“Are you okay momma?” I asked.
“I’ll be fine baby, don’t you worry bout ya mama now.”
The truth is I was more than worried. I was perplexed. In awe. Confused. Typically, we have a cure for every and any known illness down here in New Orleans. But momma’s illness was more strange than usual. One minute she told me she loved me and then the next she was screaming, shouting, hollering at the top of her lungs that the devil was chasing after her and that spirits were loose flying all about the Earth.
Legend has it that once the spirit is inside, it won’t come out, no matter what. Or at least that is what they all say. They as in the ancestors, the West Africans brought over in bondage who made our culture possible. The ancestors are the heart and soul of the town in New Orleans, Louisiana. We learn their ways from rituals, practices, spell books, and grimoires and in return they thrive off of us, the humans, those left behind to carry on the legacy. New Orleans has been an important city of our history as long as my family can date back and remember. Our culture is centered around voodoo worship, spirits, ghosts, the unknown, stories, tales, beliefs, and so much more. It is in fact the culture that makes New Orleans New Orleans. Without it, we would be lost, left in the darkness, away from civilization.
Little did I know that today would be more different than normal. I would go on a journey that could either save my momma and rid her of the demons or say goodbye to her forever.
I had to do something for momma. I just had to. She needed me and I needed her, more than ever. In our culture, we are all connected with the spirits through music, rituals, dances, chants, and sacrifices. As long as I can remember, momma has been teaching me the folk magic and story tales behind voodoo practices. When I first noticed her illness, I thought it would blow over in a couple days, but it has been a couple months. Second, she is always hollering weird chants and seeing things that are not there. Third, she recites prayers I’ve never heard before in my life. I observed Momma’s books on Marie Laveau, our voodoo queen that we pay homage to, and her witchcraft. The books brought me to the conclusion that she is in fact is possibly possessed by the voodoo. It has gotten to her body and is rapidly taking over her mind day by day.
I set out for the town apothecary in the French Quarter. The night was silent. Too silent. More silent than normal. The street which her house is on is cut off from the rest of the town, annexed as some would say. You walk down a long, winding lighted road leading up a hill to reach it. Sometimes while you are walking, you can start to hear the whispers of the wind, or the willows. A breeze passed through the trees. Leaves rattled on the ground. Chills covered my body. I was still. A black cat abruptly crossed the alley in front of me, staring at me for a length of time then casually carrying on, as if we never met or laid eyes on one another.
I entered the shop adorned with old wallpaper, altars, candles, portraits, tapestries, images of saints, and more elaborate ancient décor. The smell of sage filled the air. Instantly I heard a low, raspy voice from nowhere asking “What do you want little girl?” only to trace the voice to a woman with frazzled hair, half her teeth, one decent eye to see out of, innumerable amounts of gold jewelry, and long draping clothes waiting behind the counter.
“Well, um, ma’am my momma is sick and I uhhh…”
“Well did she drink some purple root and eat some yuca fruit?” the lady said cutting me off mid-sentence.
“Sleep with a rabbit’s foot?”
“Smudge the house with sage?”
“Hmmmmm” she thought to herself. “Very strange.”
“It is voodoo I tell you. I ain’t heard momma talk like this ever in my life. One minute she’ll scream about the devil and the other she will be staring off in the distance wanting something to be there but it just isn’t.”
“Well you know the only place you can go to is up the hill in the Dark Forest.”
“You m-m-mean the…” I stuttered.
“Yes” the lady replied.
The Dark Forest is sacred and secretive. I have never heard of anybody making it out alive except for Geraldine, who is known for being the town’s crazy lady. I always pass her house when I go to the market with momma and every single time, I promise she hasn’t moved since the previous time I saw her. She sits in an old wooden rocking chair with her cat, Juju, in her lap, rocking back and forth and back and forth, day in and day out.
It has been said that spirits protect the Dark Forest and prevent any bad mojo from entering, or exiting at that. All who seek may enter, but only those of pure heart may escape, leave, and chance to see the light of day once again.
But, I was wondering not only if I would be able to see the light again, but also would I be able to see momma again.
“Am I really about to do this?” I asked myself.
“Am I about to risk my life?” I contemplated.
“What is about to happen to me?” I questioned.
As I approached the Dark Forest, all of these questions flooded my mind. But you see, the thing about questions is that they either go unanswered or are answered. And would I really want to know the horrific horror I would face past these gates, no.
“Enchantress Marie Laveau, if this is meant to be, could you please give me a sign?”
Immediately, the old rusty gates slightly cracked open with a loud, discordant screech.