Hey folks – one and all SInce I’ve been reviewing other’s work, I thought it only fair I put m own up for shredding. This was an entry for a zombie anthology. As everyone knows, I hate flesh eating zombies, so I went for the more traditional Voudoon zombie. And to fight them, I used my characters – the Black Nuns. The Black Nuns are magic users of every tradition, from ‘white’ Christian magic to right hand path Wiccan to Neo-cyber-Pagans and so on. They feature in many of my stories, in many times and places. SO enjoy and let me know what you think! Bear in mind, there was a word limit and they made me cut it down and then rejected it because Zombies weren’t after brains:
The Veve’ of Ghede: A Black Nun Story
Behind me, I could hear the scratching of number two pencils on notebook paper. My girls, all thirteen of them. were taking their final on Modern Literature. The itchy scratchy sound ran down my spine like the whispery legs of a thousand spiders.
It had to be LA. Or at least the air, what manages to pass for air. It lays over us like a heavy brown blanket. Even up in the hills, where The Sisters of the Dark Madonna School for girls sat, I could cut it with a knife.
Before I could turn around from the bank of window, I heard the buzzing, the beeping and the rattling of smart phones. I debated taking them until the end of the day. But then they would revert to passing notes. Wasting paper, how green would that be?
I turned around, casting the hairy eyeball at the girls who were not quite done but were texting. “That’s mine for the day, Carrie.” I held out my hand and floated the phone to me. The girls never tired of that little use of magick. Carrie turned beet red, her ears even a little darker. “Those of you who are done, take a break.”
Papers floated through the air, One smart ass made hers into a paper airplane.
“Funny. I want you to get started on the next section of our syllabus. Choose two female authors, one from pre-1900 and one post-1950.” After hearing a class wide whine, I glared at my students. “I have no problem failing you for that portion, which makes up 25% of your grade.”
A collective moan rose from the small group of popular girls. Those five were in for a surprise this afternoon. During their final in P.E., they would have to kick the heck out of each other for Self Defense 4.
My classroom intercom buzzed and my platform Mary Jane shoes lifted off the floor in surprise. The whole lot of those brats laughed as I answered the call.
House Mother Samedi wanted to see me in her office. Now. Not after the bell rang. I put one of the more responsible girls in charge, essentially feeding her to the sharks and hurried through the school.
In the 1940’s, this school was actually the home of a Hollywood starlet and her equally famous author husband. They had a curiosity streak a mile and half wide. One Friday the 13th, they had the brilliant idea of a ghost party. It was all the rage in some circles, to throw ghost parties and play at seances. Sometimes, it wasn’t play.
A war was going on and this kind of fun kept their minds off of Japanese balloon bombs and German U-Boats. No one thought about cost. Until the hostess paid it. Possession was the least of her worries. She became pregnant that night, and was unsure of the father. She went to her family Priest. The Father sought out his Bishop, who took it to the Vatican. That’s where my Order came in, the Sisters of the Dark Madonna. Our patron saint, Lilith wasn’t recognized by the Pope, but that didn’t stop the Catholic Church from using us, often. We went where exorcists and saints feared to tread. In fact, during this case, before we got there, three exorcists lay dead and buried. The fourth was safely hopped up on Thorazine in a padded room.
We used the ancient ways, called upon the ancient Mother in all her forms. And in the case of the 40’s starlet, we cast out the three demons she carried, her own and those in the twins in her womb.
She abandoned the house she had opened to Hell itself. In her will, she left it to the Sisterhood. We turned it into a very private school, for girls talented in Magick. Here they had sanctuary and training.
Samedi, my House-Mother was a couple years older than me. We had no secrets or patience with each other. When I blew past her secretary, waving away her hand, it didn’t surprise House-Mother Samedi.
Sammi just looked at me, her long black hair hanging around her, in her orange wrap dress that showed off way too many curves for a Nun, even the kind of Nuns we were.
“Oh, for Lilith’s sake, take that ridiculous thing off your head!” She pointed at the short veil I wore.
I pulled it off and pulled my hair out of its bun. My hair was the reason I wore the veil. My hair was a pale blonde that could almost be called platinum except for the pink streaks in it. I didn’t dye it to be cool or hip or ironic. I was born with the streaks. Growing up, my mother spent a mint to get rid of them, but neither Lady Clarol or professional dye jobs did anything to the pink.
“What was so important that you called me here during finals? My girls are probably behaving like baboons right now!” I snapped back.
One perfectly manicured, dark eyebrow rose on her face as she tilted her head toward one of the big, old fashioned wing back chairs. “In my infinite wisdom, I thought this and she were more important.”
The greatest drawback of fair skin like mine is blushing. I felt my cheeks burn red hot as I turned to face our visitor.
A chic African American woman looked at me over what I think was a cup of tea. My jaw worked up and down as I tried to make words come out. Monkey sounds came out instead.
Sammi let me stew in my own juices for a few moments before she swooped in to save me. “This is a Aviana Christensen. She’s come to ask for our help. Aviana, after Sister Johanna sits down, would you please tell her what you told me?”
I plopped down in the matching wing back chair.
Aviana nodded her head, long braids moving gracefully. “This is my sister, Terra.” She handed me an 8 X 10 glossy photo of a younger version of Aviana, with Nefertiti cheekbones, big hoop earrings and her boyfriend’s football jersey. “She and seven of her friends were … I don’t know what to call it, but they went to empty buildings, old cemeteries, abandoned hospitals and explored them.”
I nodded and answered her, “Urban explorers. Sometimes you find cool things. I did it when I was in college.”
Aviana’s eyes widened. “Do you know how dangerous it is? I told Terra it was, but she never listened. She would just tell me she was a big girl. That she had mace and a rape whistle, that half of their group were football players. She came up with every reason to go those places.”
“So, why are you here? What can I help you with?” I asked her, this seemed like something for the police, not spell casting Nuns.
Tears tumbled from Aviana
“Terra and her friends went to a closed amusement park last Friday. They haven’t come back.” Samedi handed me a thin manilla folder “She texted the first couple of days, they were camping in the Haunted Mansion ride, because it was in one piece with walls, floor and ceilings. Aviana reported her sister missing, on Tuesday, four days ago. They took the report and told her they were probably still out there camping. Terra is a straight A student at U of O, works to put herself through school and takes care of Aviana’s two sons. She has never been gone longer than a weekend on one of these,” finger quotes came up “ ‘Urban Exploring’ trips.”
“Not to be rude, but Mother Samedi, what can we do that the police aren’t already doing?” I crossed my arms around the folder, unopened. Chasing down wayward teenagers may be my job description as a teacher. But here in sunny LA. Oregon was wet, green and full of Eco-warriors. And the site of our Mother-House. Why did they send Aviana to us?
“You are being rude, Sister Johanna. Read the folder or at least look at the photos.” Samedi’s well practiced stone face didn’t affect me anymore.
I kept my weary sigh buried in my chest as I opened the file. The first was a picture of seven of the kids, including Terra. The next was a photo of the park, Stumptown. Its sign hung by one loop. Someone had thought it would be cute to make the letters look like trees. It wasn’t. It bordered on creepy. A few more Facebook and Instragram pictures, I was about to hand the folder back, turn on the rude and get back to my girls. Then I saw it. An empty space of floor, probably three feet by three feet. Inside of it, with a high level of accuracy and artistry was a veve’. Pronounced vey-vey or in some places in bay-bay, they were similar to sand paintings by Native American shaman and Tibetan monks. Each veve’ represented a loa or God/guardian spirit.
I whispered “This is the symbol for Ghede, guardian of the eternal crossroad – the road between life and death. He is also called Baron Samedi.”
Veve’s can be drawn in any number of powders, white cornmeal, red brick dust, ground white eggshells, powder chalk. Each has its own meaning. This was combination of red brick dust and ground white eggshells, called on the darkest of Ghede’s aspects. As controller of the dead, he also controls zombies. I kept paging through the photos. They slowly became focused. I could see some of the kids in one. Something was off about the way they stood, the light in their eyes was dim. The final photo happened when the camera was dropped. One of the boys was leaning down. His eyes were corpse white.
I closed the folder. “I need directions to this place from PDX. I need a SUV waiting, don’t care what kind, but I need something big and tough, that can handle a beating. I will email a list of other necessities.”
Aviana looked at me as if I had a second head. “What’s going on? What did you see? Who or what are Ghede and Samedi?”
“Someone is using that park for something very, very bad. Ghede and Samedi are the same guy. He is like a voodoo god who brings the dead back to life, but not full life. He brings back zombies.”
Aviana found herself caught between denial and laughing. “No, no. No! You are crazy! This isn’t some stupid horror movie. My sister and her friends, they are kidnapped or something. I don’t know why I came here.” But she didn’t make a move to leave, She knew I was right.
“Believe that if that helps. I don’t expect anyone to accept what I know. In the Sisterhood, we each study an area of magick. I studied Voodoo. I don’t know if I can save your sister, but because she takes care of your children, Ghede may be protecting her. He is a guardian of children. You don’t have to put your faith in Zombies or any of the magick stuff. Just put your faith in me and what I can do.”
Samedi stood up and offered her hand to Aviana. “Thank you for coming to us. We will take it from here. I promise, we will find your sister.”
With stuttering motion, Avianna shook Sami’s hand, gathered up her purse and jacket. “Please find her.”
I don’t often fly but when I do, I fly first class. Then, I take a Valium, down a Cosmo and sleep.
Sister Jeanne met me at baggage claim in PDX. She had my bags already. I got a slight shock of power as we shook hands. She was a Guardian. Her life was considered forfeit for mine. I gave her a feel for my power. I was a Gatekeeper, someone who stood between the biggest of the big bads and the human world. I had Warrior training but preferred to teach. She nodded silently.
Just as wordlessly, we drove the rusted 1990’s military Humvee. Someone had painted the interior with blue and yellow zebra stripes, and upholstered it with neon yellow. There was an Am/FM radio, a CB radio and very little else. The plates were diplomatic, with the Papal flag, allowing a little more room to misbehave than your average citizen. Which is why we barreled down I-205 at around 80 miles an hour to I-5 southbound. Stumptown Amusement park had its own exit. Other than the empty park, there was only a truck stop off the exit.
We picked up two more Sisters. Like Jeanne and I, there were dressed in comfortable jeans, steel toed stomper Doc Martens that came up to our knees and tank tops. There was a shaking of hands, pulsing of power and introductions. Sister Bran and Sister Minerva were Warriors.
“So,” Minerva asked as we bumped, rattled and rolled down the broken asphalt that lead to the defunct amusement park. “We’re hunting zombies? What’s up with the super soakers?”
“We aren’t hunting them, we’re going to release them and get anyone who is breathing out of there. And then hunt down the bokor.” I replied. If I had the super soakers, I had the rest of my list: lots of Vatican blessed holy water mixed salt from the Dead Sea in said water super guns. Salt from the Bonneville salt flats – shoved into shotgun shells and in zip lock bags, lots and lots of red brick dust, tar water, charcoal and hand held incense burners with acacia leaves and sage bundles, and enough Dark Madonna chalk (which can write on any surface and be seen in any light) to cover several hundred chalk boards.
“Cool. So, what’s a bokor?” Minerva asked. She was the chatty one.
“Bokors are Vodoun bad guys. They hex, curse and make zombies. We need to find the one who is using this park as his own private portal to the Dark.”
The Dark. It was the Biggest of the Big Bad. Fourteen billions ago, before the Big Bang, the Dark ruled the universe through chaos and cruelty. It was the Ultimate, the Creator of that Universe. Souls came together to make the One. The One caused the Big Bang and freed the souls from the Dark Universe into a new universe, of light, life and laws. The One shoved The Dark into a space of nothingness. Every act of chaos or injury in its name cracked the walls of the pocket. We, the Sisters of the Dark Madonna were one of the many groups on many worlds in many galaxies striving to patch those holes.
“So, they work for the Dark? What do they get out of it? Because, I mean all the baddies get something for helping the Dark.”
If she said so one more time, I was so gonna slap her. “They get power, that’s what some bokors live for, power.”
My hand itched to lay one on her.
Sister Bran laid her hand on Minerva’s thigh. “She talks when she’s nervous. But I do have a small question, if you don’t mind.”
According to our GPS unit, we were about ¼ a mile away. I nodded. “When we get there, it’s action time, we talk only through the Walkies. We do have walkies right?”
“Oh, of course, we checked your list, checked it twice!” Bran let out a soft giggle. “I joke when I get nervous. Why are the shotgun shells filled with salt? In the movies, you shoot them in the head or things of a similar nature.”
“Those are virus zombies made up by George Romero. Night of the Living Dead. These are magickal zombies. Salt is of the earth, it reminds them that they are dead. And souls go free, bodies fall down. No more zombie.”
“Ah. I read a book about a powder that was made in Haiti that made living people into zombies by lowering the heart rate and brain waves. Is this related?”
I nodded as Jeanne brought the Humvee to a stop and politely parked it in a single parking place. “Kind of, but from what I can see in the photos, these zombies started out dead.” I didn’t want to think about how they got dead.
We piled out and grabbed the knapsacks. I did a quick once over, and we all had what I requested. “As we clear an attraction or a game, smudge the room with acacia and sage. Then lay down a line of red brick dust at each, and I mean each opening. Nothing will be able to get back in that is magickally made.”
The women nodded. We slung the knapsacks on, shouldered our shotguns and held on to our slightly leaky super duper water guns.
Stumptown, what a name. Particularly for an amusement park whose largest attraction was a water slide. That water slide, from the little research I was able to do before I fell asleep on the flight north, was the longest on the West Coast. Looking it over as we moved into the park I could believe it. Even with sections missing from the slide, it seemed to go on forever. It was rusted now with tunnels wrapped with vines and debris. They looked like tunnels to a steamy jungle hell. It was in the center of the park, around it were beaten down rides, faded, chipped and stripped of metal by drug addicts wanting a little money from recycling. The swings from the yo-yo were gone, all that was left was a disc on a tower with a few lonely chains.
The slide from the fun house had been taken away, leaving a gaping hole in the visage. Rubber on the bumper cars was cracking, flaking away.
Even though I had spent time in medieval churches decorated with bones, been to Tibetan monasteries with mummified bodies, and crawled around the caves in Malta, this was the creepiest place I had ever been.
My foot was halfway up to take a step when Sister Bran whispered, “Hear that?”
“Frankly, I don’t hear a thing.” I answered in an equally quiet voice.
Minerva moved in between us, so the four of us were nearly huddled. “Exactly. No birds, no bugs, can’t even hear the highway. I have a bad feeling about this place.”
My inner Star Wars geek wanted to giggle, but my feelers for magick shut every other sense down. I could feel magick, locate the nexus, and if given time, identify what flavor it was. Without thinking, I moved toward the fun house.
Taggers had gotten to the outside. Some of the graffiti was beautiful, like the raven flying out of the gaping hole where the slide had been. Some of it was on the level of Tommy loves Suzi 4ever. The rest were obvious gang signs and similar warnings. Except the symbol right near the entrance. Another veve’ dedicated to Ghede. This was a gateway.
I took the lead, my super soaker pumped. I called for a small ball of Light and crossed the gateway.
The ball lit the hall of mirrors, the first room in the fun house. Some of the mirrors were broken, others missing, so rather than a maze, it was like a really bad changing room where you could see angles of yourself you’d rather missed. What was lying around the mess, I wished I hadn’t seen. Half rotted bodies with dark fluids around the nose. Every set of eyes had been carefully, almost lovingly stitched closed. The flesh of their lips were swollen, pulling against equally careful stitches. The bodies were too old to be our missing college kids, but that didn’t mean they didn’t deserve respect.
“Someone, light a smudge.” I kept my voice quiet, unsure how much the dead could hear and pass on to whomever was controlling them.
Two of my companions rustled through their bags. Seconds later, Minerva had her charcoal lit in an abalone shell. She took up one of the sage and acacia wraps and placed it on the charcoal, and sweet smoke lifted into the air.
Someone called on Air, sending the smoke on ahead of use. Each body we passed, I pressed some of the loose salt to their lips and called upon Earth:
Arachne, goddess of weave and thread,
Use the power of Earth to release these trapped and stolen Dead.
Their lips, their eyes stitched so tight
unsew, unweave, undo with your might.
My power, my strength I give unto thee
Lead them on to the light, so mote it be.
My sisters answered me with a loud, “So mote it be!”
We watched as the thread pulled itself free from the lips of the dead. When their mouths were free, every body released a breath. The stink should have been overwhelming. But it was their souls releasing. Muscles locked in the rigor of halted death let go. Flesh held forever at the moment of death, withered, flaked, turned to dust. The older corpses became little but skeletons. About the newer ones, the less said the better. We repeated the process in each of the fun house rooms. As we backed out of the rooms, we sealed them with the red brick dust.
The fun house was cleared. We checked every other attraction that had a place to hide a body, releasing the few we found, always leaving our trail of red brick dust. The only thing left was the Haunted Mansion, where the kids had pitched camp.
Unlike the fun house, this place was pristine, if worn. Black paint flaked in places. Real spiders had replaced the fake webbing with their own, and judging from the black pellets on the floor, real bats were hanging in the rafters.
“So, you know I never like these kind of rides when I was younger.” Minerva put in. I grabbed on to the sound of her voice, it overrode the sounds of shuffling and sobs seeping from the porous building.
I called a larger ball of spirit light, and set it floating ahead of me. Minerva called Air and Earth to blow out the spider webs and spook the bats away.
“Look, I need two of you out here. Jeanne and I can take of this. The other two, do a loop around, make sure nothing comes in.”
They nodded. Jeanne and I moved inside. Dark, thick magick rolled over me, made me gag. I looked around, my eyes adjusting the dim interior. Even with the floating ball of spirit light, shadows stretched long and deep.
I kept my eyes downcast, watching my feet. I didn’t want to step on bodies or parts of one. That’s why my eyes caught it, another veve’. Kneeling down, with the light coming closer, I studied the lines and curlicues on the image. It would be bad mojo to just wipe it away. Who knew what would happen to the missing college kids. Using small puffs of Air and my own power, I erased a few lines, redrew them in another place. Stretched a loop and changed a curlicue, made it go in the opposite direction.
Then a scream ripped through me, I jumped up and ran toward it. It was Terra’s voice. She was tied up with black duct tape, hand and foot to a mock up of an electric chair. One of her friends was crawling toward her halting, flesh stripping motions. His clothing was covered in filth, and his hair was hanging in limp dreadlocks. His eyes were covered in a post death glaze. Hands, torn from crawling across the rough concrete, were fleshless, nearly skeletal. The girl and I, we couldn’t look away from the scratching horror as he brought his hand to his mouth to pull at the loose skin, then chew at the chunk that came off. Putrescence ran down his greyish skin.
My gorge rose, it took three solid swallows to beat the vomit back down. His lips gaped open, with teeth that seemed far too sharp to have ever been human. Shaking, I pulled the super soaker water gun from my back. Pressing my teeth together, I whistled, loud and long. I needed his attention, needed him facing me.
The man controlling the monsters held tight, refusing to acknowledge my existence. I could only sweep around, moving myself in front of the abomination. A few pumps, then I squeezed the trigger of the super soaker. A monstrous sizzling filled the room, hot burning decay filled the air. But the thing, the zombie didn’t stop. It kept crawling, toward Terra. Its eyes were gone, the salt had eaten away at the corrupted flesh. Those horrible, sharpened, gray teeth now had no lips. I pumped the water gun again, squeezed the trigger. But I was out of water, and it was scraping closer. There was only one option, an option that would bring the bokor’s attention to me. I pulled the shot gun from my back, pumped to load it and fired a salt shell at the head.
Ordinary flesh would only sting, maybe redden. But this was flesh that had risen from the dead on the orders of the darkest of magicks. The head, the bubbling flesh, the half rotted skull, all of it exploded. Grey matter and white skull landed at my feet. It was impossible to fight it, I turned to the side and vomited until my stomach felt like it was coming out through my throat. I had thought of everything but that. Without thinking, I took a swallow of holy water, rinsed my mouth with it. And for just a brief moment, a wafting smell of roses cleared the air of death.
I cut the girl lose. Thrusting my every loved black credit card into her hand, I ordered“Get out of the park, there is a truck stop on the other side of the road. Go there. Get a room, get a shower, get a meal.” When she stared at me, lost in some fresh hell of her mind, I stomped my foot. “Get!”
The sound made her run. I heard shot gun blasts, my sisters clearing the rest of the attractions. Dazed and wiped of power, I used my own white dust to destroy every veve’ I found as I followed them like a twisted trail. A trail that led to him.
I expected a cartoon character, someone Scooby Doo would face, unmask and send to jail in handcuffs. Someone in a top hat and an ill fitting suit. Maybe wearing a necklace of chicken bones. Instead a found a white boy, maybe a handful of years younger than me. His hair was pale, cut short and slicked back. He was tall, strong and handsome. But his eyes were so dark. Not the color, but the soul behind them.
“You’re the one making the ruckus.” He said raising a hand, trying to call one of his dead or not so dead minions. There weren’t any left, or they were trapped behind salt, ground eggshells and red brick dust. A small line appeared between his eyes, concern at being beaten, by a band of nuns no less. “Ghede, defend me!” he cried out.
“You know it doesn’t work that way.” I warned him. Loas came as they saw fit. They weren’t demons to be summoned and imprisoned, made deals with. “You have nothing to offer, not even yourself as a mount.”
A laugh came from behind the bokor, whose name I didn’t know and never would. “She’s right that one is. Never been a mount, she hasn’t but she knows, oh she knows. You’ve abused what I gave you. Children, so many young ones just learning to be adults.” Ghede appeared. His skin was blacker than night but shone from deep inside. He too wore an expensive suit, a top hat and he danced when he moved. He circled the bokor, holding out one hand. A swarm of darkness came out of the bokor’s mouth, swam around Ghede’s outstretched hand where it gathered into a ball. The Loa used both hands to slowly squeeze until there was a pop. The man’s body withered and collapsed in on itself.
Ghede turned to me, his dark, dazzling eyes called to me, tempting me with a taste of a dark power. My teeth clenched at the same time my mouth watered at the promise of infinite magick. It took a strength I didn’t know I had to shove it all away and deny myself the pleasures he offered.
“Ah! The Sisters have taught you well!” He tapped his finger to his temple. “But I will be keeping you in my mind, we all will!” He clapped his hands one last time and flame burst out of the air and began to eat at the wood of the skating rink.
“Run little nun, run! Time is not on your side!” Ghede laughed before he spun like Michael Jackson, tipped his hat and disappeared.