Today, flash fiction from Del Sandeen that cautions us to be careful what you wish for.
Narrated by Hood Horror.
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 cautions us to be careful what we wish for.
But before we get to getting what you ask for, just a reminder that all episodes are brought to you by the NIGHTLIGHT Legion. Thanks to our newest patrons James, Clyanna, and Natasha. 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 don’t forget, you can support us and get some cool merch at the same time. Just go to merch.nightlightpod.com to get your t-shirts, hoodies, notebooks and more!
Now sit back, turn out the lights, and enjoy “Blood, Lust, and Muddy Waters”, written by Del Sandeen and narrated by Hood Horror.
After spending a week hauling shrimp over the side of a boat, sliding across a gut-slippery deck and having the company of other black men whose foul tempers were only outmatched by their mouths, Jones Dolon reasoned he deserved to eat, get drunk, and raise a little hell if he wanted. That’s how he came to be at Koko’s Fish Fry & Grits Joint on Friday night.
One week later, he was dead.
As soon as Jones walked into Koko’s, the wooden shack-turned-dining establishment, mingled smells of fish grease, bottom barrel whiskey, cigarillo smoke and bayou water washed over him like a mother’s love. Low chatter buzzed, occasionally broken by a clap of laughter, quickly smothered under a hand. Jones grabbed a double shot from Mason at the bar and knocked back almost half of it–“Careful, man,” the bartender said, “You only weigh a buck-twenty”–before sitting down at his favorite table, the one against the wall facing the door so that he could see everybody coming and going.
Once Jones set eyes on the woman, though, it didn’t matter where he sat . He didn’t see anything else.
The glint of her dark skin looked like it could blend into the night and at the same time, break through it. They used to call a boy he went to school with blue-black on account of his color, but this woman was even darker. Not just blue, but indigo and violet. Her own deep little rainbow gleaming through the smoky air of Koko’s. When had he ever seen such a sight? Hair so thick and bold, it could knock a man down and cushion his fall at the same time. Jones swore no water moccasin glided smoother than those hips.
She stood at the old jukebox, a scarlet fingernail tapping against her teeth as she tried to decide on a tune.
Jones swallowed, a chunk of air moving down his throat, eel-like. Wiping his hands on his pants, he stood, glancing down at himself because he couldn’t remember if he’d actually ironed his shirt or not. He had.
But he couldn’t just walk straight to the jukebox, so he sidled a bit and circled almost all the way around the room before doubling back, ending up on the woman’s left.
Her eyes flicked to the side, raking over him quickly, before her attention turned back. Jones’s gaze crawled along her bare arm, skin glittering like black diamond dust.
“You wanna hear somethin’?” she asked, still looking at the song menu, a shiny quarter twirling between her fingers.
“Uh,” Jones stammered.
She looked at him, and in her dark eyes, he imagined a chink of moonstone twinkling at him from the inside of a gator’s mouth.
“Uh, no. I just wanted to know your name.”
A quick smile touched her red lips before she slid in her quarter and chose “You Can’t Lose What You Ain’t Never Had” by Muddy Waters.
“Lenora,” she said, and as the first plaintive notes tinkled out from the machine, she glided herself out to the middle of Koko’s, as if it was one of those fancy dance clubs in the big city instead of an old roadhouse in the back country. Music drifted out into the air, but for Jones, there was only the music of Lenora, a siren song swallowing his whole mind.
He went back to Koko’s the next night and the next. All he could do was watch Lenora, whether she danced or talked to that fat Mason behind the bar or threw back her head and laughed, the sharp white of her teeth grabbing all the light in the room to make it their own.
Obsession, a part of his mind whispered. What else could it be? he wondered as he’d never wanted to have–no, possess–a woman like he did this one.
He was used to seeing the same people there, from the man always tending an Old Fashioned–three brown fingers curled around the glass, a stump in place of a pinky–to the Creole girl whose eyes followed Lenora with a jealousy so thick, he was surprised she didn’t drown in it. All that following week, after a long day of shrimping, he returned to Koko’s, watching Lenora and waiting for her to float herself over to him. But she never did.
And the next Friday, she wasn’t there.
After staring at the open doorway all night, Jones slammed his glass on the table and left.
He’d have to go see Mama Seven, but before he made the trip to the murkiest part of the swamps, Jones needed something of value to offer her.
He had a job, but much of his money flew out of his wallet, simply slithered straight out of his hands because his two favorite pastimes, drinking and gambling, were greedy. Jones was good at the first and bad at the second. But there was one thing he never called himself and that was a quitter.
From Koko’s, he made his way to Batt’s: legitimate billiards in the front, dubious action in the back, involving the small, hard feel of light cubes between calloused palms, pressed gently to lips before flying away in the air only to land against brick and stone. Small black orbs winked at you while they decided if you went home angry and broke or happy and a few dollars richer.
Jones knelt there in the back alley, first watching, his eyes moving like hungry butterflies. Later came his turn to caress the dice, to love them in the way of all gamblers. Wrinkled bills, holding tight to scents of musk and dirty pockets, littered the ground. With every toss, though, Jones watched his fortune, and the promise of Lenora, dim. After an hour, all he had left was a meager sprinkling of coins in his pocket, warm to the touch.
“It’s like that sometimes,” one of the men said. Of course he’d be flush with sympathy, Jones thought; the man had been winning all night.
Jones pushed himself up and away, his fist clutching those useless coins again, his hard-soled shoes clapping against the pavement as he left the alley behind.
What to do now? He had to have her.
He paused at the end of the block, pulling himself into shadows, which was easy to do in that area. Streetlights didn’t live there. The coins in his pocket grew damp and sticky as he waited beside the big oak. At the sound of humming, he slipped behind the tree, his hand sliding in and out of his other pocket, the one without the coins.
The soft snick of an opening switchblade whispered in the still air.
The humming grew louder, the sound of a lucky man with a load of wrinkled bills sitting in his back pocket.
As the man’s luck ran out, along with the blood coursing from his throat, Jones closed the knife and began rifling through the dying man’s pockets.
Where was the cash?
Frantic hands patted and pulled, only to grab at a couple of smooth bills. And then weak moonlight revealed that Jones had killed the wrong man. Not the lucky one from the back alley but a stranger who’d had the misfortune to hum a favorite song.
But feeble light glanced off one thing that made Jones’s hopes rise, and he snatched it off the man’s wrist before merging with the dark.
He went to see Mama Seven.
One legend said that the conjure woman had birthed herself, just slithered out of a mongoose’s mouth, landed on her feet and started throwing tricks five minutes after. Another story that had been passed from grandma to grandchild more times than anybody could count said that Mama Seven could throw lightning like Satchel sizzling a fastball over home plate to a Black Crackers hitter.
Jones didn’t care about the stories. Jones only cared about getting Lenora.
His feet stopped at the edge of murky swamp water, the droning buzz of crickets, frogs and cicadas blending together into a weird nighttime symphony. The moon shone a feeble light over heavy moss and leaning trees, some looking like bodies until you blinked again. Jones clapped three times and called out, “Mama Seven, Mama Seven, I need help. Take this offering as a sign of my devotion.” The gold watch arced through the air, and at the same time, a cottonmouth leaped from the swamp and promptly swallowed it, leaving barely a ripple once it disappeared.
Three minutes. Five. Then ten.
The water hardly moved as Mama Seven emerged from its depths, rising like a full moon over still rivers. Cottony hair hung to her waist, shells, beads and feathers tangled within it. Onyx stones paled next to the color of her eyes. In one hand, she gripped a carved wooden stick, and in her other gleamed the gold watch. A part of Jones’s mind had time to wonder that she was completely dry.
“You paid my price. What you want in return?”
“I want a woman. Her name’s Lenora.”
Mama Seven chuckled as she looked beyond Jones and shook her head.
“She already belong to somebody else. She ain’t yours,” the woman said.
“But I aim to have her. I paid you.”
“Ask me something else.”
“Ain’t nothing else I want. Give her to me.”
The conjure woman shook her head again, but she knew the rules as well as Jones did. On a heavy sigh, she said, “Go home, man. When you walk in the door, she’ll be waiting.”
Along the hem of her heavy skirts hung tiny bells, tinkling like the laughter of mad children as she turned back to the swamp.
True to Mama Seven’s word, when Jones walked into his house less than an hour later, Lenora stood in his living room, her face a picture of puzzlement. After he shut the door behind him, she asked, “What I’m doing here?”
“Girl, this is your home now. With me.”
Her brows knitted together, nearly invisible against her skin.
“No, it ain’t.”
And she moved to walk out. A panic arose in Jones at the thought of her escape, but before he could do anything to stop her or even take her hand, a loud pounding came from the other side of the door.
“Who is it?” Jones called out, wondering who in the hell would be knocking at this time of night.
Instead of an answer, the door swung open. A tall, stocky man dripping with a vague familiarity strode in. Blank eyes landed first on Jones before moving on to Lenora. And Jones recognized that look. It was the same one he wore when he looked at her. He didn’t have to see his own face to know that he and this stranger were twins in that regard.
“What you doing just walking in a man’s house?” Jones demanded.
He never got an answer.
When the man pulled out a pistol and pointed it straight at Jones, Jones’s life didn’t flash before his eyes, like they say happens when you’re staring death straight in the face, close enough to feel its boggy breath. No, all that passed through Jones’s mind was remembering where he’d seen this man.
In Koko’s. A man whose gaze had crawled over Lenora’s skin the same way Jones’s had, his three fingers wrapped around a lowball.
With one pop, it was all over.
As Jones crumpled to the floor, his hand cradling the wound in his belly, unable to hold his warm blood inside himself, he spent his last breaths asking why.
Through the dark curtain threatening to fall over Jones’s face forever, he watched Lenora slip a hand inside the man’s empty one.
Her mouth stretched open then, wider than a mouth should open, her jaw unhinging. When her tongue unfurled, thinner and longer than a tongue should be, balanced on its forked tip was a pinky finger.
On his last exhale, Jones realized that the price he’d paid Mama Seven hadn’t been nearly enough.
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Audio production for this episode by Jen Zink.
And to thank you for listening until the very end, we have a creepy fact for you, although a bit different this week. Since we’re doing creepy flash fiction, I thought I’d share a few creepy facts about me.
When I was a little girl, I used to recount things to my mom. But the stories I would tell her were things that happened when I was still in the womb. I perfectly described conversations she had, and even a couch that my parents got rid of before I was born. I don’t remember any of it now, except for the couch. I’ve never seen it with my own eyes, but if I saw it again, I would know that it was the couch.
We’ll be back tomorrow with one more flash story.