art by Melissa Mead
Requiem Duet, Concerto for Flute and Voodoo
by Eugie Foster
I could ignore the boys at school. By and large, they left me alone. Guess I wasn't pretty enough or interesting enough to be worth their attention, which was fine by me. It wasn't like I wanted to cram my feet in suicide heels or dangle door-knockers from my ears like some hoochie bimbo, anyway. But the girls were trouble. Since Mom and I had moved from Chicago to New Orleans into the pink and yellow house Gran had left us, they'd honed in on me like they had something to prove.
"What's the matter, Zoë? You goin' cry?" Kyana especially took my existence as an insult. She dangled my backpack from one hand; the other rested on her cocked hip. Around us, Kyana's crew packed closer.
I crossed my arms and leaned against the alley wall. "What are you? Seven? Like I care if you dump my Social Studies book in the bayou." I hid the battering thud-ump of my heart in my throat, my mouth dry as sand.
The backpack held a couple school books, some scribbles of homework, and a pencil or two. No big loss. Except today, I'd shoved Dad's gudi flute inside when the voice in my head warned me to get it out of sight, a second before the girls from school came at me.
"What'd you call me?" Kyana's eyes narrowed.
"Too subtle for you? I'll break it down. You sound like you get your lines from B-movies. I mean, does it get any lamer than 'you gonna cry?'"
Kyana's hands curled into fists, and she let my backpack tumble to the alley's muddy ground. The tip of Dad's flute, made from the fragile wing bone of a crane, glinted from the half-open bag. More than anything, I had to keep them away from it.
"You ain't nobody here," Kyana spat. "You mouth off all big, but you ain't."
"Look who's talking. The littlest nobody in nobody's-ville."
"Geez, I wasn't using big words."
Kyana slapped me. Surprise rocked me almost as much as her stinging palm. I'd seen it, watched it happen back in Illinois, but never been the target of real violence before.
She swung again, and I shoved her away. Hard. Harder than I expected. She stumbled and fell onto the muddy ground. A gasp, a moment of laden silence, and half a dozen outraged faces turned to me. Not good.
Like birds swooping, the girls plucked debris from the alley floor.
Duck! The warning rang in my head.
I ducked. A rock missed my face by inches, shattering on the wall at my back.
A jagged hail flew at me. I couldn't move fast enough. My thigh lit with pain as something slammed into it, and before I could yelp, a piece of rubble hit my shoulder. I went sprawling. The other girls stampeded at me, kicking and scratching.
I curled into a ball. Voices clamored in my head, garbled and deafening, flash-bulb counterpoints to the thud of blows.
Suddenly, the abuse stopped. Like a storm blown out, Kyana and crew dissipated, the sound of running feet scattering.
"Konmen to yê? Can you get up?" A guy's voice, thickly accented.
I uncurled, ears still buzzing, my body a raw ache from neck to ankles. "I-I think so."
I first thought my rescuer was an old man, slender as a whippet in his oversized shirt, but his face had no wrinkles. He was probably my age, maybe a year or two older. But his pale hair, not blond but chalk white, gave the impression of "old." It swung around his ears in short dreadlocks, the ends ornamented with twists of metal, colored beads, and knotted string.
He leaned down, hand outstretched.
I hesitated. The pallor of his hair created an eerie contrast against the darkness of his face, made the whites of his eyes luminous.
Go ahead, the voice in my head murmured.
I reached up. Hand to hand, his skin wasn't much darker than mine.
He hauled me up. "You want en ambulance?" Ambulance came out with a drawl at the end, partway between a Southern accent and a French one.
I pulled away. "Nothing's broken, I don't think."
"You are bleeding."
I glanced down at my torn pants where a dark wetness spread through the gash at my thigh. "Whoa." The sight left me dizzy, and I reached to the alley wall for support.
The stranger kneeled and pulled the tear wider with a jerk.
"Your leg, c'est pa bon if glass remains."
He nodded at the shard of soda bottle lying nearby. "They do not like you, it seems." He squinted at the wound, and before I could stop him, he dipped a hand beneath his shirt and came out with a sprinkle of white powder to toss over the cut.
"What're you doing?"
He glanced up. "For the bleeding and pain. So you do not faint."
"I won't faint. I've never fainted in my life, even when Dad--" Then I remembered the flute. Pushing past him, I stumbled to my backpack.
"Oh, no," I groaned. "Dad's gudi."
Someone had stepped on my pack, by accident or on purpose, it didn't matter. Although still in one piece, slivers splintered off the bone instrument, leaving gaping holes and cracks cobwebbing its length. I lifted it, cradling it as though it were a hurt animal.
"Your pape, he be glad it was the flute and not your bones treated so rough."
"I doubt it. He's dead." Furious, I kicked my bag, remembering too late what a bad idea that was. But the pain was muted, not the zing of a fresh cut. I leaned to inspect my thigh. Whatever he'd thrown on, it worked great; the bleeding had stopped, and it hardly hurt at all.
"Then you be glad bone mends," he said. "Dead bone easiest of all. Vien à Campo Santo, come to me."
"Huh--?" I unbent too fast and had to shut my eyes against the woozies. When I opened them, he was gone. Neat disappearing act. Also, kinda creepy.
By the time I got home, my head had joined ranks with the rest of me, throbbing and complaining. All I wanted was to flop in bed and sleep until tomorrow, or next week, or forever. But Mom would do a deep ender when she got home from work if she saw me battered and bloodied. So I stripped off my pants and the soiled polo shirt and dumped them in the washer. I hated that the schools here had a uniform policy, and these were secondhand and ill-fitting to boot. All the same, I hoped they could be saved. We couldn't afford replacements.
In the stark bathroom light, I cataloged my injuries.
'Least you didn't get kicked in the face. Rufus's voice. I'd named him after a cartoon character from my childhood. I'd named them all: Millie with her mellow voice and motherly advice; Rufus, squeaky and teasing; and Uncle Grim, grump and plushy umpa in one.
"To make up for it, they kicked me extra hard everywhere else," I said. A bump swelled my shoulder, red and painful, and bruises blossomed up my arms and down my back. "You might've told me that stupid alley was a dead end."
Then you'd never learn how to walk through walls.
"Ha ha." I wasn't mad, not really. Sometimes they don't think like people do, don't get how constrained I am by wheres and whens.