Daughter of the Swamp
On the north side of Honfleur, a path wide enough for a single car branched off Waterman’s Way and dove beneath a dense canopy of trees. It led to the old Herne cabin, a sagging structure built in 1930. Its survival through hurricanes and unforgiving years was a marvel to townsfolk. The wood had weathered to gray. The tin roof rusted. The back porch clung crookedly to the house. Despite its poverty, there was love apparent in the upkeep of the place. Petunias spilled from tubs that hugged the steps. A rocking chair perched beside the porch railing in view of the water. Someone had attached birdhouses to the trees. A gray cat with one ear kept an eye on those and yowled at the slightest sign of life.
Late in the afternoon, a screen door slammed shut. Hazel Moreau, great-granddaughter to Nadya Herne, emerged into the wet heat and descended to the yard. She wore a dark skirt that caught in the longest blades of grass as she walked to the lean-to. Her sandals sunk with each step; Here, the water table was so high that the ground remained saturated for days after a good rain.
What was picturesque became macabre as she pulled a chicken from a cage and hacked its head off. Hazel leaned away while she collected the blood in a bowl, avoiding most of the splatter. Later, she would hose down the area to keep the flies away. When the muscles spasms subsided, she wrapped the dead bird in a towel and took it and the bowl inside.
The cabin was cozy. She had draped the antique furniture in brightly knit covers. A woven rug cushioned the floor and a ceiling fan stirred the air. There were bookshelves and jars with odd contents like chicken feet and dirt. There were modern conveniences, too, in the kitchen and bathroom. The churn of a much-used window unit sounded desperate.
Hazel put the chicken on the kitchen counter. Tonight she would clean and cook it, but the blood was to be put to immediate use. She picked up an envelope and read its contents a second time. The author was a Louisiana woman named Evangeline who dreamed of getting pregnant. She was a Catholic who had run out of patience pleading for the intervention of a favored saint. So, in exchange for $75, Hazel would invoke Mawu Lisa, a spirit of creation. The ritual involved music, dancing, chanting, and drinking the blood of an animal sacrifice. If it worked, she would be possessed by the spirit, who would find the sacrifice suitable and put life in Evangeline’s womb.
“Chicken blood,” she murmured and sniffed the bowl. It was her opinion that this was part of the sacrifice. It certainly separated a true supplicant from a dabbler. She took the bowl to her altar in a tiny back room.