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Bad Moon Rising

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She was an ancient woman sitting on an old wooden crate, her clothes as faded as its wood, but she reached up to catch Carl Robinson by the arm with the swift ease of a much younger woman. Her hand was an intricate mass of wrinkled skin over strong bones, but she didn't grip his wrist tightly. She didn't have to.

Carl was almost two feet taller than the tiny old woman, and more than twice her weight, but he stopped short rather than pull her over. He had better manners than to yank a lady off balance, and he was too damn aware of her reputation to risk being a mannerless lout anyway. Hell, with his luck, if he did, she'd send a letter of complaint to his former teacher. (Never mind that Carl didn't have the man's current name or address; she'd manage it somehow, and he knew it.) When the woman didn't say anything, only glared at him like some half-crazed bird of prey, Carl sighed, tried to look apologetic, and asked, "What is it, Madame?"

"There's trouble on the way, Carl Matthewson." She looked at him over the beak of nose time had left her. Her irises had been amber once, and lovely, fringed by thick dark lashes. Now they were so light they caught and reflected everything and they were, momentarily, tinged with the crimson of Carl's shirt. Something in that realization raised every hair on his arms, his legs, the back of his neck, and he shivered as if he'd just been drenched by cold rain.

He shuddered free of her grip, but only because she let go. She smiled at him, too: tight, unlovely, and amused by something Carl knew already he wouldn't think was funny at all. "There's always trouble coming, Madame. And my name ain't Matthewson."

"Well, it was never Hobart." She ignored the noise that name jolted from his lips and spoke more softly still. "I don't give warnings to hear the caw that used to be my voice, Carl 'Jefferson.' An eye will be taken for an eye. So you'd best prepare for the storm that's coming."

Hoodoo woman or not, older than she should ever have lived to or not, Carl had had enough. "I'm not the one with Sight, Marie Laveau. Might be you should worry about your own eyes."

Marie looked up at him from the ruin time had made of her beauty... and shrugged. She leaned over with an audible crack and pop of abused vertebrae and spat a dark brown wad of tobacco into the street. Cheap wire bracelets jingled on her wrist as she poured rum over the tobacco and tilted her head to smile up at Carl.

A different smile, a jaunty smile, and she stood up from her crate like Bill Robinson sauntering onto stage in his prime, all loose limbs and limber spine. Marie wasn't immortal in the way Carl was, although he wasn't willing to bet she was mortal, either. The woman was easily two hundred now, even if the years had withered her down to baggy skin, still sturdy bones, and sparse grey hair. She had barely any muscle left and stood a good half a foot shorter than she'd been in her prime.

Carl still retreated from whatever possessed her and hoped like hell the street's width was distance enough to keep him safe.

Marie laughed-- her body laughed, anyway. The sound rolled through the intersection like thunder, rippling like waves crashing ahead of a hurricane, echoes ringing back like a bell tolling doom. "Run all you like, Carl. The moon's still gonna rise tonight, and it's a red tide she's pulling along behind her."

She danced towards Carl, heels tapping lightly together in midair. She barely came up to the top of his ribs, he could stop her with one finger... and before he could even think about doing it, his feet had backed him up the steps onto the post office porch. What was left of Marie came down down lightly on a crate that should never have held under the impact and did anyway. She landed on that box on one foot, en pointe; the crate rolled forward onto its next edge, the opposite side coming up, and she walked it across the street. She came to a stop on the edge of the road and bowed rather than curtsey, only then deigning to come down onto both feet.

No one moved in the street: not Carl, not the drink vendor beside his cart, not the children who'd been playing some intricate game involving an inflated plastic ball, an old pack of cards, some clothes pins, and the neighborhood alley cat. Even the dust devil fell away to stillness.

That same broad smile split her face, creased new lines into her cheeks, nearly closed those eyes someone else was looking out of. "All sorts of answers when that moon rises. You're in for heavy weather, Carl Washington, Carl Jefferson, Carl Matthewson. Hope you're in practice, and I hope you remember the old stories, boy, because tonight the loa gonna watch you dance."

"There's a storm coming and you think I'm gonna stand in it for you?" Carl's eyes were too wide, his pulse too fast, but he'd been defending himself with sarcasm for years now. The words slipped out unbidden.

"Oh, we could tell you to go, but you'd stay. And we could tell you to stay and you'd go. I do love a crossroad and you're standing in one. It don't matter which way you go, what place you stand, Carl of the bayou, Carl of the many lives, the many graves." The body that had been Marie Laveau's spun a pirouette, neat and precise in the rutted road, and mock-collapsed into a bow that tipped a nonexistent top hat. "Don't matter at all, child. Moon gonna rise no matter where you are. "

Carl swallowed around a suddenly dry throat, staring at that not quite empty hand. Then he exhaled the air stuck in his lungs and nodded. Some things not even he would argue with. "You're saying that no matter what I do--"

"--I'll be there. Me and the moon. Now you're Seeing right, Carl of the Eye and the Arm." She/he/it smiled mockingly at him, thin wrinkled lips and yellowed teeth, near skeletal hand still holding that hat that wasn't there. "Just not like this."

Marie's body swept upright from the bow she'd been holding, thin arm flinging the top hat wide. It spun itself into existence a foot or two from her fingers, the air whining away from its revolutions. Behind the hat -- and Carl dove away from it the way he'd have slid into second ahead of the pitcher's ball -- her fingertips fell to dust and gone. Then her fingers, her hand, arm and shoulders and head, ribs and other arm, torso, hips, legs, feet....

And then she was gone, dress, gimcrack finery and all, and the only thing still in the street was that white silk top hat spinning slowly to a stop on the street sign, obscuring the names of the roads.

Carl lay sprawled in the road, sparks dancing across his arms where he'd slid across gravel, and watched the hat as narrowly as he would have watched a swaying copperhead. Only when it was still did he come up to his feet... and sprint for a phone to set his plans in motion.

The hat was still there when the moon eventually rose over it.

~~~ finis ~~~

 

Comments, Commentary, and Miscellanea:

No. I do not know what's falling apart, I have no idea why Marie Laveau is in Trinidad & Tobago, nor where Derek and Rev. Bell are. And no, I am not writing any more of this universe. Impending apocalypses give me hives.

I meant to write a fic to "Born on the Bayou." Instead, I got one to "Bad Moon Rising." Oops.

Carl Robinson, from "Run For Your Life" and "Manhunt," was a slave on the Hobart plantation when he died his first death; his first teacher was Matthew McCormick. As for Marie Laveau or Laveaux (spellings vary)... she was a voodoo queen in New Orleans for much of the 19th century, and probably died in 1881. ('Probably' because people reported seeing her even after her death, which may or may not be due to her daughter Marie Laveau continuing her traditions.) More information can be found here.

Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, one of the best known of the early tap dancers.

Rum and tobacco are traditional propitiations to the loa (the spirits of voodoo that ride their priests/priestesses), and are particularly favored by Baron Samedi, the god of crossroads and resurrections, among other things. He's usually depicted in black tuxedo and white top hat.