Below to we your appatite for the book is an excerpt.
When I was born, Lester Renault, my papa, took one look at me and decided I was special—too special to have a name with no meaning. Since he and Momma were unclear what the special name should be, they settled on calling me Baby Girl Renault until they could make up their minds. That’s what it still says on my birth certificate, though I plan to legally change it when I turn eighteen in two years.
Papa should have called me different, not special. Special implies greatness, but different gives off the feeling of freakiness, which described me early on. A few weeks after my fifth birthday, I started to hear voices.
The world never treated me the same.
The warm March morning when my mother awoke to the song of the bayou bird and my life changed, she discovered her favorite silver bracelet missing. Momma considered the bracelet her lucky charm, claiming it contained good gris-gris passed down from my papa’s ancestors. A token of my father’s love for her, the snake shaped bracelet rarely left her arm, and the thought of it disappearing had Momma worked up good.
“Damn it all straight to hell!” No one could understand how a pretty, petite blond like Momma could have such a vulgar mouth. That day she took it easy, though and kept her swear words to a minimum. “Damn, damn, damn.”
“Momma,” I called. “What’s wrong?”
“Baby Girl.” She marched out of her room, the accusation already in her blue eyes. “Did you take my silver bracelet?”
She squatted in front of me and touched my face. “Now, c’mon darlin’. Tell Momma the truth. Did you take the bracelet? I know how much you like it.”
“I swear I didn’t.”
For a moment, she continued to stare into my eyes, but I guess she saw something that made her realize I spoke the truth. She patted my curly head and smiled. “Alright then, Baby Girl, I believe you. Just keep an eye out for it.”
I left her and headed outside into the morning sun and my beloved bayou. Dangerous and beautiful at the same time, the swamp provided endless fodder for the imagination. I dashed through the cypress trees, following the call of the birds and the low song of the frogs. A little green snake slithered across the path, and I made a wish on it for good luck, heading deeper into the swamp, towards my tree.
The locals of Monte Parish, Louisiana called it the Old One, and it grew, gnarled and twisted, in a clearing just off the banks of Hera’s Swamp. Stretching impossibly high in my five year old mind, I believed it fell to the Old One to brush blue paint onto the sky. I loved the tree, and spent hours leaning against it, imagining simple little daydreams.
That’s where the voice first found me.
I turned, surprised someone snuck up on me without my noticing. But no one stood there. I looked the opposite direction, to Hera’s Swamp, only to find the same.
“Sweetheart,” the voice whispered again and the smallest of shivers ran down my back.
“Where you at?”
“Everywhere.” The soft Cajun lilt of a female voice surrounded me. “I am your Grandmere, the start of your young blood.”
My Grandmere? But that couldn’t be. Both my grandmothers were still alive and well. I stepped away from the tree, ready to run home.
“Don’t be frightened,” she soothed. “I’m here to guide you.”
“Yes. Check the hidey hole.”
I glanced at the fist sized hole at the base of the tree. Something shined inside it. With the fearlessness of a child, I thrust my hand inside, feeling a hard and cool object. The diamond eyes of Momma’s snake bracelet winked at me in the morning light as I pulled it out.
“But…how?” I asked.
“I took it.” Grandmere’s voice echoed in the clearing. “Time for us to meet.”
“Grandmere is to be your spirit guide.”
“Don’t be. This is a good thing, a blessin’. You gonna do things ordinary folks can’t. People will call you the next great voodoo mambo, the high priestess.” To my right, the air moved a little. Turning to the spot, I willed whatever hid there to show itself.
“Ah. You are a powerful little thing already.” Grandmere chuckled. “Strong willed. I like that. You sure you’re ready to see me, girl?”
I nodded. The air turned a soft gold, and I could make out the image of a person standing before me. It strengthened, solidifying and bringing the relaxing smell of jasmine. I studied the girl. With skin a deeper brown than my own mixed tone and her hair tucked under a red scarf, she fascinated me. Two great gold earrings hung from her ear lobes. A white dress, cinched tightly in the middle with a cloth belt to show off her tiny waist, flowed down to her bare feet. She called herself my Grandmere, the Creole word for grandmother, but she didn’t look old as one with that title would be. No. This girl reminded me of my seventeen year old cousin, Cherise, young and vibrant, one with the Earth.
Her eyes held my gaze, and I wanted to bask in the deep hazel I saw there. Beautiful. She smiled, curving her plump lips into pure softness.
“Baby Girl, it’s my joy to finally meet you,” she said.
“You ain’t really my Grandmere, are you?”
“Oh yes, from many generations back. In my life time, over a century ago, folks called me Marie.”
“You’re too young to be a grandma. Grandmas are wrinkled and smell like old clothes. You look like you should be in the big kid’s school.”
“I’m taking the form you’ll be most comfortable with. As you age, I’ll age a little, too, Baby Girl.”
“That’s what my parents call me. I don’t got a real name yet.”
“After today, you will.”
“What’s gonna happen?”
She stepped towards me, hands outstretched. I closed my eyes, expecting to feel coolness at her touch. Instead, heat slid into my skin, warming my blood, stirring something untouched. And that’s when the voices came.
The noise of them surrounded me. Cajoling. Sly. One voice brought me to tears with the deep sorrow imprinted into its tone. Another made me laugh with the joy it contained. I don’t know how many there were that first day, but I fell into the proverbial rabbit hole and never could pull myself out. Wonder consumed me, and a shift in my brain occurred, a change in its makeup that hadn’t been there before. I felt it as surely as I heard those voices.
And then they stopped. A trickle of sweat rolled down my face, slipping into my open mouth. The salty taste caused me to open my eyes, expecting to see Grandmere, but she’d gone. Only the bayou remained, untouched, unharmed. I stood, trying to steady myself and when I felt my strength come back, I ran.
“Momma!” I shouted when our house came in sight. “Momma!”
Something in my tone must have alerted her. She came onto the porch, the worry creasing her young face. I remember her hand brushed back a wisp of her soft blonde hair before she held out her arms and caught me in her embrace. I pressed against her, glad to be home.
“What’s this, Baby Girl? What’s wrong?”
I pulled back and held out the bracelet, watching her eyes widen as she took it. Taking a deep breath, I explained all that had happened to me in the bayou. Momma didn’t say a word the whole time, and I worried she didn’t believe me, that she thought I’d taken the bracelet after all. When I was done, her eyes were dark with thoughts I couldn’t comprehend.
“Joan.” I looked at her, not understanding the word that came from her mouth. Who was Joan? “Your name should be Joan.”
Joan? I rolled the word around my mouth. Joan.
“Yes.” She sat down on the porch steps. “You are my Joan, an old soul in a young body.”
“It’s for Joan of Arc. She heard voices, too,” Momma said. “She was a strong person with stronger beliefs. A person with great courage.”
Great courage. I liked that. And I loved my Momma that day more than anything else in the world. Not once did she question my story or ever doubt me!
When Papa came home from work in the evening, Momma told him about my experience. His face turned sad as he heard the tale, and I thought I’d done something to upset him. Maybe he didn’t believe me.
“Papa, I’m telling the truth,” I said.
“I know you are, darlin’. I had a great aunt who had the same thing happen to her. Our family is no stranger to the calling of the voodoo laos or spirits.” He picked me up, leaning his dark head against my lighter one. “I had hoped you would be spared the gift though. It skips generations, and I wanted it to skip right on past us. Life isn’t easy for those chosen to be taken under Grandmere’s wing, Baby Girl.”
“Was she really our Grandmere?”
Papa put me down and walked into his bedroom, eventually returning with a small wooden box. Opening it, he rifled through some pictures before handing one to me.
“That’s her,” I said, shocked to see the woman in the bayou smiling at me from the old photo. “Marie.”
“Indeed,” Papa confirmed. “That is the great Marie Laveau, the most famed voodoo queen of the time. We are descendants of one of her sons.”
I gave the picture back to papa.
“You don’t want to keep it?”
I smiled and shook my head. No. I didn’t want to keep it, didn’t need to. I knew I would be seeing Marie again and again. She was to become my savior, as well as, the root of all the teasing and torment that shaped my young life.
What use did I have for a photograph?
You can enter to win a copy of Bayou Myth by Mary Ann Loesch here.