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The 31 Days of Hallowe'en - The Power

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  • brent wodehouse
    T h e P o w e r by Linda Addison The first time Brenda saw her cousin Angelique, she looked like a black angel. Dark as sweet chocolate, dressed in shades of
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 28, 2011
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      T h e P o w e r

      by Linda Addison


      The first time Brenda saw her cousin Angelique, she looked like a black
      angel. Dark as sweet chocolate, dressed in shades of cinna-mon chiffon. As
      Angelique stood at the top of the Amtrak train stairs, Brenda took one
      look at her and knew she had the Power. It glimmered around her. She
      glanced at her father. He obviously didn't see how spe-cial Angelique was;
      even Angelique seemed unaware of the strength of the sparkling light she
      threw out that Saturday morning.
      "Angelique, is that you?" Brenda's father lifted the girl from the
      train to the ground. The layers of her dress floated in the air like
      wings. "Look how you've grown. Last time I saw you, you were only as tall
      as a dream, and now you and your cousin Brenda are growing like rainbows
      into the sky."
      Brenda was used to her father talking like poetry every now and then.
      Grandmom said he was one of those people who'd been born in a moment of
      luminosity and had no choice. He was an artist who made things out of
      anything he found on the street, and he taught elementary school.
      Fortunately, Brenda was never in his classes, but Grandmom said that was
      just the way it should be, plain and simple, and Brenda should thank her
      mother in heaven for looking after her.
      A porter carried Angelique's suitcases to the platform.
      "Girl, your mother sent you with enough clothes for a year, and
      you're only here for the summer. That's just like Julia." He laughed.
      "This is a beautiful dress, but I hope you got some playing-around
      clothes."
      "Yes, sir," Angelique said.
      "In North Carolina that's the polite thing to say, but there are no
      `sirs' here in Philly. Uncle Larry will do. Okay?"
      "Yes, Uncle Larry," she said slowly.
      "How's your parents doing?" he asked.
      "Mother is busy with her charity work, and Father's business is doing
      very well." Angelique smoothed her dress.
      "Good. Now, let's get you home so your grandmother can take a look at
      you. She's cooked quite a feast in your honor."
      Larry picked up as many suitcases as he could carry; the porter
      trailed behind with the rest.
      Brenda took Angelique's hand and pulled her along with them. "I'm so
      happy you're here. You're staying in my room. I've got two beds. We can be
      like twin sisters, just like our moms really were."
      "I'd like that." Angelique squeezed Brenda's hand.
      When they reached the parking lot, Larry paid the porter and packed
      the suitcases in the car. Angelique whispered in Brenda's ear, "Do you
      know that old woman following us?"
      "Where?" Brenda asked.
      "Behind me, across the street." Angelique turned around. "She's gone
      now, but she was staring at us on the train platform."
      "I didn't notice her." Brenda shrugged. "Could've been anybody."
      As they drove to west Philadelphia, Brenda talked about all the fun
      they would have over the summer. They pulled into a driveway next to a
      three-floor wood house off Lancaster Avenue. As they stepped out of the
      car, their grandmother waved to them from the porch.
      She gathered Angelique into her strong arms and gave her a huge hug.
      Her deep laugh echoed on the porch as she held Angelique at arm's length.
      "Girl, look at you. Grown up enough at twelve to travel by yourself."
      She shook her head while smiling.
      Larry carried some suitcases to the porch and went back to the car
      for the rest.
      "Everyone grab a bag," Grandmom said.
      The house was filled with the smell of roasted chicken and apple pie.
      Grandmom settled in the green velvet couch and made Angelique sit next to
      her. "Now, let's give your mother a call."
      "I'll do it." Angelique picked up the phone.
      "Hello, Mother.
      "Yes, the train ride was fine.
      "No, I won't forget.
      "Yes, Mother," Angelique said several times as she chewed the corner
      of her right thumb.
      "Good-bye." She handed the phone to her grandmother.
      "Hi, honey.
      "Oh, you worry too much. Nobody is running wild here. Her and Brenda
      will have a great summer." She winked at Angelique.
      "We'll give you a call next week. Bye, sweetie."
      She patted Angelique's hand. "That daughter of mine always did worry
      too much. You know, I think it'll be good for both of you to have a little
      space. Now, let's eat some of this food I've been cooking."
      The dining room table was set up with the good china and silver-ware
      on a white lace tablecloth. White candles stood in crystal candle-holders,
      and a crystal bowl filled with daisies decorated the center of the table.
      "It looks like Thanksgiving," Angelique said.
      "And that's just what it is, child, because we're thankful to have
      you here." She hugged Angelique. "You girls wash your hands and help me
      bring out the vegetables."
      The doorbell rang. Larry answered it, and the house filled with the
      sounds of children and adults as his two brothers and their families came
      in.
      The evening went like a family reunion, everyone talking and eating.
      Angelique answered everyone's questions politely, smiled shyly and stayed
      near Brenda or her grandmother. After dessert, the adults sat in the
      living room drinking and smoking while the children played checkers in the
      dining room.
      Everyone left around nine, and their grandmother sent the girls to
      bed, saying Angelique was tired from all that traveling, and Brenda from
      being so excited.
      The next morning, after breakfast Brenda asked, "Can we go to the
      video store, Grandmom? I want to show Angelique around the neighborhood."
      "That's fine, just be back home by lunchtime."
      "We will," Brenda said.
      They walked to the corner of the block. They passed a couple of
      neighbors working in their yards, but once they turned onto Lancaster
      Avenue, the sidewalk was full of people. Brenda and Angelique looked in
      the windows of the shoe store and clothes store and ran into some of
      Brenda's friends on the way to the video rental store. They spent a long
      time looking at the new movie and game releases before picking an action
      movie to rent.
      On the way home they heard a shuffling behind them. Brenda looked
      back quickly. "It's that crazy old lady from across the street."
      Angelique glanced at the woman. "That's the woman I saw at the train
      station."
      Brenda frowned. "Just ignore her." She pointed at a small deli on the
      corner. "Let's get some sodas."
      When they came out of the store, the woman was not in sight. They
      turned the next corner onto the block of their house. The old woman limped
      out from behind a large oak tree. She was dressed in layers: torn red
      pants under a gray dress and dirty beige sweater.
      She gestured with a bent finger at them. "You shoulda been my sweet
      girl. I be teaching you right stuff - make good use of all that sweet
      sparkly breathing out of your skin. She won't show you all the light-dark
      makings." She spit in the direction of their house.
      "Mrs. Johnston, we need to get home," Brenda said, pulling Angelique
      around the woman.
      "Don't you worry, it ain't you I got the problem with. Keep up your
      learning. Yeah, that's what you do, my shiny diamonds. I follow your
      light. You my pretty key." She laughed through a mouth of missing teeth.
      They heard her shrill laughter as they rushed down the street. When
      they turned around, she was gone. They sat on the porch to get their
      breath.
      "What was she talking about?" Angelique asked.
      "Don't pay any attention to her. She's been strange ever since I can
      remember. People say she lost her mind when her husband and son died in a
      car accident." Brenda pointed to a broken-down house across the street.
      "That's her place."
      The yard was overgrown with weeds and a wild rosebush covering the
      front porch. A couple of windows were broken, and paint peeled from the
      wood frame.
      "That house doesn't look like anyone lives in it," Angelique said.
      "Are you sure she's not dangerous?"
      "She can't hurt us; we're protected."
      "What do you mean?"
      "I'll explain later; let's get lunch." Brenda unlocked the front door.


      After lunch Brenda asked, "Grandmom, can we go to the attic?"
      "Okay, honey. Be careful up there." She spread fresh herbs from the
      garden on the kitchen table.
      "We will," Brenda said.
      They went up to the second floor. Brenda pulled the attic cord,
      lowered the stair ladder, and scampered up into the dark opening.
      Angelique took one step and stood at the bottom.
      "It's kind of dark," she said.
      "Just a minute." Brenda disappeared into the attic, and a light came
      on. After a few seconds she popped her head out of the opening. Angelique
      was still on the first step. "You coming? There's lots of cool stuff up
      here."
      Angelique stepped up and tottered forward to hold on to the upper
      steps. "I-I-"
      "You've never been on a ladder before?" Brenda asked.
      "Ladies don't climb ladders." She held on to the step.
      "I don't know about that, but if you want to get to the attic, you're
      going to have to climb this ladder. Here, back off." Brenda climbed back
      down. "You go up first. Take one step at a time; hold on to the step above
      if you need, but don't look up or down just go for the next step until
      you're at the top. I'll be right behind you. I won't let you fall. I
      promise."
      "Okay." Angelique took each step like a baby learning to climb stairs
      for the first time, but finally got to the top and pulled herself into the
      attic.
      Boxes, trunks, and old furniture crowded the floor. It smelled musty,
      and a fine layer of dust had settled on all the surfaces.
      "It's not very clean up here." Angelique touched a carton. She wiped
      her fingers on her jeans.
      "Don't say that too loud. Grandmom will have us up here with a bucket
      and rags, cleaning." Brenda took a couple of old towels from a box in the
      corner, threw one at Angelique, and used the other to wipe off the top of
      a wooden box. "Some of these things are from when Grandmom moved here to
      help take care of me after Mommy died."
      "Let's see what's in here." She read the label. "'Brenda baby toys' -
      not very interesting. What's that trunk near you say, Angelique?"
      She wiped off the dust. "It's my mother's toys."
      "Now that's more like it." Brenda unbuckled the leather straps and
      flipped open the trunk. The acrid scent of mothballs drifted into the air.
      There were baby blankets on top, inside plastic bags. Underneath were
      baby clothes in shades of pink, yellow, and white. They stacked them on
      the floor. At the bottom they found a rag doll and other toys. The
      material of its body was made from worn blue flannel, with brown yarn
      hair, button eyes, red felt lips, and a faded red flannel dress.
      "I've never imagined my mother playing with dolls," Angelique said.
      "Well, Aunt Julia definitely played with this doll." Brenda handed
      the doll to Angelique. "There's more toys in here." She pulled out stuffed
      animals, a wooden pull car with a frayed cord, a metal tobacco tin filled
      with marbles and ribbons.
      Angelique touched each toy but kept the doll in her lap. She carried
      it tucked under her arm as they investigated other boxes, finding old
      clothes and dish sets. Brenda went through the drawers of a dresser and
      discovered a small red bag tied with white cord. She brought it to the
      light and sniffed it.
      "What's that?" Angelique asked.
      Brenda carefully untied the bag and emptied its contents in a teacup.
      It was a ball of white wax with little bits of what looked like sticks
      lodged in it.
      "It's a conjure ball. Looks like a spell of protection."
      "How do you know that?" Angelique said.
      "Don't you know the power runs strong in our family. That's what
      Grandmom says."
      "Magic isn't real."
      "It's real enough. Grandmom says I'm too young, but I've learned a
      lot about magic online." She dropped the ball back into the bag and tied
      it closed. "Can't you feel the light around this charm? It's been up here
      for years and it's still glowing." Brenda held the bag up by its cord.
      "I don't see anything but an old bag," Angelique said. "Mother says
      voodoo is uneducated superstition."
      "Voodoo isn't the same thing. Anyway, magic is just people using
      their power, mostly to help others," Brenda said. She took Angelique's
      hands in hers. "It's inside everybody and everything; some people have it
      stronger than others. Can't you feel it?"
      Brenda put Angelique's hands on her chest and closed her eyes. She
      took a slow breath. White light flickered behind her closed eyes. Tingling
      began below her belly button and pulled up through her chest, gathered in
      her next breath. She pushed out and opened her eyes.
      Angelique stood with her eyes closed, smiling. Her mother's doll
      rolled out of her lap to the floor. Brenda could feel her light mix with
      Angelique's and drift into the air around them.
      "You see," Brenda said.
      Angelique opened her eyes and took a deep breath. "What was that?"
      "Me reaching out to you. What did it feel like?"
      "Like electricity and light and warmth, like a dream." Angelique held
      her hands up, looked at each finger.
      Brenda saw the warm glow of gold light outline Angelique's hands, and
      it was clear that Angelique finally saw it, also.
      "This is no more of a dream than any of us see when awake. Grandmom
      says God is dreaming us all the time."
      "That was just a trick." Angelique stepped backward, away from Brenda.
      "You know that's not true. You can feel it inside, whether you
      believe it or not."
      "Well, I did feel something. And that glowing..." Angelique sat down
      on a trunk and folded her arms across her chest. "Even if I have this
      power, what good is it?"
      "What do you wish for more than anything?" Brenda tossed the rag doll
      to her.
      Angelique picked up her mother's doll, smoothed its hair, and held it
      close to her face. She closed her eyes. "I wish - I wish my mother would
      love me."
      "We could do that, Angelique. You and I together could do it."
      "You think so. Really?"
      Brenda nodded. "She's your mother, so she already loves you. It's
      just locked away inside of her. We can make a gris-gris to open her to
      you."
      "Even though we're here and she's in North Carolina?"
      "Distance don't mean a thing. We'll need something that's been close
      to her."
      They both looked at the doll.
      "And I have a handkerchief of hers in my suitcase," Angelique said,
      hugging her mother's doll.
      Brenda rubbed the silver key on the chain around her neck. "Good,
      then we'll make the charm tonight. I think some of my mother's toys are
      over there. Let's check it out."
      Brenda put the conjure ball back in the dresser. They spent the next
      two hours going though the trunks, trying on clothes, and setting up old
      dishes and glasses for pretend meals, until their grandmother called them
      for dinner.
      That night they sat on the back porch eating ice cream while Brenda's
      father had some friends over after dinner. Jazz played in the background
      as the adults talked and laughed in the living room. The lightning bugs
      drifted above the grass and the herb garden like stars while the girls ate
      their ice cream. Crickets sang from the bushes along the back of the yard.
      "Make a wish on the next lightning bug and it'll come true," Brenda
      said.
      "Is that more magic?" Angelique asked.
      "Naw, just a saying. But it couldn't hurt."
      They both whispered wishes and laughed.
      Brenda stood up from the wicker chair and peeked into the kitchen
      window. No one was there.
      "Want to make that gris-gris for your mother now?" she asked
      Angelique.
      "Tonight?"
      "Why not? It's as good a time as any."
      "What if something goes wrong?" Angelique asked.
      "First lesson in using the power: your intent makes the magic. It's
      not a complicated spell anyway."
      "I don't know about this. ..."
      "Of course you don't. That's why I'm going to teach you. Come on."
      They entered the empty kitchen through the back door. Brenda found a
      small brown paper bag in the cabinet and sprinkled sugar in it.
      "We'll put it together in our bedroom," she whispered.
      They walked quickly through the dining room. Larry and his friends
      were in the living room, laughing and talking over the music. The girls
      dashed up the stairs. They tiptoed past their grandmother's room, where
      they could hear her talking on the phone.
      In the bedroom, Brenda put a bracelet with little bells on the
      doorknob. "So we can hear if someone opens the door," she said.
      She put the desk lamp on the floor and used the two bedposts to make
      a tent out of a sheet. They crouched under the sheet.
      "Spread the handkerchief on the floor," Brenda said.
      Angelique laid the delicate square on the floor. It was white with
      white lace roses along the edge and her mother's initials sewn in yellow
      on a corner.
      Brenda pulled a light wooden box from under the bed; it had a sun
      painted on it. She took the silver chain with a heart and key from around
      her neck and unlocked the box.
      "I thought that was just a charm necklace," Angelique said.
      Brenda winked at her and opened the box. It was filled with yarn,
      bits of material, and things that jangled at the bottom. Brenda took out a
      ball of red yarn, pulled about twelve inches off, and cut it with a small
      pair of scissors from the box. She took a little pad of paper and a pen
      out of the box and handed it to Angelique.
      "Write your mother's first name nine times, real small."
      Angelique wrote her mother's name in careful strokes.
      "Now fold the paper up as tight as you can and put it in the middle
      of the handkerchief," Brenda said. She held the paper bag open. "Take a
      little sugar and sprinkle it in the handkerchief, to sweeten her to you."
      "You have the doll?" Brenda asked.
      "Yes." Angelique got the doll from her dresser drawer.
      Brenda handed her the scissors. "Cut a tiny piece of the dress and
      put it in the handkerchief."
      Angelique looked at the scissors and the doll.
      "Come on, Angelique. Think of it as an experiment - we just need a
      little bit."
      "Okay," she said slowly. She cut a teeny piece of material from the
      inside hem of the doll's dress and put the threads into the handkerchief.
      "Just as long as we don't have to sacrifice an animal or cut ourselves for
      this."
      Brenda laughed. "You don't know anything, do you? You don't use blood
      for a love spell. Fold the handkerchief up.
      "Now wrap this yarn around it nine times and put nine knots in it -
      to hold it forever."
      When she was done, Angelique stared at the small package they had
      made.
      "You've made your first gris-gris." Brenda tapped it. "The last step
      is to sleep with it under your mattress."
      Angelique slid it under the mattress. "Will it work?"
      "Of course, between your power and a perfect gris-gris, it'll work."
      Angelique laid the doll on her bed. "How long will it take?"
      "You can't put a time on something like this."
      The doorknob jangled, and they both jumped.
      "Brenda?" Her father knocked on the door.
      They took a deep breath in relief. Brenda locked the box and slid it
      back under her bed. "Come in."
      "What's this, camping out?" he asked.
      "No, Daddy, just swapping secrets."
      He smiled, a little too wide, as he leaned against the door. "That's
      good." He turned to leave and swung in a circle. "Oh, your grandmother
      wants you two to help her in the kitchen."
      "Okay." Brenda put the lamp back on the nightstand.
      Larry turned and walked away.
      Brenda made a sign like drinking with her hand. They both giggled.
      "He's funny when he drinks. It doesn't take much. That's why he
      doesn't drink the hard stuff. Does your dad drink?" Brenda asked.
      Angelique nodded. "He likes Scotch and soda, two ice cubes. I make it
      for him when he comes home from work."
      "Really? You ever tasted it?"
      She made a face. "Yes. I like white wine better. That's what my
      mother drinks."
      "Your mom lets you drink?"
      "She gives me a little wine on special occasions, so I can develop my
      tastes."
      Brenda threw the sheet back on the bed. "I've tasted beer. It's all
      right, but I like cherry soda better."
      On their way down the stairs, Angelique said, "Shouldn't we check
      with Grandmom about what we just did?"
      "No," Brenda said quickly. "We don't want to bother her about
      something this small. Okay?"
      "Grandmom doesn't know you're doing magic, does she?" Angelique asked
      slowly.
      "Shhhh - do you want it to work or not?"
      Angelique nodded.
      "Then let's go."
      They helped clear the table and wash the dishes. Most of the time one
      of Larry's friends sat in the kitchen talking to their grandmother about
      problems with her husband. After they finished drying the dishes, the
      girls went to bed.
      In the bedroom, with the lights out, Angelique asked, "Is it going to
      work?"
      "Don't have any doubt. It's important to be confident."
      "Okay. Good night."


      The rest of the week Angelique tried not to ask Brenda about the
      gris-gris for her mother. Every night she checked under her mattress to
      make sure the little white bundle wrapped in red yarn was still there.
      They played video games during the day and met with Brenda's friends to
      jump rope and window-shop. At night Brenda showed Angelique her favorite
      Web sites on spells.
      Friday evening the phone rang. Their grandmother called Angelique
      from the yard.
      "It's for you," she said, handing the phone to Angelique.
      "Hello, Mother." She told her about the fun things they did, leaving
      out the magic discussions. Her mother sounded about the same. Angelique
      gave up all hope.
      "Talk to you next week," she said, ready to hang up.
      "What?
      "Oh. I love you, too." She stared at the phone after her mother hung
      up.
      "She said she loves me," she said, hugging her grandmother.
      "Well, of course she loves you, honey."
      "But she's never said it before. Never." She ran out of the room to
      the yard, grabbed Brenda, and swung her around. "She loves me. She said
      she loves me."
      They danced in a circle until they collapsed on the grass, out of
      breath.
      "It worked, Brenda; it worked."
      "Of course. I had no doubt."


      The first half of the summer went fast. Between playing, Brenda
      taught Angelique what she knew about magic. They found spells online for
      making someone leave, to cure different kinds of sickness. They made a
      list of the kinds of objects carried in a nation sack. As they played and
      shopped, they collected unusual rocks from the park, or feathers. Every
      now and then, they would find some interesting piece of metal or glass on
      the ground and added it to their box of magical material.
      They gathered ingredients for small spells but never put the whole
      spell together. They saw Mrs. Johnston every couple of weeks; she stared
      at them from across the street and whispered to herself, but she didn't
      talk to them again.
      Angelique never saw their grandmother doing magic, but every now and
      then someone came by the house, and Grandmom gave them a package wrapped
      in brown paper. She once saw her grandmother take a small pale blue bag
      out of her blouse, rub it, and put it back. Brenda said that was her
      nation sack, where she carried special things for protection.
      Every time Angelique's mother called, she told Angelique she loved
      her, and even said she missed her.


      One hot July day, Brenda and Angelique came in the house laughing
      after a day at the park and found their grandmother in the hallway, on the
      floor. Her chest was covered with a dark cloud of squirming snakes. The
      girls screamed, and the snakes melted away.
      Brenda ran to her grandmother's unconscious body and shook her,
      yelling, "Grandmom!"
      Angelique ran to the living room and called 911. The ambulance came
      quickly. Grandmom's friend from next door rushed in when the medics
      arrived. She called Larry's school and left a message. Brenda stayed by
      her grandmother's side as they carried her into the ambulance.
      "I need to go with Brenda," Angelique said.
      "Go ahead," the neighbor said. "I'll watch the house. Larry will be
      there as soon as he can. I'll be praying here."
      Angelique glanced across the street before getting in the ambulance
      and saw Mrs. Johnston standing in the shade of a tree, pointing and
      smiling. When she looked out the back window of the ambulance, the old
      woman was gone. Nausea gripped her stomach. Could that woman have had
      something to do with this?
      The medics had an oxygen mask on the girls' grandmother, but she was
      still unconscious. Brenda crouched on the floor, held her, grandmother's
      hand, and cried softly. Angelique tried to talk to Brenda, but she pulled
      away.
      At the hospital the doctor made them stay in the waiting room. Brenda
      held Angelique's hand but still wouldn't talk. The waiting room was filled
      with men, women, and children clutched in little groups. Most stared at
      magazines or the droning television hanging from the ceiling. The sound of
      wheels rolling through the corridor broke through the whispers of people
      comforting each other.
      Angelique stared at the door, waiting for someone - anyone - to come
      in and tell them how their grandmother was doing. Brenda stared at the
      floor.
      Larry walked in, out of breath, as if he had run to the hospital.
      "Are you girls all right?" He hugged them both.
      "Is Grandmom going to die?" Brenda whispered.
      "No, your grandmother is the strongest person on this planet. I have
      to talk to her doctor. I wanted to make sure you two were okay first."
      "We'll be fine, Uncle Larry," Angelique said.
      "I'll be back as soon as I can." He dropped his backpack and rushed
      out of the room.
      Brenda wrapped her arms around herself and started rocking back and
      forth. "She's going to die. I can feel her ... slipping away."
      Angelique could also feel the wrongness, like air being sucked out of
      the room. "Somebody is doing something bad to her.
      You saw those snakes back at the house, right?"
      Brenda nodded, her eyes puffy and red from crying.
      "Somebody - I think the old woman from across the street - did bad
      magic against Grandmom. I saw Mrs. Johnston when the ambulance drove away.
      She was smiling."
      "But - but Grandmom's protection should have kept her safe," Brenda
      whispered.
      "I know, but somehow it didn't. Those snakes weren't real, but we saw
      them. Do you remember reading that sometimes you can see spells working
      through animal spirits?"
      Brenda nodded.
      "We can do something about this. We have to do a spell to stop it."
      "Maybe," Brenda said. "Maybe we can."
      "We'll pray now, and later we'll do more." Angelique put her arm
      around Brenda and closed her eyes.
      Someone tapped Angelique on her shoulder.
      "Uncle Larry, how is she?"
      "They think she had a stroke. We have to wait and see. The next
      twenty-four hours are very important." He took a deep breath. "I'll take
      you girls home, then come back here."
      "I need to see her," Brenda said.
      "We can't right now. She's in intensive care," Larry said.
      "I've got to see with my own eyes that she's not dead," Brenda said
      loudly.
      "But, Brenda - "
      "I'm not leaving until I see her." Brenda crossed her arms and sat
      back in the chair.
      A doctor pulled Larry aside. After they talked, Larry waved the girls
      over. "The doctor said you can see her for one minute. That's all. Even
      though she's unconscious, she can still hear us, so no tears. Okay?"
      "Okay," they both said at the same time.
      All three followed a nurse to the intensive care ward. "Only two at a
      time," she said.
      "You girls go ahead. I'll wait here," Larry said.
      After they put on a gown and mask, the nurse took them to their
      grandmother's bed. "Just one minute," she said, pulling the curtain around
      the bed.
      "Grandmom?" Brenda whispered.
      She was hooked up to all kinds of tubes and monitors. A wall of
      machines blinked and beeped on the other side of the bed. The air was a
      suffocating blanket of pine cleaner and ammonia.
      Brenda reached through the wires and tubes to touch her face. "I love
      you, Grandmom."
      "Me, too," Angelique said, caressing the back of her hand. "We saw
      the snakes. We're going to make a special gris-gris for you. To help you
      get better."
      Brenda looked at Angelique, then back at her grandmother. "We'll make
      the best healing gris-gris ever when we get back to the house."
      Her eyelids fluttered, but her eyes didn't open.
      "Stay with us, Grandmom," Brenda said.
      The nurse pulled the curtain open. "We have to let her rest now,
      girls."
      Outside the room, Larry said, "Let's get you two home."


      Once they were back at the house, Larry said, "Call me on my cell
      phone if you need anything. I'll be back in a few hours. Will you be all
      right by yourselves? I can have someone look in on you."
      "Daddy, we'll be fine. Go ahead." Brenda gave him a hug and kiss.
      "We'll take care of each other," Angelique said, hugging him.
      After he got in the car and drove away, the girls ran to their
      bedroom. Brenda emptied her box onto the bed.
      "Do you think it's Mrs. Johnston doing bad magic against Grandmom?"
      Angelique asked.
      "Maybe, if somewhere in her crazy mind she decided Grandmom had done
      something against her. I can't imagine anyone else wanting to hurt her."
      Brenda spread out the ribbons, rocks, and pieces of glass and metal from
      the box.
      "This is all junk." She took a handful and threw it onto her pillow.
      "Nothing good enough to help her."
      "Then we've got to find better things. Grandmom must have good stuff
      in her room, don't you think?" Angelique asked.
      "Yes, but - "
      "We're doing this for her." Angelique grabbed Brenda's arm. "Come on."
      They entered her bedroom. A sweet scent, like roses, filled the air.
      Brenda pulled the thick, white curtains closed and turned on the light.
      Angelique stood near the dark wood bed. There was a hot ripple in the air,
      like the wake of a boat in water. "Do you feel that?"
      Brenda lifted her hand to the air. "Yes." An edge of blue suede
      peeked out from under the bed. "What is this?" Brenda picked up the small
      bag. "Grandmom's nation bag. She always carries it. Why would she leave it
      here?"
      "I don't know." Angelique laid the bag on the middle of the bed. "But
      maybe we can use it."
      Angelique opened the closet, and a mix of earthy scents floated into
      the air. They found a wood cabinet in the closet, with jars and boxes of
      herbs, roots, and powder.
      "This is strong magic stuff," Brenda said.
      "Good. That's what we need."
      "This is too much for us." Brenda backed out of the closet.
      Angelique grabbed Brenda's arm. "We can't have any doubt. You taught
      me that." Angelique slowly moved her open hands over the con-tainers,
      letting her light guide her. She kept the image of her grand-mother
      healthy in her mind. When the center of her palm tingled intensely, she
      picked up a jar. She handed three jars to Brenda.
      One had "John root" written on its label. The other two had designs
      drawn on their labels.
      "We'll do it here," Angelique said.
      "How do you know those are the right things?" Brenda said.
      Angelique took her hand; they touched each item together. "You see.
      They feel right."
      Brenda nodded.
      "We need to do a spell of protection, then make the gris-gris. I'll
      be right back." Brenda rushed out of the room.
      Angelique waited in the middle of the room. There was a quick
      movement in the corner. When she turned her head, there was nothing there.
      Each time she blinked, something fluttered in the air, just out of her
      vision. Her heart beat faster. It took all her strength not to run out of
      the room. She opened her mouth to call Brenda but closed her eyes instead.
      Whatever it was, it couldn't or wouldn't touch her.
      She stood still until Brenda returned with a paper bag. Brenda
      emptied the bag on the floor. There were five different-colored candles,
      matches, chalk, a pair of scissors, and a can of beer. She pulled a piece
      of red flannel and a ribbon from her pocket.
      "For the spell of protection," Brenda said. "Do you remember how it's
      made?"
      Angelique nodded, took a pillow off the bed, placed it on the floor,
      and put her grandmother's nation bag on the pillow. "This is Grandmom."
      They drew a chalk circle around the pillow and placed the candles on
      the edge of the circle. Angelique opened one of the jars with a pattern on
      it and sprinkled a few grains of the black powder in between the candles.
      "To keep her safe," Angelique said.
      Brenda laid the six-inch square of red flannel on the floor.
      Angelique held a pen over the material without touching it, then after a
      few seconds drew a pattern on the material. Brenda wrote their
      grand-mother's name nine times on a piece of paper. Angelique laid a piece
      of John root in the paper, sprinkled the brown powder from the other jar
      on it, and folded the paper up. They tied it closed; each took turns tying
      a knot in the ribbon.
      Brenda opened the beer. Angelique dipped her finger in the can and
      dripped beer on the gris-gris to feed it. They placed it on the pillow
      next to the nation bag. Brenda lit the candles while her cousin dribbled a
      little beer in her hands and threw it in each corner of the room. They sat
      on the floor, held hands, and watched the candles burn. Shadows slid and
      jumped in the corners like trapped animals.
      "Whatever you are, you have to leave this house," Angelique said.
      Shadows crawled up the walls. The candles' flames jerked back and
      forth. A crunching sound, like mice chewing paper, came from under the
      bed. Brenda peeked under the bed but saw nothing.
      "It's time to go away and leave our grandmother alone." Brenda pushed
      light from deep inside. Warm yellow light like melted butter dripped from
      her hands and feet.
      Angelique saw Brenda's light and gathered stillness inside and pushed
      out. Gold light from her hands and feet mixed with Brenda's light and
      pooled on the floor around them. They stared at the candles.
      Their light streamed to the dark corners. Obscure shapes twisted up
      the wall, away from the girls' light.
      A giggle snapped in the air above them. They looked up for one
      second, into each other's eyes. In a blink, they were sitting in a field
      of daisies. A warm summer breeze bounced over the flowers and caressed
      their faces. The setting sun filled the sky with streaks of blue, purple,
      and white.
      They were two other girls, holding one flower. They took turns
      pulling petals off.
      "He loves me," one girl sang.
      "He loves me," the other girl chanted back.
      When the last petal was pulled, the girls fell into each other's arms
      laughing.
      Angelique and Brenda plummeted through a dark tunnel and were back in
      their grandmother's bedroom.
      "What - what was that?" Angelique asked, gulping for air.
      "I think that was Grandmom and" - Brenda shuddered - "and Mrs.
      Johnston."
      "How could that be?" Angelique asked.
      "I don't know. Grandmom never said anything about them knowing each
      other when they were younger. Maybe it's a trick."
      Angelique shook her head. "That felt true. Something happened between
      them, something that made her hate Grandmom."
      "I don't care what happened. I won't lose Grandmom," Brenda said.
      "Look - they're coming back. This was just something to stop us."
      The shadow things had leaked back down the walls as the girls' light
      dissipated.
      "No more tricks, true or not." Brenda concentrated on the candles
      again. She took deep, slow breaths to calm down.
      Angelique held Brenda's hands and did the same. The light flowed
      again from them, at first in a steady stream and then a rushing torrent as
      they kept one purpose in mind: to rescue their grandmother. Sounds echoed
      above them: giggles, singing, small feet jumping up and down. No matter
      what they heard, they kept their eyes on the dancing flames. Gold light
      filled the floor and lapped up the walls. They didn't even look up when
      the crying started - a little girl wailing deeply.
      The shadows on the ceiling curled in on themselves, wept down the
      walls to the floor, and faded away. The girls watched the candles burn
      until they were so tired they couldn't keep their eyes open. The shadows
      and sounds didn't return.
      "It's gone." Angelique put out the candles. "We'll take the gris-gris
      and nation bag to her tomorrow."
      Calm quiet surrounded them. Brenda nodded.
      They put the pillow back, picked up the candles, swept the powder and
      chalk into the paper bag, and went back to their room. Too tired to eat,
      they fell asleep and didn't hear Larry come in.
      He woke them in the morning to take them to the hospital.
      Once they arrived, the doctor told them that their grandmother was
      out of intensive care but still being watched. She hadn't regained
      consciousness, but her vital signs were stable. The girls looked at each
      other, smiling.
      The nurse took the girls to their grandmother's room while Larry
      talked to the doctor.
      She wasn't hooked up to as many machines as the day before. Brenda
      kissed her hand.
      "We made a gris-gris for you, Grandmom. Angelique and I did it
      together."
      Angelique took the charm out of her pocket, placed it in her
      grandmother's left hand, and held it.
      "And we found your nation bag." Brenda placed the bag in her
      grandmother's right hand. "We did the biggest magic we knew, Grandmom."
      "We did it because we love you and want you back," Angelique said.
      Brenda jumped. "She squeezed my hand."
      Their grandmother's eyes opened, and she smiled.
      Brenda leaned forward to hug her, but stopped as another face floated
      over their grandmother's face.
      "You my girls, my shiny light," a familiar voice said. The face
      smiled with broken teeth.
      "Get out!" Brenda said, trying to pull away from her tight grip. Mrs.
      Johnston laughed. "Why should I? You play, let me in. I'm staying now. You
      mine."
      "Oh, no," Angelique said. She finally saw how this had happened. The
      magic they'd practiced in the house must have made an opening in
      Grandmom's protection. "It was us. We let her in."
      Horror flashed on Brenda's face.
      "No!" Brenda said. Light shot out of her free hand and poured over
      Grandmom.
      "That's right, give me your light, my shiny key."
      Angelique pushed light out of her hands, but none came out.
      "Not yet, my sweet. Later, there'll be time for you and me later,"
      the face over Grandmom's said.
      Angelique's light and voice were locked inside. She could do nothing
      except watch Mrs. Johnston absorb Brenda's light. The old woman's body lay
      over their grandmother's like a gelatinous blanket, getting thicker each
      second.
      "Grandmom, help me," Brenda whispered, stumbling against the bed.
      "She can't help you now. I got her nice and tight. Soon she be gone;
      then we have a good time," Mrs. Johnston said, her body filling out, the
      spectral skin stretching.
      Angelique prayed inside, wanting to close her eyes, but could not.
      Brenda's lips moved, but no sounds came out; tears streamed down her face.
      "Mommy," Brenda blurted out. The gold light traveling from her to
      Mrs. Johnston turned lighter in color; green light streaked its edges.
      Brenda suddenly remembered a picture of her mother in a silk gown that
      same color of green. It was her mother's favorite color.
      "Help me, Mommy."
      "Stop that." Mrs. Johnston twisted back and forth as the green light
      increased, pulling from Brenda's arms and chest. "Stop, stop, stop..." Her
      body inflated larger like a balloon.
      Angelique snapped loose from her control and staggered away from the
      bed. When she took a step toward Brenda, a soft voice whispered in her
      ear, "Wait." Angelique took one step toward Brenda. The voice pleaded
      gently, "Stay here; it will be all right." The voice was like her mother's
      but softer. In her heart she could feel it wasn't Mrs. Johnston. Brenda
      stood taller, her eyes closed, her mouth moving silently as if she was
      calmly talking to someone.
      The outline of Mrs. Johnston's body thinned as the green light filled
      her form and spiked out in fine lines to the walls. She changed into a
      two-headed dog, but still the light stabbed through her; the dog's mouth
      open in an unuttered howl. A huge snake coiled over their grandmother's
      body, the light slicing through it in rings. The snake shape changed into
      a gigantic bird, snapping at the lines of light penetrating its body. No
      matter what she became, the green light continued eating holes in her
      form. Mrs. Johnston returned to a human shape, slowly deflating.
      "You shoulda been mine," she said in a tiny voice, before the aspect
      of her body slid to the floor and disappeared.
      Angelique ran to Brenda, catching her as she wobbled against the bed.
      A sheen of sweat covered Brenda's face. "Mommy?" she asked.
      "You did it, Brenda; you made her go away," Angelique said.
      "It wasn't me."
      A moan from the bed made them turn toward their grandmother.
      Her eyes flickered open. "Brenda, honey," she said slowly.
      "Grandmom," they both said, hugging her.
      "How?" she asked.
      "I've been studying online," Brenda said. "I taught Angelique what I
      know. And she taught me some things I didn't know last night."
      "I should have guessed there was too much power between the two of
      you to ignore," Grandmom said.
      "It was Mrs. Johnston; she used us to get to you," Brenda said. "But
      Mommy helped us push her away."
      "Oh, my babies. You didn't know what you were doing." She shook her
      head. "They found Shelia's body in her house, two weeks ago. She'd been
      dead a long time. I didn't want to upset you."
      "Shelia is Mrs. Johnston? You knew each other when you were young?"
      Brenda asked.
      Their grandmother closed her eyes for a moment. She squeezed their
      hands and looked at them. "Yes. We were like sisters once, but a man drove
      us apart." She shook her head. "Love can be a tricky thing. Or lust." She
      held their hands over her heart. "Don't let that happen to you."
      "No, Grandmom, never," Angelique said, taking Brenda's other hand.
      "No one will come between us," Brenda said.
      The doctor and Larry walked into the room. Larry ran to the bed and
      hugged her and the girls. "I knew you were too strong to let anything keep
      you down," he said.
      "Not that hugs are bad, but I need to check my patient," the doctor
      said. "Could you wait outside a moment?"
      "Just for a few minutes, because I've got a lot of work to do at
      home," Grandmom said. She slipped the nation bag back to Brenda, and the
      gris-gris to Angelique.
      The doctor and Larry walked through the green and gold light that
      splashed and shimmered in the room without seeing it. Brenda and Angelique
      waved to their grandmother from the doorway, knowing she was safe now,
      surrounded by the power.


      "The Power" copyright © 2004 by Linda Addison



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