“The winds have changed, Valdor.” The girl reentered the wagon, squinting until her eyes adjusted to the darkness.
“We must go.” His rumbling growl, barely audible, prickled the hairs on the back of Dove’s neck. A gnarled, tree-like finger popped and cracked out from the shadow. It uncurled, jittered and gestured toward the crystal ball.
Dove sucked air through pursed lips, trying to conceal the dread. She did not want to touch that ball again.
“Hey, you know. I don’t even need that silly old crystal ball, Boss. I know where we are going.” She knew it wouldn’t work, but she tried it anyway. Valdor thrived when Dove touched the ball and he liked how sick it made her.
A gravely curse erupted from her master as he inched the bony finger closer to Dove’s throat. The thought of it touching her made her duck away from it. She lurched forward and grasped the crystal ball with both hands.
Electric jolts shot through her shaking her body. Throwing back her stress-whitened head of hair, she screamed. Her master’s growl turned to laughter, heckling…jeering. Black smoke filled the air, sickening her with the aroma of charred flesh.
The wagon lurched like a derailed train, forcing Dove against the wall. Knowing what came next, she scrambled to find something…anything to hold on to, but failed. The wagon spun clockwise then counterclockwise, jerked upwards then downwards, upside down and back again. It shook and spiraled before zooming at hyper speed through the veil that separated the worlds. The landing knocked the breath out of Dove and tossed books and cups off the shelves.
Dove crawled across the floor and shook her head to steady it. She pulled herself to a standing position, then puked.
Valdor, her dark captor, cackled and sucked up her vomit with his long, bony finger.
Dove rolled her eyes and thought, well at least he’s good for something.
A shred of light streamed onto the wretched hand as it slurped up the last of the vomit. Dove’s eyes widened as she watched the hand transform, growing soft, flesh and unknotting joints. She’d seen it many times, but it never ceased to amaze her.
Emerging from the shadows in his new disguise, Valdor caressed Dove’s cheek and smiled down at her. She knew many people would find him attractive and that’s how he’d lure them in, stealing their money or tricking them into favors. The smile that never reached his eyes turned Dove’s blood cold.
She didn’t mean to, but she flinched. The next thing she knew, Valdor slapped her so hard she hit the wall near his shadowed corner. Her hand landed in the sticky goo left over from his change, black and foul.
“Do your job, Slave!” He turned and exited the trailer, leaving Dove to clean up his mess.
As she scrubbed and tidied, she thought back to her childhood and the painful memories of events that led to her capture.
“He’s back!” Father rushed to the stockroom of the family’s shop where Dove played with her brothers and sisters. Nona, the eldest, had just turned fifteen and the family felt pressure to get her married off. Valdor, the wealthy traveling salesman, had set his eyes on her to be his wife and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“Hide her!” Mother grabbed Nona’s hand and together they hid in the cellar, leaving the younger siblings as a distraction.
Valdor bombarded through the back room door and made a beeline for the cellar.
“I told y’all that was a terrible hiding place.” Dove, then only ten years old, shook her head of black hair and frowned at her mother.
“I demand to have your daughter as my bride! This town owes me. Do you want things to go back to the way they were? Children disappearing?”
The entire town gathered outside the shop. The message was clear. They would force Nona to go with Valdor if they had to. There were no laws protecting a woman’s right to choose her destiny, so Nona packed her bag and bravely started towards Valdor’s trailer.
Overcome with anger about the situation, Dove felt a strong desire to grab some balls and squeeze them really hard. That’s when she spotted the crystal ball on the shelf in her family’s store. She grabbed it with both hands and the ball glowed, dousing the room with sparkling lights.
Valdor saw the glowing ball and felt the power emanating from Dove. He shoved Nona aside and marched toward Dove.
“I changed my mind. I want this one.”
“That’ll be $19.95. Would you like a bag?” Father smiled at Valdor.
“I meant the girl.”
“It’s okay, Daddy. I’ll go.” Without a fuss, Dove boarded the trailer and courageously took her sister’s place.
“You still have to pay for the ball.” Happy to make a sale and keep his favorite daughter home, Dove’s father hummed and ushered Valdor out of the shop.
After she tidied the trailer, Dove left to see the town. She knew she had to be back before Valdor, but she figured she had plenty of time to do what she planned.
“Bourbon Street.” She read the street sign where the trailer had landed and walked around to various shops. Jazz music played and delicious aromas floated in the air outside pubs and bistros. Scantily clad people on second-story balconies cat-called and whistled at the white-haired beauty walking below them.
“Want a job, Love?”
“It’s DOVE, actually.” Shielding her eyes from the sun, Dove smiled up at a woman. “I like how you’ve braided your leg hair. That’s so stylish.” She waved goodbye and heard the woman chuckle as she continued on her way.
It was a time of day when the people of New Orleans slept off rowdy night-befores or groggily pulled themselves toward the nearest cup of coffee. Dove took her time and enjoyed the quiet streets. With every step, she felt the city’s energy rising from the cobblestones. The air pulsated with anticipation of nights to come and memories of past celebrations. Friendships filled with joy and laughter echoed from every brick, leaving invisible marks behind and taking unforgettable moments to cherish.
Dove walked on as a cloud moved overhead and blocked the sun. Chills shivered across her spine and a shrill wind sent leaves skittering along the walkway. In the distance, she saw a neon sign light up with an arrow pointing into a dark alley. She cocked her head to the side and ventured toward the alley.
As she turned the corner, Dove nearly tripped over a woman who was crying and working to retrieve what looked like bits of trash and papers scattered about by the wind.
“Leave her alone, girl. That woman is nothing but an eyesore and a menace.” A shopkeeper stepped into the alley and kicked the old woman, causing her to topple over and drop the papers she had recollected.
“Hey! That’s no way to treat a person! Leave her alone!” Dove kicked the man in the shin and shoved him out of the alley.
“I’ll call the cops on you, too.” The man yelled as he limped away.
Dove scrambled around picking up the paper and handing it to the sobbing woman. She retrieved every last bit and knelt down to smile into the woman’s face.
“I’m Dove. Are you okay?” She helped the woman stand up.
“You are so kind, but I sense great sadness and grief around you. It is rare for someone who suffers to find it in themselves to be kind to others. Please allow me to show you the same.” The woman opened her arm and gestured toward the end of the alley. Down a short staircase, shrouded in darkness, Dove saw a door.
As she walked toward the door, a lone raven perched on a discarded crate, squawked and shuffled his feet.
“SQUAWK! Death to those who enter the black door! SQUAWK!”
“Aren’t you just a ray of sunshine, little cutie! I just love birds, especially Ravens.” Dove petted the bird. She tossed him a cracker from her pocket before continuing toward the door.
Water dripped from above and created a musty, dank odor.
Dove turned the doorknob while knocking and yelling, “Yoo-hoo is anyone home?”
“Enter, my child.” A voice scratched through the darkness, and Dove obeyed without fear or hesitation. She closed the door behind her and squinted until her eyes adjusted. Orange glow emanated from a few candles. The room felt soft and comforting, decorated with rich colors of maroon, eggplant, and gold velvet. .
A toothless old woman sat behind a table with cards splayed out in front of her. She gestured for Dove to sit in the chair on the opposite side of the table.
“I’ve been expecting you, Dove.”
“Madame Cookie, so nice to meet you. I saw you in the ball. That’s why I landed us here.”
“You’ve sacrificed enough, my child. I can free you of your obligation to Valdor.”
“No, thank you. I could free myself, but then he’d take someone else. When he uses them like he uses me, it will use them up. They’ll die and then he’ll get another person to use up.” Dove lowered her head as a shadow covered her face. “I tried it once, you know…leaving him.” She reached across the table with sudden urgency and grasped the old woman’s withered arms while staring into her eyes. Dove focused her attention on the horrible event and sent it like a video clip into the old woman’s mind.
It was impossible to tell when the event occurred because the trailer existed in between realms; wandering timeless on the veil. To Dove, it felt as if she’d been with Valdor for centuries, yet she remained ageless—childlike in many ways but with a deep, ancient soul filled with wisdom and compassion. It was her childlike nature, however, that prevented her from seeing Valdor’s corrupt core…the charred blackness that directed him to all things evil without the capability for remorse or redemption. Valdor was so evil, in fact, that he functioned like a black hole—an endless void that sucked the goodness out of humans, turning them vile, shriveled, and dead.
As if goodness sustained their life, Valdor claimed it as his own.
Dove, however, wasn’t like other humans. Her life regenerated on its own without the need of an outer energy source. That foul parasite, Valdor, could feed off her endlessly without killing her.
“Ugh! Do you have to make me vomit every time? Isn’t there another way to restore you that doesn’t involve me being sick?”
“Of course, but I enjoy torturing you.” He threw back his head and cackled before slamming Dove’s forehead into a shelf, knocking her unconscious.
She awoke to an empty trailer and a gnarly headache. Raising a hand into the sunlight that streamed through a slit in the curtains, she wiggled her fingers and watched them move effortlessly from shadow to light. She stood shakily and washed dried blood off her forehead. Then, she packed her backpack and fled.
Wandering around the village, Dove happened upon a group of children playing a game of marbles. Of course, everyone knows that marbles are nothing but tiny crystal balls, so she knew better than to touch them.
“Hello! Wanna play?” A dark-skinned girl wearing a shirt with, Marilyn, written on it asked.
“No thanks. I’ll just watch.” Dove sat next to the kids, enjoying their laughter and carefree spirits.
Pretty soon, parents called for their kids to come home and the happy little group disbanded. Marilyn, the last to leave, hesitated and turned to Dove.
“You hungry? Wanna come stay at my house? We’re having tacos!” Marilyn smiled, revealing a mouthful of braces, and beckoned Dove toward her home. Dove had never had a taco before, but she felt so warm and happy with Marilyn that she couldn’t say no.
She followed Marilyn to a cottage a few blocks down from where the kids had played marbles. Bright flowers decorated the yard and a sign that said, “home sweet home” welcomed them to Marilyn’s house. Taco smell wafted through the air as they walked inside. Dove introduced herself to her new friend’s parents.
Dove and Marilyn stayed up most of the night giggling and playing games. Their friendship grew fast and strong and Dove wondered how she’d survived her whole life without a single friend. More specifically, she wondered how she’d managed to live for so long without Marilyn. She’d never felt as loved and important as she did when she was with Marilyn and her family.
For that few hours, Dove let herself believe she’d made the right decision by leaving Valdor. But it wasn’t meant to last. The next morning, she awoke alone in Marilyn’s room to the sound of Marilyn’s mother screaming.
A note, written in blood across the wall said: more will die unless you return to me, Dove.
Heartbroken, Dove fled Marilyn’s home and returned to the trailer.
She never tried to leave again.
The old woman gasped and pulled her arms away from Dove as if she’d been burned by hot coals.
“Oh dear, that’s worse than I imagined.”
“I understand. Thanks for trying.” Dove got up to leave.
“I didn’t say I couldn’t help you, dear.” Dove sat back down.
“You were right about the marbles. They are each their own perfect sphere of energy. If you had touched them that day, you’d probably have glowed like the sun, and that would’ve freaked everyone out.” Moaning and creaking, the old woman stood and hobbled to a shelf to retrieve a small box. She sat back down and presented the box to Dove.
Dove lifted the lid and discovered a clear marble the size of a golf ball. In the center, there was a tiny ball of fire. She raised an eyebrow and looked at the woman.
“Don’t worry, Dear. You can wash it down with some milk so it won’t burn your stomach.” The old woman grinned a toothless smile and her eyes disappeared into wrinkles as she nodded.
“I’m supposed to swallow that?!?” Dove’s hand flew to her throat as she imagined the large ball forever lodged in her esophagus. “Can’t I just throw it at him or something?”
Madame Cookie formed an O with her mouth and opened her eyes wide as she realized her mistake.
“Oops. I forgot to minimize it.” She put the lid on the box and tapped it three times. This time, when Dove opened the box, the same marble was there, but it was tiny— pea-sized.
“What will this do? I don’t understand.”
“Your questions will be answered in time. For now, you must swallow the marble and get back to the trailer. The wind is changing again.”
“Where have you been?” Valdor bellowed and shoved Dove into the wall, breathing his foul breath into her face. His hand, still human and fleshy, gripped her neck until she turned blue. When he released her, she fell to her knees hacking and coughing.
“Why do you care? You’re still all peachy and normal-looking. You don’t need to feed for another day or two.”
“I will decide when I feed on you, Slave!” He kicked her in the face. Dove spit out blood and a tooth before standing up and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
“Valdor, too much of my energy won’t be good for you.” She backed up in time to avoid his slap. “Right, okay, I get it. You decide when you feed.”
As she reached for the crystal ball that transported them through the ether, Valdor sat in his place inside the shadowed corner of the trailer and waited to consume her.
Fire and ice leapt through her veins from her palms on the ball. The trailer lurched and shook, jostling Dove off balance and forcing her to the floor. She braced herself for the spin, but it didn’t help. Faster and faster the trailer spun, pressing the atmosphere onto her. They slipped in and out of the veil and landed, still spinning, near a salty aroma with the sounds of waves and seagulls around them.
Right on cue, Dove barfed a mixture of her jambalaya lunch and milk from Madame Cookie. Somewhere in between chunks of chewed sausage and corn, the tiny, regurgitated marble hid.
His sinister laugh resounded from the shadows. He emerged all at once and pounced onto the pile of vomit, splashing both hands flat into the grotesque spew.
Dove watched the orange-tinted puke disappear as his hands sucked it away, leaving a clean, dry floor behind.
Just as she was about to give up on the marble, she felt hot air radiating from Valdor.
“Do you have a fever or something?”
He reared back a hand to smack her but changed his mind mid-swing. Looking at his hand with eyebrows knitted, he fidgeted and twisted like he was covered in ants. He hurried to a mirror and gazed at himself while pulling handfuls of smoldering hair from his head. Sliding his hands down over his cheeks, he scraped off melted flesh and left bloody finger trails and gaping holes in his face. His forehead burst into flames, peeling off layers of tissue like old paint.
“You tricked me, you witch!” Valdor screamed his last words as his skull burnt to a crisp and fell to the ground with the rest of his charred remains.
Out of the smoking pile of blackened ash bounced a pea-sized marble. It burned with scorching heat, but it didn’t harm her palm when she held it. She gazed into its fiery center as Madame Cookie’s spell wore off and the marble regained its normal golf ball size.
“It wasn’t a trick. Valdor lost his marbles.” Dove chuckled to herself.
After that, Dove enjoyed a life of freedom with all the friends and tacos she wanted.