This Week’s Prompt: 111. Ancient ruin in Alabama swamp—voodoo.
The Prior Research: Ruins in Alabama
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The forest was fog filled when we snuck past the security guard. I could see my breath in the moonlight as we went down the park paths. Marjane was leading the way, holding her hand up every now and then to signal a stop. We held fast and listened for a sound on the wet autumn grass. Once or twice we saw a patrol car, a tired volunteer in a golf cart with the headlights on. I clutched the bundle in my pocket—the first bit of magic I’d ever done, to not get noticed if I didn’t want to.
There were paths to where we were going. Nice and clear paved roads most of the way. But those were where security patrols were expecting people, we figured. We had made charms to keep ourselves hidden, and mapped out a path of least resistance to get deeper into the old park.
“Are you sure you need to do this?” George asked Marjane, looking over the map I’d printed. The baths were marked with a red pen, and we’d tied string to some pins. “Like, doing some palm readings and stuff isn’t exactly…this.”
“I’m sure. Who knows when we’ll have a chance to try this again?” Marjane said, biting the middle knuckle of her index finger in thought. “We’ve got to do it under the full moon, I’m sure of it.”
“It’s just…this is trespassing, on like. A place with actual security. Not breaking into an old house for a séance or something.” George said, scratching the back of his head. “Hell, this is vandalism on top of trespassing..”
I looked over the map again, thinking over what Marjane had said. The baths were old, ancient really. Who knew what secrets she’d be able to pick up there? What ghosts she’d be able to speak with? She’d had a knack for that sort of things since we were kids, and was only getting quicker at it.
The baths are a pair of large, rectangular cuts into the ground lined with stone. I guess they might not be baths—to night they looked kinda like big graves, but they were too clean to be ever used. Freshly dug out of the stone. The fog was settled over and around them, like a witches cauldron.
My job was the easiest. Marjane had given me some gems and featers to make my inner spirit sharper—it helped me spot guys waiting to jump in the hallway, or on the walk home. Now it was to help spot security guards. I had a dog whistle—Daniel and Marjane had sharpened hearing that could pick a dog-whistle out of nowhere. And there was my first sack, filled with some special stuff I’d kept hidden all my life. Now they’d keep me hidden, as long as I held them.
I looked over my shoulder as Daniel and Marjane poured out bottles into the baths—bubbling and hissing as they mixed. Marjane had her notebook open, papers stolen from old libraries stuffed in with sketches of what she’d seen in seances and dreams, packed into a leather cover she’d made herself—the old cardboard was long gone by now.
The Sycamore house was a lump of rotting wood sitting a mile out of town, sitting on a hill of weeds. It had been condemned by the town for about three years—it took two more for it to get the demolition stamp. Not that they every got around to demolishing it. No one seemed to care about the old house, no one wanted the land just yet—it was in a nice spot, honestly. I’m pretty sure the local realtor just…forgot about it.
Not that everyone forgot about it. I mean, we heard about it from some potheads, and Marjane decided that a house that kept attracting people despite being condemned and dangerous must have some magic in it. She didn’t listen when we pointed out that magic was probably privacy. I don’t…really remember how she talked the four of us into going out to the house that night, when she said the stars were right. Something about the house of Aquarius.
So we opened the creaking rotten door, and found a room that was mostly lacking in graffiti—well, no. It just had a little less graffiti then the rest of the rooms. And the few patches of clear wall that were there, Marjane carefully drew over with chalk.
“That way, the door we make only lets the right ones in….oh I can’t wait to see what’s in here!” She said, stretching with a flashlight to finish the circle and weird letters around the edge. Or I think they were letters, one looked like a little dude holding a crescent moon. Finally, she got to the center of the room, drew a big circle—a really good, solid big circle. Ashley put down some candles with George, on little Xs that Marjane marked.
The big worry wasn’t noise around the baths. We could be pretty quiet, and Marjane’s whispering incantations hadn’t every really been noticed before. No, the problem was smell. Marjane’s concoctions had this…tang in the air, this sickly sweet smell, like a tootsie roll stuck in your teeth. The incense she burned, the candles, it made this tangible cloud of smells that didn’t belong in an old building, let alone a foggy woods at night.
The moment I got a whiff of it, I glanced back—a colored smoke was coming from the baths, and Marjane was sitting cross legged, holding hands with Ashely and Daniel, chanting their secret words. The smoke was heavier than normal, weighed down by the fog—it looked like a bubble waiting to burst through the surface of the sea, streaks of oily shapes in its substance.
We didn’t know if the security team had dogs that would catch the smell early—but now was my time to stay focused. I found a cool tree to hide behind, gnarled and old. Marjane said you could tell magic things just by looking at them, they felt different if you had refined your gift. And this tree…looked special. Knots placed in a way, I could almost make out a pattern. I sat there and listened to the wind and the patrols—waiting for one to turn this way.
The room in the Sycamore house changed when Marjane chanted. It got colder. Damp, heavy hair without any water. Everything was quiet, oppressively silent. I turned as she spoke, so soft that even in an empty world I couldn’t make out a word.
But there was something there. She’d called someone there, and she was speaking to them. I knew in my bones, in that small room in the Sycamore house—something magic was talking to Marjane. Something that called people to this place.
No one goes to the Sycamore house anymore. If you ask why, they say it just seems dangerous or strange or cursed. I went back once—it doesn’t feel cursed.
It feels empty.
The tires skidded down the road. I tilted my head to hear them turn—but they were followed by a crash. And then barking. I grabbed my packet of collected things and hesitantly walked after the noise. Under a flickering streetlight, I saw a tilted golf cart crashed. No dog though…no dog anywhere. There was more barking though—I could hear them, somewhere close. No security guard either.
As the light flickered again, I felt the fog get heavy. My breathing slowed, becoming a regular relaxing rhythm with my slowing heart beat. I heard a distant crack—a loud sound from the baths, as if a great bubble had just burst. I held tightly to my pack in my pocket as I slowly headed over, stifling a yawn.
Halfway back I leaned against a tree—all the running had taken something out of me. I needed to catch my breath, I needed to rest my legs. I somehow fell asleep there.
The sun woke me up…everything felt cold and damn, my jacket covered in dew. I looked around—maybe my magic had worked so well, I thought, they didn’t find me when they left. As my hearing came back, I heard the smouldering and the sirens. It wasn’t until I saw blue and red lights that I realize I had been color blind for a moment—my senses returning as I grip my pouch and crept closer.
And I saw them, still sitting there—holding hands around the bath, police officers looking around, an ambulance pulling up. Their heads were turned up, to look at something floating just above Marjane. Something that must have been horrible, or beautiful, to make their eyes go so wide and turn their skin paper white.
I like this story. It’s small, compared to others, and not as clear…but I had a good time writing it. Not much else to say, except that part of the notion for this story was from late research on the “Indian Baths”–now believed to be made by European settlers–at Old Stephens as an example. I feel like I left very few traces of “Voodoo” in this story, but that might be for a rewrite with more time and space.