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Authors: Seth Skorkowsky

Hounacier (Valducan Book 2)

BOOK: Hounacier (Valducan Book 2)
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HOUNACIER

 

Seth Skorkowsky

 

© 2015

Cover Art and Design by J.M. Martin

Copy Edited by Amanda Shore

 

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

 

Worldwide Rights

Created in the United States of America

 

Published by Ragnarok Publications | www.ragnarokpub.com

Editor-In-Chief: Tim Marquitz | Creative Director: J.M. Martin

 

 

 

HOUNACIER

Book Two of the Valducan

 

For Jesse Sisk, who's been there since the beginning and never stops encouraging me.

Thanks, brother.

 

 

Chapter One

11years ago.

 

Malcolm wiped dusty sweat from his face as he made his way up the road. The strip of gray asphalt looked as if it had been poured like a molten river of lava many years ago. Only a few lumpy patches gave any indication the street had ever been repaired. An oncoming rider on a tired bicycle veered away, giving Malcolm a wide berth. A pair of muscular men, leaning against a dingy pickup, looked up as Malcolm approached. Island rap blasted from a little blue radio on the hood between them.

A white face in Haiti always drew attention. Three weeks into his second trip and he still wasn't used to it. White meant foreign. Money. Kidnappings were common, though anyone trying to get money from Malcolm would be shit out of luck.

Beyond the truck, Malcolm stopped beneath a pair of palm trees, enjoying a moment's shade. He glanced again at his hand-written directions. Satisfied, he adjusted his backpack and started up a gravel path.

The music stopped.

Turning, he saw the two men standing straight, watching him. Mama Ritha had guards at her house as well, though a fat woman and a couple pre-teens weren't as intimidating as these two. Malcolm gave them a little smile, hiding his trepidation, then continued toward the squat, white house at the end of the path.

A pair of older men sat under the porch awning, quiet as Malcolm neared. One wore a pink polo, his skin a deep black. A glimmer of kindness twinkled in his eyes, visible behind the apprehension. The other man was lighter. There was a stillness to him, a weight. Sweeping tattoos decorated his arms and chest, visible through the open shirt and dusting of white hair. A pair of jam-jar glasses, frosted with condensation, stood on the table between them. A horn-handled machete in a wooden sheath rested on the table as well.

"May I help you?" the darker man asked, his thick Creole accent muddling the words.

"Yes," Malcolm said. "Are you Micelo Tavel?"

"I am."

"Sir, my name is Malcolm Romero. I'm researching local religious practices and spent some time with Mama Ritha. She spoke very highly of you."

Tavel frowned. "No interviews. Not after those National Geographic boys. Voodoo's not for tourists or to be laughed at. Ritha knows my feelings on that."

"Yes, sir." Gravel crunched, and Malcolm glanced back. The two rap fans were coming toward him. "She told me you wouldn't be interested in talking to me," he said to Tavel, his voice quickening slightly. "My—"

"Then why are you here?" the old priest interrupted. His eyes narrowed. "Why come all this way if she told you that?"

The two young men stopped just a few feet behind Malcolm.

Malcolm swallowed, trying to at least
appear
calm. "I'm looking for Ulises Belair. I understand he's staying here."

Tavel's brows rose in a curious arch. He turned to the tattooed man beside him.

The man's hand moved to the sheathed machete. "I am Ulises."

"Mister Belair," Malcolm said, forcing a smile, "it's a pleasure to meet you." He stepped forward, offering his hand.

"Stop!” Ulises snapped. He gripped the weapon then threw his left hand out before him. A tattoo of a half-lidded eye adorned the pale palm.

Fear twisted and rose inside Malcolm's gut. He opened his hands out to his side, his gaze locked onto the machete. He felt the eyes of the two guards boring into his back. Bokors were the sorcerers of voodoo, practitioners of both light and dark magic. For the first time since coming to the island, he was truly and mortally afraid.

"Look at it!" Ulises ordered, thrusting his tattooed palm out further.

Malcolm did as he was told.

Nothing happened.

Slowly, Ulises lowered his hand and rested it on the chair arm. His grip loosened on the machete but didn't move. "How can I help you?" His voice was slow and purposeful.

A long, low breath escaped Malcolm's lips. His heart still pounded. "I, um… As I said, I'm researching Haitian Voodoo practices. I've spoken with many priests and heard of you."

"And what have you heard?" Ulises asked.

"That you're a bokor. A very respected one. Mama Ritha told me that you were in Hinche, visiting Father Tavel, and said I should come speak with you."

The old man snorted. "Ritha sent you?"

"Yes, sir."

"Mama Ritha despises me. Despises what I do. Did she tell you that too, white-boy?"

"She might not think much of what you do, sir, but she does still respect you."

Ulises shook his head. He picked up his drink and took a sip. "I don't do interviews. Go back to Borgne."

A heavy hand dropped onto Malcolm's shoulder.

"Wait," Malcolm urged. "She told me that you wouldn't normally do an interview but that I…I had to tell you that she found the groom."

The grin fell from Ulises' lips. He set his glass back down and touched the machete. Not gripping, almost protective. "The groom?"

"Yes, sir."

Ulises shared a look with Tavel and nodded.

The priest motioned a finger. The hand withdrew from Malcolm's shoulder, and the two guards walked away, gravel crunching as they left. Once they were gone, Tavel stood, extending his hand. "Please excuse our caution. There is a madman in Hinche, and one can't be too careful. Come."

Malcolm shook the priest's rough hand. "Thank you, Father. I heard on the bus that the police caught the killer last night."

Tavel gave Ulises an uneasy grin. What teeth he still had were very white compared to his charcoal skin. "That's what they said." He gestured to his empty seat. "Please, sit down. I'm sure you two have much to discuss."

Removing his backpack, Malcolm took the battered chair, a bit taken aback at the sudden and complete change in the men's demeanor. Whatever Mama Ritha's cryptic message suggested meant a good deal to them. He wished he'd opened with that instead of hello. "Thank you, sir."

"I'll bring you something to drink," Tavel said then hurried though the house's open door.

Ulises sat silent, his golden brown eyes seeming to study Malcolm. His fingers lightly stroked the machete's polished wood sheath. He glanced at the open door. "Micelo should thank you for arriving. He's very uncomfortable with me. You offer a good distraction."

Unsure how to reply, Malcolm simply smiled.

"People fear what they don't understand, what they don't want to know about," Ulises continued. "What was your name?"

"Malcolm Romero."

"Romero," Ulises repeated, seeming to roll the word in his mouth, inspecting the flavor of it. "Cuban?"

"My father was. I'm American. Grew up in Baton Rouge."

Ulises nodded to himself. "And you go to college?"

Malcolm turned as Tavel stepped out and offered him a glass of some red-tinged drink. "Oh, thank you." He started to rise from the chair, allowing his host the seat, but the scrawny priest just smiled and shook his hand.

"You two talk. I will be inside."

"Thank you, Micelo," Ulises said as Tavel retreated back into the house. He motioned to Malcolm, urging him to continue.

"Tulane," Malcolm said. "New Orleans."

"I know New Orleans very, very well," almost doleful. "And what do you study?"

The blocky ice cubes clinked as Malcolm lifted the glass to his lips. Freezers were a rare luxury here. He sucked a breath as the strong rum burned his throat. "Anthropology," he coughed. "I'm researching my dissertation."

"An…thro…po…lo…gee," Ulises said, each syllable almost a different word. "Voodoo?"

"Yes, sir."

"And do you believe?"

"I'm trying to keep personal bias out of my research," Malcolm said.

"So no?"

"Oh, it's not that," Malcolm lied. "I just want to be scientific."

Ulises smiled. "Don't worry. You will believe, Malcolm Romero. That much is certain."

"Well, then." Malcolm took another sip and then set the drink onto the table. He reached for his backpack. "I just have a few questions I want to start with."

"No interviews."

Malcolm paused. "But I thought…"

"Not yet," Ulises said. "We are having a ceremony tomorrow. I want you to be there. Be my assistant. Afterward, once you believe, I will answer your questions."

"Wow," Malcolm said, genuinely surprised. "I'm honored. What ceremony?"

"One to find a killer."

"You mean the slasher?" Malcolm asked. "Like I said, news was that he was captured last night."

"He was, in a way. But the real killer was not."

Malcolm's eyes widened. "More killers?"

The old sorcerer shook his head. "Just one. The man they caught is not it."

"So they have the wrong man?" Malcolm asked.

"He was the man who did it," Ulises said. "But not the murderer."

"So the real killer is still out there?" Malcolm asked, struggling to understand the old man's riddle.

Ulises nodded.

A chill wormed up Malcolm's spine. The slasher had already killed and mutilated twenty people in the last two months. "Then why not get him now? What if he strikes again tonight?"

"That cannot be helped." Ulises shook his head. "I arrived here only a few hours before you. This ceremony takes time. Tomorrow morning, we begin."

#

The pungent tang of smoke briefly washed away as one of the mambos rubbed a fluttering chicken across Malcolm's face. The priestess held the bird firmly, brushing its wings down his bare arms and chest.

Once she'd finished the backs of his legs, she said, "Enter," then she and her partner, a priest with a clay bowl of smoldering herbs, turned their attention to the next person in line. Malcolm strode into the near-empty yard, a pair of muscular men on either side of him.

His morning had started early with Father Tavel rousing him from the makeshift bed on the priest's floor. Then, with Ulises and the two rap-fan guards, Seymour and Jean-Luc, they had loaded several boxes into their truck and a forty-year-old Volkswagen then driven them up to a white stucco church just outside of the city. There, in the yard, boxed in by the church, an old cemetery, and a rusted, wrought-iron fence, they'd begun setting up. More helpers trickled in, houngans and mambos, other priests and priestesses in and around the city. Together, under Tavel and Ulises' joint instructions, they cleaned and arranged the yard then erected a thick, painted pole at the center. It symbolized the crossroads. The door to the spirit world.

Worshipers gathered outside the entrance around noon. Dozens at first, but their ranks now filling the street numbered in the hundreds if not thousands. And more arrived still, many carrying gifts of food or sacrifice. Their combined murmurs and chatter swelled together into a rumbling cloud of noise. This was by far the largest ceremony Malcolm had ever seen. More and more of him resented Ulises' demand that Malcolm not bring a camera or notebook to record any of this.

After they had finished the setup, Father Tavel and Madame Hero, the resident houngan asogwe and mambo asogwe, led everyone out of the yard for the cleansing. Once sanctified, they brought in the other priests and priestesses, purifying them before they entered. Afterward, each took up their own birds and smoldering bowls to help usher in the growing crowd.

Ulises stood a few feet inside the yard, his hand on the machete at his hip. Shirtless, his body covered in so many tattoos that it was hard to take them all in. "Stop." The old man thrust out his left hand, its pale, tattooed palm facing Malcolm. He closed his fist and nodded.

The two escorts returned to the gate.

"Come here, Malcolm," Ulises said. "Stand here. Watch me."

Taking position beside the sorcerer, Malcolm eyed the dense crowd outside the fence. Admitting everyone might take a couple hours. Was he to stand here the entire time? And what was with that eye tattoo? Ulises' part in all this was unlike any voodoo ceremony he'd ever encountered. He needed to remember as much of this as he could and write it down the first moment he had a chance.

The two men escorted a gangly woman before them. As before, the old bokor thrust his palm out. After a couple seconds, he nodded. The two men went back to fetch another worshiper, and the woman sauntered off into the yard.

Malcolm motioned to the sheathed machete at Ulises' side. "Do you need me to carry that?"

Ulises' grip seized around the horn handle. "No!" The sudden anger melted from his face. "No. Hounacier is mine to carry."

"But," Malcolm said, choosing his words not to upset the old man. "If I'm your assistant, isn't a laplas supposed to be sword-bearer?"

"I am sword-bearer." He turned toward the next escortee, a man with a thick moustache. He raised his palm, lowered it, then allowed him to move on. "You are my assistant," Ulises continued. "Do as I say. Watch me."

Malcolm nodded. As frustrating as it was, this was a rare if not unique opportunity. Bokors rarely gave interviews, especially ones of Ulises' renown. Best to not irritate the old man lest he lose it. He glanced back at the sheathed blade. Hounacier, he called it. The dark, polished sheath and white grip, etched and carved into the head of something like a strange nocturnal animal, were so pristine, so new in appearance, that they stood out against the rest of Ulises' worn attire.

BOOK: Hounacier (Valducan Book 2)
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