There’s a blackness that coats Snake’s Hollow, like night left her shawl over the entire town. It is thick, it is alive, and to breathe it in is to choke down smoke and the ripe red cayenne peppers left in rum at the peristyle.
Call the blackness an omen, call it sin. Out of all the humans in my small Louisiana home, only I can see it.
The night is full of haints, the church bells toll on their own, and sometimes, you gotta feed the crossroads. That’s what the blackness brings – loup garou, zombies, the Petro Nation – and they stay away because of Raff and Papa Leggie, always on the town’s edge, but someday, they’ll come marching right on in. That I know for sure, that it’s only a matter of time before your shadows catch up with you
Tonight I’m gonna meet them.
The blackness snakes across the woods like Spanish moss then enter people’s dreams every night, and my God-fearing granmamma makes a sound in her sleep that could curdle milk. When I was younger, barely in elementary school, Raff would cover me with his old white wings and sing me to sleep in the tongue of angels, and the next day in church Papa Leggie would have ten more lines on his bark whorl face. Leggie and God, they’re poker buddies, so Raff tells me.
I wonder if they gamble over which town’s turn it is to vanish into the blackness next.
Winter down here is chill and muggy, and maybe I’m riled up on Maya Angelou’s poetry that sweet momma loves to read to me before our dinner prayers, but I’m brave, and Raff is asleep on the roof, and not a soul is awake in this silly town. They’re all tired out from church where they tried to get slices of salvation just like apple pie, and they’re clearly ain’t enough to go around like at church picnics, or the damn shadows wouldn’t be here watching me.
At the end of Still I Rise tonight, momma said “Be brave May Octavie Laveau, be strong, ‘cause this world will beat stubborn women down, and you ain’t worth anything if you ain’t stubborn as a mule.” I wish I was like Storm in X-Men and could clear this place of the darkness, but it’s more than weather.
The blackness is in the bones of this town, fabled for Calf Springs that will heal and Snakes Springs that will curse. There are so many heroes in my comics and movies – Leia, Nubia, Black Panther, Vixen – and I got a cape and light-up plastic light saber from a few years ago from when I still used to play make believe. I put them on as a shield of sorts, full of sweet childhood memories, then crawl out the window, onto the gutter, and down the widow’s walk –
Wings in my face, strong hands at my waist. I’m hauled from the widow’s walk back into my room like a lil girl picking flowers.
Raff just popped up like a daisy from a grave. Jack’s rabbit if he ain’t fast as a hare. I could have sworn I lulled him to sleep with momma’s chocolate chip cookies. No one can see Raff ‘cept me, and he’s been with me since birth. Love him but he’s a pain in my tush sometimes.
His scarred face is all stern, and he sits me down on my bed and dang it am I in for a talking.
“May! What did I tell you about going out at night? It’s too dangerous for you to even fathom! I didn’t raise you to lose you, girl.” His voice gets all gentle in the end, and he scratches his shaved curls.
I squint at Raff in the darkness of my room. He’s got skin brown as me, and I used to not believe that he was an angel when I was younger. I would say angels were only blonde women that played harps flying round the manger of baby Jesus, but Raff has a flaming sword and ain’t very good with babies. He thinks they’re cute and all, but he’s been a bachelor since Literal Day 1.
“You didn’t raise me to be a scaredy cat either, Raff. I’ve seen the Baron come down at fetes and watched my uncle get ridden by Ogou and swallow fire. There’s a magic to my town, a curse of some kind that only I can see, and I’m going to save it. I won’t let Snake’s Hollow be another of Leggie’s bets.”
“Legba isn’t trying to gamble Snake’s Hollow away, May,” Raff sighs, sitting down next to me. “He’s trying to protect it. We all are.”
The blackness exhales outside my window – it always comes at the stroke of 3:00 AM, the witching hour, then leaves by dawn, and the sun is coming up. The howls of the loup garou on the bayou kept me awake all night. When it breathes, it sounds like the whistle of a ghost train, and when it leaves, it’s like a tea kettle burning.
Raff makes the sign of the cross, only his fingers draw holy fire on the air, and the cross floats to me where it kisses my heart. Blessings from angels never hurt, but I ain’t in needof his protection. I need his answers.
“You’re funny, Raff, you ain’t a proper man, and you ain’t a good angel. Angels don’t lie, after all.”
Raff narrows his sunny yellow eyes, the irises an unearthly amber. “What am I lying about?”
“Bets. The lwa make bets all the time. Leggie’s a trickster, after all.”
“Legba loves you, May. He’s keeping the blackness away. We all are. Now go to bed. You got school tomorrow.” He hugs me then takes off my cape and tries to tuck me in.
“I don’t need you pulling the blankets up Raff, I’m eleven, not seven.”
Raff smiles like river pearls are in his mouth, then laughs. “’Night, May-flower.” He climbs up onto the roof and soon I can hear him snoring like a foghorn.
I watch the blackness until dawn drives it out.
The night is alive in Snake’s Hollow.
In the dark, the Dead have names.