Madeline Mayweather wasn't thinking about her family as she did inventory on the mind-boggling catacombs of drawers inside the ambulance. It was just another day of work, another day of picking up elderly victims of high-blood pressure, kids with broken bones, overdose cases, and indigents that just wanted a free ride. Why think about family when there were needles to be restocked, IV bags to be organized, and gauze packs to be counted?
Sure, in the back of her mind she was aware she had an Uncle Thug, an Aunt Lucille, and that her great grandmother's house had Caroline Parker living in it. She was even aware that her family was more than a little superstitious, well, to be honest, downright into voodoo. She was a modern girl, though, and she lived in a world full of computers and cell phones, not a word full of weird spirits and mysterious potions. She worked as an EMT, not as an assistant to some silly witch doctor, and just because she came from a family of loonies didn't mean she couldn't be something more.
"Need any help?" Rick offered sweetly.
Madeline's face went tight as she smiled. He was so cute! He had just enough stubble, and the most wonderful little dimples...
"No, that's ok. I've got it," she mumbled, trying not to look him in the eye.
"You need anything, you just have to ask." Rick said, his brilliant blue eyes like sapphires as he looked at her attentively. He'd been driving with Madeline for a few weeks, and it was only a matter of time. He knew she had a good head on her shoulders; she wasn't going to risk her job over him until the time was right.
Finally she looked up at him, and they locked eyes.
"No, really, I'm good."
They both stared just a little too long, savoring the moment.
"Ok, I guess I'll go kick some tires or something." Rick said, looking away. She'd be sitting next to him again soon, and he was patient.
M'buto lounged on Mark's black satin sheets, gloriously naked in her new body. She rubbed a casual hand over her chest, savoring the softness of her skin. Things had changed a lot since she'd last been incarnate, and for the better. For one, showers. Oh, sweet glorious HOT showers, and a panorama of soaps and scents to go with them. She'd thought she'd spoiled herself with oils and jasmine back in the old days, but this, this was an orgy of sensual delight.
Still, she missed servants. There was a time when the idea of bathing herself was simply ludicrous. Why, the slaves were falling over themselves to volunteer, and she'd only allow an elite few to scrub her precious skin. Some days she'd even held court from her giant marble tub, with the firebox underneath. If it wasn't for prune fingers, she would have lived there.
Regarding servants, it was probably time to check on Berry. She'd left the girl as intact as she could, but she'd been expecting at least a LITTLE resistance to the possession. It was kind of eerie how dead the girl was inside, like she just didn't have the will or motivation to fight back. Sure, she was one of the soulless, but that normally made the psyche MORE vicious, not less.
"Good morning Berry." M'buto nudged inside her mind, trying to get some kind of response.
"M'buto?" Berry asked sheepishly, still disorientated from being forced into her own subconscious, now nothing more than a voice in her own head.
"I was wondering... you're not offended that I've been taking... liberties... with you, are you? You've been awfully quiet."
It was one of M'buto's favorite taskmaster techniques, role reversal. A good master understands what it's like to be a slave, understands what the slave is feeling, what motivated them. The trick was to know how to be a servant yourself, and by acting like a servant, she ensured her people's empathy and devotion.
"NO!" Berry retorted harshly, almost whining.
"Well then, sweetling, what seems to be the matter?" M'buto prodded, like she was speaking to an introverted child.
"It's just...you know what I want more than I do," Berry replied, "Like Mark. I mean, I've sliced him before, and it was hot, but you made him cut HIMSELF, and then WATCHED. You made him WANT the pain, something I could never do..." Berry's ego strengthened as she went on, becoming more focused. "It's like watching an artist when you control me; like watching a movie. Only it's better because it's really happening..."
Movies... M'buto checked the girl's mind. Ah, fake stories you watch, like a play or a dance, entertaining lies to distract the ignorant from the sad truth of their lives. Modern people were strange; they had some much freedom, and yet they made themselves slaves to such vapid frippery.
Back in the old days, a girl like Berry would have only known the toil of the fields, her greatest value merely a full belly. She would have been appalled by the perversion of blood sex, but movies had twisted her little mind to the point where not only were such things not abhorrent, but she actually WANTED to do such sick acts purely for novelty value. She should have been deliriously happy and content in her lifestyle, yet she had been corrupted to be a vicious little monster to Mark, whose generosity was the only thing she had.
M'buto smiled to herself, thinking about it. Apparently bathing wasn't the only thing that had changed since she'd last been incarnate. Now she was curious... exactly how twisted WAS this little girl the Lord of Pestilence had chosen to host as her body?
"So my little Berry, this is your world... what do YOU think we should be doing?" M'buto left the question open-ended.
The reaction was almost painful as Berry's psyche went rigid, suddenly grabbing for power she'd subconsciously ceded to M'buto.
"We need to destroy Caroline Parker."
The scarred man looked down at the scrap of paper Timmy had given him. He hadn't given the flamer much of a break on the bag, but if this number didn't work, Timmy was going to have a lot more broken. He was kind of weirded out just holding the paper. After all, who dots the "i" in "Madison" with a little circle? Still, business was business, and he tapped out the number on his phone with a gnawed thumbnail.
He stared at the numbers stupidly before he hit "send," focusing eyes blurred by a mix of Jack Daniel's whiskey, two oxycontin, and a line of crushed Adderall tablets. Yep, they were the same. Still, he had an eerie paranoid feeling, like he was forgetting something important. Really important, like "left the stove on" important. FUCK! He should have snorted more Adderall; stupid numb-dumb pills were making him loopy. Wait...wait...number...phone... Berry...why? ZAG! Cheap South American coke!
His twisted face lit up, finally motivated. Nothing was important like "cheap cocaine" important! The thumb dropped onto the "send" button right before Scar put the phone up to the "normal" side of his face so Berry couldn't hear the creepy lisp noises from where the left side of his mouth didn't close.
Star's phone lit up in its holster on his belt, buzzing like an angry bumblebee. He looked down at it: Straight Mike? That was weird; he rarely called before 9 PM. Maybe it was important?
"Shit man, shit's bad. Fucked up. Caroline just got back from Pedro's. Fucker shot her! I'm so fucking pissed at thug right now! Where the FUCK was he?! FUCK!!" Mike's voice quavered as he spoke in a rush, the words jumbling in his mouth unintelligibly.
"Whoa! Shit! Slow down, man. Where's Caroline? Is she ok?" Starburst's eyes went wide. Momma had told him Mr. Stallings was mad she hadn't been keeping a good eye on Caroline. This couldn't end well.
"She's ok, she's ok, FUCK! I can't believe it, she's ok. Showed up at my apartment, blood all down her thigh, talking all cool like she was gramma. No hole, though! She's stronger than gramma was! Fucking evil strong!!" Mike was still hysterical, and Star realized it wasn't all because of the shooting. They all knew Caroline wasn't the same as Mama Agnes, Senora Maya, or Mrs. Black, but bouncing back from getting shot was unheard of.
"God damn it Mike, chill out!" Star snapped, exasperated, "What do you need me to do?"
"Ok, ok," Mike panted, "Somebody stole something from Mama Agnes gave to Caroline, a shrunken head of some witch named M'buto. They tried tracking the thief's aura, but it was done by one of the soulless."
"Ok..." Starburst drawled slowly, letting him know he was calm, helping Mike to calm himself by knowing he was listening.
"...so Dom points out someone's poured blood on the doorknob at 1st Holiness, Maya blood, so Caroline goes to see Pedro. ON HER OWN! She didn't tell ANYbody!" Mike took another breath, realizing he was losing control again, "So Caroline shows up at Pedro's, and Pedro just shoots her! But then she doesn't go down, she just takes it, then Angelia beats the fuck out of Pedro for some reason. Ends up Pedro DID have Zag steal it, but ANOTHER soulless stole it from HIM!"
"Wait...what? How the hell...?" Star responded, flabbergasted.
"No, no, so it gets worse. Right, so ends up this head, M'buto, was a mixed blood witch, the baddest there ever was, and she was a servant of Pestilence. So Dom thinks Pestilence is trying to bring back M'buto, and that means..."
"... all four horsemen will be working together in the same place." Star finished, now every bit as scared as Mike. "What the fuck are we going to do?"
Mike swallowed, realizing it was HIS job as emissary to do this.
"We're having a coven. Pedro and Caroline have already worked it out, but they want to get Mama Agnes' opinion. She's the last of the old ones left, and she's the only one with the wisdom to stop Pedro and Caroline from doing something stupid. Well, that and her house is midway between Pedro's and 1st Holiness Pentecostal."
"Holy shit...I...I...I've got to talk to Mama..."
Caroline smiled for the first time she could remember for a long time. Dull gray rain dripped from the sky in a mist-like drizzle, covering her precious roses in a dusting of sparkling droplets. The rain soaked her hair into a ragged stringy mop, gluing her shirt to her modest breasts and small potbelly. Her chewed fingernails caressed each petal gently, sending droplets cascading down her wrist. She pressed her face into the bloom, her face nearly swallowed by the giant crimson petals. Life, life wasn't good, but life was...LIFE, and enjoying it was a choice, not a circumstance. The chill of the rain, the dull gray sky, the smell of wet manure that made those magnificent blooms possible, it was beautiful because it was REAL, and for no other reason.
"You know, sometimes I worry about her." Lucille confided in her brother Thug as they stared pensively at the mad woman barefoot in the rain, bloodstains sill covering her clothes. From her mountain of a brother came a distant rumble:
M'buto stared at the flashing lights as the small gray box vibrated its way towards the edge of the end-table, finally falling off into a round metal trash can with a "PLUNK!" She smiled kittenishly as the thing rattle with a pathetic buzz inside the trash when she noticed the remnant of Berry's mind fighting her for control again.
Really? Wow. M'buto picked the thing up and sure enough, it DID have a little screen on it, like a scrying glass on a combination of acid and steroids. She clicked a button with a manicured nail, and just as berry remembered, a cracked and zoned out voice began whispering from it. M'buto held it up to her car. Apparently there was a protocol...
"Berry?" the whiskey stained voice replied, confused by M'buto's clean cut African accent on Berry's voice.
"This is she..." M'buto answered. It was technically true, after all, and she saw no point in explaining the situation.
"Hey, yeah, Berry... so... uh... I heard Zag's back in town. I was just wondering, uh, if he was still, you know..." the wasted voice stammered.
IDIOCY. M'buto was a patient mistress, but if she had any pet peeve it was stupidity. It was always funny, after a battle, to interview the prisoners with intelligent questions. The best and brightest she saved as slaves, not willing to waste them on the cook pots, but the stupid ones... they either learned how to think quickly, or learned how to boil slowly.
"Who are you and why are you calling me?" M'buto demanded imperiously, just seconds from ending the conversation altogether.
"C'mon Berry, you know me, it's Scar," he wheedled, his voice turning smooth like a pimp's.
Scar...Scar... M'buto pumped Berry's memory. Wait, there, yes, SCAR. Nicknamed for the big rip in the left corner of his mouth, which was left by...Thug, in retaliation for selling Straight Mike some fake pills. Alarm bells went off in Berry's mind; Thug was the muscle behind the Black family, the family Caroline Parker controlled. With his underground connections and malleable drug warped mind, he was a good candidate to work as muscle in the new M'buto Empire. After all, being as dumb as he was, the chances he'd survive long enough to get on her nerves was virtually nil anyway.
M'buto shifted gears, changing her voice to Berry's club girl squeal.
"Oh, SCAR! Hey, how ya been doin'?
"You know me, every day I'm hustlin'" Scar rasped, already losing focus on why he called.
"Haha," M'buto squeaked, "Honestly, I don't feel comfortable talking about this over the phone... why don't you just come by?"
It was almost too easy. She'd been itching for a fresh meal since she'd been reincarnate, and now an expendable weapon to attack the Black family fell right into her tiny manicured fingers. She'd start small of course, picking off the weak stragglers in the Black herd. Like....
M'buto entered the trance, sensing the nearest carriers of Black blood. A large matronly woman came to mind, Lucille, the trance informed her. She refined the fog, and to her surprise a needle of pain shot into her mind, like a brief burst of intense migraine. Warded! Apparently this Lucille woman was no soft target; she was protected by Black magic. Hmm...
M'buto refined her search again, this time specifying the unprotected. Who was this? Ah, perfect, defenseless. And young, too, vibrant even! Luckily this one disdained the traditions that protected her relatives in favor of "science," whatever ridiculous upstart cult THAT was. Sadly, by the time this girl learned the mistake of taking the wisdom of her elders for granted, she'd already be making a piecemeal journey through M'buto's belly.
Scar waited just inside, the derelict doorway of an abandoned house, waiting for the siren and lights just as Berry had asked. He couldn't believe Zag would try and test his loyalty like this, but then again, no undercover cop would go so far as to rob an ambulance. Back before the war, Zag would never have done such a thing, but then again war changed people and Berry certainly had no reason to lie. Besides, it wasn't the first time he'd ripped off any ambulance. Everybody knew they had all the best dope in there, that good medical grade shit.
The sound of sirens broke his line of thought, and just as the flashing lights came through the window, he faded into the shadow of the hallway....
"You want me to go with you?" Rick asked her warmly.
"No, it's ok, just an overdose call. By this time she'll either be completely out or stoned enough to just let me walk her to you. I'll go inside, get a quick check of her vitals, and whatever she's been smoking will leech out of her system by the time she gets into the ER." Madeline answered with bored detachment. It had happened so many times a day she didn't even question the routine anymore.
"Alright, I'll just keep it running then."
Madeline trotted briskly across the crack brick walk, a black First Aid kit slung over her shoulder as she approached the paint-chipped doorway. She grasped the doorknob firmly, peering through the dirty glass as she shouted "AMBULANCE!" at the top of her lungs. The knob turned easily in her soft white hand as she pushed herself inside, knowing every second of indecision could cost someone's daughter's life.
"AMBULANCE!" she shouted again, this time her head whipping around the half-destroyed crackhouse.
"She's back here!" answered a hoarse voice as the sound of booming footsteps filled the empty hardwood hallway.
Madeline tried not to flinch as the drug ravaged man grabbed her hand, his face barely recognizable as human.
" I just came in, and she was laying there twitching," he explained breathlessly as they ran to the back bedroom. Madeline felt her skin try to crawl away from the touch of his sickly warm fingers as he spoke through blackened teeth. She pulled away the second she burst through the doorway, dropping to her knees to check her patient for signs of breathing. She was astounded at how small and cute the girl lying in a jumble on the filthy floorboards was as her fingers shot towards the victim's carotid artery. Good, there was a pulse...
It only took a blink for it to happen.
Madeline's head jerked back, sharp slicing pain tearing through her throat as a set of perfect pearly whites dug deep into her neck, severing the artery. She tried to escape, scrabbling frantically, but two tiny iron-strong hands anchored deep into her hair, taking the tiny assailant up with her as Madeline stood.
M'buto's legs wrapped with tight heat around her, the witch-queens throat pumping vigorously as it drained the still living blood from Madeline's neck. The stricken victim tried to scream, but M'buto's jaws clamped her throat shut like a vice, stopping all function of her vocal chords.
Good. The struggling was good. Keep the blood flowing, tinge it with sweet adrenaline, spice it with tangy fear, pump it generously to muscles and organs it will never reach so she could gorge herself. It had been a long time, too long, but the anticipation only made the blood that much sweeter as the sound of Scar's boots faded from earshot. The stricken girl thrashed, already losing her vigor as M'buto sucked her life blood greedily. In a valiant effort, Ms. Mayweather dug her right pinky obscenely into M'buto's eye-socket, just barely short of the force needed to pop it out of place as spots swam in front of her eyes. Bright green eyes, wide with fear, suddenly aware of the wet pressure of M'buto's naked vulva beneath the short skirt she'd been wearing. M'buto's hips pumped as she sucked, finally reaching delicious climax as the eyes of Caroline's adopted granddaughter went glassy in the dim light.
Both bodies slumped to the ground as M'buto's orgasm pulsed, shaking her with hot pink delight. Finally the witch queen wiped her chin, smearing blood across her lower jaw and arm garishly. She took a palm full of the still warm blood and rubbed it sensuously between her legs, sighing contentedly as her victim's lifeless body cooled on the floorboards.
Rick flinched as he heard the sound of the junkie's uncalloused palm slapping against the window of the ambulance. Immediately he popped open the door, knowing an instant's hesitation could mean life or death for Madeline's patient.
"Something's wrong!" the junkie lisped. Rick grimaced as he watched spit spray from the twisted corner of the man's mouth as he shouted. "She said come quick!"
Rick never second guessed as he ran past the junkie into the house, his feet following the sound of the struggle as he bolted through the ramshackle shack towards his partner. His jaw dropped to his chest when he saw the little prostitute's teeth digging into his sweetheart's throat.
It only took one second of hesitation, one brief window of vulnerability, for Scar to slip the heavy wrench out of his pocket. The cold steel glinted in the dingy light of the window...
A small chip of bone sliced through Rick's brain, and suddenly, it was over.