The Seer Renee by C.R. Daems
Renee has a near perfect life: a grandmother who raised her and she loves like a mother, college life, and the prospect of following in her grandmother’s footsteps helping people as a Voodoo priestess. But her life is turned upside-down and inside-out when her grandmother commits suicide to save Renee from a mysterious threat. Alone, vulnerable, and confused, Renee is surrounded by danger beyond her understanding.
Her grandmother’s legacy—the gift of seeing an individual’s future—has her, her friends, and her lover in danger. And the one future see can’t see is her own. Her grandmother’s wonderful gift may have become a curse.
When Hector opened the door, I knew it had gone from a slow day to a bad day. Hector was the leader of the Locos. As the gang’s name suggested, they were all crazy. Hector was no taller than me, but he was twice as wide and double my weight. His broad smile exposed brown-stained teeth, which did nothing to make him look friendly. Nor did the tattoos, which covered every inch of his body not covered by his black cargo pants and sleeveless T-shirt with its multiple red skulls. His shaved head and neck were covered with gang tags, and Locos, a word which described Hector completely, was prominently tattooed across his forehead. He closed the door, twisted the knob that locked the deadbolt, and turned the Open sign around to read Closed.
“It’s time you and I get to know each other since you’re going to be Hector’s squeeze.” His smile got bigger, exposing his nicotine-stained teeth. As he made his way towards the small counter I was sitting behind, he weaved slightly—high on something. This was not the first time Hector and members of the Locos had visited my shop. They didn’t come in to buy anything, only to test my interest in them. When I didn’t show any, they would pick up an item and take it, to show me this was their turf, and they could take whatever they wanted. It appeared Hector had decided that extended to me.
As he approached the counter, his eyes were glued to my breasts, probably wishing they were bigger. That was too bad for Hector. I’m slender for my 5′ 9″ height and have long conceded my breasts were never going to be one of my standout features. I reached under the counter for one of the four rings there. Granny had a friend in Oregon make them, when she knew she didn’t have long to live. The four rings were plain-looking, each with a different stone and design, and each with a syringe mechanism. I slipped on the one with a tiger-eye stone. It was neither unique nor expensive. Since I always wore a couple of rings on each hand, another didn’t appear strange. This ring contained an extract from the seeds of the rosary pea. The diluted drug caused vomiting, fever, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. A similar ring with an onyx stone on my right hand held an extract from the leaves and stems of yew, a cardiac depressant that had no antidote.
When he reached me, he grabbed my arm and jerked me off my chair. While squeezing my ass, he pushed me across the room towards the door that led to my small living quarters.
As his grip tightened on my arm, I knew exactly what would happen in the minutes, days, and weeks to come. As a seer, once I made contact with someone and concentrated, I could see their future for the next several weeks and sometimes longer. Hector’s life over the next several weeks would be fairly routine for a Locos—selling drugs, sex with the gang’s girls, and fights. However, he wasn’t going to enjoy the next couple of days.
When he opened the door, I placed my leg between his, pushed with my shoulder, and made a half-hearted attempt to wrench free from the hand holding my arm. Twisting loose would be impossible. Hector had the strength of a professional tackle on the New Orleans Saints football team. But the object was to distract rather than to break free, like when a pickpocket bumps into you to misdirect your thoughts from any feeling you might have in the area he was working—like your pockets. As he stumbled into the door jamb, I struck him on the shoulder with my right hand. The impact drove the needle and several drops of rosary pea into his arm. Now I needed to play for time, and more importantly, effect. He smiled.
“That’s not nice, Renee. You’re Hector’s pussy now. You make Hector happy, or after I’m through I’ll have Locos tattooed across your forehead, and you’ll be the Locos’ pussy.” He laughed and slapped me on my ass. In response, I rolled my eyes up under my eyelids, made my body rigid, and began to chant in a monotone.
“Dinclinsin Ge-rough, your servant, Renee, seeks your help.
Hector’s attempting to violate your mambo.
Enter the belly of the beast.
Dinclinsin Ge-rough, …”
Hector’s smile waned as he threw me down on the couch. I lay there rigid, chanting as he fumbled with my skirt to reach my panties. As he hooked his fingers into the elastic band, beads of sweat formed on his forehead, and his face turned pale. He retched as the drug began its attack. I continued to chant, and he stumbled off me and puked on my rug.
Bastard, I screamed silently as I rolled off the couch and followed him through the doorway into the shop, shouting so he could hear me over his retching and puking.
“Dinclinsin Ge-rouge, let him feel your displeasure
for attacking your faithful servant… ”
He opened the door and fell to his knees onto the pavement. By now, the retching had become the dry heaves. When I reached the door, Betty Lou, a regular customer of mine, stood looking down at him. She turned to me with her eyes wide.
“Renee, can’t you help him?” she said, her voice rising with each word. Meanwhile, Hector had managed to stagger to his feet.
“No, Betty Lou. I don’t have any herbs that can cure stupidity. I’m afraid the shop’s in a mess and stinks besides. It’s going to take me the rest of the day to get it cleaned and smelling fresh.” I shrugged. “Right now, only the Locos could stand to shop here.”
She nodded but didn’t move, her gaze fixed on Hector, staggering down the street. I closed and locked the door and sank to sit, trembling, with my back against the door. I’d been lucky. The Locos had been sniffing around me for months. Had several of them attacked me or had Hector beat me before he grabbed me, the result would have been far different.
When the shaking finally stopped, I staggered to my feet. Needing something to distract me, I fetched a mop, scrubbing brush, and bucket, which I filled with water and Pine-Sol detergent, and began working on my rug. Tears came to my eyes as I scrubbed Hector’s stomach contents off my granny’s rug. She had raised me because my mother, her daughter, was, as Granny put it, born with a destructive personality. As a result, I only saw my mother when the latest love of her life deserted her, and she had no place to sleep. She never stayed long because Granny wouldn’t let her bring drugs into the house.
My tears stopped, and a small smile replaced my pout as my mind wandered back in time. Granny had begun teaching me about herbs and roots not long after I could read and write. Not just their names and descriptions. I had to know each by taste and smell as well as the effect of combining them with other herbs. Tasting proved a formidable teacher. I got to feel the effect first hand. Just a smear of rosary pea on my finger had made me sick for hours, and I had injected several drops into Hector’s shoulder. He’d be lucky to recover in a couple of days. If I had played it right, he’d be convinced I’d called on a Loa—Voodoo spirit—to make him sick. He wouldn’t be anxious to upset me again. With luck, his brother Locos would also be convinced I was a mambo to be avoided. Perception is everything in Voodoo, like all religions. It doesn’t matter whether the Gods are interested or not, only that you believe they are. I believe they exist but don’t like to get involved.
* * *
It took me several hours to clean up Hector’s mess. To get rid of the lingering stench, I opened the windows and lit several candles with a rain and island scent. Hopefully, the weather forecasters were right, and we would get some rain for the next twenty-four hours, not that rain was unusual for New Orleans.
I finished up around eight o’clock, too mentally and physically exhausted to prepare dinner for myself. Besides, I needed a distraction. I was still coming to grips with Granny’s suicide and trying to understand the strange circumstances that precipitated it, learning all facets of running a small business, fighting for acceptance as a mambo, and having to deal with crazies like Hector. At times like this, it seemed overwhelming. I wanted to scream, “It’s not fair. I’m only twenty-two and alone in the world.”
Of course it wasn’t fair, but so what. It wasn’t fair that Granny felt it necessary to end her life, but she did. It wasn’t fair that Hector felt it his right to force me to be his girl, but he did. Granny had the right of it. Life’s neither fair nor unfair, since unfair only exists because of each person’s perception of fair. Life’s to live, not to judge. Realizing how fortunate I had been to have Granny in my life, I vowed to be the woman she would have wanted me to become.
Feeling better, I locked the door and headed towards Saint Peter Street and the Cajun Café. I deserved a good meal at a nice restaurant. As I strolled down Bourbon Street, jazz and blues drifted out from bars and clubs as the nightlife came alive. I began to relax, enjoying the familiar sounds and smells. People wandered the streets in small lively groups. It felt like a gigantic outdoor party. When I reached the Cajun Café, it looked crowded.
“Mambo Renee,” Eloi said when he saw me enter. He was a tall rakish-looking man with curly dark-brown hair and a neatly trimmed mustache and goatee. His smile today seemed broader than usual. He normally called me Renee. Today he not only used my honorific but emphasized it. “Rumor is that you put a curse on Hector. More than a few people would like to see him suffer.”
“I didn’t curse Hector. I merely sought the help of a Loa. Much to everyone’s disappointment, he’ll recover. Next time, who knows?”
“We live for then. Patio, Renee?”
“Yes. That would be nice. I need the fresh air.” Especially after breathing Hector’s puke for half the day. Shortly after being seated at a small table off to the side, Alma, one of the regular waitresses, appeared.
“We’re all taking up a collection for you for doing Hector. Every day he remains sick, we’re adding to it.” Alma gave me an evil grin, which didn’t come easy. Her round café-au-lait face, with its heart shaped lips, small pug nose, and chubby cheeks, just wasn’t made to look evil. Hector was feared, and the local women went out of their way to avoid him.
“Well, it should be at least two days, maybe three. If you really do have a collection, give it to someone Hector hurt, with my compliments.” Knowing Hector, that would be a long list. I took a quick look at the menu while Alma stood, pencil poised above her pad, waiting. “Shrimp Creole and an espresso.”
After Alma hurried off, I sat back and looked around the patio. It appeared a mixed crowd, a handful of tourists, a few regulars, and several couples that looked like hookups. It reminded me that I hadn’t had much of a sex-life lately. I had a normal number of dates in high school, no sex but lots of heavy petting. In college, I didn’t do hookups, but I did have two serious relationships. The first one ended amicably by mutual agreement. We had little in common except for college and sex. The second ended when I found Granny was being terrorized. I dropped out of school and ended the relationship. Today, I realized it wouldn’t have lasted. He loved the excitement of New York and the thrill of trading stocks. I loved the heart of New Orleans and intended to follow in Granny’s footsteps. I shook myself out of my musing when Alma appeared with my espresso.
“Sorry for the delay. It’s crazy in the main room right now. Your dinner will only be a few minutes longer,” Alma said with her ever present smile. I didn’t care since I wasn’t in a hurry to return to my shop. But true to her word, my dinner arrived shortly afterward. The shrimp was delicious as well as the crème bruleé for dessert. I ate slowly, enjoying people watching. Granny had taught me how to interpret people by their facial expressions and body language. Most didn’t realize how much of themselves they displayed to a careful observer. Watching the hookups was the most fun, the ritual mating dance. After watching each couple for several minutes, I would have been willing to bet which couples would have sex tonight and which would be lucky to end it with a few kisses.
* * *
By the time I opened for business the next morning, only a slight sour smell lingered. I left the door open, hoping it would be all gone by the time customers began to arrive. I had few customers in the morning, but business picked up later in the afternoon. A small crowd milled around looking at the items displayed on the shelves and in glass cases, when a middle-aged woman approached me.
“Young woman, the price of your Voodoo dolls seems excessive. I can get a Voodoo doll at one of several shops for ten dollars less than yours.” She stood there looking at the other customers. “And they are packaged in a nice box and have a sheet of instructions.” She now had everyone’s attention, and a smug smile appeared as she looked back to me.
“Ma’am, you’re absolutely right, and they make excellent souvenirs and gifts from N’Orleans. But if you look into each box you will see they are identical. They were produced in some factory—maybe in China—as tourist souvenirs and the directions are written by someone who has never practiced Voodoo and contains a lot of rubbish.” I gave a practiced sigh. “My dolls were made one at a time by a practicing mambo, a Voodoo priestess. When I sell one of the dolls, I explain what Voodoo dolls can and cannot do.”
The woman stood silent. I could imagine her berating herself for buying one of those “fake” dolls from some other store.
Before she could speak, an elderly woman waved and pointed at one of the dolls I kept locked in a glass case. It made them appear important. “I’ll take that one,” she said.
Before I opened the case, I’d made four sales. I collected the money and placed each purchase along with several pictures of Voodoo dolls and a list of my services in a gift bag with “The House of Mambo Eshe” on it.
“Gather around, y’all.” I handed out sheets of paper and pencils for them to take notes before continuing. “To be effective, your Voodoo doll must contain the essence of the person you want it to represent. That could be hair, fingernail clipping, skin, semen, and even sweat. That must be attached or smeared onto the doll—the more essence the better. Voodoo works through the Loa, who are messengers to God. They also have powers of their own, but you cannot expect them to be sitting around waiting to carry out your wishes. You must petition them for their help…” I expected several were disappointed that they couldn’t place a curse on someone and had to restrict their petitions to more minor aliments or accidents. If it didn’t work, it wouldn’t be my fault. It would be their lack of sincerity, the Loa’s unwillingness to grant the request, insufficient essence, etc. “From a practical standpoint, perception is crucial. The person must know you have a doll with his essence and believe you have the power to connect it to him or her. You never can depend on a Loa to grant your prayer, and even if he does, a little help doesn’t hurt.”
The sales made a good profit that afternoon, and it was fun talking with customers about Voodoo. Most were surprised to find that Voodoo, more accurately, Vodou, was a religion with similarities to Catholicism and was practiced by over eighty million people who believed in one God. For example, the Loa were the equivalent of saints, not gods.
* * *
That night I sat on my couch listening to a CD of Taoist music. It helped me to relax for my upcoming fortunetelling session with one of my regular clients. Fortunetelling for me felt like a refreshing swim in a river infested with crocodiles. A year before Granny committed suicide, she sat me down one night and told me a story.
“Renee, what I’m about to tell you is for you alone. Your life depends on it,” she said. In that moment, she looked somehow older. “Our great, great grandmother received a gift from some Loa. She could see into the future of anyone she touched. When her daughters became of age, she selected one and passed on the gift. We’ll never know why she selected the daughter she did. That daughter, my mother, passed the gift onto me. I should have passed it on to your mother, but I felt she’d have used it for evil. I’m willing to pass it on to you if you wish. I no longer know if it is a gift or a curse.”
I didn’t know what to think. She had taught me how to tell fortunes by making up stories based on an ability to read people and their reactions. Most people unintentionally gave you enough information about themselves to deduce what they wanted to know. You merely had to give them a fuzzy tale hinting at the possibility of good things happening. I not only enjoyed it, but with Granny’s coaching I became so good, I had a few of my own clients. But the idea of actually knowing the future sounded intriguing and exciting.
“The minute someone knows you can actually tell the future and can in a sense change it, you become a prize worth more than money. When that happens, your life will no longer be yours. You would become a slave to someone and never be free again.” She wiped tears from her eyes. I reached out and took her hand, wanting desperately to help but not knowing how.
“Some dangerous men have discovered my secret and are forcing me to help them. I’d just refuse and let them kill me, but they are threatening to kill you if I don’t help. Fortunately, what they want help with is at least a year off. If you decide to accept our family legacy, that will give me enough time to help you understand the gift. You need not decide today or even tomorrow. It’s not a trivial decision.”
“What will we do about whoever is pressuring you?” I asked, frowning. “You can’t let someone do that. It’s horrible.”
She patted my hand. “Don’t you worry. I’m fixin’ to take care of that, but this has to come first.”
Granny and I discussed it for several days and nights before I gave her my answer. In truth, I knew I would say “yes” the minute she told me about the gift. A week later, she sat facing me with her arms bared. I’d seen her tattoos before but thought little about them, except they looked like works of art.
“They’re beautiful, Granma. Why do you keep them covered?” I asked. She seldom wore clothes that revealed the tattoos.
“These tattoos cover runes from the Loa. When you are given one, you will be told its name and see the rune; however, it will soon be covered with some tattoo. The head of an owl on my right arm hides Ohene—the rune for foresight and wisdom. My mother transferred it to me as her mother did to her. The symbol looks like a small circle with eight arrow-like spokes. It’s the only rune that can be handed down and only from mother to daughter.
“The other tattoos,” she said, pointing to a mouse and an ox, hide Osrane ne nsoroma—the rune for wisdom and humility, and Gyawu—the rune for respect and leadership. They have appeared one at a time over the years. They’re gifts from the Loa, which aid me in healing and ceremonies. Those have to be earned, but only the Loa know how.”
As I sat staring at the tattoos, Granny gently took hold of my arm and began chanting. For several minutes I felt nothing, then I screamed as a searing pain shot up my arm. I tried to pull away but couldn’t. I felt paralyzed. Through the blur of tears, I could see the Ohene rune on my forearm. It looked red and raw and although the pain had subsided, the skin smelled like burnt flesh. I watched in fascination as a tattoo took shape and slowly covered the scarred skin. It didn’t take long to realize it would not be an owl. Granny gasped when a mottled python in yellows and greens appeared—the great serpent and focus of divine power. After a few minutes of silence, she spoke.
“One future you can never see is your own. Even when it’s part of another person’s, you must extrapolate it from what you see. Nor can you see those of your family—I cannot see yours. You’ll probably never hear the conversations along with the images. Your great grandmother could, but I can’t. I don’t know why. It may be an additional gift a Loa gives for his or her own reason.”
The doorbell thankfully interrupted my painful reflections of the past. When I answered the door, it was Oatha.
“Good evening. You look happy.”
A smile lit her face and her brown eyes sparkled. “Yes, Remy and Bella both made the honor roll. I’m so proud of them.”
“That’s wonderful,” I said and led her to the old, wooden table in the corner of the shop. She sat, and I shut off all the lights except for a small dim one over the table. The reduced lighting helped to keep the person focused on me rather than the contents of my shop. Oatha already had her hands stretched out on the table when I sat down. I placed my hands over hers and closed my eyes. When my hands touched hers, I felt an overwhelming euphoria as her future unfolded before my eyes. In the beginning, I couldn’t stop or slow it down, but with months of practice I’ve been able to.
As I watched, I saw Oatha jumping up and down as her husband, Virgil, told her something. He had a small boat rigged for seine fishing and from their activities over the next couple of days, I was sure he had an exceptionally good month. I saw her buying new kitchen appliances several weeks later.
“Oatha, Virgil will have a highly profitable month, and you will benefit. You can enjoy the anticipation of good fortune, but don’t jinx it by telling anyone what I’ve told you. It could change what I’ve seen.” When I opened my eyes and looked at her, she was grinning.
The intriguing—and terrifying—aspect of my gift was that it allowed me to impact future events. If I saw the individual would be in a car accident and then told them not to drive on that day, the future would change if, and only if, the person decided to take my advice. In that event, I would see a different future unfold. So in a sense, I could change the future by convincing him or her to do something they would not have done otherwise. When Granny had explained that to me, it made my head spin. In theory, it sounded simple. In practice, it was far more complicated since changing one thing could and usually did cause a ripple effect of other changes—some more unpleasant than the original. Complicating matters more, I couldn’t be specific without people beginning to realize that I did actually see the future—and worse—impact it. Even thinking about it gave me a migraine. But telling fortunes brought in extra income, and in truth, it was exhilarating and provided an opportunity to help people.
* * *
For the next several days, I averaged about fifteen to twenty customers a day and half of them usually bought something. Twice I got to use my little Voodoo doll spiel and sold eight dolls. It surprised me that Hector or some of his crazy friends hadn’t stopped by the shop. I began to worry that they might be waiting for a more private visit. By the third day, I concluded all I could do was be prepared. Fortunately, when I was fourteen, Granny had insisted I learn some form of self-defense. I tried several styles the first year and finally settled on Bagua, an internal style of Kung Fu that focused on continuously changing positions in response to your opponents’ attack. It succeeded through balance and skill, not strength or brute force.
No clients wanted a telling, so the evenings were quiet. I fixed dinner each night and afterward relaxed with one of Granny’s hand-written books on herbs.
* * *
Late one afternoon, just before closing, Mambo Asogwe—high priestess—Monique, entered my shop. A Haitian in her sixties with a strong-boned face and high arched brows, today she wore a long loose-fitting purple gown with a matching head wrap. She said nothing as she strolled around the shop until she reached my counter.
“Bonjour, Renee. Your shop appears to be doing well. Your Voodoo dolls seem particularly popular.” A small smile touched her lips.
“Thank you, Mambo Monique. Merely proof that perception is as important as truth.”
“True, perception is important; however, it’s truth that separates the true mambos and houngans from the fakes. Speaking of perception, your reputation has grown since the incident with Hector. Some mambos wonder whether it was white or black magic.”
“Granny Eshe would not permit me to use black magic. She would haunt me from the grave.”
“True. Mambo Asogwe Eshe was a true high priestess of Vodou, and we should expect no less from her granddaughter.” Monique nodded. “I’m satisfied. Nevertheless, the rumor will persist. Hector must retaliate for what you did to him or lose face. Black magic would provide him with a reasonable explanation.”
“Thank you, Mambo Monique. Your opinion of me is crucial since I can’t dispute the black magic without bringing the Locos down on me.” I shuddered at the thought of what Hector and his whacko friends would do to me.
“Take care of yourself, Renee. You’re welcome at my hounfour anytime.” With that she left. I felt sure Monique had come to talk to me because of her strong friendship with Granny. There was a delicate balance in New Orleans and vicinity between the honest and fake mambos. We all had to make a living to survive, like any pastor of a church. We were, therefore, in competition for both tourists and followers of Vodou. On the other hand, Vodou was a religion that went far beyond money and our personal needs. The honest mambo and houngan hoped to provide their followers with a fuller life and prepare them for death. Of course, we also had to live in the real world with its Hectors and men like those who drove Granny to her grave.
* * *
The next couple of days were much like every other day, although business was a little slow. As I was getting ready to close for the night, a man and woman entered the shop. The man stood over six feet tall. He had an athletic build, walked with his shoulders back, and had dark-brown hair cut above the ears as though he might have had military training. He was dressed casually in an open sports shirt, Docker slacks, and loafers. The woman was a perfect match. She was only a few inches shorter than him, brunette hair cut above her ears, with not an ounce of fat. She wore light brown slacks and a cream silk blouse open at the neck. With her sleek frame and penetrating green eyes, she looked and walked like a predatory cat. They were looking at me rather than around the shop.
“Can I help you?”
“I’m looking for Mambo Eshe,” the man said. It took me a moment before I could talk.
“No, sir. She died over a year ago. Can I maybe help you?”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. We vacation here once every couple of years, and I always stop in for a telling. Mambo Eshe was the best I’ve ever encountered. You aren’t related by any chance, are you?” He looked sincere; however, the woman looked like a cat watching a mouse.
“Yes, I’m her granddaughter. I’ve inherited her shop,” I said with a smile I didn’t feel. Damn it! I didn’t want her shop. I wanted her.
“Are you also a fortuneteller?”
You know damn well I am. Warning sirens went off in my head. Could they somehow be related to Granny’s death?
“Yes, sir. People think I’m as good as she was,” I said straightening myself and pushing my chest out as if to challenge any doubt. But it hurt to even say it. If this were a game as I suspected, he would be suspicious if I said I wasn’t. Fortunetellers don’t claim to be less talented than someone else. They claim they’re better.
“Excellent. Can you do it now? Sheila and I are leaving early tomorrow.”
“No. I’d have to close the shop. Besides, I need time to prepare and to invoke the help of the Loa. I can do it later tonight if you want.”
“You don’t mind if Sheila comes along, do you?”
“Yes. You must be alone when I tell your fortune.”
“In the event I reveal something that you wouldn’t want her to hear.”
“You can say anything in front of Sheila. I have no secrets from her.” He turned to her and smiled. She said nothing but gave him a sweet smile before turning her attention back to me.
“No exceptions. Neither you nor I know what I’ll see.” I can handle one. I don’t know about two.
He shrugged and began wandering around the shop examining the items I had on display. When he did, Sheila pulled me aside.
“Do you have a lotion to treat skin cancer? My dermatologist claims I have a patch on my leg that needs treatment.” She leaned closer to me. “He’s very expensive.”
“No. I can make up a lotion for skin rashes but not cancer. If you had time, I could conduct a ritual to invoke the Loa to heal it. They have the power, not me.” It was a test of some kind. Maybe she was trying to determine how much of a charlatan I was. My answer could be taken both ways. She shrugged and walked off. As she did, he returned. They’re smooth.
“Mr….?” I said as I opened my appointment book.
“Mr. Rogers. You can call me Ken.”
“I’ll put you down for eight tonight if that will be convenient.”
“That will be good. Thank you,” he said. He joined Sheila and they left. I closed at my normal time and went about my nightly ritual of straightening the shelves and sweeping and mopping the floor. Then I set up the round table and two chairs I used for a fortunetelling and draped a dark-blue-velvet cloth over the table. When I finished, I went into the back and heated up a chicken gumbo I had made several days ago.
What did they want? Were they connected to Granny’s death? I barely tasted the gumbo, as my mind spun with questions. If so, what did they want her to do and were they probing to see if I could replace her? Drugs were a possibility but seemed unlikely, since Granny had said the event wouldn’t happen for a year, and I doubted they believed in magic. If they did, they would go to a high priestess like Mambo Monique. It had to be a one-time event and related to Granny’s ability to see into the future. Whatever they wanted, I had to be careful. Except for their clothes and lack of tattoos, they were no different from Hector and the Locos.
I put on a long gown with a green and white pattern and matching headdress. Then I put on five rings: on the right, a mother of pearl, amethysts, and the spring loaded onyx with extract of castor beans; on the left hand, a gold snake ring and the tiger-eye loaded with a moonseeds mixture. Castor beans would kill within minutes whereas moonseeds would only cause paralysis in its currently diluted form. I’d never thought about killing someone before, even Hector, but what if… I didn’t know and wouldn’t unless it happened but better prepared than sorry afterward. I had to assume these people, whoever they were, were dangerous.
He knocked on the door exactly at eight. His eyes scanned my outfit, and he smiled. After an exchange of greetings, I led him to the table, and we sat. Even if Granny hadn’t warned me, I knew I had to pretend to be your average phony psychic or fortuneteller. So, what would a reasonably good psychic conclude about the pair? They weren’t married, since neither wore rings, said they were tourists, so they both worked, were unlikely to have children, athletic so they probably worked out. Time to start the game. May the best woman win.
“Please put your hands on the table,” I said.
“I need to touch you. Mambo Eshe always said that the connection made the interpretation of what we see more accurate.” I wanted him to believe I was just copying her. He gave a small frown but said nothing. Within a minute of touching his hands, I saw him and Sheila breaking into my house. They were extremely careful to place everything they touched back exactly the way it had been. They took out each book and flipped through the pages, looked inside each jar or container, opened the hide-a-bed couch, took out the drawers in my dresser, knocked on the walls, and went through all my clothing. When they finished, the place looked just like it had when they entered. They were definitely professionals. Sheila was particularly interested in my appointment book and took pictures of the pages. Afterward, Ken and Sheila went to the Windsor Court Hotel where they met two other men. One young man who looked similar to Ken, and an older man with gray-streaked hair. Both men were dressed in well-tailored suits. I sat in silence until I had witnessed several weeks—probably took a couple of minutes.
“Well, Ken. You have a nice surprise waiting for you when you return home. Your employer’s pleased with you and you’re going to be given a promotion or more responsibility. You will be involved with a woman who will bring you much happiness. The only potential problem I see is an accident tomorrow when driving on Canal Street. I would avoid that street altogether. Oh, you will have a minor accident when you’re working out. I wouldn’t worry about trying to avoid it. It’ll only be minor, and you’d have to avoid exercising altogether which wouldn’t be worth it.” I think that’s enough bullshit. I opened my eyes and looked at him. He remained silent for a minute.
“Can’t you be a bit more specific, particularly around the woman and what will happen at work?”
“I can only see what the Loa permits me to see. Even then, they are snapshots of events, which require interpretation. The Loa seldom reveal when an event will happen, and I think they avoid going too far into the future because they don’t feel we should know.” He would drive down Canal Street without incident, which should establish me as a fake, if the other predictions didn’t.
“What about Sheila?”
“I don’t know. I can only see your future. The woman may be Sheila, or she might not be. Does it matter?”
He didn’t ask any more questions. He paid me, and after an exchange of pleasantries, left.
* * *
Nothing new happened over the next few days. I worked, cooked my own meals, watched a few TV programs, and reviewed Granny’s years of notes. I was tempted to hide the notebooks, since Ken and Sheila were going to break into my house. But removing them or trying to hide them could have unintended consequences since I didn’t know what they were looking for or why they were interested in me. Besides, I knew from Ken’s telling that they didn’t take anything.
I decided to eat out and attend Mambo Monique’s weekly ceremony afterward. I had to laugh when I realized it was the night Ken and Sheila would be visiting. I decided on the Cajun Café and closed the shop early.
Eloi wasn’t at the door when I arrived. The hostess, Susan, seated me at a small table in the outdoor patio. Alma approached my table a few minutes later. The restaurant looked crowded tonight, and she seemed stressed. I ordered a cup of gumbo z’herbes and a blackened red snapper entrée. Midway through my gumbo, a small boy tripped, banged into me, and fell.
“Are you hurt?” I asked, standing to help. He jumped to his feet and ran off without saying a word. As he did, another boy ran past me, followed him into the main restaurant, and out the door. I returned to my seat, thinking it strange but not sure why. Still pondering the incident, I noticed what looked like white specks floating on the top of the gumbo. Pretending to sip the soup, I touched it cautiously with my tongue. It tasted bitter—strychnine probably. I pretended to take several spoons full of soup before putting my spoon down and wiping my lips as though I had finished. A few minutes later, Kweku, a local houngan who practiced black magic, appeared at the entrance to the patio with a rattle in one hand and a doll in the other. He stood there, with his arched nose raised like a Ethiopian prince, waiting for everyone to notice him and the noise to die down. Then he began shaking his rattle and waving a Voodoo doll, which had long silver pins stuck in its stomach and chest.
“I curse you Renee in the name of Ogoun Ge-Rougs for the pain you have caused a man who meant you no harm. For that evil, you will feel the fires of hell. So says Houngan Kweku,” he shouted for everyone to hear. With his theatrics done, he turned and left. Now Kweku could pretend his curse made me sick. And strychnine would have made me very sick, possibly critically, depending upon the amount they sprinkled on the gumbo. Because Kweku practiced black magic, he was shunned by most houngans and mambos. The question remained, who paid him and why. I barely tasted my fish as I tried to make sense of it. It didn’t help that most of the diners kept sneaking looks in my direction. I’d bet the tourists thought it had been an interesting show put on nightly for their benefit. I had to agree it would entertain them, but I thought it degrading to Vodou. After the restaurant returned to normal, Eloi joined me.
“What was that about, Renee?”
“I’ve no idea. Either someone paid him to curse me, or he thinks his little show will help his business.”
“How so? You didn’t fall off your chair or throw up. And I can’t believe he thought you would.”
“Do you remember the two boys who ran through here earlier? One dropped strychnine in my gumbo.” I held up my hand before Eloi could speak. “Your gumbo is excellent without it.”
“Strychnine! I had thought his act funny and good for business… He could have killed you.”
“I wonder if Kweku knew how much strychnine would make me sick and how much could kill me,” I said, wondering whether he’s a fool or evil—a Bokor dealing in black magic. I left with a lot of questions and no answers. The walk to Monique’s Serpent Temple didn’t resolve my questions but helped me relegate them to a tomorrow problem. Today, the sounds of New Orleans and the evening ritual were to be enjoyed. As I entered the temple—a large cement platform covered by a cone-like thatched dome—Mambo Monique met me.
“Good evening, Renee. I’m glad you could attend.” She grasped my hands. “Perhaps the healing ritual tonight will help. Problems are best addressed with a quiet mind.”
“Yes, my mind’s in turmoil… and I’m in need of healing. I can’t expect the Loa to solve my problems, but I would seek their comfort tonight.”
“Together, we’ll seek their help.”
Fifteen men and woman were gathered under the roof of the temple, and another five strolled around the perimeter. Monique began the ceremony by drawing the ve’ve for Legba-Papa Labas with cornmeal to open the gates of the guardian of the crossroads. The drummers and the healing ritual helped release me from my turmoil, and I returned home feeling refreshed.
Clem Daems is a native of Chicago, Illinois and a graduate of the University of Arizona. He served twenty-two years in the US Air Force. Since then, he has worked as a software engineer, course developer, and adjunct professor, teaching mathematics and Computer Science.
He has always been an avid reader of Science Fiction/Fantasy but never had an interest in writing or being an author. So, it was surprising when he began his first novel, several years after his retirement, at age seventy. His first novel, co-authored with Jeanne Tomlin, “The Talon of the Raptor Clan”–recently reissued as the “Talon of the Unnamed Goddess”–was a 2010 EPPIE finalist in Fiction/Fantasy.
His hobby–a life-long one–has been Kung Fu and Tai Chi. Clem is currently retired and living in Tucson, Arizona with his lovely wife of fifty-plus years.
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