Semi-finalist #1

Name: Heather Webb
The voodoo priestess tossed entrails into the fire. My throat tightened at the stench, and sweat trickled in hidden places beneath my damp, cotton dress. I drew in a smothered breath, laden with ash and rain not yet released.
Mosquitoes buzzed. A night heron babbled in the brush. I twisted the sash on my dress into a knot. What possessed me to be so imprudent, to risk a lashing for visiting her, I did not know.
Shadows stretched from the edge of the wood, their familiar shapes turning grotesque in the fading light. The sun would set soon, and the walk home was far—down the mountain and through the pulsing jungle. Maman would worry. Papa might lock me in the cellar for my disobedience. Serpents slid from their dark holes when the heat of the day faded, seeking victims for their poisons. I had witnessed men convulse with frothing lips and blue-black swelling beneath their skin. Fear uncurled like ribbons in my belly.
Yes, nightfall was deadly, but I could not move. My fate shimmered in the acrid smoke rising from the fire pit.

The old woman chanted, her lips moving in a silent rhythm as she rocked to a sound only she perceived. Silver hair sprang from her head in unruly waves and her bent frame was wrapped in colorful cloth. Layers of wooden beads encircled her neck and a fetish of an Ibo god dangled. The slaves bartered for her potions, despite their fear of her. I swallowed my apprehension; purpose burned in my chest.

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