sprays more over the flame. It leaps as the alcohol hits it, casting shadowy shapes over the wall.

“Ghede, keeper of graveyards, accept this gift as your servant Gabrielle’s apology for keeping this soul from you”

The smoke, the rum, the candlelight, the blow to his head. Mayfair starts to see things moving in the darkness, shapes and faces. The bathroom seems bigger all of a sudden. The water, once cold is now warm. He feels light headed, his body relaxes.

Mayfair hears voices, whispers all around.

The woman stands over the youth. She pulls back her veil. She is Creole, how old is impossible to say as her face is a network of scars. They seem to writhe and change shape as Mayfair stares. Her baleful misty white eyes stare right back at him. A look of utter distaste covers her face.

“You don’t know me Mayfair. Your great grandfather knew me. Or knew of me. Your namesake. At least a few of the scars are his. Les Mysteries are incredible, non? Here am I, burdened with such hate for your family that I worked hard to ruin it. And succeeded. Your father wouldn’t accept it though. He made a deal.”

She leans down over Mayfair.

“He sold you down the river, past Le Masquerade. Like so many slaves before you, he sold you to keep his money, to keep his house, to keep his seat at the table. But he didn’t know your destiny.”

Mayfair frowns, confused. Before he can speak the woman thing back hands him with a closed fist. She puts her finger to her lips and shakes her head.

She sits on the edge of the bath.

“I am not here to end you Mayfair. I am here to cut the thread of your destiny the only way I know how. I am here because the Baron has asked to stop what is to happen. To save you from yourself.”

She hands him the bottle of rum.

“Drink. It will be your last mortal taste.”

Mayfair takes the bottle and unscrews the cap slowly. He tastes the rum, sugary and potent. He watches the woman thing stand and open her hands.

“Baron Samedi, hear your servants plea. Accept this mortal through your gates. Accept this gift of vitae and protect me from Kalfou’s wrath”

She bites her wrist and holds it over the naked flame of the candle. Three drops of black blood fall and twist in the air striking the wick. The candle burns a deep red, coating the bathroom in its crimson glow.

The woman thing turns back to the youth. Her face is gaunt, her white eyes hungry. Fangs poke over her scarred lips.

She pounces.

Blood. Nightmares. Cold. Death. Blood. The images come in pulses, Mayfair’s slowing heart a drum beat. The last thing before darkness overwhelms him is the sight of an animate shadow, the figure of a man crosses the wall and through the door.

Blood trail

He wakes. The stake has been pulled from his chest, leaving a gaping hole. It’s tossed on the table lit by the overhead, tungsten lamp…

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