“It smells funny in here.” Lucy wrinkled her nose in disgust.
“Jesus, it really does.”
“You’re the one who wanted to come in here. Why in God’s name would you want to visit this place?”
Kate looked around the shop and shivered. The windows were blackened to block out the early evening light from outside and candles covered every surface, dried red wax covering ancient candlesticks. The air was heavy with humidity and a musty smell Kate was afraid would cling to her clothes. Arcane symbols were painted on the walls and floor, and shelves held jars, cans, and bottles in every shape and size, their contents unidentifiable.
Peering into a jar, Kate jumped back when a small movement disturbed the murky fluid. She answered her friend’s question. “For a laugh. We’re on a weekend away and you HAVE to go to a voodoo shop when you’re visiting New Orleans. It’s like a law or something. Like those hurricanes we had this afternoon.” She waved a hand around nervously, glancing at the jar again. Nothing moved this time. “It’s all done for tourists, isn’t it.” It was then that she noticed the tall black woman standing behind a glass counter filled with small animal skulls. Behind her, painted on the wall, was a large symbol comprised of a triangle, a heart, and various intersecting lines.
“Can I help you ladies?” The woman’s broad Creole accent was slow and measured.
“Um, no, we’re…” Kate looked at her friend, “we’re just browsing.” She nearly laughed as she said it, like they were browsing a department store for a new shirt.
The woman nodded. “Let me know. I’m Marie. This shop is mine. My mother owned it before me, and her mother before that. My line goes back to ancient times.”
Kate nodded and turned to Lucy, knocking jars over on a shelf in the process. Whispering, she leaned toward her friend, using a shelf to steady herself. “Obviously a speech for tourists.” Her words slurred. “The woman’s probably from New Jersey.”
Lucy giggled and playfully slapped her friend. “Shh, she’ll hear you.”
Buoyed by Lucy’s laughter Kate continued. “I’m sure that accent is fake too.”
Lucy’s laugh earned them a look from the shop owner. They turned their backs to the counter and pretended to be interested in a can of something neither could pronounce.
Voice lowered again, Kate spoke. “I’ll bet you any money she reads palms or some other crap.”
“No, but I do read the cards.” They jumped at the sound, the voice directly behind them. The scare made them both giggle.
Addressing them both she spoke again. “Would you like a reading?” The owner looked directly into Kate’s eyes. “No charge.”
Kate felt an elbow in her ribs as she was nudged forward a step by her friend. “Uh, sure, why not.” She slapped Lucy’s elbow away.
As they walked toward the counter, Kate muttered, “This should be hilarious.”
Lucy shushed her again and stood by the counter as Marie unwrapped her cards from a faded purple cloth.
Kate had seen tarot cards before; they had all messed around with them in high school. But never anything like these. They were very old, that was obvious by the faded designs and worn corners. And while she recognized the suits, the illustrative drawings were nothing like she remembered at all. Priests, nuns, and angels mixed with demons and other unnatural creatures in every carnal pose imaginable. She turned away, blushing. The heat in the shop and the numerous drinks she’d had were making her light-headed.
Marie seemed not to notice her embarrassment. “Take the deck. Hold it between your palms. Let your spirit enter the cards.”
Kate took the deck from the counter and held them as instructed. They were awkward to hold at first; too large for her hand to grasp completely but the cards’ age had softened them and soon they moulded themselves into her hand.
“How long do I hold them?”
Marie’s head tilted as she started at Kate. “A moment is all the spirits need to see into your soul.”
Kate snuck a look at Lucy and mouthed ‘dee speereets’.
“Now. Give them to me.”
Marie muttered words Kate didn’t understand as she waved a smooth black hand over the cards, then began placing single cards in an elaborate pattern on the counter top.
“What?” Despite her earlier mocking, Kate wanted to know. “What does it mean?”
Marie waited a moment before replying. “You are unhappy. With a man. Your husband.”
Kate’s interest plummeted as soon as she heard this. Typical charlatan’s guess. She wore a wedding ring and who wasn’t unhappy with their relationship sometimes. But it struck a nerve. The buzz she’d felt earlier was wearing off, leaving her with a heavy, sick feeling. She covered her irritation. “’Wit ah mahn’? Really?”
Marie ignored her and continued. “And your work. You’re frustrated.”
Kate snorted. She didn’t know anyone who was happy at work. Still, another nerve hummed strongly and in her current state it bothered her.
The shop owner looked at a further card then at Kate. “You want a child. You think a child will save your marriage.” She nodded. “And keep Ian from seeking another’s bed.”
“What did you say?” Kate was scared now. How did this woman know her husband’s name? Did Lucy or her mention Ian earlier? She couldn’t remember.
Marie shrugged. “Not me, chere. The spirits.” She waved her hand over the cards.
Kate’s anger grew; fuelled by the hurricanes, it masked her unease.
Marie continued. “Yes, you are very unhappy. Desperate. For fortune, riches. For your husband’s dying love.”
Kate backed away from the counter, stumbling. “You fucking bitch! How do you know these things?”
“I reveal what my Loa already knows.” She pointed to the symbol on the wall.
“A bunch of fucking chalk drawings told you?” Kate put a hand onto the counter to steady herself. “Fuck your Loa! You can both go to hell!”
Marie made no mention of Kate’s outburst but her eyes narrowed and her lips were thin and bloodless when she spoke. “Let me help you to the life you seek.” She grabbed Kate’s arm.
Shrugging off the woman’s hand, she couldn’t help the acid in her voice. “What, a fucking worthless spell or some other bullshit?”
“A gris gris bag. That’s all. To bring you fortune.”
Kate hesitated long enough for Lucy to lean in and whisper. “Do it. Then we’ll leave.” Her friend glanced at Marie’s still narrow eyes and lowered her head.
“Fine. How much?”
The shop owner waved her hand. “Like the cards, no charge.” She turned and disappeared into a back room, but not before making a sign to the symbol on the wall. After a moment she returned carrying a red drawstring bag, small enough to fit into a pocket.
“Here.” She handed the bag over to Kate.
Kate smelled the bag and frowned. “Is it safe? It smells fucking foul.” The hurricane-induced nausea she felt was made worse by the mix of herbs and burnt material.
A look of fury passed over Marie’s face, there only a moment then replaced by a blank look. “There is no reason for me to wish you harm, is there?”
Kate took the bag and shoved it in her purse. She looked at Marie and saw her smile was gone. In its place was a look Kate couldn’t identify. Anger? No, something else. Satisfaction? Triumph? She couldn’t tell but she was suddenly afraid.
“C’mon Luce, let’s go.” She grabbed her friend’s arm again and led her out the door.
Lucy spoke as they left. “You okay?”
Kate hesitated. She felt an unease she couldn’t name. Avoiding her friend’s question she started down the street. “I need another drink.”
“I’m home!” Kate closed the front door “Ian?”
She left her bag in the hall and walked into the kitchen. The remains of a meal sat on the counter and there were dishes in the sink. Sighing, she went into the living room where she found Ian laying on the sofa, watching football. Bits of potato chips and cheese puffs littered the floor.
Kate stood behind the couch and waited. When she received no sign that she’d been noticed, she coughed.
Ian jumped. “Jesus, when did you get back?”
He turned back to the TV. “Good, the washing machine isn’t working, can you take a look?”
“You couldn’t have done something about it while I was away? You left it for me?”
“You know more about it than I do.”
Kate shivered, the hangover from her weekend still haunting her. “I’m going to bed. The least you can do is tidy the kitchen, I’m not doing it in the morning.” She stormed off, Ian’s grunt of acknowledgement following her.
Arriving late at work, Kate groaned when she saw the files on her desk. Someone had worked the weekend and had left it all scattered in no discernable order. Being an accounts payable clerk was not glamorous but it paid the bills. She flopped down in her chair and opened the first file but the words swam before her. Closing the file she leaned back and shut her eyes. Her head ached and she was exhausted. Maybe she should go home. But there was work and she’d already been passed over for more than one promotion; leaving all this wouldn’t look good.
Kate opened her eyes. Her colleague, Gordon, stood before her, arms filled with more files. “I’m fine, just tired.”
“You look wiped.” He dumped the papers on her desk. “Sorry.” He looked embarrassed.
She waved an exhausted hand at him. “Don’t worry about it.”
He smiled crookedly and left.
It was true: her job frustrated her, as the stupid voodoo woman had guessed. Not only the work but the commute. There was an office ten minutes from her house but, try as she might, she couldn’t land a position there. Instead she had an hour-long drive.
Ignoring the nausea she now felt, she set her head in order and opened the file again.
“You don’t look well.” Ian was sitting across from her at the dinner table. She didn’t feel like cooking and had picked up a pizza for Ian on the way home.
“I don’t feel well.” Another wave of nausea washed over her as the smell of pepperoni rose from the box and she hesitated, ready to run to the bathroom. The feeling passed.
“Can I get you anything?”
“No, it’s probably just something I ate.”
It was only after she had forced down a handful of dry crackers that Kate realized it was the first time in months her husband had paid any attention to her.
Kate woke suddenly and threw herself out of the bed to rush to the bathroom. She barely made the toilet before what remained of her meal last night came hurling out of her. After what seemed like an eternity she suffered through the dry heaves that continued long after her stomach was empty. She heard Ian behind her.
Finally it was over and she stood, using the back of the toilet to steady herself.
“Jesus, you look awful.”
Charming, she thought. Looking in the mirror Kate saw a pale drawn face staring back at her, with pinprick dots of red around her eyes and across her cheeks where the violence of her vomiting had broken blood vessels. She muttered a sarcastic ‘thanks’ to Ian and crawled back into bed, curling herself into a tight ball.
Ian left the room without a word and Kate felt that flare of anger once more. But it was short-lived because he returned with a glass of water and the blanket she used when watching TV.
“Here.” He handed her the water. “Drink. Small sips, not too much at once.”
While she drank gratefully, Ian spread the blanket on the bed around her, waiting until she had drank as much as she could.
“What can I do?”
Kate shook her head but the movement made her feel ill again. “Nothing.”
“Do you want me to stay home with you? I’m assuming you’re not going in?”
“No, it’s okay. Just a stomach bug.”
Ian shrugged, a look of helplessness on his face. Kate felt bad for him. He was being so nice to her, after such a long period of coldness between them.
She watched him get ready for work. “You sure I can’t do anything for you?” His concerned face regarded her from the bedroom doorway.
“No, really. It’s a bug. I’ll be fine.”
He started to exit the bedroom and she could see his shoulders sag a little.
“Ian?” He turned back toward her. “Thank you.”
Eventually Kate forced herself to get up and call work. Expecting a lecture, she instead got a sympathetic HR rep who made noises like a mother hen and told her to take care. “Drink lots of fluids, dear.” Following this advice Kate refilled her water glass and went back to bed, falling asleep instantly.
Later in the day, feeling better, she rose and managed to keep down some soup. She dragged her blanket downstairs to the living room and made herself comfortable on the couch, tuning the TV to a mundane daytime talk show. As she settled in her work phone beeped. Kate considered ignoring the message but in the end reached over to grab the phone. It was from HR; they wanted to meet with her tomorrow. ‘Great, they’ll probably fire me for taking the day off.’ But she didn’t care. The nausea had returned.
That night Ian and Kate had a light meal; he ordered in again and she stuck with crackers and soup. They snuggled on the couch and watched a movie, Ian’s arm closing protectively around her. Maybe the weekend away WAS just what their relationship needed. Yes or no, she felt comfortable with him again.
“Sorry about yesterday.”
Marg, the HR woman Kate had spoken with when she called in sick, smiled. “You still look pale.”
Kate reached into her bag and took out the pack of crackers she had brought in with her. “My stomach is still upset but these help.” She put them back. “And I am sorry, I’m usually very healthy.”
Marg dismissed the comment with a wave. “It’s fine, really. That’s not why I called you in.”
Curiosity replaced the worry Kate had felt. “Oh?” They weren’t going to fire her.
The HR woman smiled again. “No, not at all. In fact I have some good news for you. A position has opened in another office, it’s a senior role, located at our head office, I believe you live quite close to that building?” She waited for Kate’s nod of affirmation before continuing. “We’d like to offer you the position.”
A whisper could have knocked Kate off of her chair. “Really?”
“Yes, of course. We know you’ve been passed over before but we’re positive this would be an excellent fit for you.”
Kate’s head ached but she was clear-minded enough to consider what this would mean. More money. Less travel. More seniority, responsibility. And the office, so close to home! She could eat lunch at the house and be back at the office without even getting into a car.
Marg interpreted Kate’s silence for hesitation. “Do you want to think it over tonight? Talk it over with your husband?”
Kate knew what Ian would say. “No, I don’t need any time. The answer is yes.”
Dinner was in the oven, candles were on the table, and champagne was on ice. Now all she needed was Ian. It wasn’t long before she heard his key scrape in the front door lock.
Ian entered the kitchen. “What’s all this?”
“We’re celebrating.” She told him about the new job as she poured champagne.
Ian listened intently, his smile growing wider. “That’s fantastic, congratulations.” He reached over and held up his champagne flute. “To your new job.”
It may have been the meal, or the news, or the champagne but Kate felt like she was on a first date. It was like their early years together, before the arguments and tension and tears. And instead of watching a movie after dinner, Ian silently took her hand and led her to the bedroom. It had been months since they made love but thankfully, some things are not forgotten.
Kate stood in the circle of people, watching the dancer. The drums grew louder and louder with each wild gyration he performed. They were outside and it was hot, unbearably so. But she couldn’t move, couldn’t force herself to look away from the dance nor escape from the circle or the heat. Suddenly the dancer grabbed her hand and led her to the centre of the circle. Kate stood alone, aware that all eyes were now on her. A tall dark woman with elaborate white markings covering her body stared at her. The dancer continued his exotic steps, this time around Kate. With each turn he ripped a piece of her clothing from her body until she stood completely naked. Kate tried to cover herself but the dancer took her arms and placed them by her side. She felt sweat trickling between her shoulders and down the small of her back; the heat was suffocating. Her head pounded along with the drums, the sound coming from all around her.
With a last flourish the dancer forced her to the ground and mounted her, at the same time speaking a language she didn’t understand. She looked up at the painted woman then dared to look down as he positioned himself on top of her. What she saw horrified her: a snake where his genitals should be. As the serpent entered her she screamed.
“Kate.” She was being rocked back and forth, the snake moving inside of her. Disgust filled her, along with fear, and she knew she would vomit. She tried to turn away from him, to get out from beneath him, her stomach closer and closer to expelling its contents.
“Kate!” More shaking and she sat up in bed, eyes wide, looking around the room, trying to catch her breath.
“You were having a nightmare. You screamed.”
“Where am I?”
She heard the puzzlement in Ian’s voice. “Home. In bed.”
Kate closed her eyes. It was a dream. Just a dream. But then why, if it wasn’t real, could she still feel something moving inside her?
Ian insisted on her staying home the next day, but Kate was excited about her new role, despite the exhaustion she felt. She signed the contract and was surprised by the salary, much more than she had expected. Immersing herself in learning about her new role, Kate convinced herself that she was fine, that the nausea she still felt was nothing more than nerves. But no matter how much she tried to hide it, Ian noticed.
“Something from your weekend away with Lucy?”
She shook her head. “Probably not.”
“Are you sure? A parasite maybe?”
“I don’t think there are any parasites in New Orleans,” she snapped. Seeing the look on Ian’s face, she immediately regretted it. “I’m sorry, I’m tired. New job and all.” She stood and cupped his face in her hands. “I love you. Don’t worry about me.” She placed a kiss on his forehead. “I’m off to bed.”
“Kate! Wake up!” She felt herself being shaken again and relief flooded her as she woke and saw Ian’s worried face looking down at her. “You were dreaming again.”
“Was I?” Kate felt the dream trying to lure her back.
“Judging by the scream a bloody bad one.”
“I screamed?” She thought back. “I was being chased, running from something. It wanted to kill me. There was a woman in the trees, she was laughing at me. I kept running and she kept appearing, closer to me each time. Then suddenly she was right in front of me.” Kate shuddered. “She was holding a head.”
“A head? Like, a human head?”
Kate nodded, unable to describe the horror of her dream. It was less the visual, although the severed, mutilated head made her feel ill. No, it was the feeling. The smell of the wet earth. The sound of the wind. The fear. She shivered and covered herself in blankets. “I can’t seem to get warm. Can we turn up the heat?”
Ian nodded and without a word went downstairs to the thermostat. When he came back there was a determined look on his face. “You’re going to the doctor tomorrow.”
She didn’t have the energy to argue.
“What?!” Ian chocked on his pasta.
“I’m pregnant. Having a baby.”
Ian jumped up, a look of confusion on his face. “You’re sure?”
Kate nodded. “I got the results from the doctor today.” She grabbed her glass of water from the table and held it in front of her. “Congrats, you’re going to be a daddy.”
Ian sat down again, shaking his head. “Pregnant?”
“With a baby.”
“Well, of course, what else would it be?” Ian remained silent. “Aren’t you happy?”
His face finally relaxed into a smile. “Of course I am, god, I’m ecstatic!” He rushed over to hold her and placed a hand on her belly. “A baby.”
Kate laughed. “Yes, a baby.”
After dinner they snuggled on the couch. Kate couldn’t remember a time when everything had been going so well. And that night, for the first time in a week, she had no dreams.
Over the next few months Kate worked at becoming an expert in her new role. She sat at her desk, her hand unconsciously cradling her swelling stomach. Still constantly exhausted, it took all of her resources to focus. During the day she grew into her management position; at night she prepared for their child and enjoyed Ian’s company. Her visits to the doctor raised no concerns; it was a normal pregnancy. Except for one thing she learned at her appointment that afternoon.
“I have news.”
“We’re having twins.”
The woman was back, decorated as usual. This time she held two snakes, one white and the other black. She twirled seductively, using the snakes as props and somehow coaxing them to sway along with her. She danced in a circle that had been painted on the floor, two elaborate symbols painted within the circle’s borders. Kate watched from outside the circle. There was no one else there.
Reaching down carefully, the woman placed the snakes on the ground, one inside each of the symbols. Kate watched, fascinated.
The snakes slithered toward each other, meeting in the middle. Kate was suddenly very afraid, although she didn’t know why. Something bad was about to happen, something she couldn’t stop. She could feel it inside.
In a flash of movement the black snake attacked, launching itself at the white snake. The white snake turned, desperate to protect itself but was too late: blood flowed from a large gash in its neck where the black snake had torn a piece of flesh out. As the white snake lay dying, the black snake began to swallow the body, ignoring the feeble thrashing of its prey. Soon it was over.
Kate could still hear the woman’s laughter long after she had woken.
“I had the strangest dream last night.” Kate was eating breakfast with Ian.
“You ARE pregnant. Probably all that bizarre food you’ve been eating.” He reached over to the corkboard and pulled a piece of paper from it. “Look at this grocery list: hot peppers, crawfish, garlic – and you put black pepper on your cereal yesterday.”
Kate shrugged. “I know. All this stuff used to give me the worst heartburn but these days I can’t seem to get enough.”
Ian frowned as she grabbed the hot sauce and added a generous amount to her coffee.
The months went by, season followed by season, and Kate grew larger and larger. Her dreams continued; sometimes mild and curious, but often too horrible to believe her own mind could come up with such images. She stopped mentioning them to Ian, convincing herself they were a result of the pregnancy, or the odd food she constantly craved. Surely that must explain them. Right?
Kate was part of a crowd of onlookers again, a circle of bodies tightly packed around a large stone table. The forest was filled with the sound of insects and animals although none revealed themselves. A smell of dark, damp soil that she had become used to permeated everything: the forest, her hair, her clothes, what little there was. All had the musty smell of death and decay.
The dark painted woman was there; she was always there, watching. She stood beside the table and with a glance at Kate, signalled to someone Kate couldn’t see. A moment later a young woman was led to the table, heavily pregnant. She stumbled a few times and was held up by one of the woman’s helpers. Her eyes were wide with fear and she was moving her lips but Kate couldn’t hear what she was saying. The woman was helped onto the table and tied down with ropes: feet, hands and neck. It seemed unnecessary as the young woman seemed unable to move but Kate soon understood the reason for the bindings.
The painted woman addressed the watching crowd then raised a knife in the air over her head, holding it with both hands. She began to chant and soon the crowd joined in, repeating the same phrase over and over. Kate tried to run but couldn’t. When she looked down at her feet she saw they had melted into the floor. She screamed but no sound came out. Looking back up she saw the dark woman staring at her, a small smile playing on her painted lips. Her chanting grew louder and the young pregnant woman on the table finally began to move, struggling to free herself of her bindings.
The chanting reached a crescendo and on the last syllable the dark woman plunged the knife into the pregnant woman’s belly. The young woman’s scream was inhuman; like an animal in pain, a demon escaping from hell. She tried to look away but felt an invisible pressure on the back of her head, forcing her to watch.
The dark woman laughed as she reached inside the young woman and brought out a deformed foetus, a pathetic mockery of a human. She held the creature in the air, laughing as the foetus mewled, mucus in its throat making a wet sound. Grabbing the knife once more, she cut the umbilical cord and licked the blood and tissue off of the knife-edge. Kate could see pieces of flesh in the dark woman’s teeth as she smiled broadly. She began to laugh again and Kate could hear whispering: foreign evil-sounding words.
The pain started at that moment and Kate grabbed her stomach, doubling over in agony. Suddenly the dark woman was standing in front of her, foetus held by the neck in one hand, knife at the ready in the other.
Kate woke screaming as the knife entered her stomach, the woman saying only one word to her: ‘Now’.
“Ian.” It was her turn to nudge him. She had lain awake after the dream, trying to calm her breathing when the pain hit again. “Ian! Wake up! It’s time.”
Ian rolled over, mumbling in his sleep. As another wave of pain washed over her Kate kicked her husband in the leg. “IAN!”
He was finally awake. “What? What is it? What’s wrong?”
She saw the look of understanding creep onto his face. “Now? You’re serious?” He leaped from the bed as he spoke. “Okay, right, we’re good, we’re good.” He was running around the room. “I’m ready, I’m ready.”
They got to the car and Kate was grateful the traffic was light. Reaching the hospital in record time Kate was quickly checked in and ushered into the delivery ward.
“Is dad coming in?” The nurse smiled at Ian.
Kate replied on his behalf. “Dad is not, dad faints at the sight of blood.” She laughed and then grimaced as another contraction gripped her. Through clenched teeth she continued. “Dad can’t even watch hospital shows on TV without feeling dizzy.”
“Right then, it’s just you and me.” The nurse winked at Ian and wheeled Kate through a door.
It was a quick birth with no complications. Within an hour of arriving at the hospital Kate’s family grew by two members: a boy and a girl, both healthy and loud.
“They’re beautiful.” Ian was looking from one to the other of his children.
“They’re perfect.” Kate smiled through her exhaustion.
“Have you thought of any names?” The nurse had come back in to check on Kate and the twins.
“I have.” She ignored Ian’s raised eyebrows. “Aaron and Maura.”
Ian smiled. “They’re beautiful.” He looked at the boy, light haired like himself. “Welcome Aaron.” Then to the girl, who’s patchy dark hair was similar to Kate’s. “And you, Maura. Welcome to the family.”
They remained like that in silence until the nurse interrupted. “Sorry dad, mum needs her sleep. As do the little ones.” She winked at Ian again. “Can you stand to be away for a while?”
Ian nodded and leaned over to place a kiss on Kate’s forehead. “I’ll go home and bring you a few things.”
Kate nodded, already falling asleep. She took one last look at her children before nodding off. It was the first night in months she slept peacefully, nightmare-free.
The years passed and the twins grew. Kate and Ian moved into a bigger house; Kate had gotten generous raises each year, along with a substantial annual bonus. The house suited them well: there was room for them all, with modern appliances and parking for both of their cars. The neighbourhood was upscale with a highly rated school just two blocks away.
Ian’s business thrived and Kate continued to excel in her managerial role, despite the constant exhaustion.
“You’re a working mother, of course you’re tired.” She was sick of people telling her this. “Are you getting enough sleep?”
Yes, actually, she was. Since the twins’ birth, she’d experienced no nightmares, or at least did not remember them, and had grown used to their absence.
Maybe those people offering unwanted parental advice were right: working and looking after twins WAS making her tired. It must be.
She was with the watching crowd again, standing in a circle around the stone table. The dark woman was there, leering at her with her white painted lips. There was no chanting this time, only signs made in the air above the table. The crowd’s silence was like a blanket of snow, and only their breathing could be heard.
A child’s wail made Kate’s heart ache, tears forming in her eyes. No. Please. But as soon as she spoke the words they were whipped away from her mouth. The woman laughed and showed Kate her clenched hand. When she opened it and blew on her palm Kate’s own words blew back in her face.
Tears stung her eyes as the child was brought out to the table. It was a newborn, it’s skin red and angry-looking. No bindings were needed for such a helpless creature.
The woman beckoned to Kate with a long painted finger. “Come.”
She couldn’t help herself; no matter how she tried to disobey the command, her body was not her own. It no longer followed Kate’s orders; rather it belonged to the dark woman entirely. She was handed a knife, a small sharp blade with a worn ivory handle. Once more her words were snatched from her mouth before she could voice them. She couldn’t even shake her head.
A gesture from the woman caused Kate’s hand lifted of its own accord. She tried to control it, tried to stab herself with the blade. She was rewarded with a mocking laugh and a finger wagging, no no. The hand continued to lift until Kate’s arm was fully extended, the knife pointing down at the child.
Please. No. The tears were streaming down her face, blurring her vision. But it was too late. Suddenly her arm plunged, burying the knife in the child’s chest. The child screamed in pain and began twitching, its small limbs convulsing. Withdrawing the blade Kate reached in with one hand and grabbed the tiny heart.
The painted woman laughed triumphantly and made another motion. Kate felt her hand move again. No no no no no. Her hand came closer and closer, the small bloody heart nearing her mouth.
Suddenly she had her voice. “NOOOOOOOOOO!”
Kate’s eyes flew open. She couldn’t catch her breath, she felt like she was suffocating. The room was pitch black and when she reached for Ian she found she couldn’t move. Her breathing grew worse as she tried to gulp in enough air. A moan escaped her lips when she discovered that her legs were useless to her as well.
“Ah, you’re awake.” A broad Creole accent came from somewhere in the dark. “Good.”
Kate rolled her eyes, frantically trying to determine the source of the voice. A voice that sounded so familiar to her.
A pale light flicked on and a face appeared above her, one she recognised instantly. She willed herself to move, her leg, her arm, anything. Nothing happened.
“You remember me, no?” The dark lady smiled. “Yes, I can see you do.” She moved away and the laughter that had haunted Kate for years assaulted her from the other side of the room.
Was this another dream? Without moving her head she looked around the room as best she could, rolling her eyes left and right. The room was empty; a single dirty bulb swinging from the ceiling caused shadows to play on the peeling walls. The smell of something rotting permeated the space, making Kate gag.
“No, chere. This is no dream. You are here. I am here.”
She can read my thoughts.
The silence lay heavy. Then, from the corner of the room, “Tch.” The face appeared above her again. “You still think this is a dream? You still think you can escape me?” She wagged a long finger. “No, not possible. You are mine.”
Kate’s mind raced. She thought of her children, her husband, her home.
“You think you have children? That this life you live is real? That you have a beautiful house and wonderful job? No chere. THAT was the dream.”
It wasn’t possible. Every part of her screamed that it wasn’t true. She thought of Ian.
“Ian will come to this city. He will hear that your friend returned without you and come looking.”
Lucy! The trip here with Lucy was years ago.
“No. Only yesterday. I took your friend’s memory, she will return remembering nothing of my shop or your visit here.” Marie stared into Kate’s eyes. “Nor of the grave insult you gave to my Loa.”
Kate’s eyes widened as understanding washed over her. But still she had to try. Ian will come.
“No one knows you came to my shop. No one will look here for you. No one.”
The truth violated her and her mind screamed. The twins, who she loved more than life itself, had never been born. Her relationship with Ian was as she had left it when she travelled to New Orleans, on the verge of collapse. She still had a job she hated. A house she hated. None of it had been real.
“Who is to say what is real and what is not, eh?” Marie laughed again and swept out of the room, leaving Kate’s mind to fall apart. After a while she returned, dressed in robes, face fully painted. A large man was with her. She motioned at Kate and the man picked Kate up, tossing her over his shoulder. She felt the pain of the treatment but still could not move.
They carried her outside. It was dark, a sliver of moon hanging in the sky. After half a mile they slowed and Kate was put on the ground, propped up against a tree trunk.
“Welcome to your new home.” Marie spread her arms wide.
Through the haze that had entered Kate’s mind she saw the dirt mounds, each one with a crude wooden cross at the head. Her eyes rolled wildly, still the only part of her body she could move. They were in a small hollow surrounded by a dense forest of dead and dying trees. The moon shone through the bare branches and in the diffused light Kate could see that many of the graves were fresh. All were ornamented; pictures, candles, and personal items adorning the spaces, the crosses heavy under the weight of crucifixes.
“You like your home? Good.” A terse word to her assistant and Kate felt herself being lifted once more. A few steps later she was placed in a box and a lid was nailed onto the top. Kate could see Marie’s triumphant face through the cross that was carved into the coffin lid.
“Au revoir, chere.” Marie’s painted lips parted into a smile.
It was the last thing Kate saw before the first shovelful of dirt hit the coffin.
Copyright Kelly Evans