Prologue: Down On Frenchmen
Kos’shei the Immortal’s death caught Wind mid-argument. He was just about to kick off a whiskey-fueled tirade with “And what do you think you know about mortality…” when a wave of nauseating sadness rolled over him, numbing his lips and leaving the words unsaid.
“Ha!” one of Wind’s two verbal opponents, the one with the matted dreadlocks and cracked lips, threw from across the round table, “The boy fool has nothing to respond with!”
The trio sat in the air-conditioned gloom of the Spotted Cat, a tiny music club on Frenchmen street. Outside, in the midday bake of the New Orleans sun – when sentences struggled to form, thoughts dissolved into mire and the body could only cry out for shade and, perhaps, a pool – a curbside band strained their tired lungs and burnt their lips on the hot brass of their trumpets and trombones. It sounded cacophonous to Wind when he had scurried past them, dropping a handful of quarters into the cardboard box the band had set up for donations, eager to escape the heat and the humidity, but then again, he knew little of jazz.
Wind was late, as always. After nearly two weeks in the city, he had finally gained the audience he sought. Not that he minded the wait – New Orleans had impressed him greatly and for thirteen days, after his initial request was rebutted, he reveled in the glorious psychosis that ruled the streets, taking full advantage of the open bottle policy, which allowed for wild drinking in public as long as it wasn’t from glass containers, made friends with musicians of all denominations and smoked copious amounts of devil grass with the local satyrs and gatormen that haunted the surrounding swamps and bayous. This was a place of his own tastes, everywhere was joy and abandon, none of the depression that usually plagued big cities, and he gladly drowned himself in excess while awaiting his turn to talk to Marie Laveau, the voodoo queen of New Orleans and a woman officially dead for some 120-odd years.
Wind sat now opposite the Creole queen and the tall black man, who was either her servant or the embodiment of the wild music that ruled this city – the dread-lock giant didn’t bother to identify himself, and wrestled both with anger and sadness. Anger was Wind’s old friend into whose arms the young man fell without second thought, but sadness – those exhausting doldrums of despair from which he had ran all his life – was alien and unwelcome to him.
“So, boy god, no sharpish tongues or venomous retorts?” the black man goaded him, smirking into a fast-emptying beer glass, stroking his taut belly hiding under a velvet waistcoat in anticipation of victory. They had been at it for two hours now, the audience dissolving into argument in the first few minutes, just after Wind had asked the question he had come here to ask – ‘How do demons die?’ The queen had laughed into her lace and the black man had reached for the knife that hung loosely in a scarab by his hip, only to be stilled by Laveau’s gloved and benevolent hand. Both had found the topic of their kind’s possible demise not only laughable but downright offensive, since such a thing was proven to be impossible.
“Civility, Louis, civility,” the Queen said, identifying the black man by name for the first time. Her eyes scanned Wind, his tattered leather jacket, his worn out jeans and his dirty sneakers, and her lips broke into a smile. Perhaps she sensed his sudden sadness, perhaps she felt the argument has been won and there was no more reason to kick the already defeated, who knows the mysteries of women?
“Dear boy,” she continued, “you see now the futility of your quest, do you not? You Eastern spirits, with your oral traditions and tales, have forgotten your own might. Too preoccupied with this…science, you’ve become.”
She then produced from under the folds of her dress a woven totem, roughly in the shape of a man, and placed it gently on the table between the bottles and the over-flowing ashtray.
“You see this thing? This little thing? In just one these – made of hope and pity, loss or sorrow, joy or greed, by human hands – lies more of my power than in all your nuclear engines and formulas and graphs combined. You have embraced a modern world and it has made you weak and doubtful of your own right to exist.”
Wind blinked the image of his childhood friend, the ever-optimistic Kos’shei the Immortal, away from his eyes, focused first on the little voodoo doll, then raised his gaze to meet the Queen’s. Sadness was quickly boiling into rage and he grinned.
“Forgotten? Weak? I’ll show you weak, you cobwebbed bitch,” he snarled, sprung up with such force that the half-full bottles flew onto the floor, and vanished in the air.
Outside, storm clouds began to gather and gusts of wind began their howl. New Orleans will forever remember that August of ’05 when an old lady and a music spirit offended a young demon from the East.