He creeps up on me, quiet-like. A funky whisky scent invades me.
He stands close. His scabs and scars make my skin crawl. When I take a step back, he scowls.
“Why you actin scared, I jus wan talk to you. Maybe take you to a hotel.”
One jittery look around shows me empty lots and boarded-up buildings. Even the street is dead: no traffic. I glance at him out the corner of my eye, then I step off the curb and scoot across the street real quick.
The slap of my tennis is loud on the concrete, but I hear the beat of his feet coming after me. Next thing I know, my knee twists and I’m tumbling. From the ground, I see him gaining on me. I scramble sideways, scraping my palms as I work my way underneath a chain-link fence.
Inside, all I see is rows and rows of hanging car parts. I duck tire rims and rusty engines, limping through the mess of metal to find a place to hide.
I find a corner to hunch in, but I am not alone.
“Girlie, you all right?”
I whirl around to see an old woman sitting on a throne of twisted car fenders. Thick, gray strands of hair are coiled high on her head.
I nod mutely, keeping my eyes on two huge dogs sprawled at her feet.
“Soup?” she says, and motions to a huge pot billowing steam.
I shake my head “no” and look back toward the street.
“Girl, you come to my yard with a wolf chasin you and you in a rush to go back into the night?”
In a flash, she is standing. Her arm outstretched, holding a warm cup of soup. As my hand lifts to take the soup, my eyes widen. I try to lower my arm, but it’s no use: my body is not under my control.
After the soup is inside me, I feel dizzy. I go limp and drop down to the dirt. I lay there paralyzed while the old woman trickles a ragged line of salt in a circle around me.
“What do you see?” she whispers.
My eyes slip closed, and I see a figure dancing around the rim of a volcano.
At her command, I walk toward the volcano. The dancing figure descends, striding down the volcano in two big steps. We mirror each other, standing on either side of four clay pots.
The dancing figure undresses me. I dip my hands into the first pot. Black paste coats my fingers.
“Roach dung,” she whispers as I slather it on my body.
I dig into the next pot, scooping up rotten fruit to work into my hair. Tree sap from the third pot cakes my armpits. The gin from the last pot splatters my skin.
The dancing figure sways before me growing brighter and brighter. Suddenly, she bursts into flame. I back away, but her body shoots sparks that pierce my skin and fill me with fury. My eyes roll back in my head and every cell in my body starts trembling. Then, without warning, my cells split open and I erupt.
When I wake, the old woman is leaning over me.
“Go home, baby.”
I sit up and brush dirt off the side of my face.
“Don’t talk to nobody, don’t look at nobody. Go straight home.”
Old bony fingers grab my arm and drag me to my feet.
“Go now,” she says. “Go.”
Car tires screech around me as I stagger into the street.
“Been looking for you, baby.”
The stench of liquor worms into my nostrils. The volcano woman stirs.
“Leave me . . . the fuck . . . alone,” I growl.
He grabs my wrist. The volcano woman glows and I explode. Light shoots from my eyes and spears him. I sink my heat into his flesh, finding fuel in the pitch of his screeching. He falls, trembling and gasping at my feet.
I stumble away, dodging onlookers as I race home. My keys are slippery in my wet palms. I wrestle the door open and click the lock behind me. I lean on the door, panting with deep savage breaths.
“You’re safe,” the volcano woman flutters.
She spins with her arms flung wide. Her spirals whip up winds that cocoon me in softness. I fall into her warmth and slide to the floor.