Cecile's special talent for helping others is ruining her life.
|The loud knock of authority had found her secluded cabin once again. Cecile had naively believed that moving deep in the bayou would protect her. Here the Spanish Moss hung from trees like ghosts guarding a graveyard. From the murky waters you couldn't even see the place until you were on land and cypress trees sheltered the shoreline. There wasn't a dock and she didn't have a boat of any kind.
Cecile knew this whole area like it was a part of her body. She had knives, poisons, spells and potions to keep herself safe. Her Creole Grandmere had been a "Hoodoo" queen and witch doctor rolled into one. Cecile wasn't afraid of gators, night creatures or "haunts" others feared. Death had already gotten in her path many times. What frightened her was the white man. He was like the legend of a swamp werewolve she feared more than anything, more than death.
The year is 1963 in the state of Louisiana in a parish close to New Orleans, home of the Vieux Carre (French Quarter). Cecile is a lovely young woman with copper tinted skin, wide chocolate eyes, and full lips.
Looking out a small hole in the wood she saw her visitors. It was the same two white men with shiny badges, notebooks and guns in holsters. They were usually polite and respectful but she knew it was an act. She cautiously opened the door a crack.
"Hello, Cecile, I hope ya'll are having a good day." The tall Sheriff drawled, "We were just wondering if you might use your God given gift to help us?"
What choice does she have? They can do anything they want to her, that is understood. She opens the worn screen door and tries to keep her voice calm.
"Yes, sir. I'd be pleased to help if I can."
Respectfully, they wipe off their boots on the worn mat.
"Ya'll make yourself at home, have a seat and I'll get tea."
She pours sweetened ice tea into her best glasses and puts out some warm teacakes. Her hands shake as she puts the glasses down. She hopes they don't notice.
What she really wants to do is hide under her bed like a frightened child. These are men that hold power over her and her people. She knows to try and stay steps ahead of them.
Cecile has known enough tragedy in her young life. She remembers the first time she had a vision. It was her younger brother, Evan. He was running away from some white bullies along the railroad tracks and his boot became wedged in the rails.
Cecile was miles away but it was happening in front of her. Like a movie, she watched the frenetic struggle as he tried to untie the boot. Then she saw the look in his eyes, a rabbit caught by a bear, a horror of certain painful death.
He screams, "Momma!"
Then his voice is drowned out as the trains brakes squeal, trying to stop but too late.
Cecile made the mistake of telling those close to her about her visions. She had seen the gleeful faces of murderers with knives, guns and ropes in their hands. She watched innocent victims pleading for their lives. Her own bed was often drenched in perspiration as she saw and sometimes felt the violent invasion of their bodies.
Cecile cursed God for this "gift". She spoke to her preacher, Brother Watkins, since both her parents had passed on and she didn't have family. Brother Watkins told her it was the gift of prophecy that was a blessing in the Bible. If this is a gift, she would be happy to give it back.
Watkins explained it was her duty as a citizen and human being to help police with sketches and pick perpetrators out of line ups. But she knew he was saying this because he had been spoken to by the Sheriff's office. After all, she knew the law would use her visions if it was in their interest. She knew what she saw wasn't really admissible in court. How she wanted to be left alone.
How do you know what is right? How can you protect your own friends? There is a hatefulness in some people and that is just the truth. There were things she kept to herself.
Cecile didn't know about the latest tragedy. Her "gift" was a strange thing, nothing predictable. She only had a radio to get a blues and jazz station with static as a constant nuisance. Local news took a while to get to her and that was fine.
Last night, Ted Manion, one of the coroners for New Orleans, stood by as they untangled the remains of a woman's body from cypress knees in a black oily bayou off the St. John's river. The area was alive with sounds of reptiles. With the snakes and gators it was amazing the body was partially intact but it had been burned. Ted estimated the death had been within the last twelve hours.
Ted spat tobacco juice. "Ain't too much left of it, is there?"
The young Police Chief, Perry King, shook his head. "Probably that young Yankee journalist. She's been staying in Atlanta, travelin' round the South poking around in stuff that don't concern her. I'd be surprised if she was alone."
Ted snarled, "Damn kids, impulsive as hell, never listen to reason. It's dangerous down here. Are we supposed to protect outsiders along with our own people?"
So, here they were at Cecile's door, needing her help to get the FBI off their backs. The dead always have tales to tell and when Cecile looked at them, their final moments usually came to her in terrible details.
"Can you come on down to the morgue?" Perry had a pleading tone, "If we wait, it will be useless cause the evidence is fallin' apart."
"We really hate to ask knowin' this must be hard on you, but we'd sure appreciate it, being our Christian duty, after all."
Cecile felt for the victims and families so she would go to the crime scene, morgue, and police station. She would tell these callous men what she could. She gathered her purse and Bible plus her Grandmeres' necklace with the protective roots and herbs in it. The closer they got to the morgue, the more churning in her stomach she felt. Her hands were ice cold.
The remains were on a metal table covered by a black plastic tarp. The pungent smell of formaldehyde was overwhelming.
"You ready?" Perry looked her way.
She looked down. It really didn't matter to him how she felt and she knew it. He pulled the plastic back. This didn't look human at first then the vision washed over her. She began to shake and sweat. One of the men pulled a chair out for her and she fell into it.
Like watching a movie, Cecile saw two middle-aged white men in faded blue overalls. They were pulling a young white woman, with long blonde hair, wearing a pink sundress, out of an older model blue car. One man was bald with a brown mustache and beard. He had small dark eyes and a large nose. There was a jagged scar on his left cheek. His gray t-shirt was dark gray and torn in paces. The other guy was smaller in height and build with stringy gray hair and a gold tooth that shined every time he smiled. He had a tattoo that looked like a ship's anchor on his right forearm.
The bald guy raised his voice. "What you mean coming down here? It ain't your business what we do."
The woman was shaking all over, crying.
"My newspaper sent me to get a story. I'll leave right now. Please, I have some money!" She was pleading for her life, "I'm only twenty-five. Please don't hurt me!"
Cecile saw the whole horrible scene. One held her down as she screamed. The other man put duct tape over her mouth. Her eyes were wide and frightened, tears glistening. Then they put tape around her wrists. Chuckling, the bigger man took a knife and cut her dress off slicing skin in the process. Then one squeezed her tiny breasts as the other ripped her lacy white bra and panties.
"This is a sweet piece of Yankee ass we caught, huh Bud?"
They took turns raping her, turning her over while blood pooled under her body. Cecile could see her eyes, the terror and pain she was feeling. She probably wanted to die and as though her prayers were answered, her eyes rolled back and her body went limp. Bud suddenly pulled the tape off of her mouth and her eyes sprung open. The loud cry that followed sounded like an animal being slaughtered. The two men laughed.
"Hey, Rufus, she thinks somebody down here gonna care bout a Yankee nigra lover!"
Rufus slammed his fist into her jaw. Cecile heard the bones break.The pain caused their victim to black out again. Bud set fire to a greased poker and began to burn her clothing. Then Cecile could smell hair and flesh on fire. Black smoke filled her vision field clouding the details of what happened next. She felt it all flowing away and she was in the room again shaking all over. As this horror movie ran in her head, she described the details to the police.
They were quiet.
Cecile bolted to the bathroom, sank to the cold floor and vomited. She rinsed her mouth and face. Tears and mucus stained her skin. She hadn't even realized she was crying as she told this awful truth. Cecile came out, sunk down on a worn couch. Exhausted, she felt like she had been assaulted.
"You okay?" Perry handed her a cold Coca-Cola.
"Did ya'll tape this?" she asked.
"No, but I wrote it all down. We both did. Don't you worry none. We will try to get justice."
"I want to see a copy, please. I described both of those men."
Cecile thought she knew who the men were. She knew better than to say anything. No one asked her. They drove her back home, offering to stop and get some groceries or take out food. She politely refused. She had done what they had asked.
In her cabin, now alone, she bolted the door. In her makeshift shower, she tried to wash the crime off her body. But the ugliness had crept under her skin. Cecile was only twenty and when she looked in a mirror, each new line was the secret of another cold gray corpse.
By Kathie Stehr