By Victor D. Infante
I dance, and I am somewhere far away. The African Serengeti, maybe, back at the beginning of it all, the first place a woman reached into the night to touch magic, to bind herself to it. Or by a campfire somewhere in Hungary or Poland, parting the sea of Nazis or Cossacks or whatever hoard was raining down on her people at that moment. I am dancing in the moonlight outside Salem, Johannesburg, or Glasgow, anywhere the madness creeps through the crowds, transforming good folk into a mob. I am dancing so I do not burn.
My hips shimmy and I raise my hands aimlessly toward the strobing lights. I don’t know if I would call this music, exactly — I’m not sure I’ve identified a chorus, or a bridge or any such thing, but I am lost in its pulse and pull, until suddenly, I realize I am not alone.
There is a man dancing with me, now — tall, and dark skinned. There’s a tank top barely covering his torso and he’s wearing jeans that leave nothing to the imagination. He moves like a cat. His muscles ripple as he sways.
“I hope you don’t mind,” he says, in a gorgeous accent — something Southern? Maybe Louisiana? — “but you looked so lonely, dancing by yourself.”
Oh. My. God. He’s. Using. Cheesy. Pickup. Lines. I nearly blow him off and go get a drink, but he has really pretty eyes. I mean, I have to do something to pass the time until something supernatural happens. We dance, and for a second, I’m just a normal girl, dancing with a cute boy whom I’ll probably never see again.
“Well,” says Ru, now in a flamboyant, green-feathered ensemble. “Maybe we can not see him again after breakfast,” and the cute boy’s eyes flick to the imaginary drag queen and back again — only for a moment — and the barest of laughs slips past his lips at her joke.
“You can see her,” I say, suddenly alert. He looks busted and a little scared. He should be. With a flick of my hand, I can rip his teeth and fingernails from him. I could splinter his bones as easily as kiss him. I can go the full Dark Willow and flay him alive. But there are too many people here, and it’s not the kind of scene I want to make.
“You. Me,” I command. “Outside.”
It’s an order, not a spell, but there’s no disobeying. It’s clear he knows enough to know what I’m capable of.
The heat of dancing bodies gives way to the cool night, and I wipe the sweat from my forehead as we step into the parking lot. Out of earshot, I turn on my heel to confront him.
“Spill,” I say, and he’s trying not to let on how terrified he is. That tells me a lot.
“Look,” he says, trying to find his backbone. “I didn’t mean anything. I mean, I knew who you were. You’re Whitney Bierce … the city’s witch. But I wasn’t playing you. I just wanted to dance.”
I’m pretty sure I’m wearing the expression my schoolteacher mother wears when she catches kids passing notes in class. My arms are folded, and I cluck my tongue against the roof of my mouth. Faint strains of music emanate from inside the building … the DJ has switched to something recognizable, something a little more New Wave. “Tainted Love.” Perfect.
“Who are you?” I say. “How can you see Ru?”
The man sighs, and leans against the hood of a car. I remain motionless.
“My name is Henri. Henri Boudreaux. My mother is Lisette Boudreaux.”
He lets the sentence hang there like it’s supposed to mean something. I look to Ru, who just shrugs, before I look back at my new friend and ask, “OK. I’ll bite. Who’s Lisette Boudreaux?
He looks stricken.
“The mambo of New Orleans,” he says, in a tone that insinuates I’m supposed to be impressed. “Really? Nothing?”
“Yeah,” I say, “I don’t get out much. But you’re not a witch. I know that much. There are no male witches.” Also, he’d be sucking my energy right now if he was. Witches can only be in each others’ company for a short time before bad things happen. We always feel each others’ presence.
“No,” he admits, shaking his head. “It’s as you say it. But the male son of a witch can have certain aptitudes, and can be trained to do some magic. I am a houngan.”
Again with the waiting for me to be impressed. It’s totally not happening. And once again, he relents.
“OK. I also play bass in a band,” he says. “We have a gig in town tomorrow.”
“Right,” I say. “Indigent musician. Now I know you’re my type. Really, you should lead with that.”
He laughs, obviously feeling a little more confident that I’m not going to do something truly terrible to his pretty face just yet.
“I’ll tell you what,” he says. “We survive the night, and I’ll guest list you for the show.”
“What do you mean …” I start to say, when suddenly I feel nauseous, and my vision blurs. I look over at Henri, convinced this is his doing, but he’s wobbling, too. At first, I think I’ve been slipped a roofie — not unheard of in a place like this — but I’d know, and anyway, tragic as it seems, I haven’t had a drink all night.
The wave of whatever must have hit Henri harder than it did me, because he passes out while I’m still struggling to stand. I soon lose my footing and stumble to my knees, ripping the hem of my nice dress in the process. Someone’s going to pay for that.
And all the while, a maniacal laugh echoes from all directions. And then a chill runs down my spine as I realize there’s something familiar about the cackle.
Victor D. Infante is the editor-in-chief of Radius.