I walked along the road in New Orleans, lost in my own thoughts. I needed a few supplies to get the last bit of my new home in order, so I was on the prowl for a hardware store. Being in the area for only a few weeks and actually traveling to the city a handful of times, I was pretty much just exploring at that point. Val remained on my mind as she often did those days. She had calmed the raging storm that had been brewing within me for hundreds of years.
“Oh, of course. Thank her and not me,” Alo’s voice rang in my head. “Forget the hundreds of years I have been trying to get you to see you aren’t evil.”
“No, you just got on my fucking nerves for hundreds of years,” I hissed.
The man walking in the opposite direction of me stopped and looked around. He took the white wireless headphones out of his ears and ran his free hand across his black beard. “I’m sorry, are you talking to me?”
I chuckled softly and shook my head. “No, merely talking to myself. But while I have you, can you tell me how to get to the nearest hardware store?”
The man pointed in the direction I was headed and said, “Go about three blocks this way, then take a left at Mandolin Street. That will take you out to Elysian Fields Avenue, and there is a hardware store right there.”
I nodded in appreciation, and he returned his headphones to their resting place within his ears. I continued my trek down the road I was on, looking out for a sign that read Mandolin St. When I finally came across the sign and took the corresponding left, it was only a few more feet before I saw the gray building with a weathered sign hanging out front that read Mel’s Hardware.
I looked both ways and darted across the street, sliding into the open door as a bell chimed to alert them to my entrance. Something caused me to stop, though. There was someone, or something, in here that had much more in common with me than they would probably have wanted to admit. I closed my eyes and let the feeling course through my body.
There was a shaman somewhere in this store. Just what I needed. I followed the source of the presence, weaving in and out of the aisles while looking for my supplies. I rounded the corner and saw a ghost. There, standing in front of me, was a spirit I hadn’t seen in a hundred years. Her jet black hair ran down the sides of her shoulder, perfectly accenting her ivory skin. Her smile turned into a scowl as she debated between two paint swatches. It had to be her. But how?
She turned and made eye contact with me. I quickly diverted my gaze and picked up a couple of lightbulbs for the cabin. I glanced over and saw her hurry around the corner. Did she know it was me?
I cursed under my breath as I snaked around the store to intercept the woman. “Excuse me,” I said as I stepped in front of her. She stopped quickly, narrowing her eyes as she stared at me. Glad to see she hadn’t changed. “Do we know each other?”
“No,” she said quickly and sharply. “I think I’d remember you.” She subtly glanced from side to side.
“You look oddly familiar.” I extended my hand out to her. “My name is Sani, of the Navajo tribe.”
She quirked a brow as she chewed on her bottom lip. She hesitantly took my hand and shook it. “Namid,” she said. Well, it wasn’t who I thought it was. “Ojibwe.” Or was she?
“Canadian or state-side?” I asked, almost too eagerly.
“States,” she stated as she looked me up and down. “Montana.” Montana? It couldn’t be.
“I used to know a pretty special friend from Montana who was Ojibwe. Aki. She made even the strongest of men cower.” Her breath hitched and I heard her heart skip a beat, something I had said struck a nerve. I smirked and locked my gaze with Namid’s. I flashed my eyes to those of an owl and back to a human’s.
She blinked rapidly a few times and leaned in. “Meet me behind the store.” She quickly made her way around me and out of the store. I paid for my light bulbs and made my way around back to meet Namid.
Whoever Namid was, it wasn’t exactly who I thought. However, I was starting to think she had information I might want. When I rounded the corner, she was leaning against a wall. “Now,” she began, “last time I checked, incubi can’t do that.”
She was definitely a shaman. I shook my head. “I’ll tell you what I am, but know that I need your help.” I paused, looking her up and down, “Shaman.” It was amazing how much she looked like Aki.
“Clever boy,” she said as she crossed her arms. “And how can I be of service?”
“I was cursed a long time ago. I have these uncontrollable bouts of rage. I kill people, Namid,” I confessed. I had to take a chance and be honest with her. If she was anything like Aki, honesty was the quickest way to gain her trust. “For no reason. I’m trying to become a different person.”
“Not doing a good job of endearing me to help you there, buddy,” she said as she rolled her eyes. “What do you honestly think I can do?”
I took in a deep breath before I spoke. What I was asking was a tall order, especially from a shaman as young as Namid appeared to be. However, if she was tied to Aki somehow, she would have the knowledge and the power to do it. “I need someone to break into my mind and see what kind of control this dark magic has on me.”
She rolled her eyes and scoffed. “Not exactly my area of expertise.”
If she was anything like Aki, she would practically make me beg for her help. “I’m desperate, Namid. The person who did this was a very powerful wielder of dark magic. When I,” I paused and carefully contemplated my next word, “converted, I lost my ability to use magic.”
She glanced at me out of the corner of her narrowed eyes. “What do you mean, converted?”
I took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. “I’m a skinwalker.” I flashed my eyes from various animals and back to human.
Her eyes got as wide as mine when I flashed them to those of an owl. “Well,” she started, “that’s a new one.”
“I’ve lived this life of evil and darkness for hundreds of years,” I said, leveling with her. “It isn’t what I want anymore. I want control over my own actions. I’ve been looking for a shaman in this godforsaken city for the last week and a half, and you’re the first one I’ve come across.”
“Why now?” she asked. It was a fair question. “If this has been your life for hundreds of years, why the change, now? Why not just keep on trucking?”
“Because I have this pestering spirit that has been nagging at me for hundreds of years, and I think he’s finally getting to me,” I said, glancing over my shoulder to see Alo shaking his head. “For the first time in my life, I’ve felt regret for what I had to do to become a skinwalker.”
She rubbed her face in frustration and stared me deep in the eyes. “I can’t make any promises. Like I said, this isn’t my area of expertise, and I’ve never actually done anything like this before. But I suppose I can look at my resources and see what our options are.”
I glanced over my shoulder again at Alo, who had been oddly quiet. He took a step toward me and placed a hand on my shoulder. “If she is somehow connected to Aki, I hope you know what you’re getting yourself into, Brother.”
I nodded my head and turned back to Namid. “I… anything you can do to help would be appreciated.”
“You seem a little on edge. Something else I should know?” she questioned as she took a step toward me.
“Remember that nagging spirit I mentioned?” I asked. She nodded in acknowledgement, and I continued. “He’s very opinionated.”
She nodded and said, “Come on. I got some things back at my place we can look at.” Namid turned to leave, revealing her back to me for the first time since we had met. The way her hair flowed down her back and accented her curves made me miss Aki.
She led me through the city, taking twists and turns. I swear we wound up in the same spot four different times. Either she was newer to the city than me, or she was trying to throw me off and make sure I couldn’t find my way back to her. It could have been both. Who knows?
We finally made our way down a dark back alley and followed the stairs up to her apartment. When it opened, she revealed a scattered studio. She definitely didn’t have Aki’s OCD. Brown cardboard boxes made up a sea of skyscrapers around the apartment.
Namid shuffled through a few boxes. Her frustration increased with each box as she came out empty-handed. “Here they are,” I heard her whisper, probably more so to herself than to me. She tossed a notebook to me, and it thudded against my chest. I took the notebook and turned it over.
“That’s Aki’s journal,” Alo said from behind me.
I turned and said, “Alo, will you please shut the fuck up!” I shifted my eyes and tongues to that of a snake and stuck my tongue out at him. I turned back around and returned fully human. Namid sat across from me at a small coffee table, shuffling the pages of a book in front of her.
“So he’s got a name,” she said as she looked up at me. Was that the beginning of a smile forming on her lips? “Does this Alo disrupt your sleep at all? Cause weird sleep or dream patterns? Nightmares?”
“Alo doesn’t, but he isn’t the one I want to get rid of,” I said.
“You do love me,” Alo smirked as he manifested behind Namid.
I glared at him and turned my attention back to Namid. “The darkness does.”
The hint of a smile quickly disappeared as a more somber expression took over her face. “Could you elaborate on that?”
“This darkness that’s inside of me fights back. I have a,” I paused as I thought of Val, “friend who has been helping me be better. But the more I fight it, the harder it gets. Dreams with voices that shout out at me. People from my past that hurt me, telling me I’m weak, pushing me away from the light.”
“Then, who is Alo?” she asked as she tapped on the book in front of her.
“He’s my twin. I killed him.” Honesty had gotten me that far.
No panic or fear set in her face. She didn’t see me as a monster. Instead, she asked, “Why?”
I slowly unbuttoned my shirt to reveal the bright red scars underneath. The inflamed tissue ran across my chest in hundreds of distinct lines, some overlapping, some too big to overlap. Namid’s eyes were glued to the marks, but she still withheld judgment.
“My father abused me,” I said. The tiny mountains that had formed on my body still hurt every day. Whether it was physical or mental pain, I didn’t know anymore. “And so did all the other kids in the village. They beat me because, well, look at me. I’m not very big. I got tired of it. I was a healer since birth, the best in my village, but I turned to the darkness and began practicing dark magic. I liked the power that came along with it.”
She stood slowly and walked toward me, taking a dreamcatcher out of one box. She stood in front of me and slightly turned her head as she looked down at me. “You didn’t deserve that. None of it.”
I shrugged my shoulders and looked up at her. “Maybe that’s why I decided to embrace the darkness. So that I would finally feel like I deserved the beating. It’s easier to know why than to wonder why forever.”
Namid lowered her head and walked to the kitchen, starting a kettle for tea. “I might have a thought,” she said. She turned back toward me and leaned against the wall next to the stove. “There’s something called the shaking tent rite. I would enter your home and use my drum to clear out anything that we don’t want there. It’s not exactly how the ritual would work, but we could try it.”
I shrugged again as she poured a cup of tea and brought it to me. “I’m down to try anything at this point. As I said, I’m desperate. But you’ll have to be okay taking a trip into the bayou.”
She mimicked my shrug with a slight smile and said, “I should honestly get the experience and check out more of the place.”
I smiled at her. She may not have been Aki, but she knew Aki somehow. She was connected in mind, body, and spirit with Aki. I wanted to find out how, but first, I had to clear my mind of the cloud of darkness.