Monday, August 31, 2015

"Standin' at the Crossroads": Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith


"You should do it, Hoodoo," said Bunny.

I thought about it. I didn't want to talk to no fortune teller.

"You don't have to pay for me," said Bunny. "I'll just watch."

A man sitting on a bale of hay took my money.

Inside the dirt floor smells wet and musty. Red candles sat on stumps of woods and jars full of something all slimy were stacked in one corner. A tiny little woman sat hunched over a table. Bunny elbowed me. "Go 'head, Hoodoo."

Hoodoo Hatcher is feeling spooked. Last night, walking home right at sundown, he'd heard a horrible scream close by. And he's had an awful dream the other night, about that man dressed in a black cloak he'd seen in town. He'd looked down at him with mean old red eyes and and said "Main d'Gloire. The One Who Did the Deed."

Born with a heart-shaped birthmark, Hoodoo Hatcher is supposed to have the conjuring abilities of his branch of the Hatcher family, but he's never even been able to cast a sign of a spell. But Mrs. Snuff seems to think he could.

"Her eyes traveled up to my face and landed on my birthmark. "Where'd you get that mark, boy?"

"I don't know," I said. "I was born with it."

"Gotta have heart," she said, almost to herself.

Suddenly Mrs. Snuff sat up straight. "Darkness follows you," she said, her good eye going all wide.

"Your people," she went on, lips trembling. "They're in danger, too. But their fate is in your hands. Beware the Stranger."

But now swarms of green flies follow him through the woods, and Hoodoo hears that the scream came from a neighbor who discovered all the graves dug up, and the left hands of all the bodies cut off. Then strangely, his own left hand starts tingling, and when the local bully Otis threatens him, Hoodoo discovers he can pick Otis right up and toss him down like a feather with that one hand.

Then Hoodoo next meets up with the Stranger in the swamp, and he understands where that strong left hand came from and why The Stranger wants it back.

The Stranger shot out, flames leaking all around him. That's when the demon stretched out his arm, long, like black licorice.

"Gimme that hand, boy," he cried.

"Nooooo!" I screamed. Then all was darkness.

And when the demon strikes down his Grandma Frances, Hoodoo Hatcher, armed only with Mrs. Snuff's mojo bag and the prayer of St. Michael, knows that he's the one who's got to go down to those crossroads by night and face down the Stranger.

In a dark and steamy folklore-filled thriller, set in the 1930s and steeped in mysterious swamp spirits and supernatural powers, Ronald L. Smith's forthcoming Hoodoo (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) takes us back to another time and place when people conceived of fearsome shades in strange forms. An atmospheric adventure, evoking archtypical forces, set in the low country along the Alabama River, this one draws not from science fiction or post-apocalyptic monsters, but mines the deep-rooted folk magick of the Deep South for its own version of the struggle between good and evil as Hoodoo gets his mojo working, and becomes his own Depression-era Jedi knight.

A good read for a stormy night--if your mojo is workin'!

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