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FUNK brs @FUNKbrs

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Prophet of Hate

Memphis, Murder Capital

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Grass in the Roses: Chapter 4

Posted by FUNKbrs - October 28th, 2008

The spirit of Pestilence, Rodney Cunningham, watched Pedro's trailer with disproportionate interest. He had decided not to use an avatar for this; he preferred not to. Avatars were filthy lies, distractions from the purity of his being. He was no filthy human, and he wasn't the fool his brother Dom was to get wrapped up in trying to be. Spend enough time looking like a human and you started to think like one, and nothing offended Rodney more than the false sense of natural superiority that the ego-inflated ape-race carried with it.

For example, this idiot Pedro. He'd spilt rivers of blood for what? To be a second-rate warlock? To cripple his entire family? To Rodney, it was as humorous as watching a dog chase its own tail, only to bite itself with a pathetic yelp. To think all this was caused by what Pedro honestly believed was sticking to a "higher moral principal" was the most pathetic of it all. The man had put loyalty to a dead woman based on blood over... his loyalty to living women based on blood, as if the dead carried some sort of moral authority the living couldn't.

Still, a simple fool was a simple tool, and the simple tool is normally the most reliable one. And Pedro was reliable, oh yes. It was a simple task, during the short-lived reigns of Senora Maya's heirs, to use their successes as proof of their treachery. Using tiny seeds to achieve his goals was Rodney's specialty. All it took was a subtle touch on the mind to plant doubt, to encourage suspicion, and like a sprouted acorn, watch that suspicion grow all on its own, its massive roots chewing up the concrete bonds of blood and family into powdered gravel.

Speaking of which, Zag's deceptively compact dull black machine coasted itself into Pedro's blue-gray gravel driveway. This could be interesting...

"Angelia, va al porton."
"I thought we were working on your English..." Angelia responded petulantly.
Pedro grunted at being corrected, irritated by his own lack of discipline being pointed out by a girl young enough to be his daughter.
"Go," he corrected himself.

Angelia sighed to herself and looked out of the door just in time to hear Zag coming up the road. It was creepy how Pedro had already begun to be able to predict things like that, although it would have been much worse if he weren't. Zag parked with practiced ease, walking up to give his cousin a warm, heartfelt hug.

"Good to see you," Angelia said as they parted. "Pedro's waiting for you."
"Great," said Zag, taking that as an invitation to come inside.
Angelia left a hand on Zag's back. "Before you go in, could you do me a favor?"
"Sure. Anything." Zag responded without a pause.
"Only speak English with Pedro, would you? He's being really lazy about it, and he'll never learn if he doesn't practice."

"Hola!" Pedro greeted Zag, one of his favorite nephews. It wasn't too many years ago he was teaching the boy the finer tips of dribbling a soccer ball.
"Hello. By the way, Angelia said to only speak English to you. She says you need the practice.

Pedro grunted again, resenting being forced to use a foreign language with blood family.
"Ok. But I don't se like."
"Don't like it?" Zag corrected with a slight grin. He himself spoke three languages fluently.

Pedro finally relented, realizing his inability to master English only helped destroy his image as the new head of the Maya family.

"Yes, I don't like it." Pedro corrected himself, trying not to show his irritation by over emphasizing the word "it."
"I know your pala-problem." Pedro continued, still uneasy with the language.
"Really? So you know about the convoy?" Zag replied, surprised.
"I know about crazy. You got crazy. I know to fix." Despite his clumsiness with English, he'd taken the other part of his new education much more seriously.

Zag's stomach fluttered uncertainly, even his honed gut instincts confused by the change in his uncle. Pedro had always been stalwartly Catholic for the years he'd known him, and to see him embracing his position now only reinforced the stories he'd heard about the blood bath following Senora Maya's death. He was no longer the fun-loving, hard-working, beer-swilling uncle he remembered. This Pedro was different, different in a bad way, but maybe in a way that could help him with the flashbacks, a way that cold help him be normal again. It was that glimmer of hope that confused Zag's instincts, that glimmer of hope that made him feel like he was in a doctor's office waiting for the needle.

"Here. Sit." Pedro commanded, taking advantage of Zag's uncertainty to assume control. All appearances aside, Pedro HAD studied his art in the past two years. He'd had nothing better to do with the money rolling in from the border trade, and the skills he'd learned had proven invaluable in assuring his black-market business associates stayed honest. When you can crawl inside a man's head and read his mind, the lies and prevarications people make as casually as breathing all melt away.

"I don't know..." Zag said uncertainly as Pedro stood behind his ladder-back chair, but by then it was too late.

Pedro had learned the power of blood through the church, but only in studying Senora Maya's library had he learned how powerful it could truly be. The strong Maya blood pumping through his veins, blood he and Zag shared, connected him to the power of the family line, to untold numbers of Maya priests throughout history. In him they still lived, and by losing himself in the rhythm of his heart pumping this sacred blood he gained a piece of their ancient insight.

The mind of a man is defined by prejudice. The hard and fast rules of the brain are all gut level knee-jerk reactions based on faith in a short list of unquestionable truths, without which the mind is as useful as a body with no skeleton. Egocentrism is a matter of survival to the individual mind, regardless of what culture and society attempt to impose. The ultimate altruist can only survive when surround by other altruists; alone, they would expend all their energies on others while they themselves fell apart, like a successful and progressive moral man who neglects his own children's upbringing by devoting his time to mentoring under-privileged children only to have his own children end up addicted to drugs due to his neglect. The ultimate egoist, however, would view his own children as property, and do his best to keep the value of that property high by enforcing their functionality by any means necessary. Human minds may fool themselves with shallow denial of these base facts, but in the end, every mind is ultimately alone, and responsible to only itself. In order for one mind to truly be dedicated to another, the benefiting mind must be to some extent become property of the benevolent mind in order for their priorities to align. A Shepard may care about sheep in general, but it is only the sheep that belong to the Shepard in particular that receive his most diligent care, and among them, the most productive sheep is the most directly benefited and loved.

The egotism in Zag's mind was his faith in his own ability, his blindly reflexive belief that if he could be prepared enough now, he could compensate for and negate his failing to the people who were in his protection: possessions that had been stolen from him. His ego refused to admit its own powerlessness and constantly struggled to complete the chronologically impossible. The past is dead, beautifully and dreadfully frozen in memory. In a mind such as Zag's however, faith in his own ability to succeed, to defend himself and his charges, was causing a logical disconnect.

Zag's inability to accept his failure based on his faith in his own ability left him stuck in the past, his mind forcing itself to do the impossible and relive those irreversible moments over and over again in hopes of changing an outcome that had always been outside of his control. From Pedro's perspective on the outside this was obvious, but in the subjective world inside Zag's head, where success was only a matter of effort, things were much less clear.

The two men's heartbeats synched as Pedro reached out and gently touched Zag's stubbly head, feeling his nephew's pulse through his temples and aligning himself with it. Two generations of Maya blood became one blood again, two minds separated only by time fusing in the continuity of the generations. It was here, the now, the fulcrum Pedro needed to pass his rock-hard beliefs into the mind of his suffering nephew. Invincibility had been achieved through the blood, through the family, and any other death was a minor setback, nothing more. The ethos the military had tried so hard to instill in Zag melted away as he realized the fact of his own impending death was moot, inevitable and beyond his choice or decision. All that mattered was the preservation of the strong, heady flows of Maya blood. An individual was of no consequence, and his own destruction would only result in his reincarnation in a replacement. He, as a sheep, may be slaughtered, but his dedication ensured that other sheep just like him would follow. It was a kind of immortality in servitude, making him invincible in a way a "free" person could never possibly be.

Even in Spanish, Pedro lacked the articulate skill to express this. He too was a servant of the blood, just as the Shepard is servant to the sheep, protecting and feeding them as he would protect and feed himself. The liberty he gave was the unaccountability of a meaningless personal existence, of being a product of his environment, nothing more.

Both men gasped at once as the thought took hold. Then in unison they laughed, the mad sick laughter of soldiers running to certain death, the laughter of comrades in arms, fat and certain in the knowledge that it was better to laugh and die the death of the maniac than weep and die the death of a beaten dog.

If Rodney had anything even remotely resembling a heart, it would have been warmed by the ties of family reuniting the two men, healing the trauma of the ravages of war. However, what amused him as the deliciously virulent and subversive nature of the mind he'd cultivated in Pedro. Roman Catholicism had forced Pedro to think in very convoluted ways about the nature of virtue, duty, and guilt, and in his reversion to his tribal religion, those convolutions reinforced his faith in his own ignorance. Pedro refused to accept credit in himself for his abilities, refused to give himself any value because of them. Even as the dominant head of the Maya family, Pedro continued to see himself as a victim of circumstance. He truly felt he had no choice in his actions, that as property to the Maya family everything he DID do was outside of normal moral consideration. It was a way of avoiding the guilt of murdering his sisters and cousins that pervaded his entire mindset by presuming helplessness, like a man running down a child in the street because he was rushing his own injured child to the hospital.

This was exactly what made him such a wonderful tool, Rodney considered to himself. Furthermore, by imposing his belief system on his nephew, he now made deadly Zag a tool at his disposal as well. The belief, in a way, was almost parasitic as the lack of accountability spread from uncle to nephew, growing from a single egotistical act of intentional denial to a philosophy of cultural heritage completely devoid of morality.

In short, it was exactly Rodney's style.

Angelia brought the two laughing men beer reflexively, having just previously exercised considerable tact in staying out of their conversation. Her servitude and eagerness to please were the exact characteristics that had endeared her to Pedro in recent years. Her servitude to family gave her a sense of value, however degrading it may seem from the outside. Pedro had told her she would make a fine wife many times, and the idea of living up to the stout tradition of strong and sweet Maya women gave her a sense of self-worth that was unmatchable by any women's liberation movement.

"Gracias," Pedro said with legitimate thanks. The girl had been invaluable to him, and he never missed an opportunity to praise her.
"Thank you," Zag said pointedly, ribbing his uncle gently with an elbow to remind him to practice his English.
"Sorry. Thank you," Pedro mirrored, basking in the light of his once troubled nephew's smile. There was honest love here, a love that was sometimes perverse and often times misguided, but a love as genuine as a warm hand-knitted heirloom blanket.

"Guess who I saw uncle?" Zag challenged.
"Eh..." the back of Pedro's mind ground into overdrive, pulling the information from the rainbow static that vibrated in his blood. "The fat one?" he guessed correctly.
"Ha! His name is Thug, uncle. Thugnacious Black, to be honest. What a poor name for a fat kid!"
"He is adult now?" How is he?" Pedro's contact with Zag's mind helped him with the English.
"Still fat!" Zag laughed, his mix of accents making the words sound alien even to Pedro.
"And...?" Pedro prompted, hoping for a point. After all, what did he care for the fat kid from wrestling school?
"... and he told me Mrs. Black died, and left the family to some strange girl named Caroline Raz and Berry used to hang out with."

The name rang like a bell inside Pedro's head, for once his conscious mind admitting to itself what his subconscious mind was thinking. The last time he'd seen her, she'd been meeting with Mama Agnes's emissary Starburst. However, what he remembered most was the way Nate had been there, the murderer of Senora Maya. Pedro had been more foolish and rash in those days, thinking that just because Nate appeared as a man that a simple knife was capable of bringing down that devil. The humiliation of the broken hand he'd been left with after security had thrown him out of the restaurant was one of the reasons he had begun to take his new position as family head much more seriously.

"Caroline!?" Pedro said with disgust. Angelia looked away, remembering everything about that day. Pedro had rushed to the restaurant when he had been informed of the meeting between Caroline and Starburst, several of the girls of the Maya family including her working in the kitchen there. He had originally hoped to spy on the conversation in case the All-Saints family and the Black families were forming an alliance against him. Just because he accepted no blame for the blood bath after Senora Maya's death didn't mean he was ignorant of the possible reaction from the other local families.

Seeing Nate and his brother Death at the table had been too much for him to bear, and without thinking he'd rushed Nate with the same utility knife he carried now, not knowing how futile such an action would be. He'd learned more diplomacy since then, but it had seriously shaken his faith in his ability to lead.

Angelia spoke quietly as Pedro fumed. "Caroline was with Nathan Task the last time we saw her. He broke Pedro's hand."
"No...Thug would never allow someone like that to take control of his family. Thug hates Nate as much as I do!" Zag defended, struggling to keep his voice in check. He refused to believe Thug would condone consorting with the power that had been responsible for killing Mrs. Black, let alone Senora Maya's killer.
"I see what I see." Pedro answered flatly. His simplicity with the language only added to the eloquence of his statement.
"I wasn't there... I don't know what happened. But I KNOW Thug. This has all got to be a misunderstanding. It was one of Nate's demons that killed Mrs. Black!" Zag spurted, flabbergasted that his family would shun his childhood friend.

Pedro grunted loudly, refusing to dignify the alibi with a response. Angelia kept the communication going; she knew a stubborn testosterone driven standoff would achieve nothing. "Can you prove it?" she asked cautiously.
"No. But whoever this Caroline is, if Thug serves her, she can't possibly be allied with Nate. Thug said Mrs. Black was killed fighting on of Nate's demons; there's no way he'd just let go." Zag said with certainty.

Pedro pursed his lips, the mere mention of Caroline's name after the incident in the restaurant slamming his mind shut like a safe-box door. Angelia, however, remembered the frumpy, frizzy haired girl's look of nervousness and uncertainty, something Pedro was too blinded by his hatred of Nate to perceive. She remembered feeling sympathetic for her at the time, both of them wrapped up in a conflict they didn't fully understand but knew was vitally important.

"Uncle Pedro..." Angelia said quietly, never willing to openly express her questioning of his judgment. The unspoken drift of his name, however, told gentle volumes. It was exactly this level of sweetness and consideration that had endeared her to him, and was the reason he was never able to bring himself to deny her anything he felt she truly wanted, even when it contradicted his own motives.

Pedro looked her way, his eyes showing a vulnerability that existed only for her. "You talk with her. I stay out." It was as close to admitting defeat as he could muster.

"Thank you Uncle," Angelia answered with meaning. The fact he accepted her silent admonition proved his respect for her opinion regardless of his personal beliefs. By the same token, she accepted her considerable victory in family policy graciously. It was this grace that made it so easy for Pedro to acquiesce to her, something he did almost reflexively since they had become close.

Relief rushed through Zag's veins. His military mind was too well trained not to have already considered how he would have eliminated Thug should the need arise.
"Do you want me to make the call now?" he prompted, knowing Pedro would let the issue slip though the cracks if he could.

Angelia looked at Pedro, almost demanding the nod from him while at the same time making him feel as though he had the final say.
"Sure." She said, honestly more comfortable dealing with whoever Caroline's emissary was with her strong Maya family men around her, like a police office feeling more comfortable with a pistol on his hip.

Zag's fingers dialed Straight Mike's number from memory, having been a close friend with him some years ago when Thug used to get him in The Velvet Glove for free.
"Hello?" said Straight Mike's familiar and somewhat effeminate voice, the word slightly drawled like a stoned hippy. Not that that was surprising; he, Berry, and Raz had always been stoners.
"Yo Mike!" Zag opened cordially, "I'm over at Pedro's, and he wants to get a meeting between his niece Angelia and Caroline set up. You know... just to keep things above the table."
"Awesome," Mike replied, pleasantly surprised. Caroline and Mama Agnes had already had a meeting to discuss how to deal with the new Pedro-controlled Maya family, and both the Blacks and the All-saints were afraid the more violent aspects of the border cartel could lead to internecine casualties.

"Caroline's pretty much open these days. How does one p.m. at 646 Cottage Church Lane sound?" Mike offered, his digital date book already opened in his overbuilt cell phone, stylus in hand over speakerphone. A faint bubbling sound could be heard in the background, and stifled coughing.
"Wait, tomorrow? " Zag asked. His military trained had given him a razor sharp memory for addresses and coordinates. Besides, Cottage Church Lane bisected this city, albeit not exactly in a straight line.
"Yeah, yeah, sorry. Tomorrow." Mike filled in.

Zag covered the phone, and whispered to Angelia. "Buena?"
She answered in kind, "Buena."

"Sounds good. One p.m. tomorrow, right. She'll see you then." Zag said professionally, suddenly craving a cigarette.
"Cool deal. Peace out."
"Peace." Zag said, without a trace of irony.

Rodney watched as Zag sat with Pedro on the front porch, jovially rolling their own cigarettes and sipping their beers, as if they too shared in Rodney's victory, like some sick version of Stockholm syndrome. Soon... so very soon...

Chapter 4

1st Holiness Pentecostal Church, when it was first built, was the lynch pin of the community. Originally its famous rose gardens and manicured hedges were reserved for the wedding and funerals of its many members. At the time it was considered a living testament to the beauty of man working in accordance with God, and on any given afternoon it was normal for a handful of amateur painters to crow the surrounding yards and playgrounds looking for inspiration.

In 1852 Lillith Ivory Black was appointed midwife and put in charge of the medicinal herb gardens that were a part of the ornamental horticulture around the church. Under her diligent care, the roses became supernaturally beautiful, and many of the rose bushes swelled to the size of small maple trees, some blooms as wide as a man's open palm. The stems of these majestic blooms could be as wide as a man's arm at their bases; their thorns spiraling like shark's teeth in the dark bark.

Before she died as a result of the attack of a demon known as The Glass, an attack Caroline could have averted, Mrs. Black passed her knowledge down to Thug, bearer of the unassuming title of First Boy that originated as a type of proctor in the Sunday school. However, after the disaster of Mary Folkshire's violent curse-induced miscarriage during Sunday service, the title became more of a security guard and groundskeeper, as there were no new children to keep in line as part of the curse.

It is in this environment that we find Thug, industriously caring for his deceased grandmother's flowers as Zag's strange foreign motorcycle rode down Cottage Church Lane, past the hedge, past the black-iron fence and toward the arched greenery above the entrance that was created by an immaculate arch of shrubbery to the small cottage-like building.

Thug jammed his spade deep into the dirt, pleasantly surprised to see his friend Zag again. Not everyone who went to see Pedro Maya came back, especially not relatives. The girl with Zag bothered him, however. Who was she? What was she doing here?

Zag whipped his helmet off easily as his passenger struggled with her chinstrap.
"Sorry we're late. Pedro couldn't seem to be able to stop giving Angelia instructions."
"Angelia?" Thug asked, puzzled. He wasn't worried yet, but he was beginning to think he should be.
"Yeah, Mike said she could come over and meet Caroline today..." Zag's accent took a turn for Hindi inflection as he discussed the logistics.
"Well why didn't he tell us about it?" Thug mumbled with a touch of sullenness. Caroline was easily spooked these days, especially by strange visitors; there was no telling how she would react.
"Really? He sounded kind of stoned when I called him. Maybe he forgot." Zag explained.
"Maybe..." Thug agreed reluctantly, "Let me run in and tell Caroline. It makes her nervous when people show up without calling."
"Ok." Thug replied with casual nonchalance as Angelia waited behind him. Already his hands reached into the depths of his saddlebags, pulling out a small pouch of rolling tobacco.

Thug trotted up the short stairs of the porch, trying to be loud so as not to shock Caroline. Her nerves had never quite recovered from The Glass's insidious attacks, and it didn't take much to shock her into a state of near catatonic apathy.

She snapped open the door as Thug took the last step, her right hand reaching ominously behind her back.
"Thug?" she asked, sounding like a scared little girl. The appearance was deceptive, Thug knew. She'd taken a strange interest in stone and bone shivs, although she still had an aversion to full blown knives. He'd personally taught her how to use them, so he knew exactly how dangerous she could be.

"Hey, My old buddy Zag's here. Remember? I hung out with him a few days ago?"
"Yeah," she drawled, her mind changing gears as she realized she wasn't in danger.
"Well, he talked to Pedro, and Pedro sent him and some girl up here to see you. He told me Mike set it up and forgot to tell us." Thug said this smoothly, using his old strip-club bouncer voice. It had worked wonders with the girls at The Velvet Glove, and it did the trick this time.

Her hand returned to her side as she peered out the door at the visitors in her yard. Her eyes didn't see the barrel-chested South American and his cousin so much as they saw through them, inspecting their auras for tell tale signs of demonic possession. Zag was soulless, although this was no shock. Not all people had souls; sometimes they died before their hosts, sometimes people were just born without them. The girl, however, had an aura the brilliant color of fresh spring grass. The aura was complex, however, like sunlight though trees in the forest. Caroline refined the light...

"Angelia," she said quietly to herself.
"What?" Thug said, not understanding her.
"Nothing. You and Zag go hang out for a minute, will you? It's the girl that's here to see me. Tell her to come over here."

Thug ambled off towards Zag in the distance as heavily built biker smoked his hand-rolled cigarette. Both burly men helped his slight passenger off the bike and pointed her towards the porch. She walked sheepishly, like a child on her face day at a new school would walk to a class full of strangers.

The trance lowered its false serenity over Caroline's face. The girl had an unconscious sensuality in her cute little sneakers with matching pastel-and-khaki outfit, her clothing fashionably snug and revealing of her hourglass figure.

The witch wondered for a brief instant if this was how Mrs. Black had felt the first time they'd met in person. Angelia was so scared, so vulnerable, it was hard not to wrap the girl in her arms and carry her inside, to comfort her with warm sincerity, empathy and understanding. Her soft flat shoes barely made a sound as she ascended the short stairway up the old-fashioned porch. Finally, Caroline could no longer contain herself.

"Hello Angelia." Caroline said huskily, sounding more masculine than she intended.
"He...hello. Are you Caroline?"
The frizzy haired woman was taken aback by the scared curiosity in the girl's voice. Since when had the name "Caroline" been so charged?
"Well, if I'm not, then somebody had better come and get my stuff out of her house!" Caroline joked, her bad comic timing ruining what could have been a mood-lightening one-liner. Angelia didn't laugh.
"Oh..." she responded shyly, averting her eyes, "Pedro said we were going to have tea..."

Caroline's eyes snapped back to the gas cook-stove. Mrs. Black's books spoke highly of various teas that were supplied by the herb gardens out back, and she had followed in the habit of drinking them after some experimentation.

"Oh, right, of course..." Caroline stumbled, knocked off her game by the deceptively pretty girl's knowledge of her habits.

The witch poured piping hot water into two teacups from her cupboard. Mechanically she filled two of a set of four tea infusers with jasmine tea and a trace of mint, her personal favorite blend for relaxing and meditation. Hot delicious steam rose from the cups, melting some of the ice between the two strangers.

Angelia took a deep breath and summoned her courage to ask the question she'd come for. The answer to this question was the true reason she was here, and the wrong answer meant she was in serious danger. She thought almost longingly of getting the wrong answer and being quickly shoved out the door, back into the freedom of familiar surroundings.

"Is it true you're running the Black Family under orders from Nathan?"

Caroline's hand slipped, spilling a handful of scalding hot tea drops into her lap and over her left wrist.

"FUCK!" she yelled involuntarily, dropping the last vestiges of her façade, but luckily not dropping her irreplaceable porcelain cup. She carefully sat the cup down as Angelia's eyes widened like saucers, not yet understanding the reaction was to the accident, not her question.
"I'm sorry," Caroline admitted. "It just shocked me to hear that name again. You mean Dom's brother, don't you?"

Angelia had no idea what she was talking about.

"I mean, the Devil, Lucifer, Satan." Angelia repeated in no uncertain terms.
"Right. Dom's brother." Caroline affirmed, regaining her composure.

Angelia's doe eyes relaxed a little, realizing what had just happened. She waited patiently for a complete answer, her silence more effective than any spoken demand.
"No. The only time I ever associated with Nathan was through Dom, and Dom only brought him along to protect me against Pedro."
"That still doesn't make sense," Angelia shook her head, her black hair shining in the light, "What were you doing with Dom? Death and Satan are the LAST two people I'd ever want to be around." Her lips pursed with cute disdain.

"It's a long story. Mrs. Black first introduced Dom to me as a necromancer, nothing more. She was dying, and I had to learn fast." Caroline defended.
"So you know Satan because you learned necromancy from Death?" Angelia spouted incredulously.
"I...I...I didn't find out who they were until later." Caroline responded sheepishly, realizing how ridiculous she sounded.

Caroline had never talked about the incidents up to and after Mrs. Black's death, because in some strange way, they weren't real. She could barely believe her story herself; how could she expect this girl to believe her? It was almost as if she were two people: the old Caroline, who lived in a house, got fired from a job as a florist and now lived off an inheritance, and the new Caroline, who consorted with witches, viewed the world with the eyes of the trance, and knew Death and Satan personally.

It was this divide that caused her constant uncertainty and indecisiveness, this divide that had left her twiddling her thumbs for the past two years, letting Mike and his cousin Lucille make all her decisions for her.

The new Caroline hated the old weak Caroline, who ran from her problems to the television and Internet, constantly searching for excuses and distractions from her reality. In many ways the last two years had been the sickening of the old Caroline as the new Caroline grew in strength, like an old battered salmon in a clear mountain lake, waiting to be devoured by its offspring.

Caroline's facial expression shifted sharply to the manic, the sharp corners of her mouth stabbing deep into her cheeks. This was the Caroline who'd murdered Todd, who practiced the trance, who'd reveled in dark tantric acts of indiscriminate sexuality. The shift happened in the blink of an eye, and Caroline's voice immediately dropped the husky edge of her "tough-guy" voice as the seductive feminine hiss of new Caroline took over, sounding like the grousing of a predatory lioness choosing its share of a bloody kill.

The spirit of Pestilence was sharply aware of the switch inside Caroline. Rodney had been watching, waiting since the meeting between Zag and Pedro. There was a plan, after all, a plan that had been slowly building like the microscopic conquest of a tiny fungal spore, the tiny tendrils of its mycelium infiltrating the fertile substrate, lying dormant for weeks, months, before sprouting a series of giant poisonous mushrooms.

IT was in this diligent surveillance Rodney noticed the ebony streaks in Caroline's aura, streaks that had started when she'd first eaten the flesh of a member of the Black Family, pulsate and swell like the knotted veins of an Olympic weight lifter. Something was happening under that rat's nest of frizzy unmanageable Irish curls, behind that zit spotted forehead something had finally snapped...

"Come with me into my bedchamber..."

"What?!" replied Angelia, unnerved by the sharp contrast in Caroline's demeanor.

The mistress of the Black house didn't wait for Angelia to become comfortable with the idea of going with her. This wasn't Caroline the prevaricator; this was Caroline the predator, the Caroline that had the dark flows of Black family blood pumping through her veins. The half-trance that had made her appear merely glossy eyed deepened as her eyes became doll-like in their sockets. She took the last of her focus from the world as it is seen into the world of the trance, seeking Angelia's aura with an inky black tendril of thought in the dream space, a space in which a naïve girl like Angelia had no defense.

(chapter continued next post)


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