Sadie and Johanna stepped out into the warm night air and watched as the rest of the group began to travel to their respective corners. Johanna gave a tight smile as the pair descended the stairs and walked through the gardens toward the school gates.
The grass squished loudly under their feet as they made their way across the clearing and to the edge of the woods. Sadie’s hand hovered slightly above her bag and slowly a pouch of black salt rose into it.
“Mrs. Jo‒” she started.
A plane noisily flew above their heads, startling Sadie and making her drop the pouch into the grass. She wildly fell to her knees to retrieve it and realized that a significant amount had spilled.
“Mrs. Johanna,” she called again.
To Sadie’s surprise, the woman stood with her back turned to her, staring in the direction of the woods. She was mumbling with her eyes closed and stomping her right foot in rhythm. Sadie gathered the pouch quickly and moved closer.
The small woman continued to stomp her feet and began moving side to side.
“Zansèt pwoteje nou,” she called out in a songlike voice. “Zansèt pwoteje nou.”
Sadie moved to Johanna’s side and fell in step. Her right foot tapped three times, then her left. She stumbled slightly but it finally came back to her.
“Zansèt pwoteje nou,” she sang. “Zansèt pwoteje nou.”
She hadn’t done the protection dance ritual since she learned it her first year in Vien Ile. She had struggled for weeks trying to get the footwork down—unfortunately for her, she had inherited two left feet from her mother and barely scraped by with a passing grade. Who knew this would actually come in handy? She thought bitterly. She grounded herself with a few deep breaths. Come on. You know this! Soon the counts came back from the depths of her memory. 1-2-3. 1-2-3.
Johanna opened her eyes, glancing in Sadie’s direction with a smile. The pair rose their arms and moved around the perimeter stomping and clapping. A soft glow appeared at their feet and rose high into the air, covering each section and disappearing just as quickly as it came. Sadie kept sneaking sideways glances at Johanna. The woman moved with such assured confidence that Sadie didn’t understand why she had seemed so unsure of herself back in Mayella’s office.
The long strides of the dance helped them cover the space quickly, so the pair decided to do a second round. Sadie found that the steps no longer overwhelmed or mystified her. There was an internal knowledge of every move and every breath required to protect this space. The ground and the sky worked in tandem with their movements, creating a barrier that felt like nothing she had experienced when she had done this so many years ago. True to form, as soon as they finished, Sadie decided at last to fortify the area with black salt. Johanna stopped and looked up at the sky.
“I couldn’t help but notice…” Sadie said hesitantly, “you don’t seem to be rusty at all with your spellwork.”
“Lord, it’s been a while,” she said, trying to catch her breath. “I spent a lot of years…not practicing. Not using my gifts.”
She looked back at the sky, “Well…not using them a lot.” She said slyly.
Sadie laughed and held her arm out. Johanna graciously grabbed on to it and started walking by her side. They walked silently for a few paces, inspecting their work.
“Go on and ask,” Johanna said suddenly. “I know you want to.” She chuckled slightly.
Sadie’s eyebrows rose. A thin veneer of calm briefly graced her face but she broke immediately. “It’s that obvious huh?”
“This is you acting uninterested?” Johanna laughed again.
“Ok, fair.” Sadie agreed. “Did you know I was a conjurer when we met?”
“I had my suspicions but I wasn’t sure.” Johanna said thoughtfully. “You just seemed like a nice girl. Turns out, I’m more intuitive than I thought,” she smiled.
“How do you know Ms. Bigsby?” Sadie fired off quickly.
“Oh, May? Well, she was my best friend back when I went to Greenwood.” Johanna said slowly. “We grew up together but we lost touch. Around our tenth year, Mayella went on a transfer year to Uagadou and I—” she paused, “I found myself pregnant and kicked out of school.” She finished flatly.
“That’s terrible,” Sadie said, giving her arm a squeeze.
“Yea, well…I hit a lower low than that. Being young and in love is…anyway, after an unfortunate accident, I was all alone and miserable in Chicago, so I brought myself back home. Found love again and was blessed with that hard headed little boy named Ezekiel,” she chuckled. “The last thing I heard was that May’s family moved west. I didn’t even know she was living here again.”
They walked slowly, and entered into the northern section of the campus. Mayella’s charm was so intense that you could barely hear the sounds of the nature surrounding them. Sadie instantly wondered if she and Johanna had done a sufficient job.
“Don’t you fret baby, Mayella has always been more powerful than you average conji.” Johanna said with a pat.
Sadie looked at her incredulously.
“I don’t read minds, I read faces.” Johanna said with a smirk.
The incoming yell of Bernard, grabbed their attention. “MAAAAYYEEELLLLAAAAA!” he cried, flapping his arms overhead to get their attention. Sadie and Johanna looked at each other wide-eyed and turned towards Bernard.
Off in the distance, Mayella turned and began sprinting in their direction, disappearing midway. Bernard reached them and stopped, gasping for air.
“What’s going on?” Her voice boomed, causing the three of them to jump. She had unexpectedly reached their side with a quick pop.
“There’s something going on with the southeastern portion of the perimeter. Ezekiel and I have been trying to stretch the protection charm and it won’t budge. We’re afraid that the barrier has been tampered with by some other magical force,” he said before taking another deep inhale.
Mayella looked in the direction he had come from. “Okay, meet you there.” And with another pop she was gone.
Sadie’s bag swung at her side knocking recklessly into her ribcage as she jogged in the direction that Bernard had come from. Mrs. Johanna had given her a nod of approval before she dashed away to the farside of the school perimeter, leaving her and the panting Bernard.
She stopped on a dime as she approached the rather calm looking Ezekiel and Mayella. Not really the emergency I was expecting, Bernard. She thought with a hint of annoyance.
Mayella was pacing back and forth near about a doorway’s length of unprotected property.
“Interesting…” Mayella said. She waved her hand a few times and mumbled but the gap was still there.
“I checked for nearby intruders, and runes.” Ezekiel said quickly. “The charm is being ignored.” He looked in Sadie’s direction with a shrug.
Mayella closed her eyes and raised her hands. Two purple sparks appeared before her and fizzled out with a low pop.
“Ugh,” she said resentfully.
Sadie watched quietly, trying to think of something to do. The presence of her grandmother washed over her. The scent of her gardenia perfume lingered in her nostrils as if the woman were mere inches from her.
“It’s there for a reason,” she said suddenly, surprising herself.
“What do you mean?” Mayella said, turning towards her.
Her confidence was high, but managing to put them into words failed. Her heart had begun to drum loudly in her chest and she stepped forward. Warmth moved from the bottom of her feet and rose up to the crown of her head. The feeling of pure love and protection surrounded her.
“I can’t explain it,” she started. Her feet carried her to the spot where Mayella had just been pacing. “I just know…”
She caught a smell in the air. Incense, fresh lavender, home…
Brushing past Mayella and Ezekiel, Sadie stepped into the shaded and crunchy wooded ground a few paces ahead. She squinted and looked from side to side not knowing exactly what she was looking for.
“Girl, what are you doing?” Mayella asked. She had reached her side silently and grabbed her hand.
“Sadie I—” Ezekiel started.
“Shhhh,” Sadie hissed, raising her hand. “Do y’all hear that?”
“Hear wha—” he started again.
Sadie took a few more steps forward. The engine of a small aircraft became increasingly loud, coming to their right side and zipping diagonally in front of them. The trees whipped violently, letting them know that it was even closer than it sounded. To their horror, they watched as a sphere of fire was released from the plane only 20 feet from where they stood.
“Sadie! Let’s go!” yelled Ezekiel.
As he and Mayella tugged on her arms, she stood firmly rooted in the same spot. She closed her eyes and breathed heavily. Why did you bring me here?
The heat from the flames had begun to warm her face and she could hear the frantic and muffled voices of Mayella and Ezekiel.
The small voice and presence of a child brought her back to her body. She opened her eyes in alarm and found the young teddy bear-holding boy tugging at her pant legs, pleading along with Ezekiel.
Her breathing was ragged and smoke burned her lungs. She glanced to her left and noticed that Mayella was already standing with wide open arms, yelling enchantments and eyes glowing bright white. There was a large crack in the sky and dark-heavy clouds appeared in mass above their head.
Sadie’s legs buckled slightly as if reminding her of their use. Voices that were once far away now hit a frequency much louder in her ears. She knelt down and swept the child into her arms before allowing Ezekiel to pull her to safety. The sounds of twigs popping loudly under their feet was all that she could focus on. The sticks splintered and flew in different directions as she looked to where they were headed. Mrs. Johanna and Bernard stood nervously in the distance, waving frantically at them.
Another loud crack came from above their heads. The trees began to give way to the amount of force and heat. They split and dangled nervously over them. Sadie began to feel as if the school was miles away instead of the few feet it was. Her legs grew heavy but she was determined to get the child to safety. Ezekiel forged ahead, making much longer strides than her legs could. Her hand slipped away from his for only a moment. She gasped at the loss and more booms echoed through the woods. The fire was getting closer.
Oh God, this is all my fau—
“SADIE! LOOK OUT!”
In one short movement her thoughts were interrupted—Ezekiel reached back, enveloping her and the child, shielding them with his body. A monstrous tree had uprooted itself and was falling full speed in their direction. She knew that this was the end, or at least her body did. Unintentionally, she had squeezed her eyes closed waiting to be greeted on the other side by all those that had gone before her.
The seconds that ticked by felt like minutes and Sadie opened her eyes. To her surprise there was no great white light, only the stunned faces of the people she had been surviving with all of this time. She looked up and the tree was hovering several inches above where she, Ezekiel, and the small boy were.
“Petey!!” screamed the young girl. She waved both hands to the left and the mighty tree moved with them and dropped with a huge thud onto the ground. She raced over to them and hugged her little brother fiercely.
Sadie swung around with a questioning look toward Ezekiel but he looked just as shocked as the rest of the group.
“Hey Norma, how you do that?” Petey asked, looking up in amazement at his sister.
The girl looked up at all the adults and back at her brother. “I don’t know, but I saw you in trouble and I got scared. I figured since all this other stuff happened, I can make something happen too,” she sniffed, squeezing him once more.
“Come on now babies,” Mrs. Johanna said gently. She had walked over to the children and began lifting them up. “Let’s get you back inside where it’s safe.”
“Help her with them, Bernard!” Mayella snapped, causing him to jump and run to Johanna’s side and scoot them along the grounds.
“What were you thinking?!” she said angrily, rounding on Sadie, “You could’ve got everyone killed! Especially that little boy!”
Sadie felt tears well up in her eyes. “I apologize for the danger I put you all in, but I know that the charm didn’t extend for a reason.” The hair on the back of her arms had raised and her heartbeat quickened. The questioning and somewhat disappointed look on Mayella’s face made her pause and question if now was the time to make a bold proclamation. “I know that it won’t close for a reason even if I don’t know what that reason is right now. Tonight I’ve learned to trust my instinct more than ever before and it won’t be extinguished. The mere fact that I’m alive right now serves as proof to me that I am right.” She had risen to her full height and looked Mayella in the eyes.
The older woman took a beat but met her eyes with understanding and nodded. The soft crackling of fire came from overhead and Sadie looked at the trees. The tops of them had dancing flames that didn’t overtake the rest of the tree. It was then that she realized the air was no longer smokey and that she could see quite clearly through the woods.
“Much safer this way,” Mayella said suddenly. “The appearance of fire will make them skip this area near the school. Couldn’t very well drench the whole area.”
“Let’s go figure out how to close this thing,” Mayella said, turning towards the school.
Sadie took a deep breath and began to follow. After a few steps, she registered an absence she had grown used to.
“Ezekiel?” she called out, turning back to the way they came. Mayella stopped short a few steps ahead and looked back as well.
“Ezekiel!” Sadie called out again, scanning the woods for him. He had disappeared so quickly that neither of them had noticed.
Sadie felt the pang of fear in her chest once again. He was just right here. Where could he have gone? Maybe someone had attacked without them noticing? For all she knew, the same people that were dropping fireballs could be wandbearers. MACUSA loved to pretend that none of those people were in any way affiliated with them but the few Negroes that worked within their system knew better. Sadie began to belt out his name again before Mayella approached. She held her hand out in front of Sadie.
“Shhhh,” she said gently. She looked left and right and turned her attention to one of the darkest spots of the wood.
A large silhouette has headed their way. The great breathlike movements it made came slowly as they stared in the direction.
“Sadie!” Ezekiel’s voice rang out from it. “Sadie!”
The silhouette became clear as it grew nearer to the surrounding fire. Ezekiel came stumbling into focus with two other people. A man with an injured leg and blood dried on his forehead limped harshly with one of his arms wrapped around Ezekiel’s neck and on the other on his extremely tall companion.
Sadie and Mayella ran, meeting them and helping drag them to the edge of the grounds, placing the injured man softly on the earth.
“Where did you go?!” Sadie asked angrily, staring at Ezekiel.
“I—I heard somebody cry out,” he said quickly. “Listen. I know it wasn’t very smart but—but I had to check. Sadie. There’s more of them,” Ezekiel said, breathing heavily. “So many more, just beyond that ridge there.”
Sadie looked at Mayella in shock. Mayella moved quickly, sweeping her hands together and rotating them in a circle motion, a glowing gazelle appeared in the air and set off galloping to the school.
“I sent word to Bernard and Gladys. He’s going to help us gather these people up. Sadie, get back to the school quickly. Gladys will have turned the lunchroom to your triage station.”
“Okay.” Sadie said quickly.
The injured man gasped suddenly, reminding her of his presence. Sadie whipped her bag around, dropped to her knees and pulled out bandages and small jars of potion to help the man in front of her. She saw the eyes of the other grow as she called to the jar of cleaner and it floated into her hand.
“Is this your friend?” She said quickly to him.
“Huh?” he said with uncertainty.
“Is this your friend? Do you know his name?”
“He‒he’s my uncle. Charles,” he said panicky.
It was then that Sadie noticed that the man was a few years younger than her.
“Ok, I want you to talk to him, make sure he doesn’t lose his concentration, you hear me? I’m going to clean this head wound and see what we’re looking at here.”
The boy shook his head fiercely and began talking to his Uncle. Sadie washed the wound and noticed it was rather large. She laid down the handbag and flicked her wrist a few times, causing it to unfurl and lay flat on the floor. Miniature bandages, books, and potion bottles perfectly lined up sat ready at her disposal. A needle and thread rose high and hovered over the man’s wound while she looked for a few things.
At her touch a jar of cream grew to full size and she began to rub it on the area surrounding the wound. After a moment she twirled her hand again and the needle dove downward and began to close up the gash. She knew that the numbing cream had worked because the man didn’t seem to even notice that he was being worked on. His nephew continued to talk to him gently, only looking up once or twice in amazement at the needle. Once it was done, Sadie slathered on some healing balm and wrapped his head with the bandages.
Ezekiel had been running back and forth, leaving new arrivals near Sadie and Mayella. The older woman directed those that had minor injuries to the school up ahead.
The man regained his focus and was finally able to stand. Sadie sent them with the rest of the group just as Bernard made his way to their side.
“Ezekiel just went that way.” Mayella said. “Go help him get the others.”
Bernard nodded and ran in the direction that she pointed to.
“Get to the school,” she said to Sadie seriously. ”Some of those folks need your help.“
She nodded in agreement and looked in the direction Bernard had just run before leaving with a loud pop.