The trio set out for New Orleans, from Savannah, at dawn. The sky was ablaze with gold and red.
“Red in the morning, Sailors take warning,” Paula quipped.
“I doubt we’ll be doing much sailing today, or any other day.” Bella countered wryly.
The road lead south, down I-95 to Brunswick, and then west, on US 82, to Waycross, and then continued west on US 84. There were pine trees and cypress swamps, but not much traffic. They took turns driving, with one of them able to stretch out on the backseat of the car to nap, but no one could sleep.
“We need gas, and I could use a bite to eat,” Paula said to no one in particular. Bella had been daydreaming. They had come into the town of Valdosta, and she had wondered about the old brick building downtown, and how they came to be built.
“I have to pee,” Bella said and Paula pulled over to a convenience store with bright lights and four rows of gas pumps. There was a smoothie shop there, as well as a fast food joint. It looked like a miniature strip mall. Bella went in and discovered the whole store was awash in commercialism. There were signs screaming about sales and specials and two for one deals. The bathroom was all the way in the back of the store, of course, and Bella knew this was no accident. Thankfully, the bathroom was clean, well lit, and smelled of recently maintenance. Bella opened one of the stalls to find a woman standing behind the door. She was a young black woman but she was covered in blood. There were bleeding wounds all over her body and blood gushed from her stomach.
“I’m Mary,” the woman said as Bella took a step back and stifled a scream. “I see you know me as I am. We have to talk. They’re waiting for you by the river, but I can get you past them.” Suddenly, Mary’s body was whole, and there was no blood anywhere.
“Okay,” Bella managed to say, but she really had to pee now.
“This is Mary Turner,” Bella said as she and Mary got into the car, “she was killed over one hundred years ago.”
“Murdered,” Mary corrected.
“Lynched, I believe,” Paula said as she looked back from the driver’s seat. “No one was brought to justice for your death, either.”
“Or that of my husband or my son,” Mary said, “but right now the three of you are in danger.”
“Is it more immediate than the danger behind us?” asked Ana.
“They’re waiting for you up ahead,” Mary said. “They know what path you’re taking and hope to cause some sort of traffic accident and kill you once you’re on foot.”
“Do you know a way around them?” Ana asked.
“Yes, those who oppose you are strong, but they cannot reach out against you inside the River Witch’s domain. We’ll pin them down by allowing them to know you’re close. Then we’ll confuse them as to where you’re headed next.” Mary explained.
“And we can trust you how?” Paula asked.
“Because if they wanted to ambush us they wouldn’t have sent anyone to lead us into where we were already going.” Ana said.
“Mary feels right,” Bella said at the same time.
“I drifted downstream after what happened to us,” Mary told them. “I took up at the bridge because I felt the witch there. She led me in, and asked that I leave, to find rest, but I wanted to help, in small ways if I could. They people started calling it “Spook Bridge” because good things happened, and that scared people. “
“Can we cross Spook Bridge?” Paula asked.
“No, it is not travel worthy,” Mary told them. “The witch will take us to the Spring, down in Florida, and you will be given safer transportation.”
“Why won’t they follow us?” Paula asked.
“They cannot,” Mary said with a smile. “They realize the witch calls the river home, but the road on the other side belongs to a Druid. He will hinder them as he can, and he can. They will sense the trap, certainly, but to go around is to lose much time, and they will.”
They drove down a paved road that looked all but abandoned, and turned off another than looked worse. That road led to a dirt road, which eventually turned into a path, and that path led to a small house, with odd sculptures in the yard. The sculptures were of wood, and represented animals; there was a large cat, a wolfish looking dog, an eagle, and an animal that resembled a snake, but it had small legs. They then saw a small person tending a fire near the edge of the river.
“Do not speak to the witch!” Mary warned. “The spell she casts may require silence. When she speaks do not interrupt. She is a kindly soul, but this is a trial for her, and she will demand only silence as payment.”
“Will you introduce us?” Ana asked, but Mary had disappeared.
They turned the car off and approached the fire, silently, Ana and Bella holding hands, and Paula walking behind them. As they neared the fire they could still make out no features of the witch, if she was young or old, black or white, or anything, but she was a small person, as if she were a young teen. They heard voices swirling in the wind, but there was no one else there. A large dog, furry yet well groomed came out of the woods followed by an orange cat that beside any other animal would have looked huge. The witch then spoke:
“My cards tell me your protector reaches out to you, and that those who would harm you feel that reach, and they mean to stop you from your path. Evil needs no reason, it despises reason, just as it despises love, but your protector is not without friends, and acts out of love. That is a call many will answer for no other reason that it is what we do. The Earth needs humans who love, and there are so very few who do.” The witch turned and suddenly her face was clear. She was a very pale woman, who might have been thirty, or eighty, for even though her face was lined, she wore a large smile. “My name is Sadie. I am the witch of this part of the river, as it allows me to be. I will help you. You need food. And you need rest. Before the sun rises you must be on your way, and before noon tomorrow you must be on the road again, and travel fast. Those who hunt you know your destination, and they mean to murder you.”