EPISODE ONE: Let the Bad Times Roll
Written by Alexandria Love // Illustrations by Adrienne Lobl
PART I: Once Upon a Time in Louisiana…
Tanisha Washington never had the urge to be normal, and so she never bothered to become normal. Tanisha didn’t think she understood what “normal” even meant – was it normal that while the other teenagers in her village spent their time socializing and learning magic that she would prefer to spend an afternoon working on her old beat-up truck? Maybe. Maybe not. All Tanisha knew was that she knew how she liked to spend her time, and that was good enough for her. It was also good enough for the people who loved her. Her grandmother, Granny Ella, was one of the most esteemed elders in her village, and Tanisha was her pride and joy. Why wouldn’t she be? Tanisha would be the first person in the history of the village to leave for university. Everyone was very proud. Tanisha was proud. She was more proud, however, that she was finally able to put the finishing touches on her old truck that she found abandoned on the outskirts of her bayou village. Two years of work, and finally Tanisha was going to get that old motor to sing like Granny Ella on Praise Day. It was late in the night, nearly morning, when Tanisha felt the roar of the motor for the first time. It purred under her fingers as she turned the key. Ahh, she thought. I knew I could do it. It’s just nice to have evidence. The joy was short lived – roar was extinguished just as quickly as it began. Tanisha sighed. It was going to be a long night.
Tanisha summoned her favorite vine – a beautiful plant that she has called upon to act as an auxiliary appendage since she was able to harness full use of her earth-manipulating abilities. With a flick of her pinky finger, the vine – whom she had affectionately named Claude – rose to attention.
“Evenin’, Claude,” she said, as the swinging vine nodded it’s top leaf at her in salutation. “I need some help. Can you turn the key one more time while I look under the hood?”
The edges of Claude’s leaf furrowed in exasperation. “Yes,” she sighed, “I know it’s late, and I know you need sleep too. We’re nearly done. Don’t be difficult.”
Claude’s leaf rose and fell in exhausted compliance as it’s first few feet of twine and wood piled into the car and readied itself to wrap around the key.
“Be careful now,” Tanisha warned. “Won’t have you breaking one of your leaves. I know it’ll grow back, but still.” Tanisha opened the hood to inspect the battery, but Claude wouldn’t turn the key in the ignition.
“What?” she asked.
Claude’s front leaf slithered out of the driver’s side window of the car and rolled up its edges into a point – as if he was signaling Tanisha to look over her shoulder. Tanisha whipped around to find her younger sister, Riley, aged about eight, standing in the doorway to the garage, wearing a long, soft peach nightgown that, due to her diminutive stature, bunched up at the ground.
“Young lady,” scolded Tanisha, “It’s nearly midnight. What are you doing up?”
Riley said nothing, her tired eyes falling to focus on Tanisha’s feet. Tanisha sighed and glanced back at Claude, who’s shoulder leaves rose and fell in a shrugging motion.
“Did you have another nightmare?” asked Tanisha, her voice softening a little. Ever since Riley fell into the swamp last summer, she would often wake up in a panic from nightmares of drowning in the middle of the night.
“Yes, Tani,” said Riley sadly, still staring at Tanisha’s feet.
Tanisha closed the hood of the car and Claude snapped upright out of surprise.
“Alright, then, you,” said Tanisha to Claude, “Go ahead off to the garden for bed. We’ll continue in the morning.” Claude nodded his top leaf again and slithered out of the car window and off into the night.
“I’m sorry, Tani,” groaned Riley in embarrassment, “I know you hate to be disturbed in your garage.”
“I hate it when other people disturb me in the garage,” said Tanisha, walking over to her sister and kneeling before her. “Not you. Come on, hop on my back and we’ll go off to bed.”
Tanisha was careful to carry her sister as quietly as possible so as not to wake Granny Ella – Granny Ella had been extra worried about the youngest Washington in the months that preceded her near-drowning, and while Tanisha loved and doted on her sister, she knew that worrying would do nothing. Tanisha silently crossed the mantle of the children’s bedroom with Riley on her back only to discover that the second-youngest Washington, Riley’s twin brother Ray, was still awake as well and was reading on his bed.
“Now, what are you doing up?” said Tanisha frustratedly.
“I couldn’t put it down,” said Ray, who quickly found a bookmark to close within his alluring pages. “Did you know that in some cultures, the color black is bad luck? In other parts of America, they think black people are bad luck. Can you imagine?”
“Don’t scare her, Ray,” scolded Riley. “Tanisha has to go to college soon. Don’t worry Tanisha,” said Riley as Tanisha lowered her into bed, “Anyone who thinks you’re bad luck is just being silly.”
“That’s right,” said Tanisha, turning off Ray’s nightlight.
“I think white people are bad luck,” said Ray, turning the nightlight on again. “It seems like they’re the ones going about doing bad things.”
“And have you ever met a white person, Ray?” challenged Tanisha.
“No,” admitted Ray. “But I read about them. This book says that white people stole land that wasn’t theirs.”
“What’s all this about white folks?” said a voice from the other side of the door.
“Now you’ve done it,” whispered Tanisha as Granny Ella entered the door. “Good evening, Granny Ella,” said Tanisha politely.
“Good evening, Granny Ella,” said the children.
“Good evening, children,” said the old woman. “Now, what’s all this I hear about white folks? Has Ray been reading those books again?”
“Yes, Granny Ella. I’m trying to teach him that there’s no harm in learning things, but that he shouldn’t judge folks based on the colors they don’t have. Ain’t their fault they turn red in the sun.”
“Granny,” whined Ray, “I’m just worried about Tani. She’s going off to school with all those white folks. I just don’t want them to treat her bad.”
“Ain’t nobody that can treat you bad if you don’t let them,” said Granny Ella, waving her hand over the hanging vine near the bookshelf, which awoke and waited for her command. “Lizzie, please put this book back, and don’t let him take no more ‘til morn.” The vine nodded in agreement and stretched and stretched until it’s long branches were wrapped around Ray’s book. The vine pulled the book back onto the bookshelf, and then dropped again into a deep slumber.
“At least someone’s getting rest ‘round here,” said Granny Ella. “And you all are keeping up your sister. She and I have to train in the morning. What in the world are you all doing awake, anyway?”
“Riley had a nightmare,” blurted out Ray.
“I did not,” said Riley, throwing one of her stuffed animals at her brother.
“Now, now,” said Granny Ella. “There’s no shame in being afraid, little one. But do you know what the best way to get rid of bad dreams is?”
“What’s that, Granny Ella?”
Granny Ella leaned over to Riley and kissed her on her forehead lovingly. “To go right back to bed and dream up good dreams.”
“Yes, Granny Ella.”
“Now, I don’t wanna hear any more commotion from here,” said Granny Ella, kissing her grandson on the forehead as well. “Let your sister rest. She has lots of preparations to attend to in the morning, hear?”
“Yes, Granny Ella,” said the children in unison.
“You best head off to bed too, love,” said Granny Ella to her oldest grandchild. “We have a wonderful day ahead of us tomorrow. Don’t let these little beetles keep you from getting your hours, now, hear?”
“Yes, Granny Ella,” said Tanisha, and her grandmother beamed with pride as she left the room.
“See what yah’ll done?” said Tanisha angrily.
“You can’t leave, Tani,” whispered Riley, a sense of urgency adding pitch to her tone. “I’m afraid if I go back to sleep, I’ll dream about the water again.”
Tanisha sighed, but relented. She motioned for her sister to move over a bit and made a place for herself on the bed. “Can you tell me a story?” the little girl begged, her huge brown eyes so shiny and reflective that Tanisha could actually see herself giving in to her sister’s request in real time.
“Yeah!” said Ray, leaping from his bed to join his sisters. “Tell us the one about the zombies.”
“I don’t exactly reckon that’ll leave room for good dreams,” commented Tanisha.
“Zombies don’t scare me,” said Riley. “But we heard that story two night ago, Ray. Don’t you wanna hear somethin’ else?”
“No,” pouted Ray.
“I wanna hear the story of the Maroons,” said Riley. “We haven’t heard that one in a while.”
“Well, don’t they teach that in school?” said Tanisha. “I’m sure you’ve heard that story plenty. It’s more like a history lesson.”
“It’s not history,” said Riley. “It’s our story. Please tell it, Tani?”
“It’s real late, yah’ll,” complained Tanisha, “Plus, it doesn’t bode well without the pictures.” Just then, The Great Book of Maroon History plopped into Tanisha’s lap. The siblings all looked up to see Lizzie the Vine mischievously slinking away quickly to her home on the bookshelf, flicking her smallest leaf in a motion that almost looked like she was trying to wink at the children.
“Fine,” groaned Tanisha. “But only since Lizzie told me to.” Tanisha opened the first page of the book and began the story as her siblings watched with delirious anticipation.
Once upon a time in Louisiana, our ancestors were held captive by –
“White folks,” said Ray.
“Shut up,” said Tanisha. “White folks aren’t the villains of this story.”
“The slave drivers were,” said Riley.
“That’s right,” said Tanisha, patting her sister on the head with her free hand.
Once upon a time in Louisiana, our ancestors were held captive by the villainous slave drivers. We were held captive for so many years that we forgot our tongue, and our powers. Gaia gave us this earth, and under the whi- I mean, slave drivers, we worked the earth night and day to grow crops for them and their families. And they treated us real bad. They worked us hard, and changed our names, and gave us no good food and made fun of the way our hair curled.
“Miss Taylor at the school said that the slave drivers were possessed by evil spirits,” said Riley, as Tanisha turned the page to show an illustration of the evil slave drivers that drove their ancestors away from civilization.
That might have been true. The evil spirits, or the slave drivers, or whoever it was that did all those bad things, kept us contained for hundreds of years. They knew that we had the power to control the earth and her many arms, so they put us in chains and small houses so that we couldn’t use our magic. And I know yah’ll know why people do bad things.
“Fear,” said the siblings in unison. Tanisha smiled with pride. They were very smart children.
That’s right. Don’t nobody do bad things because they’re born bad. The slave drivers were afraid that we would use our magic to do bad things to them, so they made us suffer for years and years. Every once in awhile, one of our folks would escape, but they usually were found and killed on sight because they couldn’t run fast enough to get away from them with all their dogs and horses and mobs. That’s when we started using our magic powers again. Gaia reminded the women of our kind that we can make trees rise to block evil’s path, grow bushes for us and our families to hide in, and create vines for the slave drivers to trip over. Once our folks in Louisiana discovered their powers, they used them to escape to the heart of the Bayou. Those escapees were called the Maroons. Overtime, more escapees found their way to our hidden village, and the others reminded them of their powers. Except now, they didn’t have to use them to hide anymore. They worked together to grow branches for sturdy lumber, and trees for shade in the Louisiana heat. Over time, they made a Utopia here – they created schools, and libraries, and shops so that we can live here forever and never have to worry about the slave drivers, or evil spirits, that were chasing us. Gaia gave us the land after our Great Exodus, and we took the land and made it home.
“I wish I could have Earth powers,” pouted Ray. “It’s no fair that just the girls have it.”
“Well,” said Tanisha, “You’re just about one of the best readers I know. Maybe that’s your special power.”
Ray’s frown softened up a little bit. “Yeah, I guess. I was reading a book that said that sometimes us Maroons can acquire powers through stressful events, whether you’re a girl or not. Miss Taylor told us that her husband can conduct electricity since he got hit with lightning when he was a boy.”
“Well, I’ll have to call him to get this car battery working again,” said Tanisha. The kids laughed, and Tanisha laughed too.
“Well, that’s the story,” said Tanisha, finally reaching to the lamp to shut it off once more. “Do you feel better, Riley?”
“Yes ma’am,” said Riley, snuggling back up into bed. “Thank you for the story. I don’t think I’ll have any more bad dreams anymore.”
“Well,” said Tanisha, eyeing the empty vase next to her sister’s bed. “Do you know what to do if you do have a bad dream again?”
“Go back to sleep and try to dream up good dreams?” said Riley, her eyes beginning to close. Tanisha smiled and gilded her pointer finger along the edge of the mouth of the vase. A beautiful, solitary daisy burst from the void.
“Yes,” said Tanisha, as her sister drifted off to sleep. “And if that doesn’t work, you call me.”
Tanisha left her sibling’s room and was on her way to the garage when she felt a tap on her shoulder.
“Oh, hi, Lizzie.” The vine shook rapidly until the echo of the vibration continued to rattle all of her leaves.
“Yes, yes, I know, I need sleep. I won’t go to the garage, then, if that’s what you’re getting at. I’ll head off to bed.” Lizzie’s front leaves drooped a little bit, but perked up just a tad as Tanisha kissed her lightly on her flat, light green head. The little leaf poked her back on Tanisha’s dimpled cheek. Tanisha smiled as she carefully stepped over the vine to go to bed, and Lizzie watched as Tanisha made her way to her bedroom. If only she knew, Lizzie thought to herself in her singular mind, how favored she was.
PART II: And Why is the Tree Still?
The next morning came a little too quickly for Tanisha. Yes, she was tired, but more than that she just simply was not looking forward to her morning of difficult training and work. Twice a week, Granny Ella woke her up before the roosters to teach her Forma’gent, a martial art style that was created and utilized specifically for Maroon life. In their society, there were no wars – indeed, there was little violence at all. Most of the Maroons were well educated – their local schools taught all the classical studies, and in a society when folks could fight with measured words, there was little need for the balling of fists. But Granny Ella had been teaching Tanisha Forma’gent since she was a little girl, mostly because Granny Ella feared that too few Maroons knew the art, and that it would die with her. Tanisha enjoyed the time she spent with the otherwise extremely busy Granny Ella, and she liked how Forma’gent made her feel strong and balanced. The best part of the day, easily, was how all of the village children would come and watch her, thinking that Tanisha Washington was the strongest person in the whole village. No, there were more complex reasons why Tanisha was not looking forward to her training on this particular morning.
Riley and Ray, as usual, tagged along as Tanisha made her way to the village. It should have been like any other day – the bakeries emitting fumes of beignets and fresh rye bread, the market bustling with laughter and bartering and movement, young women in the fields practicing their magic on small blades of grass and dandelions, old men playing chess in the shade of the trees that the elders grew.
“One day,” said Riley, looking at the tree that the old women built, “My powers are gonna be so strong that I’ll build one of those huge trees all by myself.”
“Make it an apple tree, please,” said Ray, his nose deep in a book of poetry that he nearly bumped into the back of Tanisha’s legs. “I want something to munch on while I sit under the tree and read.”
“What are you reading?” asked Tanisha as she casually exchanged a few coins for bread. The bread man was always nice to Tanisha, but today he seemed extra giddy.
“On the house for you, Miss Washington,” said the bread man, quite shiftily.
Taken aback, Tanisha responded, “Well, that’s awful nice of you, Mr. Miller.”
“Call me Sam. See you downtown shortly, yes?”
The bread man scurried off to help other patrons, leaving Tanisha to wonder what in the world the silly old man was talking about.
“It’s called The Incomprehensible Everything by Benjamin Hewitt-Lawrence,” said Ray, his nose not moved a centimeter from the book. “He was a painter from the village, but he voyaged away when he was about your age, Tani.”
“You know,” said Tanisha, breaking the bread into three separate pieces and dispersing it to her siblings, “Legend has it that he fell in love with a bird down in Baton Rouge. They say that’s what all his sappy old poems are about.”
“Poems aren’t about anything,” corrected Ray, finally shutting the book, nearly entrapping his large nose. “They aren’t supposed to be, anyway. Poems are like clay. They’re just a blob of nothing until you make it something.”
“You’re a blob of nothing,” teased Riley.
“No, you!” said Ray.
“Neither of you are blobs of nothing,” said the ephemeral voice of Granny Ella, who was standing under the largest tree in the village a few yards away. Her hands were outstretched to touch the tree and her eyes were closed – Tanisha could tell that Granny Ella was doing her morning meditations.
“I swear,” whispered Tanisha to her siblings, “That woman has ears like -”
“A bat?” laughed Ray.
“Watch it,” said Granny Ella, who was quickly closing in on the children. “Or I’ll lay eggs in your pretty little heads.” The children giggled as Granny Ella dug around in their nappy heads, pretending to nest. “Now,” she said, as the giggles subsided, “Miss Tanisha, you and I have some training to do this morning. Allons-y.”
Tanisha, Riley, and Ray followed Granny Ella in a perfectly straight line into the studio in which Tanisha spent her time learning and training the way of the tree. They called Forma’gent – the english translation being essentially “Strong, but Kind” – the way of the tree, because the tree protects itself merely by existing.
“And what,” began Granny Ella, bowing to her granddaughter, “Is the first line of defense of the tree?”
Tanisha got down to her knees and bowed, mimicking her grandmother and said, “The trunk, Granny Ella.”
“And how does the trunk defend the tree?” asked Granny Ella, as she rose back to her feet.
“By being immovable, and still,” said Tanisha, rising to her feet as well.
“Prep position one.”
Tanisha planted her feet into the ground, vines wrapping around her toes like sandals, keeping her deeply rooted to Gaia.
“Why is the tree still?”
Now, this was a question Tanisha had not been asked yet.
“I…I don’t know, Granny Ella.”
Granny Ella took a swinging kick towards Tanisha’s gut. Thinking quickly, Tanisha raised her arms, and with her arms rose a cloud of dark green shrubbery to block the kick. Granny Ella’s foot became stuck in the branches.
“Very good,” she said, using her own powers to loosen the teeth of the branches.
“Thank you, Granny Ella. But why is the tree still?”
“You’ll learn,” said the old woman, regaining her composure. “Prep position one, again.”
“Elder Ella!” A worried voice yelled, the pitch echoing through the halls and bouncing inside of Tanisha’s brain. Something was amiss.
“Martin, what is it?” It was one of the village boys – he was barefoot and windswept, and had to stop a moment to catch his breath. Granny Ella hurried over to him and put her hands on his back. “What is wrong?”
Martin’s shoulders heaved with the recapturing of breath. “Elder Ella, it’s…there’s a white man in the village. He’s hurt.”
Granny Ella, Tanisha, and the children followed young Martin to the grove where the other elders had created a healing circle around a sprawled, bloody mess of a man. Tanisha’s instinct was to hold back her siblings from getting too close – although, if this man was dangerous, he certainly couldn’t do much harm with part of his leg missing. “What happened to him?” whispered Tanisha to Martin.
“He came to us, limping from the woods,” said Martin as Granny Ella made her way into the healing circle. “He can barely speak. I think a gator got him bad.”
Riley and Ray stood behind Tanisha, looking simultaneously terrified and intrigued. “Can we take a closer look, Tani?” begged Riley. “I’ve never seen a white man before.”
“I’ve seen them in books,” said Ray. “I thought they were only supposed to be red when it’s hot outside?”
“That’s enough,” scolded Tanisha. “He’s red because he’s bleeding. And no, you cannot go any closer.” Just then, Elder Initiate Heloise, the eldest daughter of Elder Brooke, entered the circle. “Besides,” said Tanisha, “He’ll be alright. Heloise is here, and she’s the best healer in the village.”
“Tani,” said Riley, “Why aren’t you the new Elder Initiate? You’re the smartest girl in the whole village.”
“Thank you,” said Tanisha politely. “But I can’t, since I’m going to university. They need someone who is going to stay in the village.”
Heloise reappeared from the crowd, helping the man onto her shoulders.
“Maroons,” called Granny Ella in her booming, commanding voice, “We have a new visitor in our village. We’ll be taking him to the healing center by the grove. He’ll survive. Once he’s stable, we’ll talk about what to do with him.”
“What to do with him?” said Ray incredulously. “He isn’t going to stay here, is he, Tani?”
“I don’t know, Ray.” Tanisha always believed it was okay to say when you didn’t know something, and she found it even more important, especially in this case, to admit when she was feeling afraid. “I hope he’s alright.”
“Me too,” said Riley, taking Tanisha’s right hand. Ray took the other, and Tanisha lead them alongside the rest of the crowd to the hospital.
In the hours that preceded, it was announced that the man was stable, and would not die, thanks to Heloise and the rest of the medical team. And, as anticipated, thereafter came hours and hours of arguing amongst the village elders about what to do with the man. And since Tanisha was still a member of the council until she left for school, she was invited to participate in the discourse at the hospital near the grove.
“There’s no law that says that white man can’t live here,” said Elder Brooke. “It’s just a rare case.”
“Who knows if he even wants to stay here,” said Granny Ella. “Maybe we should encourage him to stay here until his people can come to get him.”
“If his people come,” said Heloise, “We’ll have given away the secret of our society.”
“The secret’s already out,” blurted out Tanisha, who had otherwise been quiet throughout the meeting.
“What do you suggest we do, then?” asked Elder Robin. “Let him stay?”
“Maybe we can discuss it with him,” offered Heloise, “And see if he’s Maroon material. He can never be one of us, but maybe if he’s a good fit he can contribute to our life here.” Heloise turned and looked fondly at Tanisha. “Perhaps Tanisha can go speak to him?”
“What?” said Tanisha. “Me?”
“You,” said Heloise. “You have a way of reading people. Go and see if he’s fit to stay and serve with our people.”
Tanisha did as she was told, climbing the stairs to the top floor of the hospital and there he was, lying on a comfortable bed. He was obviously hurt and weary, but he was very much alive.
“Good morning,” said Tanisha to the man, whose eyes slanted a bit at the sight of her. Tanisha was worried as well – she had never seen a white person before. They didn’t look so scary up close.
“Good morning,” the man said. “You speak English?”
“Yes,” said Tanisha, who spoke lots of languages. “Do you?”
The man laughed. Tanisha noticed how his teeth and skin were the same color. “Are you feeling alright?” she asked, moving a bit closer.
“Yes,” he said, wearily sticking out his hand to her. “My name is Ralph McPhann. This is a nice place you all have got here.” Tanisha shook his hand.
“I’m Tanisha Washington,” she said. “Thank you. Right now, you’re in Los Rivera, the capital municipality in the greater Maroon Bayou. How did you find us?”
“I was out scouting new locations for my troop to rest,” said Ralph. Tanisha was surprised to hear this – she didn’t realize that there was a war going on in Louisiana. “Your troops?” she asked.
“Yes. A squad of men who work together for a common goal,” he explained.
“Yes,” said Tanisha. “I know what a troop is.” Ralph nodded and took a sip of water from a straw.
“How did you get hurt?”
“I was wading in a swamp when I was bitten by a gator. Not used to those where I come from.”
“Are you from the city?”
“Of sorts. Not around here, certainly. Up north. I’m from Chicago.”
“Really?” said Tanisha excitedly. “I’ll be going to Chicago in a few weeks for school. Is that where your troops are stationed?” Ralph nodded again, still sipping his water, looking at her curiously.
“Do you think your troops are going to come back and look for you?” Tanisha asked, careful not to give too much away. She didn’t want him to feel unwelcome, necessarily, but she certainly didn’t want him to assume that he could live here.
“Maybe,” said Ralph with a shrug. “Maybe not. That’s enough with the questions about me. I’m curious about you.”
“Are you?” Tanisha feigned interest, knowing full well that there was plenty to be curious about. “How so?”
“You people live in this village without any contact with civilized society?”
“Well, no,” said Tanisha, unsure if she understood the question, “I have contact with my mates every day. I’m not sure I’d call them civilized, though.”
“Ah,” chuckled Ralph, “Very funny. I don’t suppose you could call in a nurse to bring me some more water, could you?”
“No need,” said Tanisha, using her pinky finger to summon Claude from the open window.
“What the hell is that thing!?” exclaimed Ralph. “Is that a snake?”
“No, silly,” said Tanisha, remembering that most places had never seen powers like hers before. “It’s a plant. His name is Claude. Claude?” The plant stood at attention, waving it’s appendage leaf over its top leaf in a salute.
“Be a dear and grab Ralph some water from the creek.” Claude slithered away again, and reappeared in a few moments with a fresh cariph. “Claude has been very useful to me,” said Tanisha as Claude carefully tipped the cariph over to fill Ralph’s glass. “Well, more than useful,” she clarified. “Essential, really.”
“Are you a witch?” asked Ralph, sputtering over his words.
“I don’t think so?” said Tanisha, very unsure. “If I am, so is my grandmother. And Heloise, the girl that cured you. Every woman in my village can make plants rise and fall and obey. But nobody has a buddy quite like you, Claude.” Claude wriggled affectionately around her waist and poked his branch against Tanisha’s cheek before slinking off out of the window.
“We’re really close,” said Tanisha, shrugging casually, as if this simple sentence explained everything. “I’m sorry if he frightened you.”
“No, no no,” said Ralph, straightening out a bit in his bed. “Not scared. At all.”
“Right,” said Tanisha, knowing that it was wrong.
“How long have you all lived here?”
“A few hundred years. Me, only seventeen, since that’s how old I am.”
“I’m seventeen too,” muttered Ralph, shaking as he took a sip from the water. It was then that Tanisha decided what she was to do. She left Ralph’s room and returned to the tribunal and stood amongst them and declared, “I think he should stay.” Now this was a riotous proclamation for young Tanisha, but it was met with less criticism than she was anticipating.
“On what grounds, Sister Tanisha?” asked Elder Brooke. “We’ve discussed it as well, and we still aren’t sure. Do you believe that this young man is fit to serve in our village?”
“The first Maroons came here when they were in trouble,” said Tanisha. “Over the centuries, more folks have come to our hidden oasis to escape danger. It’s how our society maintains its worldliness. We have no right to turn away a man in his time of need.”
“She’s right,” said Granny Ella. “Very good, my dear. All those in favor of allowing young Ralph McPhann to stay amongst the Maroons, say Aye.”
“Aye,” said Elder Brooke.
“Aye, and Aye again,” said Heloise, beaming proudly at Tanisha. Tanisha smiled back warmly, thankful for Heloise’s faith in her.
“Aye,” said Elder Louie.
“Aye,” said Elder Shannon.
“And the Ayes have it,” said Granny Ella, banging her gavel. “Motion passes. Martin, please go to Ralph’s room and inform him of the council’s decision. We will prepare a home for him in town and assign him a job once he is able to work.”
“I was just up in his room,” said Martin, “To fetch him more blankets that he requested. When I returned, he was gone.”
Tanisha and the children didn’t sleep so well that night. They all stayed together, cuddled up on Granny Ella’s big bed, waiting for her to return. Granny Ella and the rest of the council stayed up all night trying to figure out where Ralph could have gone. They sent Martin and the rest of the scouting team deep into the woods, and they returned empty handed. They checked every building and home nearby the grove, but to no avail. Tanisha did her best to keep the children busy, but their curiosity was insatiable.
“Tanisha, what do you think happened?” asked Riley.
“I think I might have scared him away with my magic,” said Tanisha.
“You shouldn’t do magic where outsiders can see,” said Ray. “Miss Taylor says it’s dangerous. It scares people, and people do funny things when they’re scared.”
“Perhaps you’re right,” conceded Tanisha. “Maybe I shouldn’t have done magic in front of him. We just do it so often here that I nearly forgot that some might consider it strange.”
“It’s not your fault he was afraid,” said Riley sweetly. “He shouldn’t have run off like that. The Bayou can be dangerous, even for those of us with powers.”
It was around that time that a very tired Granny Ella finally returned to the family home. She was so tired that her eyes were still closed as she flopped down in bed with her three grandchildren.
“I am so phenomenally tired,” she proclaimed in her booming, powerful voice, “That I don’t even want to take my shoes off.”
“It’s okay, Granny Ella,” said Ray, bouncing out of bed to help Granny Ella remove her shoes. “I’ll help you. Did they ever find the boy, Ralph?”
“No, my dear. We don’t know where he is. Thank you for helping me with my shoes.”
“No problem, Granny Ella.”
Her eyes finally opened a bit as she glanced at an almost-as-tired Tanisha. “Tanisha, darling,” said Granny Ella faintly. “Could you please come with me to the kitchen? I could really use some tea.”
“I can brew you tea, Granny Ella,” offered Tanisha, rising from bed as well. “I can brew it and then bring it to you in bed.”
“No, no,” said Granny Ella, rising from the bed with her hands on her back. “I need to stretch these old legs. Come now. You children stay right here and get ready for bed. I’ll be in in a moment for a story.”
“Yes, Granny Ella.”
Even as Tanisha followed Granny Ella to the kitchen she knew that something was wrong.
“Granny Ella,” she started as she watched her grandmother turn on the kettle.
“Hush now,” said Granny Ella softly. “I need you to understand something, hear?”
“Yes, Granny Ella,” said Tanisha.
Granny Ella dug around in her tote bag for a few moments as she spoke, “I’m not sure if you noticed that some of the villagers were acting a little strange to you. We were planning a going away party for you after your training this morning….I know that I can tell you this without too much surprise. I bet that old coot Sam Miller couldn’t keep his mouth shut.”
Tanisha giggled. “You’d be right. I suppose he was making the cake?”
Granny Ella nodded and finally found what she was looking for in the tote bag. “I was going to wait until we were able to finally give you your party tomorrow, but there’s no time like the now.”
From her tote bag emerged a gift that Tanisha recognized immediately. “Is that…”
“My old voodoo doll. When I was your age, my mother gave it to me, and her father before that, and his mother before that and so on and so on. This little thing has seen the coasts of Africa, the tumultuous ride to the New World, and every trial and tribulation since. Something about her just told me that today was the day to give her to you.”
Tanisha was a little old to play with dolls, but she knew that this gift was an important token of their family. “Thank you, Granny Ella,” Tanisha said gratefully. “I’ll treasure her forever.”
“Granny Ella!” The children raced into the kitchen, each clutching one of Granny Ella’s legs.
“What’s wrong, my darlings?” said Granny Ella, holding the shaking children close to her. “Did you all have a bad dream again?”
Tanisha never forgot the look in the eyes of her siblings as they answered Granny Ella’s question. Her little sister Riley, teary and frantic. Her little brother Ray, frozen still.
“No, Granny Ella,” screamed Riley, “There’s men outside. White men in funny uniforms with weird symbols on them. And they have fire.”
PART III: L’Ebon Flambé
Granny Ella and Tanisha told the young ones to stay behind as they left their cottage to go see what all the fuss was about. Riley and Ray were right – Ralph had returned, this time a single, unfamiliar face in a sea of flaming torches and angry visages. He had crutches, and a long wooden stick where his left shin once was, but Tanisha recognized him the moment she stepped outside into that chilly Bayou night.
“That’s the one,” said Ralph, once he noticed Tanisha. “That’s the girl who commanded the plants. She’s a witch!”
Tanisha and Granny Ella, struck with panic, turned back to their cottage to try to warn the children to escape, but as they turned they realized that there were more men with torches and those funny uniforms behind them. They were surrounded. While Tanisha had never seen a white man before, she and Granny Ella were very well read, and recognized the emblems on their matching uniforms immediately.
“Nazi’s,” muttered Granny Ella to her oldest child. “They found us. We’re not safe. You must run.”
“I’m not going anywhere without you and the kids,” whispered Tanisha, a sharp tone of determination in her voice.
“Stop your whispering, you evil hags!” yelled the leader, a blonde man with a puffy chest and oily skin. “Ralph, get them!”
For a guy on crutches, Ralph was quite speedy in his approach. Within moments, he was face to face with Tanisha and Granny Ella. The women were determined, though, to stand their ground and solve the problem as the Maroons have solved problems for centuries: with logic, respect, and communication. Unfortunately, as you might have realized by now, things didn’t exactly work out that way.
Tanisha looked the boy – because that’s what he was – in the eyes, and expected to see some trace of sorrow, or empathy. Nothing. Ralph smiled as he and a fellow soldier took Granny Ella and Tanisha by the arms. “Tie them up,” the leader announced to their fellow soldiers, “Tie them up so they can’t use their black magic to summon the vines.”
“We aren’t evil,” said Tanisha, neglecting to mention that if she and her people intended to use their magic for evil, the world would have been at their mercy for centuries. “We’re good people. We helped you, Ralph. We saved your life.”
“Shut up,” said Ralph, hitting her over the head with the end of his crutch.
Tanisha awoke to blurry balls of fire warming up her face in the coldest night the Bayou had seen in years. Even closer to her face than the fire, however, was the leader of the troops, the blonde man with the puffy chest. He was so close to her and smiled a smile so menacing that Tanisha wanted to cry from fear. She kept a stiff upper lip, though, as the man spoke to her, surrounded by his small army.
“Good evening, pretty,” said the man. “It’s nice of you to join us.” Tanisha was so fearful that she would cry that she looked away from the man – only to see an image that would haunt her for the rest of her life: her entire village was being consumed by flames. There were screams of families, cries of children, and destruction so great that even if there were survivors it would take years to recover. Tanisha felt a tear finally leave her eye.
“Oh no,” said the puffy chested man, “Real shame about your little village. Look at all of you, living here alone, colluding in secret about how to take down the white man.”
“White power!” yelled the supporters in uniform.
“We haven’t been colluding about anything,” said Tanisha through gritted teeth. “You’ve destroyed a village of good people for no reason.”
“No good reason?” Laughed the man. “One fewer village full of niggers is good enough reason for me. And there’s about to be even fewer jigs ‘round here real soon.” Tanisha took a deep breath, and that’s when she smelt it – someone had doused her clothes in lighter fluid.
Tanisha looked down – she was tied to a cross. At her feet were flint and firewood. Oh no.
“See, usually,” said the leader, “We burn witches at the stake, and we hang up niggers like you from trees, like these fancy ones you all have here with your magic. But since you’re a witch, and a negress, you get some special treatment.”
“Who are you?” asked Tanisha.
“Well,” said the evil man, “You can call me Sergeant Buzz. I’m the leader of this here group of patriots. Don’t worry, though, your little village is just one step in a big plan we got brewing. Unfortunately, you won’t be around to see how that unfolds.”
“Let her go!” Riley emerged from the grove, still wearing her nightgown. “Leave my sister alone!”
“Well, well,” said the man tauntingly, taking a few steps closer to Riley.
“Riley!” shouted Tanisha, “Run! Don’t stop running until you reach a city!”
“I’m not running anywhere,” said Riley, standing up tall to the man. With a wave of her tiny hands, there erupted from her fingertips and from the ground a steady, splashing stream of white water that slowly began to extinguish some of the flames. The soldiers watched in awe as Riley single-handedly put out the fire that was raging within the village.
“Oh my,” said Sargent Buzz, “You know what, little darling, you might actually prove useful for us. Ralph, take the brat and put her in the van.” Ralph leapt on Riley and began to push her hands behind her back.
“Riley, no!” screamed Tanisha. “You keep your dirty hands off my baby sister!”
“Tani!” yelled Riley as the men took her away.
“Sarge,” said Ralph once Riley was detained, “What about this one?”
“I would elect to do the honors,” said Sargent Buzz, yanking on of his men’s torches and in one motion ignited the flint and wood beneath Tanisha’s feet. “I hope you’re hungry, boys. It’s about time for us to whip up some good old fashioned creole L’Ebone Flambe.” The men laughed as the fire took form beneath Tanisha.
Tanisha felt her body erupted in flames – painful, blistering, roasting. Every pore of her body was melting from the blaze and the sound of the crackling fire was only drowned by the overbearing sound of her pained, pleading screams. The last thing Tanisha saw before she blacked out was Sergeant Buzz’s face smiling at her. Then, everything went white.
Tanisha awoke at dawn. When she first opened her eyes, her shock faded from joyous to confused – she was not expecting to survive those hot, hot flames. Her confusion then changed to fear when she opened her eyes and found that she was confined to a small, dark space.
The fear of small dark spaces, or claustrophobia, is very common in Tanisha’s village for some unexplained reason, which is why many Maroons tend to enjoy being outside. Tanisha had never experienced claustrophobia firsthand, but she could now understand the fear. However, she didn’t let the fear stop her from trying to figure out what was going on. Afraid to scream, she began to pound on the top of the space just above her head. It gave a lot quicker than she was expecting – the lid of the box flipped off and Tanisha could hear gasps from her village family as she raised her tired, but unbruised head from the – wait. Tanisha looked down. Is this what I think it is? She thought.
Tanisha finally adjusted her eyes to the daybreak to find that the entire village had been assembled, all dressed in red. Oh no, thought Tanisha, feeling the top of her head only to discover, unfortunately, exactly what she had been looking for. Atop her head was an ornate and colorful crown of lilies and sunflowers – her favorite flowers. The villagers stared at her in shock – and Tanisha stared at them as well, as they were all wearing red, the traditional mourning attire for the funeral of a Maroon who was particularly powerful, or martyred. Tanisha, crown still on her head, stretched out her wobbly legs and stepped out of her coffin.
“She’s alive,” said Elder Brooke, aghast at what she was seeing. “There’s not a scratch on her.”
Tanisha felt like the room was spinning. She was almost – no, absolutely sure, that the fire should have killed her. Her village had some excellent healers and practitioners of both Voodoo and Western medicine – there’s no way that they would assume that she was dead if she wasn’t absolutely convincingly medically dead. The villagers were staring at her in awe, wondering the same thing.
“Tanisha!” said Ray, emerging from the crowd. He laid eyes on his sister, and ran to her until he collapsed in her arms. “I thought you were dead!” Tanisha couldn’t speak. She looked around at her own funeral and saw the faces of sorrowful villagers, folks that had helped raise her. Tanisha knew she couldn’t afford to faint again, but she really wanted to.
“Where’s Granny Ella?” asked Tanisha of Ray.
The funeral dispersed to make way for an impromptu (but entirely necessary) tribunal where the village elders confessed to Tanisha some distressing news.
“Honestly, we haven’t the faintest idea where your grandmother has gone,” said Elder Brooke. “We originally assumed she perished in the flame, but there were no traces of her body found.”
“How many dead?” asked Tanisha, fearing the answer.
“Actually,” said Heloise, “None. Your sister, Riley, helped to extinguish the flames with her newfound water powers, thank goodness. She was able to put out the fires on most of the houses while we evacuated the area and organized a small troop of soldiers to help fight them off.”
“I bet Granny Ella would appreciate the use of Forma’gent by our troops almost as much as she would appreciate your sister’s new power,” said Elder Shannon with a small smile.
“In any rate,” continued Heloise, “we thought that you were the only one who was dead. But…”
“Yes, I know,” said Tanisha, still unable to fully understand it herself.
“They tied you to a cross,” said Heloise. “Calling it a ‘fitting sentence’ for the crime of being both black and a witch.”
“Which brings us back to the decisions you have to make,” said Elder Brooke.
“Before the meeting, we were talking about you,” said Heloise. “About your future here in the village. You would be a phenomenal Elder Initiate, and since your grandmother is gone, we now have two spots on the council. Would you be interested in taking it?”
“Now, now,” said Elder Louie. “I’d like to mention that while Tanisha would be a wonderful addition to the council, and of course we all would want her here in the Bayou, it would behoove us to consider what she can gain from going north for school.”
“I can’t leave my village in this terrible time,” said Tanisha. “I certainly can’t leave my brother.”
“When we thought you had died, we decided that Ray would stay with me,” said Heloise hopefully. “If you decided to go away to school, or wherever your spirit takes you, your brother can stay with my sisters and I until you return. We would take excellent care of him,” she assured Tanisha with a warm embrace.
“I have no doubt that you would,” said Tanisha, smiling sadly. “I just don’t know. What are we doing to save my sister, Riley?”
“Everything we can,” assured Elder Shannon. “We’ve sent word to our voyagers,” she said, referencing the small network of Maroons that have ventured out of the Bayou. “Many of them are very old and not in fighting shape. The few who are able to help are gathering intel as we speak.”
“Can I help them?”
“We can’t allow you to put yourself in harm’s way,” said Heloise. “You’re one of the pillars of the community. We would rather you leave and never return than to die fighting these evil men. I can assure you that we are working on finding your sister, and if you decide to go away for school, we will send word to you when we have any updates.”
Tanisha was distraught. She whipped around in a panic and her eyes fell upon her small brother, sleeping in the fetal position in one of the many chairs in the council hall. Her gaze softened as Ray sleepily opened his eyes and flashed her a warm smile.
“I wonder what Granny Ella would want me to do,” Tanisha said very quietly.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Heloise. “It only matters what you want to do.”
“Sleep on it,” said Elder Brooke. “Whatever you decide to do, the tribe will support you, no questions asked.”
That night, after Tanisha tucked Ray into his bed, she stayed in Granny Ella’s room, sobbing her heart out, wondering why on earth these bad things had to happen to her.
“Why me,” she sobbed to herself.
“You’re asking the wrong questions,” said an ephemeral voice. Tanisha looked around the dimly lit room.
“It doesn’t matter who’s there. What matters is the questions you’re asking. ‘Why me?’ Oh, I don’t blame you, kid. I’ve wondered that myself too. Why me? It’s such an inherently selfish statement…bad things happen to everyone.”
“Reveal yourself!” said Tanisha, leaping from her grandmother’s bed. “I know Forma’gent. I will – ahh!” Tanisha screamed. The pot of flowers by Granny Ella’s bed had erupted into flames – but the flowers weren’t being consumed by the fire. Tanisha stared at it for a moment, almost forgetting about the disembodied voice.
“What in the hell was that?” yelled the voice, which sounded like it was coming from beneath Tanisha’s feet. Tanisha looked down to see Granny Ella’s old voodoo doll – standing upright, and very much animated. Tanisha screamed again.
“Why are you screaming?” The doll exclaimed incredulously. “Just put the fire out!”
“What – who – are you?” stammered Tanisha.
The voodoo doll looked up at Tanisha with it’s red pin eyes and stitched mouth. “These are good questions, but maybe we should put the fire out first? Hey, Lizzie!”
But Lizzie the indoor vine was already ahead of the game – she took one of the pails from the creek and poured it over the burning flowers. “That’s the ticket,” said the voodoo doll. “Now,” she said, flopping down onto the wooden floor and crossing her patched legs, “You were saying?”
But Tanisha was still preoccupied with the flowers – not only were they still intact, but they were in perfect condition. Not a single bruise or burn or drifting piece of ash. The doll watched Tanisha watch the flowers, almost as intrigued as she was. “Weird, right?” The doll leapt up to the bed so that Tanisha could see her full form.
“The Great Zabbette,” said the doll.
“It’s my name,” she said. “I’m The Great Zabbette. You can call me Zabbie for short.”
“Wait,” said Tanisha. “I know you. Well, I’ve heard of you. You were an old voodoo priestess in the ancient times.”
“Old? Ancient? You really have a way with people, Tanisha.”
“How do you know my name?”
“I know all, see all, and hear all.”
“Okay. Do you know where my grandmother is?”
“I don’t know.”
“I thought – ”
“Listen kid,” said Zabbie with a smirk, “When an adult says they know everything, it’s really just code for ‘I know some things, but let’s figure out the rest together.’ Now, I do know one thing. That right there was no ordinary fire. Go on, do it again.”
“Do what again?”
“Set something else on fire. Preferably not me. Like…” Zabbie trailed off as she curiously looked around the room, craning her tiny, hardly-existent neck. “Like the wardrobe. Set that on fire.”
“I…what? I didn’t do that!”
“Sure you did. I’m sure you remember from academia that sometimes us Maroons can obtain magical powers in times of great stress. It sounds like you gained the power of the blaze through your little Lazarus moment back there.”
“It would explain how Riley was able to move water after her drowning accident,” reasoned Tanisha. Tepidly, she reached her hand out and tried to channel her new power the same way she channelled her old one. It wasn’t much, but a small flame poked it’s head out from the top drawer of the wardrobe.
“That’s the stuff,” said Zabbie.
“I can raise flames now?” said Tanisha, watching an annoyed Lizzie put out yet another fire.
“Looks to be that way,” said Zabbie.
“You say you know all, see all, and hear all. Does that mean you can help me decide if I should head off to Chicago, or stay here in the village?”
“I certainly can help you decide that,” said Zabbie. “What do you want to do?”
“Well,” said Tanisha thoughtfully, “If stay here, I can be the new Elder Initiate. Which means I’ll be able to help my village restore itself, and I’ll also be able to lead the committee to find my family. I’d also be able to stay with my little brother, who could really use some family right now.”
“That’s true,” said Zabbie.
“Conversely, I could go to Chicago for university, while also searching the north for my sister and my grandmother. That would leave my brother home alone, but he’d be safe with Heloise and her sisters, and at least I’ll know that I’m doing everything that I can to find my family.”
“That’s also true.”
“I thought you said you were going to help me decide?”
“I am helping you. I can’t decide for you.” Exasperated, Tanisha flopped down on the edge of the bed and thought. Zabbie, all of a foot tall, sat down next to her, with her floppy cloth hand on Tanisha’s knee. “There, there,” she patted. “I have the perfect thing to say that will make you feel better.”
“What’s that, Zabbie?” begged Tanisha with anticipation.
“Tanisha,” said the doll with a confident and comforting smile, “You’re not special.”
Tanisha was taken aback. “Thanks?”
“Hear me out,” said Zabbie, hopping upright onto her little legs and pacing along Granny Ella’s bed. “You’re not special. You aren’t a princess, or the daughter of royalty or money. Your powers are – while exceptional – not rare for where we come from. You’re smart, capable, and worthy, but I’ll let you in on a little secret that will relieve some of the pressure: You aren’t the chosen one. None of us is the chosen one. We all have decisions to make, every day – usually, one option is easier, and one option is often quite difficult. We aren’t the chosen ones. We’re the ones who make choices, and that’s the stuff we’re made up of. That’s it. So,” said Zabbie, flopping back on the bed, looking up at Tanisha with both pride and anticipation. “What’s it gonna be, ma belle?”
Tanisha thought for a moment, and then quickly rose from her bed.
“Where are you going?” asked Zabbie.
“I’m going to start packing for school. Then, tomorrow morning, I’m going to help Ray move in with Heloise and her sisters.”
“That’s the ticket, girl!” yelped Zabbie and she leapt from the bed. “Laissez le bonne temps rouler! Let the good times roll, baby!”
Original art by designer extraordinaire & actual ray of sunshine Adrienne Lobl. To see more of her artwork (and trust me, you want to) visit her at AdrienneLobl.com. TANISHA WASHINGTON: NAZI HUNTER EPISODE TWO is on its way. To be notified when episode two is released, please fill out this contact request sheet.