Doc Pleasant's Pleasantries
It took a few moments before Doc Pleasant’s quiet shuffle was heard at the door, and it took another couple of minutes fumbling at locks, chains and other security ephemera before he actually opened it.
“Oh,” he said, peering through the two inches he’d put between frame and door, “it’s youlot, ain’t it? The ones the girl said was coming? What you be wantin’ with me?”
Ava smiled her most friendly smile, a genuine one to boot, “I’m on an Eat, Pray, Love journey to get to know my patron better, and voodoun as a whole… and you’re the next stop in getting to know everything about Maman Brigitte possible.” Her smile grew and her sunglasses slid down her nose so she could get a better look at him through the tiny little slit. She raised the bag she was carrying, “I brought rum and candy, and I’m the best listenerever.”
Bella gave a little wave from behind Ava’s shoulder. “Hi! I’m just along for the ride, but it’s good to see you again.”
Doc Pleasant snorted. “Don’t be thinkin’ you can sweet talk your way in, missy,” he said, though he nevertheless accepted the bribes. “Can’t exactly let you be roamin’ ‘round, getting ‘facts’ what ain’t even real, so you best come in.”
He nodded an acknowledgement to Bella, then stepped back and pulled the door open, grudgingly waving them in. When Derek passed, he eyed him suspiciously. “You ain’t bring your damn band today, boy? Prob’ly for the best. Well, c’mon, set a spell. Ask your questions. Sooner you be askin’, the sooner you can be out my hair.”
Ava handed over the bribe, then slid her sunglasses down her nose and smiled slowly, “Well, it’s nice to meet you too, sir.” She stepped in as she spoke, looking around the place. She decided on one of the chairs and sat down, “Maman seems to value not telling me things so I’ll have to ask someone, so I’m following through. Jaz gave a really good rundown, but then deferred to your experience for the nitty gritty details about ritual and all that.”
“You ain’t never should be takin’ advice ‘bout the spirits from the spirits themselves, girl.” Pleasant made his way over to the easy chair and settled into it carefully. “Humans made ‘em, an’ they just like humans. You want true speakin’ ‘bout somethin’, you got to go to them as knows ‘em. Now, ritual…that be dependin’ on what you tryin’ to accomplish. You got to tell me what you tryin’ to do, what you wantin’ to know, ‘fore I can give you somethin’.”
Ava considered what to ask and how to ask it, thoughtfully. After a few moments of thinking it over, almost causing awkward silence, she finally said, “Okay, first question… this relationship between my patron and I? Who’s in charge?”
Doc Pleasant looked over at Ava, eyebrows arched. “In charge? If you be married, which one of you’s ‘in charge’?”
“So you’re telling me it’s complicated, and it could go either way or no way…?” She ultimately controlled her body, she knew that from her little adventure the day before. She also knew Maman could intervene als from her little adventure the day before. Still, the insinuations of David’s remarks the night before surprisingly bugged her. “I’m going to guess the answer to this one is also ‘its complicated’, but is my patron’s influence on me a particularly bad thing? Or is it just like the rest of the world and the rest of people, where I have to decide whether or not to take her advice?”
He turned his head, looking out the window in silence - a gesture that might at first have seemed dismissive, but was his thinking pose. “Ain’t nothing worth havin’ in this world that ain’t got risk,” he said, finally, his voice pensive and heavy with the weight of experience. “You got to understand that. Me, I said spirits be like humans, and they is and they ain’t. In most things, they be just like we make ‘em. But once a spirit done been ‘round long enough, got enough power to keep on existin’, they become something…more.”
“That somethin’ more’s when they get to be one of two things. Them as what’s bad an’ evil to begin with, they aim to take over and destroy, to gain power so’s they can be wreckin’ the world. Them as what’s good, or at least ambivalent - well, them’s the ones what become guardians. They be charged with protectin’ things - sometimes dead things, sometimes live things, sometimes the whole damn universe.”
Reaching for the bag Ava’d given him, he opened it, digging through the candy to pull out a piece and pop it in his mouth. He took his time chewing, savoring it - and knowing exactly how impatient it made the group.
When he finished his little chocolate ritual, he continued. “Now, them as what are called to protect, over time, they be filled with an overwhelmin’ sense of duty. Them’s got to act for the greater good, you ken? But actin’ for the greater good don’t mean they’s benign. Lots of things what’s good for you, good for everybody, ain’t gonna be real pleasant to go through. An’ it don’t mean they leaves their personality behind, neither. Them as are tricksters goin’ still be tricksters.”
“It ain’t mean they up to no good, but sometimes, you goin’ to need to think ‘bout what they’s asking you to be doin’. Sometimes, there be a better way of doin’ things they ain’t know about.” He gave Ava one of those grandfather-hoodoo-man looks. “That be what you askin’?”
“Yes,” Ava replied. That settled something within her, it seemed. If she needed to be on the lookout for something, she wanted to know ahead of time what it was. “So, then… how do people and patrons get matched up? Was I born with her in my head, did she choose me, or is there some big merry go around of spirits somewhere in the diyu that spits them out to the genetically predisposed at random?”
“Ain’t the damned creator of the universe,” Please grumbled, “so I ain’t got all the answers to everything. Best as anyone can figure, seems like it be a bit like soul mates. Ain’t always know who it’s gonna be ahead of time, but you knows ‘em when you sees ‘em. Pre-ordained, if you want one of them fancy preacher words for it. More to it’n just that, though. You got to be willin’ and able to take on your spirit. There be many what’re called, but real damn few what are chosen.”
“So, this might be a stupid question,” Bella interjected hesitantly. “Because we’re sitting here talking to you with voices in our heads, and doing…whatever it is that we do. But…is this it? We’re chosen, it’s a done deal. Or can we still fu— uh, mess this up, somehow? Or not to be so pessimistic about it, I guess, does it ever just…not work out?”
Doc gave Bella a stern look, wagging his finger in her direction. “Every damn thing under the sun can be fucked up, girlie, and it’s best you lot remember that. Ain’t no guarantees of nothin’. But you got a real powerful spirit on your side, you got folks what are guidin’ you…you watch your step, think a bit ‘fore you do stupid shit, an’ you goin’ to do just fine.”
It’s the differentiating the stupid shit from the not stupid shit that’s the problem, Ava thought ruefully. She felt a lot better about a few things, though, and that was an excellent question.
“Uh… ritual…”, she said, popping back to the current conversation, “We’re all getting ready to use our altars for the first time. I’ve been sort of … making it up as I go along, but is there more to it than that?”
“Ain’t every ritual start by someone what’s makin’ it up as they go?” He shrugged. “Ritual’s personal, you ken? True ritual ain’t a bunch of meaningless mumbo-jumbo, it’s got to speak to you. Think you ‘bout what them Catholics do: ain’t no shit their tortured god want, but it be powerful…’cause they believe it. An’ the more them as practice it believe in it, the stronger it’ll be.”
“You got to figure out what you be askin’ for, what you tryin’ to do…then fin’ some way to be expressin’ that to your spirit. The you be doin’ that can be mighty simple or real complex, don’t really matter jes’ as long as what you doin’ mean something to you.”
Derek had been content to sit in relative silence and side-eye the old man over the course of the conversation. He really didn’t have any questions of his own; Santa Muerta’s intentions seemed fairly straightforward for the moment. However, the mention of the Catholics and their rituals got him thinking.
“So… theoretically… if there were some god-spirit-something that was really Not Good for the larger scheme of things, if belief is power, then if one were to… track those followers down and eliminate them…” The thought trailed off for a moment “…but it would need to be more than that, wouldn’t it. It would require pretty much scouring any mention of the god-spirit-thing from our existence.” He grimaced. “Never thought I’d say this, but God damn the Internet,” he mused.
It wasn’t until a moment later Derek realized he’d mused all of those things aloud.
Doc Pleasant snorted, but nodded. “You ain’t wrong. God-botherin’ these days be a whole lot harder’n when I was your age.”
Ava chuckled, “If belief is a powerful thing, man… I know what midwestern Republicans believe… that’s some scary ass shit.” She pulled out her phone to glance at the time, “Oh crud, we better get going… I’m gonna have to improvise this altar thing…”
“You lookin’ to find Maman, why ain’t you stop by Bush an’ Octavia,” Doc suggested, getting out of his chair and giving Ava a meaningful look as he headed towards the door. “Hang ‘round there, meditate a bit. You might be meetin’ a friend of mine, woman what knew Maman in her day.”
Ava smiled at Doc Pleasant, nodding as she got up and went for the door, “Thanks for your time and all the wisdom and information.”, she said genuinely. Experts were invaluable. “I think we have just enough time to run by there before we have to get back…”
Everybody climbed into the car and Ava drove back. Along the way she said, “Now, I don’t know San Francisco as well as I should, but I’m pretty sure that Bush and Octavia is only a few blocks from the house, so that’s super easy.”
She drove them back to the house, parked the rental in a spot near where she found it, then checked out of the rental on her phone before joining Bella and Derek for a quick walk up to the corner of Bush and Octavia.
Ava brought up the Wikipedia page on her phone while they were walking. It’d been pretty helpful these past few days, “Says she was born to a Voodoo priestess, into slavery, but then got out and found she could pass as white… so…” she smiled, “…she spent her days working both sides of the fence…”
Bella peeked over Ava’s shoulder, skimming the article as she spoke. “And California’s Rosa Parks, for streetcars instead of buses? Busy lady,” she grinned.
The ‘park’ was little more than a stand of Eucalyptus trees and a plaque. Ava nodded, “There’s more, too…”, she said as they came up upon it, “…she was a grifter. She amassed a fortune of 30 million dollars… in 1875… 30 million dollars, that’s like… over a billion dollars. She did it by working at men’s eating establishments and spying on them to find out all the big deals before they went down.”
She stopped and looked down at the plaque, “This must’ve been what Maman meant when she mentioned Robin Hood. She used a lot of that money in her own community, got newly freed people jobs, and had a swanky huge mansion with lots of wild parties.”
Bella smirked a little. “You ever get the feeling everybody we talk to knows more about us than they say they do? Robin Hood, gifter, wild mansion parties… Says here she listed her occupation as ‘capitalist’ once, when she was asked. It can’t be an accident Doc Pleasant suggested you come here, can it? That’s…some kind of coincidence.” She shrugged. “I don’t think I’m complaining, I’m just…curious, you know?”
Ava laughed, “Capitalist, that’s fucking perfect… damn. Yeah, I wonder if it’s magic’ing things to know about us, or just regular snooping, or if it’s just coincidence and it’s because Maman picks similar err… whatever we are… wish I could talk to Mary… “
“I mean…” Bella said slowly. “The Doc said we could meet her, right? Meditate a bit… maybe her spirit is still hanging around here?”
If I may, Coyote broke in suddenly, You should be able to see the past of this place, the same way that you can see the future. Try and concentrate on the spiritual activity, see if any of her energy lingers.
“Okay, I’m going to try something.”
(Roll: 1 + 3 (soothsay) + 1 (sight) = 5)
Bella closed her eyes, taking a moment to focus and call up in her mind what the spirits she had interacted with the day before had felt like. When she opened her eyes again, she could see flickers of their energy, flashing in and out of existence, fuzzy shadows hanging around under the eucalyptus trees. One seemed a shade or two brighter, more solid than the others, but the details were all hazy.
“Ghosts we have,” she confirmed. “Whether or not any of them are the one we’re looking for, well…”
Ava hmmmm’d, blinking her eyes. She swore she could almost see something. The effect was a bit on the disturbing side. “Maybe I can convince her to come forward from the crowd…”
(Roll: 2 + 3 (Sway) + 1 (Sight) = 6)
This time, she stepped forward, took a deep breath with all her hopes to talk to Mary in her thoughts, then blew it out over her hand into the general area. She imagined it was all fairy dust and sparkling, and so it was all fairy dust and sparkling, which shocked her a little bit.
“…damn it all, why don’t the sons of bitches give it up already?” The voice was faint at first, growing louder as it continued to speak.
Ava blinked, “Umm… that doesn’t sound like a woman… I think we got the wrong number.”
“I don’t suppose anybody taught you how to hang this thing up and try again?” Bella asked, eyebrows raised.
“‘Cause the damned Japs are hard-headed. We ain’t whipped ‘em enough yet.” The second voice was exasperated, the sound of a man who’d been there and done that conversation a few more times than he was comfortable with. “C’mon, Fred, you knowthis shit.”
“He don’t want to go back under, that’s all.” The third voice was more reasonable, a peace-maker by the sound of it. “Will you two quit beating your gums about this? Look, the Krauts’ve surrendered already, the Japs can’t be far behind. Let’s just have a good time before leave is over and we got to get back to the Bullhead, okay?”
Now, forms were fading into view, revealing the outlines of three young men in dress whites. One, a brown-haired farm boy, by the looks of it, started to reply, but stopped, blinking, rubbing his eyes.
“Wh-where are we?” he asked, uncertain. It was the first speaker. He turned around, looking relieved when he caught sight of a second young man “oh…there you are, Verne. I…something’s odd, isn’t it?”
“What do you mean?” This was the peace-maker, a red-haired, amiable young man. “What’s wrong, Fred?”
“I…” Fred blinked again. “I thought…it’s just odd. I could have sworn I was just heard Frank hollering about some Japs incoming…”
“Me too, actually.” The second voice spoke up, belonging to a genial young sailor. “Felt like we were in a dive…”
“See?” Fred said, triumphantly. “Jimmy heard it, too.”
“I don’t care,” Verne said, almost a growl. “The Krauts’ve kicked the bucket, we’ve got shore leave, and we’re going to find some dolls and have a good time. We’re in San Francisco, for gosh’s sake. You’ve heard all the stories, so why are we standing here jabbering?”
“Fine, fine.” Fred turned around, taking in the view, and caught sight of Bella and Ava for the first time. He blinked, tilting his head as he gave them both a quick once-over. “Er…Verne?” he said, in a loud whisper, “speaking of dolls…”
Jimmy’s jaw dropped as he caught sight of the two women. “Damn. Man goes on patrol for a few months, and this is what girls are wearing now?”
“Dang.” Fred openly gaped along with Jimmy, taking in Ava’s cleavage. “That’s something, alright…paint that on some planes, we’d win the war just ‘cause the Japs’d be too busy staring to fight!”
“Hush!” Verne hissed, jabbing Jimmy in the ribs - though he was certainly giving Bella’s shorts a good look, himself. “War rationing, remember? Don’t make them feel bad about it!”
He advanced towards Bella, a big grin creeping over his face, and touched the brim of his sailor cap. “Goooood…” he paused, taking in the time of day, “morning. Please, don’t mind my friends, they’ve forgotten their manners ‘round lovely ladies like yourselves. Are you two out celebrating, too?”
Bella made a face at Ava that was part exasperation and part cry-for-help, and muttered. “‘Go hang out with Ava,’ she said. ‘It’ll be fun,’ she said.”
Ava didn’t miss a beat even though she was dying of laughter on the inside, “It’s always fun hanging out with me…”, she addressed the young man, “Morning, sweetheart, it’s keen you think that, but…” she looked him up and down “…you really think you boys got what it takes to handle a real woman? It’ll be a twenty just to look for you greenhorns. Now scram before Tiny sees you gettin’ a free look…”
Verne’s eyebrows lifted, though his interest didn’t wane. Before he could speak, though, Fred came strolled over, his swagger pronounced.
“Oh no, miss,” he said, chest puffed out, “Me and them,” he jerked a thumb in the direction of Verne and Jimmy, “we been to China and Australia. We learned some real interesting things there. Bet that’d be worth a Jackson, right there.”
Ava’s eyebrows shot up. They didn’t immediately run off… that’s… cool. She held out her hand for the money, “Boys, I am dying to find out what you learned in China and Australia…”
Bella’s face, if it were possible, just grew more exasperated. She put a hand out to pull back Ava’s outstretched arm. “Sorry, boys, she’s such a joker. We’re actually…waiting to meet someone, and we’re a little tight on time. But it was a real pleasure to meet you!” She smiled, a big, bright, mollifying, ‘please leave before I have to call my manager’ customer service smile, and offered her hand to Verne to shake.
Verne cocked his head, a little confused, but accepted her hand. “Have a—” He broke off, and his eyes widened as soon as they touched, and for a brief moment, the light around them dimmed. The streets disappeared, replaced by curved, metal walls, a dim, flickering light, and stale, musty air. A siren clanged, male voices yelling, and seamen in all states of dress and otherwise rushed by, moving through but touching neither Ava nor Bella. Then came a thunderous crash, screams, a roar of water rushing in…and all went black for an instant.
When the light returned, the young men were gone, and the only thing that lingered behind was a faint, sharp hint of diesel and the coppery tang of blood in the air.
Ava blinked, “Whoa… how’d you do that?” She turned to look at Bella, amazed.
Bella shook her head. “That wasn’t…okay, I won’t say it wasn’t me, but if it was, I have no idea.” She looked momentarily horrified. “ You don’t think I, like, sent them back to that?”
Ava shook her head, “No, I think what happened to them was already going to happen to them, or already did, actually. Wanna try again?”
“You still want to talk to Mary Ellen, right?” Bella asked. “I could try looking forward, instead of backward, maybe narrow the field for you? Or you could try your…I don’t know what to call it, glitter bomb? You could try that again.”
“I think it works well if we both work on it together, so you help narrow it down, and I’ll see if I can get her to talk.” She wondered if she liked or disliked ‘glitter bomb’. She was definitely leaning towards ‘like’.
Bella nodded, and grinned. “Alright, one more time, then. Actually, give me your hand, I think this might work better…”
(Bella’s roll: 2 + 3 (soothsay) + 1 (sight) = 6)
She took Ava’s hand, and closed her eyes again, concentrating. She wanted to see the future where Ava was talking to the spirit of Mary Ellen Pleasant, so that was what she focused on - Ava’s energy, which she was getting very familiar with, mingling with the latent spiritual energy of the place where they stood.
“Okay, I don’t know if you can see that,” she said, pointing up the road with her free hand. “But there’s a hazy, glowing sorta figure walking toward us. Not right now, but…there will be. Try over there.”
Ava blinked a few times and looked up in the area, “Yeah, yeah… I think I see, maybe…” She inhaled again, then repeated her action from before, puffing out glitter containing all her hopes and wishes to meet Ms. Pleasant.
(Roll: 11 + 3 (Sway) + 1 (Spirit) +1 (Soothsay) = 16)
The dust coalesced around a form that became more and more vivid as Ava watched, “Ooo… I think we did it…” As the figure of a woman in 19th century garb appeared, she asked, “Ms. Pleasant?”
“It’s Mrs. Pleasant you’ve finally called up, indeed.” Her voice was rich, well-modulated, and commanding. “Why have you done so? I’ve no influence anymore, you know. They come to me still for help, to be their advocate, but in most aspects, one does lose one’s ability to sway the living world once one has entered the grave.”
“I’ve just come to talk,” Ava replied. “You sway people more than you know, even after death. People come here, they stand here, remember you, and gain strength from that. That’s a lot of power for a dead person. You and I, we have a lot in common, that’s why I wanted to meet you…”
The spirit’s expression was carefully neutral - the face of a woman who, in life, had no doubt cultivated a certain demeanor and control in all circumstances. “Based on appearances, you are not of my time nor yet of my background. What could history could we possibly share?”
Ava nodded, “Both those things are true. The thing that we have in common transcends the whole time and race thing. I’m a… vessel… for Maman Brigitte.” Her eyes glittered with excitement. For a moment she couldn’t tell if they were her eyes or if they were Maman’s. She’d been awfully quiet over the course of the day. “…as well as other traits.”
“I see.” Mrs. Pleasant’s voice held a note of something undefinable. “And how do you know this is something we share? Who sent you to me?”
Ava blinked, only just then catching the two names were the same. She wondered, “His name is Doc Pleasant.”
“Doc Pleasant…” Both of Mrs. Pleasant’s eyebrows shot up. “What is this man’s Christian name, please?”
Ava blinked several time, looking up at the sky, “You know… I have no idea, that’s the only name I know him by.”
“Describe his appearance to me.” Though it wasn’t quite a command, there was no denying the request was very strongly suggested. “How does he speak?”
Ava looked up at the sky. Why oh why did she have to be so very white at this moment? “He’s a tall black man, older, with grey hair. Cranky all the time, or at least when I met him… knows a whoole lot about hoodoo, and he’s got a southern accent…”
“Simeon! Ha!” Her laugh was almost a cackle. “That son of a bitch.” Her formal language and proper accent was gone in an instant, and her face lit up. “Is he still around? Hasn’t he kicked the bucket and gone on?”
Ava shook her head, “Apparently not, though by his crankiness I’d expect that he wants to… or maybe he’s always been that way.”
Mrs. Pleasant laughed again. “Simeon was born a crankpot, and I reckon he won’t ever change. Seems like he’s been around a good bit, then.” She peered at the two women closely. “You sure aren’t from my time.” Her face drifted off a little, then returned to focus. “I lose track, here. When is it? When is this time, this place?”
“Umm,” Ava replied, “It’s two-thousand fifteen, and this is San Francisco… by the eucalyptus trees you planted…”
The spirit blinked. “Two-thousand… That’s…dear me. It’s been that long?” Once again, she drifted off for a moment, becoming more transparent. “So he’s found a way to stay on, then…to complete his work. Well, I reckon if anyone could do it, it would have been Simeon. He sent you, then? I suppose it must be important. Well, what do want to know?”
Ava considered the question, considered Bella and Derek nearby, considered the time and replied, “Two days ago I hit up some opium for the fun of it and suddenly ended up with a voodoo spirit attached to me… well, a spirit, Maman defies labels like that. It’s been a … rocky … transition for me. I’m a thief trying to … thieve for good, and I understand you’re the master of plying that particular trade while living a rather comfortable lifestyle. What I want to know can’t possibly be known in the short amount of time I have today. What I’d like to do is make a proposition…”
“Oh?” Mrs. Pleasant folded her arms, eyeing Ava. “And what kind of proposition might that be?”
“I’ve gotta… commune… every once in a while to umm re-connect this connection or something. It’s supposed to be personal somehow, and things… aren’t so personal to me. People are. So, I only live a few blocks away. I come by, bring a bottle of rum, cigar or a joint… we chat for a little while, trade stories, then I go home… you get to see someone more interesting than gaggles of tourists, I get to talk to someone who understands me. Win-win situation, really.”
She considered the offer, initially inclined to turn it down. She was dead, after all, and it was a kind of respite to be away from the non-stop machinations that had defined her life. Nevertheless, she was dead, and as it happened, dead was boring. She could have gone on, but…there was that business, and she knew who was going to be waiting, and…well, lingering around this plane had seemed pretty attractive at the time.
Still, a desire for something a little more entertaining than whiling away eternity in the gray of the Diyu combined with her natural instinct to wheel-and-deal. “I think I could be persuaded,” she replied, cautious. “What kind of stories are you wanting?”
Ava shrugged, “Nothing in particular… just conversation. I’ll, uh, come at night… so people don’t think I’m talking to thin air…”
“When I look in on things, I do see gentlemen wearing some sort of strange device in their ear whilst they speak on occasion, and though they appear to be talking, as you say, to thin air, no one seems to notice. Perhaps you could try that method?”
Ava laughed, nodding, “Bluetooth headsets, yes… that’s very helpful. You’re pretty sharp for a ghost…”
“I reckon a spirit is only as sharp as a body was when it lived,” she replied, rather loftily, all things considered. “While your little adventure earlier was great entertainment, and you’re certainly welcome to keep doing that - truly, you needn’t stop on my account, you may call me here with the ring of a bell.” A bit of of sly humor crept over her face. “But it will only work if you know why that might catch my attention. Figure that out and I’ll come when you ring, otherwise,” and she definitely smirked this time, “it’s sailors all the way down.”
Ava grinned, “I still want to know what they learned in China and Australia… could’ve been interesting… thanks, though. My forte doesn’t lie in seeing spirits.” She then took a step away, giving a wave, satisfied that she now had an altar that suited her, was personal, and had plenty of ritual involved. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Pleasant.”