S1 E09: The Power by Linda D. Addison

This week, we have a story from the extraordinary Linda D. Addison. Linda is one of the most recognizable Black women and horror, and we are honored to have a story of hers on the podcast.

Her story, “The Power” was originally published in the 2004 anthology Dark Dreams.

And now, The Power by Linda D Addison.

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The Power

by Linda D. Addison

The first time Brenda saw her cousin, Angelique, she looked like a black angel. Dark as sweet chocolate, dressed in shades of cinnamon chiffon. As Angelique stood at the top of the Amtrak train stairs, Brenda took one look at her and knew she had the Power. It glimmered around her. She glanced at her father. He obviously didn’t see how special Angelique was; even Angelique seemed unaware of the strength of the sparkling light she threw out that Saturday morning.

“Angelique, is that you?” Brenda’s father lifted the girl from the train to the ground. The layers of her dress floated in the air like wings. “Look how you’ve grown. Last time I saw you, you were only as tall as a dream, and now you and your cousin Brenda are growing like rainbows into the sky.”

Brenda was used to her father talking like poetry, every now and then. Grandmom said he was one of those people who’d been born in a moment of luminosity and had no choice. He was an artist who made things out of anything he found on the street, and taught elementary school. Fortunately, Brenda was never in his classes, but Grandmom said that was just the way it should be, plain and simple, and Brenda should thank her mother in heaven for looking after her.

A porter carried Angelique’s suitcases to the platform.

“Girl, your mother sent you with enough clothes for a year, and you’re only here for the summer. That’s just like Julia.” He laughed. “This is a beautiful dress, but I hope you got some playing-around clothes.”

“Yes, sir,” Angelique said.

“In North Carolina that’s the polite thing to say, but there are no ‘sirs’ here in Philly. Uncle Larry will do. Okay?”

“Yes, Uncle Larry,” she said slowly.

“How are your Mom and Dad?” he asked.

“Mother is busy with her charity work, and Father’s business is doing very well.” Angelique smoothed her dress.

“Good. Now let’s get you home so your grandmother can take a look at you. She’s cooked quite a feast in your honor.”

Larry picked up as many suitcases as he could carry; the porter trailed behind with the rest.

Brenda took Angelique’s hand and pulled her along with them. “I’m so happy you’re here. You’re staying in my room. I’ve got two beds. We can be like twin sisters, just like our moms really were.”

“I’d like that.” Angelique squeezed Brenda’s hand.

When they reached the parking lot Larry paid the porter and packed the suitcases in the car. Angelique whispered in Brenda’s ear, “Do you know that old woman following us?”

“Where?” Brenda asked.

“Behind me, across the street.” Angelique turned around. “She’s gone now, but she was staring at us on the train platform.”

“I didn’t notice her.” Brenda shrugged. “Could’ve been anybody.”

As they drove to West Philadelphia, Brenda talked about all the fun they would have over the summer. They pulled into a driveway next to a three floor wood house off Lancaster Avenue. As they stepped out of the car, their grandmother waved to them from the porch.

 

She gathered Angelique into her strong arms and gave her a huge hug. Her deep laugh echoed on the porch as she held Angelique at arm’s length.

“Girl, look at you. Grown up enough at twelve to travel by yourself.” She shook her head while smiling.

Larry carried some suitcases to the porch and went back to the car for the rest.

“Everyone grab a bag,” Grandmom said.

The house was filled with the smell of roasted chicken and apple pie. Grandmom settled in the green velvet couch and made Angelique sit next to her. “Now, let’s give your mother a call.”

“I’ll do it.” Angelique picked up the phone.

“Hello, Mother.

“Yes, the train ride was fine.

“No, I won’t forget.

“Yes, Mother.” Angelique said several times as she chewed the corner of her right thumb.

“Goodbye.” She handed the phone to her grandmother.

“Hi, honey.

“Oh, you worry too much. Nobody is running wild here. Her and Brenda will have a great summer.” She winked at Angelique.

“We’ll give you a call next week. Bye sweetie.”

She patted Angelique’s hand. “That daughter of mine always did worry too much. You know I think it’ll be good for both of you to have a little space. Now let’s eat some of this food I’ve been cooking.”

The dining room table was set up with the good china and silverware on a white lace tablecloth. White candles stood in crystal candle holders and a crystal bowl filled with daisies decorated the center of the table.

“It looks like Thanksgiving,” Angelique said.

“And that’s just what it is, child, because we’re thankful to have you here.” She hugged Angelique. “You girls wash your hands and help me bring out the vegetables.”

The doorbell rang. Larry answered it and the house filled with the sounds of children and adults as his two brothers and their families came in.

The evening went like a family reunion, everyone talking and eating. Angelique answered everyone’s questions politely, smiled shyly and stayed near Brenda or her grandmother. After dessert, the adults sat in the living room drinking and smoking while the children played checkers in the dining room.

Everyone left around nine and their grandmother sent the girls to bed, saying Angelique was tired from all that traveling and Brenda from being so excited.

 

The next morning, after breakfast, Brenda asked, “Can we go to the video store, Grandmom? I want to show Angelique around the neighborhood. “

“That’s fine, just be back home by lunch time.”

“We will,” Brenda said.

They walked to the corner of the block. They passed a couple of neighbors working in their yard, but once they turned onto Lancaster Avenue the sidewalk was full of people. Brenda and Angelique looked in the windows of the shoe and clothes store, and ran into some of Brenda’s friends on the way to the video rental store. They spent a long time looking at the new movie and game releases before picking an action movie to rent.

On the way home they heard a shuffling behind them. Brenda looked backwards quickly. “It’s that crazy old lady from across the street.”

Angelique glanced at the woman. “That’s the woman I saw at the train station.”

Brenda frowned. “Just ignore her.” She pointed at a small deli on the corner. “Let’s get some sodas.”

When they came out of the store, the woman was not in sight. They turned the next corner onto the block of their house. The old woman limped out from behind a large oak tree. She was dressed in layers, torn red pants under a gray dress and dirty beige sweater.

She gestured with a bent finger at them. “You shoulda been my sweet girl. I be teaching you right stuff–make good use of all that sweet sparkly breathing out of your skin. She won’t show you all the light – dark makings.” She spat in the direction of their house.

“Mrs. Johnston, we need to get home,” Brenda said, pulling Angelique around the woman.

“Don’t you worry, it ain’t you I got the problem with. Keep up your learning. Yeah, that’s what you do, my shiny diamonds. I follow your light. You my pretty key.” She laughed through a mouth of missing teeth.

They heard her shrill laughter as they rushed down the street. When they turned around she was gone. They sat on the porch to get their breath.

“What was she talking about?” Angelique asked.

“Don’t pay any attention to her. She’s been strange every since I can remember. People say she lost her mind when her husband and son died in a car accident.” Brenda pointed to a broken down house across the street. “That’s her place.”

The yard was overgrown with weeds and a wild rose bush covering the front porch. A couple of windows were broken and paint peeled from the wood frame.

“That house doesn’t look like anyone lives in it,” Angelique said. “Are you sure she’s not dangerous?”

“She can’t hurt us, we’re protected.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ll explain later, let’s get lunch.” Brenda unlocked the front door.

After lunch, Brenda asked, “Grandmom, can we go to the attic?”

“Okay, honey. Be careful up there.” She spread fresh herbs from the garden on the kitchen table.

“We will,” Brenda said.

They went up to the second floor. Brenda pulled the attic cord, lowered the stair ladder and scampered up into the dark opening. Angelique took one step and stood at the bottom.

“It’s kind of dark,” she said.

“Just a minute.” Brenda disappeared into the attic and a light came on. After a few seconds she popped her head out of the opening. Angelique was still on the first step. “You coming? There’s lots of cool stuff up here.”

Angelique stepped up and tottered forward to hold onto the upper steps. “I-I — “

“You’ve never been on a ladder before?” Brenda asked.

“Ladies don’t climb ladders.” She held onto the step.

“I don’t know about that, but if you want to get to the attic you’re going to have to climb this ladder. Here, back off.” Brenda climbed back down. “You go up first. Take one step at a time, hold on to the step above if you need, but don’t look up or down, just go for the next step until you’re at the top. I’ll be right behind you. I won’t let you fall. I promise.”

“Okay.” Angelique took each step like a baby learning to climb stairs for the first time, but finally got to the top and pulled herself into the attic.

Boxes, trunks and old furniture crowded the floor. It smelled musty and a fine layer of dust had settled on all the surfaces.

“It’s not very clean up here.” Angelique touched a carton. She wiped her fingers on her jeans.

“Don’t say that too loud. Grandmom will have us up here with a bucket and rags, cleaning.” Brenda took a couple of old towels from a box in the corner, threw one at Angelique and used the other to wipe off the top of a wood box. “Some of these things are from when Grandmom moved here to help take care of me after Mommy died.”

“Let’s see what’s in here.” She read the label. “‘Brenda baby toys’, not very interesting. What’s that trunk near you say, Angelique?”

She wiped off the dust. “It’s my mother’s toys.”

“Now that’s more like it.” Brenda unbuckled the leather straps and flipped open the trunk. The acrid scent of mothballs drifted into the air.

There were baby blankets on top, inside plastic bags. Underneath were baby clothes in shades of pink, yellow and white. They stacked them on the floor. At the bottom they found a rag doll and other toys. The material of its body was made from worn blue flannel, with brown yarn hair, button eyes, red felt lips and faded red flannel dress.

“I’ve never imagined my mother playing with dolls,” Angelique said.

“Well, Aunt Julia definitely played with this doll.” Brenda handed the doll to Angelique. “There’s more toys in here.” She pulled out stuffed animals, a wooden pull car with a frayed cord, a metal tobacco tin filled with marbles and ribbons.

Angelique touched each toy but kept the doll in her lap. She carried the doll tucked under her arm as they investigated other boxes, finding old clothes and dish sets. Brenda went through the drawers of a dresser and discovered a small red bag tied with white cord. She brought it to the light and sniffed it.

“What’s that?” Angelique asked, putting her mother’s doll on an old trunk.

Brenda carefully untied the bag and emptied its contents in a teacup. It was a ball of white wax with little bits of what looked like sticks lodged in it.

“It’s a conjure ball. Looks like a spell of protection.”

“How do you know that?” Angelique said.

“Don’t you know the power runs strong in our family? That’s what Grandmom says.”

“Magic isn’t real.”

“It’s real enough. Grandmom says I’m too young, but I’ve learned a lot about magic online.” She dropped the ball back into the bag and tied it close. “Can’t you feel the light around this charm? It’s been up here for years and it’s still glowing.” Brenda held the bag up by its cord.

“I don’t see anything but an old bag,” Angelique said. “Mother says voodoo is uneducated superstition.”

“Voodoo isn’t the same thing. Anyway, magic is just people using their power, mostly to help others,” Brenda said. She took Angelique’s hands in hers. “It’s inside everybody and everything; some people have it stronger than others. Can’t you feel it?”

Brenda put Angelique’s hands on her chest and closed her eyes. She took a slow breath. White light flickered behind her closed eyes. Tingling began below her belly button and pulled up through her chest, gathered in her next breath. She pushed out and opened her eyes.

Angelique stood with her eyes closed, smiling. Brenda could feel her light mix with Angelique’s and drift into the air around them.

“You see,” Brenda said.

Angelique opened her eyes and took a deep breath. “What was that?”

“Me reaching out to you. What did it feel like?”

“Like electricity and light and warmth, like a dream.” Angelique held her hands up, looked at each finger.

Brenda saw the warm glow of gold light outline Angelique’s hands and it was clear that Angelique finally saw it also.

“This is no more of a dream than any of us see when awake. Grandmom says God is dreaming us all the time.”

“That was just a trick.” Angelique stepped backwards away from Brenda.

“You know that’s not true. You can feel it inside, whether you believe it or not.”

“Well, I did feel something. And that glowing…” Angelique sat down on a trunk. “Even if I have this power — what good is it?”

“What do you wish for more than anything?” Brenda asked.

Angelique picked up her mother’s rag doll and held her close to her face. She closed her eyes. “I wish–I wish my mother would love me.”

“We could do that, Angelique. You and I together could do it.”

“You think so. Really?”

Brenda nodded. “She’s your mother so she already loves you. It’s just locked away inside of her. We can make a gris-gris to open her to you.”

“Even though we’re here and she’s in North Carolina?”

“Distance don’t mean a thing. We’ll need something that’s been close to her.”

They both looked at the doll.

“And I have a handkerchief of hers in my suitcase,” Angelique said, hugging her mother’s doll.

Brenda rubbed the silver key on the chain around her neck. “Good, then we’ll make the charm tonight. I think some of my mother’s toys are over there. Let’s check it out.”

Brenda put the conjure ball back in the dresser. They spent the next two hours going through the trunks, trying on clothes, and setting up old dishes and glasses for pretend meals, until their grandmother called them for dinner.

 

That night they sat on the back porch eating ice cream while Brenda’s father had some friends over after dinner. Jazz played in the background as the adults talked and laughed in the living room. The lightning bugs drifted above the grass and herb garden like stars while the girls ate their ice cream. Crickets sang from the bushes along the back of the yard.

“Make a wish on the next lightning bug and it’ll come true,” Brenda said.

“Is that more magic?” Angelique asked.

“Naw, just a saying, but it couldn’t hurt.”

They both whispered wishes and laughed.

Brenda stood up from the wicker chair and peeked into the kitchen window. No one was there.

“Want to make that gris-gris for your mother now?” she asked Angelique.

“Tonight?”

“Why not? It’s as good a time as any.”

“What if something goes wrong?” Angelique asked.

“First lesson in using the power: your intent makes the magic. It’s not a complicated spell anyway.”

“I don’t know about this–”

“Of course you don’t. That’s why I’m going to teach you. Come on.”

They entered the empty kitchen through the back door. Brenda found a small brown paper bag in the cabinet and sprinkled sugar in it.

“We’ll put it together in our bedroom,” she whispered.

They walked quickly through the dining room. Larry and his friends were in the living room, laughing and talking over the music. The girls dashed up the stairs. They tiptoed past their grandmother’s room, where they could hear her talking on the phone.

In the bedroom, Brenda put a bracelet with little bells on the doorknob. “So we can hear if someone opens the door,” she said.

She put the desk lamp on the floor and used the two bedposts to make a tent out of a sheet. They crouched under the sheet.

“Spread the handkerchief on the floor,” Brenda said.

Angelique laid the delicate square on the floor. It was white with white lace roses along the edge and her mother’s initials sewn in yellow on a corner.

Brenda pulled a light wood box from under the bed; it had a sun painted on it. She took the silver chain with a heart and key from around her neck and unlocked the box.

“I thought that was just a charm necklace,” Angelique said.

Brenda winked at her and opened the box. It was filled with yarn, bits of material and things that jangled at the bottom. Brenda took out a ball of red yarn, pulled about twelve inches off, and cut it with a small pair of scissors from the box. She took a little pad of paper and pen out of the box and handed it to Angelique.

“Write your mother’s first name nine times, real small.”

Angelique wrote her mother’s name, in careful strokes.

“Now fold the paper up as tight as you can and put it in the middle of the handkerchief,” Brenda said. She held the paper bag open. “Take a little sugar and sprinkle it in the handkerchief, to sweeten her to you.”

“You have the doll?” Brenda asked.

“Yes.” Angelique got the doll from her dresser drawer.

Brenda handed her the scissors. “Cut a tiny piece of the dress and put it in the handkerchief.”

Angelique looked at the scissors and the doll.

“Come on, Angelique. Think of it as an experiment, we just need a little bit.”

“Okay,” she said slowly. She cut a teeny piece of material from the inside hem of the doll’s dress and put the threads into the handkerchief. “Just as long as we don’t have to sacrifice an animal or cut ourselves for this.”

Brenda laughed. “You don’t know anything, do you? You don’t use blood for a love spell. Fold the handkerchief up.”

“Now wrap this yarn around it nine times and put nine knots in it – to hold it forever.”

When she was done, Angelique stared at the small package they made.

“You’ve made your first gris-gris.” Brenda tapped it. “The last step is to sleep with it under your mattress.”

Angelique slid it under the mattress. “Will it work?”

“Of course, between your power and a perfect gris-gris, it’ll work.”

Angelique laid the doll on her bed. “How long will it take?”

“You can’t put a time on something like this.”

The doorknob jangled and they both jumped.

“Brenda?” Her father knocked on the door.

They took a deep breath in relief. Brenda locked the box and slid it back under her bed. “Come in.”

“What’s this, camping out?” he asked.

“No, Daddy, just swapping secrets.”

He smiled, a little too wide, as he leaned against the door. “That’s good.” He turned to leave and swung in a circle. “Oh, your grandmother wants you two to help her in the kitchen.”

“Okay.” Brenda put the lamp back on the nightstand.

Larry turned and walked away.

Brenda made a sign like drinking with her hand. They both giggled.

“He’s funny when he drinks. It doesn’t take much. That’s why he doesn’t drink the hard stuff. Does your dad drink?” Brenda asked.

Angelique nodded. “He likes scotch and soda, two ice cubes. I make it for him when he comes home from work.”

“Really? You ever tasted it?”

She made a face. “Yes. I like white wine better. That’s what my mother drinks.”

“Your mom lets you drink?”

“She gives me a little wine on special occasions, so I can develop my tastes.”

Brenda threw the sheet back on the bed. “I’ve tasted beer. It’s all right but I like cherry soda better.”

On their way down the stairs, Angelique said, “Shouldn’t we check with Grandmom about what we just did?”

“No,” Brenda said quickly. “We don’t want to bother her about something this small. Okay?”

“Grandmom doesn’t know you’re doing magic, does she?” Angelique asked slowly.

“Shhhh–do you want it to work or not?”

Angelique nodded.

“Then let’s go.”

They helped clear the table and wash the dishes. Most of the time one of Larry’s friends sat in the kitchen talking to their grandmother about problems with her husband. After they finished drying the dishes, the girls went to bed.

In the bedroom, with the lights out, Angelique asked, “Is it going to work?”

“Don’t have any doubt. It’s important to be confident.”

“Okay. Goodnight.”

 

The rest of the week Angelique tried not to ask Brenda about the gris-gris for her mother. Every night she checked under her mattress to make sure the little white bundle, wrapped in red yarn was still there. They played video games during the day and met with Brenda’s friends to jump rope and window shop. At night Brenda showed Angelique her favorite computer sites on spells.

Friday evening the phone rang. Their grandmother called Angelique from the yard.

“It’s for you,” she said, handing the phone to Angelique.

“Hello, Mother.” She told her about the fun things they did, leaving out the magic discussions. Her mother sounded about the same. Angelique gave up all hope.

“Talk to you next week,” she said, ready to hang up.

“What?

“Oh. I love you too.” She stared at the phone after her mother hung up.

“She said she loves me,” she said, hugging her grandmother.

“Well, of course she loves you, honey.”

“But, she’s never said it before. Never.” She ran out of the room to the yard, grabbed Brenda and swung her around. “She loves me. She said she loves me.”

They danced in a circle until they collapsed on the grass, out of breath.

“It worked, Brenda, it worked,” said Angelique.

“Of course it did. I had no doubt.”

 

The first half of the summer went fast. Between playing, Brenda taught Angelique what she knew about magic. They found spells online for making someone leave, to cure different kinds of sickness. They made a list of the kinds of objects carried in a nation sack. As they played and shopped, they collected unusual rocks from the park or feathers. Every now and then, they would find some interesting piece of metal or glass on the ground and added it to their box of magical material.

They gathered ingredients for small spells, but never put the whole spell together. They saw Mrs. Johnston every couple of weeks; she stared at them from across the street and whispered to herself, but she didn’t talk to them again.

Angelique never saw their grandmother doing magic, but every now and then someone came by the house and Grandmom gave them a package wrapped in brown paper. She once saw her grandmother take a small pale blue bag out of her blouse, rub it and put it back. Brenda said that her was her nation sack, where she carried special things for protection.

Every time Angelique’s mother called she told her she loved her, and even said she missed her.

 

One hot July day, Brenda and Angelique came in the house laughing, after a day at the park, and found their grandmother in the hallway on the floor. Her chest was covered with a dark cloud of squirming snakes. The girls screamed and the snakes melted away.

Brenda ran to her grandmother’s unconscious body and shook her, yelling, “Grandmom!”

Angelique ran to the living room and called ‘911’. The ambulance came quickly. Grandmom’s friend from next door rushed in when the medics arrived. She called Larry’s school and left a message. Brenda stayed by her grandmother’s side as they carried her into the ambulance.

“I need to go with Brenda,” Angelique said.

“Go ahead,” the neighbor said. “I’ll watch the house. Larry will be there as soon as he can. I’ll be praying here.”

Angelique glanced across the street before getting in the ambulance and saw Mrs. Johnston standing in the shade of a tree, pointing and smiling. When she looked out the back window of the ambulance the old woman was gone. Nausea gripped her stomach. Could that woman have had something to do with this?

The medics had an oxygen mask on their grandmother, but she was still unconscious. Brenda crouched on the floor, held her grandmother’s hand, and cried softly. Angelique tried to talk to Brenda, but she pulled away.

At the hospital the doctor made them stay in the waiting room. Brenda held Angelique’s hand but still wouldn’t talk. The waiting room was filled with men, women and children clutched in little groups. Most stared at magazines or the droning television hanging from the ceiling. The sound of wheels rolling through the corridor broke through the whispers of people comforting each other.

Angelique stared at the door, waiting for someone, anyone, to come in and tell them how their grandmother was doing. Brenda stared at the floor.

Larry walked in, out of breath, as if he had run to the hospital.

“Are you girls alright?” He hugged them both.

“Is Grandmom going to die?” Brenda whispered.

“No, your grandmother is the strongest person on this planet. I have to talk to her doctor. I wanted to make sure you two were okay first.”

“We’ll be fine, Uncle Larry,” Angelique said.

“I’ll be back as soon as I can.” He dropped his backpack and rushed out of the room.

Brenda wrapped her arms around herself and started rocking back and forth. “She’s going to die. I can feel her – slipping away.”

Angelique could also feel the wrongness, like air being sucked out of the room. “Somebody is doing something bad to her. You saw those snakes back at the house, right?”

Brenda nodded her eyes puffy and red from crying.

“Somebody, I think the old woman from across the street, did bad magic against Grandmom. I saw Mrs. Johnston when the ambulance drove away. She was smiling.”

“But-but Grandmom’s protection should have kept her safe,” Brenda whispered.

“I know, but somehow it didn’t. Those snakes weren’t real, but we saw them. Do you remember reading that sometimes you can see spells working through animal spirits?”

Brenda nodded.

“We can do something about this. We have to do a spell to stop it.”

“Maybe,” Brenda said. “Maybe we can.”

“We’ll pray now and later we’ll do more.” Angelique put her arm around Brenda and closed her eyes.

Someone tapped Angelique on her shoulder.

“Uncle Larry, how is she?”

“They think she had a stroke. We have to wait and see. The next twenty-four hours are very important.” He took a deep breath. “I’ll take you girls home, then come back here.”

“I need to see her,” Brenda said.

“We can’t right now. She’s in intensive care,” Larry said.

“I’ve got to see with my own eyes that she’s not dead,” Brenda said loudly.

“But, Brenda–”

“I’m not leaving until I see her.” Brenda crossed her arms and sat back in the chair.

A doctor pulled Larry aside. After they talked, Larry waved the girls over. “The doctor said you can see her for one minute. That’s all. Even though she’s unconscious she can still hear us, so no tears. Okay?”

“Okay,” they both said at the same time.

All three followed a nurse to the intensive care ward. “Only two at a time,” she said.

“You girls go ahead. I’ll wait here,” Larry said.

After they put on a gown and mask, the nurse took them to her bed. “Just one minute,” she said, pulling the curtain around the bed.

“Grandmom?” Brenda whispered.

She was hooked up to all kinds of tubes and monitors. A wall of machines blinked and beeped on the other side of the bed. The air was a suffocating blanket of pine cleaner and ammonia.

Brenda reached through the wires and tubes to touch her face. “I love you, Grandmom.”

“Me too,” Angelique said, caressing the back of her hand. “We saw the snakes. We’re going to make a special gris-gris for you. To help you get better.”

Brenda looked at Angelique, then back at her grandmother. “We’ll make the best healing gris-gris ever when we get back to the house.”

Her eyelids fluttered, but her eyes didn’t open.

“Stay with us, Grandmom,” Brenda said.

The nurse pulled the curtain open. “We have to let her rest now, girls.”

Outside the room, Larry said, “Let’s get you two home.”

 

Once they were back at the house, Larry said, “Call me on my cell phone if you need anything. I’ll be back in a few hours. Will you be all right by yourself? I can have someone look in on you.”

“Daddy, we’ll be fine. Go ahead.” Brenda gave him a hug and kiss.

“We’ll take care of each other,” Angelique said, hugging him.

After he got in the car and drove away, the girls ran to their bedroom. Brenda emptied her box onto the bed.

“Do you think it’s Mrs. Johnston doing bad magic against Grandmom?” Angelique asked.

“Maybe, if somewhere in her crazy mind she decided Grandmom had done something against her. I can’t imagine anyone else wanting to hurt her,” Brenda spread out the ribbons, rocks and pieces of glass and metal from the box.

“This is all junk.” She took a handful and threw it onto her pillow. “Nothing good enough to help her.”

“Then we’ve got to find better things. Grandmom must have good stuff in her room, don’t you think?” Angelique asked.

“Yes, but–”

“We’re doing this for her.” Angelique grabbed Brenda’s arm. “Come on.”

They entered her bedroom. A sweet scent, like roses, filled the air. Brenda pulled the thick, white curtains closed and turned on the light. Angelique stood near the dark wood bed. There was a hot ripple in the air, like the wake of a boat in water. “Do you feel that?”

Brenda lifted her hand to the air. “Yes.” An edge of blue suede peeked out from under the bed. “What is this?” Brenda picked up the small bag. “Grandmom’s nation bag. She always carries it. Why would she leave it here?”

“I don’t know.” Angelique laid the bag on the middle of the bed. “But maybe we can use it.”

Angelique opened the closet and mix of earthy scents floated into the air. They found a wood cabinet in the closet with jars and boxes of herbs, roots, and powder.

“This is strong magic stuff,” Brenda said.

“Good. That’s what we need.”

“This is too much for us.” Brenda backed out of the closet.

Angelique grabbed Brenda’s arm. “We can’t have any doubt. You taught me that.” Angelique slowly moved her open hands over the containers, letting her light guide her. She kept the image of her grandmother healthy in her mind. When the center of her palm tingled intensely she picked up a jar. She handed three jars to Brenda.

One had the word ‘John root’ written on its label. The other two had designs drawn on their labels.

“We’ll do it here.” Angelique said.

“How do you know those are the right things?” Brenda said.

Angelique took her hand; they touched each item together. “You see. They feel right.”

Brenda nodded.

“We need to do a spell of protection, then make the gris-gris. I’ll be right back.” Brenda rushed out of the room.

Angelique waited in the middle of the room. There was a quick movement in the corner. When she turned her head, there was nothing there. Each time she blinked something fluttered in the air, just out of her vision. Her heart beat faster. It took all her strength not to run out of the room. She opened her mouth to call Brenda, but closed her eyes instead. Whatever it was, it couldn’t or wouldn’t touch her.

She stood still until Brenda returned with a paper bag. Brenda emptied the bag on the floor. There were five different color candles, matches, chalk, a pair of scissors and a can of beer. She pulled a piece of red flannel and ribbon from her pocket.

“For the spell of protection,” Brenda said. “Do you remember how it’s made?”

Angelique nodded, took a pillow off the bed, placed it on the floor and put her grandmother’s nation bag on the pillow. “This is Grandmom.”

They drew a chalk circle around the pillow and placed the candles on the edge of the circle. Angelique opened one of the jars with a pattern on it and sprinkled a few grains of the black powder in between the candles.

“To keep her safe,” Angelique said.

Brenda laid the six-inch square of red flannel on the floor. Angelique held a pen over the material without touching it, then after a few seconds drew a pattern on the material. Brenda wrote their grandmother’s name nine times on a piece of paper. Angelique laid a piece of John root in the paper, sprinkled the brown powder from the other jar on it and folded the paper up. They tied it close; each took turns tying a knot in the ribbon.

Brenda opened the beer. Angelique dipped her finger in the can and dripped beer on the gris-gris to feed it. They placed it on the pillow next to the nation bag. Brenda lit the candles while her cousin dribbled a little beer in her hands and threw it in each corner of the room. They sat on the floor, held hands and watched the candles burn. Shadows slid and jumped in the corners like trapped animals.

“Whatever you are, you have to leave this house,” Angelique said.

Shadows crawled up the walls. The candles’ flames jerked back and forth. A crunching sound, like mice chewing paper came from under the bed. Brenda peeked under the bed, but saw nothing.

“It’s time to go away and leave our Grandmother alone.” Brenda pushed light from deep inside. Warm yellow light, like melted butter, dripped from her hands and feet.

Angelique saw Brenda’s light and gathered stillness inside and pushed out. Gold light from her hands and feet mixed with Brenda’s light and pooled on the floor around them. They stared at the candles.

Their light streamed to the dark corners. Obscure shapes twisted up the wall, away from the girls’ light.

A giggle snapped in the air above them. They looked up for one second, into each other’s eyes. In a blink, they were sitting in a field of daisies. A warm summer breeze bounced over the flowers and caressed their faces. The setting sun filled the sky with streaks of blue, purple and white.

They were two other girls, holding one flower. They took turns pulling a petal off.

“He loves me,” one girl sang.

“He loves me,” the other girl chanted back.

When the last petal was pulled the girls fell into each other’s arms laughing.

Angelique and Brenda plummeted through a dark tunnel and were back in their Grandmother’s bedroom.

“What — what was that?” Angelique asked, gulping for air.

“I think that was Grandmom and — “ Brenda shuddered. “ — and Mrs. Johnston.”

“How could that be?” Angelique asked.

“I don’t know. Grandmom never said anything about them knowing each other when they were younger. Maybe it’s a trick.”

Angelique shook her head. “That felt true. Something happened between them, something that made her hate Grandmom.”

“I don’t care what happened. I won’t lose Grandmom,” Brenda said. “Look–they’re coming back. This was just something to stop us.”

The shadow things had leaked back down the walls as the girls’ light dissipated.

“No more tricks, true or not.” Brenda concentrated on the candles again. She took deep, slow breaths to calm down.

Angelique held Brenda’s hands and did the same. The light flowed again from them, at first in a steady stream and then a rushing torrent as they kept one purpose in mind: to rescue their grandmother. Sounds echoed above them: giggles, singing, small feet jumping up and down. No matter what they heard they kept their eyes on the dancing flames. Gold light filled the floor and lapped up the walls. They didn’t even look up when the crying started, a little girl wailing deeply.

The shadows on the ceiling curled in on themselves, wept down the walls to the floor and faded away. The girls watched the candles burn until they were so tired they couldn’t keep their eyes open. The shadows and sounds didn’t return.

“It’s gone.” Angelique put out the candles. “We’ll take the gris-gris and nation bag to her tomorrow.”

Calm quiet surrounded them. Brenda nodded.

They put the pillow back, picked up the candles, swept the powder and chalk into the paper bag, and went back to their room. Too tired to eat, they fell asleep and didn’t hear Larry come in.

He woke them in the morning to take them to the hospital.

Once there, the doctor told them that she was out of intensive care but still being watched. She hadn’t regained consciousness, but her vital signs were stable. The girls looked at each other, smiling.

The nurse took the girls to her room while Larry talked to the doctor.

She wasn’t hooked up to as many machines as the day before. Brenda kissed her hand.

“We made a gris-gris for you, Grandmom. Angelique and I did it together.”

Angelique took the charm out of her pocket, placed it in her grandmother’s left hand, and held it.

“And we found your nation bag.” Brenda placed the bag in her grandmother’s right hand. “We did the biggest magic we knew, Grandmom.”

“We did it because we love you and want you back,” Angelique said.

Brenda jumped. “She squeezed my hand.”

Their grandmother’s eyes opened and she smiled.

Brenda leaned forward to hug her, but stopped as another face floated over their grandmother’s face.

“You my girls, my shiny light,” a familiar voice said.

The face smiled with broken teeth.

“Get out!” Brenda said, trying to pull away from her tight grip.

Mrs. Johnston laughed. “Why should I? You play, let me in. I’m staying now. You mine.”

“Oh no.” Angelique said. She finally saw how this happened. The magic they practiced in the house must have made an opening in Grandmom’s protection. “It was us. We let her in.”

Horror flashed on Brenda’s face.

“No!” Brenda said. Light shot out of her free hand and poured over Grandmom.

“That’s right, give me your light, my shiny key.”

Angelique pushed light out of her hands but none came out.

“Not yet, my sweet. Later, there’ll be time for you and me later,” the face over Grandmom’s said.

Angelique’s light and voice was locked inside. She could do nothing except watch Mrs. Johnston absorb Brenda’s light. The old woman’s body laid over their grandmother’s like a gelatinous blanket, getting thicker each second.

“Grandmom, help me,” Brenda whispered, stumbling against the bed.

“She can’t help you now. I got her nice and tight. Soon she be gone, then we have a good time,” Mrs. Johnston said, her body filling out, the spectral skin stretching.

Angelique prayed inside, wanting to close her eyes, but could not.

Brenda’s lips moved, but no sounds came out, tears streamed down her face.

“Mommy,” Brenda blurted out. The gold light traveling from her to Mrs. Johnston turned lighter in color; green light streaked its edges. Brenda suddenly remembered a picture of her mother in a silk gown that same color green. It was her mother’s favorite color.

“Help me, Mommy.”

“Stop that.” Mrs. Johnston twisted back and forth as the green light increased, pulling from Brenda’s arms and chest. “Stop, stop, stop…” Her body inflated larger like a balloon.

Angelique snapped loose from her control, and staggered away from the bed. When she took a step towards Brenda, a soft voice whispered in her ear, ‘wait’. Angelique took one step towards Brenda. The voice pleaded gently, ‘stay here, it will be alright’. The voice was like her mother’s but softer. In her heart she could feel it wasn’t Mrs. Johnston. Brenda stood taller, her eyes closed, her mouth moving silently as if she was calmly talking to someone.

The outline of Mrs. Johnston’s body thinned as the green light filled her form and spiked out in fine lines to the walls. She changed into a two-headed dog, but still the light stabbed through her, the dog’s mouth open in an unuttered howl. A huge snake coiled over their grandmother’s body, the light slicing through it in rings. The snake shape changed into a gigantic bird, snapping at the lines of light penetrating its body. No matter what she became the green light continued eating holes in her form. Mrs. Johnston returned to a human shape, slowly deflating.

“You shoulda been mine,” she said in a tiny voice, before the aspect of her body slid to the floor and disappeared.

Angelique ran to Brenda, catching her as she wobbled against the bed. A sheen of sweat covered Brenda’s face. “Mommy?” she asked.

“You did it, Brenda, you made her go away,” Angelique said.

“It wasn’t me.”

A moan from the bed made them turn towards their grandmother.

Her eyes flickered open. “Brenda, honey,” she said slowly.

“Grandmom,” they both said, hugging her.

“How?” she asked.

“I’ve been studying online,” Brenda said. “I taught Angelique what I know. And she taught me some things I didn’t know last night.”

“I should have guessed there was too much Power between the two of you to ignore,” Grandmom said.

“It was Mrs. Johnston, she used us to get to you,” Brenda said. “But Mommy helped us push her away.”

“Oh, my babies. You didn’t know what you were doing.” She shook her head. “They found Shelia’s body in her house, two weeks ago. She’d been dead a long time. I didn’t want upset you.”

“Shelia is Mrs. Johnston? You knew each other when you were young?” Brenda asked.

Their grandmother closed her eyes for a moment. She squeezed their hands and looked at them. “Yes. We were like sisters once, but a man drove us apart.” She shook her head. “Love can be a tricky thing. Or lust.” She held their hands over her heart. “Don’t let that happen to you.”

“No, Grandmom, never,” Angelique said, taking Brenda’s other hand.

“No one will come between us,” Brenda said.

The doctor and Larry walked into the room. Larry ran to the bed and hugged her and the girls. “I knew you were too strong to let anything keep you down,” he said.

“The hugs can continue in a few minutes, but I need to check my patient,” the doctor said. “Could you wait outside?”

“Make it fast, because I’ve got a lot of work to do at home,” Grandmom said. She slipped the nation bag back to Brenda and the gris-gris to Angelique.

The doctor and Larry walked through the green and gold light that splashed and shimmered in the room without seeing it. Brenda and Angelique waved to their Grandmother from the doorway, knowing she was safe now, surrounded by the power.

 

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Linda D. Addison is an award-winning author of four collections, including How To Recognize A Demon Has Become Your Friend, and the first African-American recipient of the HWA Bram Stoker Award®. She has published over 300 poems, stories and articles and is a member of CITH, HWA, SFWA and SFPA. Addison is a co-editor of Sycorax’s Daughters (Cedar Grove Publishing), an anthology of horror fiction/poetry by African-American women. You can catch her work in the anthologies Dark Voices (Lycan Valley Press), Cosmic Underground (Cedar Grove Publishing), Scary Out There (Simon Schuster), and The Beauty of Death (Independent Legions Publishing). Her site: www.lindaaddisonpoet.com.

Interview with Linda Addison

What inspired the story “The Power”?

LA: When I saw the call out for submissions for Dark Dreams I it inspired me to try something different. I had the idea of two cousins, born at the same time. I’ve also been fascinated with the concept of twins and how they are connected, which inspired the two cousins. I like trying new areas so I thought I’d try magical realism.

I took time reading about spells, conjure balls, etc. because I wanted those parts to be as real as possible. The core of most of my stories start with the characters so once I had the cousins the story began to unwind in my mind as I daydreamed. Much writing is organic for me so I don’t do a lot of pre-planning but I pay attention to the ideas that surface.

What inspired you to start writing?

LA: I was born with stories and poems in me—I was, and still am, a big day dreamer and it is more challenging for me to stay focused on what we call reality than in my imagination, which adds strange extrapolation to every real thing I experience. My mother was a natural storyteller and would create fables with all of us children in them. Even though we didn’t have a lot of books in the house, her verbal tales made it feel very natural to tell stories.

Growing up where money was tight didn’t stop me from writing, but I couldn’t see being a full-time writer as a way to make a living. Since I was good at math and science I ended up with a college scholarship (and loans) that allowed me to graduate from Carnegie-Mellon University with a B.S. in Mathematics and worked in computer programming until I retired from the day job. All the time, I continued writing, submitting, and eventually getting published.

Tell us where you are in your writing career now and where you hope to be in the next few years.

LA: I’ve established my writing with poetry and short stories and now I’m working on longer work. There are challenges but I’m excited to learn some new skills. I have several ideas for novels, so we’ll see how that goes. I’m very interested in seeing visual versions of my work created in the future (movies, etc.). It will be thrilling to see how technology and writing continue to interact in the future (VR, etc.). Each step of the way I want to continue opening the wider genre field to a more inclusive worldview of creators.

What are your favorite works of Black horror? Film, books, podcasts, etc?

LA: Lists like these are hard to make, I can’t capture all that I’ve seen or read that inspires me but I’ll name some (others forgive me if I left you out):

Podcasts:

-NIGHTLIGHT The Black Horror Podcast; currently running my story, The Power is the only Black horror podcast that I’m aware of[https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/nightlight/id1399377895?mt=2&i=1000418221266]

-I’ve been on other podcasts I follow that cover Horror writers:

Get Lit with Leza [https://player.fm/series/get-lit-with-leza-2360369/linda-addison-gets-lit],

Great Lakes Horror Company [http://www.libraryofthedamned.com/GLHC/GLHC-33.mp3]

Eating the Fantastic [http://www.scottedelman.com/2016/06/22/eavesdrop-on-my-lunch-with-linda-addison-in-episode-11-of-eating-the-fantastic/],

The Horror Show with Brian Keene [http://thehorrorshowbk.projectentertainment.libsynpro.com/linda-addison-the-horror-show-with-brian-keene-ep-33].

Black films: Get Out (2017), The Girl with All the Gifts (2017), Blade (1998), Vampire in Brooklyn (1995), Night of the Living Dead (1990) & Candyman (1992) because I love Tony Todd’s work, and Blacula (1972).

Books: L.A. Banks vampire series, Tananarive Due’s novels, Dark Matter series edited by Sheree R. Thomas, The Changling by Victor LaValle, Mojo: Conjure Stories edited by Nalo Hopkinson, Dark Dreams series edited by Brandon Massey & his novels, Moonshine by Alaya Dawn Johnson, Let’s Play White by Chesya Burke, Rasheeda the Zombie Killer by Jeff Carroll (who I discovered when I read his book, It Happened on Negro Mountain), Valjeanne Jeffers’ Mona Livelong Paranormal Detective series, Terence Taylor’s A Vampire Testament series, When the World Wounds by Kiini Ibura Salaam and Blood for the Sun by Errick A. Nunnally.

Others: Here are some folks sharing information, articles, highlighting writers, artists that are very empowering:

-Sumiko Saulson blog entries on Horror Addicts net [https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2016/02/01/intro-to-celebrating-black-horror-history/]

-Eden Royce – The Dark Geisha blog does 28 days of Black Women in Horror for Black Women in Horror (WiHM) month [https://darkgeisha.wordpress.com/2017/02/04/day-4-linda-d-addison/]

-Graveyard Shift Sister [http://www.graveyardshiftsisters.com/]

-M. Asli Dukan, film maker: has several projects going on, but over the years has precious video interviews, Invisible Universe, with genre Black creators, some who have passed since like Octavia Butler (http://invisibleuniversedoc.com/) & a wonderful web series, Resistance: the battle of philadelphia (https://www.resistanceseries.com/). She has a poster that outlines Black speculative writers from 1812 through 2015 (http://invisibleuniversedoc.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/IU_BSF_lit_2015_3000.jpg).

Where can we learn more about you and your work? Do you have any work coming out soon that we should keep an eye out for?

LA: You can keep up with releases, events, finding me online (like this interview and your podcast of my story, The Power) by checking in with my site and social media:

My site: http://www.lindaaddisonpoet.com

Facebook=linda.d.addison

Twitter=nytebird45

Instagram=nytebird45

Work I have out in 2018:

First, go listen to your podcast of my story, The Power!

I have work in three anthologies that released this year (see links on my site):

DARK VOICES CHARITY ANTHOLOGY for Breast Cancer (publisher Lycan Valley Press), 100 Percent of profits goes to benefit breast cancer non-profit organizations. Horror, science fiction and dark fiction by 38 women. Contains my original story, Smiley Roaches, which will give you a peek into the future I’m currently finishing a SF short story collection.

BLACKTASTICON 2018 ANTHOLOGY, edited by Milton J. Davis. (publisher MVMedia, LLC.)  Contains the first-time reprint of my story, Twice, At Once, Separated, from the first Dark Matter anthology. Includes work by guests at the Blacktasticon in Atlantic GA (2018).

COSMIC UNDERGROUND, edited by Reynaldo Anderson & John Jennings. (publisher Cedar Grove Publishing). Contains my poem/spell, The Black Speculative Art Manifesto (Spell) with art work by the amazing Stacey Robinson.

Is there anything else you want to tell us?

LA: My infinite and continual gratitude to everyone who has supported my work in many ways over the years.

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This week’s episode is brought to you by Audible. Try Audible today by going to nightlightpod.com/audible to get 30 days and 2 books free! Not only will you be helping to support this podcast, you’ll also be supporting Black writers when you download their books. This week, I recommend FRESH INK, an anthology of stories that features several Black authors, including Walter Dean Myers, Jason Reynolds, Daniel Jose Older, Nicola Yoon, and an author featured on NIGHTLIGHT: Lamar Giles, who wrote Wilson’s Pawn and Lawn, one of our most popular episodes so far. FRESH INK is a label-defying anthology that includes ten short stories, a graphic novel, and a one-act play about topics ranging from gentrification to untimely death. This collection will inspire you to break conventions, bend the rules, and color outside the lines. All you need is fresh ink.

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Thanks again for listening. We’ll be back next week with another story.

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Show Notes:

Nothing good can come of two girls playing with conjure magic. This week’s episode comes to us from Linda D. Addison, who tells us what it means to have power in your blood without respecting it.

Linda D. Addison is an award-winning author of four collections, including How To Recognize A Demon Has Become Your Friend, and the first African-American recipient of the HWA Bram Stoker Award®. Her story, “The Power” was originally published in the 2004 anthology Dark Dreams.

Addison is a co-editor of Sycorax’s Daughters (Cedar Grove Publishing), an anthology of horror fiction/poetry by African-American women. You can catch her work in the anthologies Dark Voices (Lycan Valley Press), Cosmic Underground (Cedar Grove Publishing), Scary Out There (Simon Schuster), and The Beauty of Death (Independent Legions Publishing). Her site: www.lindaaddisonpoet.com.

This week’s episode is brought to you in part by our patrons. You can become a member of the NIGHTLIGHT Legion for as little as $1 and get access to perks such as behind-the-scenes updates, bonus stories, and extended interviews with our authors. All patrons also get ad-free episodes.

If you prefer to make a one-time donation to help us pay Black writers, go to PayPal.Me/NightlightPodcast.

This week’s episode is also brought to you by Audible. Try Audible today by going to nightlightpod.com/audible to get 30 days and 2 books free! This week, I recommend FRESH INK, an anthology of stories that features an author aired on NIGHTLIGHT: Lamar Giles, who wrote Wilson’s Pawn and Lawn, one of our most popular episodes so far.