Fire and Ice Young Adult and New Adult Books

A T.J. Jackson Mystery #5

The Voodoo Cult's Treasure

by Paul Ferrante



"The Voodoo Cult's Treasure" by Paul FerranteAfter a disastrous run-in with a vindictive 1600s witch leaves him wanting to ditch his ghost hunting career forever, T.J. Jackson and his mates are drawn back into the paranormal world to investigate the mysterious disappearance of their friend and mentor, Mike Weinstein, in the Voodoo Capital of America: New Orleans.

Along the way, T.J., Bortnicker and LouAnne — with an assist from their Bermudian friend Ronnie Goodwin — must explore the strange world of New Orleans Voodoo, as well as the crazy gumbo of cultures that make Southern Louisiana a place like no other. Their quest will take them from the bright lights of Bourbon Street to the steamy backwaters of the bayou, and test their courage at every turn.

It looks like this trip to NOLA will provide the Junior Gonzo Ghost Chasers with their most dangerous case yet!


 

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Middle Grade / Teens


Prologue

It had to be a nightmare.

His eyelids, swollen and gummy from mosquito bites, creaked open to an inky wet darkness. He knew he was inside some kind of structure because he couldn’t see the moon or the foliage from which all sorts of nearby sounds emanated—owls and other shrieking nocturnal birds of prey, animals that crept or slithered through the thick underbrush, insects that sang and whined. The hard-packed dirt beneath him was cool and sticky and reeked of decay.

Slowly, painfully, he moved his hands and bare feet and was somewhat encouraged to find them unbound. But even these simple motions were excruciatingly taxing, and he had to close his eyes and gather himself before he attempted any further exertion.

And then he heard it—a steady, rhythmic beat whose vibration was felt as he lay on his back in the dirt:

Boom, boom, ba-doom

Boom, boom, ba-doom

 

Over and over, the cadence thrummed hypnotically exact, almost as if it were computer generated. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom he could make out a glassless window frame set in the wall not far from his splayed feet. Some kind of flickering outside light had illuminated the outline of the dilapidated frame, and he wondered what its origin could be.

Boom, boom, ba-doom

Boom, boom, ba-doom

 

He made the decision to crawl to the wall.

First, he tucked in an elbow and rolled over onto his stomach, his face in the dirt, and then pushed himself up onto his elbows, spitting metallic grit. Dizzy, he inched himself forward, until he practically head-butted the rough wood of the dwelling’s wall. If he could just raise himself to his knees he might be able to reach up and grab the windowsill, but it would take a Herculean effort, and he was fading in and out.

Boom, boom, ba-doom

Boom, boom, ba-doom

 

Ever so slowly, his left hand felt its way up the slatted wall until it curled over the splintered wooden sill. Then, taking a deep breath, he brought his other hand up, grabbed on, and pulled. Thankfully, the opening was set low in the wall. Hanging on for dear life, he peered over the edge.

The tumbledown shack he was in appeared to be on the edge of a clearing. Lush overhanging trees and other dripping vegetation created a formidable canopy that nearly blotted out the moon. But the clearing, lit by torches around its perimeter, was eerily bright, and he had to shut his eyes to refocus. When he slowly opened them again, he wondered if he was looking into the portal of Hell itself.

At least 50 people, mostly but not all dark-skinned, were engaged in some kind of counter-clockwise dance/march as they circled a blazing fire pit. Off to the side a squatting drummer maintained the steady beat he had heard on an animal skin-covered cask, using what looked like the leg bones of some large mammal. The dancing women, some of whom had rags tied around their foreheads, were clad in loose, one-piece white garments, while the men wore nothing more than white loincloths. All of them were barefoot, many with ribbons tied around their ankles to which tiny bells were attached.

Boom, boom, ba-doom

Boom, boom, ba-doom

Then, at the far end he spied an altar covered in some kind of white silk and decorated with a jumble of multicolored candles, liquor bottles, and statues, some of which looked primitive, while others appeared to be Christian in nature. The highest tier of the altar was dominated by a large ornamented wooden box with bars set into one side.

Flanking the altar were a man and a woman, both of apparent African descent, though the woman was lighter in color. The man, who was quite tall and wearing white face paint, wore a purple top hat and matching flowing robe that was cinched at the waist with a blue cord. The woman was costumed in a blue turban, with what appeared to be a body covering comprised of numerous sewn-together blue handkerchiefs. A blue waist-cord completed the striking ensemble. She clapped in time to the beat, acknowledging the members of the circle as they shuffled by the altar and waved or bowed toward her.

Finally, the “king” began a chant in a rich baritone: “Eh Eh! Bomba hen hen!” The “queen” and then the congregation members joined in, and their dancing became more fevered.

The king then took his queen’s hand, and helped her up and onto the altar where she climbed atop the slatted box and began a sensual, undulating dance, her arms swinging wildly, her head lolling to and fro as if she had severed all the muscles in her neck.

With a deft movement, the king removed a long, squirming golden snake from the box and began a chant:

“L’Appé vivi, le grand serpent,

L’Appévini, fov fe gris-gris!”

 

He handed the python to the queen, who held its head and tail aloft as the chanting celebrants became more frenzied in their movements. Within seconds they were on the ground, writhing in the dirt of the clearing, contorting themselves grotesquely and wailing in a cacophony of tongues. The energy kept ratcheting upward, obviously leading to some sort of crescendo.

Then, to his horror, he saw a young goat, bleating with terror, being dragged before the altar as the cries of the congregation reached a keening pitch, and the king pulling the screaming animal’s head back while brandishing a dagger whose blade caught the glint of the firelight—just as the rotted windowsill disintegrated in his fingers and he fell backwards into the blackness.