Dozens of spirits swirled in the thick wet paint. Their smoke-like forms snaked around each other, and the surface appeared alive. The old man, the one Annie believed was a mailman, dissipated before her eyes. Wisps of spectral smoke drifted upwards, and he joined the other vile fiends. The last thing she remembered was the shape of his face protruding from the fresh paint and the unusual movement of his mouth. She swore she heard him say haint blue before they all disappeared and left her standing alone.
Annie stared at the porch ceiling. She couldn’t believe what just happened and told herself she hadn’t seen anything; she couldn’t have. Bewildered, she let the handle slip from her grasp, and the roller smacked the tray. Paint splattered over the floor. Stupid! She pounded both hands on her head. “Get it together,” she said out loud, convinced the stress of their move overwhelmed her.
She dropped to her knees and wiped the fresh spatters with a rag, hoping to clean the mess before her mother caught her. Annie refused to give her mother any evidence she had screwed this up. The paint smeared into larger circles and coated the fabric with the tainted latex goo. She almost had herself convinced she hallucinated everything until her palm began to tingle.
Dark wiggly lines moved about the cloth. Like tiny parasitic worms, each lifted and searched for her skin. She gasped, threw the rag, and backed up against her house. Annie’s next instinct was to check her hands for these life-sucking shadow leeches, but she had the strangest sense of being watched. She caught a glimpse of the woman on the other side of the street.
The old man had said her name was Penelope Hale, and she stood on her porch steps staring back at Annie. She had observed her the whole time. Their eyes made contact. Penelope smiled before she spun around, dashed inside, and slammed her front door.
Annie looked down to examine her hands and spotted two glasses of iced tea sweating in the South Carolina heat. A bead of condensation drew her full attention, and she was painfully aware everything she experienced was real. She had given a beverage to a man incapable of drinking it. Annie no longer cared about his accusations about the Hale woman. She was going over there and getting answers.
Despite her best effort, the spilled paint remained visible on the wooden floorboards. Annie dragged the painter’s cloth over it and stacked the gallon cans on the edges to hold the fabric in place. With determination, she marched across the street, only stopping at the woman’s entry path when the railroad spikes driven into the ground gave her pause. She continued along the walkway. A trail of salt, coarse and white, formed a border around the house.
Two giant potted urns of rosemary flanked the entrance and filled the air with a savory, pungent odor. Annie glanced at the porch ceiling. White paint coated the entire surface. A monstrous eyeball, fashioned in silver, adorned the door’s peephole, and Annie found this strange. She knocked, but no one answered. So, she pounded until the woman came to the door.
Penelope opened her door a few inches. “What do you want?”
“You saw him, didn’t you?”
“I see a lot of things. Be more specific.”
“The old man said you were a Hoodoo Priestess.”
Penelope laughed. “Did he? Well, I guess I’m moving up in the world.”
“Did you do this?”
The door opened, and Penelope gestured for Annie to enter her home. “I had no part in what transpired on your porch.”
“You have to help me,” Annie said.
“Too late. The deed is done.” Penelope waltzed to her round table and took a seat. “Tea?”
“No! I don’t want any tea. Can you fix this? I mean, where did they go? They were ghosts, and they disappeared, right?”
“This world overflows with spirits. Sit down and drink this. Now, tell me what you think happened.” Penelope poured the teacup full with a hot amber liquid. She pushed the saucer toward Annie.
Several symbols covered the inside of the china, drawing Annie’s attention. Through the steam, the shapes appeared to dance. She glanced up at the curious woman and drank. “My mother told me to paint the porch.” She set the cup back down. “After I gathered the supplies I needed, a mailman stopped to speak to me.”
“Didn’t you find anything peculiar about him?” Penelope motioned for her to drink more.
“Not at first.” Annie took another sip.
“Wait, save the last bit.”
Annie grimaced at the swirling liquid. “Fine by me.” She dragged her index finger inside her lower lip and extracted several leaf fragments.
“Now, place the cup in your left hand and rotate three full revolutions in a clockwise manner. Good. Put it on the table and place the saucer face down on top. Yes, now, hold both pieces secure, and flip them.”
She did as instructed and held the upside-down piece in her hands. “What are we doing exactly?”
“I must be aware of all the circumstances to understand and provide the answers you seek. Isn’t that what you want?”
“Um, yeah.” Annie gazed down, hesitant to ask the question weighing on her mind. “Are you a Hoodoo Priestess?”
“I’m a witch. A Supreme Sublime. The eldest of the three living Trinity Witches.”
“Cool.” Annie’s eyes widened. She wondered if Penelope Hale was the crazy woman everyone’s mother warns them to stay away from, but she decided it didn’t matter. “Can you fix this?”
“The haints are already inside.”
“In my house? My mom and dad are in there!” Annie pushed her chair back.
“Relax. They don’t usually play until dusk when the veil is thin and their movement easier.”
“The old mail guy sure made his way around in the bright sun. Wait—will those things hurt them?”
Penelope smirked. “Not unless your parents argue. Anger strengthens them. Otherwise, they will wait until dark.” Penelope turned the cup upright and examined the loose leaves stuck to the shiny surface. “Tell me about the apparition you spoke with.”
“At first, he seemed normal. He even asked for a glass of iced tea, but never touched it.”
Penelope’s eyes widen as she listened.
“Okay, so not so strange, but he pulled out his handkerchief several times, and every time, the fabric was still perfectly folded.”
The woman glanced up and rolled her eyes.
Annie blurted, “He insisted I use old paint from the garage.”
Those words garnered Penelope’s full attention. “Did he say why?”
“Yeah, he said I must use it if I wanted to keep my house from being haunted.”
“He said you didn’t like blue because you desire the company of the dark phantoms.”
“Well, he lied.”
“He told me the color reminds ghosts of water, and they can’t cross it.”
Penelope stared at the clumps of wet tea leaves and studied their pattern. “That was also a lie. Partially.”
“The blue does remind the spirits of water and is why this color is so important to them. The part about not being able to cross it is a misconception. It’s not that they can’t. They knew they would never travel across the ocean again. Their feet would never touch the soil of their birthplace. Water became a powerful symbol because it is a link to their past.”
“The color reminds them of their home?”
“No, a reminder of what had been taken.”
“I would be too sad, remembering something so horrible.”
“They go to it because the scales must always be balanced. Something was taken, and something must be given. For the people brought here as slaves, what must be given is the plantation owner’s peace because their lives were devoid of the luxury of contentment. Water, even the symbol of it, is a conduit— a means of transportation for spirits.”
“You let me paint my house. Why would you do that?”
“If I waltzed over and warned you, would you have listened?”
Annie’s head tilted down.
“He tricked you, and for that, I’m sorry, but most people only learn the hard way. You needed to experience it for yourself.”
Annie tried to process all this information. Plus, she wondered if she could trust the woman who allowed an unwilling infestation of apparitions in her home?
“Forget everything you think you know. Believe the opposite. Look deeper at what you see and do, and find the truth somewhere underneath the twisted tales.”
Annie looked up at Penelope. “The old man told me about the indigo. He said they made a remembering paint by pouring milk into the emptied vats, and now, thanks to me, my ceiling is full of ghosts.”
“Not ghosts. Haints. They’re a whole different kind of spirit. They aren’t someone’s grandmother checking on you while you sleep. These spirts are here on earth with one purpose.”
“I don’t understand. I thought the slaves made the paint.”
“They did, and they attached the souls of the wickedest among them to the potion. They created the haint blue paint with their blood and sweat mixed into the dye and bound the wretched spirits to earth for eternity. Those lost revenants are vengeful and malicious.”
“What do they want with my family? We didn’t do anything. We just moved here.”
Penelope took the teacup and rotated the handle to face her chest. With the cup in this position, she represented the fixed point from which the leaves’ placement was judged. Where the clumps of leaves rested and how much each symbol was covered indicated the connections and meaning overall.
“The heart represents relationships, and the leaves touch the tip and trail off to the left where they connect to the all-seeing eye.” Penelope paused as she listened to her inner voice. “The eye signifies spirit made flesh, and our family— our flesh and blood. This indicates not only your parents but your ancestors as well.”
“My ancestors? None of my relatives are from here.”
“Let me finish. The key, dead ahead, marks a problem to be solved if the right doors are opened. The last symbol covered is the broom. Presented near the handle, this suggests something close being swept away.”
She slid the cup and saucer toward Annie to illustrate what she had read. There was more Penelope chose not to reveal. The eye also denoted her gifts, and combined with the heart and key; she required her sisters to resolve Annie’s haunting.
“How do you know you’re right? Couldn’t it mean something else?”
“No. I’m gifted with clear knowing.”
“I told you, I’m not connected to any plantation or their ghost.”
“You are, or they wouldn’t have targeted your home.”
“They were stuck in the paint. They don’t want my family. They were in that old can I pried opened.”
“One of your parents, I assume your mother, has a connection to either your new home, South Carolina, or both, and these treacherous spirits want revenge.”
The chair tipped over as Annie jumped up and headed for the front door.
“Wait! We need to prepare. There are too many of them,” Penelope warned.
“You wait. I’m going to save my parents.” The door slammed behind Annie as she raced out. She rushed across the street, never stopping to check for traffic; she just ran until she made it through her front door.
“Mom? Dad?” She searched each room as she passed them. “Mom!” Her voice cracked with her swelling emotions. “Dad!”
A crash arose from their kitchen. Annie raced toward the commotion and pushed the swing door open. Her parents slumped over the table. Mounds of food covered the tabletop, and Annie stared with astonishment as they shoved fistfuls of leftovers into their mouths. They continued to gorge themselves as if they had never eaten before.
Unexpectedly, Penelope grabbed her from behind, and she screamed.
“Hush,” Penelope whispered in the girl’s ear. “We have to get out of here.”
The man’s head twisted in Annie’s direction, and his eyes met hers. His cheeks drew into an insidious grin, the same one the mailman displayed. “What’s wrong with him?”
“He’s possessed. They both are.”
Annie couldn’t move.
“If we don’t leave now, we’ll end up the same way.” She tugged on Annie, and the girl tripped over her own feet as she pulled her away.
Annie jerked her arm from Penelope’s grip. “I can’t go without them.”
“You can. I brought this.” Penelope held up a pouch. “A binding spell. The haints possessing them won’t be able to leave your house. “Come on. I need help to resolve this.”
“Where are we going?”
“To get my sisters.”
Haint Nothin But Blue’s Conclusion, “Exorcisms Cost Extra” Publishes
Monday, October 5, 2020
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