Read Grave Intent Online

Authors: Deborah LeBlanc

Tags: #vampire, #urban fantasy, #thriller, #horror, #suspense, #action, #ghosts, #spirits, #paranormal, #supernatural, #ghost, #louisiana, #curse, #funeral, #gypsy, #coin, #gypsies, #paranormal suspense, #cajun, #funeral home, #supernatural ebook

Grave Intent

Published by DEBORAH LEBLANC at
Copyright 2010 Deborah LeBlanc




Anna tucked the blanket around her baby,
careful to leave the newborn’s left leg out as instructed. She
heard the tambourines from outside the camper grow louder,
shriller, like a thousand rattlesnakes hissing in disgust at what
she was about to let happen. The community had been celebrating
since midday, a jubilee the size normally sanctioned for weddings
and baptisms. Drunken voices shouted over mandolins and
enthusiastic offerings of percussion with jugs and spoons.

In that moment, amidst the raucous banter,
Anna hated her husband. She was all too familiar with his
over-inflated ego, how it fed on pomp and circumstance, how it
caused him to embellish traditions or add new ones. Many times she
had seen him turn time-honored customs into regimented absurdities
or create new, inane rituals that served no other purpose but to
flex an authoritative muscle. It wasn’t enough that his role as
leader came by birthright, which afforded him an indisputable,
ardent following. He wanted absolute control of all things—even
death. The new ceremony he had commissioned for today proved it. He
was going too far this time.

Anna kissed the top of her daughter’s head,
the crown of black hair so soft against her lips she could hardly
feel it. She threw a cautious glance about the confines of the
trailer, then whispered into the infant’s ear the name only she
would use for her. Not even her husband would be privy to it, as
was custom. The baby’s community name, the one to be used by every
member of the tribe, she called out softly in the claustrophobic
space. “Thalia. You are my greatest love.”

The baby’s eyelids fluttered as though in
approval, and Anna clutched her tighter to her breast. She reached
for a silver music box that sat on her nightstand and opened the
lid. A miniature ballerina, poised in the center of the box, began
to pirouette to a lullaby.

“I’m so sorry,” Anna murmured. “I would burn
the flesh from my own body if that would stop him.” She snuggled
her face against her child’s neck. “I will do what I can to make
sure it goes quickly.”

She placed Thalia in her bassinet and turned
reluctantly to the bed where the skirt her mother-in-law had made
for the occasion lay in multicolored folds. Sighing deeply, Anna
put it on, feeling the hem scratch against her ankles. She chose a
white peasant blouse to go with it, not caring whether it matched
or not. Bracelets and necklaces, thick with ornate gold and onyx,
had already been chosen for her and laid out on top of the bureau.
Their beauty and value meant nothing to her tonight. They felt cold
and heavy like her body when she clasped them into place. She
placed the droshy that had belonged to her mother on top of her
head for good luck. Her fingers trembled and fumbled with the silk
knot as she secured it to the back of her head.

After closing the music box, Anna lifted
Thalia from the bassinet and carried her to the front room near the
kitchenette. She stood there, clutching her child, waiting,
watching the door, and not for the first time in her life, wishing
she had been born white or black or Russian, anything but Roma.
Here it was, 1985, an age when the rest of the world viewed
subservience as a historical faux pas, yet her people remained
committed to male superiority. A gypsy woman’s opinion remained
nothing but a nuisance and since the beginning of time, her worth
only as good as her earning potential. Anna had learned that truth
from her father. She had been a sixteen-year-old virgin from good
stock and had been sold to Ephraim Stevenson, a man fifteen years
her senior, for fifty thousand dollars. Anna often wondered if
Ephraim would have paid that much for her had he known it would
take her ten years to conceive their first child.

The trailer door opened suddenly, and Anna
found herself focusing on her mother-in-law’s thick ankles making
their way up the metal steps. Behind her was a backdrop of
crackling orange, a bonfire highlighting shadowy dancers.

“You take too long,” the woman scolded as she
closed the door against the revelry outside. A cigarette waggled
between her lips, calling attention to a nose ripe with
ever-present lesions. The woman carried the same affliction along
her left arm. “They are waiting for you,” she said, taking the
smoldering butt from her lips and snuffing it out with the tips of
her fingers. “Why you want to embarrass Ephraim and make him wait
like that?”

Anna studied the face of her sleeping
daughter, wishing the baby back to the safety of her womb. “There’s
no need for Ephraim to do this, Lenora.” She looked up defiantly.
“There is no Roma custom that says he must.”

“I will not hear you!” Lenora quickly shaped
a V with the first and middle fingers of her right hand, pressed
them against her lips, then spat between them. “He is head of
family and has right to make tradition. You bring bibaxt to his
daughter with your words!”

“What I have to say brings her no bad luck,”
Anna insisted, saying a silent prayer to Saint Jude just in case.
“How can a mother wanting to protect her child be bad?”

Lenora’s face softened unexpectedly. “Is not
bad,” she said, her eyes moving to the tiny infant resting in the
crook of Anna’s arm. “But you would want her to be protected in
afterlife, no?”

Anna settled the baby against her shoulder,
purposely putting the small back to the old woman. “Nothing will
happen to her. There are many years before that’s a concern.”

“You are God? You know this to be for fact?”
Lenora tilted her head and let out a sarcastic snort. “You are
better fortune teller than me?”

Anna was wishing she could knock the smirk
from the woman’s over-painted lips when Antony, Ephraim’s cousin,
burst into the room.

“Ephraim sent me to get you, Anna,” he said
breathlessly. “Everything is ready now.”

“Tell him we come,” Lenora said. “He has
requested salve and cool water for baby, which I will get quickly.”
She fluttered a hand at him. “Hurry, Antony, go. Tell him we

Instead of obeying, Antony went to Anna,
hugged her, then kissed the back of the baby’s head. A mischievous
grin lit up his face. “What did you name her?” he whispered.

Antony was Anna’s favorite out of all of
Ephraim’s family. He was two years younger than she was and had
always treated her like an older sister. Anna pressed closer to him
and said under her breath, “Antony, don’t let him do this to

He stiffened. “There is nothing I can do,
Anna, you know that.” He moved away from her and looked nervously
over at Lenora who was filling a basin with tap water. “It’s going
to be all right. It will go quickly, you’ll see. She won’t remember
any of it.” He leaned over and kissed the baby’s head again. “She
is so beautiful. So—”

“Take this,” Lenora said, suddenly appearing
alongside her nephew with the basin of water. She handed it to

Antony took it and left without so much as
another glance at Anna.

“Give me baby,” Lenora said, tucking a tube
of ointment into the pocket of her dress. She reached for her
granddaughter. “I will take her to campfire.”

“No.” Anna held Thalia tighter. She shivered
at the thought of her child lying across the brown crusts on the
woman’s arm. “I’ll—I’ll take her.”

Lenora turned, cursing in her native tongue,
and opened the camper door. Anna followed her down the steps,
holding onto Thalia so tightly the child began to whimper.

The smell of burning oak, roasting meat, and
heavy summer night air surrounded Anna’s head like a burial mask,
and her breathing grew labored. Loud cheers rose to greet them as
they neared the main campfire, and Anna saw Ephraim stand and
motion her closer. A white fedora sat on his head, low over his
eyes. Shadows traveled across his round face. Anna tried to reason
through the loud pulsing in her ears.
He’s doing it because he
loves her— When they are this small, they don’t remember—She’s the
daughter of a very, very powerful man. She’s supposed to be set
apart— It really is just a small thing . . . isn’t it?

Anna’s attempt at justification abruptly gave
way to a serious consideration. What would happen if she took her
child and ran away?

She imagined the look on Ephraim’s face as
she pictured herself fleeing with Thalia through the maze of
Winnebagos, station wagons, and campers. Her fantasy took flight,
past Thalia’s protection, running faster, farther, bringing her to
some other place, a stable place. A place where husbands worked
from nine to five and came back to wives in quaint little houses
surrounded by flower gardens and nosy neighbors.

Instinctively Anna knew, however, that should
she run, Ephraim would find her and wouldn’t hesitate to have her
exiled. He would turn her away from the community as he would an
infectious leper, and Lenora would raise Thalia. That thought alone
kept Anna’s feet moving forward.

As she approached the circle of people
surrounding the fire, Ephraim held up a hand, and the clamor of
music and voices died instantly. A wall of people four rows deep
opened, allowing Anna closer to her husband.

Ephraim stood beside a wrought iron stool
that had a pewter bowl resting on top of it. Six inches above the
bowl’s center flickered a blue-white flame, and Anna stared at it
transfixed. She had been schooled in sleight of hand, the art of
manipulation, all the trickery and games played on unsuspecting
Gaji. This floating fire, however, appeared to be no game.

The flame licked seductively in Anna’s
direction, and she felt her breasts immediately engorge with milk.
No, this was definitely not a parlor trick.

“Bring her to me,” Ephraim commanded. Despite
all the transactions her husband conducted daily with the Gaji, his
English remained broken. Now, with the help of some expensive
vodka, the r’s rolled all the more expansively from the tip of his
tongue. “Bring her!”

Thalia started at the bellowing voice and
began to wail. Anna rocked her arms gently and walked toward her
husband. She spotted Lenora and Antony on her left. Both were

Anna placed the child in Ephraim’s
outstretched arms and allowed her fingertips to linger on his bare
skin. There had been a few times during their marriage when she’d
thought herself lucky. She knew many women who would give anything
to have a man with Ephraim’s looks and money. They would gladly
submit to his every whim, no matter how ridiculous or

She sought his eyes earnestly. “Please,” she
whispered so no one else could hear. “Please, Ephraim, don’t do

He glanced at her briefly, long enough to
expose the determination in his dark eyes. “You think me to be bad
father because I choose to ensure her future?” His voice sounded to
Anna like a low rumble of thunder in the distance.

“No, not a bad father. But she is so small,
Ephraim. Can it not at least wait until she’s older?”

He looked down at their crying daughter, and
Anna held her breath, hoping against hope he might reconsider.

Abruptly, Ephraim raised the child above his
head, glared from left to right at the crowd surrounding them, then
faced Anna. She knew then there was no turning back.

“And she will be called?” Ephraim asked
loudly as the baby screamed. The one leg that had not been secured
by the blanket kicked and flailed as did her tiny arms.

Tears of resignation filled Anna’s eyes.
“Thalia,” she answered, and choked back a sob.

A smile played around the corners of
Ephraim’s lips. “Perfect,” he said in a low, husky voice.
“Perfect.” Then, with his face aglow, he offered his daughter for
all to see and shouted, “Thalia! Thalia Stevenson!”

The crowd burst into whoops of joy, and
someone began beating on a metal tub with a stick. Uncles, aunts,
and cousins three and four times removed started chanting,
“Tha-lia! Tha-lia! Tha-lia!” The louder the baby screamed, the more
emphatically they shouted.

Ephraim lowered his daughter and returned her
to Anna. “Quieten her,” he said, then signaled his mother to his

Anna cradled Thalia, watching and rocking
nervously as Lenora sidled up to her son. The old woman pulled a
velvet pouch from her dress pocket and quickly emptied its contents
into his left hand.

As Thalia’s wails calmed to hiccups, Ephraim
plucked one of the objects from his palm and held it high. Anna’s
breath caught at the sight of one of the brightest gold coins she
had ever seen. Its circumference was only slightly larger than a
quarter’s, but its radiance surpassed that of the roaring campfire.
Even from this distance Anna could see an eagle embossed in the
coin’s center. The bird’s wings were raised above its head so they
touched wing tip to wing tip. Three arrows intersected the union of
wings, one pointing north, another east, and the third west.

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