African American Fantasy Friendship

Rooster and Keisha had an understanding.

Rooster was the family cat… or technically— he was Keisha’s great-grandma’s cat. It was the  family myth that Rooster had more than nine lives and just wouldn’t die. The cat was apparently old as sin and had been around for generations. It had been around when Keisha’s great-grandma was a girl, when her grandma was a girl, when her mother was a girl, and so on and so on…..

And apparently he was still here over thirty years later and Keisha was an adult.

“You still ain’t dead yet Rooster?” Keisha said amicably to the cat as she walked up the wooden walkway that led to her grandmama’s porch.

Keisha’s great-grandma had an old, wooden house located in the back-woods of Alabama. It was a small, one story house on several acres of land that was surrounded by the forest and a small crop beside it. This house was the place that all of Keisha’s family gravitated to every year. It was the place where Keisha’s aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings traveled  every summer and ate good food, drank good drink, and had tons of fun. It was also the place where Rooster resided…. Keisha’s great-grandma’s half-feral cat.

Rooster half lived in the woods and occasionally allowed the rest of the family to bask in his presence.

Keisha spent summers chasing that cat through the woods or getting scratched by him because she did something to piss Rooster off. Sometimes if she was really lucky— Rooster would rub up against her legs and let her scratch behind his ears. If she was really, really, lucky– Rooster would curl up in her lap and purr contently.

Most of the time she wasn’t lucky because Rooster was a temperamental little shit.

Right now— Rooster seemed to be in one of his “moods”-- so Keisha kept her distance as she walked up to the porch of the old house.

He gave Keisha an unimpressed look as she dropped her backpack on her great-grandma’s porch and stretched her back. For some reason— she had inherited her great-grandma’s house.

Sally-Mae Peterson was the family matriarch and the most respected woman in the family. Keisha had never known her to be an idle woman. She was always up and moving about. She was always cooking, cleaning, gardening, planting and picking in the fields, or feeding the chickens and pigs behind her home.

Keisha loved this place. 

She loved the forest, the country-side, and the hard-work and freedom that came with being a country girl.

She even loved Rooster.

The problems started when Keisha’s great-grandma died. 

The family started fighting over who would own the house, or if they would sell the land, or what they would do with all of the possessions in the house. Keisha never thought her family would be ripped apart by something like money— but— here they were.

In a strange twist of fate—-Keisha had somehow inherited the house. It was stated specifically in her great-grandma’s will that the house and the land would be inherited by her. It wasn’t that much of a surprise to Keisha.

Every year— no matter where she was— every summer she would make her way back down to the backwoods of Alabama. She would return to her great-grandma’s house and help her in the fields and whatever else she needed. She would drink beer on the porch and watch as Rooster did whatever the hell it was that Rooster did.

Mainly shit in the yard and then stare at her challengingly.

There was also another reason she came to what she considered home every year. She came specifically to help her great-grandmother with the Haint Tree. 

The Haint Tree was supposedly a magical tree that was supposed to protect the land from Haints. Haints were supposedly evil spirits, ghosts, ghouls…. all the things that went creep in the night. 

The Haint Tree was just a normal tree, with normal branches, and normal leaves.

The only thing that made it different from every other tree in the yard was the fact that it was covered in painted blue bottles tied to the branches with cords. The bottles were filled with needles and the only remarkable thing about it was— the bottles were filled with trapped Haints.

Apparently a Haint was the type of spirit that couldn’t help but count things.

So Keisha’s grandma filled the bottles with needles and when the Haints came near to count the needles— it would magically get sucked into the bottles and pinned by the needles. You’d know a Haint was in a bottle if the bottle suddenly glowed at Dawn or Sunset.

However—- nobody in the family believed in Haints but Keisha.

It was considered nothing more than a bed-time story to keep all the kids in line.

“Be good or the Haints will get ya…..” or, “Stay outta the forest at night or a Haint will eat you up.”

Keisha’s grandma said that Haints were scared of cats and that was why Rooster was around. Everyone knows that cats eat Haints.

So Keisha had inherited the house and the land—  and that meant that she had inherited Rooster too.

The cat that wouldn’t die.

“Guess it’s just you and me now, Rooster.” Keisha said as she squatted down and continued petting the cat..

She stood up and surveyed the land in the growing twilight. It was beautiful as always.

The fireflies were just coming out and she would check on the pigs and chickens and the crop tomorrow after she rested.

She also stared at the Haint Tree beside the gravel driveway that led up to the house.

Keisha remembered when she saw a Haint when she was little.

It had been sundown and she’d been climbing trees in the forest and running wild that summer. She was heading back to her grandmama’s house when she started to feel like something was watching her.

“Kkkkkkeeeeeiiiiissssshhhhaaaaaaa……..” An eerie voice sang through the trees, “ Come and plllaaayyyy. Come and plaaaaay.”

The trees started swaying and the leaves started whispering and it suddenly got cold in the middle of summer. She’d remembered being so scared that she’d frozen on the spot and turned in circles trying to see the voice in the trees. She already knew that she wasn’t allowed to talk to strangers…. But this didn’t sound like a stranger. It didn’t even sound like a person.

Suddenly Rooster was there.

He looked the same today as he looked twenty years ago. 

 Keisha watched fascinated as he changed suddenly from a shaggy cat into something else—- something large,  and made of smoke. Its golden eyes looked like little balls of fire and its fangs glowed in the light.

When Rooster growled— the trees stopped whispering and moving and became still again. It felt like the thing that had called to Keisha had run— disappeared straight back into the forest.

Rooster turned to her and growled softly.

He was still big , and smoke-like but Keisha wasn’t scared. She knew Rooster had protected her.

“Thanks Rooster.” She’d said as she petted his ghostly head. 

Rooster growled again and nudged her back in the direction of her grandmama’s house. Keisha took the hint and ran straight home. She could hear Rooster running behind her but she didn’t turn around until she cleared the forest and was on her great-grandma's porch again. When She turned she saw Rooster was a little cat again and grooming himself.

From that day on— She and Rooster had an understanding.

He would protect her from the Haints.

It didn’t matter if Rooster shit on her pillow, destroyed her sneakers, or was a temperamental little shit.

She would always love and respect Rooster. The cat who ate Haints.

She knew Rooster protected her family from the things in the forest—- but now Keisha was here too. She was gonna help. She was gonna make sure to take care of that Haint Tree— to keep it full of bottles and make sure they didn’t break.

She was gonna take care of the house, and the land, and Rooster for as long as she drew breath.

Keisha sat down beside Rooster on the porch and stared at the Haint Tree. It was glowing slightly. 

Then the wind started whispering and the trees started swaying and Keisha felt eyes on her. She turned towards the forest and stared. She knew something was there even if she couldn’t see it.

She petted Rooster as his hackles rose and they both stared off into the forest. Something was out there. 

But it would be alright.

They had each other.

March 04, 2023 02:58

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