Book One; Bad Moon Rising
It was the curse, Brian knew. The iron taste of blood flooded his mouth as his lip broke on the inside of his helmet. The wild scraping of metal and plastic rang through the twilight air mingled with the screams of the children he had swerved to avoid. The impact his helmet made against the ground caused lights to dance before his eyes. He could feel the ground tearing at his torso and arms. Luckily his tough leather jacket took most of the impact with little damage. His jeans however were not as sturdy. Brian could feel the serrated knife of the ground rip through the denim like paper to rip the flesh of his knee. The metallic whine of his skidding motorcycle was like a dirge to his ears. Out of the corner of his eye he could see sparks flashing from the skidding metal.
When the entire catastrophe was done, Brian lay stationery. The throbbing sensation of pain and battery shot through him and the knock to his head kept him dizzy. He could see the shadows of children slowly approaching. He summoned what strength he head and attempted to rise. His arms shook as they pushed him off the ground. He could tell they would bear some interesting bruises from the experience. His right leg bore his weight with no problem, but his left leg was ripped and bloody. It shook violently when he put his weight on it and pain lanced through it. He studied the large rip in his jeans carefully, there was a deep bloody abrasion all across his knee. Brian ripped off his helmet and spit out a mixture of saliva and blood. He thought himself lucky to still have all his teeth. He ruffled his shaggy black hair with a gloved hand and wiped blood from his ebony goatee with the other.
“You all okay?” Brian growled to the nearest child, whose eyes had widened to the size of serving plates. The kid nodded tentatively. “Good”
Brian cursed under his breath. He hadn’t even been going that fast, minding his own business when some stupid child had decided to hurl themselves into the middle of the street with nary a look. He supposed he couldn’t be too angry at the kids. There was a reason he was in this destitute section of New Orleans.
He checked his bike over critically, hoping against hope he could get the damn thing running. He had not had an easy time when it came to vehicles on his journey. Brian had ridden from his hometown of Philadelphia with a ratty old grey Chevy Cavalier and enough gas money to chase this last lead down to Louisiana. His mother had begged him not to go. He could hardly blame her, the last time he’d chased a fruitless lead all the way to Scotland and ended up being deported after they had caught him driving a stolen car on the wrong side of the road. It was one of the loudest arguments he and his stepfather had ever had, as they came to pick him up from the airport. This argument which had recalled the long history of Brian’s youthful delinquency and more recently his adult criminality had been the breaking point for his mother. She had told him to abandon this foolish quest for a cure for an imagined curse and just get his act together.
“If you run off on another one of these stupid little trips, don’t come back!” She had spit at him. “Your father died, Brian, plain and simple! And if you’d just learn to move on and stop blaming everything on everyone else you’d be able to live an honest life for once!”
He had slammed his house key down on the table after she’d said that, and left without one word more to her. He had never been as angry with his mother as he was then. She had bought her second husband’s trash talk about her first, and he didn’t think he could forgive her for that. He knew the truth though. His father hadn’t simply died. He like all the men in his line before him had died the instant he turned twenty-five. In his father’s particular case, he had crashed into a tree at exactly the stroke of midnight. His grandfather had been killed in the Korean war in a night skirmish on his twenty-fifth birthday. As far back as public record went, every male in the Dunnigal line died at midnight on their twenty fifth birthday. It took Brian but a small amount of digging and he could see the truth plainly.
When the car had crapped out in North Carolina, he had managed to hustle enough money at pool to get a bus ticket, but the bus busted an axle and almost careened over a cliff, all the passengers and driver just managing to make it out the emergency exit before it fell. He had managed to steal the bike he had ridden most of the way down without notable incident, save for a few close calls from highway police. And finally it was all capped off at the end by this bloody affair. Brian had felt the cold hand of the curse before but it had never so aggressively waylaid his plans before. It had to sense that it’s end was near. The woman Brian was seeking was reputed up and down the East Coast, surely this last lead had to be something solid.
He revved the motorcycle into life, managing a broken-lipped smile at the roar of the engine. He fitted the scratched helmet back over his head, and straddled the vibrating machine. He hummed a bit of Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising”, as he shot off down the street doing his best to avoid the stinging and burning in his knee.
It hadn’t exactly been easy to get this lady’s credentials. The circles he’d been running in for the past few months didn’t deal too much in names. They dealt in vague hints and riddles. Most of them were frauds. They proclaimed to be witches and shamans and mystics all of whom could wield more power than any other but, Brian had discovered to his cost, they were all little more than snake oil salesmen and the Christian faith-healers. Helping people reach equilibrium through a combination of the placebo effect and flat out delusion. What they did have was possibility. Every now and again one of his contacts pointed him to someone who seemed to have real power. He had met a blind old woman in Missouri who knew his name and who had been sitting at on the porch waiting for him with tea and cookies all laid out. A man in London who could move things without touching them. He met a little girl in San Francisco who could heal everything from minor bruises to leukemia.
He had seen all these people tested their powers and looked feverishly for the trick behind it. He found none. Brian was satisfied that these people were genuine. He had been a cheat enough to know when he was being cheated. But no matter what show of supernatural power the person contained, the answer to his plea was always the same. It was not that they would not help, it was that they could not. They did not know how. Their own gifts were hard to control and none knew where they came from. But he had found a touch of a direction from Elanor the blind woman.
“I can’t help you, M’dear.” She said in her not quite southern accent. “But I think I can tell you who can.”
She had pointed him to a man who knew a man who knew a lady. She had lived in New Orleans for many years before the hurricane and the floods. She had grown up near a woman, many people in the area called a witch. She wasn’t a practitioner of voodoo, she had seen enough houngans and mambos in her life to know this lady didn’t have anything to do with them. Yet people called her a witch. The woman had been reluctant to tell Brian much more, she seemed legitimately frightened to discuss the witch, as though the witch could hear them. He had managed to get a name out of her however. She only knew her by the name “Miss Rhonda”.
He had gotten the name of neighborhood out of her, however and the approximate location he could find her and with that knowledge he questioned his contacts again. The ones with any sense grew rigid and fearful when he mentioned the name of Rhonda in conjunction with New Orleans. They had heard things about her, some quite unpleasant. All other mystics ran in fear of her and desperate men and women came to her to solve all manner of problems, which she fixed with nary more than a wave of her hands but always for a price. It was said she was a fiery woman, who wouldn’t suffer fools or pretenders and sent them all away screaming. Brian was struck by just how quiet everyone got when they spoke her name. He noticed just how wide their eyes got and he noticed how fervently they warned him against going to see her. It would be the last thing he would do, many of them assured him, that she had powers he couldn’t dream or believe. And yet all these warnings did little but galvanize him. If this woman was as powerful as all that, than she might be the one who could finally break the curse.
Brian pulled into a neighborhood that was not quite as run-down as those around it. The street lead a short way into a cul de sac lined with old yet stable houses. Yet even here the smell of the bayou persisted, the reek of fetid water. Brian was perspiring profusely, his t-shirt soaked through by now and moistening the cotton lining of his leather jacket. He Could feel it collecting in his ebony hair and felt the thick humidity pressing on him on all sides. A profound weariness shot through him then. His limbs suddenly felt weak and his soul exhausted. He had come so far this time. He had risked so much. If he reached this woman and she was nothing more than someone’s grandmother with a bit of herbcraft under her belt...well he hoped it wouldn’t come to that. As he reached the cul de sac he silenced his motorcycle and leapt off of it, wheeling it forward.
He gazed around attempting to divine which house a witch would call home. He noticed that all the vegetation around this area looked wild and overgrown. Even the flowerbeds in front of the houses looked overcrowded with large batches of petunias and marigolds. He didn’t know why but he felt that these growths had a wildness to them that spoke of something primal and unchanging. The humidity took a sharp upswing suddenly and the smell of stagnant water was suddenly drowned by the smell of wood and dirt and plants. The oppressive moisture was so bad that Brian ripped off the helmet and felt little difference. He heard crickets and cicadas chirping louder and more numerous than he’d have thought normal in the time of late afternoon. As he moved he felt something encroaching, hanging like the sword of Damocles. The more he moved toward the center of the cul de sac the more it settled in him. Yet it didn’t feel like fear. It didn’t feel like the cold finger of doom and despair that Brian had often felt when he looked to the future. It felt like he was moving toward something alive and ready to be set in motion. It felt like...like something dangerous watching you as you walked by. It was eyeing you up trying to decide whether or not to pounce, to begin the oldest dance in the history of the world. Brian’s breathing, already heavy from the thick blanket of humidity, Became even more ragged. The closer he got toward the center of the house the heavier this sensation weighed on him. Some strange instinct arose in him, dark primal and combative. He felt his body flood with adrenaline, but not as a fear response, almost predatory. He suddenly felt like the stalking beast, scoping for prey. His teeth broke in a feral snarl and somewhere in the back of his mind he could hear the pounding of many drums. The rhythm moved into a crescendo and he suddenly knew where to go. He approached the house in the center of the closest cluster of homes. Its flower beds were the most overgrown with weeds and wildflowers. Vines crawled up the red brick walls of the rowhome, even wrapping around the lamp post sticking out of the flower bed.
Brian kicked the kickstand down on the motorcycle, leaving it in the driveway as he approached the stoop of the building. He was sure now, beyond any shadow of a doubt that he was finally in the right place. He placed one foot on the step leading up to the stoop between the conjoined homes, when the front door flew open. A short black woman with jaw length, coppery red hair stepped out onto the stoop. She was curvy and elegant looking in a long brown skirt and green shirt. The three-quarter length of the sleeves allowed for the many wooden bangles about the wrists to move freely. As she moved she seemed to dance through the intervening space, as if gravity was an inconvenience she had no time for. But the most striking feature of the woman was her face. At present her beautifully shaded full lips were positioned in a warm welcoming smile. He eyes were alight with not only welcome, but also something remarkably close to congenial mischievousness. She was remarkably beautiful, not a wrinkle or laughline crossed her face and the smile was so supernaturally warm and motherly it took Brian’s breath away. Even from a distance, Brian felt an aura of power emanate from her, she seemed to be the source of the primal force that lay upon the whole neighborhood. It almost made Brian drop to his knees.
“Brian James Dunnigal!” She said in a Louisiana accent affected with warm rebuke. “I have been waitin’ all day for you to get here, now get yourself up here so I can have a look at you!”