Excerpt from The Werewolf's Touch
Origin of Species: Stephen
Marley and Blanche Pitre, 1880
Humid. God, yes. Nobody stays in the city of New Orleans in
August. Even the poorest people make pilgrimages out to the lake,
bathing in the waters like lepers taking the holy cure. The night
breezes blowing off the river can't lift the misery, and when the fog
comes in you can see the heat wrapping the city like a warm, wet
The very worst place to be was the Vieux Carre. Even at this hour
of the night there were people sitting on the stoops, waving palmetto
fans and trying not to move as the heat rose off the bricks.
This part of the Quarter was the black section, so everybody
noticed the scared-looking young woman making her way to an infamous
house. A white girl at this hour in this part of town… people looked
knowingly at each other and shook their heads.
Mrs. Thibideaux watched the girl and nodded to her husband.
"This ain't no weather to be foolin' around wit' no hoodoo, ain't
that right, Jumel?"
Jumel closed his eyes against the heat. "Um," he
agreed. "Ask me, never no time to be messin' wit' that woman."
"Lord, Lord," Mrs. Thibideaux sighed, crossing herself,
"protect that poor child."
The door to the small cottage on St. Ann Street was blistered and
dingy, the green paint bubbling off as if the heat had creeped under the
color. When the girl knocked five times, as she had been told to do,
some of the loosened paint clung to her fingers.
She didn't expect the woman who answered to be so tall, and so
handsome. Old, the girl had expected that--bon dieu! The woman
was at least fifty!--but she had expected a face as frightening as the
legends, a woman who looked as diabolical as her reputation. It was more
than beauty this woman had: it was a great, calm dignity, an assurance
of her place and her power, almost an arrogance. Take away the woman's
sang-froid and she would be just another nice-looking quadroon, pretty
but unexceptional. As it was, though, she was intimidating and
The woman lounged in the door, waving a brilliantly colored fan,
a gift, the stories said, from the Chinese emperor. The fan stirred the
scarlet scarf wrapped around her hair, and moved the long gold earrings.
Her dark, half-closed eyes appraised the girl shivering on the stoop,
and when she spoke, her voice was rich as new cream.
"And what brings you out in the heat, 'tite fille?
What business can a young one like you have with Marie Laveau, eh?"
"Madame Marie," the girl whispered in terror, but with
great passion, "I want..."
"Blanche. Is that right?"
The girl nodded, astonished.
"I know you, young one. It's not your name, but it's what
they call you. Look at that silvery blond hair: who else could you be
but Blanche?" She stretched out one languorous hand to lift a
strand of it, and the movement opened her blouse. Blanche saw a flash of
pale coffee breast moving under the fabric, still youthful, still
stirring. The woman was so beautiful. If I looked like that, thought
Blanche, would Stephen Marley love me? If he did, I wouldn't have had to
"Come in, 'tite fille. This is no conversation to
have out here on the street." Marie moved inside, and Blanche, in a
At least the house was exactly what Blanche expected. Magic was
everywhere: in dusty glass jars with ground glass stoppers, in bones and
herbs and feathers hanging from the roof beams, in a thousand objects of
gold and glass, ivory and iron, strange flowers and flesh dried into
leather. Glass wind chimes tinkled from the secluded courtyard. An
incense of sandalwood and jasmine and something she couldn't name
floated on currents of air and made Blanche feel faint.
As she followed Marie, she saw the two of them reflected
endlessly in dark glass and silver mirrors capable of lies.
"Sit," Marie Laveau said, motioning to a small table
with two chairs. On the polished surface was a strange deck of cards,
not the usual hearts and diamonds that Blanche knew, but intricately
drawn pictures. One in particular drew her attention: a man hanging
upside down. That's me, Blanche thought, suspended between what I was
before I came here and what I'll be when I leave.
Marie Laveau noted Blanche's fascination and smiled. "What
is it you want, 'tite fille? A love charm, a gris-gris to
bring you the man who makes your body burn at night?"
Blanche looked up astounded.
Marie laughed. "Don't look so surprised. When one so young
and so yearning comes to me, it's almost always love that causes the
"It is pain, Madame!" Blanche blurted. "To
love someone who doesn't even notice you is torture. I want him to love
me. I want him to marry me."
The Voodoo queen waved her hand and looked amused. "How old
are you, young one? Fifteen?"
"Sixteen. Last week."
"And how do you know it's love you feel? At that age, love
is like the river: it swells and subsides, changes and moves on. The man
you want today may not be the one you want tomorrow."
Blanche's eyes narrowed. "Then tomorrow, Madame, I'll come
to you again. But for now, this is the man I want."
Marie looked momentarily stunned at Blanche's bravado, then burst
into laughter. "You're not as innocently romantic as I had thought,
'tite fille, but you're practical. This is a rich man, is
"One of the richest in New Orleans."
"And handsome? Ah, of course he is. At your age, you still
insist on a rich man being handsome. If a rich man were all you wanted,
you could get a dozen without my help. You're young and very pretty.
You'll be beautiful soon, when you've aged a bit and can afford to get
out of those bayou rags."
"That'll never happen, Madame," Blanche said with
bitterness, "My family's white trash, always will be."
"La. That's your family, 'tite fille, that's
not you. No, you, I think," she ran her hand through Blanche's
hair, "are quite different. You're here, yes? And not even scared
Blanche smiled. It was true.
Marie looked at Blanche for a minute, then gathered the cards and
put them aside. In an impulsive movement, she grasped Blanche's hand.
Marie's eyes closed as the feeling hit her deep in her solar plexus, a
rush of orgasmic energy that always heralded the power. She took a deep
breath and felt the energy race through her, like exploding stars in her
"What is it you really want, Blanche? Is it love? Or is it
the power that being the wife of a rich man brings?
Blanche stared at her, confounded. When she decided to speak,
however, her voice was firm.
"I know it's useless to lie to you, Madame, even more
useless to lie to myself. Yes, it's the power, it's the money, but more
than that. I want a respectable life. I may be dirt poor now, I may have
to beg from people I hate and who are no better than me but for the fine
clothes around their well-fed bodies and the money in their pockets. But
my children will be born rich. They'll have loving parents instead of
brutes who hate them and beat them. Do I love Stephen Marley? What do I
know about love, Madame? When would I have ever seen it, felt it, been
able to give it to anyone who wanted it? When would I have been
treasured, protected? I want you to make him love me, Madame; I want you
to make me love him, so that I'll know what it feels
Still holding her hand, Marie looked into Blanche's eyes for a
long time. "Forget the charm," Marie said, "forget the
man. You don't need to marry power, you can have it on your own. Don't
you know the gifts you have, 'tite fille, haven't you ever felt
the power inside you?"
Blanche felt the energy move, sizzling from Marie's hand into her
own, two hot lines of lighting radiating in the dark. She had felt it
before, having no name to put to it, but never as overwhelmingly as
Marie's eyes were dazzling. Blanche felt enchanted, held captive
in the depths there. When Marie spoke in that dark, flowing voice, she
felt borne upon it like a drifting boat on the river, directionless,
anchored only to the sound.
"Stay with me awhile, Blanche, grow wise in the Voodoo ways.
You have the power, I can feel it, still unformed and wild. Learn
everything I can teach you and you'll blast the saints with your
Blanche felt something in her move and expand, pushing outward
against her bones as if wanting to burst into a thousand brilliant
sparks. Her whole body vibrated with the energy as she clung to Marie's
"Love isn't for women like us," Marie whispered.
"Love passes swiftly, but before it goes it drags a woman down,
saps her strength. She gives everything and gets nothing in return.
Stephen Marley will never satisfy a woman like you, ma fille; you
are meant for better things. Only the power gives a woman control over
her destiny. It never changes, never dies, is always faithful. Your
followers will be your children, they will give you the love you need,
as they have given it to me and I have returned it to them. Stay with
me, Blanche, and choose another life."
The magical cards had fallen to the floor. The colors seemed
brighter now, the images alive and moving. Blanche saw her card, the
Hanged Man, lying face up, but across it lay another: a tower struck by
lightning, destroyed and then transformed.
She reached down to touch it, and gasped as the power flooded
through her, raw, vital, waiting to be shaped, power so strong that it
But Blanche was not to be blinded to her purpose. "I'll have
it, Madame," she gasped softly. "Everything. Stephen Marley,
his money, his children, his world. And I'll have my own as well."
She could see only lights in the blackness, but she heard Marie's
laughter coil around her like soft, silk rope.
When their daughter didn't come home that night, the Pitres were
more curious than worried, and then not much of that. They had produced
eight children through momentary, drunken rutting, and were careless of
them except as occasional providers. The girl was sixteen, after all,
with the body of a woman. She was probably with some man, learning what
could eventually turn into a trade, if she was smart.
After a week, they bestirred themselves to call the police. And
when time passed and their daughter did turn up again, walking the
streets of the French Quarter and the banks of Bayou St. John, they were
too terrified of her even to speak to her.
It was just as well. If Blanche was anyone's daughter now, she
was Marie Laveau's.