This week, short fiction from Crystal Connor that turns the magical negro trope on its head.
Narrated by Tonia Ransom.
Produced by Jen Zink.
Executive Producer and Host: Tonia Ransom
All episodes are brought to you by the NIGHTLIGHT Legion. Join us on Patreon for as little as $1 per month to help us produce more stories for you to enjoy.
Hi. I’m Tonia Ransom, creator and executive producer of NIGHTLIGHT, a horror podcast featuring creepy tales written and performed by Black creatives from all over the world.
This week we have a story that turns the magical negro trope on its head.
But before we get to vindictive figurines, just a reminder that all episodes are brought to you by the NIGHTLIGHT Legion. Thanks to our newest members Patrice, Angela, Georgette, Megan, zainabb, Jillyce, Tre, Hadley, Sarah, Travis, Chris, Kelly, Chelsea, kweilin, and Cloey. Thanks also to blue coble for increasing your monthly contribution, and to Raymond and Delores for supporting us via PayPal. You all have my eternal gratitude. We’re working toward our goal of bringing you new episodes every week, but we need your help. Just go to patreon.com/nightlightpod to join the NIGHTLIGHT Legion and get a shoutout on the podcast. And, just in time for spooky season, our merch store is open. Just go to merch.nightlightpod.com to get your t-shirts, hoodies, notebooks and more!
Now sit back, turn out the lights, and enjoy “Bryannah and the Magic Negro”, by Crystal Connor, originally published in the anthology “Black Magic Women”, and narrated by me, Tonia Ransom.
Bryannah and the Magic Negro
Bryannah frowned as she looked at the gift her grandmother had given her. The hunched-over creature was wearing a red and white striped baseball cap, white pants, a white shirt, and a red vest. A yellow handkerchief was fashioned about his neck.
It was supposed to be a man, except…
He had extra black glossy skin, big white eyes with tiny black pupils. He had large red lips, a large flat gorilla nose, and nappy hair.
Most black people considered Jocko, the black lawn jockey, to be offensive. Bryannah was still too young to realize that all that it took for adults to judge and be suspicious of each other was simply the tone of a person’s skin. But she was old enough to know that the doll she had been given was somehow wrong.
Bryannah had never seen a black person who looked like this. She thought it was revolting, and she started to cry. She wasn’t crying because of the monster she held in her small hands, but because she was afraid that her favorite grandmother, her Na-Na, had gone crazy.
“Now? Why you crying fo chile?” her grandmother asked her. “Jocko ain’t nothin’ to cry ‘bout. This right here,” Na-Na explained while tapping Jocko’s forehead, “is a Magic Negro.”
Well, that certainly stopped the tears.
“Magic?” she whispered. “What kind of magic?”
“Anykina magic you want.”
Bryannah looked again at the figurine. It wasn’t the standard size of jockey that one would expect to see on display in the front yards of people’s homes. Bryannah’s jockey was just a few inches taller than a Barbie doll, but Jocko’s clothes were unchangeable, and his limbs didn’t move.
“Now listen to me real good gurl. You listenin’?” Bryannah nodded her head that she was. “You bes’ be real careful, and I mean real careful, what it is you be wishin’ fo now.”
“Your mamma is a hot ass mess! Did you see that trilogy of terror doll she gave Bryannah?”
Derek was so caught off guard by Olivia’s comment that he spit Scope all over the mirror. The bathroom was filled with laughter.
“I’m surprised that you held your cool when Bre started crying.”
“Yeah, I’m pretty proud of myself, too. I so hate those vile, blackface minstrel show Aunt Jemima dolls. Why do people collect them? It just drives me mad.”
“People collect them so that they can give them to their six-year-old granddaughters for their birthdays.” Olivia’s laugh was boisterous. She shrugged her shoulder.
“I think I was okay with it because your mom didn’t do anything wrong really. The only reason Bre started crying was because she was confused. She’s not stupid; somewhere deep down she knew that doll was supposed to be a black man. I bet you anything the first man she compared that doll to was you, and then my brothers. It’s a hurtful representation; of course she would cry. I thought your mom handled it well.
“Besides, it’s better if her first exposures to such hatred and bigotry are introduced to her here at home, by the people she loves the most and who know firsthand what it’s like. God, could you imagine if she had seen something like that for the first time at school?”
“She didn’t Liv, she saw it at home.”
Bryannah laid Jocko down on the dresser and went into her bathroom to wash her face, brush her teeth, and change into her pajamas. When she came out of the bathroom she saw the doll standing on the dresser.
The little girl tilted her head in bewilderment. She walked to the dresser, picked him up, and spoke to him. “You have to follow the rules; it’s bedtime now. Well it’s almost bedtime. I get to have a snack first, but then we have to go to sleep.”
Bryannah laid the doll down on the dresser and covered him up so that he would be nice and warm. Once Jocko and the rest of her dolls were tucked in and settled down for bed, Bre put on her robe and skipped off to the kitchen for her snack.
When she got back to her bedroom, she saw the doll standing on the dresser. With an indignant huff, Bryannah planted both her hands firmly on her hips. “What did I tell you?” She demanded of the Magic Negro. She wasn’t answered.
Bryannah tried being reasonable. It was his first night in a new home with a bunch of other dolls he didn’t know. Maybe he was just scared. Bryannah found a long shallow oblong box and lined it with little blankets and a tiny fluffy pillow. She took two books from the large dollhouse and put them in the box so that he would have something to read before he fell asleep.
She gently placed him in bed and tucked him in. She put his bed on her nightstand so he would be close to her and would feel safe. As she climbed into bed, she began making mental plans for a tea party where formal introductions could be made. Bre was confident that by the end of the week her newest doll would feel right at home.
“Hey peanut, how’s he doing?” her mom asked her as she sat on the edge of the bed. This was the first time that she had seen a doll “sleeping” on Bryannah’s nightstand.
“He’s a little scared ‘cus he doesn’t know anybody. I’m gonna have a tea party so he can make new friends.”
“What a thoughtful idea,” Olivia agreed as she made some adjustments to the tiny blankets. After a few more moments of idle chitchat, Olivia turned off the bedside lamp and left the door cracked.
When Bryannah woke up the next morning, Jocko the Magic Negro was standing on the nightstand.
Six years of research had left her no more enlightened. There were some accounts that Jocko had heroic origins based on the life of a young boy named Jocko Graves.
Graves served with General George Washington, but the general felt the boy was too young to fight in the surprise attack against Trenton, New Jersey. So he left him on the Pennsylvania side to tend to the horses and keep a fire lit. That way the general and his troops would be able to find their way back home.
The story goes that Jocko was so faithful to his post he froze to death during the night with the raised lantern still clutched in his hand. The story also explained that the correct title for the original commissioned memorial statue of Jocko placed on the grounds of President George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate was not “lawn jockey” but “The Faithful Groomsman.”
Another tale stated that during the time of the Underground Railroad, Jocko helped guide fleeing Blacks to freedom. According to that legend, if there was a green ribbon wrapped around Jocko’s arms the escapees knew that they would have temporary safe harbor. But if he clutched a red ribbon, the escaped would know to keep running.
Though these stories were a fascinating part of her own personal heritage, this was not the information that Bryannah sought.
As it turned out, her late Na-Na had not been crazy after all. Jocko was indeed enchanted, and the magic he possessed was black.
At twelve Bryannah was highly intelligent, enjoying a private education, and had dreams of joining her fathers’ alumni from North Carolina Central University. But because she was so distracted by math and this year’s science fair project, she had yet to dine on the fine delicacies of global fiction. If she had, she might have known that the information she was so desperately looking for had been told in 1902 by an Englishman by the name of William Wymark Jacobs.
When her Aunt Jacqueline burst into her bedroom without knocking, Bryannah instantly flooded her mind with everything that was good in the world: red balloons, cupcakes, glitter, a hug from her mom, pancakes, butterflies, nail polish, lip gloss, bubble baths, kittens, raspberries, red Kool-Aid, her little brother…
She thought her aunt was the most hateful woman in the world, and she could barely stand the sight of her mother’s sister. She pushed past the woman and left the room while thinking about ice cream, because Na-Na, God rest her soul, had warned her to be careful.
It took her a while, but eventually Bre had come to realize why that advice had been given. Jocko was ill tempered, easily provoked, and always overreacted.
By the time she had realized what Jocko was truly capable of and remembered the warning issued by her Na-Na, things had already started to get out of control.
The school bully was a girl named Anna Margaret who spent more time competing in state pageants than at school. She thought she was better than everyone else because her daddy was rich, but that didn’t make any sense to Bryannah, because everyone’s daddy was rich; otherwise they wouldn’t have been attending this school.
Unfortunately, living in Alabama, Olivia was unable to shield her children from racial bigotry. Unfortunately for Anna Margaret, Bryannah had a sharp tongue, no impulse control, and …a Magic Negro.
Bryannah had been sitting under the shade tree reading a book when Anna Margaret and her disciples approached. Anna Margaret had snatched away the book; Bryannah had bolted to her feet.
“Well, this looks entertaining. If you don’t mind, I’ll think I’ll read it.”
“No, actually you’re going to give it back to me; you had no right to take it in the first place. And what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be in the bathroom putting on makeup? It’s not like you know what to do with a book anyway. You’re holding it upside down.” Anna Margaret had begun to tremble as someone in her entourage giggled; the book was thrown to the ground. Anna Margaret would permit no one to speak to her in that manner.
“See, my daddy says that’s the problem with you uppity niggers; you’re always demanding your rights.” Bryannah’s sigh was exaggerated; she rolled her eyes and shook her head.
“Oh, Margaret,” Bryannah started.
“It’s Anna Margaret!”
“Margaret.” The level of condescension in Bryannah’s voice infuriated the pageant princess and, for a moment, it looked as if she’d forgotten how to breathe. “If it’s your intention to insult someone, you might want to at least use the correct pronunciation.
“I hope the next time you say that word you choke to death on it.”
Anna Margaret was so dismayed that Bryannah had actually walked away from her and turned her back to her, the veins in her neck turned blue.
“Where are you going, nigger, to call the ACLU?”
“If you take that book to Miss April in the library, I’m sure she could find an audio version for you. If you don’t know where the library is, just ask one of your friends.”
Bryannah didn’t even give Anna Margaret the courtesy of a glance over her shoulder. She insulted her as she walked away from her. Anna Margaret meant to throw the book at her adversary, but when she bent to seize the book from the ground, a bumblebee flew into her mouth and got stuck in her throat.
Six weeks later at the funeral, family members were still struggling to come to terms with how a child who had been stung countless times before while picking flowers and fruit in her mother’s champion garden could suddenly become fatally allergic to honeybees.
Bryannah hadn’t been particularly upset over the death of Anna Margaret; she was, however, devastated by the other calamities that had been unintentionally caused by her brashness. Since the death of her schoolmate, Bryannah did what she could to watch her mouth.
After considerable amounts of reflection, the only logical conclusion for a twelve-year-old girl who possessed the power of the cosmos was to use that power for good.
Her father was under a great deal of stress as of late. Despite the glaring evidence in their favor and the constitutional precedents, her father and his legal team feared a loss due to seditious judicial lawlessness.
Bryannah presented the problem to the talisman. The judge hearing her father’s case suffered a heart attack that killed him. The adjudicator who replaced the dead justice upheld the law, and her father’s case was won. “Well, that wasn’t too bad,” Bryannah told herself, justifying the death. “He was already old and most likely would have died soon anyway.”
The next good deed that was performed was done for Caydon. Her little brother was competing for the lead pitcher position and hoping to become team captain. The other boy with the same aspirations fell from a tree, breaking his arm below the elbow. It was a clean break, and the doctor promised a speedy recovery and said that his baseball career wasn’t in jeopardy. Now that was something Bryannah could live with.
What happened next was a complete disaster.
Her best friend Bethanie, (who, by the way, was a natural blonde), was the new Miss Junior Alabama. She was also a cheerleader, and not only that, a hopeful for the US Olympic gymnastics team. She called, ecstatic, to tell Bryannah that her team would be competing at cheerleading nationals … at Disneyland! In Florida! The excitement was contagious, and Bryannah ended the phone call with the encouraging term “break a leg.” And in just two days, that’s exactly what happened.
“You stupid fucking bastard!”
Bryannah threw the phone on the floor, and it shattered into six pieces as it slammed against the cool tile floor. She stormed upstairs and slammed her bedroom door; the chandelier in the sitting room gently swayed in response to the force.
Olivia left the ladies attending the luncheon to interrogate the housekeeper.
“Who was on the phone?” Poor Maria backed against the sink. She had no idea.
Unfortunately, Barbara Ann did know. She picked up her handbag and excused herself, explaining that her daughter had tripped in front of the ice cream parlor and broken her leg. Caroline called her firm and began barking orders in preparation for suing Debra’s Frozen Treats ice cream parlor, or the city, possibly both. As valets retrieved cars, Olivia excused herself to check on her daughter.
A statement issued in a moment of unreasonable juvenile anger caused a death.
Bryannah and her mother spent the day shopping in town and were leaving a boutique with arms full of bags, and a man who was checking email on his phone didn’t see them. He crashed into Olivia, and as she fell to the ground, he told her that she should watch where she was going.
“It would be nice to watch you die.”
“Bre!” Olivia’s assistant helped her from the ground, and had to be stopped from charging after him. He picked up bags while glaring at the man, who was almost a block away. The man didn’t hear what Bryannah had said, but Jocko the Magic Negro, who was miles away standing on his mistresses’ nightstand, had.
When the green minivan stopped at the light, the golden retriever leapt from the window and attacked. The assault lasted almost twenty minutes, ending only because the police shot the dog.
Bryannah cried for the same reason the pretty redheaded boy in the van was crying …for the dog.
From that moment on, she did more than just try to watch her mouth; she mentally scrutinized everything she wanted to say before she said it, methodically constructing each sentence the way each of the forty-seven scholars must have done when commissioned by King James.
For months, Bryannah had controlled her temper and held her tongue. Those who had grown accustomed to the bombardment of venom-laced words began to miss them. Prefer them really, over the deadly looks that could kill, coupled with a secretive knowing smile.
For months everything was fine until Jocko the Magic Negro started cheating … by reading Bryannah’s mind.
Bryannah sat and gently rocked on the swing that she hadn’t been on in five years. This backyard jungle gym was now the dominion of her little brother and his friends. She smiled as the image of his big crooked smile and bright eyes floated up in her mind’s eye. How happy Caydon had been when he was named team captain.
She closed her eyes and raised her ebony face to receive the full warmth of the summer sun. The first thing she saw when she opened her eyes was the state’s fluttering mascot. The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail was large; the coloring of the butterfly, bright yellow with black stripes, marked it as male.
Bryannah stood from the swing as she pursued the flurrying swallowtail into the greenbelt. Engulfed in the serenity of the woodlands, Bryannah let her mind wander. Two weeks ago she had been in town with Caydon in tow. She had leaned against a brick building, texting, while waiting for her brother to come out with his newly purchased graphic novel. A stumbling, homeless woman had coughed up phlegm which sailed within inches of Bryannah’s feet. She had glared at the vagrant in disgust.
“Nasty, mangy bitch!” was what the young girl had thought, and in a blink of an eye, the unfortunate woman had become just that. Bryannah had stared at the flea-infested dog through a blinding veil of rage.
“Change her back!” The outburst had gained the attention of a few pedestrians who briefly wondered what the girl was expecting the dog to do. “I said, change her back, now.” Fury was intertwined with each word whispered, but her direct order was disobeyed.
The Magic Negro’s attempt for sovereignty, an act of aggression in Bre’s opinion, sparked a war.
When Bryannah returned home she marched upstairs, snatched the doll from her dresser and stormed into the kitchen. The Magic Negro was drowned inside a Tupperware bowl that had been filled with water. Bryannah secured the lid and put the bowl in the freezer.
That was Saturday.
Tuesday morning she awoke to find the Magic Negro standing on her nightstand.
“I hate you.” She hissed at the doll. She trapped Jocko within a ring of cornmeal (it had worked in a movie she had seen), said a prayer, and went to school, only to return from school to find him freed because the maid “swept up the mess.” The cleaning lady was barred from her bedroom.
An internet search on How to Kill a Vodou Doll suggested that such a doll had to be buried with rum and gunpowder. Bryannah smuggled the rum from the liquor cabinet; Bethanie brought three shotgun shells, and together they dug a good sized hole deep within the woodlands. Unceremoniously, The Magic Negro was tossed inside. The entire bottle of rum, along with contents of the shells, were poured atop him. The disturbed earth was replaced, and, for good measure, the girls struggled to move a boulder over the grave site.
That was Thursday.
Wednesday morning she awoke to find the Magic Negro standing on her dresser. With a guttural cry, Bryannah threw her alarm clock at him. When she returned home from school, the Magic Negro was once again standing on her dresser.
She tried to appease him with an offering of Jolly Ranchers and bubblegum, but just hours later another thought was intercepted. Furious, Bryannah wrapped multiple layers of duct tape around the poppet’s ears and mouth so that he couldn’t “hear” her or “talk” all the while wishing the Magic Negro dead.
That was in June.
This morning, on the twelfth day of August, the Magic Negro finally freed himself from bondage.
She drifted toward home when she heard her brother calling her name. As she stepped out of the urban wilderness to walk across her manicured lawn, she watched her little brother run to her in tears.
“They’re fighting again,” Caydon reported. She knew who “they” were…her mother and her aunt. Bryannah’s eyes narrowed as she hugged her brother. “Fine,” she thought to herself. She would fix it; after all, she had a Magic Negro. That was the first time Bryannah smiled when she thought about Jocko the Magic Negro.
Bryannah and Caydon were barbarously waiting with their mother in the lobby of the medical center. Olivia had half a mind to take those damn iPads away from them. When she scanned the lobby, she noticed the quick glances people threw her children’s way. Some with smiles, some with dismissive head shakes, and others ignored the children completely.
It was baffling. At first the doctors thought it was a simple case of laryngitis, but after several months of silence they tested for an infection, a growth, or cancer. Nothing.
Jacqueline hated Olivia’s career, her spoiled children, her wealthy husband, her sprawling home, the cars, the clothes, the jewelry, and the staff. She attacked her sister at every opportunity, constantly demanded money, and blamed Olivia for all the wrongs in the world.
Bryannah rather enjoyed not hearing the sound of her wicked aunt’s voice. When Jacqueline emerged with the doctor, Bryannah smiled. She already knew what the doctor would say. The loss of her voice caused the loss of her employment, which in turn made her lose her home. Her parents wanted to write a check, but with the help of the Magic Negro, Bryannah changed the course of Jacqueline’s fate.
Her mute aunt was now living with them, surrounded by and reminded of all the things she so dearly hated in life …Jacqueline was miserable.
The senator rose and commanded, “Please raise your right hand.” Bryannah squeezed the hands of her mother and brother as her father did as he was told.
Bryannah did not consider herself to be a witch; however due to her personal academic discipline, others would beg her pardon.
“Do you swear that the testimony you are about to give before the committee to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”
“I do,” her father said. In his opening statement during the first day of his confirmation hearing, he thanked his wife and family for their overwhelming support and sacrifice.
Because of all his hard work, her father, Derek Henderson, was the presidential nominee to the Supreme Court.
Because of Jocko, Bryannah’s Magic Negro, his professional and political rivals had been eliminated.
Derek Henderson would be confirmed.
Bryannah’s best friend Bethanie won this year’s Miss America title, and her brother now played for the New York Yankees. Her mother was the Doctor of the Year, sat on the State Board of Health, and hadn’t aged in years. Father time had been equally as gracious to her father.
Live and let live was easy enough to do, as long as you didn’t incur the wrath or rage of the Henderson’s eldest child.
Many had died over the years, and because she was not yet twenty-five, many more would fall.
Thanks again to our patrons for supporting this podcast. Because of your support, listeners around the world get creepy tales in their ears every other week. If you want new stories every week, the only way for that to happen is to join the NIGHTLIGHT Legion by going to patreon.com/nightlightpod and supporting this podcast. You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal at PayPal.me/NightlightPodcast. If you’re unable to support us financially, word of mouth is the next best way to help. Give us a shoutout online on Twitter or Instagram @nightlightpod, or like us on Facebook @nightlightpod. Reviews are also a huge help, so be sure to leave a few kind words on your podcast platform of choice.
Audio production for this week’s episode by Jen Zink.
And to thank you for listening until the very end, we have a creepy fact for you.
If you’re a long-time listener, you know that the original Twilight Zone is my favorite show of all time, and the episode “Living Doll” is probably my favorite of the series. In it, a doll called Talky Tina is kind to her little girl, but hates the girl’s stepfather. She speaks to them both, but has some unkind words for the dad, culminating in his demise. That doll is modeled after Chatty Cathy, a popular talking doll of the time, and was also inspiration for Gabby Gabby in Toy Story 4. The same actress voiced both Talky Tina and Chatty Cathy.
We’ll be back next week with a brand new story.