Halloween 2019 The Flood. The End

8

They found the apartment complex three blocks away. It also had not been repaired, yet not demolished. The front door was open, as if someone was expecting them.

“Sixth floor, right turn at the top of the stairs, we used to race up the stairs trying to beat the elevator, Daddy carrying us both, but Mom always got there way ahead of us,” Ana said.

“I don’t remember that.” Bella said.

“Let’s go find out if Michael does,” Paula suggested, and they entered the building.

The stairway was totally dark and the sisters walked up the steps first, holding hands. Paula walked behind them and said, “Nothing that speaks to you first will harm you. They are weak and can only frighten you. Do not allow them inside your mind!”

The sisters closed their eyes and counted steps. Eight steps, turn, eight steps, turn, eight steps, turn, with a larger flat area at each floor. They heard voices, the voices of children now, screaming at them, “Go away!” the voices yelled, “You abandoned him!” “You left him alone!” but the sisters kept going, and they heard the steps of Paula behind them. There was nothing else but the sound of the voices and the blackness of the steps.

“This is the sixth floor,” Paula whispered as the sisters stopped. Ana put her hand out and pushed the door of the stairwell and it swung open.

The doors to all the apartments were open, allowing light to flood into the building. The women blinked at the brightness. “Which one did you live in, Bella?” Paula asked.

“This way,” Bella whispered. “Something is wrong here. This place. I remember it. But something is wrong.”

“I feel it,” Ana said.

“Here,” Bella said. “This one.”

“Is this the apartment where your parents lived?” asked Paula.

“Yes,” Bella said and she went through the door. Before Paula could move or speak, Bella closed the door behind her, and Paula heard the click of the lock.

“Come, we have to do this,” Ana told her, “we lived next door.”

“Bella?” Paula asked,

“Michael is here,” Ana said. “and this is the way it has to be done. Come, the apartment next door is where we have to be.”

The apartment was stripped bare, to the concrete walls and floors, and there was nothing inside. The only light was from the open space of the balcony where a glass door might have once stood.

“We have to go out on the balcony,” Ana said. “You have to do as I tell you to do.”

They went out on the balcony and saw Bella walk out on the balcony of the apartment next door. There was a gap between the two balconies, maybe two or three feet, and Paula felt her fear of high places taking over.

“That rail,” Paula said, “it’s corrupt, the metal rusted, it will crumple.”

“Stand there, please,” Ana said and she pointed to a point neat the edge of the balcony, close to the rail closest to the other apartment’s balcony.

“I understand now why we have the same memory, Ana,” Bella called out.

“Yes, I see it, too.” Ana replied.

“What?” Paula looked down and saw the drop of seventy or eighty feet. Her head swam.

“The night of the flood,” Ana began, “we came out here on the balconies, Bella was standing right there where she is standing now, and she looked over to this balcony. I was standing where you are standing now, Paula. We were tiny children, no more than three years old. But my memory is of seeing a child, an infant, and Bella’s memory is the same. I always assumed we remembered each other. But Bella’s memory is of me being picked up by Michael, and my memory is of Bella being picked up by Michael. Both of our memories are of Michael, picking a baby up, someone standing where I am right now.”

“I don’t understand,” Paula said.

“Michael was my brother,” Bella called out. “And we both loved Ana. I remember this, but there was something else.”

“Neither Bella nor Michael were born of the same blood as I,” Ana said, “but Michael always loved is both equally.”

“Because he loved someone else, much more,” Michael said as he walked out on the balcony with Ana and Paula.

“I’m surprised you made it this far,” Michael said. “I’ve done terrible things to buy the allegiance of many creatures. They should have gotten to you before you left Georgia.”

“Those who helped us did so out of a need to help others,” Paula told him, “that cannot be bought.”

“You had to be taken,” Michael said, “for the ritual to work. You could not come here freely. And the ritual would be worthless unless you were both adults. It’s Halloween night, and if I cannot bring her back tonight I must wait another year. I am tired of waiting.”

“Who?” Paula asked.

“My sister,” Ana replied. “My twin.”

“Yes,” replied Bella. “I remember now.”

“The night of the flood we were told not to come out on the balcony but we did anyway. The rain had stopped, but the waters were rising ever faster.” Ana said.

“We were afraid,” Bella said, “we children, that we would be separated. Ana and I shared a bond, even then, and we both shared that bond with…”

“Dana,” Michael snarled. “Only Ana refused to share her with me. Ana did things, even as a small child, to keep Dana and I apart.”

“You were six,” Paula said, “and she was three?”

“I felt it,” Michael said, “we were meant to be together, even at birth I waited for her.”

“Dana knew Michael’s jealousy was toxic, even as a small child.” Ana said. “And the night of the flood, as our parents made ready for our escape from the flood, Michael took Dana.”

“I thought I was taking you, she pretended to be you,” Michael screamed. “I threw her off the balcony to get her for myself. But she pretended to be you.”

“You all were little kids,” Paula said, “there’s no way you had these feelings and memories.”

“We were always different,” Bella said, “we were always more in tune with the world around us than other kids, or even other adults.”

“But now, if I kill you both, and of course, you too,” Michael grinned at Paula, I can bring her back. She will live in Ana’s body, and the rest of you can wander or leave this earth, but…”

“I never left, Michael,” Ana said. “It’s me, Dana. I’ve had to stay hidden all this time, I didn’t want anyone to know what you did. The night you accidently murdered me, I took over Ana’s body. You have no idea how hard it’s been to stay hidden from you, but we have to get rid of everyone who knows. Our parents still believe I was simply lost in the flood, but now, even they won’t be able to stop…”  Ana stepped towards Michael and pushed him hard. Michael’s arms windmilled, he reached for Ana and missed.

All three women rushed to where the rail had broken. Michael’s body lay on the ground below, motionless.

“He’s dead,” Ana said.

“Yes,” replied Bella.

“And now, his spirit will pay the price for summoning those he used to hunt us.” Paula added. “I think we better leave.”

 

A little more than three years later, Paula scrolled through her phone, looking at potential renters. The sisters were graduating in a couple of weeks and would be gone. Then again, Paula felt that any other set of tenants might be. . . boring. Perhaps, yes, maybe, it was time. The witch had offered her a place in her house, and the two of them were getting closer to being friends than she had ever hoped.

“You want to move to the river, Dana?” Paula asked the large black cat that she had picked up after Brody died last year. Had Dana, the dead sister,  haunted her sisters, and Michael all these years unnoticed, or had Dana returned to the right place at the right time? Or had Ana been faking it until she could get Michael to let his guard down. She might not ever know. They had never spoken of it again.

“Let’s go down to the river, cat,” Paula said, “and see if we can be of some use to the living there.”

 

end

 

Halloween 2019 The Flood Part Seven

7

It took four long hours to get to New Orleans, but somehow, they lurched and sputtered their way until they reached the city. All three women were slightly seasick from the effort.  They took a very long lunch and decided to keep to the back roads, and out of sight as much as possible.

“Where are we going now?” asked Paula.

“We really don’t know,” replied Ana, “we have to make it back to the apartment building where we once lived. We can sense it, almost smell it, but at the same time, until we are actually standing in front of the place it all began, we won’t know that we’re there.”

“Let’s take a right at the next light,” Bella offered.

“The last time we were there we were infants escaping from a flooded city with our parents, in rubber boats. There were so many people trapped by the water, and so many people who lost their humanity and some who lost their lives.” Ana said.

“Stop!” Bella said loudly. “I remember that building.”

The edifice was a decaying monster at the edge of town. Windblown and battered by storms, it had never been repaired and never been torn down. The windows were boarded up, but the barricade that shuttered the front door had been removed by the homeless people in town.

“We sheltered in the third floor of that building until the Red Cross came. There were many people who were there, and some never left. They thought it was safe, but the water rose.” Ana whispered.

“I remember,” Belle said.

“Then we are close?” asked Paula.

“Very.”

They entered the lobby of the building as rat scurried away and pigeons cooed overhead. The first three floors of the building had collapsed into rubble, and going further meant climbing over the debris.

“Something was wrong,” Ana said. “When we arrived here. Something was wrong. Someone was missing.”

“I remember,” Bella said.

“Our parents where here, Michael was here,” Ana looked around. “We stayed on the fourth floor, it was crowded, people were screaming and crying, and it was dark. Some people had flashlights.”

“Yes,” said Bella.

“You should not have returned to this place,” a man’s voice called from above. “You should have forgotten everything, and stayed away. This is New Orleans. The dead are buried above ground to keep their souls from leaving. Everyone who dies here stays.”

“Lies,” Paula called back. “Lies and more lies. You cannot frighten us. If you had more than your voice you wouldn’t bother to speak.”

“I was shot in the head while trying to get my baby’s clothes out of our apartment. They called me a looter. I was thrown into the water and my family never heard from me again.” The man said, and they could hear him making his way down, jumping from floor to floor. “Now people like you who have lost so little return to find what? Justice in some fashion? The pieces of a puzzle?” the man stepped out into the light and all three women recoiled. The top part of his head was missing.

“Why are so many trying to stop these girls from coming here?” Paula demanded. “Why is it so important for them to stay away? Who is afraid of what they will find? What will they find?”

“’Lies and more lies’” the man laughed. “You know what they’re looking for. They know. Everybody knows why they’re here. The dead don’t leave this city. The drowned don’t drift downstream. You brought them here to find out the truth, but what is the truth? I got shot trying to steal a widescreen, or I got shot trying to help my people. What makes you think the dead are more honest than the living?” He stepped back into the shadows and backed away.

“You girls go on back home now,” he called as he slipped away. “You know the truth. Live with it. I got to live with the idea that my people won’t know what happened to me. You don’t go back to the living once you’re dead, you know better than that, over here. They got to move on, and I know I should too, but there’s something I ain’t done, maybe this is it. But I was helping my people, I was getting clothes for the baby. I was doing right, but after I got all I could there was more just sitting there. I heard the voices of those that didn’t make it telling me I could have it. They knew where the snipers were and led me into the sights of those Army rifles. Yeah, yeah, most people that linger are trying to make things right but how they see the world set right ain’t like it ought to be, and I’m dead proof of that. You don’t belong here. I don’t either. Maybe if you leave I will, too. But you know the truth. You know why this is happening.” The man stopped speaking and they were about to turn and leave when he continued.

“Don’t hold up living because you remember the dead,” he told them, “that’s why we never go back. That’s why you ought’a leave now.”

 

They made their way back to the car but Ana stopped when she got to the door. “I think we should walk from here. It’s a few blocks, but we need to let them know we aren’t afraid. We go into this fearless and it will make them leave us alone. I’m through running. I’m done being scared of what was and what might happen. Let them come. Let’s face them. Let’s go find out why this is happening, and who is behind it all.”

“Okay,” Bella replied. “I’m with you.”

“I think it’s a mistake, but from what I’ve learned today, not going in like this might be worse.” Paula replied. “Let’s roll.”

 

End seven.

 

Halloween 2019 The Flood Part Six

Sadie took a branch from the fire and held it over her head.  The words she spoke were loud, echoing, and harsh. The sisters flinched at the noise, but Paula noticed that Sadie was not done. The witch thrust the stick into the river and steam rose from it, as if the water was boiling. Sadie withdrew the stick and fog issued from the river like blood from a wound. The fog boiled out, thicker, heavier, and Paula saw there were many places in the river now, all of them getting more and more dense.

“I have asked for help,” Sadie whispered, “there are answers to my call.”

The fog totally enveloped the river, and the land surrounding the bank. Neither the sisters nor Paula could see anything.

“Come, it is safe to travel in this now,” Sadie said, and from the stick a low light appeared, glowing red like a coal. The cat lead the way, and the dog followed.

“We’re walking on the river?” Paula asked, and immediately wished she had not spoken.

“The river is carrying us,” Sadie replied. “Do not speak to anyone you see! Do not answer any voice! Do not cringe from any act that is shown!”

They heard screams, of men and of women, and they heard children crying. A man splashed through the water, his eyes wide, his face contorted, but something dragged him back to the bank. There were the sounds of people singing, Gospel music, and they saw the glow of a fire, and a body hanging from a tree near it, they saw a bridge, and watched as a body fell from the bridge but there was no sound of it hitting the water.

“Look!” whispered Bella, “under the water! I see people down there!”

And indeed, when they looked down under their feet they saw a crowd of people, unrecognizable, faceless, blurry, yet still human, as if the people were just a few feet underneath where they stood.

“Those are the lost ones. The souls who refuse to rest. Murdered, abandoned, wronged in their own lives, they seek not revenge, no, why would they do that? They seek to ease your passage, and prevent more wrong. They seek to thwart evil. Will our quest be enough? Will your lives, if saved, offer them solace? Do not ask! Speak no more!”

The fog roiled and swirled in front of them but total blackness followed. Sadie cried aloud, strong and powerful words, and there were many answers from either side of the river, now totally hidden from view. The sisters clasped hands and closed their eyes, and when they opened them again, the fog was totally gone.

 

There were lights, city lights, and there was the smell of salt air. Sadie was gone, as was the river, and the sounds, and the fog. Instead, a young man stood in front of them.

“Welcome to Africatown,” the man said.

“We’re in Africa?” Paula asked.

“No, Mobile Alabama,” the man replied, “you were brought here by many who deemed your lives worthy of saving, for those who oppose you are very evil. It is here that the last slaves to be brought to America settled, and have lived for many generations. But you cannot stay. There is a truck waiting. From here you will be taken to New Orleans. Those who have pursued you now realize they have underestimated, uh, the situation. That mistake will not be granted to you again. You must hurry. At this point, you are far ahead, but there is no guarantee that you will gain the shores of the Mississippi before you are caught.”

The man led them to a truck, old and dilapidated, and helped them get into the back. He pulled a tarp over the back of the truck and tied it down. “There is food and water aplenty,” he told them, “your next stop will be in one hour, after you are safely on the road. After that, there will be little time for rest. Bella pulled the tarp back in time to see the first ray of sunlight come through the clouds, and the man disappeared with the light.

“Mary Turner was black, the man who helped up onto the truck was black, do all black people become ghosts or something?” Bella asked.

“No, Bella,” Paula replied, “those who have died in the cause of injustice may or may not linger. Mostly, those who are treated harshly by those around them are the young, the old, and the poor. The poor are mistreated for most of their lives, and many suffer in silence, and most of those leave this realm as soon as they can. But the voices from the shores of the river, those under the water who carried us, mostly they are the very poor who have lived in this land, and who were abused by those with more power. The last slaves of Mobile clearly heard of us, and reached out to bring us here. Mary might have spoken for us, or they might have had reasons we cannot know yet. But the forces that follow us are powerful, and it is usually the very poor, and the very weakest, who will give the most of what they have to save strangers, while those with power, and those with much, horde their wealth, and will punish any who stray near it. It has always been so, as long as there is money, there will be greed. There will always be someone with the power to hurt others, and they will.”

They rode in silence until the truck stopped and they were allowed to walk around a bit, and stretch their legs. Their driver did not speak to them but as they stood watching, he disappeared as if he were made of smoke. Paula got into the cab of the truck then called out.

“Can either of you drive a stick shift?” Paula asked.

“No,” replied Bella.

“A what?” Ana asked.

 

End six

 

 

Halloween 2019 The Flood Part Five

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.”

 

End five.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Halloween 2019 The Flood Part Four

“That man was drawn to where we were,” Ana told Paula once they returned.

“It wasn’t that he followed us; he was sent, or compelled,” Bella added.

“Michael?” Paula asked.

“No, Michael has always gone out of his way to protect us both, he always has, and he’s sworn to life his life in our defense. When our father split the family up, Michael took it hardest. It was one thing for us to be apart from one another, but it was another issue for Michael to be bereft of fulfilling his oath to us. When we were children he was like a guard dog. Michael’s dedication to us was one of the things that allowed us to draw closer together,” Ana said.

“So there is an outside force trying to keep the three of you apart?” Paula asked as she looked at the deck of cards in front of her. “And you believe your reading in the graveyard triggered some force to be sent after you?”

“Yes,” Ana said, “and the mark on the door might well be some sort of device to let those who will do us harm find the two of us. As long as we aren’t using our energy here to fight back I suspect we cannot be found. This is a very personal thing for someone. My father may now have some ally who is more in tune to the Earth than he ever was before.”

“But is he Michael’s biological father?” Paula asked. “You and Bella both refer to both sets of parents as your own. It’s hard for me to keep up with who is who, if you two are not really blood sisters.”

“It’s sometimes hard for us to sort out ourselves.” Ana replied. “We spent a lot of time in a refugee camp after the flood. All of us lived under the same roof in the same trailer.  But the reality of it is that Michael and Bella share a last name. Mine is different. There’s nothing we know for certain past that fact. We both have suspected that my father actually is the blood father of all three of us, or my mother is the blood mother of all three of us. Or both.  Our memories are the same, as if we were the same person. That’s something that is really hard to explain.”

“The University left me an email,” Ana continued, “as we suspected, there isn’t a crime they can charge us with, but they’re kicking me out of the dorm, which will cut off Dad’s overview of me. He will have to act to regain control, but as long as you allow us sanctuary here, there’s nothing he can do about it. Legally, at seventeen, he can’t force my return.”

“If he’s a part of this,” Bella said seamlessly, “he will try to extort Ana’s return in some way, and if he can coax Michael to return with him then we have to follow. But Michael has been through very much in the last for years. He may not have adapted the power yet, but that does not make our brother defenseless. Michael is known for violence.”

“Would he harm your father?” Paula asked.

“Yes,” both answered as one.

“Michael once hacked into my high school’s computer system to find one of the teachers who was trying to force her religion on me.” Ana said. “We created a police file that implicated her in a child porn ring. None of it was true, and none of the charges stuck, but the woman was suspended for well over a year. I was well on my way of ridding myself of her in a way that would not have required such dramatic action, but the point was made.”

“You think Michael might have hacked into the University’s security system to hide his mark on the door?” Paula asked.

“No,” said Bella, “that would have, I think, been over his head, and it would have eventually led back to us. I think that symbol was not from Michael. I think it has something to do with our father.”

“So, I suspect the two of you have an idea of sorts for resolution to all of this already?” Paula wondered what it might be, and wondered if she had seen only the tip of the iceberg in what might happen.

“We have to return to the site of the flood that happened in 2005. There we’ll be able to tap into some of the original energy that gave us our power. There’s something there that we have to find, and maybe something there will find us. If we go, Michael when sense that we are there,” Ana said.

“Michael will join us, and for once and for all, we three will be at ground zero of our joining. We have to return to New Orleans, to the site where we were all joined as one in the flood.”

 

End part four.

 

 

Halloween 2019 The Flood Part Thee

“Apparently little Miss Cheerleader decided to try Bella’s advice,” Ana began, “and when she took the Black Cohosh, she took about ten times as much as recommended on the label and got sick as a dog. That may or may not have caused the miscarriage, but she was only three weeks in so there’s no way to tell.”

“That’s going to be a difficult charge to get you kicked out of school for, certainly,” Paula said, “so I feel like there’s more. I’ll get tea, this is going to take a while, isn’t it?”

“Yep!” the sisters said in unison.

“Someone burned a symbol into the door my dorm room, Paula,” Ana said as she sipped the tea.

“It’s a symbol that isn’t well known, and only three people know what it means,” Bella said, “four now that we’re telling you.”

“And we have always wondered why Michael choose it.” Ana said.

“Yes, but what is it?” Paula asked.

“It’s the symbol for the Quaternary knot.” Bella told her. “Michael said that when we three were together we began one, which meant there were really four of us, but now we’re wondering if somehow you’ve been pulled into this.”

“You think Michael put the symbol on the door?” Paula asked.

“If he didn’t there wouldn’t be anyone who knew its meaning to us, a random act of vandalism seems unlikely,” Ana replied.

“But there’s nothing on the security feed.” Bella said, “And they’ve got security on 24/7 in that place. Someone smelled smoke and they found the symbol on the door a few minutes after that.”

“You two were here,” Paula said, “and we can prove it!” She announced this with no small amount of authority.  They all laughed, but the idea that someone had burned the symbol into the door without being seen bothered each of them.  Paula headed to bed after tea and left the sisters to themselves.

“You dad will hear about this, and he might decide to come get you.” Bella finally said. “Let’s get the rest of your stuff and leave.”

“And abandon school?” Ana shook her head. “Get jobs waiting tables and scaring the fuck out of the locals until one or both of us winds up in jail? No thanks. We have to stay. No matter what else happens we still have to operate in this world.”

“Do you think your dad might have done it?” Bella asked. “He might have seen Michael use the symbol before.”

“No, dad is more direct,” Ana replied as she got up to pace. “He’d use a hammer not a scalpel.”

Without talking about they rose and left Paula’s house and went to the dorm. There other girls were already whispering about the sisters but they were accustomed to that. No matter where they had lived, who they were or what they were was always the subject of debate. They looked at the symbol on the door; it looks like someone had taken a very hot piece of metal and pushed it deep into the wood, branding it.

“Looks like Michael’s work,” Ana said.

“Still, does he know enough to come and go without being seen?” Bella asked, “he’s always respected power but he’s never used it.”

“He knows we’re here,” Ana said. “He’ll find us. We have to be ready for whatever condition his mind is in.”

“Or not in,” Bella smiled grimly, as she traced the scorched wood with one finger.

“Let’s go,” Ana said.

The walk back to Paula’s led them past a graveyard, so they went in, without a word. Ana pulled her cover out, and spread it over the ground, while Bella lit four small candles. They shuffled the deck of cards, passing the cards back and forth between one another, and finally laying the ten cards out, and waiting. Somewhere in the night, a bird flew, an owl or some other creature that hid from the day.

“The Protector,” Ana said, as she turned over the card, “we’re being watched, but we’re being watched over.”

“Good, very good sign,” Bella added.

They waited, and finally they heard the sound of a branch falling, and Bella turned over the next card.

“Heath passing, from someone near, but not death,” Bella said.

“The card is influenced by the next two,” Ana said, “but we must stop now. Someone is coming.”

Bella blew the candles out and they heard a man’s voice cursing. “Fucking witches!” he called out. “Where are you?’

The man stumbled in the dark and hurt his leg, “I better not lose a scholarship because of you two cunts!” he yelled.

He saw a brief flash of light, and then saw a candle being lit. He charged towards the light.

“Oh there you . . .” he stopped when he saw the candle resting on a tombstone, with an empty glass jar lying next to it.

“Your mind is that jar,” Bella called from darkness. “You will forget things. You will not remember things as you should. “

“Fucking whores,” the man shouting, “I got something for you both. Bev says you told her she was pregnant and gave her poison to kill my kid.” The man laughed. “Maybe I ought to pay you for that one, but I can’t have people saying witches killed my kid.”

“What you hold most dear will now leave you, and it will go slowly, like water evaporating in that jar. When the time comes for you to calm your anger, and accept your role in this, then you will be allowed to apologize to us, and we will lift the curse. I should warn you that if you wait too long, some of it may longer for a very long time.”

“What in the fuck is that supposed to mean?” the man asked, but he sounded less sure of himself.

“Look up the phases of the moon,” Ana said. “when the same phase is active again, in 28 days, return here. You will bring an offering. We may release you.”

“I’m the backup quarterback for the team,” the man shouted, “I’ll find you can I’ll share you with my friends!” But there was no one there to answer him. On his way back to the dorm he forgot where he lived, but it came back to him, eventually.

 

End part three

 

 

 

 

 

 

Halloween 2019: The Flood Part Two

 

 

The sisters went about their business of attending classes, and in the spaces in between, met in the dorm room to study.  Then went home to work in the garden, and it gauge if Paula could be trusted, and to what extent that trust might run deep, or not at all. Finally, after a week of using the internet to gather what information they could, and using time in the garden to seek out Paula’s mind and spirit, the sisters sat down to have dinner with her one night,

“You haven’t asked us anything that you want to know, Paula,” Ana began, “but we need your help. I think it’s time we exchanged information.”

“I hate to sound self-absorbed, Young One,” Paula began, “but I do sense there is peril in this for me. You two are trying to track someone down who very well might want to be left alone, and in trying to find this person, you might well anger him, or her. Could this not be something that you simply left be as it is? Sometimes we have to do that, you know.”

“We, Bella and I, do not completely understand what has happened or why it has happened.” Ana said.  “We lived next door to one another, in New Orleans. In September of 2005, a hurricane hit and the city was flooded. We were both very young, only three years old. Yet something happened during that flood. Our parents have hidden the truth from us. We have a brother, I have a brother, actually. Michael. Something happened in the flood that affected his soul and spirit very deeply. We seek to find him, and if we can, heal his wounds.”

“How is it Michael is hidden from you?” Paula asked suddenly. “You both seem very intuitive.”

“Our brother was our protector and our guardian, Paula,” answered Belle, “and as we grew up together he was always at our sides. But our parents began to worry that the three of us were too close, and that we were unnatural. When we turned fourteen, they separated us, my parents moved to Savannah, while Ana and Michael stayed in New Orleans. It was a given we could communicate without any device known to our parents, but Michael considered our separation to be a personal failure. He was three years older than we, and he left one day, and no one had seen him since. Ana’s parents had the ways and means to get her into any college on earth, but I had to work hard to get into Florida State. There, we knew we could learn more about how to navigate the laws that hid the past from us. The natural laws we already knew, but there is much to fear from the canons that man has set to guard the past.”

Paula seemed preoccupied with her salads and the sisters let time pass without hurry.  Finally, Paula asked, “Your parents, do they know you are together again?”

“My mother’s mind has left her,” Ana said, “but my father still tries to control me.”

“My parents will go to any length to keep us apart,” Bella replied, “we would like to discover why.”

“Do you have any memories of your early youth?” Paula asked.

“More than you could ever realize,” Ana said.

“More than we should,” said Bella.

Ana’s cell phone chirped and all three women startled. “It’s from the University!” Ana said, “They want me to report to the Dean’s Office today, as soon as possible!”

Paula waited for the two young women to return and wondered what she was getting into. For years, she had rented out the upstairs apartment to serious students and even a musician or two. Now these two, and Paula grinned. They were twins, certainly. Both had that strong jawbone, high cheeks, jet black hair, pale skin that spoke of genetics rather than the lack of sunlight, and both were exactly the same height. Not twins? Paula wondered why two sets of parents had told these two they were not related. Did the father of one bed the mother of the other? That might explain it.

“Brody come down and speak with me about our guests!” Paula called out, but she knew Brody would take his time. Eventually, there was a thump as he landed and a moment later Brody sat in her lap, purring.

“But what if they are not actually sisters but still related?” Paula asked Brody. “They might share a grandmother, that would explain a few things, yes, more likely but not altogether the whole picture. Who is their brother? I’ll bet you a can of tuna he looks like neither of the girls in any way at all. I’ll bet you two more than he’s been keeping up with them from a distance.” Paula waited an hour or so and then scooted Brody to the floor. She might be over sixty but she knew her way around Google as well as any of these young creatures these days. Later, perhaps, she would dig her cards out, she hadn’t done that in decades. But these two had been brought to her for a reason, and she would be better served to know by whom and why, before it landed on her.

There was a knock on the door, loud and frantic, Paula pulled up the feed on her hidden camera and saw the sisters. She let them in and they rushed past her and went to the kitchen table without a word.

“They want me kicked out of Florida State,” Ana said.

“My Dog why?” Paula asked.

“Witchcraft,” grinned Bella.

 

End part two.

 

The Woman on Treadmill #8

 

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“I fell asleep during sex once,” she said in the dark, “and when I woke up I realized he hadn’t noticed.”

After twenty years of marriage, three kids, and seeing one of them off to college and the other two in High School, she and her husband sat down on night and divided the assets. She got the house, the place where the kids would all return to, like ghosts with growing pains, who were the first to notice their family was dying. She had been an eighteen year old, right out of high school and he was the boy she fell in love with. They spent four years in poverty with two kids until he graduated from college with a degree in business and he did well for her, and the kids. She wanted the big house by the man made lake with the man made cookie cutter subdivision, the soccer mom thing, and that was exactly what she got. It was perfect. Or at least it looked perfect, and that was, after all, enough.

They both agreed, no dating until everything was final, and no bringing home one night stands around the kids. It was a surreal conversation she told me, because it had been nearly twenty years since anyone but her husband had seen her naked. After three kids and twenty years of going to the gym a few times a year, she realized there was a lot of work to be done before she could think about a lover that didn’t have a wall charger.

 

He was cheating, had a girlfriend, she was certain of it, but he was discreet as hell, and never brought it home with him in any way. He was a good father, and a good person. They still went to church together, still socialized with the same people, still attended school functions as one, but that was going to end, and this was his way of telling her he would be taking someone else to those events. She wanted to care. She wanted to be hurt by being replaced. She wanted to feel something, rage, anger, sorrow, anything, by losing this man, but there was nothing there at all.

She had cried, silently, alone, while sitting in the minivan. It had been their first family car, twenty years ago, and it had lasted five years, but it was time for an upgrade. But this vehicle had been solid and reliable transportation for all the kids, even the newborn, her last, she knew, and this car bore witness to her transformation from a young woman to a mom. He never noticed the tears or if he did, knew better to ask unless he wanted to hear about it, and he didn’t.

 

They approached child raising as two people committed to crisis management. The constant pressure of food, clothing, waste, entertainment, training, education, and the limited amount of time in each day left them both seeing the other as a co-worker, or wait staff, someone friendly only because that was part of the job. It wasn’t always like that, she said, her voice catching on words she had never spoken aloud before, but it sank, slowly, no matter how hard they bailed the water out of the boat. Bills, school programs, sleep overs, the never ending need for more stuff and more room, and suddenly, he was sleeping on the bean bag in his office a couple of times a week, and to her this was glorious. She had her tubes tied after the last child, and he had a vasectomy. She knew what it meant, but she didn’t care anymore. Tying her tubes mean she would never have to go through this again, after this kid was old enough, her time as a mom to little kids would end. That was something she looked forward to, with glee, and dreaded.

 

Emily, the youngest child, a strange creature who entered high school with perfect grades and a love for Saturday morning cartoons, was a year younger than her classmates, jumped two grades, but light years ahead of everyone. She was the one who sat her parents down and said, “Fix it or fuck it, but don’t fucking rot for it.”

 

But it was already gone, and it had been. They sat down one rare night with all the kids gone and drank two bottles of wine. They split up assets and decided he would leave, take his truck, take the guns, except her pistol, leave the two dogs and the cat, take the boat, please for the love of God take the fucking boat, and then it was a question of small things, who got the good cooler, and who would get the nice plates. He was a nice person. He would get a place of his own, big enough for the kids to come and go, and he wouldn’t take anything she needed, he would get new stuff, and she was good with that. The old stuff comforted her. She didn’t like change, and realized that was part of the reason he was still in the same house as she was but then suddenly he was gone.

Her friends threw a party for her. It was fun. She had forgotten fun. She laughed and drank too much, and listened to women who had gone through this process describe what sex was like the first time after the marriage was gone. After everyone had left she looked at the woman standing naked in front of the mirror and wondered if she could get a man drunk enough to sleep with her. It was time to start training her body to do more than drive a taxi for the kids.

 

The younger women had perfect bodies and merciless souls. All of them were molded from the purest clay, and some of them, even those who were still in their late teens, had implants. Or at least they looked like they did. Most of them shaved their pubic hair, and she still looked like she was giving birth to a wooly mammoth. There was spin classes, and boot camp classes, and Yoga classes, and she threw herself into fitness as an escape from her life, which still required her to be the mom, but now with one kid who had his own car, and another who was independent of all things human, she had time. But she didn’t know what to do with those hours that occurred when she was alone.

 

“I think you have my keys,” she said to me. I was on treadmill # 8 and she was standing here beside it, looking a little embarrassed.

“I have your keys?” I asked, slowing the machine down to a walk. “Did you leave them at my house last night?”

“God no, I mean I think they’re in the cup holder of the machine,” she laughed and blushed.

I looked in the cup holders. No keys.

“You have beautiful eyes,” I told her, “and a good laugh.”

“Thank you, may I have my keys?” she said, but she was smiling.

“They aren’t here,” I told her.

“You’re messing with me,” she laughed, “come on, I have to pick my daughter up.”

“Here,” I said, and I cut the machine off and stepped to the other side. She got on the treadmill and picked my keys up but hers was not to be found.

“Are you married?” I asked.

“No,” she said, looking at her left hand. The smiling stopped. “I have to go.”

 

“I’m pushing forty,” she said the first time we were alone. “I’ve had three kids, eaten junk food for dinner three times a week for twenty years. There’s a dozen women in that building who are my age that look a lot better. You’re going to get scared off once you see me nude.”

“So you’re telling me I’m going to see you nude?” I leered at her, and she laughed hard. More than anything else, she told me later that night, she missed someone who could make her laugh.

 

“I met my husband’s girlfriend at his place one day,” she said, the flickering candle the only light in the room. “She wasn’t the young bimbo type at all. I feared that. I was afraid he’s go out and find someone who would take him for a ride. But she was about my age, and had been around the block once or twice. It was a little awkward, to see the two of them sitting together on the new sofa, and I could tell she had spent the night. She was really civil to me, very well mannered, but this was her turf, and that was her man now. She asked me if it was okay if she got Emily a leather bound set of Harry Potter for Emily’s birthday, and I told her I thought it was perfect. That was when I decided to start looking for someone, too. If he could do that well, hell, there was no telling who I might find.” She put her hand on my shoulder and kissed me.

“I’m moving,” she told me a few months later.  “My oldest got a job in New Mexico, and his wife is pregnant. Emily is going to stay. It’s time for me to get out of this part of the world.”  We went out for dinner one night and then went back to her place, which was filled with chaos and packing boxes. Her ex had gotten married, and finally, she felt something, something akin to loss, something that was a sharp stick, and it hurt.

 

Take Care,

Mike

The Great Rattlesnake Caper of 1994

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Back in 1994, I was working surveying for a living, and it was quite surprising the lengths other surveyors went to in order to avoid snake bite. And I was also interested in all the stories those guys who had done it for decades told the new guys. Every snake found within a mile of a mud puddle was a moccasin and every snake not a moccasin was a copperhead. I pointed out every chance I could that no one in the building had ever been bitten, and no one who had ever worked there had either. But that didn’t stop these people from putting on snake chaps, snake proof boots, and using powered sulfur like a ten dollar hooker uses perfume.

About that time, a friend of mine and her roommate moved into an old farm house in Brooks County. The irony was one day I would buy a house not five miles from there because I would change jobs and work nearby. But her fourteen year old son, who was an insufferable know- it -all, claimed he saw a five foot long rattlesnake slither under the house. She called me and told me the story and I was assured of a few things. The first was her son didn’t take time to measure the snake so there was no way he knew it was five feet long. Most people who call me and tell me they’ve killed a six foot long rattlesnake discover about half their snake was stolen from them by the time I get there with a measuring tape. “They shrink after you kill them,” I’ve been told more than once. The next thing I was sure of is the son in question didn’t know a donkey from a hole in the ground, much less snake identification. And last, but not least, he was a lad prone to being a stranger to the truth. I saw an opportunity to impress a couple of women with my fearlessness and skill at snake extraction. At worst, there would be a free home cooked meal.

The house is an old 1850’s wood frame thing made of real wood and long iron nails. The foundation is a good two feet off the ground and they’ve nailed sheets of tin up as underpinning. For reasons I cannot explain, the sheets of tin have been overlapped so getting one of them disconnected means another has to be unattached. There is one piece used as an entrance, and it’s on the opposite side of the house where the alleged snake, excuse me, the alleged five feet long Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake was seen along with a unicorn. So I go under the house armed with a garden hoe, a flashlight, and my trusty snake bag, which I assume will contain a rat snake or a water snake before the end of the day.

The crawlspace of this house is, in and of itself, worthy of some tale. The foundation consists of columns of red bricks, likely fired from local clay, and even likely laid by slaves in the 1850’s. The bottom support beams are massive creatures, rough hewn and long, some of them single pieces of thick wooden timbers that are over fifty feet long. There’s ancient cloth insulation, and newer plastic wiring, as well as old metal pipes and newer PVC plumbing. There’s AC ducts to climb over or slither under, and for a few minutes I forget about the snake. I pick up a nail that’s the size of my thumb, and easily a foot long, but its rusted and brittle. This might have been lost the day the house was built, and uncovered while the ductwork was installed. Who knows how this nail was made, and by whom?

There is no snake. I make my way to where the serpent was supposed to have made his way under the tin, and damn. There’s a piece of tin with a small gap at the bottom and it looks like someone dragged an oak tree through that gap. In the soft and dry dirt under the house is a track that I can lay my hand in and not touch the sides with my pinky and thumb. My mind scrolls through the likely candidates of who could have made a track like that in South Georgia and none of them make me feel good about being under a house with a flashlight and a garden hoe.

I follow the track about ten feet and it goes under a duct, and if I want to see what’s on the other side, I have to crawl over the duct. I shine the flashlight over the duct and just like in the horror movies, the flashlight dims suddenly, and threatens to die.

In my mind I can see me going over that duct and meeting the snake who left that track. “What’cha doing with that hoe…boy?”

 

It is time to get the hell out from under that house. I bang on the nearest piece of time and very calmly yell that I need to exit, forthwith.

“Why?” asks one of the women.

“Because there is a damn big snake under this house!” I very calmly yell.

“You knew that, didn’t you?” The other woman replies, “And wwe’ll have to take down two pieces!”

“We will discuss it later,” I say, with verve and no hint of cardiac arrest.

Now at this point, I may relate to you their version of this story is vastly different than my own. I was not scared, just concerned, but they claim, dubiously, that my voice rose with each sentence and I threated to kick my way out from under the house and went through a religious conversion, twice.

It may have been a snake, even a big snake, possibly a very large rattlesnake, but it was still just a snake. And I’m not under the house with it as I write. That helps.

 

I got the home cooked meal and more crow than I cared to eat. I also informed them that I was ill equipped to hunt a snake that big, yet I would give it thought, and come up with a plan, which meant I was not going after the snake under the house, ever.

The snake was never seen again, of course, but the legend of the hunt lives on. The Great Rattlesnake Episode has been repeated many times in front of many bonfires over the years, and now, at least you have heard the truth, in as much as such a thing exists.

 

Take Care,

Mike

Church

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Back in the mid-1990’s, a friend of mine emailed me an incredibly ridiculous and obviously fabricated story about an “atheist college professor” and a student. I can’t remember the story, and I refuse to look it up, but gist of it was the college professor was challenging the faith of the student, a miracle occurred and everyone fell to their knees and prayed.

The story listed no names, no dates, no facts at all, and was vague in all regards to anything at all that might have defined more clearly when and where and who. But it was my first encounter with the the “atheist college professor” stories. There’s quite a few now.

Yesterday, I took Mama to church, and I went in hoping that for some sort of social contact for Mom. About ten minutes deep into the sermon, the preacher said, “how are we going to send children to face the ‘atheist college professors’?” and I nearly walked out.

My hostility towards religion in general, and towards Christianity in particular, is certainly a function of my personal disdain for the systemic methods of the used car salesman techniques employed by those who practice Christianity. But used cars are sold each day. It’s an effective practice, and because religion is a very profitable business, it is to be expected to find such. That my grandmother’s religion, my mother’s mother, has been turned into a commercial enterprise for men and women who have repackaged it and sold it, as a commodity, and turned churches into spiritual Wal-Marts, is more than enough for me to treat the religion itself, and the people who pretend to practice it with utter contempt.
But this goes much deeper than that. We live in a time where people openly believe the world is flat! A thousand years or so has passed since that issue was settled, yet even as we speak there’s a professional basketball player who goes in front of a national audience on social media and espouses the deepest sort of nonsense and people believe him.
Growing in popularity, is the concept that ignorance is a virtue, and belief, in and of itself, when taken to heart without substantiation or the slightest hint of evidence to bolster it, is a virtue. Worse, infinitely worse, there’s a disdain for anything educational. It’s as if the process of education itself, at any level, for any reason, is somehow heretical, or blasphemous.
This is dangerous to the extreme when dealing with people who, because they read something on the internet, believe vaccines cause a variety of maladies, including autism on children, even though there is a wealth of evidence to the contrary. Now, in the year 2019, measles, a disease all but eradicated through the use of vaccines, is spreading again. The “my beliefs are sacred even to the detriment of society” movement is gaining strength, even as it sickens and kills.
In 2006, a woman accused members of a sports team of rape. It was an easy thing to believe, that a group of young, privileged, white men, drank themselves into attacking a woman. But the DNA evidence said otherwise. The woman’s story unraveled further when one of the young men she positively identified was shown to be absent from the scene of the crime entirely. Yet when interviewing other students at Duke, this response was recorded, “That DNA stuff is just crazy, who believes it?”

We are training our citizens to choose their reality based on belief, and belief alone. What feels good, what sounds right, and what we have always thought was true, is, simply because we think it is so. Those who teach, instruct, and offer systems of thinking that counter or contradict are messengers of evil and are to be distrusted. Volume, yelling, screaming, drowning out an opponent with obscenities or untruths, intentional or not, is considered a proper method of debate. Any source, regardless of its content or origin, is considered doctrine, as long as it agrees with a beloved assertion.

Were there a simple fix, some national realization of peril even, there might be hope. But the money to be made off of the ignorant drives the desire to make sure it continues. If a man has no idea how a car operates, then by looks and how it makes him feel alone are selling points. He’ll shell out hard earned money for transportation regardless of its quality. Likewise, if you can convince a populace that education, critical thinking, facts, evidence, and peer reviewed research, all of it, is equal to belief, then you can sell them any other idea, at a premium.

We aren’t going to send our children to face “atheist college professors”. Increasingly, higher education is for those who can afford it. The rich can buy their way in, and you have to think, buy their way through, universities. This is a cycle which circles; only those who can afford college can go. Those who can go make more money than those who cannot. We’re left with less educated citizens, and worse, citizens who distrust education. I shouldn’t have to tell you what it means to have an electorate whose means of selection has nothing at all to do with how educated they are.

There isn’t a way out of this. We can’t simply wake up one day and start valuing education and critical thinking and hope people are going to flock to it because it’s a good idea. Ignorance has become a sellable condition. People will pay to become less knowledgeable. They will give money to other people who tell them education is wrong and thinking is dangerous. Our society is being sown with ideas that are unprovable, and even if they are disproved, evidence can simply be labeled as “fake news” and ignored. Go with what feels good. Believe what makes you happy. Read only from sources that agree with you. Listen to only what you’ve learn before, like your favorite music, because you like it.

What I heard in church yesterday was passive aggressive hate speech wrapped in fear mongering, by a used car salesman who told a willing audience his beliefs were what they needed to buy. The number of people willing to pay for this sort of thing will teach him to repeat it.

Take Care,
Mike