Night stars are benevolent, unlike the pitiless lord of the day. Under the moon’s placid gaze, Sesylie can pull off her goggles and drink in as much ultraviolet as the heavens will grant her. Lest her absence become contested, she resists the urge to wander and sprawl on the chalky jigsaw flats of the Barren. The last time she did, the crisp air tempted her to sleep and she woke to Nyria raising Sol in search of her. If she stays close to the mottled obsidian guarding the mouth of the launch cave, she can trawl the waters of her mind in peace.

As she samples the wavelengths, she considers their source. Any one of these gentle lights might contain a dying moan of radiation that would end the world once and for all. But she can’t hold it against them. Though her upbringing was steeped in Berai superstition, she doubts stars have will beyond a desire to burn bright as they can with what they’ve been given. In that, she has sympathy for the little sun, not hot or dense enough in life to become explosive or exotic in death. No wonder it lashes her people with its tongue of fire, its withering light. It feels the sting of not measuring up.

Maybe sympathy isn’t the word for what Sesylie feels. Empathy might be more like it. Yes, though it will take everyone she loves from her–has already taken everyone she loves, in a way–she feels a kinship with the sun above all stars. She knows all too well what it’s like to question your place in the cosmos.

#

Inside the crystal-lined cave, the humid air is thick with anticipation. Sesylie sinks into the embrace of the vessel as Meroan explains yet again what she can expect of her journey.

“I wish we’d been able to build in a readout, a control panel, something in here so you’d know if you were going off course,” he says. He picks at the vessel’s acrylicine walls, his dark eyes narrow. “This thing is a piece of fesh. Should have spent more time digging around the Domes for parts.”

“It’s fine, Mero,” she says. “It will work. You risked enough getting what you did.”

“Under any other star…” Meroan shakes his head and stops before he finishes the adage. “Anyway, I know, I know we’ve gone over this–but you have to stay focused when the engines are on. You get sucked into one of your spirals and there’s no telling where you’ll end up. Or when.”

“Mmm,” she says, gazing over his smooth brown head at the amethyst formation on the wall. It’s amethyst in name only now. Just the palest hint of blotchy lavender distinguishes it from clear quartz. Another casualty of the sun.

((… read the rest at Patreon for $1/mo))

“Goodnight, Jennifer.” Mother stands in the bedroom doorway, made ghostly in the waxing crescent moonlight, her shadow further darkening the dim hall behind her.

“Goodnight, Mother,” Amara says from bed, turning away from the door as Mother shuts it behind her.

Amara breathes shallowly, listening as Mother pads down the hall towards her and Father’s room. She doesn’t treat herself to a full, deep breath until she hears the heavy click of their door latching. Then she takes in all the air she wants, drinking it in greedily. She releases it in one rushing exhale, imagining herself contained within that breath, imagining herself riding that breath home.

After tonight, Goddess willing, she won’t have to imagine anymore. Won’t have to eat Mother’s sandpaper cooking—she started to be able to taste whatever they put in her food to control her, so now she can’t even enjoy it—won’t have to go to school with those wack ass self-hating Negroes happily playing at being white folks, waiting to get tortured and eaten by a bunch of ancient racist demons. She still can’t believe most of them knew the trade-off before they did the spell. Some of them even hired someone to do the spell for them. Amara rubs her shoulders and pulls the blanket up closer to her chin; she still hasn’t forgiven herself for being so careless in who she took advice from.

But at least I wasn’t betrayed by a friend like Janet was, she thinks, shivering.

Janet knew what she was getting into as far as giving up her family, and that was fine with her. They’d disowned her when they went through her room while she was away at college and discovered she was not only a lesbian, but a witch. Her dark eyes flashed when she told the story, but they were moist, too; Amara could tell there was a tender scar behind her hard, angry words. The members of my coven got me through it, Janet told Amara with an edge, and then they delivered me into the mouth of the actual devil.

What they told Janet was that she’d get a new family, new skin, a new existence—but not that her new existence would be as cattle in a psychic fattening pen. She’s had to figure that out for herself over the ten-odd-years she’s been here, by snooping and surviving, the latter being accomplished through cultivating the proper ratio between compliance and resistance. They’re picky as hell, she told Amara, and they like their meat a certain way. They’re willing to wait.

The last time they fed on one of their human livestock was Janet’s fifth year here. She counts the years by the moons; she has a sketchbook filled with its changing faces. It was a full moon when they strung up and filleted her friend Crystal, who had skipped school every day for the last month and tried to stab both her parents. After they stripped her bones, they cooked her flesh along with that of the year’s valedictorian, salutatorian, and Homecoming Court.

Janet decided then that she needed to buy herself time. Crystal had been the only other one there with a lick of sense, and that’s pretty much why she started acting out. If Janet could manage to keep her shit together longer, she’d force them to wait in the hopes of getting that perfect savory cut. She imagined their feathers and fur dropping like dandruff as they rubbed their hands together in anticipation of the medley of flavors her brand of racial trauma might produce.

And so for five years since she watched Crystal die she’s been here, sometimes rebelling, mostly conforming, and letting the sourness of acquiescence permeate every bit of her.

Amara smiles and flips onto her other side. She and Janet are a good team, despite the fifteen-year age difference. They ran into each other at school the day after Amara’s confidence was shaken to its foundations by her encounter with the man-thing in the woods. Janet offered her a story of survival, inspiration, hope even. And Amara returned the favor by offering Janet a more immediate way out.

That awful night a week ago, after Amara snuck back in the window and buried herself under the covers, after she tried and failed and finally succeeded in pushing the image of the beast wearing her father’s face out of her head, she dreamt of her mother. Her mother, and herself—but not her, something wearing her body and wanting very much for her mother to suffer, wanting it so much that the strength of its hunger terrified her. The conversation was garbled, but she heard herself say one thing clearly—

I can make her feel anything that happens to this body

—before the hunger filled her eyes with red, overwhelming her, and she woke up almost hyperventilating. But when she caught her breath, she had her escape plan, although she didn’t grasp that until she talked to Janet and everything clicked into place.

Amara climbs out of bed and begins to get dressed. She remembers the chill she got last time she ventured out to those woods with just a sweatshirt on and grabs a heavy parka out of the closet, then thinks better of it and tosses it on the floor of the closet. No point in not being cold, she thinks with an audible snort. Instead, she snatches a thin hoodie from under the bed and throws it on over her t-shirt and jeans.

Even though she can’t claim that she’s absolutely sure what they’re about to do will succeed, if succeed is defined as bring her home to her mother, Amara feels absolutely calm. If she’s honest with herself, she knows that her definition of success is flexible; it mainly involves not existing wherever she is right now, and this plan seems likely to accomplish that, at least. If she ends up just straight dead and not back home, hey, at least she went out on her own terms and not while being eaten.

Glass fogs with hot breath as Amara unlatches the window and hoists the bottom pane over the top. She stops for a second and listens to make sure Mother and Father didn’t stir, then continues out the window, onto the middling branches of the jacaranda, a quick shimmy down the trunk and then to solid ground.

The night is crisp and clear, a black velvet garnish for the slivered moon. Janet is standing down the street a ways, out front of her house, in the opposite direction of the woods. Amara waves and Janet starts walking in her direction.

“You ready?” Janet says when she reaches Amara.

Amara nods. “Ready as I’m gonna be.”

Janet gives her a sympathetic grin. “It can’t hurt worse than being eaten alive, boo,” she says as they start walking towards the woods.

Amara glances at her sidelong. Her mousy brown hair is piled on top of her head in a neat bun; a leaf pokes out of the top, an escapee from the nearly identical jacaranda on Janet’s captors’ front lawn. “True. But I’m not sure how much of an upgrade it is.”

They listen to each other breathe and step until they get to the edge of the woods, where Janet stops and turns to Amara.

“To be real, it might be about the same,” she says, “but at least this way might lead to me being myself again.”

A long, slow nod from Amara as she switches on her flashlight, and then the two begin to walk again, towards whatever kind of freedom lay ahead.

Part 5 | Part 1


Inspired by the film Wake (Bree Newsome), the novel The Good House (Tananarive Due), the short story “Wet Pain” (Terence Taylor), and, I’m sure, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

Under a waning crescent moon, Amara is in the woods, dipping her hand into a black plastic garbage bag and plucking out tiny cafeteria packets of salt; ripping them open with her teeth and shaking them out until their combined contents form a thick, unbroken circle. She shuts her eyes and speaks under captured breath the words she’s been unable to erase from her memory since she first saw them.

Eyes open.

Pop?

But this is no more her father than it was her uncle Tad, no more a fortuitous family reunion than the dinner with Mother and Father she suffered through earlier was a return to nuclear normalcy. It has her father’s face, but it smells of sulfur and drops feathers and fur as it approaches Amara standing still and proud in the circle.

“This is wrong,” Amara insists, when he stops in front of her and glowers. “I didn’t want all this. I didn’t want a whole new life. I just wanted new skin. Put me back, now.” She folds her arms across her chest, daring him to deny her.

His—its—flat blue eyes take on a bit of luster. Its ruddy peach cheeks spread into a gaping, toothsome grin. It grasps its cloaked stomach with a furry, clawed hand and begins to laugh, a thundering laugh that shakes each molecule of Amara’s confidence. The man-thing lets his laughter trail off into drips and drabs before he speaks.

“Well, Jennifer. You’ve been white for a day and you’ve already mastered demanding a refund.” A laugh bubbles to the surface again. “But I’m afraid we don’t have a return policy. Was that not—” it snorts, stumbles into a giggle, stops itself—”clear when you decided to perform the spell? Did you not—as they say, do your research? Tsk, tsk.” The mouth that was her father’s, that once comforted her with kisses and bad jokes when she skinned her knees rollerblading, that told her that the coily hair she hated so much was indeed beautiful; now that mouth wears the most fiendish sneer Amara has ever seen. A foul smell fills her nostrils and dives down her throat, making her gag and water.

“No,” she says, quietly. “Actually, I didn’t. I just thought you’d make me white, and I’d get to go home to my Mama, and then our lives would stop being such a shitshow.” A creeping realization spreads over her: I’m not getting out of this alive. Mama is gonna be alone. Tears well up in her eyes.

“Ah,” it says, pacing the outside of the salt circle, shuddering pieces of itself onto the forest floor. “Well, we get some of your kind, too. The reckless kind. We like to think it’s that bit of us you’ve got in you.” That sneer again. “Mostly our guests come looking for the package deal. They go pretty quickly. They don’t have much substance for us to really gnaw on—they’re starved, you know—and their meat has a taste. Like lemon dishwater, or diluted vinegar. We love the defiant ones, the ones who’ve convinced themselves that they’re different, that they’re doing something good and right and pure. Their resistance is so tart on our tongues, we taste it in their marrow. We savor it in their blood. We scoop out whole chunks of pride from their skulls and use it to season the meat of the ones soured with self-loathing.”

It stops pacing and bends down, stretching its neck across the salt to square its face across from hers. “I wonder how you’ll taste, in the end.” It smiles softly, her father’s smile.

Part 4 | Part 6


Inspired by the film Wake (Bree Newsome), the novel The Good House (Tananarive Due), the short story “Wet Pain” (Terence Taylor), and, I’m sure, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

Patrice Leah Brown, Esq. holds a steaming cup of ginseng tea in one smooth brown manicured hand and scans her maroon At-A-Glance with the other. Someone had the nerve to schedule meetings at 12:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. She shakes her head and considers canceling before she looks closer and sees that the meetings are with members of her Mothers in Action group, and they’re written in a messy version of her own handwriting. Her head drops back and her mouth opens, releasing an involuntary groan. I probably scribbled this in the car.  She takes another sip of tea and clicks the button on her phone to check the time. 7:30 a.m. Where is that girl?

“Amara! Breakfast is getting cold!”

She listens and hears nothing. No movement, no response.

“AMARA! Get down here!”

She listens again. There’s a truck passing on the uneven asphalt outside, a car alarm blaring in the distance, and birds chirping outside the kitchen window, but still nothing from Amara’s room upstairs.

Patrice rolls her eyes and sets her tea cup down on the maple tabletop. I bet she snuck out last night. Again. I’m so tired of playing warden. She pushes back the slatted maple chair, preparing for a battle.

Then she hears the door to Amara’s room open, and footsteps thunder down the stairs.

A beige-skinned girl with smoky hazel eyes, long kinky brown hair pulled up into a puff, a broad, flat nose, and full lips lands in front of the breakfast nook, wearing a black scoop neck t-shirt and ripped jeans, grinning at Patrice.

“There you are. How did you get ready so quiet? And quick.” Patrice squints at her.

“It wasn’t that quiet.” The girl smiles at Patrice and sits down at the table across from her.

Patrice gives her a you’re-trying-me look, but says, “Fine then. You’ve got about 6 minutes before the bus gets here. You better eat those grits. You can warm them up in the microwave if they’re too cold for you.”

The girl smiles at Patrice and begins to devour the cold grits with abandon.

Patrice raises her eyebrows in shock. She expected some sighs and groans followed by a minute at the microwave and 5 minutes of pretending to eat.

“Is there any more?” The girl wipes her mouth with the back of her hand and burps a little.

“Amara, you know good and damn well I make two servings of grits every morning! If you wanted extra you should have woken up. ”

“I did,” the girl says. “I just wasn’t here.”

“Well you need to be here, then.”

The girl tilts her head to the side, automaton-like.

Patrice sighs. “You know, Amara, when you get home from school, we’re gonna have a talk. You’ve been sneaking out, your grades are slipping, and you’re acting damn strange lately. I know you’ve never really wanted to talk about the pain you’ve got to be feeling over your father dying, but I can’t abide this acting out anymore.”

The girl leans over the table towards Patrice with wild eyes. “I want to talk about the pain.” Her tone resides somewhere between earnestness and insatiable hunger.

Patrice is taken aback. Is she really ready to open up? She’s thrown herself into activism, but her daughter has been grieving in tortured silence. She’s tried so many times to get through to her, but her grief has been a fortress. Now, maybe, it’s showing cracks?

“We will, honey. When you get home.” Patrice smiles. “But now, you’ve gotta get to the bus stop.”

The girl closes her eyes and inhales deeply for a minute. She licks her lips and opens her eyes, letting out her breath. “Later?”

“Yes, later.” Patrice gives her a quizzical look. “Are you alright, baby?”

“I’m alright.” She grins. “I’ll see you later.” She pushes back the chair and stands.

“Have a good day, baby.”

“I will.” The girl stops at the front door, selects a pair of sneakers from a pile next to the doormat, and slips them on. She looks at the deadbolt on the door for a few seconds, confused, before she reaches out and touches it. When it turns, she beams. She unlocks the bottom lock, throws open the door, and walks through it with both arms slightly lifted and stretched out to her sides as if she expects to take off flying. Once through, she turns robotically and grabs the door, closing it behind her.

Patrice shakes her head. What is going on with this girl now? She picks up her cup and takes another sip of tea.

Aside from telling her what she’d wanted to hear for months, Amara was acting uncanny. There’s no doubt about that. And even in the telling her what she wanted to hear, there was uncanniness. Why did she stare at her like that when she said it? And when had her daughter ever been excited about eating grits, much less cold grits?

She’s probably on drugs. Weed or someshit. Or maybe she’s pregnant. Patrice shudders.

Her rational, Harvard-assimilated mind tells her she should finish getting ready and ignore what just happened until they both get home. She should ask Amara what’s up; treat her like an adult, gain her trust, talk it out. Just bring it up along with the sneaking out and the grades, all sweet and understanding-like.

But her gut tells her she needs to go now, posthaste, and tear through Amara’s room until she finds the source of the uncanniness. So she puts her teacup down, pushes the chair back, and starts up the stairs.

When she enters the hallway to their bedrooms, she can see the door to Amara’s room is still ajar. Patrice spots something on the ground in the doorway, something dark. When she gets closer, she identifies it as a clump of black feathers, topped with a small tuft of grey-black fur. She’s got animals in here now?

Patrice pushes the door open. A breeze forces the blinds over Amara’s open window into the room with a clang; her heartbeat accelerates for a good minute. She surveys the room and finds another clump of feathers and fur on Amara’s unmade bed, but nothing alive.

She shrugs. She must have brought one of her little friends in here. Maybe they were wearing some funky outfit.

Patrice sets her sights on Amara’s big oak dresser first. Two of the six plastic-handled drawers are open; she zeroes in on those and starts to rustle through Amara’s clothing looking for objects of ill repute: condoms, birth control, drugs, or paraphernalia. She finds none of the first three types, but does discover some items that her parental instincts tell her falls squarely within the bounds of the last category. Except she doesn’t think this has to do with drugs. She doesn’t know what it has to do with precisely, but every bone in her body tells her it’s nothing her child should be mixed up in.

In the first open drawer, she finds a carved wooden box containing various animal bones, a vial enclosing a viscous red substance she doesn’t want to believe is blood, several glass canisters full of fragrant plant material, an alligator foot, a Venus of Willendorf figurine, several crystals, and a deck of tarot cards. In the second open drawer, she finds a bag of salt, a white pillar candle carved with swastikas and encrusted with aromatic herbs and oils, a piece of brown paper bag with something written on it she recognizes as Greek, and a lock of her daughter’s hair tied with a sprig of rosemary.

A few of Patrice’s older relatives used to mess with a little bit of hoodoo, so she knows some of these things are used in fixing mojos. Harmless. But there’s something about the paper. Not just that it’s a brown paper with writing on it, because that isn’t unusual, and not even that Amara is writing in Greek, because, well, of course there’s the Internet. No, it’s something about the letters themselves, about allowing her eyes to rest on them. They seem to jump off the paper and into Patrice’s flesh, delivering a nearly bone-shattering chill.

What the hell are you mixed up in, Amara?

Patrice closes up the drawers and moves on, to Amara’s desk. The computer monitor is black, but the power light is yellow; the low hum of the tower under the desk confirms the machine is merely sleeping. She moves the mouse and the computer whirs to life. The monitor lights up and Windows invites user “Amara” to enter her password.

She interlaces her fingers and stretches out both arms, cracking her knuckles like the hackers in the movies. She chuckles. Who am I kidding. I’m just gonna guess.

Patrice makes a few elementary guesses—consecutive numbers, birthdays—before getting into combinations of dead pets and zip codes. She hits the jackpot with Pete’s nickname for Amara, the last two digits of his birth year and her first pet’s name. The screen rewards her with a welcome and a spinning wheel. I would talk to her about password security if I didn’t want to be able to do this again.

Once the computer finishes loading the desktop, Patrice goes straight for the Google Chrome icon on the taskbar. The Internet is the root of all evil—or at least a lot of it, she thinks—so she’s pretty sure whatever Amara got mixed up in started there.

The browser asks her if she’d like to reopen old tabs. Patrice clicks “yes”. Ten tabs array themselves along the top of the screen. The active tab begins to load ‘http://occultconnection.net/blacksmagic’.

“Oh, shit,” Patrice says aloud when the site loads. A large banner at the top advertises psychic readings. The garish header graphic announces the site as the Occult Connection Messageboards featuring Blacks’ Magic. Along the top of the post listing, a red notification icon indicates the logged in user has new messages. Patrice clicks on the link.

On the next screen is a long list of messages, most of them from a user named “BlkMagic28”, sent over the last few weeks. Patrice selects the newest message from them, sent this morning at 12:30 a.m.

“so did it work?”

Patrice’s eyes fly open. Did what work?

She clicks the next most recent message from BlkMagic28, sent yesterday evening at 5 p.m.

OK. I kinda can’t believe you’re gonna do it. But i feel you. it is rough.

lookslike it might rain btw. You should get out there before midnight, anyway. Don’t take an umbrella, they scare easy. good luck. ;)”

Her heart starts to pound out of her chest. What did Amara do? She scrolls through the reply, looking for Amara’s response, hoping to get some glimpse of her daughter’s thought process, but it’s gone—excised, she would say—as are all Amara’s sent messages. What the hell—

The half-shut bedroom door flies all the way open, hitting the rubber doorstop with a crash. Patrice jumps and jerks around to see her daughter standing in the doorway, gripping the doorknob. Her head is bowed; her eyes look out over the bridge of her nose and up at Patrice with pure malice.

“Mama, you know how Jerome got himself killed, and then Daddy became a lousy fucking drunk and splattered himself and Uncle Tad all over I-5?” Not-Amara coos in a thick vibrato.

A chill runs down Patrice’s spine. She’s never heard Amara call her father Daddy, and she hasn’t heard her say a single negative thing about him since he died, even in anger. This isn’t Amara, maybe. But that’s crazy. Who else would it be? Her thoughts spin fanciful scenarios. The message said she was going out to do something, something that would work or not. Maybe she got mixed up in voodoo. Maybe she got possessed. Maybe she built a robot in her own image and it went haywire.

She focuses her thoughts using maternal indignation as a prism, putting her hands on her hips for reinforcement. “What are you doing home from school, young lady?”

Not-Amara slams the door into the doorstop so hard it breaks off a piece. “I asked you first, Mama. Do you remember how Jerome’s eyes were still open, and you asked them to close them, and they told you to get the fuck back? Do you remember what your husband’s mutilated body looked like when you had to go identify his stupid drunk corpse? It hasn’t been that long since you dreamt of it, how you could see the white gristle there under his ground beef skin—“

That’s enough, Amara,” Patrice demands, her voice cracking and trembling. “You will not speak to me any kind of way. I am your mother. What has gotten into you? Tell me why you’re not at school, now.” She’s trying to sound authoritative, but she is scared out of her mind.

“What would you do if I died, Mama?” Not-Amara lets go of the doorknob and approaches Patrice, her malicious glare transmuted into a come-hither gaze. “You’d be all alone.”

Patrice feels new panic tear at her heart. Someone’s taken her. That’s what this is. But then how does she look just like her?

Not-Amara looks at Patrice and sucks her bottom lip. She closes her eyes, inhales, and slips her hand down her pants. “It would hurt, a lot, wouldn’t it. To lose your whole family. One event kicks off a deadly domino effect, and you’re completely and utterly alone. That kind of grief can eat…you…alive.” She rubs herself as she says this, lost in the thought of devouring that delicious pain, that delectable grief. This woman’s pain is so close to the surface she can barely contain herself. It smells heavenly.

Vomit is kissing the top of Patrice’s throat, but anger over this thing having taken her daughter manages to override her disgust. She stands up ramrod-straight and stares down at Not-Amara.

“Where the fuck is my daughter?”

“You won’t find her. But I’m here.”

“If you don’t get the hell out of my house and give me my daughter back, I sw—“

Not-Amara materializes in front of her. “We’re not giving her back,” she growls, shaking the window. “The best you can hope is that she doesn’t suffer. And she will if you get uppity.”

“WHERE IS SHE?” Patrice can’t contain her desperation. “Please, take me instead. Just don’t hurt her.”

Not-Amara bites her bottom lip. “Mmm, no. The process has already started. But, you know, if you decide you get tired of being black…” She throws her head back and laughs. “Look us up. In the meantime, just be glad you get to gaze on something that looks like your daughter. Don’t be a detective. Fix me food and clean up after me and leave me the fuck alone.

A cold dread fills Patrice’s stomach and compresses her lungs. This thing—these things, rather, since it keeps talking about us—have her daughter and they just expect her to roll over and take it. Not only that, but she’s supposed to serve this thing while its fellow monsters do who-knows-what with her baby? She clenches her fists, ready to go down swinging.

Not-Amara sees her clenched fists and a slow smile spreads across her face. “I can make her feel anything that happens to this body. She might die, but I won’t.” She smiles with teeth Patrice hadn’t noticed over breakfast.

Rage simmers in Patrice’s throat, straining against her epiglottis. Her hands clench tighter for a moment; her shoulders hunch up like a cat getting ready to pounce before she finally releases her hands and relaxes her body. She feels powerlessness invade her being. There’s nothing she can do. Right now, at least.

At this acquiescence to inevitability, Not-Amara laughs, a building laugh that starts slow and ends with her bracing herself on the edge of the computer desk. “Good girl. Better to survive today, huh? You always were smart people.” She winks.

“Fuck you.”

“I’ll be using my room now, Mama,” Not-Amara says in a snide tone. “I’m too old for school.”

Patrice edges away from the desk towards the door, turning to look at the thing wearing her daughter’s body one more time before she shuts the door behind her. She leans up against it and lowers her head, her body wracked with silent sobs. God, please help us.

Part 3 | Part 5


Inspired by the film Wake (Bree Newsome), the novel The Good House (Tananarive Due), the short story “Wet Pain” (Terence Taylor), and, I’m sure, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Also, the last part of this tweet by Jay Smooth.

It’s more than grief, baby…”

“But sometimes that seems like that’s all there is.”

“There’s joy, too. Trust me. But you have to be here for it.”

“I feel raw, Mama.”

“I know, baby. But you’ll toughen up. You’ll get stronger.”

“I don’t think I’m as strong as you, Mama. Maybe it’s the white in me…maybe…hahahahahaha…”

Amara sits straight up in bed, gasping for breath, her eyes wide. She looks back and forth, surveying the room, disoriented. Then, she remembers, and looks down at herself, clad in her purple bra and her black boxers and her pale, clammy skin.

Oh, right.

Her stomach somersaults, torn between hunger and apprehension. She can smell breakfast being made downstairs, but it doesn’t smell like Mama’s usual breakfast of grits and bacon. It smells sweet, like… cinnamon? Cinnamon rolls? French toast? What the fuck?

Amara narrows her eyes. Mama never has time for elaborate breakfasts. Does she already know somehow? Did she come in here overnight, find me sound asleep and white as hell, and then decide to make me pancakes to celebrate?

Amara decides against this given the fact that her sleep was anything but sound last night. She tossed and turned to the beat of vivid, terrifying dreams; there’s no way her mother could have opened her latched bedroom door without making enough noise to disturb her.

She looks over at her door to confirm it is indeed still latched, and that’s when she realizes that her door is not her door at all. Her raggedy chain latch is gone, replaced with an elegant mechanism she’s only ever seen the one time they stayed in a Courtyard by Marriot when she was ten. Her doorknob is no longer chipped brass over an unidentified gray metal; now it’s sleek brushed nickel with a dimple. Even the composition of her door seems to have changed, and when she gets up out of bed to examine it further, she realizes it’s no longer hollow, but solid wood.

It’s after she gets out of bed to check out her door that she begins to notice that a lot of things are different about her room. So different she’s wondering if she’s even in the same house, but so subtle that she’s questioning her sanity.

The bed she just got out of is bigger than hers—maybe it’s a full instead of a twin?—and it has a walnut headboard and a footboard. Was that there when I got up? The whole room is bigger, in fact, if she thinks about it, but it’s almost imperceptible at first—or is it growing? Amara stands still for a minute, then shakes her head. No, it’s just anxiety swirling in her head, making her feel like the world is moving in and out of focus. But the room is bigger. There’s no doubt about that. And her bedding looks different, too…was the purple of that blanket so vibrant before? I didn’t have a bedskirt, she thinks as she bends over to look under the bed.

She starts to walk around the room, touching everything, making sure it’s at least as real as she is. Her oak dresser is walnut now, and has crystal and silver drawer pulls instead of plastic handles. The wall mirror over the dresser that she used last night to confirm the success of her spell is oval instead of square. The walls of her bedroom are smooth with flat eggshell paint instead of orange peel textured in semi-gloss off-white, and there’s moulding around the top edge that wasn’t there last night.

She stops walking and looks down. The laminate she thudded onto when she climbed back into her room is not laminate anymore. It’s hardwood.

Amara’s heart is beating out of her chest. She feels panic and nausea clawing their way up her esophagus. She starts to take deep breaths, desperate for control, and in the process, she catches a new scent brewing downstairs—coffee.

Mama never drinks coffee.

MAMA NEVER DRINKS COFFEE.

The smell of coffee crystallizes her awareness that she is not home. She doesn’t know where she is, but last night she was home and this morning she’s not and now I need to figure out how to get home fast, in case Mama

RRAP-Rap-rap-rap-rRAP

Amara freezes. Someone is at the door. Someone who is probably not her mother.

She creeps over to the dresser and opens the top drawer where she usually keeps her t-shirts. She pulls out the first one she finds—a heather gray scoop neck—and throws it on over her head. She pulls out a pair of ripped jeans from the bottom drawer and shimmies them on without unbuttoning. At least my clothes are the same. I think.

RAP-RAP-RAP-RAP-RAP

“Jennifer, breakfast is ready!” A deep voice sounds from the other side of the door.

Jennifer?

Amara takes slow steps towards the door. As if moving through water, she reaches up and flips the latch, then turns the little notch in the middle of the doorknob and twists the handle to open it, keeping the knob firmly in her grasp in case she needs to use the door as a weapon.

In the hall stands a man who resembles her father’s brother Tad so closely she would swear it was him if she didn’t know this whole situation was too fucked for anything good to come of it. Tad died in the same car accident her father did; Tad was a drunk just like Pop. This isn’t Tad. His house wasn’t even this nice.

“Good morning, Jennifer.” Not-Uncle-Tad smiles, with far too many yellow teeth. His blonde hair is greasy and stringy, a sad combover trying to hold middle age at bay. His white skin is ruddy and waxy. “Are you ready to eat? You’re going to be late to school, sunshine.” He flashes the golden smile again, and Amara can see grey around the top of one of his front teeth. She feels sick.

“My name is Amara.” She looks up at him with a defiant gaze, a brave affect to mask her racing heart and flip-flopping stomach. But she’s still not letting go of the door. “I’m not hungry.”

A-mah-ruh.” Not-Uncle-Tad says, wrinkling his nose in disgust. “What white girl is named AMARA?” He bursts into laughter that fills her head, seeming to originate from all around her.

Amara’s blood runs cold.

Not-Uncle-Tad stops laughing and smiles again. “You’re Jennifer, honey. That’s what we named you.” His last sentence reverberates throughout the room. “And you don’t need to be hungry to eat. Your mother spent all morning slaving over a hot stove for us. You’ll find room.

The door pulls itself from Amara’s grip, tearing at the skin on the palm of her hand and flying all the way open. She yelps in pain.

“Shh. You’ll be fine. You’re strong, right?” Not-Uncle-Tad laughs again. “Come, then.” He holds out an oxford-clad arm to Amara, gesturing for her to follow him.

Amara rubs her hand and moves out of the doorway, slow, deliberate. She stays several steps behind what she’s now sure is another man-thing as he descends the stairs, leading her past the large living room and into a sunny, airy blue tile kitchen with a butcher-block top island and stainless steel appliances. A tall white woman stands at the island, hands splayed behind an assortment of breakfast foods.

“Good morning, Jennifer,” the woman says, with the same unnatural smile as Not-Uncle-Tad but with blessedly less yellow and gray. “I thought I was going to have to come and get you.” Her tone makes the hair on the back of Amara’s neck stand up. She fights the urge to run—where? She has no idea where she is. She might be in some literal hell, for all she knows. She has to gather more information. As long as they aren’t trying to kill me… But they are trying to make her eat, and that could be poison. She swallows and continues walking towards the kitchen.

Not-Uncle-Tad stops at the white-legged wooden table next to the island and pulls out one of the matching wicker-seated chairs. He sits down, tucks his napkin into his button-down shirt, and grabs his utensils, propping his elbows up on the tan wood tabletop like a child. He grins at Amara as she approaches.

“I said, good morning, Jennifer.” The woman slams her fist into the butcher block.

Amara jumps and freezes in place for a second. She keeps her eyes on the woman as she pulls out a chair at the table across from Not-Uncle-Tad and sits down.

“Who are you?” Amara tries to sound confident.

The woman cocks her head and smiles at Amara so wide that she holds her breath, worried she’s about to unhinge her jaw.

“I’m your mother, Jennifer. Who else would I be? What kind of question is that after I just made you breakfast?”

It takes a great deal of restraint and a healthy dose of fear for Amara not to run over to the woman and smack her in the mouth.

“You’re not my mother. My Mama is Black.”

“And you are…?” The woman giggles, a sinister sound. “Black women don’t have white babies.”

Amara’s hands begin to feel tingly, light. Sweat is beading on her upper lip—what’s left of it, at least. A deep realization flows through her, tangible by the cold sensation in her veins. She’s lost everything. He tricked her. The heat of her embarrassment thaws out the frigidity of her terror.

The woman watches Amara, taking pleasure in the conflict and anguish playing out across her face. “You need to eat and get to school, honey,” she says in an icy tone, placing plates of food on the table in front of her and Not-Uncle-Tad. The woman folds her arms over her chest and stands above her. “Eat.

Not-Uncle-Tad grins at Amara and starts shoveling food into his mouth, spilling everywhere.

Amara looks at him, horrified.

She’s pretty sure she shouldn’t eat whatever food this thing made her, but she also doesn’t see herself having a choice. She picks up a fork and carves off a piece of fluffy French toast dripping with pure maple syrup, examining it from all sides before she puts it in her mouth and starts chewing.

It tastes amazing.

She tries to suppress the elation and disloyalty she’s feeling as she digs into breakfast, devouring the French toast before turning to the bacon and finally the eggs and fruit. When she’s done, Amara pours herself a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice from the tall ceramic carafe, another thing she’s only seen at a hotel. She guzzles the OJ—ah!—and wipes her mouth with the back of her hand.

The woman smiles her jaw-dislocating smile again and begins to clear the table. She turns her head over her shoulder—a little too far for Amara’s comfort—and says to her, “You’ll call me Mother.”

Amara’s head reels. She feels like running again.

Not-Uncle-Tad jumps out of his chair and walks out of the kitchen. “Time for school, Jennifer,” he yells as he crosses the living room. “Let’s go! I need to get to work.” He grabs a black leather briefcase from beside the coat and shoe rack in the entry hallway.

“I wouldn’t keep him waiting, Jenny.” The woman looks at Amara without expression.

Amara raises herself out of the chair in slow motion. She walks over to Not-Uncle-Tad, who smiles and moves a pair of tennis shoes out from under the shoe rack with a tassled-loafer-clad foot. She looks up at him, then down at the pair of shoes. She slips her feet into them and bends over to lace them up.

As she’s bent over, the woman—Mother—appears behind her.

“You’ll need this,” she says, dangling a backpack over Amara’s back.

Amara stands up straight, knocking her head into the heavy bag. She grunts.

“I packed a lunch for you,” Mother says, smiling.

At the word lunch Amara gets a warm sensation in her gut, and she feels guilty for being excited.

“Thanks,” Amara says, confused at the melting away of opposition she senses in herself. I knew I shouldn’t have eaten that food. She grabs the backpack from Mother and walks through the door Not-Uncle-Tad is holding open for her.

“Have a good day, you two,” Mother crows, smiling her impossibly wide smile with her impossibly snow-white teeth.

Amara follows Not-Uncle-Tad down a flower-lined cobblestone walkway towards a new blue Toyota Prius parked along the curb. She looks around. The house is at the end of a street next to a wooded area. Jacaranda trees line the street, their purple flowers staining the sidewalks. The surrounding houses are built the same as Mother and Not-Uncle-Tad’s place—a suburban split-level, two-stories—except they’re all painted different shades of grey or blue and some of them don’t have flowers lining the walkway. Amara feels her apprehension take on mammoth proportions. This isn’t anywhere near where I stay.

Not-Uncle-Tad clicks his keys and the car beeps and flashes. He opens the door and climbs in the driver’s seat. Amara swallows hard, grabs the door handle and gets in the passenger seat, hoisting the backpack Mother gave her onto her lap. She buckles her seatbelt around her as Not-Uncle-Tad does the same, presses the button to start the car, and begins to pull away from the curb.

“You can call me Father, by the way,” Not-Uncle-Tad says to her after a minute. Amara ignores him and looks out the window in silence, trying to figure out where she is.

Not-Uncle-Tad/Father emits a cruel chuckle. “There’s no street you can take back. But enjoy the view. It’s quite… privileged.” Amara looks at him out of the corner of her rolling eyes. He keeps his gaze on the road, but the corner of his mouth flicks up.

They drive together in silence for another ten minutes. Father seems much less interested in forcing interaction with her than Mother is, and Amara is grateful to have time to think. She needs to do the spell again. Maybe she can explain the mistake to the man-thing who sent her here and get back to Mama before dinner. She’s going to a school—there will be stuff she can use there. The good thing about being a broke teenage witch is that you figure out how to improvise on a budget. I can get myself out of this. I will.

And when I get home, I’ll find the warlock wannabe motherfucker who told me about this spell and I will end his ass.

The car comes to an abrupt stop in front of a high school overflowing with white kids of various styles and subcultures. Father turns his head to look at Amara. “This is you.” The car doors unlock.

She opens the car door and climbs out, looking around.

“I’ll be back to pick you up here after school. Try to make some friends. It’s easier.” Father laughs. “Or not. Either way.” His arm—just his arm, not his body at all—reaches for the open door, becoming longer and then shorter, slamming it shut. He speeds off, leaving Amara on the sidewalk, heart racing.

Well, I’m not going to class, that’s for goddamn sure.

Part 2 | Part 4


Inspired by the film Wake (Bree Newsome), the novel The Good House (Tananarive Due), the short story “Wet Pain” (Terence Taylor), and, I’m sure, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Also, the last part of this tweet by Jay Smooth.

The wind is smacking the metal blinds against Amara’s open bedroom window when she gets back to her apartment, making an awful racket. Damn. I hope that hasn’t woken Mama up.  She walks up the steps to the gate and undoes the latch, closing it behind her with a click. She takes soft steps down the walkway, stopping at the roof access ladder hugging the side of the stucco building. She jumps up, grabs its lowest rung, and pulls herself onto and up the ladder until she gets to her window. She reaches out and grabs the window ledge with her right hand. Once she’s sure she has a good grip, she grabs it with her left hand and pulls herself through the open window, thanking the Goddess that she’s so small for sixteen. It comes in handy for a lot.

Amara lands on the floor with a thud. She gasps. If that didn’t wake Mama up… She holds her breath for a few seconds, waiting, listening. Crickets. And then a sudden metallic clang as the wind hits the blinds again. Shit. She shoots to her feet, grabbing the window and pulling it down in one motion before slowing to allow it to latch silently. She lets out her breath, turns her back to the window, and waits, listens again.

Nothing. I should get to sleep.

But then, the hidden moon glints off the mirror, beckoning.

Amara looks down again, for the first time since she crossed the salt line and started home. Her hands are still pale, ghostly, even. She can see blue veins in stark relief that were once only hinted at. She pulls her sweatshirt over her head and feels strands of hair lift up and stick to the fleece, suddenly silky and flyaway. My hair. Her hands fly to the top of her head, feeling all around. The strands slide through her fingers easily. A pang of remorse reverberates through her.

She swallows, steeling herself. Her hands fall to her sides; she looks down at her bare arms.  Pale as the hands. Moonlight glints off the mirror again. She takes slow steps towards it, wincing as she enters its view.

Amara, meet Becky.

Her hair is white blonde, thin, and shoulder length. Her eyes are pale, almost ice blue. Her nose, once broad and flat, now juts from her face and narrows to a point, as if it’s trying to escape. Her lips form a thin pink line, a harsh rebuke to the variegated brown-and-pink fullness they enjoyed for the sixteen years prior to tonight.

Amara’s stomach churns with recognition. Even after the man-thing appeared and spoke to her and left, even after she saw her hands change, part of her still felt like it might not be real. But now, she can’t deny it. She did it. Now she has to live with it.

I just need to get some sleep, and then I’ll feel better. It’s not like I did this on a whim. I’ll get some sleep and then I’ll wake up and Mama…

Her train of thought stops in its tracks. This is where her plan always breaks down: her mother’s reaction. Because her mother has no country for Black folks who align with Whiteness, as she’s told Amara fiftyleven times. So what will she say when she finds her beautiful Black daughter switched teams, if she even believes that I’m still her daughter? Amara shudders. It could go a number of ways, several of which—the nonbelievers—end with her in the hospital.

But Amara knew this when she set out on that road. She knew her mother could potentially disown her. But she also knew that this pale skin she has now is an armored security blanket that will insulate her, and by extension, her mother, from so many traumas.

She turns away from the mirror, away from her alien reflection. She steps on the back of her left shoe, releasing her foot, and then repeats the same motion with the other foot before kicking off both her shoes and pulling off both her socks. She unbuttons her jeans, sliding them down over her newly narrow behind, allowing them to crumple at her feet. As she pulls her t-shirt over her head, she feels some strands of hair lift again. Guess I don’t need to wrap my hair tonight.

Amara takes a few deep breaths to calm her sour stomach and climbs in bed. The moon, no longer hidden, streams through the slats in the blinds, casting oblong shadows across her face. Her eyes flutter shut and she begins to drift off to sleep.

Part 1 | Part 3


Inspired by the film Wake (Bree Newsome), the novel The Good House (Tananarive Due), the short story “Wet Pain” (Terence Taylor), and, I’m sure, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Also, the last part of this tweet by Jay Smooth.

Gusts of wind rustle dead leaves up and down the street. Something resembling a man stands at the edge of a wobbly ring of salt cast on the asphalt, leering down at someone resembling a teenage girl. His lumbering shadow eclipses her small frame, blocking out what little moonlight manages to find its way through the clouds.

“Why did you wake me,” he growls, less a question than a threat. “You’d better have brought me something good.” He shudders, sending feathers and fur tumbling from underneath his hooded cloak onto his gnarled, polydactyl feet.

Amara looks down at her beige hands, at the smooth glass bottle filled with amber liquid she stole from her mother’s secret stash. She extends her arms towards this man, this thing she summoned to solve a problem, in offering. “Here. Brandy.”

He snatches the bottle from her hands, examines it from every angle before unscrewing its metal cap and taking a swig. He wipes his mouth with the back of a pale hand and glowers at her again. “I’m listening.”

Amara licks her lips. “I want you to make me white.”

The man-thing spits out his third mouthful of brandy. “What?” He begins to laugh, a slow, building laugh, culminating in him doubled over, shaking. “You want WHAT?”

Thunder claps. Amara feels a drop of water fall onto her cheek. For a second, she reconsiders what she came out here to do. Maybe I should just go back home to Mama. Maybe I don’t need to do this. But then she remembers running, running after Mama and Pop, running towards a crowd of people, running towards Jerome’s lifeless body. She remembers how her father started drinking a month after her brother was murdered, how he chose oblivion over the family he had left, how he chose to drive home from work drunk and leave her not only brotherless but fatherless. She remembers how her mother spends her days fighting against police violence and her nights crying for the men she lost to it. She remembers all this, and remembers why she came. To save Mama from more grief. To get a better life for both of us.

“You heard me,” she says, setting her jaw and glaring up at him. “I want you to make me a white girl. Blonde hair, blue eyes, all of it.”

Lightning flashes and the man-thing’s face is suddenly directly in front of hers, his paperwhite neck distorted and extended far outside the range of natural. He peers into her face, through her, gauging whether or not this child knows the implications of what she’s asking for. Hoping she doesn’t, because it’s so much more fun when they don’t see it coming.

Amara stands her ground, but she is trembling. Another thunderclap rings in her ears; she feels the heat of his chest radiating onto her forehead, his neck contorting so he can examine all sides of her. She wills herself to remain still while he sniffs the air around her head, determining the veracity of her request. A lightning flash illuminates his features again and she notices with alarm that his eyes have no irises, his nose has no nostrils, and his mouth does not open as he speaks his next words to her.

“It is done. And may I be the first among us to say, thank you.”

Amara looks down at her hands. They are as pale as the hidden moon. When she looks up, the man-thing is gone.

Part 2


Inspired by the film Wake (Bree Newsome), the novel The Good House (Tananarive Due), the short story “Wet Pain” (Terence Taylor), and, I’m sure, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Also, the last part of this tweet by Jay Smooth.