“I also need a witch.”
“After all these years, I trust you have the resources to find at least that.”
I grimace, but two people have come to mind. Thomas, and Morfran Starling.
“Let me finish researching this, Theseus, and I’ll e-mail you in a day or two with the complete ritual.”
“All right, Gideon. Thanks.”
“Of course. And Theseus?”
“In the meantime, get out to the library and try to find out what you can about the way this girl died. Knowledge is power, you know.”
I smile. “Legwork. Right.” I hang up the phone. He thinks I’m a blunt instrument, nothing but hands and blade and agility, but the truth is I’ve been doing legwork, doing research, since before I even started using the athame.
After Dad was murdered, I had questions. Trouble was, nobody seemed to have any answers. Or, as I suspected, nobody wanted to give me any answers. So I went looking on my own. Gideon and my mom packed us up and moved us out of the Baton Rouge house we were staying in pretty quickly, but not before I managed to make a trip back to the dilapidated plantation where my father met his end.
It was an ugly f**king house. Even angry as I was, I didn’t want to go in. If it is possible for an inanimate object to glare, to growl, then that’s exactly what this house did. In my seven-year-old mind I saw it pull aside the vines. I saw it wipe away the moss and bare its teeth. Imagination is a wonderful thing, right?
My mom and Gideon had cleared the place days before, throwing runes and lighting candles, making sure my dad was at rest, making sure the ghosts were gone. Still, when I walked up that porch I started crying. My heart told me that my dad was there, that he hid from them to wait for me, and that any minute he would open the door, smiling this great, dead smile. His eyes would be gone, and there would be huge, crescent-shaped wounds on his sides and arms. This sounds stupid, but I think I started crying harder when I opened the door myself and he wasn’t there.
I breathe deep and smell tea and lavender. It brings me back into my body. Remembering that day, exploring that house, my heart is pounding in my ears. On the other side of the front door I found signs of a struggle and turned my face away. I wanted answers but I didn’t want to imagine my dad beat to hell and back. I didn’t want to think of him being scared. I walked past the cracked banister and headed instinctively for the fireplace. The rooms smelled like old wood, like rot. There was also the fresher scent of blood. I don’t know how I knew what the smell of blood was, any more than I knew why I walked straight to the fireplace.
There was nothing in the fireplace but decades-old charcoal and ash. And then I saw it. Just a corner of it, black like the charcoal but somehow different. Smoother. It was conspicuous and ominous. I reached out and pulled it from the ash: a thin black cross, about four inches in height. There was a black snake curled around it, carefully woven from what I knew instantly was human hair.
The certainty that I felt when I grasped that cross was the same certainty that coursed through me when I picked up my father’s knife seven years later. That was the moment that I knew for sure. That’s when I knew that whatever coursed through my father’s blood—whatever magical thing that allowed him to slice through dead flesh and send it out of our world—it flowed in my veins too.
When I showed the cross to Gideon and my mother, and told them what I’d done, they were frantic. I expected them to soothe me, to rock me like a baby and ask me if I was all right. Instead, Gideon grasped my shoulders.
“Don’t you ever, ever go back there!” he shouted, and shook me so hard my teeth clacked together. He took the black cross from me and I never saw it again. My mother just stood far away and cried. I’d been scared; Gideon had never done anything like that to me before. He’d always been grandfatherly, sneaking me candy and winking, that sort of thing. Still, Dad had just been murdered, and I was angry. I asked Gideon what the cross was.
He stared down at me coldly, and then drew his hand back and cracked me across the face so hard that I hit the floor. I heard my mom sort of whimper, but she didn’t intervene. Then they both walked out of the room and left me there. When they called me in for dinner, they were smiling and casual, like nothing had even happened.
It was enough to scare me into silence. I never brought it up again. But that doesn’t mean I forgot, and for the last ten years I’ve been reading, and learning, wherever I could. The black cross was a voodoo talisman. I haven’t figured out the significance of it, or why it was adorned with a snake made of human hair. According to lore, the sacred snake feeds on its victims by eating them whole. My father was taken in chunks.