Half as much* (pt. 1)

Gusts of wind rustle dead leaves up and down the street. Something resembling a man stands at the edge of a wobbly ring of salt cast on the asphalt, leering down at someone resembling a teenage girl. His lumbering shadow eclipses her small frame, blocking out what little moonlight manages to find its way through the clouds.

“Why did you wake me,” he growls, less a question than a threat. “You’d better have brought me something good.” He shudders, sending feathers and fur tumbling from underneath his hooded cloak onto his gnarled, polydactyl feet.

Amara looks down at her beige hands, at the smooth glass bottle filled with amber liquid she stole from her mother’s secret stash. She extends her arms towards this man, this thing she summoned to solve a problem, in offering. “Here. Brandy.”

He snatches the bottle from her hands, examines it from every angle before unscrewing its metal cap and taking a swig. He wipes his mouth with the back of a pale hand and glowers at her again. “I’m listening.”

Amara licks her lips. “I want you to make me white.”

The man-thing spits out his third mouthful of brandy. “What?” He begins to laugh, a slow, building laugh, culminating in him doubled over, shaking. “You want WHAT?”

Thunder claps. Amara feels a drop of water fall onto her cheek. For a second, she reconsiders what she came out here to do. Maybe I should just go back home to Mama. Maybe I don’t need to do this. But then she remembers running, running after Mama and Pop, running towards a crowd of people, running towards Jerome’s lifeless body. She remembers how her father started drinking a month after her brother was murdered, how he chose oblivion over the family he had left, how he chose to drive home from work drunk and leave her not only brotherless but fatherless. She remembers how her mother spends her days fighting against police violence and her nights crying for the men she lost to it. She remembers all this, and remembers why she came. To save Mama from more grief. To get a better life for both of us.

“You heard me,” she says, setting her jaw and glaring up at him. “I want you to make me a white girl. Blonde hair, blue eyes, all of it.”

Lightning flashes and the man-thing’s face is suddenly directly in front of hers, his paperwhite neck distorted and extended far outside the range of natural. He peers into her face, through her, gauging whether or not this child knows the implications of what she’s asking for. Hoping she doesn’t, because it’s so much more fun when they don’t see it coming.

Amara stands her ground, but she is trembling. Another thunderclap rings in her ears; she feels the heat of his chest radiating onto her forehead, his neck contorting so he can examine all sides of her. She wills herself to remain still while he sniffs the air around her head, determining the veracity of her request. A lightning flash illuminates his features again and she notices with alarm that his eyes have no irises, his nose has no nostrils, and his mouth does not open as he speaks his next words to her.

“It is done. And may I be the first among us to say, thank you.”

Amara looks down at her hands. They are as pale as the hidden moon. When she looks up, the man-thing is gone.


*Inspired by the film Wake (Bree Newsome), the novel The Good House (Tananarive Due), the short story “Wet Pain” (Terence Taylor), and, I’m sure, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Also, the last part of this tweet by Jay Smooth.

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