The bayou is full of swamps and secrets. They say the dead keep your secrets but in Chaucey, Florida that’s here from Kansas to the truth. In our patch of the world the dead don’t live in their cages but they can reveal secrets the living won’t.
Everyone in Chaucey knows my family is descended from Vodouisants so they leave us alone. We’re outcasts but we’re not looked down on. We’re not looked on at all. That will probably change after tonight.
This afternoon we attended a funeral for my great-great-someone and right in the middle of the service people started crying for a different reason.
A hand clutched the air, its fingernails caked with mud. The hand was attached to someone buried in a plot just down the row from where I sat. I don’t know why, but I went over to help the hand and the body attached to it from the ground. I guess I helped because that used to be my momma. I knew it wasn’t her but the caged thing was wearing her face and I didn’t want to watch it try to claw free for the next half hour. Or maybe longer, from the way it was moving.
Once it was free, it shuffled around, looking at everyone but making no move to leave its home in the earth. It locked mushy eyes on Pops and hurried forward. If you can call a twice slow snail hurried. Pops grabbed not-Momma’s arm and we left the funeral. I’m sure the service was lovely but really, who cares?
Pops stuffed not-Momma in the trunk and I sat in the backseat, listening for signs that maybe everyone in my family was wrong; maybe Momma missed me as I much as I missed her and she came back. I couldn’t hear anything.
As soon as we got home, Pops pulled not-Momma out and she tried to strangle him. That didn’t seem right. I remember Pops telling me the dead are honest and the living are evil. If the dead aren’t evil, why was not-Momma trying to choke Pops?
My great aunt once told me that the caged beings are called so because the essence of a person is caged inside the dead if it rises, assuming the person was strong-willed enough. Willful was something to call Momma on a good day. She must’ve had heaps of essence trapped behind.
As I watch Pops defend himself against not-Momma something else my great aunt told me sticks out. She said that if a person is murdered, they will immediately try to kill their killer without a care for anything else. Pops murdered Momma. I know this as surely as I ever knew anything.
The circumstances surrounding her death were always fuzzy and the authorities never cared enough to solve her case. “Open and shut suicide,” they said. I knew better. Momma and I were supposed to have a girl’s weekend. She planned it for months, tucking away every spare dime and sometimes feeding us smaller portions for dinner so she could save. We were going to stay at a nice hotel in Miami and listen to a real jazz band. She wouldn’t have killed herself before then.
I don’t want to end up like Momma so I don’t tell Pops that I know what his secret is. He’s too busy dancing around the yard with not-Momma anyway. I grab a shovel even though I’m not about to dig anything.
What Pops doesn’t know is that I’ve inherited my great aunt’s way with words. I’ve got the gifts of the Vodouisants who came before me. When I kill Pops tonight, he’ll come back caged and truly. I say a few words and not-Momma goes still. I kiss her on the cheek and wish I knew the words to let life flow back.
I ask Pops if he has anything to say, any explanation for Momma. He says he saved us all, that he did it for the good of the town, but we both know that’s here from Kansas to the truth. I raise the shovel and he doesn’t even try to cover his face or grab for me. He knows death is coming. I know death is here to stay.
Jen is working on a young adult urban fantasy novel called Slacker Heroes and a collection of pop culture essays. She makes room in her heart for both Bobby Drake and Batman. You can catch her on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
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