Dustdaughter

“What’s your name, girl?”

“Dust.”

“Dust! What kinda people named they child Dust!”

She sat in thought a moment, recalling what her wayfaring aunt she rarely saw told her to say whenever someone questioned her name, if she could remember it all.

“It’s short for Dustdaughter…”

“That’s a heavy name for a child.”

“My daddy said it’s a heavy life.”

“Your daddy ain’t got much hope for the future then. What that say about him when his future in his child.”

The woman had a hard look and a hard voice, but Dust liked the way her hair made a pile of snakes atop her head. The smell of whatever she stirred in the pot on top of the wood stove competed with the scent of an incense stick burning on the small table next to Dust in the living room. It all smelled like outside in the small wood house.

The tall, creek-mud-colored woman stuck the wooden spoon in the pot, turned away from the stove, and sauntered over to the couch, swaying in a way Dust’s mother told her a lady should never move her hips. Hips draw unwanted attention and make men do bad things “coz they knew a bad woman when they saw one.”

But the woman casually stuck the red stick of incense between her teeth and sat down beside Dust. Dust felt like she was being examined like a cow before slaughter. Or maybe just milking. The woman’s face was unreadable, mostly because Dust refused to look at it, taught never to look an adult in the eye along with other things like never climb trees or never sit with her legs open. So unbecoming of a young lady. But maybe her mother had given up on her being a lady, which was why she was here?

“So you’ll be nine tomorrow.” The woman sat back with a heavy sigh like she’d just exhaled the drag of a cigarette, the incense now casually between her thumb and pointer on the right hand relaxed on top of the knee crossed over the other leg. She looked out into a memory Dust could not see. “At least I was 17. They worked hard to protect us as children then, for as long as they could. But life ain’t get no better. I had seventeen years. Then I had to decide. They don’t let a child be a child no more. Tell you it’s a blessing then realize how much it cost. Want the child to pay for being here. Like it’s her fault…”

She drifted further into the memory while Dust waited for her to return. Dust wondered how long she would have to sit with this woman before she found out why she was really here, if she had been sent here because she’d done something bad. It had still been dark outside when her mother woke her, the straightening comb already on the stove like it was time to get ready for school or church. But it wasn’t Sunday and it took Dust a moment to remember that school had already let out for the summer. No, this was some other special occasion that her mother wanted her to look decent for so that she wouldn’t be embarrassed to have such an unkempt child. No matter what she did, she was always “unkempt,” especially if she let anything happen to her carefully pressed hair. Dust frequently eschewed playing with the other kids, afraid to sweat out her hair that would only receive the same treatment the next day no matter the circumstances. Surely didn’t want to end up sweaty and smelly herself as that was unbecoming of a young lady who had to work harder than others to look like a young lady. The woman finally turned back to Dust, bringing them both back to the wooden house.

“They never even told you my name, did they?”

Dust shook her head, eyes down as she often did in the presence of a stranger. But she heard the woman’s light scoff, a puff of air that barely made a laugh, and raised her head just as she extended her left hand, a grown folks’ offering.

“Estrella. You can call me Star like everybody else when you get to know me.”

Dust liked the way Star emphasized her “T’s” at the beginning and ends of her words; not the lazy way her mother rolled over them when she talked to her friends. Star spoke the way her mother told her she should always speak: proper. She met Star’s hand and grasped it gently. It felt rough like the emery boards her mother used to file her nails. Would her hands feel this rough when she was old?

Star’s sudden rumbling cackle startled her. “You think I’m old, girl!”

“No-no-no-no, ma’am,” Dust stuttered, her head bowed as if she had already been caught in the lie.

“Yes, you do. But when you barely nine, 45 seem like an ancient. I used to think so too when I was a girl. Then again, I got to be a girl a lot longer than you. Everybody older than me was old coz I thought I’d never be.”

Star leaned over, resting her elbow on her leg, chin in her palm, incense back between her teeth and painted brown lips. Studied Dust like a child fascinated with her hands for the first time while aromatic smoke wafted between the two of them. As she slowly lifted her head to return Star’s inquisitive gaze, Dust understood her name. Her eyes were brown stars, her mother would call them diamonds, whatever brown diamonds were called. Dust sat mesmerized in Estrella’s stars, visually traced the light lines of her face that created constellations behind the smoky haze. Star had appraised her, not examined. She regretted, felt ashamed, that she ever conceived of this woman as old.

“Don’t worry about it, DeDe,” Star said as she got up from the couch to return to the wood stove. “Ain’t nuthin say you cain’t be old and beautiful. Just like you can be beautiful when you the color of a moonless midnight.”

Moonless midnight. She had never heard it described that way, usually her father making the declaration “At least they won’t see the dirt on her too good.” A teacher using her as an example of what you would look like coming out of the Le Brea Tar Pits—when she became the official playground monster. Her mother not going to the school to raise hell against a teacher becoming her child’s bully. “That’s the way it is for girls like us, Dust. Might as well get used to people treating you this way.”

But moonless midnight felt like part of the sky. Like the universe needed her to exist. Invincible and immortal. Infinite. Like maybe the thing that made her mother drop her off in the middle of nowhere and tell her to find the old lady’s house at the top of the hill and spend the day was not her unsightliness and a power she had no idea how to control. But this lady was barely old and, despite her other-weirdly disposition, quite kind and affable. And the way she gradually let that “proper” out of her voice, the same thing Dust did whenever she got comfortable around someone, unconscious of it until her mother pointed it out, told her not to slip. But Star did it. Her presence did not put off Star. Dust felt welcomed.

“She was hoping that whatever fear you had when I opened the door would stay with you all day while you was here. But she wouldn’t know what we really do. Bet she didn’t even do trial rites, went straight to the relinquishing ceremony.” She sighed wearily, her back to Dust but her sad countenance still showed in profile. “They made us fear our own power, like we had no right to it. Made us believe we were better off without it. That’s how they keep winning. We do it to ourselves, strip away the pieces they don’t like ’til they none left. Then tell us we not whole, so not good enough.”

Dust felt Star’s sadness in her own heart. It happened whenever she was close to someone feeling too much. Her mother’s sadness once gave her a nosebleed. She asked her mother to tell her what was wrong to make the bleeding stop. Her mother denied the sadness; the bleeding worsened. For the first time, her mother looked at her with fear, like she didn’t recognize the child she called hers for six years. But she found no comfort from her mother when the nosebleeds came. The line in the sand became a deep chasm Dust didn’t dare to cross. She didn’t know then that it was only the first sign.

Then Big Gram died. The night before the memorial, her parents argued. Her mother adamantly insisted Dust not be allowed to attend. Her father made no compelling counterargument to change her mind. So the day of the funeral, Dust was taken to the home of a classmate, but she had an immediate escape plan in mind. The funeral home wasn’t far, but for an eight-year-old with short legs it made one adventurous trek, hoping her will to be invisible and not found out before reaching her destination was enough to get her there.

The long black limousine made a grand chariot sitting outside the funeral home. She thought about how she would love to ride in such a car when she was grown. But there was a gauntlet to run first. She felt the grown-folk grief before she opened the door. It grew stronger with every step she took. But as soon as she zeroed in on the casket, she blocked it all. The sounds of grief, the sniffling, the sobbing, the outright weeping and wailing from acceptable mourners, emptied into a vacuum as Dust approached Big Gram’s grand white bed. She realized the room was actually quiet in anticipation by the time she stood in front of the casket. As if a force pulled her in, she climbed on the casket top, closed on the lower half. She pretended to climb a tree, something her mother never allowed. Then Dust reached out and touched Big Gram’s Sunday hat-clad face and her hand while a stray teardrop escaped her eye and landed on the neatly pressed lavender dress.

Big Gram’s sudden intake of breath and opened eyes did not startle her. She expected it.

But the bloodcurdling scream sliced through the peace, signaling the moment Hell should break loose. Yet, Dust seemed oblivious to the chaos of the ensuing escape as she leaned in and listened to Big Gram. Her voice was only a raspy whisper of the rambunctious euphony she remembered in life, but she closed her eyes and smiled. Dust knew keeping her eyes closed rarely extended a moment, so she finally gave in to the mayhem around her. The smile melted at the sight of her mother’s face. That look of terror that haunted her every day since she was six. Intensified. All the tension building between them for almost three years came to Dust’s mother snatching her away from Big Gram’s still cold body and dragging her out of the funeral home, Dust’s one wish to see her grandmother at peace ungranted. Hearing pieces of her mother mumbling about how no child of hers would be some damn freak of nature. “Either you my child or you ain’t!”

So the smile that shone more in Star’s diamond eyes than her mouth relieved her. The gentle squeeze on Dust’s hand told her not all adults hated when children took the initiative to comfort adults. She enjoyed the loud silence between them.

“Guess we need to get to it then. Remember you can say no any time you want. You allowed to change your mind and nobody’ll think harsher of you for it. Only one you gotta make happy is you.”

Dust nodded dutifully, pleased at being grown enough to know what to do.

No sidewalks flanked the paved roads, not like they did at home. Anyone who dared walk the road fought the steep incline of a hillside or the short distance between the road and the ditch. Dust hadn’t been to this countryside since Big Gram took sick and moved to the nursing home. She thought she’d never see the countryside again, not after the way her mother looked at her when the days-dead Big Gram opened her eyes and spoke to her. She had no idea what happened to the house, whether it still stood on that same steep hill she had to climb from where her parents parked the car or if it even still belonged to the family. She could tell neither of her parents that she feared Big Gram’s spirit might get confused about where she needed to go if she still lived in the nursing home when she died. She wanted to ask who took care of the garden and what would happen to Big Gram’s favorite chair if no one was in the house. But when Big Gram finally died, she only heard a lot of “let grown folks handle they business” and “stay out of the way” while they made arrangements. No one had time to answer her questions. So she did as always and went quiet, seen but not heard as all good children should be.

Dust looked out the window of Star’s minivan, enjoying the pleasure of the ride and the view of all her parents tried to escape by moving the family two towns over at the first opportunity. If Dust had had a word for animosity, then she could have explained to herself her mother’s feelings toward the peaceful countryside Big Gram proudly claimed as the only home she needed. “Too many trees equal not enough civilization,” she’d heard her mother say. But she wondered how many people also grew greens and cabbage in the backyard like she had. She saw the herbs in flower pots on Star’s porch, no television or computers inside where she could see them. She’d help put some of those herbs in the back of the minivan before they took off down the cracked and bumpy road further into the countryside.

They stopped at the Ice Cream Lady’s house where Star bought Dust the sweetest cone she’d tasted. A mint-flavored green accented with dark semi-sweet chocolate chips and shavings. Dust practically inhaled the cone, still had it on her mind when they pulled into a heavily wooded area surrounding an unassuming lone wooden building. The trees didn’t have the lush green she’d seen on television, more like the almost barren brown wood that made them look like naked giants rather than elf homes. Kind of like the woods she envisioned Red Riding Hood traveling on her way to grandma’s house. Yet the building seemed perfectly in place in the woods. The fear she felt had nothing to do with a big bad wolf.

She’d heard her mother talk about places such as this, not so much talk as much as whispers to other adults where Dust wasn’t supposed to hear. Only nasty women and nastier men came here. No place for a child. Yet here she sat frozen in the front seat of a minivan while Star unloaded some herbs in the back. She tried to let not even her mind repeat the word she’d heard for places like this. Would they turn her into a nasty woman, too? Surely, her mother did not bring her here for this. Her mother couldn’t have wanted to punish her for disrupting Big Gram’s funeral by making her do bad things.

The door opened and Star plopped a flower pot in her lap. “Come on, girl. They waiting for us inside.”

Dust trailed behind Star to the front porch of the bland brown wooden house. The front door opened as soon as they reached it. Dust peeked from around Star’s hip and looked into kindness. The woman before them smiled with her entire face, lines and all. Dust’s apprehension melted away as the woman’s inner happiness became her own.

“Dahlia, move out the way and let us in. This shit get heavy!”

Dahlia stepped aside to let them pass, announcing, “It looks like our special guest has arrived!”

If she was the special guest, no one went out of her way to make her feel it as Dust stepped from the anteroom to the main room behind Star. Yet the energy in the room as she observed the women around her flowed through her. The excitement was unfamiliar, not like the overlit, stimulating noisiness of a toy store, more like a sense of acceptance and belonging. She felt just as at home here as she had at Big Gram’s. A woman nursed her child, both breasts free of her shirt as the baby suckled greedily, either unaware of or unconcerned with the discomfort to the young mother. Another braided someone’s hair as she sat on the couch, her recipient comfortably resting between her legs on the floor. Another swayed to some music coming from speakers Dust couldn’t locate. Others talked to each other, sipping coffee, lemonade, tea, and other libations she wasn’t allowed to drink. The whole house had life and a story. And Dust felt part of it. But she saw no other children her age.

“They call her Dustdaughter,” Star said as she headed deeper into the house. “But I think we better call her DeDe for now. Some children gotta grow into they names. Don’t worry. She been appraised. Pure untarnished onyx right here. Been climbing uphill all her life though. That passive-aggressive ass mama of hers who wouldn’t even tell this girl—”

Star’s voice trailed off as Dust followed her closely until they reached a kitchen. She realized the house was much bigger than it looked on the outside, with beautiful paintings on the walls and decorative statues and ornaments throughout. She could only imagine what the bedrooms upstairs looked like, perhaps the pink princess beds with the bedposts that had sheer canopies hanging from them, the type of bedroom she wished upon stars for. Probably not the den of sin she’d heard her mother call it. What she imagined Hell itself must be, complete with insufferable fires and scary dancing red men with horns. No place that felt as warm as her Big Gram’s house could hold a den of sinners. And she found nothing nasty about these women in the middle of the woods minding nobody’s business but their own.

The two ladies in the kitchen barely noticed Star and Dust as they entered with their plants. Dust saw one gently brush back a stray coil of black hair from the other’s forehead. She’d seen her father make a similar gesture toward her mother. The good times, those stolen moments she saw on television before a channel was turned or a stream stopped until her parents were certain she had gotten safely into her room and wouldn’t peek. Neither parent would tell her much more about it except to say it had something to do with how she got there. She would find out the rest when she was old enough. Both women threw her a smile before turning their attention back to each other rather than whatever dish they were supposed to prepare but smelled divine nonetheless.

“Guess Dahlia got it set up already,” Star said as she put away the last of the herbs. “We won’t start until you want though. Won’t nuthin happen unless you want it. But might wanna eat first.”

Dust nodded as she took Star by the hand, waiting to be led to the next destination. Another part of this vast house she had yet to see. More mellifluous voices as they came into a large room. The rhythm of their voices reminded Dust of the music she sometimes heard her father listen to after he tucked her in thinking sleep took her as soon as he left her room. Forbidden words she pretended not to know. Grown folks’ words. One of the only times childhood applied, when her parents believed in preserving the innocence of their little black child, when her mother’s voice didn’t grate in chastisement because Dust could do nothing right. But she loved grown folks’ conversations like these even when they made no sense to her.

“Cute little thing, that’s for sure.”

This woman reminded her of her mother. Pretty according to everyone who saw her. Just enough so that her man didn’t feel compelled to beat the pretty off of her so that nobody else would want her, something that men like her father were supposed to do when he got a good woman. She even had the scent of honeydew and cucumber clinging to her black floral dress, but her eyes looked like moon rocks. The woman squatted in front of her and showed her a half-piece coin. She slipped it between her hands and motioned for Dust to choose. Dust tapped the left hand. The woman opened it to reveal an empty palm. Then she opened the right—empty as well.

“That there is an illusion, girl,” she said as she pulled the coin from Dust’s ear and placed it in Dust’s hand to her astonishment. “A trick of the eye. That’s not magic. Magic is real.” She stood again and steered Dust further into the room. “Our magic don’t work like it used to. They changed up the world too much. It’s hard for the universe to recognize it, so we gotta work harder to make it respond.”

“Shael, don’t go scaring that child and she ain’t even got her belly full yet!”

Either the table materialized from nowhere in the vast dining room or Dust had been too distracted to notice it. But the feast that sat before her would have made Big Gram proud. The heavy foods saved for special occasions like Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, occasions Big Gram recognized but didn’t celebrate although she gladly fed the family. The foods Dust’s mother didn’t want her to have except for those occasions because a little girl the color of blacktop couldn’t be fat as well.

The woman called Shael set a pillow in a chair and helped Dust into it so she could see over the table. “Now my mama, she had great magic,” she said as she sat down next to Dust and handed her a cloth napkin. “She specialized in eating nightmares. Came in handy when I was a child. I don’t remember none of them. But I saw her do it once. My cousin Mezzy woke me up in the middle of the night with all her flailing and fighting in her sleep. I went and got Mama right away. She came in and saw what was happening. Didn’t even make me leave the room like grownups usually make you do. She grabbed Mezzy’s hands together and pressed her down by the chest. Mezzy was still wriggling around like she had a demon in her, but Mama started saying something I couldn’t hear. Mezzy started to calm down. Then Mama put her head real close to Mezzy, over her nose and breathed in real hard. It started coming out of her. I swear I saw Mezzy’s grade school teacher in the smoke when it came out of her, so I guess that’s what she dreamed about. Then when that smoke was done coming out of Mezzy, it rose up in the air then flew in Mama’s mouth all at once. She stumbled off the bed like she was drunk, clutching her chest, and went back to her room. Mezzy was still sleep, so I just got back in bed and didn’t think nothing else of it. The next morning, Mama and Uncle Seb was whispering about it when they thought we was still sleep, but I saw him leave the house like he was about to fight the Devil himself. Mezzy’s teacher was gone after that day. A lot of stories about what happened to him, but nobody would say for sure. But Mezzy ain’t think about it no more after that.”

Dust had been so enthralled in Shael’s story that she didn’t notice that Star had fixed her a plate and set it before her. Then the women in the large house encouraged her to get her fill and taught her the meaning of eat, drink, and be merry.

Dust finally had a seat at the grown folks’ table. Not even needing the boost of a pillow to see over it completely took away the honor. Between their mouthfuls of food and drink, they asked Dust about school, her family, whatever nine-year-old girls were into these days or, in her case, almost nine. Their platitudes and wisdom came in more than a command of what she was not to do with her life that she usually heard from her parents.

Perhaps it was the feast, but Dust felt full, satiated in a way she missed at home, even before the blue velvet cake was cut. It had to be more than the food. Must have been what they meant when she heard the womenfolk talk about “the vibe.” Something in her tuned in with the others and the space they shared. They were in tune with the universe, the woods that surrounded them, each other. They were out of place and time but also the only thing that made sense within them.

“People like that always make the mistake of thinking a blood tie is binding.”

The room grew quieter until the faint din gave way to the attention paid to Dahlia, who sat at the head of the table. Even the quiet sounds of chewing and swallowing stopped along with the clinging of forks and spoons hitting plates. She spoke to no one in particular, not even the young woman holding her child who’d been in conversation with her.

“Make such a big deal outta people being related by blood ’til it ain’t convenient. Won’t do a thing to help nobody tryna take care of theirs if they need it though. Same people talk bad about single mothers like they ain’t sayin it takes a village five minutes later. Act like they don’t know all the village ain’t blood tied. We made that village without e’em thinkin about blood then say we what’s wrong with the community. Not a village no more but a community coz that sound better. Like making the name all fancy and formal take away all we done been all this time. Like they was shamed…”

Dahlia looked at Dust as her voice trailed into the air outside that Dust suddenly realized had turned into dusk. Somberness extinguished the joy that filled the room earlier. The time had come.

Star was the first to get up. She headed over to Dust and took an uneasy breath with a polite smile before extending her hand. Dust accepted and allowed herself to be led once again but this time outside into the darkening night. The backyard extended as far as the eye’s vision, but only the first few feet mattered. The logs were arranged in a clearing, away from the house but not near the trees where the woods grew dense. The light of the candle in Star’s hand flickered uneasily as they walked toward the pile of wood. Dust listened to the sound of the footfalls of the others not far behind, carrying their own candles.

Dahlia stepped ahead of them, picking up a large branch just in front of the pile. She thumped at the tip. As her open palm struck it, the tip of the branch ignited in a beautiful blue-flamed torch. She looked at Dust. Star gently nudged her forward. The light of the flame cast a blue light on the figure lying atop the wood pile.

Big Gram.

“We buried an empty box,” Dahlia said. “When you caused that commotion in the funeral home, you gave us the chance to do right by her. To let her rest the way she wanted, not the way your mama thought she should. Would’ve had to dig her later otherwise. But they let us tend to her as pallbearer since nobody else wanted to do it. She wanted you to have something left of her. All of us, her entire coven. It’s up to you, DeDe.”

Dust looked up at Dahlia’s face, finding no clear answer there. The other women held similar blank expressions, half in shadow and half in a shimmering light from their candles. Only Star gave her something, a tight-lipped smile and subtle nod as if to reassure Dust she could make no wrong decision.

She turned back to the wood pile and made herself level with Big Gram, who no longer wore the lavender church dress but a simple white one. This time she took Big Gram’s hand in hers and placed another on her face. Perhaps because the big hat was gone, Big Gram didn’t appear as startled as her eyes slowly opened and her head turned toward Dust. Dust leaned in close to her face like she needed to hear even though Big Gram’s husky voice was loud only in her mind.

Not the same words she heard the day of Big Gram’s funeral. There, she heard Big Gram tell her she was right to come today, that she finally set it all in motion, the power was fully hers. She understood now in the presence of the women her grandmother considered her family. Dust barely got her small hands over both Big Gram’s eyes and slowly closed the lids. She climbed down from the logs and approached Dahlia expectantly. Dahlia handed Dust the torch. Dust clutched the torch with both hands to hold it steady as she turned Big Gram’s bed of logs into a proper funeral pyre. She backed away from the flames that blazed much sooner and higher than she expected. Star took the torch from her trembling hands.

“Dust can have a different meaning than what you been taught,” she said over the crackle of the flames. “Instead of chippings and shavings from rock to be blown over the edge, dust might be what’s left of your ancestors. That’s why they footprints hold so much power. But you can’t believe that meaning if you give up your power—like your mom did.”

The women began to sing, a slow dirge that started as a low hum crescendoing into a mighty rumbling howl. Dust knew the song, the melody, but not the words. She looked up into the vast sky, searching the stars. She saw then that according to the constellations, it was now the day she turned nine.

“When ya mama gave you that name, she had forgot there’s dust in the stars, too. And whether it comes from the earth or the stars, dust got value.”

Shael had said those words as she and the other women took the ashes Big Gram left and spun them into glass. They worked quickly in the torch and candlelight, singing homages to the earth, moon, rivers, trees, stars and sun. And to the dust. As they waited for their creations to cool, Dahlia asked Dust which piece she wanted. Dust chose a round orb, the blue and green swirling like the sky meeting the ocean with the gray ashes like clouds and fog. Once it was cool enough to touch, she picked it up and held it against the light of the torch to watch the colors dance together.

The night had begun to fade as the sun awakened in the east sky on its perpetual journey west. Dust then realized she had not slept the entire night and still had no need for slumber as yet. She drew a new energy from the orb she held in her hands. The songs her new sistren sang during the night as they spun Big Gram’s remains into magical orbs created a glorious melody in her mind’s eye, immortalizing a woman whose only spells Dust knew were smothering kisses and country vegetable soup for colds. Hot cocoa for recovery. That was all the magic she needed for her first nine years, but she knew now there would be more with a few of Big Gram’s ashes now finally spread into the dust of the woods.

“We can take you back home when you’re ready,” Star said as she walked beside Dust. She still held her piece of Big Gram, a heart-shaped glass with pink and red swirls among the ashes, smaller than Dust’s orb. “We’ll hear you through her. No matter how far you go, we keep in touch. The coven is for life. We never let each other go through it alone, especially not with you being so young.” Star crouched in front of Dust, meeting her eye level. Dust read the worry in her brown diamond eyes. “Be a child as long as you can, DeDe. Don’t let nobody ever tell you that you too old to be a child. You can’t take care of yourself yet. They ever tell you you old enough to know, you know where to find us.”

Star stood straight again, stretching her back out, in need of her bed. She reminded Dust of a cat.

“You know why your mama gave it all up? She wanted to be ‘civilized.’ Your grandmama respected her wishes, didn’t force her to be something she ain’t wanna. But she think she living in a better way, concrete instead of trees, no stench of soil in the air. Her mistake was in thinking she could make you the same way. She realized she had to give you a choice like she had. She’s scared of that power, but it’s not going away. But she thinks if you choose your power, to be who you really are, then you reject her. That’s her fear. She thinks you can’t love you and her at the same time. You can be mad with her and love her all at once though. Choosing one don’t mean you done let go of the other altogether. She don’t like to think about that.”

“I hear my mama telling people ‘she ain’t one to climb trees.’ She said I don’t like the effort. But she had already told me, I didn’t need to be taking no unnecessary risks. A risk might could lead to falling or breaking and I couldn’t afford to fall or break. So I stayed low.”

So many trees. She finally understood why her mother tried to keep her away from trees all her life. Why her mother feared too many trees. Feared too many trees would bring out something in her that she wanted desperately to suppress. She didn’t fear Dust would fall from the tree and hurt herself. She feared Dust would find herself there and tap into the power that made her kind dangerous if they so chose. Just as she thought “civilization” had cured her, she thought her daughter would never bear the burden of ancestors. But Dust had too much of her Big Gram in her, and the ancestors came to call.

Dust handed Star her orb. She slowly set off beyond the clearing. The dew on the grass cooled her bare feet. The morning chill bristled her skin as the sun positioned itself on the horizon. She hummed the song of her coven as she headed into the woods to find out which tree belonged to her, the one that would let her finally go as high as she wanted.

Inda Lauryn

Inda Lauryn hails from the South but made her way Midwest when she needed a change in her life and a new start to pursue her life’s true passion. She writes fiction in the mornings and works as an editor and writing tutor during the day. Her fiction has previously appeared in Strange Horizons. She is the co-host of the podcast Black Girl Squee and hosts a biweekly radio show called The Black Swan Collective on Mixcloud. She also produces and narrates a personal audio essay series Inda’s Corner also found on Mixcloud. You can also find her random thoughts on Twitter @IndasCorner.

Photo by Hedi LaMarr Rudd

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