“Please. If you can save her then just do it! Do whatever you have to,” my mommy begged with tears streaming down her face.
The wrinkled old lady stared down at me. Her white hair stood out against her dark skin. She studied me carefully before lifting her glassy gaze back to my mother. “You axe me for gris-gris dat wilt cause tings you mightna want.”
“Anything. I’m begging you, anything you can do. The doctors can’t help her. She’s dying. Anything, please,” my mommy’s voice broke as she let out a loud sob.
“Etel ne’er passe’ tis you know,” the old lady said as she hobbled over to a shelf with hundreds of containers filled with strange things I didn’t recognize. “What you axe don matta. Ain’t non udder way. If de beb he want ta live. He make dat call.”
I watched as she shuffled around mixing different items she took off the shelf while she muttered to herself.
“Who is he?” I heard my mommy ask.
I had been wondering that myself. He seemed to be calling the shots not the old lady. Why Mommy was asking her to help me I didn’t understand. She didn’t look like any doctor I’d ever seen. When I’d fallen asleep the white walls of the hospital room I’d spent the last few months in were the last thing I remembered seeing. Then I woke up and I was here. With this strange woman in a small dirty house that smelled funny.
“De only one dat can save dis gurl,” she said, shuffling over to me while she stirred the smelly concoction and began softly chanting.
“Where is he? Do I need to go get him?” The panic in mommy’s voice made me fight to keep my eyes open. I knew she was scared. The doctors didn’t expect me to wake up. I’d heard them whispering while they’d thought I was sleeping. The disease had taken over my body. I was sick. My mommy was sad.
“You tink I’d do dis iffn’ he weren’t here,” the humor in the old lady’s voice was obvious. “Dis gris-gris I don do. Only him.”
Before mommy could ask any more questions the door opened and in stepped a boy not much older than me. His eyes reminded me of a stormy sea swirling wildly as he closed the door behind him. Blond shaggy hair hung in his eyes and he didn’t look as if he belonged to the older dark lady. Was he sick too? A low murmur in a language I didn’t understand tumbled out of his mouth as the room began to darken and my eyes slowly closed.
“It’s time,” the familiar voice whispered in my ear.
I sat straight up in bed gasping for air. Sunlight poured through my window and the bright cheeriness of my yellow room seemed at odds with the dark shack I’d been dreaming about. Where had that come from? And that old woman’s accent. It had been thick and... and Cajun? Then there had been the boy. Once again he’d been there while I was sick. I had been sick. I’d had a miraculous recovery at the age of three. This memory of the boy was the earliest I’d had. Who was he? And why had the voice said “It’s time” instead of “It’s almost time”?
Glancing around the room I searched for Gee.
“Pagan,” Dank was standing in front of my bed and bending down to pull me in his arms.
“Gee said he got to you. She couldn’t see him but she felt him. She can’t stop him so she came and got me.”
I nodded, letting him fuss over me. It was a comfort measure I needed right now. None of this made sense.
“I remembered something. Another dream. It doesn’t make sense but if it is real... then it explains something. Something from my past.”
Dank pulled back and stared down at me.
“What?” the tightness in his voice didn’t surprise me. He was upset.
“I was sick once. When I was little. Really sick. I had leukemia and the doctors had given my mom no hope... and... and then I was all better. It was a miracle. We never really spoke about it after that. Mom never worried it would return. The check-ups with my doctors ended a few years later and that was the end of it.”
Dank’s hold on me had turned into a vice-like grip. “What did you remember in your dreams?”
“It was so real, Dank. I could even smell the moldy scent of the old shack.”
“Tell me,” he encouraged, as his fingers ran through my tangled hair gently working out the knots as he went.
“An old lady was there. Her accent was thick. It was hard to understand everything she said. I’m not even sure what kind of accent it was. But she was doing a... spell, I think. Mom had taken me to her. She was begging her to save me. Then the boy, the one from the other dreams, he was there. He began chanting something and then... I woke up to the words ‘it’s time’ being repeated in my ear.”
Dank sighed and rested his forehead on mine. That wasn’t reassuring.
“Do you understand this? Do you know what’s happening to me? Is this because Leif has a claim on my soul?”
He didn’t respond right away. Instead he cupped the back of my head with one hand and ducked his head into the curve of my neck. Although I enjoyed being all cuddled up to him on my bed his hesitancy to answer me was taking away from the warm cozies I normally felt in this position.
“Dank,” I repeated.
“It was a Voodoo doctor that you visited that day Pagan. Your mother allowed evil magic to save your body.”
What! I swallowed the bile in my throat. What was he talking about? Voodoo wasn’t real but the fear overtaking my body told me it believed in Voodoo. It knew something I didn’t.
“I don’t understand,” I managed to choke out over the gripping terror clogging my airways.
“I’m going to find a way to fix this. Evil has a claim on your soul. Deities don’t associate with voodoo spirits. They aren’t all powerful but they can use their power over humans to cause pain. A restitution must be made in order to send them away from you. I can protect you but the spirit after you is the most powerful voodoo spirit out there. It won’t go away without a fight.”
“Leif is a... a voodoo spirit?” That couldn’t be right. Leif wasn’t evil.
“Pagan, those who don’t have souls can only belong to one place. The Creator does not create soulless creatures. He has no use for them. A soul can only be created by the Creator. Therefore, all that doesn’t contain a soul is evil. Leif is the product of one of the strongest evil spirits there is. The Voodoo lord of the dead, Ghede, is powerful because of the chants and prayers he receives from humans. Leif is his creation. His child. Leif is the prince of the dead within the Voodoo religion. Your connection to him is the reason you see souls. Before you were sick, before your mother took you to the voodoo doctor, had you ever seen a soul?”
I couldn’t remember. This was too much. Voodoo? My mother saved me with Voodoo? Oh God.
“How... how can you fix this?” I asked, needing someone to reassure me it was going to be okay. Maybe this was just another dream. Maybe I would wake up and I would be normal again.
Dank dropped his arms from around me and stood up. I didn’t like the distance. I wanted him close.
“When I’m not taking souls I will be finding a way to end this,” he paused then looked away from me, “Gee is going to come stay with you until I’ve handled this.”
“You mean you’re leaving?” I fought the tears stinging my eyes and threatening to spill. I couldn’t do this without him here. I wanted to be strong and fearless but right now I just needed him near me.
Dank let out a sigh and closed his eyes and ran his hand over his face. I knew I was making this hard on him but I didn’t want him to go away. Even if I loved Gee, I wanted Dank.
“There is no other answer to this Pagan. I can’t exactly forego my job. I still have to take souls. All my free time will to be focused on keeping you safe.”
“PAGAN! BREAKFAST!” my mother’s voice rang up the stairs interrupting my attempt at begging.
“Go get ready Pagan. Go to school. I won’t stay gone completely. Every chance I get I’ll be right here.”
“Alright Peggy Ann, where we headed first?”
I turned to look at Gee who had fallen in step beside me, I realized she didn’t look like an ethereal “transporter” but instead the Gee I’d met in the mental hospital. Her blond hair was spiky and bleached white. Her eyebrow was again pierced and it looked like she’d added another small bar beside it. The diamond in her nose was no doubt very real and, of course, she had to be wearing black lipstick. She made the wanna be goths look pathetic in their attempts to pull off the style.
“Whatcha staring at Peggy Ann? You miss me that much?”
“I’d forgotten how well you can pull off the crazy bad-ass look.”
Gee burst into a cackle of laughter. “You said ass,” Gee announced rather loudly causing me to wince a little. “My little princess is getting some bite to her.”
Rolling my eyes I glanced past Gee to see Miranda standing by her locker with Wyatt watching me with a horrified expression on her face. She’d remember Gee from the crazy house. Crap. I hadn’t thought of that.
“Um, my friend Miranda saw you... ya know before. What am I going to tell her?”
Gee followed my gaze and then waved at my friends as if they were long lost buddies of hers. “She isn’t staring at me with her mouth hung open because she remembers me Pay-gan. She’s gawking because I don’t fit the profile you normally hang with.”
I started to respond and decided not to. Gee was right. My friends didn’t have piercings on their face, or wear short miniskirts with tall black army boots. Or deck themselves out in black nail polish and lipstick. Gee was definitely going to draw attention.
“So, she doesn’t remember you from the mental house?”
Gee shook her head, “Nope, Dank took care of that.”
With a sigh of relief I made my way over to Miranda. I wasn’t up for telling more lies today. I was glad I wouldn’t have to come up with something to appease Miranda’s questions. Although, I was going to have to find a way to get Miranda to stop gaping at Gee like she had a third eyeball. Gee was really cute all dressed up like a rebel. Sure she was gorgeous when she was all transporty but she pulled this look off well too.
“Miranda, Wyatt, this is my friend Gee,” then I was stumped. I hadn’t thought that far.
Miranda’s horrified slightly confused gaze shifted from me to Gee lingering just a little longer on Gee.
“Gee?” Miranda asked
“Yep, Gee. Look your friend can already say my name. Isn’t she a bright one?” Gee teased, obviously eating up the uncomfortable gawking. I elbowed her hard in the ribs and shot a warning glare at her.
“Gee is a friend of mine from out of town. Her uh, Dad is a friend of my Mom and she’s staying with me for a few weeks,” I stumbled all over my words. If they believed me, then it would be a miracle.
“If this fascinating introduction is over, I’m going to go find a vending machine. I need a Coke and a Snickers since you rushed me out of the house before breakfast,” Gee announced then headed off in what appeared to be the direction of the Teacher’s Lounge. Surely she wouldn’t. No, she probably would and was going to.
“So she has to live with you? Like in your house? Please tell me you lock your doors because she looks insane. Maybe you should just sleep with your mother. I mean, honestly Pagan, she has probably been in jail or,” Miranda gasped and covered her mouth, “I bet she has. Ohmygod I so bet that is why she’s here! What did she do? That is so unsafe--”
“Miranda, calm down,” I interrupted her babbling and grabbed her arm. “She hasn’t been in jail. She’s harmless. She just likes to draw attention. Now stop making up insane scenarios and relax.”
“She’s kind of funky looking,” Wyatt piped up. I shot him a “shut up” glare and hooked my arm in Miranda’s.
“She’s eccentric but she’s fun. You’ll love her once you get over her appearance and colorful language.”
“Colorful language? Oh no, she curses a lot?”
I nodded, “Yep and it’s amusing. She could put a sailor to shame.”
“I like her already,” Wyatt said glancing back to the corner where Gee had walked around. “You don’t think she’s going to the Teacher’s Lounge do you? Because that’s the only vending machine that way.”
I sighed and tugged Miranda toward our first period class. “That’s probably exactly where she’s going.”
“That’s just badass,” Wyatt replied in awe, then a very loud “umph, ow baby,” followed. Miranda had gone for his ribs with her pointy little elbow.
I laughed for the first time all morning before I remembered Leif and the mark on my soul. My smile quickly faded.