The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
by Loren Rhoads
Alondra hadn’t left her cottage in the better part of two weeks. Pearl had tried a couple of time to lure her out to Mardi Gras parties, but Alondra wasn’t a fan of parties at the best of times and the chaos of Mardi Gras season seemed overwhelming. Besides, she preferred to do her drinking at home.
That didn’t mean that the celebrations didn’t reach her. Even in the Garden District there were parties: loud voices, shrill laughter, jazz quartets on the verandas. Alondra set her books aside when the noise became too much for her to concentrate and retreated into the kitchen.
Her landlady loaned her some family recipes that Alondra had dutifully copied over. She’d never tasted authentic jambalaya until Marie brought her a pot of it. Now she was struggling to recreate that experience. Marie’s note to add two or three spoons of pepper sauce added mystery to the process. Alondra’s first batch had been too hot to eat. Now, finally, she thought she was getting the hang of it.
The evening was unseasonably warm for February, so Alondra had propped the front door open with her copy of de Grillot’s Witchcraft, Magic, and Alchemy to let in some air. She returned to the kitchen to check the rice.
She was daydreaming over the pot and didn’t notice as the temperature in the kitchen dropped. Something heavy clonked down on her kitchen table behind her. A chill wrapped the nape of her neck.
Alondra turned, the dripping spoon held across her body like a weapon.
At the table sat a white woman with her hair pulled up into a disheveled pile. Rather than a Mardi Gras mask, her face had been charcoaled with two black diamonds that stretched from hairline to jaw. She wore a spaghetti strap Harlequin dress that left her shoulders bare, but Alondra was certain the chunky necklace she wore held real diamonds.
On Alondra’s table she’d dropped a skull splashed with crimson paint.
The chill emanated from the skull, Alondra realized.
“You need to help me.” It wasn’t a request.
She needed to renew the protections around her cottage, Alondra thought, and probably give the table a salt wash. She wasn’t inclined to be kind to strangers who marched into her home without so much as a by your leave.
“Whose skull is it?” Alondra asked.
“I don’t know. I bought it in a box of vintage Mardi Gras decorations.”
When Alondra didn’t respond, the woman continued in a rush. “We just moved to New Orleans in December. Charles insisted we go to his boss’s Three Kings Party, and then we had to eat that nasty almond cake, and he found the baby in his piece…and they said that meant we had to host the Mardi Gras party…”
The longer the woman talked, the lower the temperature dropped. White puffs of breath accompanied her words.
Despite the warmth of the pot bubbling at her back, Alondra shivered. She interrupted the torrent of complaints. “What would you like me to do?”
“I’ve tried to get rid of it ever since we threw our party a week ago. In the middle of the evening, the house got so cold that the pipes started to burst. I put it in the garbage, but I found it in the breakfast nook the next day. I made Charles take the garbage out that day, but it turned up under the bathroom sink. I ran it out when the garbagemen came on Tuesday, but it was on my pillow that night when I came to bed. Since then, I’ve tried throwing it out of the car, mailing it away, and dumping it into the river. It keeps coming back.”
“Okay.” Alondra held up her hand to stem the flood of words. “I want you to donate a thousand dollars to Save Our Cemeteries. Then I want you to take a bath with a charm I give you. Wash your face, wash your hair. Gather up all the Mardi Gras decorations you bought and take them to St. Vincent de Paul’s.”
“Oh, I’ve done that already,” the woman assured.
“All right. Wait here a moment.”
Alondra crossed through the bathroom into the bedroom of her cottage. She found a handkerchief and pulled down her jars of herbs, mixing lavender and rose with a chunk of dragon’s blood and a piece of galangal. She wrapped the packet closed with a piece of yellow ribbon. Then she returned to the woman sitting in her kitchen and dropped it in her hand.
“What do I owe you?”
“Pay me what you think my help is worth.”
“If this thing stops showing up at my house, that would be worth a lot.” She took a roll of bills from her purse and set them on the table. “But if it shows up tomorrow morning…”
Alondra smiled. “I know you aren’t threatening me,” she said calmly.
The woman swallowed audibly.
“You can go now. I’ll handle things from here.”
As soon as the woman crossed her threshold, Alondra moved four pillar candles to surround the skull. She lit a stick of spaghetti from the stove and used it to light the candles and a disk of charcoal. Once the coal was smoldering nicely, she added three pearls of frankincense. As the smoke filled the kitchen, Alondra dished up a bowl of jambalaya for the skull and another for herself.
The temperature in the kitchen had returned to normal by the time she sat down across from the skull. Outside the cottage, the sounds of Mardi Gras continued, but it was almost midnight. Once the streets had cleared, Alondra would ask Jackson, her landlady’s husband, if he could give her a ride out to Holt Cemetery so she could give the poor skull a decent burial and some peace at last.
This time, the jambalaya tasted just right.
Fiction © Copyright Loren Rhoads
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from Author Loren Rhoads:
Alondra DeCourval travels from San Francisco to Prague to Olso, encountering magical creatures and searching for the limits she will go to for love.
Please don’t forget to visit the other WiHM 12 projects taking place!