She held her breath for a while, waiting in the night’s stillness.
SECOND PLACE in the Twisted Tales Contest by Arakun the Twisted Raccoon , March 2011
THIRD PLACE in the Separate Worlds March 2012 Contest, by Colin Back on the Ghost Roads , April 2nd. 2012
PUBLISHED in the Separate Worlds June 2012 Edition, Spectacular Publishing by Colin Back on the Ghost Roads
She felt an invisible pressure forcing itself over her body, and woke up -- alarmed. The body, somehow soft, and quiet, felt cold, and a disturbing sensation filled her with dread -- like mist in the early morning. She shivered while it hungrily coveted her body: her mind couldn’t quite detect what was happening. She knew it was a man’s body because it was much bigger than hers and it could support itself on its arms in order to cover her from head to toe but it was careful: it wanted her to be able to breathe. Taking a long, deep breath, she felt the existence coming -- closer, and closer like a dark cloud over the moon. She thought she was going to die, or that the unknown darkness might take possession of her body.
She was fully awake now. She looked around -- nothing, nobody. She moved her legs and arms. She could hear the noises of the windy night coming from outside; leaves scratching her window and the cold breeze of the Northern winds. It -- he was still there, hovering over her and she knew it was trying to make her feel its eerie, supernatural existence; she felt all of its haunting power. She felt as if her blood froze in her veins; muscles and nerves -- alert. Crystal was all goose bumps; she swallowed hard and analyzed the situation. Could it read her thoughts? What did it want? Why was it there, above her? Who was he, or better, what was it? Why was it there, covering her body and her face like a graveyard ghost? Confused, she wanted to scream but she didn’t. She held her breath for a while, waiting in the night’s stillness.
A strong, sweet scent of cigar penetrated her nostrils; she hated it. She never smoked and couldn’t stand a person that smoked or drank, since she was very young. Crystal wanted to move, run, escape but she was lying on the carpet, wrapped in her thick quilt, and wearing her warm pajamas in an empty room; her room. She was home. He -- it was not; he was an intruder, but... he -- it was not human. She knew this as well a she knew her name.
Suddenly, just as it came, it left. She took a deep breath, completely filling up her burning lungs. It was such an invisible yet physical activity that it made her heart skip a beat. Her mouth was dry. She placed both hands over her face and just sat there, sobbing, breathing, while the night became dawn and all her fears became a dream.
“Mamá... it’s me.” Crystal said softly while holding the phone with trembling hands.
“I---I don’t know.”
“What do you mean... you don’t know?”
“I don't know. I’m troubled.”
“Are you hurt?”
“Are you sick?”
“Are you home?”
“What happened -- tell me!”
“It must have been a bad dream or... I must be going crazy.” Crystal said, hesitating.
“Listen to me, Crystal. I’m your mother. I’d never think you’re crazy. Others... yes, but you, never. So, go ahead and tell me, right now!”
“Something -- not human... hovered over my body last night, in my room... I think a ghost was trying to -- kiss me or scare me really bad.”
“Are you sure?”
“Did you 'feel' it in the room before going to sleep?”
“You know better than that, come on! So, you woke up and it -- was there?”
“Did it say anything?”
“Did it hurt you?
“No... but I’m emotionally a wreck, mom.”
“Oyeme... Listen to me! Was there any scent or noise?”
“Strong, and sweet?”
“We must clean your house immediately! You have a powerful Eshu in your house -- haunting it, haunting... you. It 'dwells' there. He wants you out or he wants... you. It’s Santeria, mi hija, Regra de Ocha! We -- you must react, act, before it’s too late. You must follow all the steps!
“Ai ai ai...”
“Didn’t you spread sea salt in the four corners of each room and do all the other important things I told you so -- before moving into the house?”
“No, mamá, I didn’t. I was so tired...”
“Ai Dios mio!”
“Sorry, mamá. I forgot.”
“I’ll be there this afternoon. Wait for me. We must clean your house today or else... Did you buy all the things I told you to find at the ‘El Craneo del Diablo’ store downtown?’”
“Yes, I did.”
“Come quickly, mother.”
“I will, hija. Dios te bendiga.”
“Quédate con Dios.”
Crystal slowly walked towards her room. It was the first time she went into it since she woke up, and after she had stopped crying. She dared not stay in her room, alone. Every noise would make her hair stand on the back of her neck. She didn’t even change her clothes. She was still wearing her Pink Victoria Secret pajamas and white socks. Nervous, she only drank a warm glass of milk with honey. She had this feeling of being -- observed, followed. She quickly found a red box which was inside her closet and walked down the hall to the kitchen -- scared of the dark corners of her own house!
She cautiously opened the box. She removed the sea salt, the Pemba, the cloves, the garlic, the white rose petals which were carefully wrapped in fine, thin paper, the seven moonshine bottles, seven red candles, seven small boxes of matches and seven red ribbons. She also opened the brown cigar box and removed seven Cuban cigars. The scent was really strong and disturbing, and it immediately reminded her of last night. She shivered. Sooner or later... she would resolve this, yes she would. Nobody was going to live in her own house without her permission, not even that being. The river of life goes right on and she was not going to take a beating. Her mind was the boss of her body -- she was in command, not that... that existence in her room.
“I’m here, mamá.”
“Oh, mi hija, you look so... pale. How are you?”
“Tired, frightened, and scared. It’s was spooky.”
“Come on. We cannot waste a single minute! Hurry up! Where are the things I told you to buy for the Limpieza?”
“Here they are -- all of them.”
“Why didn’t you ‘clean’ your house before going to sleep, mi hija? At least you could have spread the sea salt. I told you so: 'Casa Nueva, Limpieza'. You completely clean a house you are moving into not only in the physical way but especially in the spiritual way. You dust and sweep the floors, not even forgetting to clean behind the doors. Then, you clean the windows -- to clean negative reflections. Next, you put seven grains of sea salt in the four corners of each room -- to eliminate and cast away evil eye, bad spirits and old memories of previous owners or contractors, and envy, that stick like stinky, black, invisible goo in the house’s aura. You never listen to me, mi hija, ai Dios mio!”
“I was so tired, besides, the store didn’t deliver my bed and my furniture. I waited and waited. There was only me, my two suitcases, my two big boxes, my house, my quilt and the new carpet in my room. I wanted my space, my silence, my privacy. You know how much I needed this, mama, after what happened.”
“Yes, I know, darling, I know, but... there was someone... something else in here with you.”
Well, we don’t want it living in here forever, do we?”
“Get the broom, the bucket and the cleaning cloth. Where is the Agua Bendita I asked you to bring from the Iglesia Santa Maria?”
“Oh... yes. I placed it in front of my Virgin Maria statuette, in the end of the hall.”
“Go get it.”
Crystal’s mother, Marcita, filled a bucket with water, sprinkled some sea salt, opened the cap of a little green bottle with blessed water and let it slowly drip it into the pail. She mixed the blessed water, and the sea salt with a wooden spoon. Marcita opened the package with the white rose petals and let them fall, delicately, into the water, and placed a cleaning cloth inside the pail, letting it rest for a while. Then, she pulled the cloth out, twisted and squeezed it slowly while praying and reciting words in the Yoruba language. Merging holy saints, the good spirits, the guardian angels and mysterious beliefs, she put the cloth on the mop and silently started to clean the floors of each room. She cleaned and mopped each closet, the bathroom, the kitchen, the living room and the dining room as well as the porch, and finally the garage. Crystal watched -- and learned, following her mother in respectful silence. Her mother was a Ialorisha; famous for her cleaning of the homes, and helping people with their everyday spiritual problems.
After the floors were mopped and cleaned she flushed the dirty water down the toilet -- it must never stay inside the house or yard -- and immediately scattered seven grains of sea salt in each corner of each room, while praying and reciting powerful Yoruba words that were as old as history, sometimes, as if she were in a trance, her eyes wide open; looking like a zombie.
“Crystal! Come here. Look at that spit!” She pointed at a black stain right in the middle of Crystal’s room, on the floor -- where the carpet and the quilt had been placed the night before, and where she had felt the cold existence. “It is defying me... defying you! I just cleaned this room!”
“What must we do now?”
“Persevere! Go to step two -- which I thought wouldn’t be necessary. Come on! Let’s go.”
“Ai Dios mio!”
“Don’t be weak. Be strong. Pray. Attention to your thoughts. No distractions. They read your weakness through your thoughts. Don’t be vulnerable. Help me cast this evil thing away from here! Be firm, positive. This is your home! Get the other things... hurry. It must be done before 6 pm, you know all this, why do you look so scared? You cannot be scared. Trust. Believe.”
“What does it want?”
“Nothing... and... everything! Apúrate”
“What must I do?”
“Take all this and go to the yard. Find a spot under a tree, and make the Offering as I always told you so; you saw me do them, many times. Go! Be positive; follow your faith and beliefs.”
“I will finish here, close all the windows and doors -- place the remaining white rose petals, the sea salt, the clove and the garlic on a dish, and leave it in your room. It’s a powerful barrier against evil and bad spirits. I’ll meet you outside. Go!”
Crystal went to the yard, carrying all the objects in a bag. She looked around and found a darker spot under the weeping willow. The leaves were blowing softly on the long branches as if they were telling her of long ago stories, maybe knowing what was going to happen -- some leaves were escaping and flying away -- maybe scared. Ai Dios mio, why was she doing this? Why was this happening to her? "Oh I must focus!" She sat under the tree, opened the moonshine bottles and placed them in a closed circle. Inside the circle, she placed the red roses on which she had artistically tied a red ribbon around each one. She lit the red candles using a new match from each matchbox, and carefully placed them in a hole on the ground, forming a red circle of fire that lit up dark, secret spaces around her. When she finished, she sat back, and silently admired the Offering. Had she done the right thing? The candlelights illuminated her face, her pajamas and the thick tree trunk. It was only then that she noticed that it was already dark. She took a deep breath and stood up, still staring at the Offering; hypnotized.
“Muy bien, hija, well done," her mother said. "The spirit of Mr. Crossroad, that reigns this area, knows now that this Offering is his. He will protect you and your house, cast away the evil ones and never allow anything bad to happen to you, en nombre de Dios! Well done. Now, we walk away, never looking back. Tomorrow, you come back, ask permission to the spirits, collect it all, very respectfully, and put everything inside the red box, take it to the closest lake or river and throw it in -- always in water. Never bury it or throw it in your trash inside your house, hear me?”
“Bien. Let’s go. I must hurry. I have many clients waiting for me in the Spiritual Center. So many requests.”
“De nada, mi amor!”
Crystal kissed her mother goodbye and went into her perfectly clean, safe house. She smiled. She was pleased. Walking happily down the corridor, she went into her room and bathroom, took her clothes off and took a long, warm, relaxing shower. She put on her pink chemise, and barefoot, stepped on her carpet and made her ‘bed’ with her quilt and two pillows. She crossed both arms, took some steps back and smiled once more while feeling the scent of the sea salt, the cloves and the white rose petals coming from the plate near her bed. “Perfect. It’s peacefully -- perfect.” She decided to order pizza and coke and to listen to music on her portable CD player, that she had brought with her in one of her boxes. The phone rang. It was her mother, Marcita, alarmed.
“Did you do the Pemba chalk tracing?”
“Yes, the Pemba, Crystal, you know this. Did you do it?”
“Crystal! You know, Oh you know so well that you must use the Pemba after the Limpieza. Why are you so forgetful? Go, now! Believe in what you are doing.”
Crystal found the white, magic Pemba resting in the box. It looked like a thick piece of chalk but it glowed beautifully in the darkness. She took it to her front door. She knew of its powers. She had seen that fat, horrible man -- unable to cross the entrance of his own house -- after his mother had traced the magic half circle. He had been hitting his wife so bad that she lost the baby. The woman asked Crystal’s mother to help her. She did. He never entered the house again or touched the woman again -- disappearing after seven days. She remembered many stories, and knew that the Pemba was the most powerful Voodoo ever.
She opened her front door. The night was quiet; a mysterious, silent darkness. After nightfall, when the sky is dark, everything mysterious is bound to happen. Was the existence out there, staring at her or was it -- behind her? She cleared her mind of unhappy thoughts, distractions and invoked her personal protection spirits. She knelt down and touched the entrance’s doorstep seven times, summoning the Pemba’s earthly powers. “My Pemba, help me protect my home.” She lit a red candle at chest level, facing East and muttered soft words while the soft red light lit her lovely, pale face, and her dark eyes became yellow while her long, black hair, became red.
“Spirits of the East of the Rising Sun, I ask your help. Hear me as I ask for your protection.” Crystal turned to the North.
“Spirits of the North of Ice and Snow, I ask your help. Hear me, please,” Crystal said, with sincere emotion. She turned to the West and murmured.
“Spirits of the West, of the Setting Sun, I ask for your help. Hear me, hear my words.” Finally, turning to the South, she whispered.
“Spirits of the South of the Warmth, I ask your kind help. Hear me as I ask for your protection.” She faced the doorway while sprinkling sea salt on the red flames of the candle.
“As I gather the protection of the Wind, Earth, Fire, and Water, I ask that no evil shall be allowed across the boundaries of this home. All who reside in it are begged to receive your protection. Goddess of the Moon, hear my plea -- for protection. My magic Pemba will do the rest -- on the outside. She sprinkled more sea salt on the door frames. “No evil shall cross, no evil shall enter. My home is clean and protected -- so will be the outside. Thank you, my spirits, I ask you to help me with the Pemba now. When I am finished you are released as I will be done. I thank you Moon and Stars, Sun and Earth.”
Crystal looked at the Pemba, glowing in the dark. She knew that there were basic rules in how to deal with Black Magic and the tracing of the Pemba; her mother had taught her so. She knew of its tradition and origin -- a soft oval-shaped limestone type of chalk where it was said that its powder was extracted from the White Mountains and the flowing waters of the Divine River in North Africa.
The points traced with this mineral chalk moved subtle energies, that, depending on the signs, attracted or dissipated astral, and spiritual energies in the invisible world, and they were paramount: bless or curse with it, the Pemba protects or attacks or further, unites. It depends on how it is used, and what wishes will do with it in this world... to others -- so, beware -- the thoughts or demands will always come right back -- at you! Therefore, when using the Pemba, caution, it will attract the right spirit for the right ritual. Her mother told her that the Pemba chalk rite was one of the most important rituals and done properly, was the most important and recommended in the Umbanda, Kimbanda, Candomblé, and Santeria rituals. She wasn’t that much of a believer, though, and her mother told her that one must believe -- first, in the magic forces surrounding us and then, in what we see. She was a nurse; believed in only what she saw -- still, after last night... she thought otherwise; the elements within the “magic” are fundamental to life, and to mysterious spiritual changes. Crystal had to protect her home and herself -- no matter what.
She lifted the Pemba above her head with her right hand and softly recited a Yoruba song. Her soft words, learned years ago, were taken by the night’s air and up into the clouds, as if they were floating multi-colored bubbles. “I was all alone in this world... I had no food or water... I asked the holy souls... to listen to my prayers. I know it was the souls that helped me, I know it was the souls that saved me... My divine holy spirit... Viva the holy ghost. She traced small, white symbols in the entrance of her door -- then, a half circle -- like a half-moon, facing her door that “blocked” its entrance from the evil eye and the unwanted. She tapped the entrance seven times, and respectfully asked permission to the spirits to protect, and to end her “demanda”.
Crystal took a deep breath; it was over. She could feel the peace; the harmony. Crystal could practically hear the clouds moving over the sky, and the leaves on the branches dancing quietly in the night’s breeze. She closed the front door, locking it. She was done -- it was done. Her mother would be proud of her. She went into her room, switching off all the lights on her way. Silence and perfection. All was right now. The house was clean, the Pemba would protect her. She took off her clothes and climbed into her bed. She was tired; sleepy. She needed the sleep -- she would sleep like an angel. She closed her eyes. She heard the rain coming... with its tiny, cold drops of water over her head, making her tremble...
She felt a rough hand touch her head. It opened and closed its long, bony fingers on her scalp. She shivered, scared. The hand was very big, and if he wanted to, he could instantly crush her skull and brains. She opened her eyes, terrified. It was pitch dark; not a sound in the air -- only her agitated breathing. She wanted to cry; didn’t -- she was paralyzed with fear. Was it there? Was the existence there, still... but... how? How? What had she done -- wrong?
“Listen to me -- I have come from the other side of the sea, centuries ago. I am an unclean spirit and will be this way forever. I will never be able to fulfill my destiny. My angst led me here. I found this dwelling among tombs, no one can bind me not even Offerings, shackles or magic traces; I'm immortal. I have been in the mountains and caves; marshes and quick sands. I have been pulled apart too many a times; crying and cutting myself with stones, broken in pieces but no one could tame me -- neither will you.” The voice was guttural, horrible. She shook in horror; she was dying -- he was closing his disgusting, long fingers around her small head. She thought of the different spiritual realms above -- where would she go now? Would it go with her?
She wanted to scream but couldn’t. She wanted to move her legs and arms but couldn’t. The only sound that came from inside her was a long, deep grunt that shook her chest, body, and her unhappy, lost soul. She saw her body below; she was floating over -- herself. Then, she felt the skeletal hand take her by her hand, pulling her up and forwards, into the black, thin air. “You forgot the back door, my precious,” the being whispered in her ears but not before enveloping her small body with a cold mist -- much colder than ice itself.