Half as much (pt. 5)

Under a waning crescent moon, Amara is in the woods, dipping her hand into a black plastic garbage bag and plucking out tiny cafeteria packets of salt; ripping them open with her teeth and shaking them out until their combined contents form a thick, unbroken circle. She shuts her eyes and speaks under captured breath the words she’s been unable to erase from her memory since she first saw them.

Eyes open.

Pop?

But this is no more her father than it was her uncle Tad, no more a fortuitous family reunion than the dinner with Mother and Father she suffered through earlier was a return to nuclear normalcy. It has her father’s face, but it smells of sulfur and drops feathers and fur as it approaches Amara standing still and proud in the circle.

“This is wrong,” Amara insists, when he stops in front of her and glowers. “I didn’t want all this. I didn’t want a whole new life. I just wanted new skin. Put me back, now.” She folds her arms across her chest, daring him to deny her.

His—its—flat blue eyes take on a bit of luster. Its ruddy peach cheeks spread into a gaping, toothsome grin. It grasps its cloaked stomach with a furry, clawed hand and begins to laugh, a thundering laugh that shakes each molecule of Amara’s confidence. The man-thing lets his laughter trail off into drips and drabs before he speaks.

“Well, Jennifer. You’ve been white for a day and you’ve already mastered demanding a refund.” A laugh bubbles to the surface again. “But I’m afraid we don’t have a return policy. Was that not—” it snorts, stumbles into a giggle, stops itself—”clear when you decided to perform the spell? Did you not—as they say, do your research? Tsk, tsk.” The mouth that was her father’s, that once comforted her with kisses and bad jokes when she skinned her knees rollerblading, that told her that the coily hair she hated so much was indeed beautiful; now that mouth wears the most fiendish sneer Amara has ever seen. A foul smell fills her nostrils and dives down her throat, making her gag and water.

“No,” she says, quietly. “Actually, I didn’t. I just thought you’d make me white, and I’d get to go home to my Mama, and then our lives would stop being such a shitshow.” A creeping realization spreads over her: I’m not getting out of this alive. Mama is gonna be alone. Tears well up in her eyes.

“Ah,” it says, pacing the outside of the salt circle, shuddering pieces of itself onto the forest floor. “Well, we get some of your kind, too. The reckless kind. We like to think it’s that bit of us you’ve got in you.” That sneer again. “Mostly our guests come looking for the package deal. They go pretty quickly. They don’t have much substance for us to really gnaw on—they’re starved, you know—and their meat has a taste. Like lemon dishwater, or diluted vinegar. We love the defiant ones, the ones who’ve convinced themselves that they’re different, that they’re doing something good and right and pure. Their resistance is so tart on our tongues, we taste it in their marrow. We savor it in their blood. We scoop out whole chunks of pride from their skulls and use it to season the meat of the ones soured with self-loathing.”

It stops pacing and bends down, stretching its neck across the salt to square its face across from hers. “I wonder how you’ll taste, in the end.” It smiles softly, her father’s smile.

Part 4 | Part 6


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.

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