-This is a complete stand-alone one-shot and a total song-fic. - song by Grant Lee Buffalo-
New Orleans. July. 1989.
He's lost, somewhere in the French Quarter. Not that it really bothers him. He's too busy taking in all the sights and smells of a new town.
Patrick Jane is nineteen years old. Angel's face and devil's grin, a long streak of mischief in blue denim. Blond curls, snakeskin boots and a stetson. All he has in the world is in the pack on his back, and he's happy as a clam.
He's also hungry.
Open door in front of him, a cool dim interior. Something that smells a little like frying onions, smoke and spices. Draws him in, the way the noisy bars and crowded restaurants haven't.
When the sign said 'drugstore', he'd expected...well, not this. Stepped into a dark place full of mystery. Shapes from the rafters are strange, gnarled roots and strings of dried chillies. Little glass bottles, clay pots, mirrors and candles, tiny cloth bags and amulets.
Reaches for one. And a hand comes swift out of the shadows, clamps about his wrist.
"You don' want that charm, cheri." White teeth in her dark face. "This New Orleans. We deal different wit' our shoplifters."
"oh?" His heart thuds back into place, and he grins.
"Yeah, last man that walk that away, he jus' up and disappeared. They never found nothin' of him but his wingtip shoes and an empty wallet down in the Algiers cemetaire."
He laughs. Gets a good look at her, as well as he can in the evening light. Yellow turban knotted up shows the length of her neck, and long earrings swing as she turns her head. Tall as he is, smooth oval face, large dark eyes, full lips, high cheekbones and a long straight nose. Whatever ancestry went into the mix, it has been a fortunate one. Because she is beautiful. Becomes conscious that he is staring, as she raises one eyebrow.
"You like what you see?"
He can still blush a little. She gives him a full, rich smile.
"My name is Marie. You got a name?"
She laughs, delighted.
"Patrick. A saint name. You like snakes, Patrick?" Wave of her hand, and he becomes aware of being watched.
Draped about a propped tree branch in the corner, there is one big-ass python.
"Not quite. He is Le Gran' Zombi..."
Fascinated now, he peers closer. He's seen snake handlers in action, moving through Kentucky and Tennessee. Never seen one this size. Ancient yellow eyes gaze back, alien and incurious. Dry slither of scales as the coils loop and shift about the tree branch. She runs two fingers down the blunt snout.
"...I call him Zee."
He thinks that she's not much older than him, walks with self-possession and a sassy grace. Plain black dress and a red shawl across her shoulders, shifts in an interesting way as she folds her arms.
"So, travellin' man, what you want in my store?" Tilts her head. "You don' need gris-gris, smile like yours."
"Just curious, I guess."
"You curious like a cat, look to be. Want to know the world."
"I get by." He's not quite the usual run of tourist. A drifter, not a runaway. Her eyes look him up and down, and she makes up her mind.
"I'm closing now." She holds his gaze. "You hungry? I got supper fixin' in the back."
His stomach makes an indelicate noise at the mention of food.
More than smothered greens. There's cornbread, and his first experience of gumbo.
Sprinkles a handful of something over his plate. Laughs at him.
"You think I give you coup de poudre?" Licks her finger. "Filé. Sassafras. No Gumbo Ya-Ya complete without it."
He's storing the words away, even as he eats.
"What's coup de poudre? Like a mickey finn?"
"Where you learn that, bad boy? No, coup de poudre is...zombie dust." Shakes her head at his expression. "All you know is trash movies."
His experience of zombies being courtesy of Hollywood, Patrick ducks his head, shame-faced grin.
"You got someplace to stay tonight, Patrick?"
Crackle in the air, spice and sulphur.
"Well, then..." Rich, slow smile. "It an act of charity to take in the traveller."
Not the first time he's been propositioned. But he takes in the generous swell of smooth dark skin, the smile, and grins back. He's nineteen. He's hopeful, horny, hormonally stupid.
"I wouldn't like to be a trouble to you, ma'am."
She kisses him, a warm, deep kiss, full of promise.
"Don't you be too proud." She flips his hat off his head. "Get your skinny white-boy ass upstairs and into the tub, 'cos, cheri, you smell worse'n Zee come time he shed his skin..."
Tub is ancient, cracked enamel, and the pipes groan, but the water is warm, and he doesn't care so much. He's washed up in worse places, restrooms and bus stations. At least here, he doesn't mind someone coming up to pinch his ass. Night outside is full of life, laughter, music, smell of food and cigarettes. Trumpet sounds, and there's a burst of fireworks, throw the shadow of green sparks up into the night.
She lays his damp jeans out across the chair. He's in a towel that barely covers his butt, and there's no doubt that he's interested.
"This a town where people, they make love to each other. Something to know they are alive."
Moonlight shines in, on white skin and black, moving together.
Not quite a man, shoulders still bony under her hands, still rather innocent for all his swagger. What he lacks in technique, he makes up for in enthusiasm. Something quite delightful, fresh and clean and all the energy of youth.
"...oh, you sweet man." She laughs, arches, hands buried in his thick curls.
Blood in his ears sounds like drums...
Tangled together in the blankets, he draws breath, blinking a little and grinning foolishly at her.
Tilts a bottle, wipes her mouth cat-like on her hand, offers it to him. Bourbon burns a mellow trail down his throat. Still too young for the liquor store, though that doesn't stop him charming beer from bemused and bored clerks.
Props herself on an elbow.
"What you do wit' yourself, you don't be tryin' to steal from poor but honest working women?"
He smiles, a different smile from that sunny cheer. This one is bright, sharp like a knife.
"I lie to them. I find out their little secrets, their dreams, their desires and I sell them back. I look into their souls, find out what they want, what they need and I tell them pretty stories to hold against the dark..."
Running his hand up and down her upper arm, voice low and calm. She can see his eyes, wide and dark. Pushes him back, incredulous, amazed.
"You try and hypnotize me?"
"Was it working?" Unrepentant grin.
"You a devil." She laughs, reaches out and pinches his nipple. He yelps. "Word get out you try and put the hoodoo on Marie Laveau, it be very bad for business."
"Well, I'm sorry."
Meek expression, dancing eyes. She narrows her gaze, purses her lips.
"You gonna owe me slave-time for that."
Rides above him in the darkness, and he's helpless to do anything other than obey her.
She traces veve's lightly on his chest, fingernail dipped in bourbon.
"You got wise blood in you. Wind gonna blow you west."
"I quite fancy being a cowboy. Riding the range with a six-shooter." Suggestive leer.
"Fool-boy." She laughs. "Day you put your hand to a gun, the world change for you. No..."
Scent in the room is rum and tobacco, slow moving water, hot earth and the rich smell of crushed greenery under dappled sun...
"...Baron put his mark on you, your road lie wit' the dead. Walk through the world like a mirror, 'til someone smash you." Draws her hand back a little, startled. "Blood in your future, child. Ogun gonna ride wit' you."
Only about one word in five is registering. He's too fascinated by her breasts. His fingertips start to draw patterns, too. No power in them, but an art all their own.
Handsome, charming, all the temptations of the world his for the taking – clever enough to be aware of his growing power, still young enough to be a little clumsy with it. Confidence has not yet grown to arrogance. Still a sweetness to him, now.
"Could I learn to do that? Tell fortunes?" He asks, sleepily.
"You don' need cards and crystals. It is all blood an' bone. But...you understand the show, I think?"
There's something older in his face, then.
"Lived with it all my life."
"People, they like the show."
He nods. That knife-smile again.
"I could do that. I can always give them a show. Tell them their past and their future..."
"I only see the path. I don' set their foot upon it." She tells him. But he's drifting off, lulled by the liquor and the loving.
Looks down at him, tumbled curls, boy's face relaxed into sleep, and she can see the man he will become, the masks he will wear. Legba's child, he.
"One day, you gonna meet une bonne ange, she gonna own you body and soul. You be a trouble and a torment to her, and still she carry you like the cross about her neck." She says softly. "But you got a long hard road, cheri,before she find you and bring you home."
Wakes in the morning, alone in a nest of cold blankets.
Crumpled jeans are still slightly damp, lying folded across his pack. He pulls them on, looks about him. Foot kicks an empty bottle, and it rolls away. Crams his hat on, grinning to himself. He's been dragged into bed and made a plaything. Always swore that would never happen to him.
Clatters down the stairs, and stops in disbelief.
The store is empty. More than empty. Drifts of dust in the early sun, trash and cobwebs. Broken branch in the corner, withered and dry.
Heads out of the door. Same painted-vine sign as before, but cracked, peeling.
"What n'hell you doin', boy?" Speaker is an elderly black man. Bright check of his sports jacket dazzles Patrick's eyes. "Hoodoo store's been closed near on a hundred years."
"I just..." Looks back at the store. "There was a girl. A woman. She said her name was Marie."
"High-titty piece in a yellow headscarf?"
Patrick nods, winces as the bourbon catches up with him. The old man laughs, like someone has just told him the best joke in the world.
"The Widow Paris, she likes a nice young man."
"Older than she looks. But it's never polite to go askin' a woman's age." Cracked chuckle. "Nothin' like a high-titty woman to go messin' with a man's mind."
"Yeah." Holds his head, squints a little in the sun. "She sure pulled a number on me."
"You want to get yourself outside some breakfast." This seems like a good thing to do. Eyes like bright mahogany stare at him. "Yessir. Head on down to Jackson Square. Café au lait and beignets at Café du Monde. Watch the pretty girls in the sun, get your cards read." Lemon-yellow glove taps his shoulder, command. "Best get on, boy. The world won't wait for you."
Patrick takes one last puzzled look back at the doorway, grin still tugging his mouth, and hitches up his pack. Events are already blurring in his mind, slipping away, to leave only an impression of warm skin and soft lips. Shakes his head, and walks away into the waking world.
Mr Nancy watches the young man stride off down the boardwalk. Pulls (from somewhere) a lighted cigarillo. Speaks to the air.
"You done teasin' that boy, madame voudouine?"
"Sweet child. He a silver-tongued heart-breaker." The shadows twist, edge of a silver earring, flash of teeth, scent of the swamp. "This my place, old spider, you know it."
"Just passin' through." Puffs a little on his cigarillo. "Figured I might pay my respects. Didn't know you was keeping company."
"He has life to spare." Her voice grows fainter. "Enough for a night."
"Ah, to be young again."
And there is nothing on the boardwalk but shadows fading before the sun, and a small brown spider running into a crack in the wall...
( A/N - It's an old story. Boy spends the night with a girl, and in the morning, finds that she is a ghost. But the ghost-girl in this story is Marie Laveau, the most powerful Voodoo Queen in New Orleans. Mr Nancy (Anansi) wandered in from Neil Gaiman's 'American Gods'. Props too, to the fabulous fics of 221bBakerStreet, which inspired me to revisit an old idea.)