Authors: Jillian Peery
We dashed and darted a good mile in the woods, until we came to a small shack of a house, which, strangely enough, had a likeness to the house in the cemetery. It was like déjà vu—same small wooden porch, same rigid tin roof, even the same yellow light emanated from its dirty glass windows.
I tentatively stepped onto the porch and noticed small pieces of fish dangling from strings attached to the rafter of the roof. Maybe coming here wasn’t a good idea. I had heard the rumors about the Cajun healers, just like everyone else. Traiteurs were faith healers—they used their faith, strong prayer, and remedies passed down from generation to generation to heal, but over time, many of the faith healers in Louisiana had gone bad, turning to the ways of voodoo and white magic. Alice had warned me against those ways. She had me promise to stay away from magic practices, Ouija boards, witchcraft, and anything of the sort. I could hear her warning in the back of my head,
It’s the fastest way to lose yourself. Promise that you will stay far away from those practices, Clara.
At the time, it had seemed to be an easy promise to make.
Maytide must have noticed my expression. “Don’t you worry, nightingale. Dis things are nuttin’ but food for de cats. De strings keep de ants from comin’ to de porch.”
The screen door squeaked open and then slammed behind me. The first room, which I assumed was Maytide’s living room, was crammed with everything you would expect from a traiteuse. Dozens of built-in shelves held rows of glass jars and saltshakers. They almost seemed like decoration to the house—each filled with colorful substances. Powders. Liquids. Solids. One might think she was a mad scientist.
A small area to the right of the room was packed high with boxes of all sizes. All of the boxes were marked with dates and descriptions of the contents—some were marked
, while others were marked
I could only make out a few words on the labels—
Alligator Tail, Strawberry Roots, Dry Potato Skins, Dried Pumpkin
—but it was enough to know that she collected things that were much stranger than anyone I had ever known.
She shook as she trampled through the narrow living room to the kitchen. I took a deep breath before following.
In the middle of the kitchen, hanging from the hooks of a weathered potholder, were long strands of shriveled herbs, black feathers, and purple roots. The countertops were similar, storing jars—dozens of jars. I ran my fingers over the labels:
Molasses. Pickled Pig. Honey. Red Wine. Figs. Seaweed. Grape Jam. Holy Water.
Again, everything was labeled and dated.
“Why did you bring me here, Maytide?”
Maytide stayed silent as she lifted a pitcher from the countertop and then emptied its golden contents into two short glasses.
“Drink,” she said.
I responded with a polite, “Thanks, but no thanks,” but she insisted again.
“Drink. De hot tea is good for de body.”
The warmth of the tea slid down my throat with ease and left the faint taste of ginger. It had a calming effect. I took a second sip before deciding to continue with my questions.
“Why am I here?”
Maytide looped her two spotted hands around her glass cup before speaking. “Because you need to know de truth before dey come for you.”
“Who’s coming for me? Am I in trouble?”
“Oh, child, don’t be askin’ me all de questions. Look—look.”
She pointed to an old mirror that was propped against the wall behind me. The mirror appeared weathered, just like everything in the shack, and had a long jagged crack down the center. Its frame looked like it had once been thick and heavy, but now, as it leaned against the wall, it merely seemed brittle.
“Get closer—look at yourself.” She walked around the table to guide my body forward. She backed away as soon as I was face-to-face with the broken mirror, staring straight into my reflection.
“I know what I look like—why…”
“Shhhh, stop with de questions. Tell me what you see.”
As I faced my tired, drenched reflection in the mirror, I couldn’t help but notice how pathetic I looked. I never spent much time looking at myself in the mirror—never saw the need. No matter how much makeup I added to my face, or gel I added to my hair, nothing really changed. I always looked dull, but I never realized that I looked pathetic as well. Maybe this was my new look—the look that came with being betrayed. Hurt. Or maybe it was the loneliness that stared back at me.
I was about to turn around and head back home, thinking I should have never agreed to follow her in the first place, when something incredible happened.
One side of the cracked mirror rippled.
I looked closer at my reflection, stunned by what I thought I saw. The jagged crack that flowed down the center of the mirror appeared to serve as a division between my normal reflection and a reflection that rippled from the surface of a deep blue ocean. I froze for a second, not knowing if I could believe my eyes. When I lifted a foot to take a step backward, the rippling image mimicked the action.
“Wh-What is this? What are you doing, Maytide?”
I knew that what I was seeing was not real. It was impossible. It was a hallucination. An illusion. I was sure of it. It had to be.
“Dere you are with your questions again. All you chir’en want to do is ask de questions instead of findin’ de answers.” Maytide was pacing about the room, arms crossed, head bobbing. “I’m not de one doin’ anyting—it is you. Now tell me, what do you see?”
“I’m not sure. What I see is impossible. I see my reflection, but the mirror is changing. One side looks like me—standing here, in this room—but the other side looks different—like the surface of water, like I’m looking into a dark blue ocean.” I sounded crazy explaining the image I was seeing.
“Oh yes, yes. That is good, very good. You haven’t forgotten everyting.”
“What are you talking about? How are you doing this?”
I stepped forward and placed both hands on the mirror, hoping I would discover the hidden trick behind the illusion. As soon as my fingertips touched the smooth surface, the mirror reverted back to its original state. Cold glass. No more rippling reflection—just me, standing in a room, with my hands pressed against an old cracked mirror. The effect was an unsettling one.
“What is happening, Maytide? Who is coming for me? Please tell me what you know,” I pleaded.
I stood completely still as her body wiggled across the room to where I stood. Her hand flashed in front of me and then circled my face before she spoke in a low voice that I had to strain to hear.
“Don’t worry ’bout de reflection. De mirror only reflects fragments of your true self,” she said, slowly pronouncing each word carefully. “De chir’en, little nightingale. De chir’en of de dark ones be comin’ for you. Dat is what we worry ’bout.”
My pulse quickened.
Something about her voice—how she said
sent a chill up my spine. I stood scared stiff, like I was back in the dark library of my nightmare. My eyes stayed fixated on Maytide, watching her demeanor change. The slight upward curve in her lips had dropped into a distinctive sad frown. Her eyebrows were now pushed closer together, wrinkling the loose skin between them, while her eyes looked to a distant place.
I couldn’t say anything. Couldn’t ask anything. I was beginning to think that I had never woken from my nightmare. Everything about the night had been strange and chilling. Maytide appeared like a character from one of those scary thriller movies Jean liked to watch. This had to be my imagination. Besides, mirrors couldn’t transform into rippling water. If I woke up, I’d be right back in my bed again. My comfortable, safe bed.
Maytide’s eyes narrowed, as if she could hear what I was thinking. Her distant stare slowly began to focus back to me.
“You must leave de parish. You and your aunt must go far away from dis place before dey get you.”
“But this is our home. Why should we leave?”
“Dings will get bad. Dey will come for you—de process has already begun.”
Process? They will come for me?
I thought back to the last night I saw Erik. These were the same words he had used.
“Who are these people? And why would anyone look for me? I’m nobody.”
“De dark ones are de ones dat fell from de light—de grace of God. Cast down to de lake of fire to pay for deir rebellion.”
I shuttered. “Who are their children?”
“Deir children are de ones who wear de mark—de ones who gave deir souls to de night. De fallen ones.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Dey have many names. Fallen angels. Demons. Your generation calls dem vampyres.”
“There is no such thing. Vampyres aren’t real.”
“Not de vampyres you read in books or see in de picture show. Dey do not have fangs. Dey do not feed on blood. Dey feed on life’s essence. Dey turn de weak to evil—to de darkness. Dey will mark dem as fallen. Evil is out dere. You may not see it, but it is as real as de wind.”
“I-I need to go. I shouldn’t have come here.”
“Here, take dis.” She shuffled over to a bookshelf and grabbed a leather-bound book that was wedged between jars marked
“Read dis—cover to cover. When you finish, read it again. Do not stop readin’ de book till you understand what de book is telling you.”
“Dere are people in dis world who can only believe what dey see, what dey touch. Dey never believe what dey feel. You are not one of dese people. You will find everyting you need to know in dis book.”
As soon as the book slid from her hands to mine, I turned and walked straight through the door. The screen door came to a squeaking close behind me. I glanced back, to see Maytide peering through the screen.
“Remember nightingale—just ’cause you can’t see it, don’t mean de wind don’t exist.” Her voice cut through the air of morning as I made my way back home.
The storm had passed, and the soft light of the morning sun peeked through the trees. As I trotted back through the cemetery to the house, I noticed the Coupe was no longer in its resting place. Two lines of mud split through the green grass of the yard and trailed between the willow trees, all the way to the dirt road. Alice had already left for work.
I slid my fingers under the first step to the porch, until my hand pulled out a ball of mud and the silver key to the front door of the house. After my rendezvous with the cypress that morning, I was not about to climb through its branches again—I would use the front door like a normal person. I already had enough scratches to hide from Alice anyway.
The clock chimed as soon as I opened the door. Six o’clock, Friday morning. I had less than an hour to clean up before Jean would be waiting at the end of the road, so I sprinted up the stairs.
I followed the road down until it met the highway. Jean was already there, parked in the only grassy spot by the road, blasting her favorite pop tunes. Her style in music was much like her personality, loud, upbeat, and hard to deal with in the morning. It was even worse in the car. It was like a tsunami of zest flooded from the dashboard and poured throughout the interior of the car. Not something I wanted to be engulfed in today.
“Good morning!” Her perky voice managed to override the music before joining in on the chorus.
“Hey.” I didn’t bother saying anything else; she was still absorbed in her music.
“This is the song we are dancing to in our pep rally routine! Isn’t it great?” The tight curls around her face bounced as she swung her head to the beat. I didn’t recognize the song. It sounded like all the others. Fast rhythm. Electronic voices. Loud drums. I was still stuck on the fact that it was Friday—pep rally day, the day of ultimate enthusiasm and bursts of cheering. It was going to be a long day.
The tires slipped briefly on the highway before she turned and rolled over the rough pavement of the school parking lot. On Fridays, Jean parked in the front parking lot of the school to unload the dozens of signs she always made to decorate the gym. Today the Red River Bulldogs played our rival team, the Riverdale Wildcats, so the car was filled with extra school spirit.
I went to my first class feeling tired and lonely. When Erik was here, I would spend all class period writing notes to him, but now that he was gone, things had reverted back to the way they were. I was alone. I sunk down into my usual seat two rows away from the window and six rows back, then shuffled through my bag to grab my chemistry book. On Fridays our class periods were shortened to allow for the pep rally at the end of the day, so instead of going to the lab to learn something new, we spent the entire class period in silence filling out chapter reviews—busywork.
It took all of my energy to stay awake and to focus on the questions in front of me, but in less than twenty minutes, I had managed to jot down reasonable answers that might land me a satisfying B, at best. My hand slipped back into my bag and grabbed the leather-bound book Maytide had given me. I heard giggling from the back of the room. It was Lydia. After the stunt she had pulled at lunch the day before, I had no desire to be anywhere near her. Her presence alone bothered me.