T h e P o w e r
by Linda Addison
The first time Brenda saw her cousin Angelique, she looked like a black
angel. Dark as sweet chocolate, dressed in shades of cinna-mon 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 spe-cial 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 he 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
"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's your parents doing?" 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.
"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.
"Good-bye." She handed the phone to her grandmother.
"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 silver-ware
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
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
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 lunchtime."
"We will," Brenda said.
They walked to the corner of the block. They passed a couple of
neighbors working in their yards, but once they turned onto Lancaster
Avenue, the sidewalk was full of people. Brenda and Angelique looked in
the windows of the shoe store 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
back 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
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 spit 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
"What was she talking about?" Angelique asked.
"Don't pay any attention to her. She's been strange ever 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 rosebush covering the
front porch. A couple of windows were broken, and paint peeled from the
"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
Angelique stepped up and tottered forward to hold on to the upper
"You've never been on a ladder before?" Brenda asked.
"Ladies don't climb ladders." She held on to 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
"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
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 wooden 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 a 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
it 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.
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
"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 closed. "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. Her mother's doll
rolled out of her lap to the floor. 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 backward, 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 and folded her arms across her chest. "Even if I have this
power, what good is it?"
"What do you wish for more than anything?" Brenda tossed the rag doll
Angelique picked up her mother's doll, smoothed its hair, and held it
close to her face. She closed her eyes. "I wish - I wish my mother would
"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
"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
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 though the trunks, trying on clothes, and setting up old
dishes and glasses for pretend meals, until their grandmother called them
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 the 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
"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
"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 wooden 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 a 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
"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
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 had
"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
"Your mom lets you drink?"
"She gives me a little wine on special occasions, so I can develop my
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
"Shhhh - do you want it to work or not?"
"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
"Don't have any doubt. It's important to be confident."
"Okay. Good night."
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
Web 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.
"Oh. I love you, too." She stared at the phone after her mother hung
"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
"It worked, Brenda; it worked."
"Of course. 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 was her
nation sack, where she carried special things for protection.
Every time Angelique's mother called, she told Angelique 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,
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 the girls' 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
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
Larry walked in, out of breath, as if he had run to the hospital.
"Are you girls all right?" 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
"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?"
"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
"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 their
grandmother's bed. "Just one minute," she said, pulling the curtain around
"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
"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
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,
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 yourselves? 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?"
"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
"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
"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 a 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 con-tainers,
letting her light guide her. She kept the image of her grand-mother
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 "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."
"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-colored candles,
matches, chalk, a pair of scissors, and a can of beer. She pulled a piece
of red flannel and a ribbon from her pocket.
"For the spell of protection," Brenda said. "Do you remember how it's
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
grand-mother'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 closed; 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,
They were two other girls, holding one flower. They took turns
pulling petals 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
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.
"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
"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 they arrived, the doctor told them that their grandmother 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
The nurse took the girls to their grandmother's 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
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
"Oh, no," Angelique said. She finally saw how this had happened. The
magic they'd 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
"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 were locked inside. She could do nothing
except watch Mrs. Johnston absorb Brenda's light. The old woman's body lay
over their grandmother's like a gelatinous blanket, getting thicker each
"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 of 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 toward Brenda, a soft voice whispered in her
ear, "Wait." Angelique took one step toward Brenda. The voice pleaded
gently, "Stay here; it will be all right." 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 toward 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 to upset you."
"Shelia is Mrs. Johnston? You knew each other when you were young?"
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.
"Not that hugs are bad, but I need to check my patient," the doctor
said. "Could you wait outside a moment?"
"Just for a few minutes, 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.
"The Power" copyright © 2004 by Linda Addison
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