Excerpt From Golden (Insatiable: Book Two)
Prologue: The Gift
Livingston Parish, Louisiana
“It’s Multiple Sclerosis, Daddy,” Prentice said.
Lincoln Carter stared at his youngest son; studied him. Even though Prentice was forty years old, in the low light of the plantation house cellar he looked like he did when he was a little boy, after he’d gotten himself into some kind of trouble. He looked afraid, and guilty.
“You shoulda come home sooner.” Lincoln said this not as an admonishment to his son, but as a statement of fact. “You shoulda come home instead of staying down in New Orleans.”
“Daddy, you know how Lillian is. She doesn’t believe in…in our way of doing some things.”
“So your wife don’t believe that with God, all things are possible?”
“She doesn’t see it as God’s work, not what you – I mean, not our family way.”
“But you’re here now.”
“Yes sir. Can you help me?”
“What do your doctors say?”
Prentice’s shoulders rose and fell as he sighed heavily. He looked down at the packed earth cellar floor and blinked rapidly, trying to hold back his emotions. Still, a single tear escaped and slid down his brown cheek. “They said that in about five years I’m looking at being stuck in a wheelchair.” He looked up again. His wet eyes shone in the cellar gloom. “Daddy, can you please help me?”
Lincoln reached out and placed a hand on his son’s shoulder. He felt the strength in the hard-packed muscle under his shirt, muscles that if the doctors were correct, would gradually become useless as his nervous system betrayed him. Then he pulled his boy to him and hugged him close. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to receive his son’s essence so that he could read and understand the degree of his affliction. After a few moments he had to struggle to hold back his own tears.
He let his son go, cleared his throat and said, “Lord God, boy, I wish you’d come home sooner.”
The walls of the cellar were lined with wooden shelves that held hundreds of jars and bottles of potions, herbs, powders, salves, wines and other concoctions Lincoln Carter used in his duties as family shaman. He went to one wall of shelves, and after some consideration, selected a small corked vial containing a brown powder. He returned to his son and handed him the vial. “Mix a little pinch of this up with whatever you’re drinking at sunrise, noon, and sunset. Dissolve it real good. Do that for ‘bout a month. Then cut it down to once a day; don’t matter what time.”
“Will it help?” Prentice asked.
“It’ll slow things up some, I think; give you a little more time, God willing. But it won’t stop it. Too late for that.”
Prentice breathed another heavy sigh. “All right.” He stepped forward and hugged his father. “Thank you Daddy.”
Lincoln clapped his son on the back and fought off another threatening round of tears. “Ain’t no need to thank me. You’re my boy. Now go on up and sit with your wife. I reckon ‘bout now she’s needing something more than cable TV to keep her company. I’m gonna go up and see what my grandbabies are up to.”
Lincoln found his wife Matilda and the girls sitting in the shade on their back porch. She was teaching their granddaughters – ten year-old Marcel and eight year-old Aurélle – how to snap beans picked fresh from her garden.
Watching them, Lincoln decided to wait until he and Mattie were turning in for the night to tell her that her baby boy was sick. Let her enjoy her afternoon with her grandbabies. Tomorrow was soon enough for her to scold Prentice for not coming home sooner and to comfort him at the same time, the way only a mother could. Instead he’d sit and enjoy his precious grandbabies.
Lincoln sat with them on the porch, rocking and smiling as he watched the girls learn from their grandmother. He thought it was a good thing that the little children learned some of these old ways of doing things. Snapping beans you grew in your own garden was one of those old ways. Watching his granddaughters, Lincoln could tell that they were special. He could tell that there were many of the old ways – the special things – they would learn and pass on to future generations.
The overhang of the back porch protected them from the direct brutality of the sun. However, it didn’t protect them from the humidity of the sweltering summer afternoon. The air felt heavy and moist, like a wet blanket wrapped around the body. Even sitting stone still didn’t stop sweat from beading up on the skin.
The heat didn’t seem to bother his granddaughters. Children were too busy with the small wonders of life to fret about the weather. As for Matilda, she would go on in the house when it got to be too much for her.
Lincoln enjoyed sitting on the back porch on hot afternoons. It reminded him of when he was a boy no older than little Aurélle was now, before this old house had air conditioning added. Back then the coolest place to be found on summer afternoons was in the shade of this porch. This was where the family would sit and fan themselves and wait for a breeze to come from out of the trees. And while they sat, the grown folks would tell their stories – stories about the old family, and about spirits, and about good and evil.
Lincoln’s favorite story to listen to was about his great-great grandmother Antoinette. Antoinette was born a slave on this very land – the Cartier Plantation – in the autumn of 1840. She died seventy-two years later as the owner of this house and all its acres. The grown folks said that Antoinette walked and talked with the spirits – the good ones and the evil ones. They said that Antoinette had The Gift.
Antoinette was born in the slave quarters that had now fallen to ruin in the woods not too far from the main house. Back then, around 1840, the Cartier Plantation was owned and run by Henri Cartier. Henri was a widower, having lost his wife when she gave birth to his only child, a son he called Nathan.
Depending on who was telling the tale, Antoinette might have been Henri’s half-sister, the product of his father’s dalliances with the women he owned as property. Or she may have been Henri’s own daughter, for the same reason. Due to the passing of time and the passing of Antoinette’s story over many tongues, the truth of her lineage was lost to history.
Even as a child Antoinette was a beauty, and all men – whether white or Negro and free or slave – took notice of her. Other slave owners had offered Henri small fortunes for the girl, but he refused them all. And Henri warned his slaves than any soul who dared touch Antoinette would have his skin lashed from his body and his carcass fed to his hunting hounds. Henri Cartier’s intent was that when the beautiful girl came of age, she would belong to him and to him only.
One day when Antoinette was fourteen years old Henri sent for her, and from that day on she slept in the slave shacks no more. When she rested her head at night it was either on a pallet in the attic of the main house, or on a pillow in Henri Cartier’s bed, as the mood suited him.
In 1862, when Henri was forty-two years old and his son Nathan was nineteen, they left the Cartier Plantation in the hands of an old overseer named Stockton and rode off to join the battle of the War Between the States. Henri left strict instructions with Stockton that in his absence, the overseer’s authority extended only to the slaves who worked the fields. The house and its management would be under the direction of the young slave woman Antoinette.
Such a thing was unheard of – a slave managing the home of her white owner. But most of those who might question it were too preoccupied with the war to concern themselves with the affairs of one plantation. And since Henri was a widower, there were no ladies from other plantations coming to pay visits to the lady of the house and pass judgment about who was running it.
If the overseer Stockton had a protest about the arrangement, he didn’t voice it. In fact, the story that had been passed down through the generations of Lincoln’s family was that while Stockton was in charge of the planting, harvest and selling of crops for appearances sake, in truth the management of those tasks were also under Antoinette’s direction. The story was that Stockton took orders from Antoinette as if she was the white master and he the colored slave because he was afraid of her. That wasn’t too surprising, because Antoinette had The Gift.
As it was, during the absence of Henri and Nathan, the Cartier Plantation ran as well as it ever had, perhaps better. The slaves worked hard and gave no trouble, and not a one had to be punished. Because Antoinette had The Gift, they likely feared her retribution more than the lash, and so they stayed in line and made Stockton’s job practically unnecessary.
Henri returned to the plantation just after the New Year in 1865 minus his right arm, which he’d lost courtesy of a Yankee cannonball. Once he was rested, he went over the financial books, praised Stockton for his fine work and offered to make his position permanent, to include a generous raise in salary. However, rather than accept Henri’s offer, Stockton collected the money owed him, quit his job as overseer and left Cartier Plantation, never to be heard from again.
With Henri back home, Antoinette was demoted back to her position as mistress to the master of the house. Some nights she slept on her pallet in the attic. More often she warmed Henri’s bed.
In March of that year Antoinette advised Henri that he should grant her her freedom. She also told him that he should sign over the deed to the house, the land and all the holdings of the Cartier Plantation to her, and that he should leave and go west, at least as far as Texas.
Henri did as Antoinette instructed because she had The Gift. He signed his property over to her, loaded a wagon with what personal possessions would fit, and left the plantation, headed west. Two weeks later Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, and the War Between the States was over.
When Nathan Cartier returned to Louisiana from the war he was outraged to learn that the plantation was now legally owned by a former slave – his father’s mistress. According to the story passed down, Nathan was less concerned about the whereabouts of his father than he was the loss of the property that was to have been his inheritance. Determined to get the property back, Nathan assembled a group of three cousins and four friends to ride on the plantation by night and take it by force.
Nathan’s plan was that his gang would approach the plantation through the woods after midnight, when whoever lived on the land would be asleep. They would attack the slave cabins first, by burning out the occupants and shooting down anyone who ran out to escape the flames, women and children included. Then they would proceed to the main house, where Nathan figured only Antoinette and a few non-threatening house servants would be. He instructed his men to leave Antoinette to him. He wanted to cut her throat with his own hands.
No one in Lincoln’s family who told the tale knew how Antoinette knew the night that Nathan and his men were coming. Over the generations, when some inquiring child asked the question, the storyteller likely shrugged and simply said that she had The Gift.
But she knew. And so on the night that Nathan Cartier and his men rode on the cabins in the woods, not a living soul was there. But something else was.
Just before sundown on the night of Nathan’s attack, Antoinette gathered the occupants of the cabins into the cellar of the main house. The former slaves waited with her there, terrified. Most of them were wary of Antoinette. Some were afraid of her. Whatever they thought she was had been whispered about long before Master Henri moved her from the slave quarters to the main house. But she’d never done them harm, and they believed her when she told them that Nathan was coming that to kill them all. So they all went to the cellar.
Nearly forty former slaves – men, women and children – huddled and waited with Antoinette in the cellar. By midnight the children and some of the adults were asleep. Others were too nervous to rest.
According to the story passed down, Antoinette stayed awake, off in a corner by herself, on her knees whispering soft prayers. She prayed for hours without ceasing, until midnight and beyond.
Then, at some time after midnight, she stopped praying. She stood up, looked around at those who were awake and said, “No matter what you hear, stay quiet. Keep your children quiet. Any who leave here before sunrise will die.”
The people huddled in the cellar thought that Antoinette’s warning was to keep them hidden and safe from Nathan Cartier and his men. They were wrong.
And then they heard it – the distant shouts of Nathan’s men in the woods. They heard gunfire, followed by terrified and agonized screams. As the men in the woods screamed, Antoinette fell to her knees and resumed her whispered prayers.
Even after sunrise many of the people in the cellar didn’t want to leave, not after hearing the horrific commotion in the woods the night before. Only their fear of the consequences of displeasing Antoinette was motivation enough to get them moving. As they followed her out of the house and back to their cabins some of the poor frightened souls were certain that they wouldn’t live to see another sunrise.
They found horse’s hoof prints in the dirt around the cabins, but no other signs of the men who’d shouted, then fired their weapons, and finally screamed their terror in the night. Still, they were wary, so Antoinette stayed with them, even entering some of the cabins whose occupants were too frightened to be the first to set foot in them. She was in one of the cabins when they heard a woman scream.
They found the woman – one of the cabin residents – on the ground in front of the cookhouse, fainted dead away. What had scared her out of her senses was a severed lower leg of a horse lying in front of the cookhouse entry. The jagged tip of bone protruding from the fetlock and ragged flesh around it meant that something very powerful had ripped the foot off the poor animal. The rest of the horse was nowhere to be found. No one had a doubt that the horse had belonged to Nathan Cartier or one of his cohorts. The people were too frightened to ask what might have happened to the rest of the horse, or to the other horses, or to the men who’d rode them.
Antoinette told the people that the horse’s leg was left as a message for her, a sign to let her know that her prayers had been answered.
Lincoln observed that Marcel, the oldest child, had already become proficient at snapping beans. She clutched a fistful in one small hand, and with the other, snapped off one end, peeled the string out, snapped off the other end and then broke it up into pieces with the deftness and confidence of an experienced farmer’s wife. Watching her, Lincoln got a sense about the girl. He sensed that she would learn from him with the same aptitude that she’d leaned to snap beans from her grandmother. He sensed that when the time came, Marcel would be the one to replace him.
Lincoln observed that little Aurélle wasn’t as quick with the beans as Marcel. He didn’t think it was because she was younger or not as fast a learner as her sister. Rather, she seemed distracted. Every few minutes she paused in her task, frowned up and looked off toward the woods in the distance. She’d look that way for a while, into the shadows of the forest, and then refocus and go back to the beans.
When Matilda had enough beans ready and had had enough of the heat she went inside, with Marcel trailing her. Aurélle stayed on the porch. She took a seat in Matilda’s rocker and together they rocked for a while, grandfather and granddaughter.
After a while Aurélle asked, “Pop-Pop, what’s in the woods?”
“What do you mean, baby?”
“Are there people out there in the woods?”
“Well, I ‘spose there could be from time to time; hunters and such. But they shouldn’t be there without our permission. All that land belongs to us – to our family – ‘bout thirty acres in three directions.”
“Are there animals out there too?”
“Oh, I ‘spose there’s quite a few animals in those woods, baby. Squirrels and bunny rabbits and –“
“What about the other things, Pop-Pop?”
Aurélle slid off the rocker and went to the edge of the porch. She looked straight out, to where the yard ended and the forest began. “Uh-huh. Not people and animals. The other things…you know.”
Lincoln got up and went to stand beside his little granddaughter. He took her hand and gazed out toward the woods with her. He couldn’t sense the things out there that she sensed – the things that as she grew older and stronger she might actually be able to see. That wasn’t his gift. But he knew they were out there, lurking and watching them. His mother had been able to see them, and to control some of them, and to bargain with some of the ones she couldn’t control. She could control the actions of people, too. That had been her gift. Little Aurélle had that gift. It wasn’t strong in her yet, but it would be.
“I wouldn’t worry too much about those things, baby,” he said. “When you get to be a big girl you won’t need to worry about them at all. In the meantime, if you stay out of the woods you’ll be just fine. Ain’t nothing for you to be scared of.”
His grandbaby looked up at him. She gave him a precious smile that just about melted his heart and said, “I’m not scared, Pop-Pop.”
Livingston Parish, Louisiana
“Are you scared?” Aurélle whispered.
“Nah. Are you?”
“Uh-uh. I come down here lots of times.”
That was true, mostly. She had come down here often, but she wasn’t allowed to unless Pop-Pop brought her down or he sent her down for something. She was only able to sneak down to the cellar now because most of the family and guests were out in the back yard having cookout fun. Her father was upstairs lying down because he was having one of his bad days, and her mother was mostly up there with him.
“Then why are we sneaking, and why are you whispering?” Keshawn asked. He was smiling at her like he’d busted her telling a lie.
God, he was so cute! And he was older too – nineteen. And he was in college. Too bad he was her second cousin.
“Hey, what is all this stuff?” he asked. He was looking around the gloomy cellar at the shelves stocked with bottles and jars.
“That’s Pop-Pop’s medicine stuff,” Aurélle said. “Don’t even ask me what they all are, ‘cause I don’t know. Pop-Pop is gonna teach Marcel about this stuff, now that she’s sixteen.”
That was the reason Keshawn and his parents were down from Philadelphia visiting. They were having a big to do – a cookout party to celebrate Marcel turning sweet sixteen.
“So how come he’s not teaching you?”
Aurélle shrugged. “He said that we each have our purpose. Marcel’s purpose is to know about this stuff.”
“So what’s your purpose?”
“He said my purpose is to be me, whatever that means.”
“Be you? Well, I think you’re a mess, that’s what I think.”
She knew he was teasing her, but she held back her smile and put her hands on her hips like she was mad anyway. “Excuse me?”
His eyes flashed over her body. It was a quick look, but she saw it. She’d caught him looking earlier too, when they were in the back yard doing the Electric Slide.
A lot of guys had been checking her out today. She was wearing cut-off jeans that showed off her legs and a tee-shirt knotted up under her boobies.
Aurélle stuck her leg out like she was bracing to fight Keshawn, but really just so she could show off. She knew she had nice legs. Boys were always looking at them. Men, too.
She didn’t bother to stick her chest out, because it stuck out by itself. Boys looked at her chest too, because her boobies were growing out a lot faster than other fourteen year-old girls at her school, and even some of the older girls.
“Yeah, you’re a mess,” Keshawn said, like he knew what she was up to.
Keshawn was so cute, but sometimes when she looked at him she could feel the bad spirit in him. That excited her. Pop-Pop had told her that as she grew older and became a woman she would get stronger and know more about the different spirits. So she wanted to tease and test the bad spirit in Keshawn. She wanted to see how strong she was right now.
She watched Keshawn as he took a longer look at her legs. Then his eyes moved up and paused again to check out the way her tee-shirt stretched over her chest.
The way he was looking at her made her feel all tingly. And she felt something else, too: The bad thing. The bad thing in Keshawn wanted to do something to her. The bad thing was what was making the front of his shorts stick out. She wanted the bad thing to show itself so she could see how strong she was.
Then Keshawn blinked like he was just waking up, looked up at her face and swallowed hard. He said, “I don’t think Pop-Pop wants us down here without permission. We should get back to the party.”
Thinking fast, Aurélle said, “There’s wine down here. Homemade. It’s real good, too.”
“Yeah, for real. It’s over here – look.”
She led him to a shelf in one corner, on which at least two dozen identical small corked bottles sat.
“That’s wine? It looks like salad dressing bottles,” Keshawn said.
“Oh, it’s wine all right. Good stuff, too. Pop-Pop calls it lover’s wine. He gives it to newlyweds as a wedding present and to married people who want to spice up their lives.” Aurélle didn’t know this first hand. It was what Marcel had told her after their grandfather told Marcel.
“And you’ve tried it, huh?”
“Of course,” she said offhandedly, as if she drank the wine every night with dinner. In truth she’d never tasted it in her life. She reached and took a bottle from the back row where it was least likely to be missed. “So do you want to try some…or are you too scared?”
“Okay, but we can’t drink it down here. I know a better place.”
“In the woods? Are you serious?”
They’d snuck out a side door and were standing pressed close to the house like burglars. The forest was closer here than out back, so they could dash across the side yard and through the bushes and be in the trees in about ten steps.
“What, are you scared of a tree, city boy?”
“I gotcha boy, little girl. Let’s do this.”
They broke and ran, bent low, and before they could take a second breath were in the shadows of the forest.
“Come this way,” Aurélle said, and started deeper into the trees.
“You’ve been in these woods before?”
“Sure, all the time.” That was true. For as long as she could remember, often when they came up from New Orleans to visit, Pop-Pop had taken her and Marcel on excursions into the woods on this side of the house to show them where the slave cabins used to be. She’d been in this part of the woods so often that she figured she could almost find her way to the cabin area blindfolded.
She didn’t take Keshawn that far into the forest, however. She led him to a clearing just far enough away from the house that they could barely hear the music playing at the cookout. That meant that no one there could hear them. “This is a good spot,” she said.
Keshawn retrieved the bottle of wine from a side pocket in his baggy shorts and said, “You wouldn’t happen to be carrying a corkscrew in those Daisy Dukes, would you?”
He held the bottle up, smiling. “To open this wine you said you drink all the time.”
To try to save face, Aurélle put her fists on her hips and scowled at him. “What do I look like, a bartender?”
“Not to worry, little girl. We can improvise.” Keshawn searched around the clearing until he found what he was looking for – a sturdy twig. Then he said, “It’ll be easier to just push the cork in.”
Still wanting to be mad, Aurélle flipped her hand and muttered, “Whatever.” Then she tried not to look interested as she watched him force the cork down into the bottle.
When the task was done he held the bottle out to her and said, “A gentleman lets a lady go first.”
Aurélle could see the challenge in his eyes. He didn’t believe she’d actually tried Pop-Pop’s wine before. He probably thought she was scared to drink it. To prove that he was wrong even though he was right, she snatched the bottle and took a quick sip.
She held the wine in her mouth, hoping it wouldn’t be nasty. Then her taste buds kicked in, and she realized that it wasn’t bad at all. Actually, it tasted kind of good. She swallowed and took another, larger sip.
“Damn little girl, the bottle’s not that big. Save some for me.”
“I’m not a little girl, chump. Here.”
Keshawn took the bottle from her and took a swig. He wasn’t nervous about drinking the wine at all. Aurélle figured that since he was older and lived in a big city he drank liquor all the time. So Pop-Pop’s homemade stuff was probably no big deal to him.
“Hey, it’s pretty good,” he said. He smiled at her, this time not like she was some kid he thought was funny, but in a different way. A guy smile.
He was so cute but she couldn’t kiss him because he was her second cousin. But she thought it was kind of cool that they were drinking from the same bottle. That was being close, in a way.
He took another swallow and handed the bottle back. Aurélle reached to take it, and felt the ground tilt under her feet.
Keshawn was still smiling at her, and watching her closely. Had she staggered a little bit? He said, “It’s got a little kick, huh? You don’t have to drink anymore if you don’t want to.”
She wasn’t a little girl. She could drink more if she wanted to. The little bottle was about half full now. She turned it up and took a really big swallow. Then she spread her feet to brace herself so she wouldn’t fall as she handed the bottle back. She felt dizzy and warm, like her blood was heating up. And she felt something else, too.
Keshawn said, “Damn, check you out,” and finished off the last of the bottle.
She didn’t know what he was talking about. Did she look drunk? She sure felt drunk, if the world tilting and spinning too fast was what being drunk felt like. She said, “I think I need to sit down.” She turned and made her way to a thick oak tree, and plopped down onto the ground in front of it. She leaned her head back against its moss-covered trunk and closed her eyes.
Sitting down and closing her eyes helped the dizziness. But the other thing was still there, and feeling stronger.
She felt hot and all tingly. She felt tingly almost all the time, but this was different. It was way stronger.
Now she wished Keshawn wasn’t with her. If she’d been alone she could put her hand in her panties and touch herself until the tingling went away.
Since she’d discovered the sweet wonders of touching herself she did it a lot, every chance she got. Marcel told her that she was a like a crack head about touching herself, that one day she was going to rub her cookie off.
That made her giggle, thinking about a cookie falling from between her legs.
“What’s so funny?”
Aurélle opened her eyes. Keshawn was standing a few yards away with the empty bottle of Pop-Pop’s love wine in his hand, watching her closely. She wanted him gone for real. If he was gone she could push her shorts down and take care of business.
Sitting against the trunk of the oak tree she pushed at him to make him go back to the house.
He didn’t move. He just stood there watching her, smiling at her.
She concentrated and pushed again, harder. She could feel him wanting to go back to the house where she wanted him to go, but he still didn’t move. Then she realized why. The bad thing inside him was keeping him here.
She’d forgotten all about the bad thing. But it was here now, showing itself, and it was strong. Real strong.
“You’re a little girl, but not really, are you?” Keshawn smiled. “Yeah, I know what you are, and I know what you want…little girl.” He took a step closer to her.
Aurélle pushed at him again, harder than she’d ever pushed at anybody. Keshawn was about to take another step, but his leg twitched out to one side, like he was trying to go in two directions at once. He stumbled and almost fell, but caught himself with his hands. Then he looked up at her, grinning. The eyes shining red at her didn’t belong to her cousin.
“Yeah, I know what you want.”
He straightened up and took another step toward her. Aurélle scooted up and scrunched her back against the tree. The rough bark bit into her back, but she didn’t notice it. She was focused on the thing coming at her. She pushed at him again.
Keshawn spit out a nasty laugh and clutched the bulge in front of his shorts. “Nah, you wanted this. In a minute you’re gonna be begging me not to stop –”
He looked up and past her, past the tree. Something behind her had drawn Keshawn’s attention. His eyes went wide, and he took a step back, raising his hands palms out in front of his chest in a gesture of fear and supplication. He said, “I was just messing around. Nothing was gonna happen.”
Aurélle looked around the tree trunk, expecting to see Pop-Pop coming at Keshawn with his shotgun raised.
Instead she saw a woman standing at the edge of the clearing.
The lady wasn’t moving, just standing there looking at Keshawn. Aurélle thought that if the look on the woman’s face could kill, in about a week the family would’ve been going to Keshawn’s funeral.
Behind her Keshawn said, “I’m going back, okay?” Then she heard his running footsteps crashing through the underbrush as he hauled butt. He probably thought the lady was one of the party guests and that he’d been busted trying to do something he shouldn’t.
Aurélle didn’t watch him run away. She couldn’t take her eyes off the lady, who she knew wasn’t any party guest. The lady looked at her and came toward the oak tree.
She was really pretty, with smooth coppery skin, exotic dark eyes and full, sexy lips that every celebrity chick would kill for. She wore her long, thick braids pulled up in bun. But Aurélle thought that she wasn’t helping her vibe by wearing that old fashioned dress. It looked like something somebody would wear in a cowboy movie.
The lady stopped and stood over Aurélle. She smiled down at her.
Aurélle looked up at her from the ground. She wanted to get up, but she was still dizzy from the wine. Maybe the wine was making her trip out, too.
“Am I dreaming you?” she asked the lady.
“You are being who you are, child.”
The lady’s words reminded Aurélle of what Pop-Pop said, about her purpose being to just be herself. “But I don’t know what that means.”
“You will. Mostly, all things come in their proper time.”
Aurélle felt the wisp of a question in her head, but the wine made her brain buzz, and she couldn’t focus enough to see it. She felt so sleepy.
The pretty lady said, “I reckon I’ll sit with you for a spell, so that you might rest without further disturbance.”
The lady talked funny, but Aurélle trusted what she said. She trusted her. She felt safe with her. She laid her head back against the tree and drifted away.
She ran through the forest, searching for him. The lion and the wolf watched her passing and spoke to each other. They said, “It is she.”
What is my name?
She ran without growing tired. She could run forever; run for the sheer joy of it. But this time she was searching.
She found him at work, explaining to a hummingbird how to take nectar from honeysuckle. At the sight of him her heart swelled with joy. Then he saw her, and her joy was reflected in his eyes.
She ran to him, into his arms, and together they cried out their bliss at being whole again, at being one again.
She didn’t want to leave his arms, not ever. She didn’t want to not be one. But she had to know.
“Give me my name,” she said.
She woke up on a beach, lying in damp sand. So cold. She was still wearing her cutoff shorts and her tee-shirt, and she shivered as the winter wind came off the ocean and prickled her skin.
She stood up and brushed sand from her arms and legs. She had to get home, where it was warm. She sensed that wherever she was, home was near. She turned to leave the beach to go there and almost bumped into the lady from the woods.
“Am I dreaming you?” she asked the lady.
“You are being who you are.”
“But I don’t understand. Please help me understand.”
The lady looked past her, up the beach.
She turned around and followed her gaze.
She saw them up the beach standing together. They were too far away to see clearly. But she could see the little one waving – waving at her. No not waving; she was motioning at her to come join them.
She looked at the man, and felt her heart swell with joy. But he wasn’t looking at her. He was looking out at the ocean, as if he was searching for something.
To the lady she said sadly, “He doesn’t see me.”
The lady said, “Then I reckon you’re going to have to go help him look in the right direction.”
When Aurélle woke up under the oak tree she thought the lady was gone. But when she looked around the trunk she saw that she was still there, standing at the edge of the clearing again.
“Am I going to see you again?” she asked the lady.
“You will see many things.”
“A temptress draws many things to her; the light and the darkness. Give yourself time, child. The right one waits for you. Make yourself ready.” Then the pretty lady turned toward the deeper forest.
Aurélle called after her, “Hey wait! Ready for what?”
The lady turned back to her. “In all things little Aurélle, give yourself proper time.”
Aurélle got up, and with her head still fuzzy, staggered her way back through the forest toward the house. As she made her way she felt eyes watching her from the shadows amongst the trees. She had a sense that some of those watching were good and meant her no harm. But others weren’t so good. She thought they would hurt her if they could. But she had a feeling that they knew she was stronger now, and they weren’t sure that they could hurt her. They were scared. She could feel it.
Well, there was somebody who wasn’t scared of her, and he was waiting for her at the side of the house, standing with his arms crossed and looking hot enough to breathe smoke when she emerged from the woods.
Before she could open her mouth he said, “You’ve been in the wine.”
There was no point in lying about it because he knew. That rat bastard Keshawn had told on her to save his own butt. She didn’t want to lie to Pop-Pop anyway. “I’m sorry,” she said.
“You’re gonna be sorry in a minute. Go get me a switch.”
Aurélle stole a glance around. There were a few people on the side of the house, walking between the front and back yards. The ones within earshot looked around when they heard her grandfather tell her to go get a switch.
Shoot! Could she be anymore embarrassed?
With all eyes on her Aurélle took her shameful walk to the shrubbery at the edge of the woods to find a switch. She rummaged through the bushes, looking for one that wouldn’t be so small that Pop-Pop would make her get another one, but one not big enough to kill her.
She felt other eyes watching her from the darkness of the forest. She sensed their silent mirth. They thought this was funny.
With her back to her grandfather and the guests she stuck her middle finger up at the darkness and muttered, “Screw you.”
A few days later her grandfather sat her down on the back porch of the old house for a talk. They talked about what he called her gift. He told her that the gift was a part of their family, passed down through generations to one of them. He said that who might receive the gift was up to the will of God. He asked her about her gift – about the things she saw and felt – and asked her to describe them to him.
Aurélle told Pop-Pop about how with some people – mostly family – she could feel their moods, even if they were trying to hide them.
She told him that with some people, she could feel something inside them. It wasn’t just their mood; how that person was feeling. It was like there was something else inside that person that wasn’t really a part of them. It was a separate thing that made that person want to do wrong things, worse things than they would do on their own. She told him that she’d felt one of those things inside cousin Keshawn.
Pop-Pop looked worried then. He asked her if Keshawn had tried to do anything to her in the woods. She told him that she thought he wanted to – or at least the thing inside him did – but that he’d gotten scared and ran back to the house. She didn’t tell her grandfather about the lady in the woods, because she wasn’t sure if the lady was real or if she’d only dreamed about her.
Her grandfather asked her if she’d seen a lot of people had that thing inside them – the evil thing.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Not a lot. Maybe like ten or fifteen.”
“In your life?”
“Well then, I guess that’s a good thing,” he said. “Could be a lot worse.”
She told Pop-Pop about the other things. They weren’t inside people like the evil things, but they had presence. She could feel when one of them was around. She said that they usually didn’t do anything; they just hung around and watched what people were doing. She told him that there were a lot of them in the woods around the house.
Her grandfather became even more serious then. And even though they were alone on the porch, he lowered his voice to almost a whisper. “These things you feel – can you make them do what you want them to do?” he asked.
“Do you ask them to help you, or do you tell them to?’
Aurélle shrugged. “I don’t know. It kind of feels like both at the same time, I guess.”
For a little while her grandfather hadn’t asked her any more questions. But she knew he had more to say, so she rocked with him on the porch and waited.
After a while he said, “You shouldn’t do that too much – make things happen out of order. You know what I’m talking about?”
“Some things are best left alone, to happen as they will. Don’t be asking them spirits to change how things are supposed to be too often.”
“That’s what they are – spirits?”
“It’s the best name I have for them. What do you think they are?”
Aurélle shrugged again. “I don’t know, Pop-Pop. They’re just there.”
“All right, well, just don’t be calling on them too much.”
To make Pop-Pop feel better she decided to tell him about something he hadn’t asked about. She said, “Sometimes I feel like I can make things happen just because I want them to happen, without any help.”
Being fourteen, she considered her grandfather a really old guy. But when she told him about her other gift – the one he hadn’t known about – he’d looked even older. And he looked worried again. Or scared.
New Orleans, Louisiana
If someone had suggested to Lillian Carter that she was afraid of her youngest daughter, she would have scoffed at the very notion. Her baby girl was a sweet, beautiful soul with a heart of gold who never had an unkind word to say about anyone. Everyone who’d ever met her loved her, and rightly so. So why on Earth would she be afraid of her? That’s what she would say to anyone who suggested such a thing.
Still, when Lillian saw Aurélle in the corridor of the adult care center, a thrill of apprehension clogged her chest. She hadn’t thought that Aurélle would still be in the city, not with the hurricane so close. But there she was, coming out of Prentice’s room.
Lillian wished that she’d known Aurélle was going to be here. If she’d known, she would have better prepared herself, starting with a stiff drink. Or maybe two. Or three. Alcohol would have helped to calm the fear she would deny with her dying breath.
However along with her apprehension, Lillian felt a glimmer of hope that if Aurélle was still in New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina bearing down on the city, then maybe the storm wouldn’t be as bad as predicted. Aurélle would know. She had a way of knowing when some things were going to happen. That was one of the reasons that Lillian was frightened of her own flesh and blood.
Lillian waited and watched from a distance as Aurélle spoke to a nurse. Even from the distance she could see the pleasantness on her daughter’s face as she chatted with the care provider, and the smile she received in return. People liked Aurélle automatically; because in addition to being beautiful, she was always pleasant to everyone, no matter who they were. She had a way of bringing out the best in people.
Aurélle was still smiling as she looked up the corridor in Lillian’s direction, but when their eyes met, her smile faded. Seeing the change in her daughter’s expression and knowing that she was the cause, Lillian’s apprehension threatened to blossom into outright fear.
Had it been anyone but a product of her womb she might have run away. But this was her child, her baby. Aurélle might be in college now, but she would always be her baby. She wouldn’t allow herself to run from her own child. Anyway, her instinct told her that if she had cause to run from Aurélle, then running wouldn’t save her. So Lillian walked toward Prentice’s room and toward her daughter, even though her fear made her legs feel boneless and ready to give out with each step.
Lillian made herself not flinch when they hugged, and said, “I didn’t think you’d still be here.”
“He’s my father,” Aurélle said. She broke their hug and took a step back. “Why are you here?”
“He’s my husband.”
“He used to be your husband.”
“He’s still my husband, Aurélle.”
“Your heart is with someone else.”
“Let’s not fight, okay? Not today. Please.”
“I’m sorry Mom, but your husband is wherever your true heart is. So where is Jerry?”
“He’s left the city. He wanted me to go with him, but I told him I couldn’t. I told him that I had to be here.” Lillian had hoped that her words would melt the ice in Aurélle’s eyes. It didn’t, so she decided it best to get off the subject of her lover. “How long have you been here?”
“All night. I came after I saw Marcel off. I needed to pray for Daddy.”
“You prayed for God to help him?”
“I prayed that he’ll be happy after he’s released from this world.”
“You couldn’t convince him to leave before it was too late?”
Aurélle shook her head, and now Lillian saw her eyes soften. “He won’t go. He feels he’s blessed to have lived twice as long as the doctors predicted, but he’s tired now. He’s ready to move on. The storm will take him.”
“I see. Would you pray for my happiness after I’m gone, too?”
“I already have, Mom.”
“So you knew I was coming here to be with your father.”
“You’re here, aren’t you?”
“Tell me how you knew, Aurélle. How can you do these things – know these things about me?”
“I come from your flesh, Mom. My spirit comes from yours, and from Daddy’s. How could I not know you?”
Lillian didn’t understand what Aurélle was talking about. It was the same way that Prentice used to talk, talk that for many years she’d considered the product of the Carter family’s backward, foolish superstitions. But as Aurélle had come of age she’d witnessed things that her best logic couldn’t refute. Then she’d started to believe, and started to be afraid. Now she wished that she’d listened and learned, but it was too late for either. “Well, thank you for praying for me. I know you blame me for your father, so I do appreciate it.”
“Daddy getting sick had nothing to do with you. It was God’s will. I only blame you for his broken heart.”
“And you blame me for not being there for him while he was ill. So that’s why I’m staying now. I’ll be with him when the storm arrives.”
“Why would you stay here with Daddy when you have someone else?”
“Because if I don’t Aurélle, you’re going to keep blaming me.”
“Is that so important to you Mom, that I don’t blame you?”
“You’re my daughter, Aurélle. I know you. Of my two girls, you’re the one who always held onto grudges, and I know what can happen to people against whom you harbor bitterness. So if I’m going to come to harm, or worse, I’d rather choose how it happens to me.”
“You actually believe that I’d do something to hurt you? You’re my mother, for God’s sake.”
“What I believe Aurélle, is that you might not be able to help yourself.”