The sun stung my eyes as I lifted my head into the daylight for the first time in what had to be weeks. The brine of the sea swept the insides of my nostrils, leaving behind traces of luscious, gritty salt. I shot out its remnants so as not to ingest the dryness. I'd vomit again. And I had just recently done that. When the ship lurched into the dock, my stomach followed it. I spewed what little rations I had stowed away along the bottom of the slippery, fish-gut infested floorboards. I remember wiping the bits away with the back of my already filthy sleeve and ran towards the small trapdoor, slowing down only to step over the corpse I knew too much about.
I am free now. I am a murderous vagrant in an entirely new world.
I hear voices shouting behind me; at first, I didn't think too much of them since I didn’t understand their foul foreign language. But as their booms got closer, I turned and realized they were targeting their anger at me.
I reached briskly into my skirt pocket from which my gris-gris had been co-piloting and said a quick prayer to Damballah- the Voodoo God that would help keep me safe from this clan of strangers. I knew to make my prayer be fully heard and to allow Damballah full possession, I would need to find a sacrifice along the way. But this was not the way, nor the time. My feet flew out behind me and paddled against the hard ground like two oars breaking through dangerous waters. I let my wheels for feet guide the way, giving them full permission to steer the vessel. My heartbeat raged into a full musical ensemble and swelled the faster I ran. I paused, reaching down and putting my hands on my knees as I listened. No more loud voices, only the thrashing rhythm that threatened to break through the taut skin of my heart, turned rada drum. Glimpsing suspiciously behind me, I waited with bated breath to see if they were lying in wait. I didn't see anyone, but I couldn't risk it so I let my feet slip out from underneath and lead the way once more.
I hadn't been running for long when my legs veered to the right, straight into a lush green forested area. I yearned for the trees. Back home, we’re taught to love trees like family because they house old spirits and past loved ones. Even new souls that haven't yet come to collect a body can communicate through trees. And it’s best to start out on the right foot with new souls… for more reasons than I have time to explain. The branches here are filled with leaves. I don't think I have ever seen such thick, decadent trees- their canopy cools me as I catch my breath and shove it back into my wanting lungs.
I stretch my toes forward and back, trying to work the kink out but the feeling of wet mud squishing through their cracks stops my quaint exercise. I am sinking into what feels like a lagoon of shit. Stiffening my legs I traipse out of the mess back to somewhat solid ground. My stomach rolls- hunger. It's time I let my natural instincts take over and hunt for food. Back in my village women are to be gatherers not hunters. Hunting is a job that “should be left to the strength and stamina of male elders.” A mistake to doubt the capabilities of any woman, let alone me. I can and will locate, stalk, kill, and eat just enough to replenish my strength while offering the rest to Damballah in return for his protection.
I feel my left hand slide into the same fold of my skirt as before; the gris-gris finds its way into my fingertips. My fingers jump back in surprise. They burn with an unexplainable heat. Looking down, I see that the gris-gris is glowing red like an ember from a wildfire that continues to smolder for decades underground. The hand holding the talisman lifted and plunged it into my mouth. The scalding flare danced atop my tongue- no pain, just a sensation of satisfying mastery. I had never been called to do such a thing, but then again; I was no longer the one controlling my body.
My knees bent and my hips followed them down to the ground. I sat there, hunched over for only a minute or two. I could both see and feel that same left arm straighten, but this time reaching out to its side. It leapt forward like a fish out of water and suddenly there was life in my hand. A wriggling squirmy fur ball. My head shifted and my arm raised to show its find to my forward facing eyeballs. I had caught a jackrabbit. I could feel the lwas around me - holding me in their power while perfectly placing my limbs in accordance with nature.
I hadn't seen it, heard it... but I had caught this magnificently delicious creature. Without asking it to, my right arm reached across and offered its weapon of choice; my right hand looped around the rabbit's throat and with a sick, crackling twist, the bunny went limp. The next thing I knew, I had a rock in hand and was ripping it from throat to belly. My head dipped down and I could feel my teeth sink into its warm, throbbing body. Its fading heartbeat gently hammering against my chest as the vermin swung down from my hungry lips. I thirstily swallowed its blood until he was dry and I felt my jaw unhinge. Plop... the carcass fell to the ground along with my no longer glowing gris-gris. I lifted the remains up to Damballah to accept as my sacrifice with one hand, while wiping away chunks of blood and fur with the other.
I knew Damballah had been there inside of me from the moment I entered the woods and I felt like he was still there watching me as I collected myself to move on. I would have to find shelter for the night, probably more food, and possibly some new clothes. I stood with a wobble and let my mud coated legs lead my blood stained bodice out of the woods and back on to the main streetways of New Orleans. As I walked no one stopped to stare at me. No one whispered about the blood clots stuck to my thin cotton chest. I was invisible to the naked eye.
I have a feeling I will get away with a lot here in New Orleans.
Damballah continued to guide me down a small, dark alley where I came upon the back entrance to what appeared to be a shop of sorts. I stole a look through the crack in the door and saw wildly colored clothing and shoes shoved in old half-broken trunks and littering the walls. I wanted everything I saw, but I knew I didn't have what the shop owners were looking for as a trade. I wonder if they could even see me in their shop, touching and fancying their best dresses. I took a few steps forward, sighed to let the lingering self-doubt go, and pushed my way in. I could have done a ritual dance in front of the vapid pair of phony Voodoos - they could see me no better than a fart.
Thanking Damballah for another beautiful gift, I started piling the lacey designs over my arm. I stuck three different pairs of flats into my training bra and waltzed right out of that cursed store without anyone being the wiser.
I was to have a whole new wardrobe. A whole new life with a whole new identity. I would just need to figure out how to become visible again, but first I need to find somewhere to stay. My new ability would come in handy- I could stay anywhere I liked for as long as I remained invisible. I knew deep down, I wouldn’t stay hidden away from the world forever- not if I wanted to be a Mambo. Yet, there was no pressure to be seen anytime soon; I could learn a lot about these people, their culture, what makes them tick, and what they fear most while perfecting my black magic...
I would come out a Mambo alright, sparing only the lives of those that recognize me as the fucking Queen of the damned. I cannot hold my smile back any longer… the Gods favor me and I will show them I am worthy.